Soham Grammarians - Mr CR Waller BA (Manchester) Latin 1949-60

On 12 January 2009 we heard from the Waller family that Mr Rex Waller had passed away on November 23rd 2008, aged 83.

"Mum and Dad have always held very fond memories of their time in Soham and the Grammar School in particular. I thought you might be interested in the attached words spoken at Dad's Thanksgiving service which took place on December 5th which was very well attended." writes one of his sons Richard.

We hope to update this page with the order of Thanksgiving Service and welcome further appreciations and anecdotes about Rex.

If you would like to be in touch with the family please contact the editor.

right: Rex in fine form at the SG 2006 Dinner, proudly wearing his Veterans and RAF Squadron badges.

Chris Waller: Rex Waller was born on February 23rd 1925 in Thorne, Yorkshire – an industrial and coal mining community on the banks of the river Don. Dad was the second of three brothers, his father working in the family land agency business and his mother a school teacher.

His childhood could be described as idyllic; against a backdrop of economic depression and the gathering clouds of war, he and his younger brother made mischief at school and home – but never with cruel intent or for malicious purpose. Their home was full of action and excitement with constant laughter, music, animals and eccentric characters that now appear best to resemble a Will Hay film set.

All this happened under the watchful gaze of their mother and a very gentle father. Dickensian is the best way to describe this time; the values and attitudes of Britain under Queen Victoria still set the tone in the house. At school dad made steady progress, guided by the firm hand of Thorne’s head master Shipley Turner. He was, together with a very small number of other characters, to shape dad's life and set him on his course.

Whilst at Manchester University in 1942, dad was called up for service in the forces and joined the RAF. He actually departed for training on the night of his first dance with Joan – who was to become his wife. After initial training in England he journeyed to South Africa for flight training and after selection as a navigator flew north to Egypt and then Italy to join 39 Squadron RAF in the Balkan Air Force – a mixture of British, South African, New Zealand, Russian, Greek, American, Australian, Canadian, Yugoslav and Italian outfits.

Here he made acquaintance with his beloved Marauder light bomber. Trips across the Adriatic to bomb strongpoints and railways in Yugoslavia created a strong bond with the rest of his crew. They were until earlier this year the only complete RAF bomber crew from WW2 still around. They liked each other immensely and remained in contact during the rest of dad’s life.

After returning to the UK in the summer of 1946, dad returned to study at Manchester and continued his relationship with Joan. After graduation there was marriage to Joan in 1950 and a move to teach at Soham Grammar School in the fenland of Cambridgeshire. Here dad not only started to forge his skills as a teacher but also threw himself into directing plays, bell ringing and bee keeping; all were to be hallmarks of his future.

After the birth of us three boys in Cambridgeshire, dad took the post of deputy head teacher at Sexey’s Grammar school [click link for their appreciation of Rex] here in Bruton. We moved to Somerset and first lived in Shepton Mallet opposite the prison there. In 1960 the house on Brewham Road was completed and we all moved – the best move ever!! At Sexey’s he settled in straight away – he excelled in building relationships with heads like Bill Towns and David Curtis – who recognised his strengths and just let him get on with it. Such trust was a mark of their leadership and he repaid it with a commitment to the school and the well being of its students that was beyond expectations.

We boys saw dad as a complete citizen; whether it was ringing the bells at the church, being drawn deep into Bruton politics or President of the Bruton branch of the British Legion; he led by example. At the heart of his relationship with Bruton was this church which he served with devotion. Besides being a church warden he sang in the choir, rang the bells and campaigned for roof repairs, the chancel refurbishment and replacement of the organ with Frank Fry. He modelled this behaviour, never shirking responsibility as teacher, deputy head and Brutonian, father or husband. In later years after retirement there seemed even more to do; tree warden, still town councillor, school governor, care group driver and collector of vast sums for various charities and organisations, joiner-in in many an escapade.

