Hope and Hester Atcherley’s school days

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Sisters Mary Elizabeth Hope Atcherley and Hester Mary Eleanor Atcherley – Hope and Hester – attended The Queen’s School in Chester from around 1904 until just before the First World War. Thanks to the online archive of the school’s magazine Have Mynde, it is possible to follow the Atcherley sisters’ progress through those years and share some of the experiences of their school days.

Hope and Hester were daughters of solicitor Richard Topping Beverley Atcherley and his wife Caroline Mary Wynne (nee Ffoulkes). They were born at Hatch End in Pinner, Middlesex, Hope in 1894 and Hester in 1895. The family later moved to Caroline’s home city of Chester. A newspaper article mentioning “Mr. R. Atcherley, of 9, Stanley Place” indicates that they were established there by November 1903. Other sources dating from 1904 onwards give the Atcherleys’ address as 6 Stanley Place.

It was not until 1906 that the name Atcherley was first seen in Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual. Every year, the magazine reported on the “successes … gained by Pupils of the Queen’s School during the past year” in Public Examinations. In the 1905 Local Centre Examination of the Associated Boards of the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, both M. E. H. Atcherley (Hope) and H. M. E. Atcherley (Hester) passed in the Elementary Division, Piano. Hope had also passed in Division I of the Royal Drawing Society of Great Britain and Ireland examination, in June 1905, and I suspect she was the “H. Atcherley” who received a Grade I certificate from the London Institute for the Advancement of Plain Needlework that year.

The Queen’s School today. Photo by Jean Mottershead.

The results of these examinations continued to feature one or both of the Atcherley sisters’ names in most of the ensuing editions of Have Mynde up to that of 1912. Gradually, Hope and Hester moved up the divisions or grades of the exams, sometimes with a pass, sometimes with honours. In the 1910-11 school year Hope and Hester were both successful in the Higher Division (Piano) of the music examinations. In the same year Hope gained a certificate at Grade V of the needlework exam. During the following year Hester passed in Division V of the Royal Drawing Society of Great Britain and Ireland examination, while Hope gained honours in the same Division and passed in Division VI.

The names of both Hope and Hester also appeared from time to time in connection with the school’s annual distribution of prizes. The 1907 event took place in the Town Hall on 7 November, when Lady Grosvenor distributed the prizes. Hope Atcherley, then of Form III Lower in the Middle School, received a prize for Scripture. In 1908, she was presented with prizes for both Scripture and Sewing, while Hester was recognised in the category of “Distinctions in Examinations”. Other pupils were given prizes for Mathematics, Arithmetic, Natural Science & Geography, French & Latin, German, English Language & Literature, English & History, Drawing, Music (Pianoforte), Cricket, Hockey, Tennis and Games (General Excellence).

Further prizes were received by the girls in 1910 (Hope Atcherley, for Sewing), and in 1912 (Hester Atcherley, for Scripture). Hope, meanwhile, also received recognition for her botanical drawings in the Royal Drawing Society’s Annual Exhibitions of Paintings. She was commended in the Second Class in 1909-10, received an award in the Fourth Class the following year, and was again commended in the Second Class in 1911-12.

The Atcherley sisters seem not to have excelled in sporting activities. A report in the 1911 issue of Have Mynde shows that during the 1910 season of the school’s tennis club, Hope Atcherley had participated in the “Inter-Form Tournament for Miss Clay’s trophy” which took place on 27 and 28 July. With M Finchett for IV Form Upper, Hope beat B Stewart and M Swire of Form V Lower in the first round, 6—3, 6—1. In the second round however, Atcherley and Finchett lost to the Form III Upper team, 6—1, 6—1. I have found no other references to either Hope or Hester in connection with the school’s tennis, hockey or cricket matches.

As for academic subjects, in the July 1913 examinations of the Oxford and Cambridge Joint Board, Hester Atcherley gained Higher Certificates in Botany and French. I have found no indication of any similar achievement by Hope Atcherley.

A fascinating insight into the minds of the young ladies of the Queen’s School is provided by the following account of the School’s Debating Society meeting of 20 February 1913. Proposer of the motion ‘England is declining’  was “H. Atcherley” (Hope, or Hester?).

The Proposer opened the debate by saying that English character was beyond all doubt deteriorating: hardships were invariably shunned—even corporal punishment was strictly limited; religion was becoming ineffective, as shewn by the Disestablishment Bill; manners were deteriorating, (the men being discourteous and the women unwomanly). Patriotism was a thing of the past; the Colonies, and even Ireland, were demanding self-government; in fact, the Empire was simply falling to pieces.

