Last March, an email came through to the archives from a certain gentleman called Arthur Reynolds. Mr Reynolds knew that a great aunt of his had had something to do with the founding of an English School in The Hague. He assumed we must be that school and asked if he could come and visit us. I was delighted to write back that he would be more than welcome, and I told him that he would probably be in for a surprise. His great aunt, Phyllis Donaldson, about whose achievements he knew relatively little, was, in fact, a towering figure in the history of our school, arguably the most influential single person.

Phyllis Donaldson (seated in the first row and third from the left) is shown here with her colleagues.

Here is what she did:

The English School in The Hague was reopened in 1948 after the War, and almost immediately, numbers began to increase, especially at the upper end. The Principal, Nancy Macdona, could no longer cope on her own and decided to appoint a Co-Principal with special responsibility for the older children. ‘Mrs D’ was the appointee.

Over the next 18 years, she would become the driving force behind the school’s success. In 1958 she persuaded the Ministry of Education in London to recognise the school for pension purposes. This was of great importance since it meant that qualified teachers could now be recruited from the UK. Then the following year, despite the school’s precarious finances, she somehow managed to raise a mortgage, in fact, two mortgages, so that the school could, at last, buy its own premises rather than having to rent. The splendid house purchased on the Tapijtweg in Scheveningen would be the school’s main premises for the next 36 years.

By 1966 the growth of student numbers at Tapijtweg meant that the building could no longer accommodate children from five to 18 years old. Mrs D once again succeeded in raising a mortgage to buy a second building. Some members of the school’s governing body were concerned that she was taking too big a risk by incurring yet more debt, but Mrs D, who was known as ‘the Fighter’, ploughed on with total confidence and belief in her school. Fortunately, numbers continued to rise, and the mortgage repayments were met.

The school’s reputation was justifying Mrs D’s leap of faith. And just as well. In 1970, only four years later, she bought a third set of premises to house the Middle Division. In her 18 years of service, the school had grown from a few rented rooms in a Dutch school to three separate and large buildings of its own.

In her obituary many years later, Bob Carrington (Head of Senior School 1968-79) wrote:

“…without her firmness, her fairness and her faith, in the difficult years of expansion, the school could easily have failed in the chaos of overcrowded buildings, inadequate equipment and impermanent staff.” 

For her remarkable achievements, Mrs Donaldson was awarded first an MBE in the Queen’s Honours List and, ten years later, the even higher OBE.

Mr Reynolds arrived at Senior School Voorschoten on 2 May for his visit and to find out more about what his great aunt had done. I think I can safely say that he was impressed, both by Mrs D’s career and by the state of the school as it is now.

Arthur and his wife, Lora, turned out to be an absolutely charming couple, and we were on first-name terms in no time. I wish they could have stayed longer than an afternoon, but we covered a lot of ground, and they took with them a package of photos and school publications with a promise of more to come so that they can start a booklet about this remarkable lady.

Phyllis Donaldson

I think, as well, that Arthur could qualify as an Honorary BSNer. He is English but of French and Swiss descent and has Russian connections. Lora is American but of Italian extraction. They live in Monaco, but for many years Arthur made his living from large fruit orchards, which he owns in Hungary. All in all, a pretty typical BSN couple in terms of their international experience and worldly perspectives.

Mr Mike Weston

BSN school archivist, detective and storyteller

Mike came to the English School at The Hague (BSN) in 1972 as Head of German, intending to stay for two years. Mike has been at the BSN for nearly 50 years. Over the years, he has taught a range of subjects and has been involved in many school activities. Starting a school archive from scratch and tracing the school’s history is the activity that has given him the most pleasure. Once he reached retirement age, he asked if he could stay on as the school archivist in hopes to be of service for a while yet. In this capacity, he regularly dives into the archives and comes up with some great stories. His stories are all our stories; enjoy them.

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