Gordonstoun staff and students have found their own ways to pay tribute to the Duke of Edinburgh.
Since Prince Philip passed away on April 9, 2021, staff and students at the duke’s former school, Gordonstoun, Moray, have made tributes to celebrate his life-long commitment to the school. Not only was Prince Philip the school’s tenth student, joining Gordonstoun when it first opened in 1934, but he also supported the school throughout the rest of his life, most notably through his visits, development of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, and efforts towards the Prince Philip Gordonstoun Foundation, which enables students from a wide variety of backgrounds to attend Gordonstoun. Prince Philip’s legacy continues to inspire and support Gordonstoun students through this scheme.
In light of Prince Philip’s funeral last month, Gordonstoun staff and students shared a minute of silence with the nation. Students also undertook a morning run to the Moray coast and back, as Prince Philip often did as a Gordonstoun student. They then laid a floral tribute in the seas where Prince Philip learnt to sail with Gordonstoun.
Gordonstoun Memorial Wreath
Students and staff gathered at Hopeman Harbour on the school’s yacht, Ocean Spirit, to celebrate Prince Philip’s life on April 17. They paid tribute to the duke by laying a wreath in the Moray Firth where he learnt to sail in the 1930s. Prince Philip became a keen sailor and went on to become a cadet at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth. A piper played Flowers of the Forest while they laid the wreath in the water.
‘We can’t have large-scale gatherings at the moment, but to be able to have a smaller tribute to [Prince Philip] which is still an appropriate scale is great,’ said Gordonstoun’s Principal Lisa Kerr. ‘For us to put together this tribute felt like the right thing to do in these circumstances – it represents his love of the Moray Firth, Hopeman Harbour, and Gordonstoun.’
Gordonstoun has also now released photos of Prince Philip sailing one of the school’s boats when he was around 15. The Duke even sailed to Norway, which students still do today.
‘When he came to Gordonstoun… it was a place where he found security and stability and a place where he was able to discover his true self and become the very best version of himself,’ said Kerr. ‘It was somewhere that he developed his love of the sea, his love of sport, his connection with the outdoors and particularly built his focus on service to others, which is such an important part of the Gordonstoun curriculum even today.’
Prince Philip’s Report Cards
Buckingham Palace has also given Gordonstoun permission to release Prince Philip’s school report in advance of his birthday. The late Duke would have turned 100 in June. This school report gives a clear insight into Prince Philip’s young personality and what life was like for the Duke during his school days at Gordonstoun.
In this report, the headmaster of the time, Dr. Kurt Hahn, revealed that Philip was sent to Gordonstoun because ‘whenever the Nazi salute was given, he roared with laughter’ and ‘attracted universal attention’. The report goes on to explain that ‘after he had been admonished to caution, he continued to be doubled up in uncontrollable mirth.’
‘We thought it better for him and also for us if he returned to England right away,’ his sister (who brought Prince Philip to Gordonstoun) had said.
As a founder of the Outward Bound Movement, Hahn became an inspirational mentor for Prince Philip. When the Duke arrived at Gordonstoun, Hahn noted that ‘his marked trait was his undefeatable spirit, he felt deeply both joy and sadness, and the way he looked and the way he moved indicated what he felt. That even applied to the minor disappointments which are inevitable in a schoolboy’s life. But for the most part, he enjoyed life, his laughter was heard everywhere and created merriness around him.’
‘He never lost the childlike quality of becoming absorbed by whatever he tackled, almost to the point of oblivion. And his absorbing activities varied from the captaincy of the First Cricket and First Hockey Elevens to the building of a pigsty and repairing or cleaning jobs on his beloved Prince Louis, the schooner named after his grandfather and baptised by his grandmother’.
‘He got into a fair number of scrapes through recklessness and wildness. He was often naughty, never nasty.’ For example, ‘he was in the habit of cycling regardless of safety rules, and on one occasion, he avoided a clash with a baby in a perambulator by inches, thanks to his unusual agility: he appeased the mother by an apology which was irresistible.’
Hahn went on to detail that Prince Philip ‘had grown impatient of what for short may be called Royalty nonsense. After matches and theatrical performances, people often asked him for an autograph. He found this ridiculous and on one occasion signed himself ”The Earl of Baldwin”, to the bewilderment of the autograph-hunter.’
He also recalled that Prince Philip had ‘meticulous attention to detail’ and was ‘never content with mediocre results’.
Prince Philip’s Gordonstoun Roots
Prince Philip famously endured a challenging childhood. He was exposed to the horrors of Nazi Germany and faced much grief when his father was exiled from Greece during a battle, his mother was confined to a psychiatric sanatorium, and his sister lost her life along with her family in a plane crash. Despite these tragic incidents, Prince Philip found much happiness at Gordonstoun School, where he found his love for outdoor pursuits and developed the sense of comradeship he was so well known for.
In his final year, Prince Philip became the Guardian (head boy equivalent) and took part in the Moray Badge – the award that inspired the Duke of Edinburgh’s (DofE) award. The Moray Badge encouraged pupils to succeed in their outdoor pursuits and community service, much like the modernised DofE award does now. Hahn launched the badge as a test of physical endurance, believing pupils should learn outdoors, as well as in the classroom. And Prince Philip himself described Gordonstoun’s landscapes as ‘additional classrooms’ that ‘open the eyes of young people to the wider world beyond school and home’. He was one of the first students to receive the Moray Badge.
In 1956, Hahn and Prince Philip launched the national DofE Award, which young people aged 14–24 can complete to Bronze, Silver, and Gold level. Prince Philip has awarded the Gold DofE Award to numerous proud recipients over the past 65 years. Today, young people across more than 140 countries work towards this award.
Since Prince Philip finished school, another two generations of British royalty have attended Gordonstoun. Princes Charles, Andrew, and Edward all attended, followed by Princess Anne’s children Zara and Peter Tindall. Prince Charles and Prince Edward also became Guardians, following in their father’s footsteps, during their time at Gordonstoun.
‘When [Prince Philip] came to Gordonstoun as a parent or grandparent, there was no pomp and ceremony,’ said Kerr. ‘There’s a lovely story of how he came to one of Prince Edward’s drama performances and he sat in a seat with a handwritten sign that simply said “mum and dad”.’
Prince Philip made several visits to Gordonstoun to spend time with students, even after his children finished school. In 2014, he famously visited to celebrate the school’s 80th anniversary and insisted on joining students in the lunch queue, instead of allowing staff to bring his meal to him.
Prince Philip remained committed to Gordonstoun throughout his life and even wrote to the school in the final days before his death. The letter to the principal arrived shortly after he passed away.
About Gordonstoun School
Gordonstoun School is a widely admired co-independent school, nestled on the border of the Scottish Highlands near Elgin. Gordonstoun welcomes children from over 40 countries, who enjoy learning on the seventeenth-century 200-acre estate, which was originally owned by Sir Robert Gordon. The estate is now Gordonstoun’s primary campus and accommodation for the school’s 500 boarders. Over the years, Gordonstoun has developed its historic campus, integrating world-class facilities and artistic spaces. An additional 100 day students also make the most of Gordonstoun’s prestigious education, each learning in small teaching groups.
When students aren’t studying in the classrooms, they’re learning out in the open, both in Gordonstoun’s tranquil landscapes and in the surrounding Scottish Highlands. Students particularly enjoy taking the helm of Gordonstoun’s 80-foot sailboat.
Gordonstoun has also started one of the first and most successful summer school programmes, which offers opportunities to accommodate an array of interests.
Learn more about Gordonstoun School.