The Opposer replied by saying that character was much improved; drunkenness, at least, was no longer a common vice; moreover Britons were, to foreigners, examples of truth and courage, and were taught self-reliance by their games. With regard to self-government for the Colonies, it was only natural that, as growing countries, they should require these; nor would it be to England’s benefit that they should be entirely dependent on her. The Empire was perfectly patriotic and united. …

E. Brotherton here renewed the question of religion, and how greatly it was falling off.

The Proposer deplored the absence of Church-going, and the fact that people were no longer compelled to go. …

An eager discussion followed as to the respective merits of French and English aviators; but here the President rose to call upon the Proposer to sum up. In spite of her convincing speech, the motion that ‘England is declining’ was negatived by twelve votes to six.

Both Hope and Hester became members of The Queen’s School Association of Past and Present Pupils. Hester joined the association’s committee for 1912-13 and served again the following academic year. Hope was listed as a member of the association in the 1913 edition of Have Mynde, but from 1914 both sisters’ names appeared in the list of members. By 1916 Hope was a life member, having paid the required sum of one guinea. Hester was elected Assistant Secretary in 1914 and again 1915. She may also have been the “H. Atcherley” elected as one of two Honorary Secretaries in 1917, but she had not paid her subscription for the 1917-18 year.

It was not only as members of the Association of Past and Present Pupils that the names of Hope and Hester Atcherley appeared in Have Mynde from 1915 to 1918. These were of course years during which the First World War was raging – and the Atcherley sisters were both very active on the Home Front during that time. In this connection, the final words of this article by Hester Atcherley, published in the 1913 edition of Have Mynde, had greater meaning than Hester could possibly have imagined at the time:

The First Aid and Sick Nursing Classes.

During the Winter and Spring Terms, we received an interesting course of First Aid and Sick Nursing Lectures, Kindly given by Mrs. Drinkwater. The classes were open to all girls from the Upper IV. upwards, and about twenty-six joined, and the science room proved ideal for our work.

It was, indeed, surprising to find how little we knew concerning the treatment of quite slight accidents. Most of us came thinking we could pride ourselves on knowing how to treat a case of nose-bleeding. But we soon discovered our mistake. We were all very keen and rapidly made good progress, and Mrs. Drinkwater expressed her approval of our zeal.

I think we nearly all liked the last part of each lesson best, when we were shown the uses of the triangular bandage and afterwards put them into practice ourselves. It is such an unassuming bandage, and yet can be turned into innumerable shapes as the case requires. At first, it provided us with some amusement too: the sight of our friends, a moment ago hale and hearty, transformed into sufferers with broken arms and fractured jaws proved too much for our feelings. But this frivolity soon worked off, and we became serious and hard-working.

The lectures came all too soon to an end, and we found ourselves to face to face with an examination. We had all done our best and revised most diligently for this examination, and yet most of us dreaded it. Somehow, it seemed so different from other Examinations. It was the not knowing quite what to expect that alarmed us. But all is well that ends well, for, happily to say, every candidate passed the examination.

Then, during Spring Term, came a series of classes on a first course of Sick Nursing. On the whole, these were not as interesting as those on First Aid. There did not seem to be so much scope for putting our knowledge into practice. The roller bandages were much more exciting than the triangular, the only drawback being the wearisome rolling up after each time.

It would be unfair not to give a word of praise to the small children from the lower Forms who, in many cases, acted as patients. They were very good, for our exactions were great. In one case we had a very good little patient, who allowed herself to be tucked up in bed, and lay motionless while each pupil made her bed.

We are now anxiously awaiting an examination, and hoping we shall not forget what to do when the time comes. 

Picture credits. The Queen’s School, Chester: Photo by Jean Mottershead, taken from her Flickr photostream and used under a Creative Commons Licence. Map of the British Empire: Image from page 6 of History of England and the British Empire, published 1893; taken from the British Library Flickr photostream, no known copyright restrictions. Roller bandage: Image from page 20 of Minor surgery and bandaging, published 1902; taken from Internet Archive, out of copyright.


