Col. Alan Ferguson-Warren’s English students at Flint Hill School recognized their teacher’s immensely huge presence, distinguished bearing and larger-than-life personality. To many, he was the best teacher they ever had. To others, he was “Flint Hill’s Mr. Chips.”
His students knew that Col. Warren had been a Royal Marine commando during World War II, and that he had become a Japanese prisoner of war following the fall of Singapore in 1942. He was known to have been a part of the building of the bridge on the river Kwai. During class, he occasionally incorporated wartime stories to elucidate a point, from vocabulary to duty and courage.
His students “idolized” him, said Jerry Jasper, president of Flint Hill School’s newly-founded Ferguson-Warren Society, dedicated to preserving the legacy of Col. Alan George Ferguson-Warren.
“We loved the twinkle in his eye,” Jasper said. “He was stern, very British in bearing, but had a twinkle in his eye.”
What his students did now know, however, is that Col. Ferguson-Warren was a war hero who saved thousands of lives in Europe and Asia, that he served as head of operations for Britain's Special Operation Executive (SOE) in Singapore, that he selflessly led British troops in Sumatra, risking his own life. His own regiment awarded him a ceremonial dagger in 1947 in recognition of his heroics and commitment.
“When you were around Colonel Warren, you got the feeling that you were in the presence of an immense personality and huge moral authority,” said Jasper, who studied under Warren from 1957 to 1961. “We all knew there was something extraordinary about this man.”
FERGUSON-WARREN RETIRED from the Royal Marines in 1950 after a 32-year career, and moved to the United States, joining the faculty of a new private school in Oakton, Flint Hill. He headed Flint Hill’s English department from 1954 to 1974, when he retired for health reasons. Throughout his tenure at Flint Hill, Ferguson-Warren was a beloved teacher, a role model and motivator. But most of all, his former students say, he loved them.
“He was, next to my father, the most influential person in my life,” said Ferguson-Warren Society board member and curator Judith Shoemaker, a Ferguson-Warren student in the late 1960s and early 1970s. “I spent a lot of time with him, eating lunch with him.
“He was a great man and he loved us,” Shoemaker said. “He was tough on us but that’s because he loved us. Colonel Warren was a father figure who exemplified the standards he addressed every day.”
Upon retiring from Flint Hill, Warren returned to England and died there on Christmas Day, 1975.
After Ferguson-Warren left the school, students commissioned a stone and bronze garden memorial to him at the school. The inscription on the monument reads, “Brave and compassionate soldier, dedicated and luminary teacher.”
Col. Alan George Ferguson-Warren was honored by Flint Hill School on the school's Founders Day on Jan. 18. The dagger that Ferguson-Warren carried to Washington and home again to England was presented to Flint Hill in the kind of arc that intrigue authors write about.
As head of operations for Britain's Special Operation Executive (SOE) in Singapore, he created an escape route for troops fleeing Singapore, saving thousands of soldiers, sailors, and civilians from capture by Japanese forces in 1942.
“The most important things he taught me,” said Shoemaker, speaking of Ferguson-Warren, “is that it is a privilege to be alive, to give back and to be the best you can be. And always do the right thing.”
Later on, in Padang, Sumatra, with the Japanese Imperial Army closing in on him, Ferguson-Warren gave his seat, the remaining one, on an SOE escape boat to a young artillery captain, Geoffrey Rowley-Conwy.
Rowley-Conwy escaped to Ceylon, and after the war became titled as Lord Langford of Bodrhyddan, a Welsh baron.
In 1974, when Ferguson-Warren returned to England, Lord Langford invited Ferguson-Warren, then gravely ill, to visit him in Wales. The two former Royal Marines developed a close friendship, and after Ferguson-Warren’s death, Lord Langford was bequeathed the commando dagger given to Ferguson-Warren by his regiment, 42 Commando, in 1947.
In summer of 2012, the Ferguson-Warren Society contacted Warren biographer Ian Skidmore.
SKIDMORE EXPRESSED interest in learning more about the colonel. Skidmore contacted Langford, 101 years old in February. Upon hearing of Flint Hill School's interest in Colonel Ferguson-Warren, Lord Langford sent the 42 Commando presentation dagger to Flint Hill in Colonel Warren's memory.
Present at the dagger presentation ceremony were students who flew in for the occasion and a representative of the British Embassy, Royal Marine Major Simon Tucker of Vienna.
“Even though he was the best teacher I ever had, I would have preferred to have been his friend rather than his student,” Jasper said.