Not many of our alumni can claim to have arrived at the school as a baby, but Julian Wathen was born at no 2 Buckland Crescent on May 21st 1923. He was the son of the Headmaster Gerard Wathen and naturally, after spending his early years living in the school, he joined as a pupil in 1928.
It is clear from the start that he was keen to forge his own path - he chose to board at no 23 Crossfield Road rather than living across the road at home and threw himself into all areas of school life. In his final year, he was a Troop Leader, Prefect, Winner of the Gym Cup, Secretary of the Neo-Georgian Club, Curator of the Museum, and he managed all this whilst excelling academically. He finished top of the school in ‘Final Order’ for all three of his upper sixth terms and gained a scholarship to Harrow.
Following Harrow, he spent four years in National Service with the 60th Rifles rising to the rank of captain. He was wounded fighting up Italy with the Eighth Army when, standing by a tree talking to an armoured car commander, a German tank appeared and fired at the armoured car. The shell hit the tree and splintered showering Wathen with shrapnel. He rolled under the armoured car which promptly scarpered, nearly running him over. Several of his 9 lives were used up in this incident alone!
After the war ended, he transferred to Greece to become a battalion Intelligence Officer in Thessalonika under Brigadier John Hunt of Everest fame and then worked briefly in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Athens.
For the last of his years in the army, he was third secretary to the British Embassy in Athens and private secretary to the Ambassador, a posting which sealed his destiny. He gained a taste for life as an ex-patriot, met his wife to be, Priscilla, and learnt to speak Greek. Soon after demobilisation, they were married and Julian signed on with Barclays Bank DCO, the separately quoted overseas arm of Barclays.
His first years with the bank were romantic, exotic and tough. He has been described as the doyen of what he called ‘the bush bankers’; resourceful men who were ‘damned good at chucking a safe on the back of a truck somewhere in Africa at three in the morning and opening for business that day 500 miles away across the desert’.
The Wathen family took postings in Kenya, Tanganyika, Cyprus, New York, Sudan and Ghana, and Julian played a leading role in the international development of Barclays Bank. It was hardly the life of a normal city banker. The family were in Cyprus during the 1956 EOKA uprising against British rule. As a fluent Greek speaker, Wathen was helping the British authorities set up their intelligence organisation and was targeted by terrorists who gained access to his office in Limassol and shot him through his upper chest, missing vital organs by millimetres. Despite being badly wounded, Wathen picked up his own pistol and started to give chase before thinking better of it. The family were whisked out of Cyprus as soon as possible as EOKA tended to come back and rub out victims who survived their initial efforts. Indeed, Wathen’s successor at the Limassol branch was killed by a terrorist. Let no one say that banking was a cushy job!
In 1966 he returned to London to join Barclays senior management team. As General Manager (Chief Executive) of the international side, he embarked on the creation of Barclays as a global financial institution. During the 1970’s the bank’s operations expanded from 35 countries to more than 80 and from 2 offices in the USA to 600. Legend has it that Wathen would order the opening of a new branch or joint venture wherever he spotted land from an aircraft window, usually by issuing a brisk note known as a snowflake. He was appointed as vice chairman of the bank in 1979, a position he held until 1984.
Alongside all this, Wathen was a dedicated public servant: President of the Royal African Society; Chairman of the Governors of St Paul’s School; vice chairman of the Council of Goodenough College for overseas graduates in London; Master of the Mercers’ Company from 1984-5; and of course Chairman of the Governors at The Hall School for over 25 years.
They were some of the most formative years for the school. As chairman, Wathen tackled the devastating destruction left by the fire of 1982; he presided over the centenary celebrations in 1989 and the construction of the Wathen Hall; he oversaw the development of the Design and Technology centre and the planning and building of the middle school.
‘Julian made an immense contribution in all sorts of ways and offered the school a huge amount of experience and stability. The school grew and developed immeasurably during his time as chairman of the governing body.’ Clive Lampard (Former Chairman of the Governors)
But Julian Wathen is also remembered for his warmth and the friendship, interest and hospitality he and his wife showed to the school and its pupils. Scores of Hall boys enjoyed trips to the family home in Gloucestershire for bird watching weekends at Slimbridge. Just last year, he returned to the School to meet past parents and alumni and to inaugurate the newly formed Wathen Society.
Sadly, Julian Wathen passed away on Easter Sunday April 16th 2017. He was the epitome of a Hall pupil and had all the qualities we value most highly in our boys - integrity, confidence, responsibility, endeavour, curiosity and originality.