March 2005, aged 92
Mel Lambert (1959-65)
reports: It is with a very heavy heart that I report
the passing on Sunday 11th of March, 2012, of former JRGS mathematics
and senior sports master
Charles E. Smith, aged 99.
Born on 16th November, 1913, CES served at JRGS for a remarkable 36
years, from 1942 to 1978, teaching mathematics and physical
education. A full profile can be found
here, in which Charles
writes: "I consider that it was a real privilege to have had the
opportunity of teaching at John Ruskin, and I cherish my
memories of that rewarding and happy time."
CES graciously provided personal messages for the
2010 JRGS School Reunions, which were conveyed to the alumni
by long-time friend and colleague Peter Oxlade (JRGS
As Mr. Smith wrote in 2010: "My
memories of my time at Ruskin are many and varied. I have been
so privileged to pay some small contribution to the development
of so many boys (and latterly girls) in their journey from young
people to adulthood and to see how so many of them have been so
successful in their chosen careers."
His son Andrew has
advised The Mill via Peter Oxlade that the funeral
service originally scheduled to be held on Thursday, 5th of
April, needed to be postponed. His mother, Elisabeth Smith,
remains hospitalised - although she was on track to be
discharged imminently - and hence could not attend the planned
service. It was hoped that a reschedule service of remembrance
can be held once Elisabeth is fit enough.
Apparently, Elisabeth overbalanced and fell in hospital, breaking
her wrist and hurting her back. Consequently, she has been moved
to Woolwich, where she will undergo further surgery. Report of
Mel Lambert, Burbank, CA, USA March 2012
Peter Wilson (JRGS 1956-63) adds: So many of us will
have our own memories of Mr. Smith - he gave us "standards'
which we could live by in later life... and we did.
He treated us like responsible adults - at a time when we were far
from that - on the basis that we would respond by behaving
responsibly... which we did.
He insisted that I should take O-level Pure Maths when I was 14...
and his judgment was correct... I passed!
R.I.P. dear friend... and very sincere and deep sympathy to his
Graham Donaldson (JRGS 1962-69) adds: Very sad news -
the end of an era indeed. I'm sure we'd all hoped that it would
be "X = 100" in November, but it was not to be.
Anne Smith (JRHS/JRC teacher/principal 1970-99) adds:
Very sad news; somehow one thought Mr. Smith would go on for
ever. My thoughts are with his wife Elisabeth.
I think that mixed teaching mellowed Charles a great deal; the
girls were never frightened of him, and found his temper
amusing! What they knew was that he was really concerned to help
them if they found Maths difficult.
In meetings, he was one of those people who puts up with those who
have to speak at all costs, and when they have run out of steam
utters a sentence or two which encapsulates the subject under
discussion. For the aware it was daunting to be put in one's
place - fortunately not everyone was aware!
I saw Charles in a different light through his involvement with
Surrey Schools Cricket; my son played for them and in due course
for England Under 16s, and I went to see him play at Eton. There
was Charles, clearly respected and enormously popular, smiling
all over the ground!
Certainly I doubt if anyone who passed through his hands has ever
Tony Hollands (JRGS 1952-59) adds: My abiding memory
of Mr. Smith - and one I have shared with family and friends
many times - was as a first former shivering at the Croydon
Baths. He pointed at the water and said "SWIM" and, by God, I
did. He ranks as one of the major influences in my school career
and life following.
Clive Whitehead (JRGS 1950-52) adds: It was with
great sadness that I received the news of Mr. "Smithy" Smith's
death at 99. I visited him with Peter Oxlade some five years ago
and it was a most pleasurable and
unique experience. No doubt there will be many kind things
said about him at his funeral.
I still recall that evening and "Smithy"
telling us how he met his wife Elisabeth at a dance. It was the
song "Some Enchanted Evening" that did the trick.
It was a privilege to know him both as a
pupil in the early 1950s, and later in the mid-60s as a staff
member. He was both a friend and a gentleman. One rarely meets
people in life like him.
adds: No doubt The Alumni will be surprised to hear
from me. Peter Oxlade has been so wonderfully helpful for a long
I must thank you all most warmly for all the interest The Mill
gave Charles for years via Peter's help, and also for the
way in which the webmaster passed on the news about him this
year. Of course, I miss Charles after our 53 happy years
together, but I can only be glad that he is in a better place
I returned home on Thursday after spending a long while in
successive hospitals since 1st March. It is glorious to see the
garden full of joyous Spring flowers, as I had seen only the
tops of various trees from the fourth floor window at times. I
look forward to being able to go out there when my wrist and
hip, which were broken, allow it.
I was pleased to speak with Peter this morning after a long gap. He
sounds the same as always, but tells me he and Joan are not
well. It's anno domini again, I'm afraid.
I'm really sorry that it seems as though the webmaster has not been
able to persuade someone else to give him the chance to unload
some of the JRGS workload. They probably feel that he do it so
well that they'd disappoint the readers!
In February 2007 Charles E. Smith shared some personal memories of
John Ruskin school life...
Hello! This is the voice of C.E.S!
