Senior teacher George Andronov is retiring after more than 30 years at a leading independent school in Birmingham. But that barely scratches the surface of a remarkable story, as Education Correspondent Tony Collins explains.
It took a chance discovery by Birmingham author David Lodge 35 years ago to uncover a major chapter in the life of George Andronov.
George knew little of the events that led to his birth in Nottinghamshire in 1945 as the Second World War still raged in Europe, nor of the trials and tribulations that beset his Russian parents, Oleg and Yefaliya. But the release of wartime Cabinet papers in 1974 finally unlocked the real story behind his parents’ move to Britain, and led to George Andronov discovering a long withheld truth.
George is reflecting on this fascinating slice of history while preparing to leave his job as deputy chief master of King Edward’s School in Edgbaston.
He joined the school more than three decades ago as head of physics, but is having to retire from the job he has deeply loved as he approaches his 65th birthday on January 5.
George, who is married with four children, revealed that he only chose a teaching career after being asked to fill in for a maths tutor in Surrey for a term following his postgraduate degree at Cambridge University.
“That made my mind up to go into teaching,” he added.
Spells at Langley Park in Bromley and Manchester Grammar eventually led to George responding to an advert for a post at King Edward’s School. He eventually became deputy chief master 12 years ago.
“There has never been a day when I haven’t wanted to come to school. I have loved it,” he said.
“The kids and staff are fantastic and I think John Claughton (the chief master) is the best thing since sliced bread.”
George, who has a wife Maeve, sons Michael, Ian and James, and daughter Kirsty, said he had no plans in retirement. “People don’t believe that because I am here at 7am and leave at 6.30pm, but I won’t be bored,” he insisted.
“The sadness for me is that my parents were immigrants and knew nothing of the British education system.”
The book that led to George discovering the hidden truth about his parents was written by Nicholas Bethell and entitled The Last Secret. It is sadly no longer in print.
It tells the controversial story of the exchange of prisoners of war between Russia, Britain and America following the signing of the Yalta agreement in 1945.
George’s father, like many Russian soldiers, was captured by the Germans in 1942 and forced to work for the Nazis, initially building roads, or face starvation.
Fortunately, he met his future wife. And, following the D-Day landings in 1944, he was captured by the Americans and the two of them were shipped to Britain.
Once the war ended, thousands of Russian prisoners were forcibly repatriated to the new Soviet Union, with many killed after being branded as traitors by Stalin.
But, because George was born in Retford in January 1945, he became a British citizen, and, more than a year later, then foreign secretary Anthony Eden decided to let the family stay in Britain, where Oleg went on to become an engineering executive.
George recalls: “My father had never told me anything of this because he was worried that I would think he was a traitor.
“But I lived next door to the author, David Lodge, and one day in 1974 he comes in and says ‘tell me your story’.
“He then said he had just read a review of a book and that he thought chapter two was about me.
“So I went to see my father and he said it was him.
“The story only came out because of the 30-year rule on Cabinet papers which Nicholas Bethell, who was also a historian, then found.
“Sadly, my dad’s dead and my mother’s in a home now. But it’s a good story because it shows what a good country this is.”