Dad lived by simple mottos – life was an opportunity to do things with and for others. At this he was a master. He also saw life as an amazing mystery – one full of wonder, awe and excitement that he was privileged to be able to explore and enjoy. He was gently rebellious but always minded of the importance of responsibility towards others. His deep faith in God and fellow man bestowed a loving nature. A significant part of this was his marriage to Joan – he felt amazingly blessed to spend his life with her and never ever let us three boys forget just how important mum was in enriching him.

Those whose lives he touched in anyway will know of his zest for life and be thankful for it. He would be mortified if we all did not continue to enthuse about life as he did and he would be humbled in knowing how all here today loved and respected his humanity and commitment.


A – Apiarist. My father’s approach to beekeeping was the stuff of Ealing comedies. Surrounded by angry bees and armed only with a smoking pipe to deter them, he would simply mutter “Steady On” as he was repeatedly stung.

B – Bellringer. He helped restore the bells when living in Soham, and rang in this bell tower with the legendary White brothers. B is also for Bill. Bill was my father’s elder brother. Bill was ten years older and as gentle as Dad was energetic, yet they loved each others company over a pipe and a pint.

C – Chorister/Churchwarden/ Parish Councillor/Committee Member innumerable organisations including the Town Council, Bruton Trust, British Legion, Horticultural Society, School Governor - to each of which he devoted the same amount of energy and enthusiasm.
However, cricket was a great love too. It is a little known fact that the success or otherwise of the English Cricket XI – with the sole exception of the 1981 Ashes series – was due not to clever field settings or crafty captaincy, but this simple fact: if we were doing well, he would settle back with a glass of red wine and let Boycott, Trueman, Close, Illingworth and co get on with it. However, should matters take a less attractive turn, he would, as a master tactician, simply turn the radio or TV off until the situation improved again.

D – Now this one had me flummoxed, so I set it aside for a while.

E – Eccentric. As my daughter Lou pointed out the other day, he was the single most eccentric person we knew. Anyone who remembers his teaching days will recall the gown trailing from his shoulders like Superman’s cape as he strode around the school.

F – Fireworks. Dad has always been a fanatical pyrotechnician – which is a legal term for arsonist. No opportunity is missed to let off fireworks. Despite constantly reassuring my mother that they’ll be quiet ones, he couldn’t resist the sort of ordnance the Royal Artillery use.

G – Grandfather. He loved his eight grandchildren to bits, and they adored him in return. When Dad for the first time missed the Remembrance Day service this year, Lucy was on parade for him. G is also for Gardener, as is

H – Horticulturalist. Dad grew everything, from fruit of every variety which was knocked from the trees just before harvest by an errant football, to vegetables which were trampled underfoot as we retrieved the football or tomatoes in the greenhouse shattered by footballs smashing through the glass. Flower beds were wrecked, delicate bulbs stamped on and shrubs snapped by rampaging footballers. He never once complained.

I – Irrepressible energy. He brought this to everything in which he was involved.

J – Joan. My lovely mum. They met in the first few days of university. Within months he was called up by the RAF. They were due to go to a dance that night. He sent her his cap badge and said he’d be back with some tall stories to tell. It was three years before he came back from the war. Together, they were the very best of parents we could wish for.
It is also for Joker. A neighbour once planted a loan fruit tree sapling. A few days later, Dad tied an apple to it. No reaction. So Dad attached an orange. Still nothing. The next day a banana. Sure enough, that afternoon, Ken Short appeared with a tin of fruit salad, the result of his bumper crop.

K – Kindness and compassion. My father made time for anyone who asked his help, no matter the cause. He was particularly committed to what he called ‘lame dogs’ – people who had been overlooked, written off or simply sidelined in life.

L – Latin. He taught it. He wrote letters and poems full of it. He even sang in it.

M – Manchester graduate. It was here that he met Mum. Her brother Vic was also a graduate, and in due course I went there, as did my son Joseph and our cousin Tom.

N – Navigator. The exploits of 39 Squadron are the stuff of legend, and provided my father with the closest group of friends he could wish for in his crew.

