THE last officer out of Helmand urged students at his old school to reap the opportunities thrown up by change as they prepare for the next chapter of their lives.
Old Barnardian Edward Challis told pupils at Barnard Castle School that ‘change is inevitable’.
“Everyone here will experience some form of change in their lives,” the Captain told students, parents and staff at the annual Speech Day.
“It might be unexpected and you have to react or you may know it is coming so can prepare. You can either stand still and reminisce or you can seek out opportunity.”
Capt Challis studied at Barnard Castle School from 1996 to 2005, before securing places at Northumbria University and the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Royal Regiment of Scotland, the Highlanders.
As a 26-year- old captain he commanded for nine months the last British frontline base in Helmand, 18 miles the hostile side of Camp Bastion.
His duties involved personally briefing the Prime Minister and overseeing the successful decommissioning and withdrawal of UK troops, during a tense and difficult time, in one of the most dangerous places in the world. He was awarded the military MBE by the Queen, one of the youngest recipients of the prestigious honour.
Capt Challis had high praise for his old school, where he enjoyed cricket, rugby, drama and music, his career path influenced as much by his membership of the Combined Cadet Force as it was playing Capt Von Trapp in the Sound of Music.
“The one thing that binds you is the shared experience your school has offered,” said Capt Challis, who is leaving the army after seven years.
“Barney has provided you with the skills, so don’t fear change, relish the opportunities and ensure you work hard to achieve them.”
Headmaster Alan Stevens said: “A fine year has barely seen a day go by without some notable triumph, while still making time to extend genuine warmth to visitors.
“This includes the very talented young men and women who choose to travel here to study from Europe, who are most welcome at Barney. Our relationship with them remains unchanged and we are very grateful for the richness of the contribution they make.”
He said the the kaleidoscope of colour from the stained glass window in the chapel, designed by an overseas student in 2012, was a daily reminder of the school’s place in the world and its global outlook.
Mr Stevens said: “Barney is for many people not just a phase but something indelibly etched on their psyche. The school has never been an exclusive place for the privileged. It is a place where children can excel and learn without ridicule, where a balanced education might see a mathematician also play on the wing and sing in the chorus.”
Captain Challis handed out student prizes for achievements in an array of subject areas, as well as music, sport, drama, art, good citizenship, improvement and endeavour.
Chairman of the governors Alan Fielder said: “Every student really does matter and the sheer range of education prepares our students for life beyond school and university to their future careers.”
After being entertained by the school orchestra and wind band, pianists Henry Chen and Ceara Sutton-Jones and the house singers, the proceedings were brought to a close by heads of school Kerin Borer and Sam Adamson.