By Hans Zhou, VI Form
A War Hero Beyond the War
In the fall of 1931, a boy with dark hair from Manchester, Massachusetts, who was fairly short for his age, joined the St. Mark’s School Class of 1936 as a new second former. His name was Henry Nichols Ervin, but many people used his nickname, Skip. Born on October 21, 1918, in San Diego, California, Ervin and his family moved several times and attended schools in California, Nebraska, and Massachusetts prior to enrolling at St. Mark’s. Ervin had a brother named Robert Gilpin Ervin, Jr., who was two years ahead of him at St. Mark’s, and a younger sister named Adele Ervin, who is still alive today. Today’s St. Markers might know Henry Nichols Ervin as the abbreviated name “H. N. Ervin” on the board outside the dining hall marked with a star, indicating that he died in the war, among a long list of other people who also fought in this war. When waiting in line outside the servery, few people would look at the name on the wall and think of the life stories of these war heroes. However, Henry Nichols Ervin had a lasting impact on St. Mark’s School through his character. He was a student leader, he volunteered at Brantwood, and his family and friends funded various prizes to honor his character.
While being a star in hockey and baseball, Skip Ervin was a man of integrity at St. Mark’s. The fall when Skip entered St. Mark’s was the same fall when Mr. Francis Parkman, the Head of School at the time, instituted St. Mark’s first formal system of dormitory prefects. This distribution of more power and authority to the Sixth Formers worsened the situation of bullying and hazing towards students in the lower forms.
St. Mark’s, which was founded on the model of English boarding schools, inherited a culture of bullying and hazing from those English schools. In his book, The Old School Tie, Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy examined the causes of the bullying culture at English Public Schools. He attributed this culture to the idea of “boy freedom.” Gathorne-Hardy argued that too much freedom for teenage boys, who suffered from “violent discipline and often harsh childhood” and that made them aggressive, would lead to inevitable bullying. The youngest boys were usually the ones who suffered the most from bullying. He used this account at late-eighteenth-century Charterhouse School as evidence:
He was taken from Charterhouse… because he was almost literally killed there by the devilish cruelty of the boys; they used to lay him before the fire till he was scorched, and shut him in a trunk with sawdust till he had nearly expired with suffocation. The Charterhouse at that time was a sort of hell upon earth for the youngest boys.
Ironically, fagging (a tradition in which upperclassmen make lowerclassman run errands for them) originated in this violent culture as well as the prefect system, which gave older boys the “right” to bully the younger boys. There were many accounts in which prefects abused their power to harm others physically and psychologically.
While St. Mark’s inherited this culture from English public schools, the idea of “muscular Christianity” also contributed to this culture. This idea started between the 1880s and 1920s with Americans’ dissatisfaction with Victorian culture’s focus on feminized culture and domesticity. The prevalence of feminine traits, such as overly feminized images of Jesus, within the American Protestant church during the Victorian period reflected the rise of women’s power, but it became a threat to many men and led to their desire to restore the masculine power. At the same time, the emergence of sedentary office jobs with large corporations concerned many people because men holding these jobs did not exercise, as those on farm or in factories would.
It was around the same time when the development of the public school system in America forced many private schools to close. Educator Lawrence Hull said in the 1900 that private schools needed to change from the model of English Public School, which provided privileged and comfortable environment for effeminized rich boys who grew up staying in their houses. This belief made boys’ schools promise to instill “high-bred manliness”: “a combination of discipline, heartiness, and ‘freedom from the tendency to abnormal precocious vice.’” According to Theodore Roosevelt, American boarding schools instilled this “high-bred manliness” very well.