O – Operettas. Some of you here will doubtless have appeared in or seen numerous performances of Gilbert & Sullivan, Dvorak or Benjamin Britten. However, I think that one of his crowning achievements has to be the production of Oliver, with Shirley Knapman as Nancy (eat your heart out, Andrew Lloyd-Webber) when he cast John Hayward – then vicar of St. Mary’s – as the thieving, bullying bloodthirsty murderer Bill Sykes.

P – Paraffin/Petrol. Not the same thing, you understand. Not the same at all. Dad once built a bonfire of rubbish in the garden and then sent me round to the local garage to fill a can of paraffin. I was 8 years old. When Dick Jennings said “What’ll it be, young ‘un?” I replied “5 star please.” I remembered that Dad always put 5 star in the car. Dad proceeded to toss the fuel onto the bonfire, struck a match – and disappeared in the sort of fireball that usually engulfs Tom & Jerry. When he emerged, completely singe’d, he just looked at me and said: “That wasn’t paraffin, was it?”

Q – Quotations. One of my father’s favourite maxims was “Never let the sun go down on your wrath”. In other words, don’t dwell on slights but start each day afresh. He always saw the very best in people, what they could be not just what they might be.

R – Romans. I called round once to see my godson George who was doing his homework. He asked me whether I knew anything about the Romans. I said that I actually knew one. George looked sceptical so I suggested we give him a call. I rang Dad and put George on. Dad duly gave him chapter and verse about the Empire. George hung up with the words “So he was actually there with Julius Caesar?”.

S – Soham and Sexey’s schools, and also for Singing. He sang all the time. Loudly. Very loudly. A friend in my village in Gloucestershire sent a lovely card to say she would always remember listening to my father’s singing. I think she meant in Gloucestershire, not from Gloucestershire.

T – Trees. Dad once told me that he loved the sheer unselfishness of people in years gone by who planted the great parklands, knowing that they would never see the landscapes they had laid out in full splendour. Well, he planted them by the thousand.

U – Uncle Gerry. Although they look back on their childhood together as a more innocent age, it’s simply that the ASBO was not then available to protect the poor people of Thorne.

V – Violin. Typical of my father’s eccentricity was the fact that although a good conventional violinist, he actually preferred the One String Fiddle. A unique exponent of a much overlooked instrument, there was always high excitement in school assemblies when Dad joined the orchestra to play.

W – West Country, where he was wise enough to choose to bring us up.

X- Xenophobia. For a man with a very sceptical view of Johnny Foreigner, he counts a French general, an Italian archivist, a Russian aunt, a Japanese lecturer, a Rhodesian cousin and Australian niece amongst his family and friends

Y – Yorkshire. Despite living more than half his life in Bruton, our father was a proud Yorkshireman at heart.

Z – Zulu. Possibly my father’s favourite film. We were at the cinema one evening, my father eagerly explaining the context in which the film was set, when the man in the row behind leant forward and said “I didn’t come here tonight for a bloody history lesson!!”.

So there we have it. I hope that at least one of those references revives a memory of my father in each of you. But then that leaves D. Except of course, that’s the most important letter in the Alphabet – it stands for the kindest, gentlest, most generous and loving a parent that we could wish for. D is for my Dad.

Rex, the oldest, receiving an 80th birthday cake at his later school, Sexey's, from the youngest pupil
source: Richard Waller

Tributes to well-loved Bruton figure

from the this is Somerset website, Friday December 5, 2008

Family and friends have paid tribute to a modest man whose contributions to Bruton will leave a lasting legacy. Rex Waller died at the age of 83 on Sunday 23 November, after a short illness. A popular figure in Bruton, he moved to the town with his wife Joan in 1960 to become deputy headteacher of Sexey's School. His love of teaching was complemented by his passion for running annual musicals.

In 1964, he joined Bruton Parish Council and remained at the centre of community issues right up until his death. Some of his many roles were as president of the Bruton branch of the Royal British Legion, churchwarden at St Mary's Church and tree warden for the town council.

