PETTIT,  Daniel Eric Arthur  [1915-2010]


I was very lucky to have attended Quarry Bank High School and was always conscious of the numerous famous figures of politics, the arts, sport, etc who had also benefited from its academic excellence and cultured ethos. The achievements of its old boys were numerous but I think I am correct in asserting that only one of them could lay claim to having shaken hands with Hitler.

The name of Daniel Pettit is rarely if ever mentioned when the ranks of eminent by Quarry Bank old boys are assembled but this is certainly an unfair reflection on a lifetime of considerable achievement and unusual exploits. Sporting prowess, distinguished wartime service and a career as a captain of industry recognised by the award of a knighthood together make him one of Quarry’s most notable alumni.

He was born in Liverpool in 1915, one of six children of Thomas Edgar Pettit, a book keeper and fruit merchant who lived at 84 Peter Road, Walton. The family later moved to 205 South Mossley Hill Road L19.

Pettit joined Quarry Bank in its first decade and must have been an able pupil as upon leaving in 1934 he went up to Cambridge, reading History at Fitzwilliam College. However, it was not his academic attainments which first brought him a degree of national fame but his prowess on the football field. Having apparently already graced the youth teams of both Everton and Liverpool he was a four-time Cambridge Blue at football, captaining the side in 1937-38. His talents playing for Cambridge brought him to the attention of the Olympic selectors and he was duly invited to be part of the Great Britain team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The approach to sport then was very much akin to the world of Chariots of Fire and some years later in an interview Pettit recalled that the letter inviting him to join the team advised that “as there is a month to go, you might take some exercise”. He apparently fulfilled this obligation by running around his local park.

Just two days after arriving in Berlin Pettit found himself at a reception at the British Embassy which was attended by all the leading Nazis, including Herr Hitler himself. He duly shook hands with the Fuhrer and was often heard to say in subsequent years “I’ve been washing it ever since”. The team lost in the quarter-finals to the eventual winners Poland, creditably fighting back from a 5-1 deficit to lose 5-4. So Pettit took no medal back to London with him but exercised some foresight in acquiring 100 cards bearing the autograph of the legendary American athlete Jesse Owens, which he subsequently used in his teaching role at Highgate School to bribe misbehaving pupils.

His teaching career was brought to a temporary close by the outbreak of war in 1939, a conflict which was to prove an eventful and challenging one for him.  Joining the Royal Artillery and directed to learn Swahili, he was then posted to Kenya with the remit to approach local chiefs in a recruiting drive for soldiers to join the Kings African Rifles. Having assembled a body of men he was then posted to engage the Japanese in Burma, where he remained until the end of the war. Pettit had married in 1940 and had not seen his wife, Winifred, or his 6 year old son for over 4 years.

  Although he returned to teaching he soon moved into commerce and went on to enjoy a tremendously successful career, holding many senior positions and being knighted by the Wilson government in 1974 for services to industry. Pettit recounted one piece of advice he gave to a promising employee which was not heeded. Seeing some potential in a youngster working for Lever Brothers, he counselled the lad to spend less time messing about with music and concentrate on his career. This was advice that Paul McCartney did not take to heart.

He died on 28th July 2010 aged 95.

84 Peter Road L4

Pettit's home at the time of his birth in 1915.

205 South Mossley Hill Road L19

The Pettit home while Daniel attended Quarry Bank.

The 1936 GB Olympic football team with Daniel Pettit 1st left on back row.


There are no particular sources on Daniel Pettit. The Wikipedia entry is very basic.