Soham Grammarians - 2007 Reunion

Who booked for the 2007 Dinner

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Chris Bent 53, retiring this year as Coordinator and Reunion Dinner Organiser, proposed the Loyal Toast.

We remained indebted to Soham Village College for hosting us and in particular to Mrs Margaret Bryden and her catering and serving team of helpers and pupils and to the bar team from the Sports Centre.

There were a number of apologies from former pupils and staff unable to come either because of advancing years or illness or other commitments. The Toast to Absent Friends, usually proposed by George Dann, would this year be by Wilkes Walton as George was recovering from a hospital visit. Chris was performing some of the tasks we had for long associated with Arnold Tomalin who regretted that he would now not be able to attend.

Three names Chris would especially miss this year: Rex Lane who Chris remembers explaining that he had not returned his name badge as he only wore the suit it was on to the Dinner; Norman Sneesby who gave Chris his book on wine growing [Sneesby, Norman A Vineyard in England, 1977] - he had set up a vineyard at Wilburton; and Dr Brian Pullen who had played in The Yeomen of the Guard (1955), photos of which appeared on screen including Chris and Stan Harley as young ladies.
Rex, Norman and Brian had all died in the last year.

Chris was pleased to report that because of the success of the Dinners and the generous donations received from many of those in contact, our funds are in good health.

He welcomed our Guests, Dr Carin Taylor, Principal of Soham Village College; Mrs Ann Jarman (née Ford) and John Browning OBE MA who wrote the History of Soham Grammar School and who it was hoped all being well would be our speaker next year.

He also welcomed this year's speaker, his old friend and fellow 1953 entry Grammarian, Denis Wilkins. It was Chris's revenge for having been proposed by Denis as the successor to Roger Lane back in 2002. He said he was aiming to cause Denis maximum embarrassment and accordingly showed a photo of a smug Lower VI bunch - the self styled Elite of 1958.

Later in the evening bouquets were presented to Dr Carin Taylor, Mrs Ann Jarman and Mrs Margaret Bryden. The pupil team came in to be thanked and receive the traditional collection made on their behalf.

thanking the serving team

At the end of the evening Frank Haslam 59, website/database editor, thanked all who make the website of continuing interest by contributing items, and hoped to receive more - photos, stories and memorabilia.

He congratulated and thanked Chris for all he had done to make our Dinners such a success. Some presentations had been arranged ...

Mrs Margaret Bryden, Vice Principal of Soham Village College, who organises the hall, catering and serving so well for us each year, presented Chris with a certificate of appreciation from the Grammarians. She told Chris that with each year he had been organising the Dinner the numbers had grown but that she had really wanted him to beat 100. It was great that he had achieved this [again] in his final year.

Mrs Ann Jarman, representing the longest connection of those present with the school (her grandfather owned Beechurst, her father was Mr CJ Ford and she lives in the Armitage's old house) presented him with a bottle of a favourite wine.

Lastly Frank gave him a bouquet to take home to his wife, Valerie, as a 'thank you' for all she had done behind the scenes to support us and Chris.

Frank Haslam describing Chris's Certificate of Appreciation before inviting Mrs Margaret Bryden (right) to present it to Chris Bent: Lane

Mrs Ann Jarman presenting the bottle of wine to Chris: Lane

Guest of Honour
Dr Carin Taylor BA PhD CertEd NPQH

Principal of Soham Village College from September 2006

Dr Taylor welcomed us back and said how good it was to see so many present. Those who came last year would remember that we had not done at all well with the School Song. The Village College had looked at this. Vice Principal Stephen Kenna had slightly reworded it and made an arrangement that had been recorded with Year 10, which we could follow on screen and join in.

[Editor -The Song was duly sung, and was felt to be an improvement on last year's effort, but we could "still do better". We thank the Village College for their help. We may be able to respond with the original next year.]

