Old Courtier News

Below we will keep updated news we hear of Old Courtiers.  New information is added at the bottom.

Dear Old Yardley Courtiers
History of Yardley Court School, 1898-2010
The governors recently commissioned a history of Yardley Court School to be written and I am delighted to say that the finished product, ‘Leap of Faith’, is now available.
The book is full of old photos and makes a fascinating read; charting the history of the school from when it was first established in Yardley Park Road in 1898 as the feeder school for Tonbridge School to the move to Somerhill in 1990.
Written by local author Jane Bakowski, the book is for sale at £20 a copy if you can collect from school. Alternatively we can post to you for an extra £2.00 p and p. This cost reflects our printing costs and the school will make no profit from its sale. Please email office@somerhill.org if you would like to order a copy.

John Coakley

  • Tony Iggulden (1940's)

    Letter from Tony Iggulden who attended Yardley Court in the 1940s:

    'My Dear Headmaster

    Never have I seen such an excellent prospectus as yours- I thank you, I have read it from cover to cover. I see New Beacon are still a main rival on the sports side.
    How nice to see the class photographs, my little boys in the same blazers I wore 70 years ago and the young ladies look so good in their uniforms, they all look, as should be, so happy.
    In my first letter I told you about YC in the war, yet there is so much more to tell. Did you know that two bombs fell on the front fields; one on the first XI pitch and another nearer the school, another in Yardley Park Road and demolished Doctor Cooper’s house.
    If you would like me to jump on a train and come to Tonbridge and tell your senior boys and girls about not only YC in the war but the Battle of Britain fought overhead and rationing; 2 ounces of sweets a week and one egg etc and that when I was eight years old my mother gave me this long yellow thing to eat I said “Its too hard” “You have to peel it, it’s a banana” never seen one before.
    Before I bore you more, I must tell you about a ‘boy’ I met at T.S. (Tonbridge School)- now 81 as fit as a fiddle. His name is Ian Aplin, one year about 1940 he not only won every cup for his age but in the long jump he jumped over the pit onto the grass, a school record does it stills stand? He was selected to jump for G.B. in the Rome Olympic Games but too busy training to be a doctor. 
    Again thank you for your time to write such a kind letter. I was sad to hear about my dear friend Michael Bickmore, the thing about old age is memory and every day since your letter I have thought about him, such a wonderful man and a good friend.
    Had a full medical last year and was told I had the body and brain of a man of 55.
    If you would like me to pop in and talk to your boys and girls, I would be very happy as I believe in making history interesting and after all I can tell them living history and some amusing parts of it. If you are interested I would be pleased to come.
    Great minds think a like I like what you give the Mark Iggulden Cup for, when we gave it, it was for the under 8 egg and spoon race with the same idea as you, the wish to do even better so kind of you to write.

    Evers Yours 
    (A.N. Iggulden BA)
    Rtd Major Rtd Headmaster
    God Bless you and the school.'

  • Brian Walter Burnett MC (Left 1934)

    BURNETT, BRIAN WALTER  MC died on 8th March 2009 aged 88.  After a successful time at the school, marked by quickness of mind and foot, he won a scholarship to Tonbridge School, and later went up to King’s Cambridge with a classical scholarship.  His university career included a five year  interregnum, during which time he saw active service in Iraq, Egypt and Sicily, landing on D-day on Gold Beach. He returned to Cambridge after the war to read economics, after which he was called to the bar by the Inner Temple, and began his company’s career with Associated Electrical Industries. During a posting to Switzerland he was a prime mover in setting up the Zurich International School, which later grew to include 700 pupils. He was later appointed as Group secretary of the Sedgwick group of Lloyd’s and international insurance brokers.

    Dates at Yardley Court: 1928 (?) - 34
    Brother of  M. G. Burnett ( 1930 – 36)
    Father of  P. A. B. Burnett (1965 - 70)

    All good wishes to Yardley Court,

    Paul Burnett.

  • David Marquess

    Here is the text of the recent Daily Telegraph Obituary:

    'When the British Lions party of 1959 landed in the brutal heat of Darwin in northern Australia, one player drew all eyes – partly for his height (he was the tallest man in rugby at that time) but also for his remarkable attire. Marques emerged from the aircraft garbed in the full gear of a City gent – white shirt and military tie, dark suit, bowler hat and rolled umbrella, the very incarnation of an English aristocrat deigning to set foot in the Colonies.

