the link to the talk is at the end of this page,
together with a link listing those
who registered and those who sent apologies
John Dimmock SG59 opened the proceedings at 14:30 by welcoming us and our Guest of Honour Dr. Carin Taylor.
He especially welcomed Mrs June Lawrance and her daughter Gaye. As John said anyone taught Maths by her late husband Albert Lawrence will remember him "I'd be surprised if you don't!".
Another family participant was Mrs Carol Morton whose late husband Michael Morton SG'54' was a considerable character on and off the sports field during his time at SGS.
We were also joined by Peter Scott (Maths 60-72) who lives within sight of Beechurst - and across the globe, by John O'Toole (English 63-66) in Australia, and Grammarians in the USA, Canada, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Thailand.
We were particularly delighted that a third of those registering were first-time attenders (in this century!). John Dimmock hoped that when we get back to Beechurst, some would be able to come and join us there.
He then handed over to Frank Haslam SG'59' who talked through the way this Reunion was going to run, bearing in mind that for many this was their first experience of Zoom and doing things like Chat, Mute and Unmute.
He reminded us that, as previously advised, the Reunion was being recorded, "so you have been warned" [laughter], to aid reporting.
Frank added that one thing he hadn't thought about was that when it came to the Toasts - The Loyal Toast and To Absent Friends - we'd be sitting down in front of our screens. So whether we stood up was up to us - but if like him we were attached to something (headset/earpieces), there might be Health & Safety problems!
The Roll Call
John Dimmock then got us ready to take part in an adaptation of our traditional Roll Call, this time calling us by name in alphabetical order to state: our years at SGS, where we lived then, where we lived now and to recount any brief anecdote of our time at SGS.
There were so many not so brief anecdotes that it took over three quarters of an hour. But it was fun and probably went some way towards making up for not being able to chat as usual with those around us at the lunches. The transcript has been edited to make for better reading:
David Beale - 1962 - lived in Ely - now in North Derbyshire, near Bakewell - played drums when I was at school and I'm still playing drums now.
Chris Bull -
then in Ely -
now in Longstanton - didn't join SGS until 1954
because I came from a secondary modern school and got the 13
Plus - didn't put me in Year 3, put me down a year, but I
still struggled [laughter] - quite an experience, my
Alan Dench -
entered Soham 1967 - in 1972 I moved to the Sixth Form in Ely -
lived in Cambridge then - now in St Ives in Cambridgeshire,
lived in a few places between, around the world - nice to see
everyone - I'm very happy to be part of this unique Zoom
experience for our reunion. I can say "I was there" [laughter].
- 1948 to 53 - born in Burwell - followed my brother [James]
to Soham, he was four years senior to me - now in Wymondham,
Thanks a bunch
Rex Waller asked me
one morning to go up to Barker's and get him some Four
Square, which I duly did. On my return, everyone was in
the Hall, and I had to join at the back. I was grateful for
that, because that day Mr. Armitage decided to have a go at
crewcuts, of which I was a clan member. I always think that Rex
had foreknowledge [of EA's 'go'] and he actually got me out of
the situation. I am ever so grateful that.
No mad anecdotes
about my time at the Grammar School, just it was a breeze. It
was a ball. Great teachers. Great pupils. Couldn't ask for any
Terence Jordan - 1948-54 - I lived two miles NW of Little Downham - I think the people that have moved in call it Downham-in-the-Oil ... they've renamed one of the streets as well to make it a bit posher - now living in Gloucestershire - can't remember anything amusing, sorry. [laughter]
Bill Kelly: [Frank Haslam, in covering this being the 75th anniversary year of V-E and V-J Day, spoke of the connection between Bill's father (Corporal WA Kelly RE of 591 Parachute Sqn) who with Ralph Dunham SG59's uncle, Staff Sjt Duncan Wright, Glider Pilot Regt AAC (SG32) was captured and executed by the Germans on D-Day.]
joined the school in 1955. I was living in Ely, my parents'
surname was Jacobs [Bill's mother had remarried]. I had an
unremarkable time at Soham although I think I was most
probably the first person to try and burn down the
Chemistry Lab. When I was a Chemistry Lab monitor in 1961 I
emptied a bottle of naptha down the sink. Unbeknown to me it
contained particles of sodium which unfortunately started a
fire in the drains below the Lab. I learned some very good
firefighting skills as a result of that. [Bill went on to
become a highly qualified engineer and Captain in the Royal
- 1961 - first teacher Lionel Hart - I was one of the not so
elite who used to come on a double-decker bus from Cambridge,
which gave us a chance to catch up with homework. Still in
Cambridge. I remember Mr. Lawrance, I believe he went to the
County High School for Boys in Cambridge - Trevor Smith told me
about today - thank you for inviting me - nice to see you.
