Mr RL Thomas, Geography 1928-61

In the Summer 1961 Soham Grammarian Mr HS Yeomans, Old Boy and Parent Governor, wrote:

At the end of Summer Term Mr RL Thomas will bid us farewell, after nearly 35 years at the School. "Taffy", as he was affectionately known, had no time for the round ball, but in those days turned out with glee to play rugger on Wednesday afternoons.

The playing field then was in a much wilder state than it is today. Cows grazed on the outfield and the hallowed turf of the cricket pitch, which was eventually levelled, had to be fenced against their depredations.

"Taffy" it was, I believe, who conceived the idea of a collection to purchase a heavy roller, complete with shafts, which could be filled with water to make it even heavier. Unfortunately, he forgot to order the horse, or the funds ran out.

From that time onwards the drill period (P.T. had not been invented) consisted of manhandling, or boy­handling, the roller up and down the field. Woe betide the laggard who skulked in the cloakroom. He was soon roused with the familiar shout "Come along, my boy, get your boots on".

Mr Rees L Taffy Thomas
from the Summer 1961 magazine

When the pitches were waterlogged, or frozen too hard for rugger, cross-country runs were the order of the day. The route used to be Fordham Road, Tanners Lane, Brook Street, Loftus Bridge, down the drove, three times round Isleham Church and back up the long drove to East Fen Common. A cloud of smoke rising from a hedgerow gave warning to the tail-end Charlies that "Taffy" was sitting on a five bar gate, complete with walking stick, to encourage the sick, lame and lazy over the last long mile.

It is sad indeed that the time has come for Mr. Thomas to lay down his atlases and contour maps. He has willingly devoted most of his life to the school and has truly left his mark. He will be remembered with affection by all old boys and on their behalf, I should like to wish him and Mrs. Thomas good health and many years of happy retirement.

In the same magazine Mr CJ Ford wrote of his colleague:

Nearly thirty-four years ago a short, alert, curly-headed young man, vibrating with energy, limped into the staff room of Soham Grammar School. Mr. Thomas had arrived. Then, as ever, he would not allow such a trifling physical disability as a leg recently fractured on the Rugger field to suppress his cheerfulness, keenness and enthusiastic, qualities which have remained undiminished during his long service with the school.

When R. L. Thomas came to Soham the school boasted just over a hundred boys. Geography was not taken as an external examination subject and Rugby Football was a new-born infant not yet ready to usurp the throne of King Soccer. Soon the world globe was to be seen being carried from room to room and with it the ever familiar wand which has left its imprints on the memories, and elsewhere, of so many of Taffy's students - and on the games field his gammy leg did not save the slackers in the scrum from the invigorating effects of the stimulus, new culled from the adjacent hedge.

It was not long before the infectious enthusiasm of our human dynamo from Wales was transmitted to the boys so that the school was able to emerge with credit, even if not always with victory, from its tussles with more experienced and bigger neighbours. Now only memories remain of that glorious era, and, although "that game of tiddly-winks" will never supplant Rugger in the affections of its most lovable mentor never has his loyalty to the school been better shown than in the restraining of his personal enthusiasms in the interests of the school.

Few masters, if any, have more deservedly earned the respect and affection of their pupils than Mr. Thomas. No malice or bitterness has ever tinged his punishments, never withheld when deserved and invariably accepted with an absence of rancour or resentment. To have received the loving touch of Taffy's cane has always been a boast among all true Soham Grammarians and to have missed it an occasion for regret.

In the staff-room Mr.Thomas will leave a gap which cannot be filled. Never has he allowed his own worries or indisposition to dull the brightness of his spirit, to diminish his boundless energy or to damp his unlimited enthusiasm. At break or at the end of school the sight or sound of Mr. Thomas has been sufficient to re-invigorate and refresh the most flagging of spirits. To all members of the staff his example of loyalty, courage, cheerfulness, enthusiasm and sincere affection for the boys he taught has been an inspiration.

Here is a man, not large in stature, but large of heart and fortunate are those who have known him and shared his happy companionship for so many years. May his retirement be blessed with the happiness which he deserves and may it contain many pleasant memories of his long association with Soham Grammar School.

From a late 1920s School photo

From the 1935 School photo

From the 1937 School photo

From the 1946 School photo

From the 1949 School photo

From the 1952 School photo

From the 1954 School photo

From the 1956 School photo

From the 1960 School photo

Mr R L Thomas

undated, newspaper source not known: via Gwyn Murfet [Ed - some correction has been done].

Many generations of former Soham Grammarians will be sad to learn of the death week of one of their best-loved masters, Mr Rhys (Taffy) Thomas, geography master at the school for over 30 years from 1928 to 1961.

Born in 1895, he was educated at Bridgend County School, Glamorgan, leaving in 1915 for service in the Army and to take part in the Dardanelles invasion.

The war over he resumed his education at the University College of Wales. where he took an honours degree in geography in 1922.

After four years at Hamond's Grammar School, Swaffham, he came to Soham Grammar School in 1928 and spent the rest of his teaching life there.

Short in stature, he had a strong and energetic personality which overflowed from the classroom to the playground for PE (though it was "drill" in those days) and to the games field for rugby football, which was one of the great loves of his life.

Though always a strict disciplinarian, few masters have ever commanded greater affection among their pupils, and no Old Boys' Dinner was complete without some reference somewhere to Taffy Thomas and a solicitous inquiry as to his health in his long retirement in Ogmore-by-Sea in his beloved native Wales.


Do you have any appreciations, anecdotes or further photos relating to Mr Thomas or are you in touch with his family? please contact the editor

see also Alan Diver's wartime reminiscences

Terry Allen 39 (8 Mar 2005): If you could get Taffy sidetracked into his WW1 war stories you were set for the lesson.

He had a nasty habit of having you bend over and giving you a cut with the edge of a ruler. This hurt! In The Times March 2nd 2005, there was a letter asking if any schoolboy ameliorated the effects of caning with a book down his pants. We had such a boy, Harry S.

page last updated 16 Mar 2010