Issue 19 (2014)

New Penwithian Issue 19 (2014)

Andrew Coak

In his capacity as Secretary of the Old Penwithians Association, Andrew always began the annual newsletter with his “Secretary’s Smidgin”.  It seems appropriate to begin this issue with a tribute to a man whose death on 27th August has left a void which it is difficult to believe one person could fill.

Andrew Frank Howard Coak was born in Penzance on 11 Dec 1943 but his parents moved to Ludgvan when he was just a few months old. As a boy he sang in the choir at Ludgvan Parish Church, along with his elder brother John. He attended St. Erbyn’s School until the age of 11yrs before joining Humphry Davy Grammar School in September 1955, by which time his family had moved to Pendeen.  Here Andrew developed an all-round ability in sport and represented the school in athletics, cricket, football, hockey and rugby; he captained the 1st xv and the rugby “A” seven in 1962. He was also selected for the Cornwall Schools xv.

Andrew trained as a PE teacher from 1963-66 at St John’s College, York. From there he taught at Milton Abbey School in Dorset, where he became fully involved in school life; becoming school rugby coach, house tutor and then Head of Math’s and PE. It was here that he met and married his first wife Madeline.  In 1970 he joined the RAF and after training at RAF Biggin Hill and Henlow was first stationed at RAF Uxbridge and later at RAF Brampton. Here he became Aid-de-Camp to Air Officer Commanding, Air Training Corps, a prestigious posting which involved him travelling widely to all the Air Cadets squadrons around the UK and Malta. After spending one year at RAF Coningsby Andrew and his family, which now included three children, were posted to RAF Gatow in West Berlin in 1976. His duties included being a guide on a tour bus provided for British personnel enabling them to visit East Berlin, as a result of which he became very knowledgeable about the city. He sang in the choir of Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and it was in Berlin that he was first introduced to Freemasonry, being initiated into Phoenix Lodge No 847.

From 1979-82 Andrew returned to RAF Cranwell in Lincolnshire as Flight Commander IOT (Initial Officer Training) and was subsequently promoted to Squadron Leader IOT and, as squadron commander, was presented to HM the Queen. He continued his career at RAF Luffenham until 1983 when he was seconded to the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force as the Senior Admin Officer at the base at Thumrait and then at Salalah in South Oman until 1987, by which time his Loan Service from the RAF had ended and he’d joined the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force as Squadron Leader, being posted to Air Force Headquarters near Muscat.  It was here that he met Veronica, who worked as a nurse with the Sultan of Oman’s Land Forces. They married in 1989 at The British Embassy in Muscat; it was also in that year that Andrew was promoted to Wing Commander or as he was often known, wine commander.

While in Oman Andrew was given the task of setting up the Air Academy at Ghallah, near Muscat. This became the Omani equivalent of RAF College Cranwell, where the majority of Omani Air Force Officers had previously trained. He played golf in Oman and was involved in the construction and creation of Jabel Park Golf Club together with two colleagues at Ghallah.  An achievement acknowledged today on the Jabel Park Golf Club website. Andrew was the Club Captain from 1989-1991 playing off a handicap of 8. In 1995 His Majesty the Sultan of Oman presented Andrew with the Wissam al Khidma al Mumtazza (WKhM) Distinguished Service Medal in recognition of “outstanding service and devotion to duty over an extended period of time.”

In 1999 Andrew and Veronica returned home to Pendeen where he once again became involved in the life of the community. On 29th December that year he accompanied his brother John to a reunion of former pupils of their old grammar school in Penzance.  By the end of the evening he had volunteered to become the Secretary of the Old Penwithians Association. He joined West Cornwall Golf Club, where he became Captain of the Senior Section. In Pendeen he was closely involved in every stage of the establishment of the Centre of Pendeen community facility and was their treasurer. He also helped his brother John with the catering at the North Inn, where his interest in cooking curries, which he and his wife developed while in Oman, led to the legendary North Inn “currymania” curry nights.