(with her daughter Gaye) - Hello - wife of AEL
who I think you all know well! Thank you for
Donald Monk - 1952 to 57 - lived in Ely and still living in Ely - sorry to hear Bill Chilcott can't be with us though he had registered, he was the only other 1950 who was to be Zooming this afternoon. Thanks to Frank and everybody for organising this.
John O'Toole (JROT), in Australia: Hello, everybody. I was there teaching English, supposedly, from 63 to 66. And although I wasn't there as long as you were, I think like most of you, I can say that Soham Grammar School made me. It was my first teaching job. I was wet behind the ears. I was poorly trained. I was learning on the job. And I hope I didn't intellectually cripple too many of you, particularly the faces that I can see in front of me that had the misfortune to be taught English by me.
I thought it was wonderful. I loved every minute of it. I thought the kids were terrific. I discovered that teaching was a great profession and a lovely thing to do. Teachers were friendly and supportive. I had the best mentor in the world with Gordon Hemmings.
Well, I should say I didn't quite love every minute of it. I had a few run-ins with RAT Taylor, [laughter] getting the afternoon off to play County hockey, which he thought was an unworthy game anyway, My word [Chorus of My word imitations]
I didn't make the hundred terms that was the the ambition of all teachers in those days. And I think when I left, probably it was your fault that I got a job about as far as possible, geographically and spiritually, away from Soham, just as a change. I taught in a comprehensive slum clearance school in Sunderland. I had 10 wonderful years in Tyneside. I got to love those kids too.
I just want to thank
you, all of you who were there at Soham, and the whole ethos of
your school, for teaching me so much more than I taught you.
I lived in Witchford.
Our house was a mile from the bus stop and I often used to just
miss the bus. I had to hitch to Ely to pick up the the bus. My
favourite car I used to wait for was a Wolseley 6/110. I
became friends with the driver and we used to meet up once in a
while. That was a really nice memory. At the school itself, I
loved all the teachers, including Mr. Armitage, and his lovely
wife who tried to teach me German. I often got the slipper, I
got the cane, I was stood under the clock.
I think the running
for the bus every day helped me. I was Victor Ludorum for two or
three years. I always won the cross country with the likes of
Nicky Bayes - Simon Thornhill will remember him. Graham Count
was my rival over the 400 and 800.
I thoroughly enjoy my
time at SGS. The only teacher who scared me was Mr. Hart, the
French teacher, because of his eyes. He used to scare the life
out of me. We used to call him Dalai Lama, if you
I remember RAT very
well - "My word, my word, there's a Cheshire Cat in the back."
That's what he used to call me, I was always smiling for no
I recognise some of
your faces. Some of you were younger than me. I certainly
remember Simon Thornhill. Steve Yeomans and I used to sit in
class together, he was a good pal of mine. Say hello to him,
Michael. A very good footballer, quite short but very speedy. I
did Soham Grammar proud at the Athletics Championships.
Eric has spent all
his life up in northern Canada. Firstly, he went on a Voluntary
Service Overseas year to teach English and French, in Lapland of
all places, it was in a religious mission. Then he joined the
Hudson's Bay Company and worked with them in northern Canada for
many years. Now he has his own store in Kuujjuaq.
He's the main source of food and other supplies for the people
Peter Scott, Maths
1960-72: Hello everyone. I was supposedly teaching Maths,
from 1960. Still in Soham, sitting in my lounge where I can look
out of the window at Beechurst 100 yards away. We have regular
Zoom quizzes with the family and I must say I'm full of
admiration for those who are doing it for the first time. It is
good to see you all.
Roger Smith, in
South Africa: What a wonderful experience - have heard
lots about Zoom - my first attempt, and thanks to Frank for
organising it - joined the Grammar School in 1956, the same year
as Richard Dean, although we were in different forms - came from
Ely, lived there for most of my life. A few years ago, I retired
to live in Cape Town in South Africa. No amusing anecdotes, but
when people ask what do I miss about the UK, well, apart from
family and friends, it's a pint of English beer and a pork pie.
