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This week we received the extremely sad news that our oldest living alumnus, Joseph Rawlings, had passed away. You may remember earlier this year, we posted a blog about our former Chester Students’ Union president, Cherelle Mitchell, meeting Joe, our very first Student Guild President at the then Chester College.

Joe arrived at Chester College, aged 22, having spent a year volunteering for the scouting movement in North Wales. Prior to this he had studied Science and Geography at Southampton University. Joe came to the College with a fresh perspective, and felt that the students were not treated as adults nor given the right to make their own decisions.

Please keep reading to discover more about Joe’s fascinating life…

While he was at home on leave in May 1941, Joe Rawlings received an urgent call to join his ship which was under sailing orders to intercept a German Battle Squadron. He immediately set off, but by the time he reached Portsmouth, due to the vagaries of wartime transport, his ship had already sailed. It was a twist of fate which was to save his life, for the ship was HMS Hood which was destroyed days later with the loss of 1,415 lives. There were only three survivors. It was a pivotal day in Joe Rawlings’ remarkable and productive life which was to have a profound and beneficial effect on hundreds of young people over two generations.

Joe Rawlings was born in Aspatria on 12th July, 1913, and enjoyed a happy childhood, with a great love of the countryside and outdoor pursuits which continued throughout his life. He was educated at the then Nelson School for Boys in Wigton and attended Southampton University. His ambition was to become a teacher and, following his graduation from Chester Diocesan Teacher Training College, he achieved this by taking up his first teaching post at Crofton Hall School near Thursby followed by a period at Park School, Bewcastle.

Joe Rawlings medal

Like most young men at the time, Mr Rawlings’ emerging career was rudely interrupted by the outbreak of war and he enlisted in the Royal Navy. He achieved a commission and, in due course, was appointed Air Directions Officer aboard the escort carrier HMS Activity which sailed with the notorious Russian Convoys in treacherous conditions, reputed to be as great a danger as the German U-boats themselves. At the end of the war Joe Rawlings received the Atlantic Star, but many felt that a separate campaign medal should recognise the participants of that very different sea-war in the Arctic. He was delighted when the UK Government at last instituted the Arctic Star which was awarded to him in the year of his 100th birthday. The following year he was honoured by a visit to his home by a delegation from the Russian Embassy who invested him with the Ushakov Medal in recognition of his gallantry.

A vital part of Joe Rawlings’ whole being was the Scouting Movement. He achieved the status of King’s Scout and continued to work for the movement throughout his life. On one occasion he was selected to attend the St George’s Day Parade at Windsor Castle where he accidentally bumped into King Edward VIII. They were so engrossed in conversation that the parade was delayed by several minutes! Mr Rawlings continued with his tireless support of the scouts after the war and became County Commissioner for Cumberland and then Cumbria. He was Vice President of Cumbria Scouts until the end of his life.

Joe Rawlings - young

When he returned from the war, Joe Rawlings became headmaster of Bowness-on-Solway School which thrived under his direction and he became the obvious choice to be appointed as the founding headmaster of the new Eden School at Rickerby near Carlisle.


Mr Rawlings embraced with fervour the 1944 Education Act, which brought secondary education to children from all social classes and educated them “according to their abilities and aptitudes.” To the end of his life he described it as one of the finest pieces of legislation ever introduced. Eden School was housed in a fine eighteenth century mansion set in nine acres of beautiful grounds and, being a natural leader, he inspired his carefully chosen staff and, indeed, the parents of prospective pupils, to prepare a premises and a curriculum which were quickly to become the envy of educationalists throughout the county. The school opened in January, 1953, and Mr Rawlings remained its headmaster for 24 years, inspiring teachers and pupils throughout this time, not only in formal education, but in a wide range of extra-curricular activities. He laid great stress on building upon the capabilities and talents of each individual pupil and barely a young person left school without a work placement or a plan for further education. He continued to take an interest in many of their careers in the years to come.

It was Eden School where Mr Rawlings met his wife, Minnie, a war widow, who was the school secretary. To her children he became “Pops” and they enjoyed nearly sixty years of loving family life together until Minnie died in 2012.

So great was the affection and respect which pupils held for their headmaster that many stayed in touch with him for the rest of his life. One of his favourite events was the annual birthday luncheon which some of his former pupils from all over the country, and now themselves in their mid to late seventies, held in his honour right up until his last birthday. It was reported that there was hardly a pupil who attended Eden School who Mr Rawlings, even sixty years on, could not recall.

Joe Rawlings was awarded the O.B.E. for services to Youth and Education in 1975.


Joseph A Rawlings, O.B.E., died on July 1, 2018. A service to celebrate his life was held at St. Cuthbert’s Church, Carlisle, on July 28, 2018 at 11.00 am.


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