Dr Taylor showed a presentation of life at the Village College which she hoped demonstrated that not only was the tradition of academic performance strongly continuing - Astronomy can now be studied - but that the aim of Excellence with Care is being fulfilled. She said we will have noticed that the clock in Beechurst Hall has 'frozen' and a project to deal with this is at an early stage.

Responding to some old boy banter: "Please Miss, if I get it wrong will I have to stay late?"

Having a go: Lane

Guest Speaker - Denis Wilkins

Chris Bent introduced Denis Wilkins 53-61, FRCS (Eng), Hon. FRCPSG, MD. Hon. Consultant Surgeon, Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, Hon. Senior Lecturer Peninsula Medical School. Denis is immediate past president of the Association of Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland, with a distinguished career spanning appointments throughout Great Britain, Europe and Canada.

Denis: I have to say, that applause before a speech is an act of hope; during is an act of faith, and afterwards is an act of charity!

Good evening, Principal Carin Taylor, Ladies and Gentlemen .. and Chris Bent.

I have to say that Chris and I have been very good friends over the years. In fact, when Chris and I were in the sixth form we were pretty well joined at the hip. We agreed later that would be the last time that we would sniff glue together. So, thank you very much, Chris, for asking me to do the after-dinner slot.

To get us off the mark so to speak, it crossed it crossed my mind that as we are in school, we might as well do some learning. In picking a subject that might be useful, I was reminded how much business we have to carry out over the 'phone these days and how important it is to communicate accurately critical words, such as post codes. Sometime ago, I came across a neat little way of learning the NATO phonetic alphabet. Listen carefully and pay attention, please, as if we have time I intend to test you at the end of this talk - providing you are still here:

A is for Alpha, which is really all Greek;
B is for Bravo, three cheers, so to speak;
C is for Charlie, a Drake with a smile;
D is for Delta, the mouth of the Nile;
E is for Echo, a sonar type ‘ping’,
F is for Foxtrot a dancing type thing,
G is for Golf, played with ball and with club;
H is for Hotel, a posh kind of pub;
I is for India, which is far, far away;
J is for Juliet, as in Shakespear’s play,
K is for Kilo, a thousand to you.
L is for Lima, which is in Peru;
M is for Mike, makes your voice loud and clear;
N is for November, quite late in the year.
O is for Oscar, a ‘wild’ kind of chap;
P is for Papa, a backwards ‘apaP’;
Q is for Quebec, which is over the sea;
R is for Romeo, ‘neath Juliet’s balcony;
S is for Sierra, some mountains in Spain;
T is for Tango, a dancing type thing;
U is for Uniform, which is black, green or blue;
V is for Victor, the man who beat you;
W is for Whisky, which T-totallers deride;
X is for X-ray, to see your insides
Y is for Yankee, a New England man, and
Z is for Zulu, who’s black - or dark tan!

So there you have it. (I believe that this was composed in the 1950s and wish that I could give due credit but the author’s name is lost in the mists of time)

Actually one has to be very careful about delivering talks in schools. Occasionally, if there had been a last-minute cancellation by the preferred speaker, I might be dragged out to deliver a speech day talk or similar, surgeons being regarded as semi-respectable members of the Establishment and just about acceptable, in this regard.

I remember one occasion with some humour. I had been asked to give the prizes at the local boys’ school. In retrospect, matters started to unravel from the outset when the rather elderly and clearly slightly deaf chairman of the Governors introduced me. Having explained to him that my main hobby of the time was ‘aerobatics’, he finished his very kind introduction with, “…..but even in his busy life he manages to find time to indulge his passion which is aerobics .... and he even competes in National Aerobic Competitions …”

With my credibility among the predominantly male audience severely dented, I embarked on a rather suspect story abut a disruptive Jewish schoolboy and the local Catholic school, which I thought went down rather well [tells the story]. Afterwards, over tea, the headmaster, rather cruelly I reflected later, took pains to introduce me to two particular members of the Board of Governors; one being the local rabbi and the other the local catholic bishop.