Great to be with you.
Geoff Fernie - I
believe, he was the prefect who caught me and my fellow smokers
down at the bottom of the field in a break time and had us up
before the Headmaster, we were all due to receive the cane for
smoking at school.
Lovely to see you all - great job, Frank and John, getting us all together - I'm thoroughly enjoying it.
It's a bit sad that Eric Pearson couldn't join us. I'm 99% sure that Eric and I were the last of the Cambridge train boys. Eric was a couple years ahead of me so after he left, I continued going by train on my own. It ended up being just me and the one remaining Ely High School girl [Glenda Raeburn] travelling by train from Cambridge. By the time I was in my sixth year at Soham I had outgrown my travel sickness on long bus journeys and so went on the bus.
Brian Thorby: 1949-55 - one of my contemporaries was Roger Lane who many of you may remember used to do a lot towards the organising of the Dinner - sad that he is no longer with us - I came for many years with Tim Dickinson and Mike Goodchild, both sadly also no longer with us. After leaving school, I went into the construction industry for 46 years
My period at the
school were great times. The teachers then compared with
teachers now - entirely different. A number of them were
obviously ex-Army like Slug Riley. And Anthony Charles
Vincent Foster who was a Captain in the Army. When he was
demobbed, he sold the pupils surplus tank aerials for fishing
I ran the school
vending machine, a Ditchburn Magispa, if anyone
remembers that. I used to take it to pieces every week and take
it home and wash it out in the kitchen sink, things that
schoolboys probably would not dream of doing these days.
John Dimmock: I'm going to read out the names of the people who have passed away during the 12 months since our 2019 reunion, and also those who passed away in earlier years but we've only just been made aware of that fact. Make sure you've got your glass filled.
I will now read out the names and the year that they joined the school:
Clive Bray 1950
Michael Baldwin 1958
Michael Bunting 1953
John Butcher 1947
Aubrey F Butler 1948
Terry Day MBE 1957
Michael Delanoy MBE 1948
Rodney Fretwell 1942
Michael Goodchild 1951
Kenneth Holliday 1939
Greg Holt 1968
Ed Kisby 1967
Russell Lane 1946
Michael Morton '1954'
Mrs Mary Gorman, Maths WW2
Ken Purchase 1952
Cyril Prior 1944
Bill Rennison, History 1961 to 67.
Chris Sangster 1963
Eric Simper 1951
Denis Sindall 1940
Peter Stonebridge 1950
Trevor William Smith 1961
Chris Strawson 1944
Well, it's a long list. And it's very sad, of course.
I ask you to raise your glasses, and remember those people who are no longer with us. "Absent Friends."
Thank you. Over to Frank.
Frank Haslam: This year is the 75th anniversary of V-E Day, and also V-J Day. There are two people that I would like you particularly to remember:
Fred Hockley [1934 entry] Fleet Air Arm, died on the 15th of August 1945, which is V-J Day. He was shot down over Tokyo Bay.
Duncan Wright [1932 entry] Glider Pilot, 6th June 1944, which was D Day. He was the uncle of Ralph Dunham in my year, who we had hoped would be here but is travelling at the moment.
And we should of course remember all those other Grammarians who did not come home from World War Two.
But these two names I draw to your attention especially, because both were victims of a War Crime.
Fred was shot down over Japan on what became V-J Day. He was well looked after, the villagers took him to an Army Post, gave him some cigarettes and so on. The Army Post reported up the chain. "What do we do with him?"
They had by this time heard the Emperor's radio broadcast saying that the war was over for Japan.
The Army Command said to take him up into the hills and get rid of him.
Look at the website for Fred's story and you will see how all of this eventually came out.
Duncan Wright, Glider Pilot, captured, executed.
[Editor: I did not quite have the story straight at the Reunion so what follows is now correct]
We have Bill Kelly SG55 with us. Within the last few days we've made the connection between Bill's father and Ralph's uncle. Both had been captured, separately, on D Day. They were held together with several others in the grounds of a chateau where a Frenchman saw them, unarmed. At 8 am that morning a German officer said they had all been shot for carrying concealed arms.
