Alec N Dakin: 1912– [Heath 1928–1931]

Alec Dakin, who died on 14th June 2003, was at Heath from 1928–1931, in the Sixth Form only. Up to School Certificate he attended the old Secondary School, then a very reputable establishment. He was intent on studying Classics for the Higher School Certificate, but Greek was not on offer at the Secondary School. So Alec came to Heath and started Greek to such effect that he sailed through Higher and then won a Classics scholarship to Queen’s College, Oxford.

An academic life at the highest level beckoned as he was awarded a fellowship in Egyptology at University College. Important German work on Egyptology required a knowledge of the language and Alec quickly acquired fluency in German. Thus when war came, in 1939, he was a natural choice as one of the first codebreakers at Bletchley Park, and he continued as a leading operative on what was more officially known as the Government Code and Cypher School throughout the war. All who worked at Bletchley Park were sworn to secrecy and in fact nothing was revealed by any officer until about 1990.

In the most authoritative coverage of the codebreaking , of which Churchill said, It won us the war, called Codebreakers (Oxford paperback), Alec wrote a section on the activities of the Naval Hut (Hut 4) for which he was responsible and reviewers have singled out Alec’s essay for special praise. He speaks of two heart-stopping moments when, during his watch in Hut 4, the last signal sent by Bismarck came in, ‘torpedo hit right aft, ship unmanoeuvrable,’ and the signal reporting that Hitler was dead.

When the war ended Alec decided not to resume his Oxford fellowship because he felt the urge to have a more ‘hands-on’ approach to education at an earlier stage in pupils’ development; so he chose to become a schoolmaster and began a new career at Kingswood School, Bath, where he taught classics and was a much-loved housemaster and an enthusiastic athletics coach.

On retirement he ran a bookshop in Bath for ten years, did duty as a Samaritan, helped autistic children and took up Egyptology in a serious way once again. He ran a flourishing class in the subject at the North Bristol Institute and linked up with Egyptologists at Oxford. He was a respected figure in this world and contributed papers to the Triennial Congresses at Munich, Turin, Cairo and Cambridge.

Alec Dakin was the sort of person that everyone who met him took an immediate liking to. He oozed gentle authority; though a staunch Methodist he was most tolerant of the indulgences of others. From 1935–1939 he was used to life in the higher reaches of academia but he was always ready with help, advice and entertainment for all Heathens who were newly arrived at Oxford. In my own case, he took the trouble to find ‘digs’ for me in 1938 and pointed me towards some of the more worthwhile things that were going on. I know that the other Heathens of my generation could tell of similar acts of kindness.

His conspicuous generosity was part of his nature, but it partly arose, I think, from the indebtedness he felt he owed to the education that he enjoyed at Heath. When ‘Laz’ Corney, who taught Alec in the Sixth, died some years ago, Alec wrote a touching tribute in the newsletter of the time.

Sadly, in his last two years he was afflicted with Alzheimer’s but he was able to appreciate the vast concourse of friends and colleagues from all walks of life who gathered in March last year to mark his 90th birthday.

His wife, Joan, whom he married in 1953 and his two sons will have wonderful memories of a remarkable man.

We send our condolences to Alec Dakin’s surviving wife and family.

Ernest Clarry [Heath 1930–1938]

First appeared in Newsletter dated .