In pondering on what we might chat about this evening, it seemed to me that as the occasion is very much to do with our old school, and that I am just one of its ‘products’, it might be interesting to explore how the grammar school education of the time fitted this person for a career as a surgeon.

Here it is important to remark that we received a large dollop of our education at SGS, but the training really came later. The difference? Well I can illustrate this by pointing out that I was very happy to have any one of my four daughters educated in matters to do with sex, but not quite so keen to have them undergo training in the subject!

So how did the education here at school fit into life afterwards – certainly as far as I was concerned?

I was a lad who moved from the Technical stream to the Latin stream in mid school. (Aside: ‘No ‘A’ and ‘B’ stream here; both recognised as different but of equal worth; Edward Armitage’s touch asserting itself once more). It was Mr. Webb (Ffuff –Ding) our then form master who fixed this. Why and how? On account of a fad I was going through having just read the Practical Home Doctor and blurting out when quizzed with the rest during a Friday afternoon form period (Do you remember those?) that I “wanted to be a doctor”. All in the heat of the moment and for want of something better to say.

Ridiculous, really, but then all of us can probably look back on a seemingly whimsical urge or moment that turned out to shape our course through life. I never really knew how, but the next day he told me to move my stuff to the L stream and use the Latin periods to catch up (Sorry, Rex Waller!). I owe him big time and take the opportunity to say a big ‘thank you’ as he must have gone to considerable lengths.

I was very happy in the technical side, particularly enjoying TD (technical drawing) and woodwork with Mr. ‘Tabby’ Tabraham (If you read this Mr. Tabraham, please note that I kept up the woodworking and have one two small prizes from Good Woodworking magazine over the years to show for it. I applied the techniques you taught us for many years to good effect while doing orthopaedics so your efforts were not entirely in vain! I wonder how many of us still have our oak knife boxes proudly in use.)

Now to follow a career in surgery, what are the physical and mental attributes required and how do they fit with SGS?

A wag once said that for success in medicine one needed grey hairs for gravitas and a full bladder to ensure a look of concern, but speaking personally I think that there is just a little more to it than that.

First, I would put stamina, Mental and Physical. One has to be very tough to survive surgical training and subsequent practice. The physical demands of long hours, lengthy operations and chronic lack of sleep take some getting accustomed to. So do you remember those long cross-country runs? Across the bottom of the playing fields, through the kissing gate, up the drove, over the Horse Fen with 10lb of clay clinging to each of your ‘plimsolls’ [interjection from the audience: “and don’t forget the ice!”], pounding along the road and so back to the school.

‘RAT’ Taylor great master that he was, was never much into us I think, and like quite a few classmates I was no good at ball sports, so we more or less got on with it and rolled the cricket pitch and went on runs and played in the remnants (‘Remmies’). What we did not perhaps appreciate was how endurance sports such as these during adolescence imparted benefits that would subsequently last throughout life. During those teenage days we were stimulating our hearts and lungs during a critical time when they could still respond by growing.

We had, when I was in the Sixth, a graduate from Cambridge on teaching experience who was an endurance runner. At last, a soul mate! Inspirational. Someone who through example, brought on a whole tribe of us during the year he was here. I wonder what became of him. So to RAT and his general ethos of sport for all, and to the school I would say my second big thank you. I see from SVC Principal Taylor’s excellent overview that the tradition of sporting achievement continues in ‘our’ school today.

But it is also mental stamina that is even more important in a medical or surgical career. Let’s face it; when things are going well there can be no finer feeling. Accolades, grateful patients and relatives - what more could one want? Unfortunately, matters do not always go that way. Surgical mistakes, unforeseen complications and poor decisions all become readily apparent. Attending a sick patient for days and nights while the illness and your management runs its course; and the nagging doubts about whether you should have done this, that or the other. Working in unresponsive and often poorly managed institutions. These strains, hidden from all but your family, can take a dreadful toll. (‘.. From bitter searching of the heart, we rise to play a greater part …’, from a Villanelle for our times by Frank R. Scott (1899-1985)).

