It is neither the oldest school, nor the hardest in which to enter a son. The Battle of Waterloo was not won on its playing fields (there were no formal playing fields in 1815), and the Duke of Wellington, an Old Boy, never claimed it was—he gave the credit to the doughty, non-U English foot soldier. Yet Eton is the most famous school in the world, and the accomplishments of Old Etonians over the centuries have been substantial. Bacon, Coke, Dryden, Newton, Fielding, Byron, Shelley, Tennyson, Gladstone, Macmillan and Aldous Huxley—these are some of the Old Boys of past and present. But the reason for Eton's five centuries of educational prestige is that it absorbs large numbers of boys of average ability and molds them into self-reliant and effective men. Eton's formula for developing "character"—the clue to England's image of itself—is to put a boy in extremely Spartan surroundings, have him play a good many games for the fun in them and encourage him to discharge the privileges and responsibilities that come his way with thoughtfulness and grace.
For much of the year Eton is a study in black and white, but on the fourth of June, the birthday of eccentric King George III, who was a benefactor of the school, Eton bursts out in colors. Parents descend on its grounds, discreetly hooting greetings to "people one has known all one's life." Hitherto scorned sisters acquire prestige through the attentions paid to them by the older, and thus admired, boys. Sports abound. Cricket holds the stage during the day, and in the late afternoon comes the first parade of boats up the Thames, manned by boys wearing the traditional costumes of their boats. Eton's glorious fourth ends with fireworks and the comforting reassurance that tomorrow's before-breakfast classes are, for once, suspended.
Sporting boutonnieres for the June Day occasion, David Martineau and his schoolmates squire David's sister, Lindy.
On the green and pleasant turf of one of Eton's playing fields, Agar's Plough, cricket goes on all day as families, friends drop by to watch.
June 5, 1960
Champagne picnics are spread beside parked cars, which range from compacts to limousines. "Unseasonable warmth," i.e., anything short of raw cold, produces shirtsleeved lunchers.
Effulgent Etonians break out in costumes and colors of their boats, which later form traditional parade on Thames.