Soham Grammarians: 1969 Reunion

Newmarket Journal, 1 January 1970

Soham GS Old Boys' Dinner

Former pupils of Soham Grammar School travelled to Soham from all over the country for the Old Boy's 50th Anniversay Dinner on Saturday week.

About 120 Old Boys were present and the numbers would have been even greater but for the weather and 'flu.

Dr Alfred Eden, a former pupil, toasted the school, and Mr E Armitage, headmaster, and Mr RA Taylor, head of the lower school, replied to the toast. Mr TL Riley, on the school staff, proposed a toast to the Old Boys' Club. Mr AJ Covell replied and Mr H Yeomans proposed a toast to absent friends.

In the picture from left to right are: Mr E Armitage, headmaster; Mr Stanley Stubbs, a former headmaster; Mr Roger Human, on the Old Boys' Committee, and Mr RA Taylor, head of the lower school.

source: Mrs M Armitage

Stephen Melton 62-70 writes: You may be interested to know that I was keeping a fairly detailed diary during my three years in the Sixth Form (1968-70):

Saturday December 20th 1969

As an Elder Statesman, I had been invited to the Old Boys dinner. I got there fairly early and waited in the darkened Prefects’ room until I saw Easy arriving. Soon there were four of us, Easy, myself, Willenbruch and Stubbins, going through the school pretending to be Old Boys; “This used to be the gym when I was here - is it still? This was the drinking room. Was this the library? No, it was the conversation room.”

It was the 50th anniversary, and about a hundred and fifty were there. They soon began to organise themselves into groups according to their years, and to drift from the foyer to the bar in the Hall. We were joined by recent leavers like John Harding, Chris Hill, Brennan, and Chapman. The faces of those in the year above us were recognisable. Sometimes I might say “I should know him…”, but in one case it turned out to be someone who left the year before I came, so I must have known a younger brother.

At an unspoken signal, they all began to sit down at the tables, which were parallel apart from the top table which connected them. The dinner began with fresh melon, ready cut for the fork, then Chicken Princess, ice cream, and cheese and crackers. The coffee served was only a token because of the size of the cups, which was ridiculous and quite inadequate. We bought a bottle of wine between us. On the tables were candlesticks and the school cups. A little book containing the name of each Old Boy present was passed along them.

Near the end of the meal, the gentleman controlling the proceedings tapped with his gavel and called upon another to propose the toast “The Queen!”. Much later the series of speeches began.

The first [presumably by Dr Eden] was a general look at the school, the old and new buildings, the four Headmasters, of whom the last two were here tonight, the great men of the staff (“Hear, hear”), and the boys.

The next was from Mr. Armitage. He read from an account of an Old Boy’s first day at the school, which ended with the statement that integrity, honesty, etc. would be of value to a new boy long after he had forgotten Archimedes’ principle. Mr. Armitage did not think a single man present could remember Archimedes’ principle, and perhaps he should drop the rest of his speech and explain it just once more.

He talked about the two “Big Fives”; there was the old Big Five, including Ford, Riley, Johnson and Saunders, Hunt, and Thomas (one of those must be an intruder!), and the new; Taylor, Tabraham, Askem, Bozeat, and Hart. He mentioned a magazine article about Soham Grammar School, praising the education it gave to boys from many villages,which it named. He went on to say that under the new proposals for re-organisation these boys would be sent to schools in Ely etc., having no choice in the matter (“Shame”) and he urged them to use any influence they had in opposing them.

Mr. Taylor began his speech by saying that he had nothing to read from, so that he could look at the clock and say “That’s half of it over”, but he stood on his own two feet. He told stories of Yorkshiremen and reminiscences of sport and the hazards of dealing with George Phelps. He quoted from an article on what Headmasters do, which began “To decide what has to be done, tell somebody to do it…”, and went on to say “There is one thing which he does, has been doing, and will continue to do; opposing the proposals for re-organisation of the schools”. This change to a more solemn note brought a round of applause.

Mr. Riley said he had written a speech, a very good one, but we had already heard it. He recalled memories of the good old days, and deplored the fall in standards demanded.

The last speaker wound up, making a weak stand for comprehensivisation, which was not agreeable to the atmosphere of the meeting. Then there was finally the toast for absent friends. Willenbruch and Stubbins, less fore-sighted than Easy and myself, had neglected to leave any wine in their glasses for the last two toasts.

Then the meeting dissolved into its various coteries. We had no old times to recall, nor, since we see each other every day, did we have any news to tell, apart from Harding’s telegram calling him for interview at St. Catherine’s. But we could still talk shop, and football. When we decided to go home, we waited until Easy’s car had gone off, in case it needed pushing (for thaw had come last night and fog earlier in the evening), then Willenbruch and I went home in Stubbins’ car.

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