And so one needs mental fortitude. To pick oneself up, resolve to do better and just get on providing the best care for one’s patients (‘Do not go gentle into that good night .... Rage, rage against the dying of the light’ - Dylan Thomas). Looking back, these were the values that we picked up from the atmosphere of ‘stiff upper lip’: the encouragement of our masters when we screwed up; the drip feed of wise teachings and exposure to great reading material that would probably be dismissed as positively jingoistic today.

Incidentally, it is probably important that, as a surgeon, one should not have too much imagination, otherwise you would stand rooted to the spot in terror. [Here is told a scurrilous and probably apocryphal anecdote about medical students, Samantha and Leroy].

Physics. I would single out the sciences in which we were given our grounding here, and physics in particular, as arguably the most practically useful part of my education. Someone described physics as helping us to understand the world around us, and I think that describes the discipline exactly. The fascinating thing is that the respective elements of a broad education, such as we received at Soham, are rarely wasted and it is remarkable how seemingly irrelevant learnings and skills will come in useful time and time again and when you least expect it.

As a young doctor, I was employed by the British Antarctic Survey for a spell. I was also doing my postgrad doctorate. We were just dropped off by the polar vessel M.V. Perla Dan at a station on the Brunt Ice Shelf, Halley Bay, and picked up a year later. No physical support possible and radio communication only intermittent in those days. So when I found that a vital piece of my research kit was not working – a temperature sensitive probe – I cadged a thermistor from a friend in the met room and used a Wheatstone Bridge and the off-balance current to devise a practical temperature measuring system.

I wouldn’t have thought of it without the physics teaching given by Messrs Armitage, Webb and others.

During my particular leisure interest, which you will gather has always been aviation, a knowledge of physics and chemistry is invaluable. Boyles' Law, Charles' Law, relative humidity, hydrocarbons, laminar flow, etc. all suddenly become relevant. It is sometimes critical.

Twelve years ago or so, a few of us bought an aerobatic plane. It was called a Pitts Special [here, a show of hands demonstrated that about a third of the audience knew the aeroplane, and one had actually flown one] and although we weren’t doing a lot of display flying, we were having a huge amount of fun doing amateur competitions around the place. Two of us who were particularly keen, would meet at ‘Bodmin International’ airfield on a Friday lunchtime and would pile into this open cockpit, two-seater and off – usually to remote airfields in E. Anglia. Funnily enough, not many people seemed keen on having a load of would-be top guns buzzing over their houses like demented bluebottles during summer week-ends.

On this particular day, I couldn’t go on account of work. So my friend went off on his own. I wrote to the aerobatic association afterwards in the following terms:

ODE to a PITTS Special

The Cornish lot are out this season,
I guess that you will know the reason;
Poor old “Top Gun’s” stuffed the bus
On the way to Sleap – it happened thus:

Lost and fuel was almost gone,
Found Shropshire’s fields were full of corn.
At last he finds one – looks grass;
Even on a lowish pass.

The approach was good – the flare was fine;
Better get it right this time!
But what is this – Oh no! Oh Rats!
The sound of wheat ears on the spats!

Throttle’s firewalled-
Where’s the power?
G- PEAL hangs there ... for about an hour…
But it’s no good the wheat ears win –
There is no doubt she’s going in.

The Lomcovak was pure erudition-
It should have won a competition,
But on the ground it was sort of fake,
And also made his poor head ache.
Apart from which it wore the Pitts,
Which seemed to want to come to bits.

And as he seeks the sequence card,
Up comes the cockpit combing – hard,
And upon this and the dash,
The poor chap’s cranium takes a bash.
And what a thump – he’s dead for sure!
But no, he’s coming back for more!