    It was a role that Marques enjoyed, playing up throughout the tour to the Aussies’ disdain for “tall poppies”. He didn’t spoil the fun by telling them that his own father was from Australia, having settled in England during the First World War after fighting at Gallipoli. 

    In an early game of the tour, Marques was punched to the floor some distance from the action, in what is known as an “off-the-ball” incident. He gathered himself up, rose to his full height — “six feet five inches of quivering rectitude”, as one writer put it — went over to his assailant and held out his hand in an accommodating gesture that was nervously received. Asked afterwards by his second-row partner, the burly Irishman Bill Mulcahy, why he had not punched back, Marques replied drily: “You wouldn’t understand, Bill. I wanted him to feel a cad.”

    Reginald William David Marques was born on December 9 1932 at Ware in Hertfordshire. He was educated at Yardley Court School and at Tonbridge, where he played in an undefeated first XV with Colin Cowdrey, later famous in another sporting context. After national service in the Royal Engineers, he went to Cambridge to study Engineering and won four blues for rugby. He also played for the Army, for the Combined Services and for the Barbarians, with whom he toured Canada and South Africa.

    By 1956, after several lean years, England had gradually discarded the generation of Second War veterans and boldly selected 10 new caps, including four youngsters still at university. This group, which included Peter Jackson, Dickie Jeeps, Peter Thompson, Peter Robbins, Ron Jacobs and Alan Ashcroft, were to be the backbone of the England team for several years ahead.

    The new draft, which had caught the selectors’ eye in a trial match when the Rest outperformed the first-choice England side, also included Marques and John Currie, his longtime partner in the second row.

    All but one of Marques’s 23 caps for England between 1956 and 1961 were won alongside Currie, who was also his scrum partner at Harlequins. Marques played 11 seasons for the Quins, one as club captain. Indeed, the two developed into such a well-known pairing that their names soon tripped off the tongue together as easily as Hutton and Washbrook in cricket.

    Their task was to use their height and strength to wrest the ball from opponents at line-outs, rucks and mauls (or loose scrums, as they used to be called in their day) for gifted running backs like Jeff Butterfield and Jackson to exploit.

    Under the inspiring leadership of Eric Evans, England went on to win the Grand Slam in 1957 and 1958 in what is now seen as a golden period of the nation’s rugby. The 14-nil victory over France at the Stade Colombe in Paris in 1958 was a particular high point. Of Marques’s games for England, 13 were won, five drawn and five lost.

    Despite his courtly manners, Marques was no snob. On the Lions tour his closest companion was Ray Prosser, the gnarled prop forward from Pontypool . Marques played 18 games on that tour, including Tests against Australia and New Zealand, but at number eight, in the middle of the back row, instead of his usual place at lock.

    After retiring from rugby he joined the family firm, making street lights. In 1964 he took particular pleasure in being a crew member of Sovereign, the America’s Cup challenger, providing the power alongside a fellow Quin, Dick Page.

    Marques was also a magistrate, a job he enjoyed (and in which he became known locally as “the motorist’s friend”), and a governor of Haileybury College.

    He was a supporter of the charity Riding for the Disabled, which helped his youngest son, Jason.

    He leaves a widow, Jan, an Australian, and three sons.'

  • Miss Jessie Pearce (Head Matron 60's & 70's)

    Jessie Pearce passed away peacefully at Barlavington Care Home, Petworth, West Sussex on Tuesday 17th January 2012. Jessie worked as head Matron at Yardley Court for many years in the 1960s and 70s. If anyone has any recollections they would like to share with us and her family, please contact Louise Brewer at school.

  • Bill (William) Bowring (Left 1962)

    Now Barrister, Professor of Law, Director of the LLM/MA in Human Rights, in the School of Law, Birkbeck College, University of London. 