Since taking on the role of Secretary Andrew had become the driving force behind the Old Penwithians Association.  Working closely with the present day Humphry Davy School he guided it through a number of projects including: commissioning and installation of a stained glass window at the school in memory of two former headmasters, Mr. Bradley and Mr. Rising; and a series of events during 2010 to celebrate the Centenary of the school culminating in the Centenary Dinner in lieu of the annual reunion on 29th December 2010. The most recent project came to a successful conclusion with the rededication of the refurbished Old Penwithians War Memorial, in the old hall at the school, in May of this year.

Pendeen Parish Church was packed to capacity for Andrew’s funeral with a lot of people standing at the back.  Many old school ties were in evidence and several Old Penwithians ties. The organist was old boy Chris Symons (54) who, during the period before the funeral cortege arrived, played an improvised fugue based on the School Song. A tribute paid by close friend Paul Goody, from which a lot of the information in this piece is borrowed, revealed that when Andrew met Veronica in Oman she had asked him what he did.  He had replied that he was an SPSO which meant Special Person Serving Others. There could not be a better description of Andrew. He touched the lives of a great number of people in so many different ways.  Most of all he was a family man – husband, father, grandfather and brother – who loved good food and wine, singing and classical music.

A wreath was sent for Andrew’s funeral, on behalf of the Old Penwithians Association, with the message “By Memory’s Chain We Linked Remain”. As indeed we are.

Bill Burnett


Where are they now?

‘By memory’s chain we linked remain’

Cathy Woolcock, nee Magor, contacted us via our website concerning her late father John Vivian “Jack” Magor (42), who died in June 2000. She knows that he passed his School Certificate in July 1948 but other than that knows very little about his school days and would love any information about him – photographs being the Holy Grail. Phone calls to contemporaries of Jack listed in our database did not come up with anything, and while our photographic archive contains several photographs from the period during which he was at school we have very few individual names for them. Cathy was referred to our archive on the “Picture Penzance” website in the hope that she might recognise her father in one of them. If anyone reading this remembers Jack and can give any information please contact Bill Burnett on 01736 740047 or by
NB Since the publication of this article the e-mail address has been changed to

Christopher Norton (70) advised us of his new address in Totnes and Malcolm Quick (54) also has a new address. He’s now living in Ilkley, West Yorkshire having moved there from Plymouth in May. Also living in Yorkshire is Andrew Darling (59). He began his career in journalism at The Cornishman but moved ‘up country’ and worked on a number of daily newspapers before moving to Yorkshire; where he worked as a producer, director and editor for Yorkshire Television. He then spent seven years as News Editor of Channel Four News in London. Now working as the Press Officer of North Yorkshire County Council, Andrew is living in Wensleydale.  He still has a blue report book from school in which Doug ‘Bung’ Waller, wrote: “He cannot be as stupid as he pretends”. Andrew considers that to be one of the most affirmative things any teacher ever said of him!

Ian Campbell (44) wrote from his home in Bournemouth with a tale of trickery. At the end of his lessons French teacher Alan Tregenza would be open to answer non-French questions. He liked riddles and puzzles and would show the boys how he solved them. On one occasion the boys presented him with a puzzle involving letters and numbers which Mr. Tregenza worked on until it was revealed that the puzzle was an algebra homework problem. Ian spent just two years at the school but has many memories of those days. Someone else who spent just a short time at the school is former member of staff John Wallace (69-72) but, like Ian Campbell, he has fond memories of his time there – teaching history. John moved first to Kent then to Essex, where he became the principal of a further education college.  He has always maintained contact with friends and former colleagues and over the years he and his wife have visited Cornwall regularly, most recently staying for two weeks during August.  John is now retired and has become a student of the University of the Third Age.  Another former member of staff, Lawrence James (70-80) has been in touch from his home in Florida.  Lawrence is co-author of Three Score Years and Ten and it is strangely ironic that his name is missing from the list of staff at the back of the re-print of the book. Tony Willis (52) enquired about the cost of posting a copy of this book to Australia and wondered if there was an ebook version. He had been pleased to find the words of the School Song on our website and enjoyed listening to the recording of old boys singing the song made at the annual reunion in 2006. Tony is a registered tax agent and Fellow of TAI Practitioners and Advisors in Western Australia.

In September Jimmy White (32), now in his 91st year and living in Bristol, had his cousin, Graham Harry, staying with him on a visit from Australia. Graham’s next port of call was the St. Just area in West Cornwall and Jimmy asked him to take with him the PCS Cricket Cap which he had worn when representing the school. Graham handed over the cap to John Coak at the North Inn and it is now safely stored in our growing archive of memorabilia.

