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Old Warwickians

Rev Herbert Edwin Cullis (1887-1971)

H. E. C. was born on 16 April 1887, in Warwick, the son of Edwin Cullis, a headmaster, and his wife Eliza.  He had six sisters and two brothers.  In 1891 the family was living at 44 Emscote Road, and in 1901 at 13 West St, Warwick.

He attended Westgate Boys’ Board School from 1892 to 1898, and the King’s Middle School, Warwick, from 1898 to 1905.  In the summer of 1906 he helped his old headmaster H. S. Pyne transfer the contents of the Middle School laboratories to the new (but still unfurnished) laboratories at Warwick School.

H. E. Cullis at Oxford, 1907

One of the brightest boys that the Middle School had ever seen, he gained an Open Scholarship (Postmastership) to Merton College, Oxford, to read chemistry in 1905, gaining his BA in 1909.  As a postgraduate, he gained a BSc in 1910, following research on the wet oxidation of lead.  It took a while for him to claim his MA, however – he waited until 1927.

A career in chemistry, though, did not appeal to him at this stage.  He studied at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford from 1909 to 1911, being ordained a deacon in 1910, and he became an Anglican priest in 1911.  His first curacy was at St Paul’s Church, Holloway, London from 1910 to 1914, followed by one at Delgany Church, Co. Wicklow, Ireland from 1914 to 1915.

At this point his career took a very strange turn.  He lived in Bucharest, Romania, from 1915 to 1920, working for Church’s Mission to Jews (Irish Auxiliary to the London Society for Promoting Christianity among the Jews, founded in 1810, otherwise known as the Church of Ireland Jews' Society), under the auspices of the diocese of Gibraltar.  Romania had, and still has, a very poor record with respect to anti-Semitism.

Previously neutral, Romania entered the First World War in August 1916 on the Allied side.  A counter-attack by the Central Powers meant that Bucharest was occupied by the Germans from December 1916 until liberation at the end of the war, late in 1918.  H. E. Cullis seems to have been taken prisoner, perhaps under house arrest.  A suspicion that he might have been working for the British Foreign Office was quashed, in response to a Freedom Of Information request to them in 2018.

Upon liberation, he briefly taught English at the Higher School of Commerce, Bucharest, from September to  December 1920.  During this time he must have been in contact with his old headmaster, H. S. Pyne, for despite this short period teaching English being his only teaching experience, he was appointed as a science and mathematics teacher, specialising in chemistry (and also as part-time chaplain), at Warwick School, in January 1921 – and he stayed in this role for the next 33 years.

H. E. Cullis on the 1927 staff photo

As he himself pointed out in an article in Portcullis magazine of December 1955, “There were five clergymen on the staff in 1921”.  These were the chaplain, Rev R. G. E. Bowers and his assistant, Rev A. E. Warren, looking after the senior school, and Rev W. N. Thomas, Rev B. H. Green and Rev Cullis himself taking “junior prayers”.  The times of the daily services were frequently altered to try and include the “bus and train boys”, who frequently arrived too late to attend.

H. E. C. married Jane Devey in Warwick in 1924.  Born in 1895, she tragically died, aged 48. She had been in poor health for some time, according to an obituary in the April 1943 issue of Portcullis, “insisting on undertaking some very exacting war work” despite this.  “The deep sympathy of all Warwickians goes out to Mr Cullis and John in their great bereavement”.  Their son, property manager John Edwin Cullis, born 25th April 1928, attended Warwick School from 1940 to 1946. He died in 1993.

One war-time reminiscence from an OW is worth recording.  H. E. C. was renowned for being “one of the nicest people that you could hope to meet”.  However, in September 1940, “when we really thought that invasion by the Germans was but hours away, the atmosphere was electric.  I was cycling home through Emscote when I came up to a road block.  There was Rev H. E. Cullis and a companion sporting tin hats and armbands, checking identity cards.  Quite what effect his presence there would have had on the enemy landing on the South Coast, I leave to the imagination!”

H. E. C. was appointed as Junior Housemaster in 1944, and a year later became engaged to Miss Doris Cullington, Matron of the Junior House – “one of a spate of in-house marriages in my father’s time”, wrote Mrs Ros Partridge, A. H. B. Bishop’s elder daughter.  In 1952, on relinquishing the Junior House, they moved out to 258 Myton Road, whereupon H. E. C. served as OW Secretary, and OW President from 1964 to 1965.  In full retirement they lived at 15 Archery Fields.

All was not well, though.  In Portcullis of April 1946 we read: “All friends of the School will be delighted to know that Mr Cullis has recovered so much of the sight of his injured eye and will wish every success to the plastic surgery operations which he is at the present moment undergoing.”  In the same issue, the Junior Boarding House notes said: “The House was very sorry to lose Mr Cullis towards the end of last term owing to his serious accident and we were glad to see him back at the beginning of term as housemaster.  At the moment he is at Aylesbury undergoing plastic surgery where we wish him a very speedy recovery.  In his absence Mr Simmonds has kindly taken charge of the house with Miss Lloyd deputising for Matron.”  What had happened was a chemistry demonstration experiment, involving concentrated sulphuric acid, blew up in H. E. C.’s face.  In the old laboratory (now the music department) there was not a water supply immediately to hand, and his injuries were therefore much more serious than they should have been.

For most of the time that he was teaching at Warwick School, he took on two further curacies – at St Paul’s Church, Warwick, from 1921 to 1931, and at Budbrooke Church, Warwick, from 1931 to 1945.  On retirement from teaching in 1954, he was appointed as Honorary Chaplain of Warwick School until 1960, and he also served as honorary assistant to the Vicar of nearby St Nicholas Church.

In 1955 he presented two altar candlesticks to the school chapel, still in use, with the inscription to his sister-in-law: “In loving memory of Wilhelmine Theodora Cullis who taught at Warwick School in 1921 and 1922. Born October 9th 1886, died May 6th 1954”.  Wilhelmine (nee Green) taught English and English History as a temporary teacher between 1921 and 1922.  She had married H. E. C.’s brother Leonard in 1922.

H. E. C. died aged 84 at Christmas-time 1971, and was buried at Budbrooke.  Headmaster P. W. Martin read the oration: “Edwin… was a source of strength and calm to all who knew him.”

Hector McCluskey’s affectionate 1939 caricature of H. E. Cullis, published in Portcullis magazine.

G. N. Frykman 2019