You know – “Smithy”... “Old Smut” – that mild little
man you used to brush to one side as you raced down the
Very well then. That mixture of Attila the Hun, Genghis Kahn and
the Ogre from the top of the beanstalk! Please
There is no cause for alarm, as those who saw me at the memorial
service for Alan Murray on 21 March 2005 in Purley would
realise. You just have to kick aside my walking stick
and I’ll be at your mercy.
However, I will now endeavour to clear up some misconceptions that
still seem to persist.
I was born on 16 Nov 1912 at Gosport, Hampshire; the son of a Royal
Marine. As such I was able to start my early “learning
curve” at a very good school where the headmaster and
the deputy head were captains of Marines, and the staff
were sergeants and corporals. I believe that it was
during this early schooling in the military education
system that I caught onto the idea that ORDERS WERE TO
Growing up in Portsmouth
Passing the “11 Plus” enabled me
to go to Gosport Grammar School. I soon learnt that Hampshire IS
the county for cricket! As a schoolboy, I used to attend Fratton
Park (the home of Portsmouth FC) on a Saturday afternoon to
watch and cheer Pompey to many a victory. Some years later, this
was reflected in the little sailor news cut-out that used to
appear each Monday morning on my classroom notice board –
indicating if Pompey had won, lost or drawn.
Together with five of my colleagues from King Alfred’s College of
Winchester (on advice from our Senior Tutor) we applied for
teaching posts to the Croydon Education Committee. All of us
were accepted and three of us remained with Croydon Education
for the whole of our teaching careers.
Was it lack of ambition or job satisfaction that we stayed for so
long? For me the latter.
It was in Croydon at my very first appointment during September
1934 to Ingram Road School, Thornton Heath, that I met Mr.
William Cracknell. It was to become a professional and family
association that lasted until his death in the year 2000.
The outbreak of war in 1939 meant the evacuation of the Ingram Road
School to Brighton. At that time there was no schooling as such
and our role as teachers was to keep contact with our pupils
either in the local Park or on a beach! After the evacuation of
military servicemen from Dunkirk, we were relocated to a school
near West Byfleet. As well as my teaching duties I was also
recruited as a Fire Watcher and Air Raid Warden during Air
It will undoubtedly be a real surprise to all who have known me
over the years, to learn that I failed my application for Active
Service because of incipient leg trouble discovered when I was
called up for military service with the RAF.
Joining JRCS at Tamworth Road
In 1941 I was instructed by my
employers (Croydon Education Committee) to return to Croydon and
to join the staff at John Ruskin Central School in Tamworth Road
where, to my great pleasure, I rediscovered Mr. William
Cracknell already a well-established member of staff.
In a reference given to me by Mr. McLeod in 1948, he writes “...
Mr. C. E. Smith joined my Staff primarily as an Instructor in
Physical Training... But I found that I had also gained a
class-master of the highest quality in Mathematics and Religious
I have been everlastingly grateful for the wonderful good fortune
that led me to the appointment at John Ruskin.
The popular belief when I joined the school - and it appears to be
prevalent since - was that I had been a Physical Training
Instructor/PTI in the Royal Navy, a belief that was completely
unfounded! At no time have I ever been in the Navy.
However, unbeknown to anyone at John Ruskin, Tamworth Road, I had
joined the RAF Volunteer Reserve with the rank of Pilot Officer
and subsequently as a Flying Officer.
During 1943-45 I served with three other officers at the 79th
Squadron ATC based at St Joseph’s College, Upper Norwood, as a
teacher of Basic Mathematics and Air Navigation and, with the
aid of large scale maps of the Eastern Approaches, the art of
Pathfinding by plotting Air Speed, Ground Speed and Wind Speed.
The Squadron had a regular Sunday morning Parade in the College
grounds each week. Little did I know that many years later - in
1980 - I would be on the teaching staff at St. Josephs College
in Beulah Hill, Croydon.
On August 6 1945 I was at an RAF base near Weston-Super-Mare when I
heard a Tannoy announcement declaring that the Atom Bomb had
been dropped on Hiroshima; an event in history that will forever
be remembered. It did not just herald the ending of the war
against Japan; it was the beginning of a dangerous new era for
When I joined the staff of John Ruskin Central School in September
1942 as P.E. and maths teacher it was traditionally a soccer
playing school but with very few sports facilities. There was
only a small, hard surfaced playground between the building and
wall alongside the road outside. However, a short bus ride, or
more often than not a walk, would take us to the foot of Duppas
Hill where we had a football pitch and a small hutment with a
single changing room. At one end was a storage section for the
grounds man’s machinery and, at “our” end, a sink with a
Like most other things during the war, sporting equipment was
nearly impossible to purchase and very hard to obtain even from
the closest of contacts. A couple of soccer balls and a few
unmatched team shirts were all that we had to our name. (See
Peter Oxlade's 2nd X1 photo of 1943-44
below for a view of
the team shirts, socks of various colours, and the heavy-toed
There was a strong soccer tradition at Ruskin and within the
Schools’ Football League in the Borough of Croydon. I continued
what had clearly been the norm prior to 1939. After the war,
when John Ruskin became a Grammar school, it was felt by some
that rugby should become the recognised sport and that soccer
should be dropped. Many a debate took place on this subject and,
in the end, it was Mr. Lowe who, after listening to all the
arguments, decided that the school tradition of playing soccer
should be maintained.