New Life Members

Robert Nigel Bennetts (60) Sidmouth

Andrew Darling (59) Wensleydale

Stephen Hollow (54) Penzance

Larry Magor (66) Lelant

Charles Upton (48) Praa Sands

Kit Vaughan (77) Almondsbury

If you know any old boys of the school who are not life members of the Old Penwithians Association please encourage them to join. Perhaps you could pass on a copy of the application form on the back cover or point them in the direction of our website


Reunion 2013

There was an excellent turn out of old boys and former staff of the Penzance County and Humphry  Davy Grammar School for their annual reunion at the Queens Hotel on 29th December. Once again, in spite of a hip replacement earlier in the year, the oldest old boy present was Dr. Arnold ‘Derry’ Derrington of the 1933 entry who was accompanied by his son David 1957.

There were a few new faces as well, including brothers Kevan and Michael Summerlee who were at the school in the mid nineteen sixties and were visiting from New Zealancl, Des Nicholls from 1944, Robin Hall 1958 and Charles Upton 1948. There were also three former members of staff;  Bill Burnett, Malcolm Rudlin and Bob Conybeare.

Some of the earliest photos of pupils and staff from the spring of 1911 and 1912, which had been found by Chris Semmens in his attic, were displayed along with photographs showing the work carried out to refurbish the Old Penwithians War Memorial at the school.

Association Secretary Andrew Coak thanked everyone for attending, especially those who had provided prizes for the raffle held during the evening which had realised £205.90. He also announced that there would be a ceremony to rededicate the Old Penwithians War Memorial in 2014 to coincide with events to commemorate the Centenary of the First World War. The 1911 and 1912 photographs would be displayed again at the rededication of the memorial as many of the staff and pupils in the photographs were also recorded on the Roll of Honour on the memorial. It was hoped that details of this event would be announced in The Cornishman nearer the date. He asked that anyone wishing to have details should let him have their e-mail address and he would then be able to give advanced notice. The evening ended with Stuart Guppy once again ably accompanying the traditional hearty rendering of the School Song. 

Those attending and signed in:

Andrew Coak Charles Upton Horton Bolitho Patrick Dunn
John Trewern Brian Richards John Coak Don Ruhrmund
Roy Nicholls Gerald Jenkin Martin Tutthill Jamie Dunn
David Mann Philip Knight Ian Robertson Phil Westren
Jim Glover Hedley Nicholls “Des” Nicholls Howard Curnow
Bill Burnett Roger Cargeeg John Richards Howard Whitt
Terry Johns Howard Eddy Robert Tutthill Justus Hattam
Stuart Guppy Vivian Row Terry DrewMalcolm Rudlin
Frank Rowley John RichardsBryan Cuddy Bob Conybeare
Colin Kelynack Paul LeggoRobin Hall Bob Hawken
Paul Tyreman Graham Paul John Richards  

If anyone wants to become a life member, then please contact the database manager Bill Burnett on 01736 740047 or email


War Memorial Restored and Rededicated

The restoration of the Old Penwithians War Memorial in the old hall at the school is now complete and Matthew Channell of Park Lane Restoration, Truro has done a great job. The oak panelling has been cleaned and rejuvenated and the brass and gold lettering restored. A low brass rail has also been fitted to protect the memorial.

In the process of renewing the windows in the assembly hall, or gallery as it is now known, the contractors found asbestos in the area above the war memorial which had to be removed. While doing this the ceiling, which covered the top of the memorial, was opened up allowing access to the frieze as well and now the whole of the memorial is visible once again.

The memorial was rededicated for the Centenary of the First World War and unveiled at the school by Councillor Phil Rendle, the Mayor of Penzance, on 1 May. Many old boys and friends of the school attended the ceremony, alongside the Mayor of Marazion and Mayor of Penzance. The head boy and head girl represented the school and enjoyed spending time with the guests, many of whom had fascinating stories about the names listed on the memorial. “It was lovely to learn more about the beautiful memorial and to see the names come to life in my mind as the gentlemen spoke about the memories they have; we are very lucky to have such a rich heritage at our school.”

