Living history

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools

James GS and Mike Sadler cropIf a 97 year old man tells 15 year olds what he was doing when he was at Bedales in 1935  (aged 15, being taught Latin by John Badley) he is recounting his experience from 82 years ago.  If one of those 15 year olds lives to be 97 and talks about this (hearing the 97 year old in 2017) he or she will be talking in 2099 about hearing of the events that happened 164 years before, on the eve of the  Second World War.

The first bit of this scenario happened on Tuesday evening in my house when Mike Sadler, not only an Old Bedalian aged 97 (which puts him in a smallish club), but also one of the earliest members of the SAS (which puts him in an even smaller club).  I have listened to many intriguing people with extraordinary things to tell, but I cannot think of anything that could match this.

Mike, a slim and remarkably jaunty figure (pictured, right with Head Boy, James Grout-Smith), is surrounded by nine students and seven adults listening to him recounting his experience – from the latter stages of his Bedales career, through his initial contact with David Sterling, Paddy Mayne and the other founding members of the SAS, to the expedition to the Antarctic he undertook (with Mayne) following his war service.  We start shortly after 6pm and finish just before 9pm, with a brief break for something to eat.

Mike’s lively mind, interest in others, courtesy and sense of fun are palpable.  He has a brief tour of the school.  Interesting to think that the Memorial Library would have just opened when he was born.  He tells me that in his day there was a rather smelly generator where our smart reception now is.  His memory for where things are is legendary – as befits someone who was a brilliant navigator, who could direct a raiding party 100 miles across the desert in the dark simply by using the stars.

He shares his stories with a twinkle and, yes, a sense of fun.  His account of escaping from the white- hatted Afrika Corps and managing to get his jeep back to the Qatarra Depression was “an amusing incident”.  He describes his famous 100 mile, four day walk from Gabes to Tozeur, with only a goatskin tied together with bootlaces as a water container with an insouciance and twinkle that make light of it.  Other incidents, which sound as scary as scary gets, are described with a sense of fun and adventure.

When asked what he misses most about those days he says “so many interesting people”.    Mike’s independence of mind, willingness to question, delight in innovation and enjoyment of teamwork all found their home in those formative early years in the SAS.  It was the biggest of privileges for all of us lucky enough to meet him and hear him at his old school.