Groton School was a great example. Endicott Peabody, who came from a wealthy family in Massachusetts, founded Groton in 1884 to enroll members of his own social class. He found that the upper classes overindulged their children and thus effeminize them. This need for boys to become more manly encouraged bullying, a way that they could show their physical strength. St. Mark’s, founded on English public schools and affected by the idea of “muscular Christianity,” also had many traditions that were essentially bullying. When Parkman introduced the prefect system, many did abuse their power to assert their authority and manliness in front of the younger boys. Even in the 1990s at St. Paul’s School, traditions of prefects using physical power to teach new students lessons were still very common in the dorm. They would wake up new students in the middle of the night to run in the cold, force them to participate in water-drinking competitions or boxing, or even use sexual abuse.
Skip Ervin and his best friend Warren Winslow were the very first ones to fight back against this unfair system “when Sixth Formers tried to paddle [underformers] and prefects ordered them to eat soap.” Nick Noble, who knew their classmate Charles Cook, described Ervin as someone who would never treat others unjustly and would take actions when he saw unfairness around him. In a note to the Head of School Reverend William Brewster for the chapel service after Ervin’s death, Hollis French, a faculty member who knew Ervin personally, wrote: “Henry Ervin was a rough and ready sort of boy who got along well with everybody. An engaging smile and a good disposition. He was naturally popular. His enthusiasm and fearlessness made him admired. A thoroughly straightforward boy.” In Nick Noble’s words, having grown up in the decade of the Great Depression, Ervin was able to empathize with others who were in need because he grew up doing many chores that the most privileged kids would not do. Even though he was a student who excelled in many sports and held many important positions such as Monitor and the President of the Athletic Association, no one remembered Ervin as a privileged student who used his power against others. Adele Ervin, Skip’s sister, remembered all the younger students loving her brother as a monitor. There is no record of Ervin’s effort in fighting against the bullying culture, but The Vindex, the school newspaper at the time, shows that there were debates around freedom to students and the necessity of mandatory athletics happening at St. Mark’s during Ervin’s time.  The debates addressed the issues related to muscular Christianity, such as forced exercise, were one of the root causes of bullying. Ervin’s kindness and integrity made him fight for a safer environment at St. Mark’s, and today’s St. Markers still benefit from this effort. While standing up for the ones who needed help, Ervin also put much of his time into Brantwood Camp.
The mission of Brantwood is “to serve needy children of New England.”  More specifically, Brantwood serves children from underprivileged urban areas. St. Mark’s had a long history with Brantwood – many St. Markers have volunteered as summer counselors at the camp. Summer camps were one of the ways that Americans used to address childhood problems during 1890 to 1920, and people favored summer camps because the environment was healthy and they filled the long summer vacation. The summer camp culture is usually associated with the middle-class families since the camps help them with concerns over their kids. For example, many worried that boys, who spent most of their time in the houses with their mother, would become sissies. Organizational camps “sprang up in the early twentieth century” had either “explicitly evangelical” missions or the goals of building of character. Most of these camps “aimed at middle-class children from cities and suburbs” and offered shorter sessions to make the experience more affordable. Brantwood Camp has a similar mission for unprivileged children. This is very different from many private camps as they “emphasized the reinforcement of elite social ties among a relatively small number of families.” These private camps, opposite to camps like Brantwood, resembled the mission of the boarding schools at the time. Working at a camp like Brantwood already showed the dedications of those St. Markers, including Ervin, to step out of their comfort zone and to help children who needed their guidance. Ervin went a step further. People at Brantwood knew Skip Ervin “for his prowess at campfires: singing, leading songs, and telling stories.” As the assistant director to Warren Winslow, Ervin was one of the most beloved counselors at Brantwood. Having held the job himself, Nick Noble described the assistant director as the one who knows every camper and spends a lot of time going around the camp to check on different people. As the first assistant director in the history of Brantwood, Ervin succeeded at his job. With his time spent at Brantwood, Ervin contributed to the relationship between St. Mark’s and Brantwood that lasts until today.