I was very happy with the headmaster’s decision to continue the
school’s football tradition since 1920. It was now a question of
finding opponents available for inter-school matches.
Our intake at Ruskin was from boys who had passed the 11-plus in
Croydon Schools. Those who were less fortunate and did not pass
were educated in various other Senior Schools in the Borough of
Croydon, which meant that there was an immediate supply of
football playing opponents locally. Gradually, as travelling
became easier in that post war era, I was able to extend
fixtures to neighbouring locations in Sutton, Cheam, Epsom,
Woking, Guildford, Bromley and Upper Norwood.
It took years of patient building and expansion to successfully
produce the full cricket and football fixture lists that we had
until my retirement.
During my many years at John Ruskin, I served on the Croydon
Schools Cricket and Football Committees and the Surrey Schools
Committee. I travelled as an associate member of the English
schools cricket teams to grounds such as Old Trafford, Edgbaston,
St Helens, Swansea, the Oval and the home of Cricket – Lords;
and enjoyed every minute of it.
The Windmill - Tamworth Road to
In 1955 the school was moved from
Tamworth Road to a new, purpose-built school with a
“countryside” outlook in the Shirley Hills. This represented a
marked transformation for students and staff. At last, we had
space and a sensational outlook.
The building had well appointed classrooms, science and art rooms,
an assembly hall with a professional stage and a REAL gymnasium
for ME to teach in.
However, there was one criticism of the new site layout. The
kitchens and dining hall were adjacent to the main entrance of
the school and did nothing to enhance a positive first
impression for visitors.
I am sure that one of the things that pupils will remember is my
insistence that full respect would be given to all the furniture
and fittings in my care. When I left in 1978 the furniture was
left by me in pristine condition.
There was a generous playground on one side of the building and on
the other, beyond a preserved ancient Windmill, there was a
piece of ground available for sports opportunities. For the
first time in the school’s history we had all of this, together
with a playing field complete with a Pavilion located off Oaks
Road (a few hundred yards walk from the rear exit of the
school). This certainly represented a vast improvement on the
facilities previously enjoyed at Duppas Hill when the school was
in its Tamworth Road location.
As sports master, there were inevitably times when I was called to
the telephone (no extension lines or mobiles in those days) to
consult with other schools regarding the arrangement of sports
fixtures, etc. In view of this, it was agreed that I should be
based in Room 1, the nearest to the school office and its
telephone! One of the bonuses of being in Room 1 was that I had
an excellent daily view of the Windmill – so I feel I can truly
claim to be a very early “Friend of the J. R. Windmill!” Within
the windmill itself the ground floor space provided an adequate
area for the storage of cricket nets, practice hurdles and other
equipment associated with the sports function.
One other bonus for being in Shirley, as opposed to Tamworth Road,
was that during games periods I was able to arrange for a small
group of the Fifth and Sixth forms to use the tennis courts at
the Shirley Sports Club, and other sporting facilities readily
available in the local vicinity.
The nearby Shirley Hills provided us with a ready made natural
cross country jogging circuit. It did not take long to recognise
not only how decidedly better it was at Shirley, but also to be
aware of the miracles that both staff and students at Tamworth
Road had worked to achieve such high standard in both work and
sport in the conditions that existed there.
When I look back over the many years that I spent at John Ruskin, I
feel a warm glow of gladness and gratitude. To have worked with
so many excellent professional people for such a long period was
a great joy. I will remember the many of our students for the
high standards that they achieved in both academic and sporting
After 36 years at the school...
In 1977, I reached my retirement
age with a mixture of fulfillment and sadness, tinged with
disappointment that my leaving date would be before a group of
our students took their examinations. Thus, it was with great
delight that I received the news that the Education Committee
had agreed that I should stay on until those exams had been
With sadness in my heart, I said my fond farewells to colleagues
and students in the summer of 1978.
I consider that it was a real privilege to have had the opportunity
of teaching at John Ruskin, and I cherish my memories of that
rewarding and happy time. I am very grateful to all those people
who contributed towards it.
Like many others who reach the time when the daily tasks of a
lifetime suddenly disappear and the unfamiliar time on one’s
hands takes over, I was pleased to be approached by other local
educational establishments in the private sector to work for
them in a teaching capacity on a short- term contract basis.
I had the pleasure of working for St. Anne’s College, St. Joseph’s
College and Croydon High School until I finally decided to
exchange my chalk sticks for a walking stick and a quieter life.
I joined a Bowling Club, a Walking Club and an Art Group, as
well as becoming a Steward at the Fairfield Halls in Croydon.
So that mixture of Attila the Hun, Ghengis Khan or the Ogre at the
top of the beanstalk finally bowed out into full retirement in