Arthur Caiger DCM (1911-1913)

a former Culham student who became 'the man in the white suit' at Wembley

Arthur Caiger was born in 1890 and went from his home in Malvern to study at Culham College for Schoolmasters from 1911 to 1913.  He rather enjoyed his early life at Culham until he realised that he had to knuckle down if he was to get through the course.  He played the bass and was part of an ensemble.

After leaving Culham, he had only been teaching for a few months when the First World War began. Arthur joined with a band of fellow Culhamites to enlist with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He was a Bombardier and rose to the rank of Sergeant.  His main role was to replenish ammunition dumps.

He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and bar for his brave achievements which included taking vital messages behind enemy lines. Although he was once wounded, Arthur always seemed to find the primrose path – he could walk safely through a minefield.

After the war, he taught at Holy Trinity Church of England School in Lambeth before moving to the Hugh Myddleton School in Clerkenwell where he went on to become headmaster until he retired.

At the outbreak of the Second World War, Arthur was in charge of evacuating the children of the area to Cornwall.  He helped to pioneer the wave method of getting 300 children to cross a road in a few seconds. His demonstration of the technique attracted quite a lot of media attention.

Arthur and his wife Marguerite spent six days travelling backwards and forwards to Cornwall with train loads of evacuees during the first wave of evacuation.  Together with their son, Arthur and Marguerite stayed with the children in Cornwall until they started to drift back to London.

Later in the war the children we evacuated again. This time it was to Luton and again Arthur and family went with them.

Music was a major part of Arthur’s life. He played the double bass and his wife was a fine singer with Covent Garden Opera. Unfortunately, cancer resulted in her career being short-lived.

Before the war, Arthur already had a reputation for leading community singing. According to the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, he led an audience of 10,000 in the Royal Victoria Park in August 1931. In 1938 the same paper wrote that Arthur was well known throughout the country as a conductor of community singing.

He once led community singing before Anthony Eden spoke at an election rally for a young Margaret Roberts (Thatcher).

In 1947 Arthur was recruited to lead community singing at the first FA Cup final after the war. The community singing had finished by the time the King arrived and during the presentation of players and officials the King asked Arthur, “How did they sing?”

“Very well your Majesty,” replied Arthur.

“Good,” said the King, “They have not had much to sing about.”

Arthur was known as “the man in the white suit”. He took to the rostrum in his famous suit and with the military band that was on duty led community singing at FA Cup Finals and internationals, rugby matches and schools hockey and football international games.

Songs were tailored to suit both sets of supporters.  'Loch Lomond' for Scotland, 'Land of my Fathers' for Wales, ‘Blaydon Races’ for the north-east, ‘Ilkley Moor baht 'at’ for Yorkshire clubs etc. These would be mixed with traditional sing-along favourites such as ‘John Brown's Body’, ‘She'll be Coming Round the Mountain’ and ‘It's a Long Way to Tipperary’.

The onset of Parkinson’s disease made it difficult for Arthur to continue with his Wembley role and he stepped down from the famous rostrum for the last time in 1962. He died suddenly in 1964.

Arthur never forgot Culham. He even called his house Culham.  He attended reunions and brought his family to Culham during the summer to enjoy the inexpensive holidays that the College provided to keep the staff employed and attract some income. He was also a member of the Culham Lodge as well as being a member of a London lodge.

The tradition of community singing at the Wembley declined over the years. Frank Rea took over duties from Arthur for a while, followed by Billy Scott-Combe. The Football Association tried to keep the tradition alive by employing entertainers such as Tommy Steele, Bruce Forsyth and Frankie Vaughan to lead the crowd, but without success. 

However, the singing of 'Abide With Me' remains a highlight of the FA Cup final. It provides a link to the community singing tradition in English football and to the memory of Arthur Caiger.