It was not surprising that Ervin joined the army to fight in the Second World War along with most of his classmates. Nick Noble commented on the Class of 1936 as the class that “had given the most and lost the most.” This class had the most deaths in the war. When fighting in the South Pacific, Lieutenant (j.g.) Skip Ervin and Lanny Wheeler’s VS-10 went missing when they ran into a storm front on January 13, 1943, during a night operation. In his war record, his commander in chief wrote, “it would be impossible for me to exaggerate any evaluation of Skip as a pilot, naval officer, gentleman, and shipmate. They don’t come any finer, and those of us who served with him will never forget that joyous friend.” Today St. Mark’s memorializes Skip Ervin as a war hero who made the ultimate sacrifice for his country. However, it is also important to learn from the remark in his war record that Ervin carried his strong character into the military.
After Ervin’s tragic death, his family and friends contributed to St. Mark’s and Brantwood to memorialize his character. His classmates funded the Henry Nichols Ervin Prize, a “prize given to a member of the lower teams whose play has been characterized by both cooperation and consideration for others.” Ervin was not the best athlete, but he was dedicated to sports during his whole St. Mark’s career. The description of this prize suggests that Ervin was cooperative and considerate as an athlete. Ervin’s family donated all the copies of “Brantwood Songbook,” which the camp is still using now, in memory of Skip Ervin. The donation of songbooks reflects on Ervin’s renowned singing prowess at Brantwood. Also, as Nick Noble notes, Ervin had a vision of making Brantwood a better place. The generosity of Ervin’s family inspired one of their family friends to fund the Henry Nichols Ervin Scholarship, which is “is awarded by vote of the faculty to that student who best exemplifies the character of Henry Ervin who, while at St. Mark’s, at Brantwood, at Harvard, and in service to his country, seldom missed an opportunity to do a kindness or lend a hand.” This scholarship’s description shows that the defining characteristic of Skip Ervin is his consistent kindness. Additionally, Major General Hanford MacNider, Harvard Class of 1911, established the Henry Nichols Ervin Prize at Harvard in memory of Skip Ervin. All these contributions show the ways people memorialize Skip Ervin, and they impact St. Mark’s since they celebrate his character.
What made Henry Nichols Ervin special was not the fact that he was a war hero, but his sense of justice and kindness. Indeed, Ervin was a person with talents, shown in his leadership, sports achievements, and his military service. However, it is rare for someone to have both Ervin’s ability and kindness as Ervin did. In different ways, Henry Nichols Ervin is still making an impact on St. Mark’s.
Hans Zhou is a VI Former from Hangzhou, China, and he lives in Maple as a prefect. He is passionate about social justice and environmental issues and enjoys the outdoors.
Ervin, Adele. Telephone interview by the author. January 13, 2016.
Gathorne-Hardy, Jonathan. The Old School Tie: The Phenomenon of the English Public School. New York: Viking Press, 1978.
Khan, Shamus Rahman. Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2011.
The Lion 1934 Yearbook. Parkman Room. St. Mark’s School Library, Southborough, MA.
The Lion 1936 Yearbook. Parkman Room. St. Mark’s School Library, Southborough, MA.
The Lion 1932 Yearbook. Parkman Room. St. Mark’s School Library, Southborough, MA.
Moore, Stephen L. The Battle for Hell’s Island. New York, NY: New American Library, 2015.
Noble, Richard E. Brantwood. N.p.: Meriden-Stinehour Press, n.d.
———. The Echo of Their Voices: 150 Years of St. Mark’s School. Hollis,
NH: Hollis Publishing, 2015.
———. Interview. Southborough, MA. December 7, 2015.
———. “92 Graduate as Keynote Speaker Emma Battle ’79 and Valedictorian Miles Borchard ’15 Highlight 150th Prize Day.” Last modified May 25, 2015. Accessed December 7, 2015. http://www.stmarksschool.org/news-page/item/index.aspx?LinkId=3363&ModuleId=275.
———. “Spring Athletic Awards Culminate Successful Season; Girls’ Varsity Tennis, Lacrosse, and Crew Outstanding!” Last modified May 25, 2015. Accessed December 7, 2015. http://www.stmarksschool.org/news-page/item/index.aspx?LinkId=3362&ModuleId=275.
