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News > Community > Harold Sloman, Headmaster of Tonbridge 1922-1939

Harold Sloman, Headmaster of Tonbridge 1922-1939

Pictured below are Harold Sloman's 1914-18 medals, including the Military Cross (purple and white ribbon left).
6 Jan 2023
Written by Tara Biddle
Sloman medal group (by kind permission of Richard Black, London Medal Company)
Sloman medal group (by kind permission of Richard Black, London Medal Company)

It is a hundred years since Harold Sloman became Headmaster of Tonbridge in 1922, a headmaster appointed in the shadow of one world war who retired just before the next. Educated at Rugby and Balliol, where he took a First in Classics, it was from a teaching post at Radley that he was appointed Headmaster of Sydney Grammar School in 1912. In 1916 with hundreds of Old Sydneians fighting in the war, Sloman announced to a school assembly that he felt a duty ‘to take his personal share in the great struggle of the Empire’. His was a unique commitment among Australian headmasters, although his first choice, the Australian army, turned him down because of poor eyesight. He travelled back to England and was commissioned into the Rifle Brigade. Badly wounded at Ypres in August 1917, he was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry, returning to Sydney in 1919 to take up his headmastership again. He only stayed one more year because of his wife’s health and came back to teach at Rugby in 1921 from where he was appointed to Tonbridge. In an inter-war era when most public-school heads had seen war service, Sloman’s successor, Eric Whitworth, had also been decorated with the Military Cross in 1917.

Harold Sloman (left) with General Ironside at the unveiling of the School war memorial, the Gate of Remembrance in 1925.

Sloman’s seventeen years at Tonbridge were regarded with some ambivalence by David Somervell, who witnessed it at first hand and passed his own judgement in his 1947 history. Somervell recognised Sloman’s gifts as a scholar, his popularity with his staff, with whom he mixed freely in a kind-hearted way, and his encouragement of the cultural side, including the opening of the Music School in 1927. Somervell claimed, however, that he did too little to cultivate prep school heads and his successor was warned from several quarters in 1939 that he would find ‘an awful atmosphere of slackness’. The 1930s were of course very difficult years for all schools because of financial pressures and falling rolls, Tonbridge’s numbers declining from 485 boys in 1934 to 370 by 1939. Those difficulties, which dogged the second half of Sloman’s headmastership, were of course miniscule compared to what Eric Whitworth faced as he arrived on the day war broke out. Harold Sloman departed, probably with a sigh of relief, but with the accolade of still being the longest-serving Tonbridge head since James Welldon in the mid-nineteenth century.

Military Cross citation (by kind permission of Richard Black, London Medal Company)

David Walsh

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