And out he climbs to survey the wreck,
With nothing more than aching neck
Although he’s feeling pretty sore
He’s no more brain damaged than he was before.

He’s sure our fitter will be mad,
But on the other hand we’re glad
Because instead of hospital he’ll go home,
Because he wore a strong bone dome!

Not an easy plane to fly and navigate the Pitts Special and he had in fact overlooked a simple physics lesson re magnetic fields and had placed a magnetic stop-watch holder next to the compass .....

You can appreciate that I have a bit of a love for rhyming; poetry even. I don’t think that I was the most diligent or rewarding student of History or English, but it must have gone in. You do need a decent amount of English to survive in medicine and communicate properly. Even so, mistakes will happen. I had a typed letter of mine returned to me by a GP friend the other day “ … I saw this patient today for a quick check ..” with the blue line round ‘check’. Except that it was spelt ‘cheque’. And he would appreciate to be sent an appointment for one as well.

But I must have picked up something of an appreciation for the richness and the beauty of the English language (after all we were a Grammar School) and while in the Antarctic, with time to fill by reading during the four month winter darkness, I found that I actually liked poetry. To explain, when embarking on lengthy dog-sledging journeys each of us was only allowed to take one book. I had taken an anthology of poetry by that great WW2 general, Lord Wavell, entitled Other Men’s Flowers and gradually, it opened a whole range of new horizons.

When one is sledging either with dogs or by man-hauling, it has to be the most boring occupation imaginable. Also, if the weather turns, the two of you can be holed up in a tent for days at a time with nothing to do but listen to the gale howling and hoping that the tent is well fastened down. Boring and often very hard work. I learned many poems by heart and my companions and I quickly found that the exercise of pulling them out of the hard drives of our collective memory; reciting and discussing even, could divert us for hours at a time from the cold, grey realities of the seemingly endless ice-shelf. So thank you, our masters, for giving us Mr. Polly and Rudyard Kipling.

I notice that Leon Kitchen who instilled in so many of us the framework of our British heritage, is here tonight and I have just had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of John Browning, also a history master at SGS. I am afraid that, coming from Plymouth, I cannot possibly resist the opportunity of putting them right with regard to that most famous of battles, Trafalgar.

[Here recited ‘The Battle of Trafalgar’ from the Stanley Holloway Monologues, by Marriot Edgar]

There are other medical snippets of dubious nature that I could offer. For example, news that the eczema Society has just launched a new scratch card, which is proving very successful among its members. And those people who said mouth transplants couldn’t be done are surely laughing on the other side of their face!

But that is enough of this nonsense for one evening. It is an honour to be given the opportunity to talk and reminisce, as is our wont, about our School. This is one of the occasions to which I, and many of us, really look forward each year. I have meandered and reflected on some of the values of a wonderful, broad education that we received, perhaps largely unremarked and unappreciated at the time, and across a range of subjects from rural science through to calculus. I can see that the Village College carries on these traditions.

At SGS we were imbued with a culture of achievement, disciplined behaviour, a love of sport, a breadth of education and a firm set of values. It is a pleasure, on behalf of us all here as well as at a personal level, to have the opportunity to offer a sincere ‘Thank you’ to the school and all who taught us in these wonderful old buildings.

I ask you to raise your glasses and drink a toast to ‘The Teachers of Soham Grammar School’.

The Toast to Absent Friends - 'Wilkes' Walton 36

Wilkes began by saying that he was glad to hear that George Dann 33 who for many years has proposed this toast was on the mend and that we all wished him well.

Absent friends included those no longer with us and he wished us to recall those like John Norman and Fred Hockley who did not come back from WW2.

This year, among others already referred to in the Reunion leaflet, the late Norman Sneesby is remembered with affection by many. Reunion attenders would recall his famous Grammarian dickie-bow tie: Pat Sneesby has kindly given this to Wilkes and he will be wearing it here in future, for Norman and for fun.

