“Never give up” is the school’s famous mantra and this simple phrase never leaves any pupils that attend St David’s College and it has even saved lives.
It was coined by John Mayor, the headmaster and one of the three founders of the school. He had taken inspiration from Churchill’s powerful “Never give in” speech given to the boys of Harrow School in 1941.
Gareth Burrows never forgot the phrase and it may have saved his life when he got into serious difficulties during a scuba diving trip.
Gareth, who attended St David's College between 1985 to 1989, is a professional scuba diver and was exploring the wrecks of Scapa Flow, off the Orkney Islands. The Royal Navy elected Scapa Flow as its main fleet headquarters in both the First and Second World Wars. It is the site of the Royal Oak, HMS Vanguard, and many ships of the German fleet after they were captured by the Royal Navy.
Due to the depths, the cold-water temperatures, the treacherous waters, and often poor visibility, these are not dives for the faint of heart. For technical divers, however, it is a mecca. Gareth was diving with his best friend, John.
After swimming next to one of the warships the two men arrived at an iron wall then looked left and saw a wall not a metre away. They looked right and saw another wall and with a horrific sense of what was to come, they looked up and saw an iron wall immediately above them. The two men had unknowingly swum into a hole in the wreck, possibly for twenty metres or more, and only come to know about it when they arrived at a dead end.
For the next few minutes, the men panicked, and the visibility had become zero as they kicked up the silt inside the wreck. John disappeared. Gareth was alone, trapped inside a wreck at 46 metres with a limited gas supply and no means of finding his way out. What made it even worse his torch ran out.
Looking back Gareth said: “It is critical at this point that you do not lose control of yourself, or you will die.
“I went through the scenario. I had enough gas for perhaps fifteen minutes, so I was ok for the moment, but I had no way out and couldn’t see.
“All the time, I was swallowing the panic that threatened to overtake me, knowing that if that happened, I was sure to die.”
Time was running out for Gareth and he thought he was going to die.
“At this point, I realised I was going to die, and strangely the tension left me," he said.
“I thought about my life to date, my wife and friends, and decided to say goodbye to them whilst I still had breathing gas left.”
He wrote a letter to his wife in his underwater notebook, trying to find the words to say how much he loved her, and how sorry he was. He closed his eyes, and waited to die.
He then let his mind drift over his school days, which he had loved so much and remembered a morning’s assembly, over which the headmaster John Mayor presided, during which he had tried to impart a message of sheer determination. “Never give up”, he stated. “Never, ever, ever give up”.
“Over and over, he repeated this mantra, to the point where myself and the other pupils were almost embarrassed for him, as it seemed so ridiculous,” said Gareth.
“Even on his way out of the room, he turned and repeated: “Never, ever, EVER, give up”. Remembering that day filled Gareth with a new determination to get out of that wreck and go home safe to his family.
He checked the time. 23 minutes - approaching his maximum planned bottom time and if he was going to do anything, it had to be now. He pulled himself back up through the hatch and into the room above and found a shattered exit through which he pulled himself. He swam back along the corridor and found a hole in the top of it, through which he swam, ending up in an enormous space that his torch could not penetrate. He knew this was the make or break moment and picked a direction and swam. Eventually, he realised there was nothing around him and looked up. To his absolute delight, there was a faint green glow above, suggesting daylight.
Gareth had made it out of the wreck. To his delight on surfacing Gareth discovered that John had also managed to find his way out of the wreck. They are both still diving.
“John Mayor told me to never give up and I laughed at him. They might just be the wisest words I have ever heard.”