He celebrated his golden wedding anniversary with his wife Joan in 2000, who said: "It's going to be devastating without him. "He was always busy and loved trees. He planted them all over. Anything that was going on in Bruton that needed supporting, he would make it happen. "But he never boasted about anything. It was more about what he could do for people. "He loved the amateur dramatics. He regularly put on musicals at school and had an amazing amount of energy."

Bruton town councillor Ken Dominey described Mr Waller as a "gentleman in the truest meaning of the word". He said: "He touched every facet of Bruton life. His energy and foresight means local children can be educated at Sexey's School, which was one of his abiding loves. "His Christian faith was unshakeable; thankfully this legacy will continue through his sons. I'm grateful to have known him as a friend."

Anna Groskop, South Somerset District Council ward member for Bruton, said: "The only reason I became a councillor is because of Rex. He was a motivator, he touched so many things in our community. "He was a pillar of our community, but that doesn't seem big enough. I want to put him on top of the pillar. He loved the countryside and everything to do with it."

Raymond McGovern, headteacher at Sexey's School, where Mr Waller continued to serve as a governor after retiring in 1986, described his contribution as "immeasurable". He said: "He was renowned for his passion to make sure young people were well-educated. Rex's belief in the school didn't end with his association as a teacher; Rex's three sons Christopher, Timothy and Richard attended Sexey's, a tradition that has been continued by three of his granddaughters, two of whom currently attend. "Rex always saw the potential in every individual and every situation. His contribution to the life and work of the school and the town of Bruton will be missed greatly.

Harry Mills, churchwarden at St Mary's Church in Bruton, said: "Talking about Rex presents a problem; there are very few people that deserve the sort of recognition that Rex does but he never did like a fuss, so I will just recall one memory. "Shortly after Sexey's School became a strictly non-smoking site, I can remember seeing Rex tapping his pipe tobacco out on the window ledge outside the headmaster's office. I never knew if this was absentmindedness or a veiled act of rebellion. I like to think it was the latter."

The Legion's Bruton branch chairman Phil Heavey said: "There will be many words written about Rex but none will fully do justice to him. He was a perfect gentlemen, both of the community and for the community."

Mr Waller was born in Yorkshire and read Latin and English at Manchester University.

He joined the Royal Air Force during World War Two at the age of 18, and was a navigator on a bomber plane in Italy. He was in 39 Squadron and was sent to the 70 Operational Training Unit in Egypt to learn about flying the US-made B26 Martin Marauder bomber.

Before moving to Bruton, he taught classics at Soham Grammar School.

There will be a Requiem Eucharist service at St Mary's Church tonight at 6pm, with the Royal British Legion standard at the altar, while a thanksgiving service will be held at the church tomorrow at 2.30pm.


Dedication of the Rex Waller Centre at Sexey's School, Bruton, Somerset by the Bishop of Bath & Wells on 1st October , 2009

from the 1952
School photo

from the 1954
School photo

from the 1960
School photo

from the 1956
School photo

Mr Rex Waller can be seen on many of the recent Annual Dinner pages: he gave a talk at the 2006 Dinner

Soham Grammarian Autumn 1949


Mr Waller joined us in September; he is teaching Latin in Mr Meneer's place. We hope his stay will be long and enjoyable.

Soham Grammarian Summer 1950

[Boarders' Notes] Mr Waller was our OC at the beginning of term, and his chess, sad to relate, was far above ours. He did, however, raise the standard with the result that the Headmaster is now third in the chess-ladder (or dare we say also at the bottom of the First Division!). Mr Waller also attempted to raise the standard of School Certificate Latin, and we hope he succeeded. Perhaps we returned his kindness in some small measure, for after his period amongst us he gained a place in Soham Town 1st XI.

Soham Grammarian Summer 1960

Sadly we record that Mr Waller and Mr Housden will be leaving us at the end of this term. Mr Waller will long hold his place in our memories as the producer of the many operatic successes enjoyed by the School.