Bill has researched his father's case in great detail and was amazed to find the connection with Soham Grammar School
I have brought Bill and Ralph together and they have spent some time talking to each other. Moreover, Bill was a pupil at Ely Silver Street and his family were shown great kindness by Soham Grammarian Ken Holt, the headmaster there, when Bill contracted polio.
I think that's an amazing set of coincidences. If you want an example of the value of having a website, I think that's a wonderful yet very sad one.
So that's why I want you to remember those two names. If you go on our website, you will see much more information when I update Duncan Wright's story with Bill's help.
Some of you may remember that there was a Hockley Prize (for Drama) that was given in memory of Fred (by Mr Cecil Crouch).
Back to you, John
News from our Guest of Honour
John Dimmock: Now we're going to ask Dr. Taylor to give us news and updates on what's happening at the College and how you are managing this dreadful virus. Over to you Carin:
I think when you reflect on the last year, there won't be anybody that doesn't have a story to tell. I'm guessing for each of you, that there are individual stories which are really significant from the last six months, nine months.
Complications that we couldn't have imagined. And also opportunities, perhaps like having a Zoom Reunion, which of course brings in people that wouldn't be able to travel to Beechurst, so there are some silver linings, perhaps, to the situation that we're in.
For the school, the Village College, I can assure you, as is my role at this event, I believe, that we are all safe and well: the school is coping very well and the community's coping very well. East Cambridgeshire has not been badly affected; we're very fortunate that the relative disruption that we've experienced is nothing compared to other parts.
Our schools closed on the 20th of March, at relatively short notice. I think with hindsight, the week before that was obviously a very big deal. But I don't think we realised at that point that we wouldn't be welcoming back our students, for the majority of them, until September, I think we probably thought we might be back a little bit after Easter, or maybe June. Of course, as it was, we were pretty well closed until September.
Throughout Lockdown all of our schools remained open to vulnerable children, to disadvantaged children, to children with special educational needs, and to children of Care Workers - so we were always in operation. The school was actually open on Good Friday, we were open on Easter Monday, all through the school holidays, there was a skeleton staff in each of our schools. And we were welcoming a minimum of around 10 young people who really did need the security and support of school. In our primary schools, the numbers were even higher, because obviously there were childcare concerns for parents.
None of our students who finished college sat their exams at the end of the year. We were really pleased that our central assessment grades did fairly reflect how well those students did. And the vast majority of them have gone on at age 16 to do the studying, or further training that they would have wanted to do, so that they are safely on their way to the next phase of their life.
Of course, the huge upheaval was that we had to almost reinvent the whole school system at very, very short notice. And the scope and the speed of it was phenomenal. We had to rewrite virtually every policy that we've got, we had to risk assess absolutely everything we were doing. And even now our risk assessments run to about 200 pages, because the reopening has obviously been massively complex this September.
And for our teachers and for our subject leaders, they've had to completely redesign how they teach. We weren't awash with ICT equipment. A number of our families don't have good internet access. They don't have electronic devices. Or maybe they have one in a family which has got three children and parents were at home trying to manage learning. So certainly some learning was going home hard-copy. Teachers had to learn how to work differently because most of us had never foreseen these circumstances.
And we had to kind of learn a whole lot of new technology in order to find ways of communicating with young people.
So there was a real redesign of teaching and learning and of some of that, I can say, there will be a legacy. I think we will look in the future at the way which we teach and the way we make learning accessible to children. I think things like old fashioned homework might well now be re-invented and that we will set home learning in a very different way, now we understand so much more about how home learning might work best.
So in the middle of all of that we were delivering relatively good quality learning for as many students as would be able to access that at home. We were supplying ICT equipment to those who were disadvantaged and didn't have access to anything digital.
We were also responsible for 20% of our students receiving free school meals or access to free school meals. And so there was a very slow process of getting a system set up, getting vouchers delivered to families. Remember, not all of these families have got email addresses: how do you actually get those vouchers to them? And in some cases, we were actually having to deliver food parcels, hampers of food, to families where they were not even able to use vouchers or to access them.
So all of that that landed as a responsibility on us leading in schools. Obviously Child Protection, Safeguarding, checking in with students, where we weren't really sure how they were thriving, whether they were thriving.
So number one was, are they thriving? Number two is are they learning?
