I arrived at Soham in September 1944 and left in July 1948.
I have many happy memories of SGS. As Soham had no station in September 1944 [following the explosion of the ammunition train in June 1944] I arrived by train to Ely where I was collected by Mr Copland in his car. As Soham was my very first school I hadn't much to compare it with. But above all it seemed a pleasant place. An attractive building in well kept grounds and always very well maintained.
I asked to meet the Senior History Master but Mr Copland said to me "You are it!". The staff were kind and welcoming and I had a gentle and pleasant introduction to the teaching profession.
I was a little puzzled by some of the questions Mr Stubbs put to me at the interview but it soon became obvious that my predecessor had left wing ideas which he did nothing to hide, indeed the opposite. But as an historian I had no difficulty in fielding those questions, since we have good training in saying things that don't mean very much!
I very much enjoyed my four years at SGS. One of the highlights was when I took the part of Prospero in an outdoor production of The Tempest under the direction of Mr Crouch. Another outstanding memory is of a master, Mr Lloyd, whom the boys called 'Grandpa'. They imitated him very well indeed. It was rumoured that he was over 70, which seemed an enormous age to me then - not so much now that I am 81.
From Soham I went to Arnold School, Blackpool where I stayed until July 1954. What a shock that was! I wondered what had hit me. I was so grateful for the gentle introduction I had to teaching at Soham. It took me about a year to get on top of things at Blackpool but after that I enjoyed my time there.
On leaving Blackpool in 1954 I came to Ashville College, Harrogate, where I very happily spent the rest of my teaching career, evidenced by the length of time I stayed there. I married in 1965 and retired in 1982 and Nancy and I have have enjoyed over 21 years of happy retirement.
For many years Richard Watts whom I taught at Soham was a near neighbour of ours and I kept in regular touch with him until his untimely death last year. He taught history at Knaresborough Grammar School. Now Peter Nicholls is my only contact with SGS.
I had a stroke about 7 years ago which was followed by constant and alarming faints. Since a pace-maker was fitted about 4 years ago I have been free of faints and I am very lucky in that the stroke caused little in the way of permanent results. I am not allowed to drive but Nancy does and I can walk, but no longer with pleasure.
We had Edward and May Armitage up here for a day a few years ago. Soon after Mr Armitage came to Soham he called me into his study and said "Symmons, I have been looking at your Curriculum Vitae and from it I think you must have had a brother called Harold. In which case I was Best Man at his wedding." This was indeed so but I had never met him before as I was not at Harold's wedding. What a coincidence.
From a letter to the Editor 8 Jan 2004
Soham Grammarian Spring 1948
To Mr JF Symmons, who leaves this term after being with us for almost four years, we would like to express, together with all our best wishes for his future, our deep appreciation of all that he has done for us both in school and outside.
Apart from his excellent work in History he did the school meritorious service in managing the Library, in Dramatics, in the Scout Troop and other School activities.
from the 1946 School photo
13 Sep 09: Mrs Nancy Symmons writes: I am sorry to tell you that Jack died in April this year. He had been ill for some long time but I was so pleased to be able to keep him at home until the end. He was completely uncomplaining throughout and we had a wonderful 43 years together. We held a Thanksgiving Service at Ashville College in May and it was a great tribute to him with the Chapel being full and some friends coming many miles. I'm sorry Soham folks have not known before.
see also Alan Diver's wartime reminiscences
If you have any recollections of Mr Symmons or would like to contact his family, please contact the Editor.
page last updated 16 Mar 2010