  • Christopher Parkinson (Left 1955)

    'My older brother, Parkinson J came to Bickies into the Michaelmas term 1949. I came the same date but in 1951 and our younger brother Parkinson, D came there in 1954. We all went on to Tonbridge; Jonathan to Parkside; David and I to School House. I still have copies of the Yardley Courtier, school magazine [most but not all] for the years of my time there and also have a post-card sized photograph of the original school - if anyone wants a copy. I'm still in-touch with Charles Penruddocke who lives and works in Bermuda [in the insurance industry]. I also met Ralph Oxley [now deceased, sadly] in January 2010 - his family was very kind to us boys from the colonies. After Tonbridge, I went on to Birmingham University and graduated in 1964 with a BSc in Chemistry and joined Unilever at the BOCM plant [vegetable oils and animal feeds] in Erith, Kent for 3 years. Then to Reading as a marketing man in silicone chemicals for two years. Then on the business school at Cranfield University to get my MBA in July 1970. Four years in London in the paint manufacturing industry [including two trips to USA] and emigrated to South Africa in early 1975 [where my older brother was then living and working]. Went into the steel wire industry as marketing manager for North America; two trips round the States in '75 and then was sent here on December 1, 1975 for 6-months! And here I've been ever since; now married and with three children - a son and two daughters - and recently a grandson, too. I set up my own business in October 1984 - marketing / selling advanced technology filters made in UK and Germany and have happily supported the family ever since - still going strong - here in NJ. My older brother still lives in JHB, RSA. My younger brother David had a stellar career in the Royal Marines; then went round the world on his motor-bike for 5 years. Learned Spanish and became a hostage negotiator - the movie "Proof of Life" was based on one of his cases in Colombia. Tragically, he developed Parkinson's disease which slowly took its dreadful toll on him but he underwent 'deep brain stimulation' surgery to implant electrodes in his brain [without anaesthetic] and a battery pack in his chest. This and his 'pill' regime helped him enormously and in late 2006 he set sail on his yacht to go round the world - or at least as far as the Tonga Islands in the Pacific, where he was lost overboard - his Parkinson's Disease finally got him. But, as he said to me "I'd rather go out in 5 years of activity than in 10 years waiting for a dreadful end." And he got his wish. Some 200 people from all over the world attended his memorial service in London, end-January 2010. It's a pleasure to be in contact with my old prep-school; I'd love to get in touch with any others who were at YC at that time ['51 - '55].'

    Christopher later wrote:

    'Viewing the School web-site, I was much impressed at reading about the visits to the WW1 War Memorials in France and Belgium [something I've always wanted to do] by the young students [lest we forget] and I thought you'd like to know a bit about Sergeant Wood who joined YC in my time there as gym teacher and general care-giver / over-seer as we used to play in the school play-grounds / fields. If you can Google - Operation Houndsworth - you'll see how he earned his Croix de Guerre -- he served with 1 SAS at that time and, I'm told by the SAS, died in April 2005 having been a 'leading light' in the D-Day Association in the Norwich area.' [Here is an account of this by Arthur Wood]

    'And talking of 'Old Boys' -- I must recount three stories for you -- stories of incredible co-incidences.
    When I was working with BOCM [animal feeds] we used to hold evening 'seminars' with farmers and on one occasion back in the mid-'60s, in eastern Kent, I met an OYC -- Martin [?] Twyman [if my memory serves me still].
    Second story, when I emigrated, in Feb-'75, to Johannesburg and joined Haggie Rand [steel wire and steel wire ropes - critical to deep level mining] I met John Downton who was an OYC and worked in HR!
    Undoubtedly, the most remarkable co-incidence was when flying from Amsterdam to Jhb on my first visit there in November '74. In the middle of a very hot and sultry night the KLM plane stopped at Congo Kinshasa to refuel and pick up passengers. We were allowed out of the plane while this was all happening and waited in the heat in the transit lounge. Half awake, I observed the swing-doors to the lounge open and a European family and a very tall African official come into the lounge to find a seat and wait to join 'my' flight on to Jhb. I did a 'double-take' on the father of the family and thought 'I know that man'. When they had settled in their chairs I went over and asked if he was English? Yes, he replied. Is your name Caban, by chance? Yes, he said....... We were both at Bickies together in the '50's! He was employed [as I recollect] by an American tobacco company in the Congo and, with his family, was taking a short vacation in RSA. Regrettably I failed to follow up and get his contact information [having plenty of other things on my mind at that time - to emigrate or not to emigrate etc.] So, if you have any contact details of Mr. Caban, I'd love to know.

    I received and read, with not a little nostalgia and great interest, this history of Yardley Court; excellent and I'm most pleased to have it in my library. 
    The author certainly picked up on many of the minutae of our young lives there to which I can add only a few of which I'm reminded.