The numerous apologies of those still with us who could not make it this evening had been presented, and so he proposed the Toast "Absent Friends".

[Deaths notified to us since the last Reunion, as listed in the Reunion leaflet, were Mr Lionel Hart 59-72 (whose funeral took place on Monday 1 Oct); Norman Sneesby 36, Colin Smith 41, Rex Lane 43, Brian Pullen 48, Brian Martin 49, Graham Hancock 54, Richard Billy Munns 54.]

Wilkes Walton explains that he has inherited his late friend Norman Sneesby's trademark Grammarian dickie-bow tie: see also below

Some 2007 Reunion Dinner photos

Please rectify any missing or incorrect IDs. Name and entry year are shown

Guests L-R: Ann Jarman (née Ford) - Dr Carin Taylor - Chris Bent - Denis Wilkins - John Browning

L-R: Brian Leonard 49 - Geoff Rouse 56 - hidden - Tony Willenbruch 62 - Ralph Barker 65 - Michael Miller 70 - Anthony Nix 65 - Chris Palmer 65

L-R: John Lester 65 - Shaun Bokor 65 - James Gilbert 65 - Kenn Hunter 67 - Ted Quinn - Leon Kitchen

L-R: Gerald Gillett 51 - 2 - Ed Reed 67 - Dick Bozeat - Peter Deasley 54 - John Cornwell 54 - John Darby 53 - Derek Murton 53 - Peter Grange 53

from right: Fred Eden 44 - Charles Peacock 44 - John Peacock 54 - Richard Doe 55 - Mike Goodchild 51 - hidden - Brian Thorby 49

from right: Stan Darby 38 - Sid Bonnett 46 - Simon Thornhill 65 - Vince Gudgeon 66 - David Parr 68 - Stephen Seymour 68

L-R: Ted Quinn - Leon Kitchen - Peter Scott - Ian Booth 57

L-R: George Russell 43 - John Kisby 43 - Ken Purchase 52 - Owen Barber 50

L-R back: Patrick Faircliffe 48 - Brian Lane 48 - David Engledow 48 - Rodney Brown 48
front: John Hill 48 - Ken Beman 48 - John Browning - Ted Quinn - Bill Peters 48 - Ian Hobbs 48 - Leon Kitchen: Lane
see also
: class of 48 at the 1987 Reunion

some 1960s staff: Gareth Wood -
Bill Rennison - Peter Scott - Warwick Ellis

Geoff Rouse 56 with Bill Rennison

Dink Palmer 37 - Wilkes Walton 36 sporting the late Norman Sneesby's dickie-bow tie, now his - Stan Darby 38, dazzled by it?

The class of 53: Denis Wilkins - Chris Bent - Peter Bird - Peter Grange - Stan Harley - John Darby - Derek Murton

Ann Jarman (née Ford) chatting with Mrs Margaret Bryden as the clearing up takes place

Yes, that's it! - Valerie about to take Chris home

Chris Bent

Spring Vegetable Soup, or Charlie Ford's Egg Mayonnaise
Roast Leg of Lamb & Mint Sauce
Selection of Seasonal Vegetables

Brenda's Chocolate & Sultana Pudding & White Sauce, or Fruit Salad

Bish's Cheese Board

Coffee & Mints

Wine available at the Bar

Toast : HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN (Chris Bent)

Guests of Honour: Dr Carin Taylor, Mr John Browning, Mrs Ann Jarman
Speaker: Mr Denis Wilkins

Toast: ABSENT FRIENDS (Wilkes Walton)

6 Nov 2007: Wilkes Walton writes: My grandaughter Gemma ran off copies of this report for me. I sent colour pictures of Norman's tie to Pat Sneesby. She rang to say he would have been delighted. Dink Palmer also got a copy.

images: Frank Haslam, Brian Lane
last updated 8 Nov 2007
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