Updated Thursday, 9 May, 2013
Obituaries are published here for those who had a current or past connection to Goudhurst, Kilndown or Curtisden Green. To make use of this free service, please send a tribute in electronic form (e-mail, Word or PDF) and any pictures you wish to include to:
Neil Rowe 1920 – 2012
A tribute by Mark Rowe to his late father who died on 26th September.
Neil was born in Cowes on the Isle of Wight in September 1920. His father, a shipyard manager, had been awarded the MBE for building destroyers in WWI, and his mother, 9 years into her marriage and now 33, had given up all hope of having children. Accordingly Neil, who remained her only child, was doted on from the first.
Shortly after his birth, the family moved to Southampton, and he spent a good deal of his childhood sailing off Dartmouth, going out on destroyers as they went through sea-trials (I remember him saying he had to measure how much the deck buckled when the main armament was fired) and on Sundays accompanying his father as he inspected ships under construction.
He always described his childhood and family as ‘very happy’, and something of this happiness and these early circumstances stayed with him for the rest of his life. His voice kept a soft Hampshire burr; he remained an ardent supporter of Southampton in football and Hampshire in cricket; and he retained considerable affection for the sea: any ship’s chandler’s in any town had to be visited, and watching ships was always an acceptable way to spend an afternoon.
Having matriculated from Peter Symonds’ School in Winchester, he started work as a junior clerk with Esso on 25s a week, and with the threat of war imminent, joined the Territorial Army in 1937 and the regular army in 1939.
In 1942, the army decided that a spell as a junior clerk in the sales division of Esso was excellent training for running refineries and Neil was sent out to the Far East. There he discovered some of the army’s more exotic specimens and procedures. There was the captain, suffering from a touch of sun, who got down on his knees in the back of a taxi and implored the Brigadier to think on his own sins before it was too late. Then there was the senior officer and martinet who, arriving in some remote Indian sub-station, told my father to go and release his batman who’d been chained up for a week in the guard’s van. Neil naturally asked what the batman had done: ‘Damned fella lost my laundry!’ Finally, there was the occasion shortly after the war when an official letter arrived on Neil’s breakfast table, which said that a certain Indian pipeline – through no fault of his own – had leaked so badly that virtually no petrol got through to the other end. Accordingly, would he please sign the enclosed chit and write off the loss – amounting to several hundred million rupees – which was too large a sum for Mountbatten, the Viceroy of India, to write off himself.
On returning to England, one of his less demanding duties was to empty the bar of a base which was being closed down in Wheatley. Neil therefore priced all the drinks very cheaply, secured a band, invited several truckloads of nurses from the near-by hospital, and soon found that the evening was going splendidly. This was the occasion when he met a young physiotherapist called Joyce Taylor and they got on so well that he wrote to arrange a second meeting. Unfortunately, he didn’t know her surname, and owing to enforced service moves, his letter, addressed to ‘Miss Joyce’, spent 6 months wandering round various institutions in southern England, acquiring at least a dozen penciled suggestions as to whom the intended addressee might be. Eventually, it reached the correct Miss Joyce, and shortly thereafter, Neil made what he described as the best decision of his life and asked her to marry him. They remained happily married until my mother’s death 61 years later, and Sally, Peter and I, the in-laws, grandchildren and friends have the happiest memories of Christmases and long idle summers spent at Haltwhistle.
Whatever the army’s deficiencies it soon discovered Neil’s skill as an administrator, and having entered the war as a private he emerged as a 25-year-old acting Lieutenant-Colonel. Esso had a similar experience after the war. Appropriately, given his home background, he became a marine sales rep, and then an assistant manager, manager, district manager, area manager, and finally manager of the largest region in the country, with responsibility for several thousand staff. Many will know how he also put the same abilities to excellent use as a Councillor and Chairman of Goudhurst Parish Council and Church Treasurer.
He had a way of getting on with people. He rejoiced in life’s multitudinousness, and was genuinely curious about everyone he spoke to; he was good at asking questions, and saying things that other people wanted to build on, correct and amplify. He was even tempered; good at negotiation; he had charm: in particular, a very pleasing irony that had a way of gently mocking the pompous, uptight or complacent without being the least offensive; in fact, he seemed to be grateful to such people for playing their allotted part in making life rich and various.
In some ways he was very English. He cultivated a careful ignorance of life’s darker side; he didn’t really have much time for theories or opinions - these simply added to the noise and disputatiousness of the world; and he disapproved of emotional extremes. He was always down on people who created ‘a drama’ of something, or made ‘a palaver’, or got on their high horses, and he was equally resistant to elation and ecstasy. I’m afraid I couldn’t resist turning to the relevant page in his diary to discover how he greeted my own birth. The entry reads:
May 5th: Mark William born at 8 o’clock in the morning. Bus strike.