    Crazes - yes, we had those; playing conkers; playing cocky-olly and wogger. In my day, we also made small cotton-reel 'tanks' [see how this works for you] -- take an empty cotton reel [cut notches in the rim to improve the traction on rough surfaces]; secure an elastic band [or two] with a drawing pin stuck into one of the flat surface ends; pass the other end of the elastic band through the central hole of the reel [the length of the band must not be too great - though you can always double it back on itself] and through a thin [say 1/4" thick] section of a wax candle which has its wick removed and a hole carved in its place. Insert a piece of a pencil [say 3" - 4" long] through the loop of the elastic band [only a little bit - unsymmetrically] and wind it all up tightly. Place the 'tank' on the ground and let the elastic band unwind against the pencil resting on the ground - the tank is ready to do battle! We found our fun where we could!

    The partial eclipse of the sun on 30 June 1954 was well observed in the play ground - through exposed / darkened film to protect our eyes. An exciting 'first' for young people.

    Pocket money for a term, for me anyway, in the early '50's was 10/- and sweets could be purchased [say a 1/4 lb of Gob-Stoppers or Trebor mints for 1/-] and last you all week. A florin or half-a-crown given by some adult relation or friend was a big deal.

    I do see reference to my brother Jonathan winning 'Victor Ludorum' in the summer sports 1953 [page 80]. In my final michaelmas term 1955 I was the proud winner of the soccer cup - perhaps that's still around to be won by some deserving young player; I still have the YC colours for soccer which could have been sewn onto the breast pocket of my blazer [but I left to go on to Tonbridge for that Easter term].

    I was 'gob-smacked' [as they say these days!] to read that Mr. Maurice had worked at Bletchley Park on the Enigma code-breaking effort in WW2 - who would have known it! I've read considerably on this subject and visited the place. Mr. Eric was, indeed, the 'kinder' one - I do remember playing soccer in that winter term 1955 and being rather morose and 'down' on one cold afternoon on the field. He was refereeing and noticed me -- after the game he told me to go and have a hot bath - quite extra-ordinarily thoughtful and kind at that time. And I remembered it ...... obviously.

    When I first arrived at the school for the winter term 1951, my form [or class] was in the furthest hut and I sat in the back row sharing a desk with a young lad - Langenstein - whose mother, I believe was a refugee of some sort from Europe and was employed somehow in the school. As his Sunday best, he wore his 'German' style grey jacket with green flashes on the collar - different, of course and all that that meant. The point of the story ..... I do wonder to this day what was the history of his family...'

  • Martin Child (Left 1953)

    I was very pleased to receive my copy of “Leap of Faith”.  It is an impressive production.

    The reason why I, and my late brother Michael, went to YC was because my grandfather, Frank Child, had been Vicar of Tonbridge, and his daughter, Muriel Hooper, had taught for a little while at the school.  I had a wonderful time there, and when I left I’m afraid I did not really have to do any more work right up to O’level because I had been so well taught (particularly in Latin by Mr Maurice).  

    I was in the cricket team with Roger Prideaux but even though I was number 2 and he was number 3, we didn’t often bat together (I often drove Mr Eric to despair rather than the ball to the boundary!).

    My best ally on the staff was the great Sergeant Wood, partly because we were the only two Norwich City supporters.  Of course he never spoke about the war and we had no idea at the time that he had been a hero of the Resistance movement in the Morvan region of France.  His fairly recent death in Norwich was well reported in the local press.

    One vivid memory is of 6 February 1952: we were sitting in the 6th form classroom (downstairs by the changing rooms – photo no. 21) when Freddy Forsyth rushed in shouting “the King is dead!”.  

    I was the victim in the bull terrier incident described on page 77, probably because I had the ball – we were playing yard football at the time.  I can remember the shots and being carried up to the San; and later on to hospital to have the stitches applied.  I still have the scar on my right leg and I haven’t really liked bull terriers since then.

    There are so many great memories and thank you again for the book.

    Martin Child

  • John Luke (Left 1946)

    I shall enjoy reading “Leap of Faith”.  

    Eric was a great man.  When he caught me burning a hole in a wooden litter bin with a magnifying glass he said “It is not what you get out of this school that counts, but what you put in”.  There was no punishment.

