RIP Robin Bligh (1929-2020)
It is with great sadness that we announce that former RGS teacher, Robin Bligh (1929–2020) passed away on Wednesday 17 June, following a short stay in hospital.
Robin taught Maths at RGS between 1953-1994, but is probably as well known for his leadership of the 16th Reigate Sea Scouts. Indeed, generations of students remember with great affection the many camping trips, journeys made in the precarious old school bus, and time on the water in the sailing boat, dubbed ‘The Tub’.
Last year, Robin celebrated his 90th birthday with a party at school, arranged by the RGS Foundation. Here he was presented with a book full of cherished memories from former students and colleagues. It is heartening to know that we were able to tell him how much his influence meant to those he taught, led in Scouts and colleagues he worked alongside.
While this is very sad time, and our thoughts are with Robin’s friends and family, it is also a time to remember fondly what a committed Reigatian he was.
Given the current restrictions on face-to-face activity, we are deliberating when best to hold a memorial event at school to celebrate Robin’s life and give those Reigatians who knew him a chance to pay their respects. We will be in touch as soon as we have more details.
Robin’s Scouting legacy
“Robin was appointed to the staff at RGS in 1952. When a fellow ex-Cambridge student, and fellow Jamboree staff colleague, Michael Holmes, was unexpectedly appointed to the school staff the following year, Robin invited him to become an Assistant Scoutmaster at the troop he was intending to start. The Scout troop was registered in February 1954 and started with three patrols, and some help from older students; I assume with blue uniforms with blue and white scarves (presumably to fit with the school uniform).
The Troop was very successful, due to Robin’s high standards, and other members of staff were roped in to help, including Aubrey Scrace in 1956, who, from a limited experience running a camping club at his previous school, was completely sold on Scouting after his first experience of camping with Robin at Chelsham. In those days going to camp was by parental transport or by trek cart. Whilst at Cambridge, Robin was a Rover Scout (an over-eighteen Scout) and made several contacts, one of whom invited him to write anonymously for the national magazine for younger members, called The Scout; in later years, he was found out by members of his own Scout troop, who had noticed articles included activities they had been doing!
In 1956 the troop decided to hold every third annual summer camp abroad – somewhat a rarity in those days. In 1965 the double-decker bus was bought, enabling them to take all their kit and Scouts to camp. I remember it being parked up behind the dining hall and pottery workshop at Broadfield.
It was in Scouting where standards in camping and other skills were high, which usually showed when the troop took part in local District competitions. Local camps, short training camps called ‘twig camps’ after the adult Wood Badge training, were intense; but it should be remembered than they were led by Robin’s well-trained Patrol Leaders (in those days before the 1970s revamp, these were usually aged 16 or 17).
The great main theme was water activities: sailing and canoeing being a major part of summer camps, which were often in the Lake District, on the Wye and the Dart, but also in places as far apart as North Wales and the Pyrenees and Wiltz, where hiking and mountaineering were features.
In 1969 there were great changes with the modernisation of the national organisation, and the word ‘Boy’ was dropped, and the uniform, standardised for the Scout section, became teal green shirts and mushroom long trousers; so the 16th Reigate officially re-registered as Sea Scouts in order to keep a blue uniform, becoming the only Sea Scout Troop in Reigate District. There were always parents who could be roped in to help, but by the early ’70s Robin found himself virtually running the very large troop on his own. Then help appeared in 1975 in the form of Peter ‘Dennis’ Wheatley, who formed a partnership with him that lasted until Peter’s job move in 1993.
I had had no personal teaching contact with Robin until I progressed to the Sixth Form in 1967 when I was placed in his Maths A level class. I did not distinguish myself in that subject and even Robin appreciated I had reached my ‘ceiling’ when it came to double differentiation! I was never a Scout at the 16th, being a member of the ‘opposition’ at 30th Reigate, who had quite a number of Grammar School boys among its members; but my career there as boy and Leader led to me becoming District Commissioner for Reigate in the early ’80s.
I visited Robin’s efficient troop above Broadfield on several occasions, and even managed to visit a reasonably local twig camp once. From that time I started receiving his newsletter, which I always enjoyed reading, and continued to receive to the end – as well as all the invitations to reunions and celebrations – well after my appointment finished, which I was most flattered to receive.
It is sad when you see something that you have started and kept going for 45 years fading away; I have myself been in that position, as, in my later teaching career at the Royal Alexandra and Albert School, first as Scout Leader, and later as Group Scout Leader (and at times the only Leader running both Cubs and Scouts). For the best part of 30 years, I encountered the same problem of not being able to recruit other Leaders; there being no parents in a boarding school, and with staff, who, if taking on the role, move on after a year or so. When the time comes for retirement, it is very difficult to attract Leaders. After Peter Dobson moved on, finally, and sadly, despite a supportive Headmaster, in 1996 the troop and Venture Scout unit fell into a dormant period in the hope it could restart; but in the end some equipment was sold, some given to other groups in the District and finally wound up in 2006.
I last saw Robin at the Gold Reunion event in 2019 and was able to have a few words with him.
Robin was a wonderful Scouter with high standards in camping, integrity and the skills taught in Scouting. Such was the spirit, fun and discipline he instilled in his Scouts, that many of them note that the benefit on their lives has been immense: the practical aspects of Scouting skills, the appreciation of the outdoor life and the love of messing around in boats. Robin was recognised by the Scout Association with a Bar to his Medal of Merit for his service. He always kept in touch with many past members of the troop long after he retired from the school, and the newsletters were always full of remembrances and current activities – many of which involved outdoor activities, the skills they had learned, wittingly or unwittingly, and helping, if not actually running, Scout troops where they were then living. Those newsletters and the booklets What Scouting has meant to members of the 16th Reigate Scout Troop are the testimony of those who received the benefit of Robin’s leadership and dedication.”
Steve Robinson, Scout Association District Commissioner, Reigate, 1981-89 and 2010-17