Another reason for his success, and his long and happy life, was that he always knew exactly what he wanted, and knew that what he wanted was within his capacity. He wanted a flourishing family, a secure and comfortable life-style, a fulfilling career, and leisure time diversified by nice food, interesting holidays, tennis and cricket matches, and somewhere he could mow the lawn and light smelly and spectacular bonfires. He had no desire whatever to dazzle or impress; and in pursuit of any goal he set himself he always showed great application and steadiness of purpose.
Sometimes greater things would beckon but he knew they were not for him. At the end of the war he had a long conversation with Mountbatten, who said: ‘I hear you’re going back to work for Esso. General Slim tells me you’ve done an excellent job in Burma, and the chairman of Esso is a great personal friend of mine. I shall be happy to write you a handsome reference at any time.’ It was characteristic of Neil that Mountbatten’s offer was never taken up.
Money was important to him. He appreciated that little can be done without it, and took genuine pleasure in understanding how it works, how it grows, how it passes from one to another, how it sometimes suddenly disappears. Nothing pleased him more than driving a hard bargain; in fact, his enthusiasm for bargains reached a point where he was incapable of paying the normal price for anything, and most of the pleasure was not in the object purchased but the money saved. One late flowering of this propensity was his enthusiasm for eating in Wetherspoon’s pubs in far-flung regions of Kent and Sussex, and I’m afraid all the family groaned under this imposition with varying degrees of protest and resignation.
In 1967, seeking to move from St. Albans to Kent, he went out on a limb and bought Goudhurst’s disused railway station – then a wasteland of derelict buildings, crane-bases, platforms, mountainous banks of brambles, sidings and sleepers – and spent the next five years turning it into a really lovely house and garden, renaming it Haltwhistle. A year or two later, he acquired a serious habit of buying secondhand lawn-mowers at auction sales – at one point he owned thirteen machines, largely of pre-war British manufacture (Atcos, Lloyds, Rudges).
He retained certain characteristics of the adored only child. There was something of the prince about him: he had a knack of getting his own way, and making opposition feel like appalling bad manners; he never mastered the art of making a cup of tea or boiling an egg; and he found it quite natural that other people should look after him – no woman, in his view, who found herself at a loose end could be better employed than in rustling him up a nutritious snack or paying his paper bill.
Yet these surface vices are only the shadow side of deep virtues. When I think of him, I think of him laughing, taking pleasure in something, but he was also extremely steady and reliable: an excellent man to go to for advice, a point of continuity amidst change, something comforting and solid, someone who understood what was likely to happen, and was never going to be mastered by a desire to show off or a daft idea.
In his last years, he still found much to take pleasure in; he cut his coat according to his cloth. There was always an afternoon of Sky Sports; a pint of shandy; the fish-and-chip van on Wednesdays; and the Zia Maria on Saturdays - where the staff were always exceptionally nice to him. And for a man who died in his nineties, he was forward-looking and un-nostalgic to a remarkable degree: he bought and made serious efforts to master a computer; he invariably had to be restrained from throwing away or selling family photographs and heirlooms; and his thoughts were always of the practicalities of tomorrow and next week.
When Sally, Peter or I wanted guidance in one of the great decisions of our lives – the only person to consult is someone you trust, someone who sympathizes with your point of view, someone who knows you and your circumstances through and through; in other words, you need to consult a wise and experienced friend.
I know I’m not alone in feeling that Neil was such a friend.
This tribute appeared in the Parish Magazine of November 2012
Neil Frank Rowe
Neil, who died on Wednesday, 26th September aged 92, was Chairman of Goudhurst Parish Council for five years, from 1991 to 1996, and served the community well. He achieved his aim of raising the profile of the council so that people were more aware of its activities and shaped a somewhat diverse group of councillors into a harmonious and efficient working body.
Neil’s greatest contribution came from his love of our beautiful countryside and the 70 kms of footpaths which enable us to explore and enjoy it. He found ways of funding maintenance work and ensured that all the paths were brought up to a high standard. Neil, Roger Coles and Eric Pierson walked together every week and aimed to cover every footpath each year – inevitably earning the sobriquet “The Last of the Summer Wine”.
Leonard Pierce 1909 - 2011
Len Pierce was born at Best Beech, Wadhurst 0n 7th February 1909. He was such a weak and sickly baby that he was christened after only two days as the doctors did not expect him to live!!