A souvenir booklet containing short biographies of the 19 Old Penwithians who died during the war was produced and made available at the rededication. Copies of the booklet are still available; contact Humphry Davy School for further details or come along to the annual reunion, on 29th December, when some will be available. We are grateful to the War Memorial Trust for the grant that they gave towards the costs, together with all those who made personal donations. Thanks to the efforts and contributions of old boys and their associates the memorial has been carefully restored to its former glory.


The Old Penwithians Website

In last year’s newsletter I wrote of the difficulties that had been experienced with the updating of our website.  Unfortunately those difficulties continued for some time and the site became very out of date.  Thankfully the problems have now been resolved.  The site has been completely redesigned and rebuilt using a different program as a platform.  It is now much easier to manage and is right up to date.

The “Home” page now has a ‘blog’ facility – registered users of the site are able to leave comments or respond to other comments. Only old boys and former members of staff of the school will be allowed to register.  There will soon be a registration link on the website in the meantime, if you are interested in being a registered user, please contact me by e-mail – see “Contact Us” page on the website.

Bill Burnett


When the Annual Reunion Came to Blows

In the course of my research for the souvenir booklet produced for the rededication of the Old Penwithians War Memorial at our old school, to mark the Centenary of the First World War, I discovered that we had in fact missed another centenary. The original “Old Penwithians”, an association for former pupils and members of staff of Penzance County School, was established in 1912. A note in the school magazine, The Penwithian, for Easter 1912, said “We hope to form an old boys’ association. There seems to be a sufficient number of boys who have left the school, who still reside in the neighbourhood,  to warrant such an association being a success. As a preliminary all old boys are invited to attend, at the school, on Tuesday April 9th, at 7pm.” The next issue of The Penwithian, in midsummer 1912, reported that several old boys attended the meeting and it had been agreed to form an association and said “We hope all boys on leaving the school will recognise it as a duty to join the association at once”.

There were 19 founding members who elected a secretary, treasurer and committee with power to draw up a set of rules. The committee met at the school on 5 Jul 1912, with the headmaster Mr. Bradley taking the chair, and drew up a set of rules which included:

  1. That the association be called the “Old Penwithians”
  2. That membership be restricted to staff and old boys of Penzance County School.
  3. That the aim of the association be to enable old boys to keep in touch with each other and the school.
  4. That the activities of the association and other items of interest of the movements of old boys etc. be published in “The Penwithian”.

Not much change there then!

The first Old Penwithians Annual Social (reunion) was held at the school during the evening of New Year’s Day 1913. Mr. and Mrs. Bradley attended and The Penwithian  for Easter 1913 reported that “Everything went well, dancing, singing (including some ‘ragtime’ songs) fencing and boxing, each taking their turn during the evening”

Now there’s a thing! The evening ended up with old boys coming to blows.  Anyone fancy doing three rounds with the editor, John Richards, at the next reunion?

Bill Burnett


New Penwithian – its Future

Welcome to the 19th issue of the New Penwithian. This is a rather sombre edition this year after the sudden death of Andrew Coak in August. Although I put together the newsletter, it was Andrew who provided much of the ‘nuts and bolts’ editorial to compile it. He and John at the North Inn, Pendeen welcomed many Old Penwithians over the years and also much correspondence was obtained by him regarding news of old boys, ‘Where are they now?’, obituaries, articles and pictures. This was then forwarded to me to be inserted in the New Penwithian.

Obviously this has sadly come to an end and it is hopefully our intention to keep publishing the newsletter not only to keep you up to date with present events, but also to bring back memories of the school. To do that we need you to provide us with the raw material for articles; what are your memories of school days? Do you have an amusing tale to tell? Could you provide information for the ‘Where are they now’ feature on particular people from your era? Sadly, if you hear of the death of an old boy please send us details. We hope you enjoy this issue and look forward to hearing from you.

It was explained to the gathered throng at the last reunion about the cost of the production of the newsletter and how it would not be possible without the generous contributions from the advertisers and our own funds. We are trying to cut costs further by distributing as many copies locally by hand and also sending some by e-mail if we have the correct addresses.

