Uncle Ian at Ampleforth

For now, we shall leave my mother and father, separated by wartime England, my father besotted by his beguiling Catholic girl, and my mother, PBH_1944

thrilled that she’s caught the attention of a much older, handsome fellow in her brother’s own regiment, the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. He’s an American, which she knows will prove problematic with her parents, and not a Catholic which will make things even more difficult.  In fact, she may never see him again, but they’ll always have that kiss in the Rose Garden at Allerton.  Nobody can take that away from her.

But now I turn my attention to her older brother, Ian Barnard Hankey. At the age of eight, in classic British upper class tradition, Ian was sent to boarding school in northern Yorkshire. Think Harry Potter as you imagine Ian, boarding the S.S. Mooltan of the P and O line in Gibraltar in early January of 1931. Although his parents took him to school for his first term, they decide he must get used to making this trip alone as he will be doing it three times a year. So the boy,young Ian

makes his way from Southampton Harbor, probably under the care of a fellow passenger from Gibraltar, to Kings Cross Station to board the train to York where he’ll be collected by carriage for the trip to Gilling Castle, Ian.Gilling. 5th from Left. Top Rowthe preparatory school for Ampleforth College.

Gilling Castle, renamed St. Martin’s Preparatory School, is now coeducational and accepts day students, but the facade of the building hasn’t changed at all.


Ian will stay at Ampleforth until he graduates in the early summer of 1940. On this personal trip into my mother’s life, I’ve traveled to Ampleforth, only forty minutes from Allerton Castle, to try and learn more about my uncle Ian who died in the war,  exactly six years before I was born.

On this excursion, I have a wonderful guide in Dan Davidson, an English teacher at the school, himself a graduate, and the son-in-law of the Stourtons who have graciously put us up for two nights at Allerton Stables. I’m continually struck by how strong the bond was between my mother and Bee Stourton, her best friend from the Poles Convent school. In memory of my mother’s friendship with their aunt and mother, Bee’s family have welcomed us with open arms, both in Yorkshire and in London.

Dan has arranged a tea at the Ampleforth tea room  with some teachers and two of the Benedictine monks from the Abbey including Father Edward who graduated from Ampleforth in 1951. They pore over the pictures I’ve brought with me, photos young Ian had taken while at the school, and identify the various sites. Then Dan gives us an extended tour of every place that Ian might have known while at the school. In the library, we find a picture of Ian on the rugby team in the 1940 Ampleforth Journal. At Gilling Castle Ian’s name is listed on two different plaques, commemorating the graduates lost in the war.

Dan is indefatigable.He urges me up a muddy slope (it’s been an especially wet spring in Yorkshire), to the upper lake where Ian took pictures of friends skating and then a photo of the college in the distance.

Here’s Ian’s photograph taken on a snowy day in the 1930sSnowyLandscapeand 74 years later, mine, taken in the springtime, from the near side of the same lake. In both photographs, you can see Ampleforth College and Abbey in the far distance. SONY DSCIan loved to take pictures and he must have handed his camera to friends so they could record his sporting achievements. His father pasted all these into a scrapbook.   Ian excelled at the long jumpLong Jumpand the relay race

Relay Raceamong others.

One of the photographs I brought with me shows a church roof, clearly damaged by some sort of fire. Burnt Steeple“This is not Ampleforth,” Father Edward tells me.

“You’re absolutely sure?” I ask. “All these negatives came to me in one envelope from my mother.”

“Absolutely sure,” he says.

Then a detail from another of my mother’s stories stirs in my brain, but for the moment, I shove it aside as I’m trying to record every other detail of this too short visit to Ian’s school.

That evening in the chapel, we attend  Compline, the final service of the day, sung by the Benedictine monks. Raised a Catholic in the time of the Latin Mass and Gregorian chants, I am moved and comforted by this quiet restorative moment. Uncle Ian knelt here, I think, maybe in this exact pew.

It is the closest I feel to my young uncle who, because of the trajectory of a German Stuka on the last day of August, 1942, never got to have a life.

Next entry






  1. […] El Halfa in late August of 1942.  We’d already seen his name in two places on the wall of his prep school in Yorkshire, but as Christopher explained, Winchester Cathedral is the home […]

  2. […] I went to Ampleforth Abbey and College last week to show the monks and teachers the photographs my Uncle […]