JRGS Alumni Society - Charles Smith, 1912-2012
JRGS Alumni Society

A Tribute: Charles Edward Smith

   16 Nov 1912 - 11 March 2012

JRGS Alumni Society


Charles E Smith - March 2005

Charles Edward Smith,
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 2009 and 2010 JRGS School Reunions, which were conveyed to the alumni by long-time friend and colleague Peter Oxlade  (JRGS 1940-44).
   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 Memorial Service.

Mel Lambert, Burbank, CA, USA March 2012 Email

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 family.

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 forgotten him!

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.

Elisabeth Smith adds: No doubt The Alumni will be surprised to hear from me. Peter Oxlade has been so wonderfully helpful for a long while.
   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 now.
   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 School corridor.
   Very well then. That mixture of Attila the Hun, Genghis Kahn and the Ogre from the top of the beanstalk! Please yourselves!
   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 BE OBEYED!!

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 Raids.
   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 Knowledge."
   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 the world.
   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 cold-water tap.
   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 football boots.)
   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 Shirley Hills

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 activities.

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 completed.
   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 1992. More.


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