John Coombes - Thanks To Price's...

Sixth Science in the dormitories - Coombes, Barker, Reed and others

John Coombes ready for the Mile in 1952

A “Graduate” of Fareham’s Redlands Lane School, under the immediate post war “11+ Initiative” nothing was more daunting than being “invited” to Price's to be interviewed by the Headmaster, George Ashton flanked by Tom Hilton, my later mentor, and the formidable Thacker. Seemingly the country bumkin from the depths of Bridgemary was not found wanting and suitably suited and capped, by Silvers of Fareham, I found myself in the hands of Boggy Marsh, my Form Master, and a regime of specialists including English (Thacker), Physics (Royds-Jones “Wick”), Chemistry (Hilton “Tom”), French (Foster “Flossie”) and Latin (Johnson “Ollie”) - who ever made that a basic subject? Ollie was at his best sharing tales of his European travels or forming us up to pick dandelions off the First X1 wicket when he wasn't directing a well-aimed blackboard rubber in your direction for getting your mensa's or amo's incorrectly declined, to say nothing of being lifted from your seat by your ear if you were nearer to hand and screwed up your translations of Caesar's Gallic Wars! Still there was always light relief with Briscoe, in the Woodwork shed or better Miss Jewel trying to tame breaking adolescent voices!

Certainly “Gunga Din” Garton's logarithms held me in good stead later both as a fledgling Gunner and at Sandhurst while Briscoe's introduction to wood and metal work, to say nothing of technical drawing, paid dividends while in the MOD (Operational Requirements) with Tom's Chemistry and Shaddocks Physics provided a lasting interest in all things scientific. Just an aside, Tom's demonstration of the hydrolysis of water and the future of fuel cells to power vehicles, predicted by William Grove in 1842 and further developed by FT Bacon at Cambridge in 1959, epitomised the seeds of knowledge planted into young brains to blossom in later years. Left much to our own devices, particularly in the Vth and V1th Forms, to learn by “investigation” rather than being taught by rote I remember well nearly blowing up the Chemi Lab after making Nitrogen Tri-iodide (Iodine and Ammonia) with Rodney Porter and others. In the rush to clear up at the end of the Period Rodney threw a filter paper, now dry, into the waste bin with the resultant loud explosion from this very unstable contact explosive but this didn’t stop us taking some of the still damp crystals to Woolworth’s and discreetly dropping them on the floor to pop and crackly when stepped on as they dried. Left in peace in the V1th Science Hut Rodney and I spent many a happy hour getting the old Motor Bike stored there going, much to the annoyance of our “more seriously minded” colleagues deep in the mysteries of Bridge or Chess!!

I found little success on Prices Playing Fields until Royds-Jones took me to task for “Not trying”. Already a member of Gosport Borough Athletic Club, I thought, well we'll see about that - think he was miffed that I wouldn't join his scouts and decided to go along with Tom's Cadets, then badged Royal Hampshire Regiment, albeit with ancient uniforms and even older breach loading carbines! In later years we were badged Royal Artillery and kitted out in “Battle Dress” with 303’s and Brens together with Field Artillery training at the local TA and Mons OTC in Aldershot.

For the record the July 52 Lion Sports Day coverage mentions my record time for the Senior Mile of 4mins 55secs much to Tom Hilton's delight who had hope to see a sub-5-minute mile on the Books notwithstanding the uphill 100m on the Harrison Road Track behind the old Physics Hut, while the April 53 edition comments on my Steeplechase triumphs embarrassingly adding “The best middle and long distance runner this School has ever seen”. As for the Cadets I was privileged to Captained the Cross-Country Team that won the Hampshire ACF Cross Country Championships. My Gosport Borough Athletics running mate, Alan Newell representing Gosport ACF, won the event having snatched the lead from Haseltine and myself at a poorly marked turn. I was also lucky enough to clinch a Third in the 880yds and to win the Senior Mile for the School Cadets at The Hampshire ACF Athletics’ Championships held at Aldershot Military Stadium. This edition of the Lion also kindly mentions my acceptance for Sandhurst and contribution to the Cadets, proudly leaving as the Cadet Regimental Sergeant Major.