David Byatt MBE
Gordonstoun is sad to announce the death of former Deputy Headmaster, Second Master, Warden and Biology teacher, David Byatt. He died peacefully in the early hours of 8 August 2012 after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. A Memorial Service celebrating his life will be held at 3.00pm on Wednesday 3 October 2012 in St Christopher's Chapel, Gordonstoun. All are welcome to attend and refreshments will be served immediately after the Service.
David Byatt was Headmaster of Battisborough School in Devon from 1961-1970 and Second Master of Gordonstoun School in Moray from 1971-1991. He retired after two years as Warden and became involved in the Atlantic Challenge Maritime Training Trust, training teams of young people for several Atlantic Challenge International Contests of Seamanship. He raised the funds needed to build the Atlantic Challenge Moray Gig that was launched in Findhorn in 2000 and named Bien Trouvé by HRH Prince Charles in 2001. Bien Trouvé recently represented the Lieutenancy of Moray at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant on the Thames.
David was also instrumental in founding the Moray Banff and Badenoch Decorative and Fine Arts Society and at the same time he devoted his energies to the Moray Society (President from 1997- 2000) and its charge, the Elgin Museum. He ran the Museum’s management committee for some ten years, during which time the Museum was extensively re-furbished with the aid of two lottery grants. In 2005 he was awarded the MBE for services to Moray.
Born in Hertfordshire in 1932, David was the third son of the retired colonial governor, Sir Horace Byatt GCMG, and his wife Olga (née Campbell). His mother was widowed in 1933 and moved the family to Elgin to be near her favourite brother who was one of the first masters at Gordonstoun. Kurt Hahn was already a friend of the family and was to have a great influence on her three sons. David went first to the kindergarten held in ‘The Hut’ in the grounds of Duffus House, and then to the preparatory school in Wester Elchies, Aberlour. After WWII he went to Gordonstoun which had just returned from exile in Wales. At Gordonstoun he became very interested in seamanship and in riding, managing always to avoid team games, much to Hahn’s surprise (see ‘Breakfast with Hahn’). Sailing from Hopeman harbour took place in two post-war cutters, known simply as ‘The Old Cutter and The New Cutter.’ Expeditions further afield took place in Peter Godwin’s Salthorse and Harry Leney’s Ellen Louise. David also sailed in the Prince Louis which was on loan to the newly formed Moray Sea School. Riding took place under the strict supervision of Victor and Traudl Saloschin. Horses were kept in the Duffus House stables and a school duty was to muck them out very early before breakfast. Victor taught Olympic standard dressage and David took part in an elaborate quadrille that was performed at a fête in front of Gordonstoun House in 1949.
It was customary to move from one house to another in those days and David was at various times in Gordonstoun House, Duffus House and Laverock Bank. Always very practical by nature, he drove the fire engine for the Fire Service and organised the building of a paved road (‘Byatt’s Road’) round the edge of the North lawn so that WP Young (Chaplain) didn’t make a mess of the grass when he drove home to Plewlands farm through the north gate. David became Guardian of the school in 1951.
Under the influence of his uncle Admiral of The Fleet, Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope, he did his National Service in the Navy which took him as far afield as Hong Kong. In 1953 he went up to New College, Oxford, where he rowed for his college and became a member of Leander Club. Some years later (1960) he coached the St Thomas’s Hospital four at Henley and they won the Wyfold Cup.
He worked briefly for Pfizer in Folkestone but his life changed course in 1961: On the death of his friend Harry Leney, a one-time Gordonstoun Physics master and founder of Battisborough School in Devon, he volunteered to teach Biology at Battisborough and one term later was invited by the school’s Governors to take over as Headmaster. This he did, with Hahn’s encouragement, and tried hard to increase the size of this busy little Hahnian school. But Battisborough proved too small to be economic and was forced to close nine years later. During these nine years, David was Chairman of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme in Plymouth and he encouraged his Battisborough pupils to take part in the Award Scheme. Dartmoor was used for expeditions and there was a flourishing Coastguard unit at the mouth of the river Yealm where boys kept watch in poor weather. In 1966 he attended Hahn’s 80th birthday at Salem and became a Founder Headmaster of the international association of schools known as The Round Square Conference. A conference was held at Battisborough in 1970, and David was to attend many more Round Square conferences over the next twenty years, sometimes standing in for the Gordonstoun Headmaster.
