Chenevix-Trench, Anthony 1919-1979, headmaster of Bradfield, Eton, and Fettes, was born at Kasauli in the Punjab 10 May 1919, the youngest of the four sons (there were no daughters) of Charles Godfrey Chenevix-Trench, CIE, revenue commissioner in the Indian Civil Service, and his wife, Margaret May, daughter of John Holmes Blakesley, engineer, of The Avenue, Kew Gardens. The Trench family had been a Huguenot one settled in Ireland. Having spent his early years in India Anthony attended Highfield School at Liphook whence he won a scholarship to Shrewsbury. His schooldays were happy and successful and he entered Christ Church, Oxford, as a scholar in 1937, gaining a first class in classical honour moderations (1939) before the outbreak of World War II.
He joined the Royal Artillery and was seconded to the 4th Mountain Battery, Frontier Force, Indian Artillery. He was captured during the Japanese advance in Malaya in 1942 and remained a prisoner of war for three and a half years in Malaysia, working on the Thailand-Burma railway. His undaunted personal qualities enabled him and helped others to survive the ordeal. During his captivity he translated all the English poetry he knew into Latin and Greek, and before returning home—his name already something of a legend—collected many of his men and personally saw them back to India. Back at Oxford in 1946 he was runner-up in the Craven and Ireland scholarships and obtained a first class in literae humaniores (1947), with alpha marks in every paper.
He was offered three Oxford fellowships but chose to return to Shrewsbury School in 1948 to take the sixth-form classics. He left to become tutor in classics at Christ Church in 1951, but agreed to return to Shrewsbury the following year when an unexpected vacancy left the house-mastership of the School House open. It was not, however, long before he was offered a headmastership, which he took up at Bradfield College in 1955. He was a member of the Robbins committee on higher education (1961) and became headmaster of Eton College in January 1964. He left Eton in 1970 and became headmaster of Fettes College in 1971.
Trench's success was due to a combination of intellectual gifts, personality, and a deep understanding of boys. He was, first and foremost, an outstanding schoolmaster. His interest lay in the education of the young as individuals, his compassion for those in difficulty heightened by his experience as a prisoner of war. His quality as a notable headmaster depended more on his leadership of staff and pupils by personal example than on any deliberate policy of innovation.
At Bradfield he inherited a somewhat divided staff with a modest academic record, but he soon drew them together and motivated them and their pupils towards a new period of progress and success. His shortcomings as an administrator were detected, but his reputation led to his appointment at Eton with the dual role of modernizing the curriculum and getting to know more of his staff and pupils than had been possible for his predecessors. In both roles his headmastership was remarkably successful. He revolutionized the sixth form work of the school, bringing it into the mainstream of GCE A-level studies and achieving unprecedented success in open scholarships at Oxford and Cambridge. At the same time he contrived to get to know a great number of pupils and to earn their affection and respect. Small of stature and full of humour, he was entirely lacking in arrogance and pomposity and was a witty conversationalist and raconteur.
Trench had been well aware from the outset that his methods were better suited to a small school than a very large one, and it was with difficulty that he was persuaded to migrate from Bradfield to Eton. His flexible and pragmatic approach helped him to face with a high degree of success the notorious problems of school discipline in the 1960s, but his habit of improvisation caused some criticism at Eton. The unstinted devotion of his time to individuals exhausted him physically and the effects of his wartime deprivation began to take their toll. He left after six years and was obliged to take a long rest before embarking on his third headmastership.
His achievement at Fettes was as remarkable as at Bradfield and Eton and received even more contemporary approbation. He found the college with some 420 boys and fifteen girls; and left it with 490 boys, forty girls, and a new junior school. During his tenure its financial position and scholarship endowments were greatly improved, but above all he transformed its rather rigid and hierarchical disciplinary system into a more liberal one based on trust and common sense. He became FRSE in 1978. His health became a matter of growing concern and he died in Edinburgh 21 June 1979, just before his planned retirement. Never happier than when out of doors, especially enjoying rough shooting and ornithology, he had hoped to return to Norfolk where his parents had retired.
Trench married in 1953 Elizabeth Chalmers, eldest daughter of Captain (Sir) Stewart Dykes Spicer (later third baronet), RN, who ably supported him in his three headmasterships and enabled him to keep open house for all comers. They had twin daughters and two sons.
Contributor: William Gladstone