    I can see him clearly as I write and there is of course more.

  • Tim Crofton (Left 1980)

    I was looking at the school website after a long day in the office and felt I had to drop you a short note. I was at Yardley Court from 1977-80 before moving on to Tonbridge and Ferox Hall. Both my father (Philip) and uncle (Richard or `Dickie`) were OYCs too. 

    I have nothing but fond memories of the old school on Yardley Park Rd -- especially playing rugby and football; being in school plays; dorm life and of course Mr John and Mr Michael. Whilst I don`t play so much rugby any more, my life has followed two paths that I found at YC.  I have always worked in the theatre (as an actor, director, producer and technician) and as a teacher. 

    Mr John and Mr Michael have been very much in my thoughts this year as I have taken on the Principalship of an international school outside Victoria, on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. I often find myself wondering what they would have said or done in a tricky leadership situation. 

    Often think of the boys I as at YC with and wonder how their lives are treating them and love to look at our 1st XV team photo of 1979, that takes pride of place in our hallway. 

    I look forward to receiving a copy of “Leap of Faith” and wish the best to YC and am thrilled that the old school continues to flourish.

    Tim Crofton (YC 1977-80)

  • Richard Skinner (Left 1983)

    I feel obliged to write to you after many years based on my current exam revision! I was at Yardley from 1978 - 83, and then at Tonbridge from 83 - 88. Having worked in investment banking (technology) in the city for 20 years, I have relocated to Houston to undertake my PhD in Technology at the Bauer Business School (Uni of Houston). As part of the entrance exams, I am having to revise geometry, algebra, fractions, decimals ... essentially the whole gamut of what Mr. Michael so wonderfully taught me all those years ago. I just wanted to pass on that revising this today is as fresh as it was 26(+) years ago and that although at the time I never, ever thought that I would need to see any of this ever again, you can just never tell! I hope the school is doing well, and I would very much like to order a copy of "Leap of Faith". Please may you advise the cost for shipping to Houston, Texas? On an unrelated note, I was sorry to hear of the death of Mrs, Pearce. I vividly remember her cutting my toenails and fingernails once a week after my Monday night bath! Firm but warm, and totally efficient! Fond memories.

    Warm regards,

    Richard Skinner

  • Dan Bryant (Left 2004)

    To Mr Coakley,

    You may remember the two years I spent at your school for different reasons, but the period 2001 - 2004 that I spent at your school was defined by one thing, the inaugural Somerhill triathlon. Not only has it remained embedded in my memory due to my brother's constant reminders that he did in fact beat me, but also because it inspired something within me and has shaped the past 8 years of my sporting life.  

    Soon after leaving in 2004 to go to Judd I took up cross country mountain bike racing; naively, having had a fair amount of success at the after school mtb club you ran, I thought I would waltz in and be the next Lance Armstrong. This was very soon crushed as I found myself battling to not be overlapped in what was usually a 4 lap race! However, I loved it and spent the next 4 years moving up the ranks (and starting to beat my dad) until in 2009 I found myself in the top 10 in the county for my age group. 

    As I moved into 6th form I decided to drop cycling for a few years and concentrate on running. As you may know Judd have a thriving cross country team that I had been a part of since joining the school and was, consequently, incredibly passionate for. We had a fair amount of success, but personally I was getting de-ja-vu as I watched my brother storm ahead of me in almost every race - I say almost, it was every race (I haven't beaten him for a good 5 years!).

    Now, having left school for Durham University where I am studying Maths and Physics, I have returned to cycling and have dipped my toe into road racing. However, cycling has not been the main target for this year as I have, as you predicted and I feel it is fair to say inspired, entered the UK Ironman. I remember you mentioning the Ironman events to me during that inaugural triathlon and I thought those people must be superhuman and was inspired to be like them one day. With the race just 10 days away I would like to thank you for starting my "Iron journey" all those years ago and am relieved that my brother won't be there to spoil my party once again!