For some of them just thriving was the key concern. Learning can be caught up later.
I hope I have given some sort of context of what a very difficult period of time that was. Obviously, now, the schools are reopened, in September. And we've got all of the children back in, the vast majority, with very high attendance - in the mid 90s.
We have had two positive cases at the Village College, which has led to small numbers of children having to isolate. But apart from managing that as a process, it's been relatively smooth and school feels normal in lots of ways, and we have lots of really good teaching and learning happening.
Just to conclude, at this time of year we always end up reporting on last year, and I've actually found it quite an emotional experience this year, I haven't found it all that easy.
When I was looking back at the strategic priorities that we'd set ourselves in January 2020 and you look back and see what we've actually achieved, it's quite extraordinary. We've fulfilled many of the things that we set out to do, but by a whole means that we couldn't possibly have imagined.
So things that we've set ourselves to do, like really improve stakeholder engagement or parental engagement, well, no one would have written the script for how we ended up doing it. But there's no doubt that through weekly phone calls and communication with parents that were struggling, we have actually really strengthened our communication and our relationships within the community and with our parents.
Multi-agency meetings - sometimes we've got to get everyone around the table, but of course electronically, it's much easier. All of our governance meetings have gone on to Microsoft Teams. We get very good attendance. We've learned how to get quite good at high quality meetings and high quality governance, even though everything that we've done has been virtual.
So we're still on a very steep learning curve. It has been quite relentless. The lesson in resilience and strength of our team and our people and our relationships really carried us through.
We've all had our ups and our downs, but I'm really very proud of where we are.
I'll just end with that.
John Dimmock: Thank you very much indeed, Carin. That was much appreciated - difficult times - but it looks as if the school has handled it well. Well done, Soham Village College obviously following in the footsteps of Soham Grammar School [laughter].
John: Well, thank you, everybody. Today has been a new experience for I think most of us. I know Zooming is the 'in thing', but not something we do every day of the week.
But I think the first thing to say is, thanks to Frank, because without his hard work, without his contacts, it wouldn't have happened. And he has put in hours of hard work to set this Reunion up.
And of course, thanks to all of you. Some had to leave. But to those still with us, thanks for joining us. The important thing is to keep up good hope that next year, we will be back in our beloved Beechurst. I hope as many of you who can will join us.
As we saw, there were an awful lot of Absent Friends. So we do need to more to come and join us and keep this event going, hopefully not a virtual one next year. Dr. Carin Taylor's parting message in Chat was "I hope to see you all in Beechurst next year." So she's behind us. And I think all that we've heard today, make it worthwhile keeping going. So thank you very much.
At some point Frank wanted to take some photos - not of course as usual when going around the tables in the Beechurst Hall - but by taking 'screenshots' of the on-screen mosaic of little images of participants familiar to Zoom users and those who have seen its use on TV. We hoped that this would be the only occasion on which we need to have a reunion via Zoom, so it was a bit historic.
By the time he remembered, it was about ten minutes before the end of the meeting - should have taken them earlier before some people had to leave. But here they are as a memento of the occasion. Some people appear in both:
A final word from Frank
Some have said they would like to be in touch with other people. If you email me with who you'd like to be put in touch with, I will facilitate that.
Secondly, the number of visits on the website has been piling up. People have obviously been looking at it. There's a great aerial view of the Village College and within that the Grammar School footprint, it's well worth looking at that.
And if you know friends from your SGS days who we're not in touch with, please encourage them to make contact. It's very important that we find these people and that we get more stories coming in.
Thank you all for taking the trouble to bear with Zoom and take part. I don't know what happened to those who registered but didn't show up, there are usually good reasons [as indeed there were when we followed up]. It's been great to have your company. Thank you very much indeed. And thank you, I must say, to John and Sue for helping to make it all happen.
Cheers, and have a good rest of the weekend.
As people joined from 2pm to 2.30pm ready for this Reunion meeting on Zoom the Editor thinks he mentioned that the previous day had been Peter Nicholls SG39's 92nd birthday. He regrets that he did not remember later on to give us all the opportunity to wish Peter Happy Birthday. Peter is usually with us in Beechurst but is not online so could not join us this year. We hope you had a Happy Birthday, Peter.
images: Frank Haslam
page updated 8 Nov 20 If you have additional commentary, please contact the editor