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James Stagg was appointed to a post in the Mathematics and Science Department at George Heriot’s school in 1922. During the First World War 27 members of Heriot’s teaching staff were called away to serve in the armed forces. By 1919, most of them had returned to the School, but in several instances the change to civilian life after three or four years in the army was difficult to adjust to and no fewer than eight of the 24 returning members of staff decided shortly after their return that teaching was no longer what they wanted to do. This left vacancies which were filled – for the first time – by female teachers, and also by younger men. James Stagg was one of the latter.
At the School, James Stagg took a close interest in the CCF (Combined Cadet Force) ; he was welcomed to the Corps in 1922 and the school magazine of 1923 – under Cadet news – says “We regret to say that we are losing the able services of 2/Lieut J M Stagg”.The Governors Minute book of 29th November 1923 quotes “The Headmaster reported the resignation of Mr James M Stagg, MA, B.Sc, as from the close of the current autumn term, of the Mathematical and Science Department.
A file note in Heriot’s archives refers to the front line in this photograph of the unveiling of the school war memorial in 1923. The “younger” members of the Staff are in the front row, and at the right end of the second line, partly hidden by a bayonet is James Stagg, Physics Dept, 6ft 4ins. He did not like teaching, and became expert in weather forecasting etc. In World War 2, he was chief “Met” adviser to Eisenhower, and held up D-Day for 24 hours. A few years ago, he told me of the terrible strain that night of knowing that on his decision, the fate of Europe might depend. It was just “touch and go” when he reported that for a few hours, it might be possible for Mulberry Harbour[s], and the invasion to go ahead.
Stagg’s crucial role in the success of the D-Day landings was captured in the play “Pressure” and on this year’s anniversary of D-Day a plaque was unveiled in Dalkeith in memory of Group Captain Stagg (who was brought up in the town). The guest of honour was James’s son Peter, who also represented Scotland at rugby in the 1960s.
Fraser Simm (Archivist)