    One final note, I am running the race as an official charity competitor and am raising funds for a number of charities; if you would like to donate feel free to visit my just giving page: http://www.justgiving.com/Daniel-Bryant2012

    Thanks, and hope all is well,

    Dan Bryant, aka Bicycle Becks (I still remember)

  • Roger Ordish (Left 1953)

    I was a day-boy from 1948-53. Fading memories include inspirational teachers, especially Mr Green and - of course - Mr Maurice. My maternal grandfather, who went to Eton, was killed in the 1914-18 war. As his only grandson, I was eligible for a War Memorial bursary at Eton. My parents had applied for that bursary, but had not entered me for the school. Eton said they would 'fit me in if they could'. They were not able to and my Common Entrance papers were passed on to Tonbridge, which Mr Maurice considered a far more suitable establishment. He was swift to point out that entry to Tonbridge required a higher mark than that acceptable at Eton. My daily journey to Yardley Court consisted of a one-mile bicycle ride to Yalding station, a change of trains at Paddock Wood and a bus ride from Tonbridge station to Yardley Park Road. On the day of the famous mad dog incident there had been a train breakdown and I was late, missing the entire event. I think my absence was considered a bit of a poor show on my part. Memories include Mr Maurice's wonderful terminology. If bad weather caused games to be cancelled, they were replaced - not by films in the gym - but by kinematographic entertainments in the gymnasium.

  • James Byrt (Left 2005)

    James is currently completing a 6 month stint at EAFIT University in Colombia, South America as part of the Erasmus Mundo scheme.  This is an element of the third year of his MDes Product Design course at Coventry University.  Well done James!

  • Cdr David Gunn RN retired (1942-47)

    Cdr David Gunn RN retired writes

    “I greatly enjoyed ‘Leap of Faith’ which rang a lot of bells in my memory.  You cannot imagine how exciting it was to be at Yardley Court from 1942-47.  We all thought of it as a very exciting firework display although the staff were a bit more concerned!

    I went to the RNC Dartmouth from Yardley Court, managed to get myself awarded the last King’s Telescope, I qualified as a Seaman Officer then flew aircraft off aircraft carriers.  I left at age 30 to do other things having had  a marvellous start to life, but I think Yardley Court ‘fashioned me’ more than anything!”

    David has written a book, “Sailor in the Desert” written about the navy rather than the trenches, of a little known campaign, written from a sailor’s as opposed to an officer’s angle.  The ‘Sailor’ in the title (David’s father) from 1942-43 he commanded the coastal forces at Dover in WW2 as a Captain R.N. and used to come up to Yardley Court for sports days, to play cricket for the fathers, concerts, theatrical performances and so on.

    Possibly unique is that it is a WW1 book with colour illustrations.  After leaving the navy my father became an artist and painted the campaign in oils which are now part of the British National Art Collection.”

  • Admiral Sir David Williams ADM (1930s)

    Admiral Sir David Williams, who has died aged 90, was an inspirational leader of men, a successful sea captain and wise senior officer.

    Williams’s most important appointment was as Director of Naval Plans in the MoD 1966-68 during a period of turmoil in government policy.   Within weeks of Williams taking over, the Secretary of State for Defence, Denis Healey, published a Defence review which included the abolition of fixed-wing carrier aviation, and the Navy Minister, Christopher Mayhew, and First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir David Luce, had resigned in protest.

    Healey and Prime Minister Wilson lauded their review as a blueprint for the rest of the century, but within months it was clear that, given Britain’s financial penury, it was only one more short-term attempt to meet Defence commitments from an inadequate and declining budget.

    The new First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Varyl Begg, set up the Future Fleet Working Party, of which Williams was a key member, to advise on the shape and size of the Navy without carriers.  The working party was given a clean sheet to work on and six months in which to report: when the Foreign Office declined to give an opinion on Britain’s overseas interests, the working party made its own assessments.   When it recommended a ‘through deck cruiser’ which would deploy helicopters and vertical take-off fighters and airborne radar pickets, Begg, who believed that missiles would replace all aircraft, publicly rejected their report, and sacked its leader.  

    Nevertheless members of the working party insisted that their recommendations were the logical outcome of their study, and, despite subsequent arguments about whether the ‘through deck cruiser’ (the Invincible class) was or was not a carrier, the working party’s recommendations on this as on many other matters, stood the test of time and of war.   All its members, including Williams, achieved high rank and, just as important, were able to maintain a continuity of policy for the next two decades.

    David Williams was born on October 22, 1921 in Ashford, Kent and was educated at Yardley Court Prep and the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth.  

