Soham Grammarians - Mr VN McElderry (Belfast) Chemistry 1963-64

Neville McElderry letter to editor 20 Nov 2007: I must have taught you Physics in 1963-1964. I have to admit that I have no recollection of it. I did teach Chemistry to some pupils, I'm sure, but I can't say to whom. I am sorry that I have only the vaguest recollection of that time and can give you little help. I was in the school for only one year and it was a long time ago.

My degree in Chemistry was from Queen's University Belfast. After a period working in a research job for the steel industry I taught for four years in a small independent school in the village of Scorton in Yorkshire, near Richmond.

Then I went to Nigeria to teach in a school run by the Methodist Missionary Society at a place called Uzuakoli, in Eastern Nigeria as it was then - half way between Port Harcourt and Enugu. I was not a missionary myself. After 6 years there I went back to Ireland, and did my Diploma in Education at Queen's University. During that year I met my wife, and we married in June.

I remember the interview in which the Headmaster, Mr Armitage made it clear to me that I should subscribe to the School Science Review, a journal which had a lot of suggestions for school experimental work. Fortunately I was already getting the magazine.

from a photo taken in 1963

He also seemed surprised that I had not asked about accommodation, and being naive I had not realised that this could be a problem. He offered me a house at 118 Carter Street, Fordham. Mr Makin was very kind in meeting us when we arrived and taking us to the house. There he found that the previous occupant (I don't remember his name but I think it began with P) had removed all the light bulbs, and Mr Makin thought that was bad and very kindly put in new ones. (When my son was living for a while in Berlin he found that in Germany the previous tenant doesn't just remove the light bulbs, he takes away the whole fitting and leaves two bare wires sticking out of the ceiling.) My wife got a job teaching at a school in Bury St Edmunds, but after one term she had to give up as she was expecting our first child, who was born in April 1964.

Often I went to school by bicycle, and was not always in good time for assembly. I had to get in without the headmaster seeing me from his office, but was never caught. I thought he was a rather severe person, and if one wanted to see him one had to go to the door and press a button and wait until the red light over the door turned to green.

Mr Ford was the only member of staff I remember, even dimly, and I was surprised to see from your letter that he was a Chemistry teacher. I thought somehow that his subject was English. He seemed more friendly than anyone else on the staff.

As you might expect with Mr Armitage being a Physics specialist who had written a book about radio, the physics teaching was strong - though not mine. One day in my Chemistry lesson some boys brought in a Dalek, which they had built and which moved about the floor by remote control. I was very impressed. There was also a parents' day when the Physics department had a lot of clever exhibits, such as one where one was invited to take a half-crown that was on a little shelf, and when one tried to pick it up it went out of reach. The Chemistry department was not up to that sort of thing.

I was not well settled in that job. In Nigeria the pupils were so keen to learn that I used to go to their dormitories at midnight or 1am and take away the hurricane lamps as they swatted. I thought I would like to go back there. I was offered a post as assistant in a new school which had been open only one year, so had only two forms. It was in the town of Otukpo which is between Enugu and Makurdi in Nigeria. After two years there I was asked to start a new school in a remote village called Igumale, where I was the Principal and my wife the only other teacher, and we had just 32 boys. That school immediately ran into difficulties as the Biafran war broke out, and the border was only 4 miles from Igumale, and we were refugees for some time. But that is a long story. The school now has over 700 pupils, including girls, but it has been very sadly neglected.

After returning from Nigeria in 1972 I taught the sciences in Omagh Academy, Co Tyrone, until retirement in 1986.

Soham Grammarian Spring 1964

The beginning of the School Year brought five new members of staff to the School. Mr CA Royal-Dawson and Mr JR O'Toole have joined the English staff, and are at present jointly responsible for the Library; Mr VN McElderry and Mr JB Rider are teaching Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics; and Mr WV Ellis is in charge of the Gymnasium.

Soham Grammarian Summer 1964

Mr McElderry and Mr Rider leave after shorter stays, Mr McElderry to resume teaching in Nigeria and Mr Rider to return to his mathematical studies.

If you can add memories of Mr Neville McElderry or provide other photos of him, please contact the editor.
page last updated 26 Nov 2007