[1] Birth of Elizabeth Hope Atcherley registered at Hendon, March quarter 1894; volume 3a, page 158.
[2] Birth of Hester Atcherley registered at Hendon, June quarter 1895; volume 3a, page 164.
1901 census of England and Wales. Piece 1210, folio 51, page 38.
[3] Tamworth Herald, 14 Nov 1903, page 6. The Hyde Child Murder.
[4] London Gazette, issue 27661, 25 Mar 1904, page 1972.
[5] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1906), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, May 1906.
[6] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1907), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, May 1907.
[7] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1908), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, May 1908.
[8] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1909), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, July 1909.
[9] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1910), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, July 1910.
[10] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1911), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, July 1911.
[11] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1912), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, July 1912.
[12] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1913), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, July 1913.
[13] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1914), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, July 1914.
[14] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1915), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, July 1915.
[15] Beatrice Elizabeth Clay (ed.) (1918), Have Mynde, The Queen’s School Annual, June 1918.
Note: All digitised copies of Have Mynde can be accessed from the Have Mynde Archive.

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The disappearance of David Atcherley

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Yesterday, one of my Google searches for an incorrect spelling of the surname Atcherley led me to a fantastic find on YouTube: a short British Pathé film featuring Air Vice Marshall David Francis William Atcherley. It is the first film of David that I have found – and it may also be the final film in which this Atcherley twin appeared. Less than 4 months after the footage was captured, David disappeared without trace while flying over the Mediterranean Sea between Egypt and Cyprus.

Having served as Basil Embry’s Senior Air Staff Officer at Fighter Command from 21 Jan 1950, in January 1952 AVM David Atcherley took up a new post as Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of 205 Group, Middle East Air Force, in Egypt. He became the first AOC to arrive by jet when taking over a command.

David set up home in a houseboat, which he described as “large and comfortable and very cool in the summer.” His work in Egypt’s Suez Canal Zone involved a lot of office work and “high-powered meetings” but also provided plenty of opportunities for flying. In one of his letters home he wrote:

I’m holding a big air exercise from Tuesday to Saturday next week. We’ve got quite a big air force here at the moment and I thought it would be a good thing  to keep them occupied. I hope they’ll enjoy it.

The big air exercise David referred to was most likely ‘Hightime’, which was the subject of the above-mentioned British Pathé film. I found this gem after searching online for the word “Atchedey”, having noticed that that the letters ‘r’ and ‘l’ used consecutively (“rl”) might in some situations be interpreted as a ‘d’. (See Lost in transcription for more misspellings of the surname Atcherley). The film shows David getting into his aircraft (from about 47 seconds in to 1:10) and, right at the end (from about 3:43), talking to his officers in the Operations Room.

British Pathé film from YouTube.

David Atcherley’s last letter home was sent on Sunday 1 June 1952. He told of his planned move to “the big house” the following Saturday, and of a party he was going to give for senior local RAF and Army personnel so that they could all get to know each other. He also said:

I’m off to Cyprus tomorrow morning, merely for the fly. I’ll deliver a letter to the Air Commodore, have lunch and fly back here in the evening. It’s Whit Monday tomorrow, a holiday and nothing much to do locally unless you sail. 

It appears that either David’s plans changed after he wrote, or that he decided to make another visit to Cyprus on Saturday 7 June. Either way, at about 6 o’clock on the morning of that fateful day the Air Vice Marshall set off from RAF Fayid for Nicosia in a Meteor PR 10 jet, WB.161. David Atcherley was never seen again, and the last that was heard from him was by radio, 2 minutes after take-off, when he checked on the weather conditions at Nicosia.

Later that day, two messages were sent “by secure means” from Middle East Air Force headquarters to the Air Ministry in London, both headed FLASH SECRET. One of them read as follows:

Regret Atcherley overdue beyond maximum endurance on lone flight to Cyprus this morning in a Meteor 10. Full search and rescue measures already in operation. Shall extend air search to Southern Areas of Turkey if necessary. Foreign Office may like to know this.

Para. 2. Understand he did not take dinghy pack or Mae West and had ejector seat taken out before leaving.

Para. 3. Normal casualty reporting action will be taken by 205 Group as necessary but feel you and C.A.S. will like to have this stop press news at once for personal information. 

(‘Mae West’ was the popular nickname for the inflatable life-jacket used by RAF personnel at that time.)

Further messages to the Air Ministry followed on 8 June. It was confirmed that an “intensive air and sea search” had taken place during daylight hours for two days running, but the results had been “entirely negative”. The search operation had begun 40 minutes after David was overdue at Nicosia, with the despatch of Meteor and Vampire jets followed by Lincolns and Valettas, and then by Mosquitos and Beaufighters. Lancasters from Malta also joined in. In total, 50 search sorties were flown from the Canal Zone, and a large number from Cyprus. Searches were made by forces from Turkey, Lebanon and Israel too, and by an American aircraft. In addition, naval vessels were engaged.