In 1971 after Battisborough had closed, David Byatt was asked to take up the post of Deputy Headmaster at Gordonstoun under John Kempe. A year later he became Second Master on the retirement of the then Second Master, Jack LeQuesne, who was also Housemaster of Cumming House. The post of Second Master, unattached to a house, was created for David and (in the words of a colleague) ‘he pretty much invented the job and filled it with dignity and skill, becoming an essential stable force for both pupils and staff’. One of the first things he did was to compile memories of Kurt Hahn and to publish them in his book ‘Kurt Hahn: An appreciation of his life and work’. His numerous duties were very varied; from initiating new staff into ‘Hahn principals’ at the start of each term, to creating detailed travel lists at the end of each term and taking the school train down to London; from organising PD, to looking after the school’s minibuses. He was Director of Activities and Director of Services for many years, making endless afternoon activities lists and organising Services Day (Open Day). He was Head of Coastguards and spent many Wednesday afternoons with boys, and later girls too, on the cliffs of Covesea teaching cliff rescue. He took on the school archives from Bob Waddell and managed the Estates Committee responsible for the upkeep and development of the school’s estate. When Michael Mavor took sabbatical leave in 1989 and went to America, David took over as Headmaster for a term and ran a happy school.
A keen seaman and naturalist, David taught Seamanship and Biology throughout his time at Gordonstoun, and was at his happiest when in a boat or leading Biology A-level field trips on remote rocky shores and moorlands. He introduced summer term yawl sailing from Hopeman harbour and took part in several Sea Spirit cruises, including skippering the yacht in the Tallships race from Aberdeen to Holland in 1991, winning first in their class. When he was made Warden of the School in 1991, his work as Second Master was shared between five different people. He took up residence in the Warden’s Room along with the archives, moved there from a tiny room in Gordonstoun House. He finally retired in 1993 after 22 years of dedicated and loyal service. A former pupil and later Chairman of the Gordonstoun Association commented that he and other contemporaries always felt that David was the essential link between the Gordonstoun of the Hahn era and the various regimes that followed it. ‘As long as David was around, the original ethos of the place would not be forgotten; an ideal Warden in fact.’
David’s retirement was far from idle and he created a rhododendron garden at his home near Kellas with more than 150 species and hybrids. In1994 he became involved in the Atlantic Challenge Maritime Training Trust; an international organisation which aims to develop young people by training them (in the words of Kurt Hahn) “through and for the sea” using traditional ship’s longboats. He was made a trustee of UK Atlantic Challenge and trained several UK teams for the biennial international Atlantic Challenge Contest of Seamanship, held in a different host country each time. At first there was only one Atlantic Challenge gig in the United Kingdom and David saw the need to spread the experience of traditional seamanship to more young people by building more gigs. He raised the funds needed to build an Atlantic Challenge gig in Findhorn. She was launched in 2000 and named Bien Trouvé by HRH Prince Charles in 2001. Since then, young people from Moray have taken part in Atlantic Challenge seamanship contests in the USA, Wales, Italy, Finland, Canada, and Ireland and they rowed the Thames through London in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant. David was Honorary President of both UK Atlantic Challenge and Atlantic Challenge Moray Gig at the time of his death.
Alas, towards the end of his career, David's activity was cramped by Parkinson's disease from which he finally died, but he kept his sense of humour and it is typical of him that he would not bow to the disease until he had no alternative. In the words of his erstwhile local councillor, "very, very few people reach the pinnacle of personal quality and achievement that he reached. He touched many lives and this will live on". His aims were always of the very highest and in their pursuit he was an inspiration to all who came his way, especially the young.