During the reunion of 1997 members were told that a £10 subscription would ensure life membership and receipt of the New Penwithian for four years. I think we have done extremely well to continue production until 2014 without further requests for additional funding. Please let us have your comments on how we can keep publishing the New Penwithian without draining our funds further. If any ideas are forthcoming please can they be available for the reunion on 29th December.

Please send articles, letters and/or photographs etc. to: John Richards, 73 Manor Way, Heamour, Penzance, Cornwall TR18 3HL

[See the “Contact Us” page of the website for John’s e-mail address]


Old Penwithians Golf Competition 2014

The Old Penwithians Golf tournament scheduled for 6th November this year, had to be postponed because of atrocious weather conditions. The competition has been re-arranged for Friday 6th February, 2015. If you would like to play then please let the organiser David James (53) know. Tel: 01736 711757 or e-mail:


Distribution of the Newsletter

In an effort to reduce costs of printing and distribution, the annual newsletter New Penwithian has been sent ‘electronically’ this year to all life members of the Old Penwithians Association for whom we have an e-mail address. If you have received a printed copy, either in the post or delivered by hand, then we do not have a working e-mail address for you in the database. If, however, you do have an e-mail address please contact and you will be added to the e-mail mailing list. This is particularly important for oversees members.

[NB Since the publication of this article the e-mail address has been changed to]


Situations Vacant

The future of the Old Penwithians Association is once again uncertain, for we find ourselves in need of both a chairman and a secretary.  This was the situation back in 1999 when Phil Dennis, at that time treasurer and who, with Martin Orchard, had co-founded the association five years earlier, wrote an article for the annual newsletter titled “We Need Help”. The annual reunion that year became a crisis meeting and John and Andrew Coak came to our rescue by volunteering their services as chairman and secretary respectively.

Since then the association has thrived; membership has increased steadily and a number of major projects have been undertaken and brought to a successful conclusion.  John stood down as chairman about 18 months ago and since Andrew’s death in August the remaining members of the committee have carried on with the business of the running of the association as best they can. However, none of them is prepared to add chairman and secretary to their existing role – nor should they be expected to. Stuart Guppy has agreed to help and has been co-opted onto the committee, but this must be a short term arrangement and we desperately need to fill these two vacancies by the New Year.

There must be someone reading this prepared to step in and help the association survive. If that person is you please get in touch with Stuart – phone: 01736 797830 or e-mail:

This e-mail address has since changed to:



As well as Andrew Coak the following old boys have died since November 2013.

John Laity (35) on 25 Apr 2014 aged 88.

John Curnow Laity joined Penzance County School in 1935 with admission number 1630. At school he excelled in sport as well as academically; he held the shot put record in his age group for a time and became one of the leading tennis players.  He also took a major part in a production of the play ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ in 1940, the last boys’ only production at PCS – future productions were collaborations with the Girls’ Grammar School. John was Head Boy at the school in 1943.

After serving at sea during the 2nd World War, during which time he was badly burned in an accident aboard the minesweeper upon which he was serving, John entered Exeter College, Oxford to study English. Fellow students included Margaret Thatcher, Richard Burton and Roger Bannister and he counted amongst his friends the McWhirter twins, who went on to establish the Guiness Book of Records.  John became captain of the college tennis team.

Returning to Cornwall John established Morrab Studio in Penzance in 1950. He worked with local artists, including Lamorna Birch, and was one of the last people trained to beat Newlyn Copper by the renowned craftsman Johnny Payne Cotton. For a number of years the copper workshop was based at Morrab Studio.  One of his proudest achievements was establishing the Art Gallery at Penlee Museum as a permanent home for a number of works by Newlyn School painters; which were owned by the town but which were being poorly stored. As a town councillor himself John led the campaign to establish a suitable home for them and spent many hours restoring the pictures.

John was one of the founders of the tennis club at Penzance and was its longest serving president. The club has installed a permanent memorial to him in the form of a wooden bench, with an inscription, in front of courts 1 and 2.

John became a Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd in 1992 and was made an MBE for his services to Penzance in the Queen’s New Year Honours in 1998. He was a former Mayor, chairman of the district and a freeman of the town; he had co-ordinated the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebrations across the district; he was a member of the Penzance Round Table and then Rotary Club for many years; he was president of the Penzance Sea Cadets and president of SCOPE. He was chairman of governors for several local schools, chairman of West Cornwall League of Friends and of the Newlyn Harbour Commissioners and president of the Mount’s Bay Club.