Paris, Leslie. Children’s Nature: The Rise of the American Summer Camp. New York: New York University Press, 2010.
Putney, Clifford. Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880-1920. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001.
“St. Mark’s Alumni Who Died in the Second World War.” Archives of St. Mark’s School. Southborough, MA.
University News Office. “Morning Papers of Friday, November 29, 1952.” November 29, 1952. Harvard University Archives. Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
Van Slyck, Abigail Ayres. A Manufactured Wilderness: Summer Camps and the Shaping of American Youth, 1890-1960. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006.
“The Vindex Volume 57.” 1933. Parkman Room. St. Mark’s School Library, Southborough, MA.
“The Vindex Volume 56.” 1932. Parkman Room. St. Mark’s School Library, Southborough, MA.
 The Lion 1932 Yearbook, Parkman Room, St. Mark’s School Library, Southborough, MA.
 Richard E. Noble, The Echo of Their Voices: 150 Years of St. Mark’s School (Hollis, NH: Hollis Publishing
 “St. Mark’s Alumni Who Died in the Second World War,” Archives of St. Mark’s School, Southborough, MA.
 The Lion 1932 Yearbook.
Richard E. Noble, interview, Southborough, MA, December 7, 2015.
 The Lion 1936 Yearbook, Parkman Room, St. Mark’s School Library, Southborough, MA.
 Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, The Old School Tie: The Phenomenon of the English Public School (New York: Viking Press, 1978), 58.
 Ibid., 61.
 Clifford Putney, Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880-1920 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001).
 Ibid., 3.
 Ibid., 4.
 Ibid., 105.
 Ibid., 106.
 Ibid., 107.
 Noble, The Echo of Their, 208.
 Shamus Rahman Khan, Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St. Paul’s School (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2011), 126.
 Khan, Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent, 125.
 Noble, The Echo of Their, 208.
 Richard E. Noble, interview, Southborough, MA, December 7, 2015.
 “St. Mark’s Alumni Who Died.”
 The Lion 1936 Yearbook.
 Adele Ervin, telephone interview by the author, January 13, 2016.
 “The Vindex Volume 56,” 1932, Parkman Room, St. Mark’s School Library, Southborough, MA.
“The Vindex Volume 57,” 1933, Parkman Room, St. Mark’s School Library, Southborough, MA.
 Even though there was no record of Ervin’s participation in these debates, we can assume based on his characters that he was against these issues.
 Richard E. Noble, Brantwood (Meriden-Stinehour Press), IX.
 Abigail Ayres Van Slyck, A Manufactured Wilderness: Summer Camps and the Shaping of American Youth, 1890-1960 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2006), xxiii.
 Van Slyck, A Manufactured Wilderness: Summer, xxii.
 Ibid., xxviii.
 Van Slyck, A Manufactured Wilderness: Summer, xxvii.
 Noble, Brantwood, 93.
 Noble, interview.
 Noble, Brantwood, 106.
 I Noble, interview.
 Stephen L. Moore, The Battle for Hell’s Island (New York, NY: New American Library, 2015), 410.
 “St. Mark’s Alumni Who Died.”
 Richard E. Noble, “Spring Athletic Awards Culminate Successful Season; Girls’ Varsity Tennis, Lacrosse, and Crew Outstanding!,” last modified May 25, 2015, accessed December 7, 2015, http://www.stmarksschool.org/news-page/item/index.aspx?LinkId=3362&ModuleId=275.
 The Lion 1936 Yearbook.
 Noble, Brantwood, 177.
 Richard E. Noble, “92 Graduate as Keynote Speaker Emma Battle ’79 and Valedictorian Miles Borchard ’15 Highlight 150th Prize Day,” last modified May 25, 2015, accessed December 7, 2015, http://www.stmarksschool.org/news-page/item/index.aspx?LinkId=3363&ModuleId=275.
 University News Office, “Morning Papers of Friday, November 29, 1952,” November 29, 1952, Harvard University Archives, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.