See also:
Mr Waller's wartime bomber crew reunite
Scouting (1949-60)
Scenes from the Merchant of Venice Form 3A June 1951 - producer
Visit to Bruges, Easter 1953
Visit to London, Coronation Decorations 11 June 1953
HMS Pinafore 1954 - producer
Yeomen of the Guard 1955 - producer
Pirates of Penzance 1957 - producer
The Gondoliers 1958 - producer
The Bartered Bride 1959 - producer
Ten Little Niggers 1959 (Old Boys) - producer

15 Jan 09: Peter Bird 53: He taught me Latin for about a year before he and I decided English was probably hard enough for me.

15 Jan 09: Mike Bunting 53: I shall always remember him with great fondness especially of the time spent with him in North Wales on my first ever scout camp.

17 Jan 09: Ian Hobbs 48: So sorry to hear of the death of Rex Waller there are so many memories of him. We were in our second year when Rex arrived and was our form teacher, he taught me (tried) until I left in 1955. I remember his enthusiasm and how he also joined with the local community. He joined the Soham Cricket Club in which my father and uncle both played and I can remember what at best can be described his 'scuttling' while fielding.

His first home was in the Old Vicarage and when he went away on holiday I was asked to feed the geese. An astute move as I was the son of the local feed merchant. The geese never ran short of supplies. He was also very much involved in local politics and with the Soham Dramatic Society and encouraged me to take very small parts in two productions -The Shop at Sly Corner and The Magic Carpet Slippers. An actor's life was not for me.

The memory that really sticks in my mind and to me shows the measure of his kindness: one morning as Assembly was about to take place Rex asked me to go to Barker's shop on the Fordham Road to buy for him a tin of his brand of tobacco, Four Square. Many will remember the pipe and the clouds of smoke. I had done this occasionally before but not at this time of day. What I did not know was that this morning Mr. Armitage was to embark on one of his crusades against the arrival of Americanisms and in particular crew cut hair cuts, of which at that time I was a leading exponent. As a form prefect I would have been standing adjacent to my form in the main hall, totally 'exposed'. As it was I joined assembly outside the doors at the back. I have to add that several years later Ted apologised to me saying "little did he realise what was to follow in the 70s with long hair". I was very grateful to Rex.

There was not a better sound than to hear him shout at Reunions, "Alfie Hobbs", which was my nickname at school and which he always used.

Rex will be missed, but how many lives will he have touched?
'Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding'. Proverbs 3:13

9/10 Feb 2009: Malcolm Watson 47: As you know he was involved in most of what the school did and apart from trying to teach me my only failed subject at school, I was particularly associated with him in the Scouts and the school plays. He brought a breath of magic into the school. He was as unconventional as a teacher could be in those days. His war service must have given him something in his character that said do what you have to do well but for God's sake make doing it enjoyable, and that went for everybody involved in the task.

I am not sure of the dates of these photos which show Rex. I have compared them with others taken on the same camp; the second one, the group shot I am fairly certain was Summer camp 1952 in Beddgelert, North Wales, because this is when we formed the senior troop. In the next year the seniors went to Scotland on their own, the year after that I left school. The other is more difficult. It will be from the first camp that Rex came on which makes it likely to be at Beccles in 1950.

Duty Day, Woodpecker Patrol: Rex's first camp, Beccles 1950? He is on the extreme left (!)
Who are the others?: source Watson

Summer camp 1952 in Beddgelert, North Wales: source Watson
back: Rex Waller - Malcolm Watson - 3 - 4 - Tom Riley
front: Butcher - 2 - Docherty

10 Feb 2009: Mr Leon Kitchen, History 51-57


My abiding recollection of Rex in the years we were colleagues at SGS is of his amazing versatility, enthusiasm and gusto. Indeed he arrived in Soham in September, ’49, prematurely, a week in advance of term! What memories! I recall him conducting his Latinists in Adeste Fideles with that lengthy baton, producing both straight plays and the G&S spectaculars, assistant scoutmaster to fellow Yorkshireman Tom Riley and organising that trip to Bruges in ’53. And in the community, bell-ringing at St Andrew’s where he was a regular communicant and with Joan ‘matinee idols’ in the SADS.