Finally, on 10 June 1952, the Middle East Air Force (MEAF) despatched the following message: “Land search in Port Said area and small area in Lebanon continued on June 9 with negative results. All search action has now been discontinued and regret there can be little hope of Atcherley’s survival.”

On 12 June, J H Barnes wrote to David’s twin, Air Vice Marshall Richard Atcherley:


I am commanded by the Air Council to inform you that they have learned with profound regret that the search for the aircraft piloted by your brother, Air Vice-Marshall D.F.W. Atcherley, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O., D.F.C., on 7th June has proved unsuccessful.

The Air Council, recalling your brother’s long record of distinguished service, desire me to extend to your parents and to yourself an expression of their deepest sympathy.

To this day, the circumstances in which David Atcherley disappeared remain a mystery. Weather conditions and visibility were good, and David’s Meteor was fully fuelled giving him 2¾ hours flying time at height. An initial suggestion was “unconsciousness of Pilot through oxygen failure”, and in a letter to the Marshall of the RAF dated 12 June 1952, Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Sanders of the MEAF wrote: “I am afraid the only conclusion is that he went straight in and down into the sea, probably through lack of oxygen. The sickening thing is that we have no real clue at all as to what happened.”

Sir Theodore McEvoy later stated that David had said to him during a conversation some three weeks before he was lost, “What do you know about the instruments in these aeroplanes? I can’t see them!” He suggested that as David never wore spectacles when flying, his inability to read his flight instruments might have played a part in his disappearance. The Pathé news footage of David getting into his aircraft during the ‘Hightime’ exercise certainly shows that he was not wearing glasses on that occasion.

Meteor PR 10

With his own letter to the Air Marshall of 12 June 1952, Sir Arthur Sanders enclosed a number of additional messages expressing sympathy and loss, which had been sent to him by the local British Embassy and by representatives of the armed forces in the Canal Zone. One was from the Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East Land Forces, General Sir Brian H Robertson, who wrote:

Atcherley had only been with us a few months. Right from the start he captured the affection and admiration of my officers to a most remarkable degree. I had never met him before myself, but from the moment when I first shook hands with him I knew that I liked him.

I have heard men say of him, without meaning to be unkind, that he was crazy, if so it was the craziness of real heroism. He was a man of whom your Service can be immensely proud. We in the Army are terribly sad at his loss and shall always remember our association with him with gratitude and great respect.

Of course, the man who felt David Atcherley’s loss the most was his twin brother Richard. He had wanted to fly out and join in the search operation for David, but this was very sensibly ruled out by Basil Embry. To complement the private family memorial service in York, Richard organised a public service in London which was attended by high-ranking representatives from all three of the armed forces, various dignitaries, about 120 officers and wives from Fighter Command, and 50 from other RAF Commands. A further service held at Ismailia in Egypt gave Richard the opportunity to fly, alone and in a Meteor, the same course that David had set out on but never completed. John Pudney, the Atcherley twins biographer, later summed up the impact on Richard thus:

The loss of David was more profound in its impact than that of any other blood relation. Close friends observed the profundity of the shock, the fracture of the pattern of a lifetime. … no words can describe the sense of desolation and loneliness at losing one whom he had lightly described as his ‘better half.’

Picture credits. Eastern Mediterranean, showing RAF Fayid and Nicosia: Based on a public domain image fromWikimedia Commons. Meteor PR 10: Photo, from Flight magazine, 27 May 1955, page 729, taken from Flight Global archive, which states “we’re positively encouraging you to link to, copy and paste from, and contribute to the development of this unique record of aerospace and aviation history”.


[1] John Pudney (1960), A Pride of Unicorns. Pages 217-221.
[2] Royal Air Force (RAF) Officers 1939-1945. At: World War II Unit Histories and Officers (website, accessed 22 Jun 2015).
[3] Air Vice Marshal D F W Atcherley. At: Air of Authority – A History of RAF Organisation (website, accessed 22 Jun 2015).
[4] The National Archives, Kew, item ref AIR 8/1688: Air Vice Marshal D.F.W.Atcherley’s disappearance between Fayid and Cyprus and subsequent search June 1952. Indexed at TNA Discovery catalogue.
[5] London Gazette, number 38980 (supplement), 28 July 1950, page 3939.

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