In his later years he enjoyed art renovation and one of his many projects was renovating the ancient hatchment decorations in Madron church. Aged 84 he achieved a lifetime ambition when, with his daughter, Alison, he travelled across the Rocky Mountains in Canada by train.

John was always ready to share his extensive knowledge of art and local history and could often be seen in the shop talking to visitors and Cornish expats from all over the world.

Ron Prowse (38) on 26 Apr 2014 aged 87

Henry Ronald Prowse joined Penzance County School in 1938 from Sancreed with admission number 1779. Here he achieved a degree of notoriety in his first year by being the first boy in his class to be caned by the headmaster “Boss” Bradley – he was spotted sucking a lollipop during one of Alan “Woodie” Wood’s lessons. This early notoriety proved to be an asset and he was readily accepted by his class mates who nicknamed him “Mouse”.

Ron was not particularly gifted at sports but enjoyed cross country running and took part in the inter-form football competitions. Later, when in the fifth form, he was one of those who entered into an agreement with hockey players from the Penzance County School for Girls – they would teach the boys hockey, and let them use their equipment, and in return the boys would teach them cricket in the summer. It was at this time that Ron joined the Penzance 24F Squadron Air Training Corps (ATC) along with many others from the school. He was very proud to wear his R.A.F. blue uniform for the first time at the school speech day in 1943, where the ATC formed the Guard of Honour for visiting dignitaries.

After passing his School Certificate exams and with service in the Armed Forces imminent Ron was one of six boys who opted for the Army Engineering Cadetship scheme and attended a week-long War Office Selection Board at Winchester Barracks. He was one of the four who passed but the Army cancelled the cadetship scheme in August 1944.  Ron decided to stay on at school to take the Higher School Certificate exams after which he was called up for National Service in the Army in September 1945 and reported for duty at Colchester Barracks.

After National Service Ron worked as an engineer and spent most of his working life with Holmans in Camborne. He also worked as an engineer for South Crofty mine for a few years at the end of his career. In his retirement he lived at Tredarvah, near Newlyn from where he sent an article for the New Penwithian annual newsletter.  Much of this obituary was taken from this article, which was printed in issue No.14 of December 2009 – one of the back issues available in the “Newsletter” pages of our website.

If you hear of the death of an old boy then please let us know so that we can include him in the next newsletter.


Is This an Old Boy?

This story appeared in the Daily Mail recently and could almost certainly be an ‘old boy’ of the school. It has been edited for this issue.

“A lone M15 agent who neutralised hundreds of Nazis during the Second World War has been unmasked as a modest suburban bank clerk whose civilian bosses had considered him nothing special. The ‘genius’ undercover operative managed to infiltrate and control Nazi sympathisers living in England — preventing them from passing intelligence to Berlin.

Until published, the agent had been known only by his pseudonym, Jack King, but Security Service

files reveal his real identity was Eric Arthur Roberts, a father-of-two from Epsom. Born in 1907 and educated in Penzance, he spent 15 years working for Westminster Bank without managers noticing anything remarkable about his skills. But Mr Roberts was picked out by MI5, which spent much of the war headquartered in Blenheim Palace.

One M15 officer described Roberts as ‘thoroughly familiar with everything connected with the various pro-Nazi organisations in this country’. He had acquired a knowledge of the pro—Nazi groups operating in Britain in the period before the outbreak of the Second World War — although how he came to do so is not disclosed in the documents. By posing as an undercover Gestapo officer, Roberts was able to control groups of ‘Fifth Columnists’ who were trying to aid the Fascist cause. The Nazi sympathisers believed they were successfully passing secrets to Berlin – but all the while the information was being handed straight to M15. By the end of the war, Roberts had monitored and controlled the activities of hundreds of would—be traitors.

Some of ‘Jack Kings exploits came to light in February, when an initial batch of M15 papers relating to his courage were declassified. The files do not disclose what happened to Roberts after the war.”Editor: I have looked up under school pupils and there was a E A. Roberts {school number 454), school entry 1915. Are you a relative of Eric Roberts, or do you know what happened to him after the war?