All these creative talents were honed over the next forty-eight years in the township of Bruton, Somerset, where he and Joan set down roots with their young family in 1960. Rex was Deputy Head of Sexey’s, then a boys’ grammar school not unlike SGS in size. In this key role he gave his total commitment to the school-attended by his three sons-and naturally producing plays and musicals and continuing as an active governor after retirement in 1986 until his death.

In the wider community his contributions continued to the end. I saw him as ‘Mr Bruton’. He served the parish church as chorister, church warden and bell-ringer. A local councillor and tree warden, he was President of the Bruton branch of the British Legion, a reminder of his RAF service and his attachment to 39 Squadron. At home, horticultural profligacy, poultry and bees abounded. Here he was the complete family man, a loving and much loved husband, father and grandfather

Brutonian tributes variously describe him as ‘a one off’ and ‘a Renaissance man’ who incidentally produced a series of beautifully crafted poems around Christian festivals. Beneath his ‘larger than life’ exterior was a warm, friendly, humane and creative personality, generous of his talent in both public and private spheres. My family were recipients of Rex and Joan’s generous hospitality over half a century. He enhanced the lives of all who were privileged to know him.


They are The Invincibles - and as the last complete Second World War bomber crew they certainly live up to the name.

The last time these six men were together was 57 years ago as they flew on bombing raids in the last days of the war. Len Wilson, 78, Maurice Webster, 78, Rex Waller, 77, Jimmy Spence, 79, Tom Grossett, 79, and Bill Madeley, 77, not only survived all their “ops" without incident but the old boys are still fighting fit.

The six airmen from the RAF's 39 Squadron lost touch in 1945 after completing 13 raids over enemy territory in a US-made B26 Martin Marauder bomber from their base in Italy. Their bombing sorties took them over Yugoslavia in March and April 1945 where they attacked railway lines and German gun positions to help partisans.


But when the war ended they quickly went their separate ways.

Decades on, pilot Tom Grossett from Pentwyn, Cardiff, began the mission of a lifetime when he started the search for his lost comrades.

He had a good start, having kept in touch with navigator Rex Waller from Bruton, Somerset, and bomb aimer Maurice Webster, who lives in Southport, Merseyside.

In 1979 he tracked down mid-upper gunner Len Wilson to Ballasalla on the isle of Man and wireless operator Bill Madeley to his home in Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

But he was unable to find any trace of tail gunner Jimmy Spence, despite contacting 85 Spences in the Edinburgh and Kirkcaldy areas where he used to live. Finally he advertised for him on a "lost pals" page on Teletext and a Scottish caller rang to tell him Jimmy had emigrated to Australia in 1950.

In September 2000, the pilot finally traced a number for Jimmy in Tuncurry, 200 miles north of Sydney. Then he woke him up with a call at 5:15am saying: 'It's your old skip.' A stunned Jimmy could only reply: "Bloody hell."

The six pals first met at Number 70 Operational Training Unit at Shandur in Egypt where they learned about flying the Marauder. When they began operational flying they were assigned to 39 Squadron, which was stationed on the Adriatic coast of liberated Italy.


They had a good war - the only thing that hit their plane was a bundle of propaganda leaflets dropped from another bomber.

The crew were reunited at the weekend at a hotel in Wilmslow, Manchester, and were thrilled to see each other once more. Jimmy said: "I am ecstatic. It is amazing to see all the lads again. "I wasn't in hiding but when the war finished the squadron broke up so quickly that we did not have time to swop addresses. I just got on with my life, working in the aircraft industry for 20 years. A reunion was never in my head until the skip rang."

Skipper Tom Grossett said: "We were a good crew and we're still a good crew. We were friends as well as comrades and knew we could all rely on each other. "We all remember our time together with great affection and everyone is still pulling each other's leg." He added: "Others in 39 Squadron are dying off but our crew go on and on - we seem to be invincible."

CL 1026 from Harry Sacaloff
From The Sun, June 26, 2002, page 19: the text and images are from a Marauder website apparently no longer functioning
A similar page can be seen as

If you can add memories of Mr Waller or provide other photos of him, please contact the editor.
page last updated 4 Nov 10