    His ambition to join the Navy was fuelled by boyhood reading of the naval adventure stories by Taffrail and Bartimeus.  His headmaster at Yardley was Eric Bickmore, and his school friends included Edward Ashmore, the future First Sea Lord, his brother Peter, who would become Master of the Royal Household, and Iain Gourlay, a future Commandant General of the Royal Marines:  years later, when Williams invited their old headmaster to lunch, he greeted them with a brisk “Good morning, boys!” to which in unison they rose and replied “Good morning, sir!”

    William's training at sea as a midshipman coincided with the outbreak of war and he was continuously at sea for the next six years, apart from four months on sub-lieutenant’s courses at Portsmouth.    He served in five ships:  in the old cruiser Emerald under the inspiring Captain Augustus Agar VC;  in the destroyer Jaguar; three years in the battlecruiser Renown; and, at age of 23, as first lieutenant of two fleet destroyers, Paladin in the East Indies and Quadrant in the British Pacific Fleet.

    He recalled the bitter cold of the first winter in the North Atlantic, on an open bridge with inadequate clothing, and that war was “99% boredom, 1% acute fear.”   By war’s end he had served worldwide and seen service on the Northern Patrol, the blockade of Germany, Arctic convoys, the bombardment of Oran, Churchill’s return from the Quebec conference, the landings in North Africa, carrier aircraft attacks on Japanese installations at Sabang and Surabaya, and the last attacks on the Japanese mainland before VJ-day.

    Postwar he specialised in gunnery in 1946, served in the Mediterranean as flotilla gunnery officer, and took part in the Navy’s guided missile trails in the early 1950s.

    In 1959 he commanded the navigational training ship Jewel, then attached to Dartmouth, and next he graduated from the US Naval War College, Newport, RI, where, characteristically, he forged lasting friendships around the world.

    His time, in 1960, as Commander (G) at the gunnery school on Whale Island, Portsmouth where he was responsible for producing the highest standards of parade training and discipline, is remembered for the ‘pachyderm on parade.’   A class of sub-lieutenants smuggled an elephant on to the island and marched onto parade with it in their midst.    Williams’ vocal outrage at this desecration of his parade ground was modified by his admiration and amusement at the young officer’s initiative.

    Williams was promoted to captain and served as naval assistant to Admiral Sir Caspar John, the First Sea Lord 1961–64, and, taking over from his friend Terry Lewin, he  commanded the guided missile destroyer  Devonshire 1964–66.

    Williams returned to Dartmouth as Captain of the College 1968-70, where he was respected, as much for the warm relationships he developed with the community as for his success, in a period of rapid change in officer recruiting, in integrating graduates into the college’s training programme.  His purpose at Dartmouth, as he told all new, young officers was that “here is that you should learn to act and react instinctively as officers.”

    Promoted rear-admiral he was Flag Officer, Second in Command Far East Fleet 1970–72; as a vice-admiral he was Director-General Naval Manpower and Training 1972–74; and as a full admiral he was Second Sea Lord & Chief of Naval Personnel 1974–77.

    Williams was knighted GCB and had retired to dedicate himself to his chosen charities, the Ex Services Mental Welfare Society,  the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and the Missions to Seamen, and the Museums and Galleries Commission, and he was a Gentleman Usher to The Queen, when he was summoned to duty as Governor and Commander-in-Chief, Gibraltar.   In the crucial years 1982–85 he was responsible for the Rock’s internal security, its defence and foreign affairs, and oversaw negotiations which led to the border with Spain being reopened.   A contemporary newspaper described Williams as the casting-director’s image of a naval officer, with ramrod straight back made to stand on the bridge of a British man-o’-war:  it also revealed Williams’ love of literature and his habit of reading fiction and non-fiction about whatever task he had in hand.  

    He was raised to KCB in 1975.   

    A keen yachtsman, Williams was a member of Royal Dart Yacht Club, the Royal Naval Sailing Association, and the Royal Yacht Squadron, and for a quarter of a century raced his boat in Dartmouth regattas.

    He retired to Stoke Gabriel in the South Hams, Devon.  Asked in old age which one job he had enjoyed most, his answer was that he had enjoyed them all and in each one and at every level he had tried to make what is called in the Navy ‘a happy ship’.

    Williams, who died on July 16, 2012, met Pippa Stevens in Halifax in 1943:  they married in 1947 and she survives him with their two sons. 

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