By Debbie James

From its vantage point overlooking the site once occupied by the UK’s only working school farm, St Deinol’s Cemetery near Pembroke is a fitting final resting place for a man whose life was synonymous with that farm.

Eric Bowen had been stockman and later farm bailiff at Pembroke School Farm until its closure in 1991.

During that time, he established the Wogan pedigree Friesian dairy herd, while also teaching all aspects of practical farming and guiding pupils through proficiency courses and tests.

Mr Bowen passed away in December but his legacy lives on.

Thanks to his guidance, many students who had no previous involvement in agriculture forged lifelong careers in farming.

“He would do anything to help his students. He wanted them all to achieve their potential,” recalls his daughter, Helen Bowen, who has a smallholding in Cosheston. “When he had a good student he would contact a local farmer to arrange a placement. Many of those boys now have their own farms.’’

He was born at Creature Farm, Bosherston, and attended Stackpole VC and Pembroke Dock Grammar Schools.

He was taught to truss turkeys from a young age – a skill that earned him many awards in the years to come.

After leaving school he became a farmhand at Sampson Farm, near Stackpole.

He was an active member of South Pembrokeshire YFC and it was that connection that introduced him to his wife, Gwyneth Cole – at a YFC dance at the De Valence Pavilion, Tenby.

Her father was a groundsman at Pembroke Grammar School and that was to be Mr Bowen’s first link with the school farm.

“He told my grandad about a position available for a stockman on the school farm,’’ Mr Bowen’s granddaughter, Astrid, recollects.

“He applied and got the job but the post was dependent on him being a married man so he and Nan were married on a Friday and he started work on the Monday.’’

During that time he studied agriculture at Pibwrlwyd College, Carmarthen, and for three years in succession he was named the top student, winning the Rhys Owen Memorial Award.

Mr Bowen was later promoted to farm bailiff and was in charge of teaching the pupils the practical aspects of farming – from milking cows to trussing turkeys – as well as managing the farm.

“Farming families, both local and from farther afield, sent their children there to learn from him. Pupils boarded at Bush House and followed a special 'Biology through Agriculture' syllabus, learning theory in the classroom and practical farming outside,’’ says Helen.

In 1983, the school won a national competition for the best turkey flock. The solid silver trophy was so valuable that it spent an entire year in the school’s safe before it was time to hand it back.

Pembroke School Farm formed its own YFC in the 1950s, competing in stock judging, turkey trussing and tractor reversing.

And every Christmas the school would enter the annual poultry show and sale at the Market Hall, Haverfordwest, and the annual fatstock show at Pembroke.

“The school farm would sweep the prize boards every year, they used to beat very established farms,’’ says Helen.

The farm closed in 1991 and Mr Bowen retired from his farming career to live at Orange Gardens, Pembroke, but his involvement in livestock continued when he established a flock of bantam and rare breed poultry.

He became show manager of the Dyfed Poultry Society's twice-yearly shows, and later chairman and president.

Mr Bowen nurtured that interest in poultry in his granddaughter. “As soon as I could walk I helped him with the chickens. I remember him teaching me to mix the correct rations for a proper feed,’’ Astrid recalls.

“I won lots of prizes as a junior thanks to him. He taught both myself and my mum everything we know, we learned from the best.’’