John matriculated as an English student in 1970, and came to Fitz through an army program.
I passed the 11 plus. I had no idea that I had taken it, but I went off to Grammar school. My father died when I was 13 leaving me and my mother with only the Widows’ Pension for income. I got free school lunches and planned to leave school as soon as I was 16, after my “O” Levels, and get a job. My headmaster, however, said that the army had introduced a scholarship scheme to broaden the demographic of those going to RMA Sandhurst to reduce reliance on public schools for recruiting army officers. He entered me for it. I got in and was paid £100 a year to stay on at school and take my A Levels. I arrived at the RMAS; I was certainly from a different demographic. I felt a bit like a social experiment.
Then the army discovered that industry employed people called graduates and wanted some. I had a few unimpressive A Levels, but whilst at Sandhurst was able to study for A Level History (British Empire mainly, obviously) to bump up my appeal. The army produced funding for 40 officers to attend universities – 20 to Oxford, 20 to Cambridge. It seemed unaware that other universities existed. We still had to gain places though. I was debarred from trying for Oxford, as I did not have O Level Latin – a requirement at the time. I was also told not to risk taking Cambridge entrance exams, but to try and get a place on interview from one of the few Colleges that did not require them. Thus, I ended up at Fitzwilliam, an Army offer on full pay (worth 4.5 student grants in those days) to read English Literature a year after commissioning. My first Commanding Officer was aghast. An infantry officer getting a degree in English literature. “Unheard of!"
From an inauspicious background I was a grammar school experiment for the officer corps; then a graduate experiment for the army. Over time both experiments appear to have worked (nothing to do with me) but I was pretty much out of my depth on arrival at Sandhurst, and then at Fitzwilliam too. It turned out well though. Two-and-a-half decades after my own matriculation, my daughter arrived at Fitzwilliam to study Veterinary Medicine. All of that came from the one suggestion from my headmaster when I was 16.