He used to walk 2½ miles to and from Tidebrook Primary School everyday.
Eventually he moved to Tunbridge Wells where his father was gardener at Huntleys. Len’s first job was at Raisewells on Mount Pleasant.
There he met Jean Macdonald and they married on 1st January 1934 at Groombridge Church. Soon after they moved to Brenchley where he worked at Barton’s village store.
Their first daughter Rosalie was born before the second world war. During the war Len served as a Corporal in 258 Company, Royal Army Service Corps with whom he was stationed in North Africa and Palestine.
Len and Jean’s second daughter was born soon after the war.
One Sunday in 1953 Len walked from Brenchley to Goudhurst as he had been told that there was a job available at Weeks & Brown, the village stores. He was the successful applicant. With the job came a rent free cottage in Hunts Lane where he and Jean lived until a few years ago.
Len was a founder member of the Brenchley & Matfield Local History Society and an honorary life member.
He was also a life member of the Goudhurst & Kilndown Local History Society, holding the post of Secretary from 1964 to 1997.
Len started singing in Church choirs first as a boy at St Johns, Tunbridge Wells and various other Churches. He was a member of the choir at St Mary’s Goudhurst for 54 years and in 2006 he was awarded the Royal Society of Church Music Long Service Medal. He was the last official Church Clock winder at St Mary’s before it was automated.
In April 2002 he travelled to Canterbury to receive his Maundy Money (pictured above) from Her Majesty the Queen.
Until 5 years ago he was still writing in the Goudhurst Parish Magazine under the name HopDog and his knowledgeable articles about nature and the old country ways were enjoyed by many.
Len was an accomplished artist and calligrapher. He illustrated the leaflets of various village walks and his paintings of Goudhurst are sought after.
Len died peacefully on the morning of 5th December 2011 at Pembury. His funeral will be held at St Mary’s Goudhurst on 20 December 2011.
Roger Coombs, 1924- 2011
A tribute by Marcus Coombs to his late father Roger, who died recently after a brief illness.
Roger Coombs was instrumental in the creation of this website 1999 and author of the homepage.
He first moved to Goudhurst in 1964 and was an active figure in village life for more than forty-five years.
Born in 1924 in Lewisham in South London, Roger spent the first part of his childhood in that area, starting his education at Dulwich College Prep School in Dulwich. A big change came at thirteen when the family moved to Cranbrook, where he finished his schooling.
At eighteen he was called up for military service in the Indian Army. On his troopship to Bombay he met his first wife, Shirley, who was serving in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. When they returned to England in 1947 they married. That year was also the beginning of another strand in Roger’s life. He went to Selwyn College, Cambridge, to read Classics, with Selwyn to remain important to him throughout his life.
Shortly afterwards Jonathan and Caroline were born to Roger and Shirley. After the marriage ended in 1963 Roger moved to Ashford and then in 1964 to Goudhurst. At this time he set up his PR company, met Anne, remarried, and had their two children, Marcus and Cathy.
His many achievements in Goudhurst include the composition of the script for ‘Gaudeamus’, the Millennium pageant in St. Mary’s in 1999, which played to a packed church for eight nights and was attended by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Maidstone, amongst hundreds of others. He also wrote the guidebook which welcomes visitors to the Church.
A very important strand in Roger’s life was music. A special contribution he made to the musical life of St. Mary’s Church was the link that he formed with the Esterhazy Singers, who delighted Goudhurst with their concerts and choral masses. He was also an active member of the Goudhurst Recorded Music Society from its beginnings about forty years ago. Under him it grew from a small group of music lovers to a society attracting members from all around.
In the 1980s, St. Mary’s – and a bit later, Christ Church, Kilndown, too – set up a link with the united Theological College and the Anglican Church in Sri Lanka. Roger took up an interest in this and was a vigorous Chairman of the Link for twelve years from 1998. His leadership proved inspirational, especially after the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami when the Link raised £40,000 for the relief work.
His whole-hearted involvement with the Goudhurst Sri Lanka Link emphasises so much of the quality of Roger’s life – his passionate, excited, vigorous interest in new people and new projects; not sitting back but always getting involved and committing himself.
The words of the visitor to Goudhurst over a hundred years ago on this website strongly reflect how Roger felt about the village and its very special enclave. His house there with views over the Weald was an idyll where he spent many happy hours enjoying his favourite pastimes: reading, writing, music, sketching, gardening and entertaining. Goudhurst and the surrounding area served as an inspiration to Roger and were constant themes in his work for more than half his life.
© 2011 Whilst every effort has been made to maintain accuracy, no responsibility is accepted for any errors in content.