The early 1960s at the NCP
Frank Davies (60-64), seen above and based in Canada for many years (see News of OPs) sent in this memory:
I haven’t really kept in touch with any OPs I went to school with, but I had some really good friends there. Just life and career got in the way of it, I suppose, not to mention moving to another continent which also took me a bit all over the place these past years. I’m in a business that tends to swallow your whole life too – virtually 24/7. And the rest I keep for my lovely all Canadian born family, wife, three daughters and four grandchildren!
I had a very good friend John Lucas (60-64) from Tenerife, and friends like Colin Childs (a member of that great Princess Elizabeth-winning V111 during my time), and there was another member and friend from that crew but can’t remember his name – maybe Veitch, and others: Sodiende (from Nigeria – can’t remember his first name), Colin Venn (who habitually finished last or next to last alternating with me year after year in the 100% ‘marathon’ (or so it seemed) we were obliged to run every year, Rodney Birkenshaw who like me was already obsessed with music and both of us wanted to go into the music business (but I never knew whether he did or not).
Then there was the friend (I wish I could remember his name – I owe him one!!!) at my division, Hesperus, who brought back Bob Dylan’s album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan from a trip to New York in the summer of 1963. This changed my ‘course’ in life, from the Navy to the career I’ve had this past 50+ years. I called my first music publishing company Freewheeled Music in 1970 in the album’s honour and for its personal importance to me and the decisions I later made – which name also happened to include my four initials FWHD.
I remember the chaplain (Joe Laxton) whose nickname was probably something that shouldn’t be repeated in print, so I won’t (not PC) for him or his family’s sake – but it was very apt to us 13/14 year olds! I remember Captain Lewis as well, of course, and Brutus his dog, his young secretary Joan Hodges (who every boy in the school was in love with, including me), Tiger Knights, Pat Finch who was the quartermaster and administered the whalebone (I’m sure those days have ended thankfully), and used to also take PT with Tiger.
I also remember the D.O.S but not his name (Kenneth Topliss). He suggested that I go to Strasbourg University – he’d been there and he knew my French was very good because I spent many of my formative years in France. I did go there for just over a year but then got a job back in London in 1966 as a management trainee for EMI (along with ‘the’ Tim Rice and the later renowned film-maker Tony Palmer). I can’t remember any other teacher’s names or my CO’s, CC’s, CCC’s or CCCC of the college except I think the latter might have been Garth Morrison, an all-round great sportsman and maybe a member of that famous eight too. I was, as mentioned, at Hesperus after Port Jackson and was a silver bugler in the Band.
I wish I could remember more but I do wear my OP jacket with great pride on important occasions an I always get a slew of compliments on it.”
“Although Frank Davies must have joined the NCP with me in the September 1960 in take, I do not recall him – funny!
I do vaguely remember John Lucas, but no more than that. Colin Childs – CW Childs – ex Kenya. Did not row in the 1963 VIII, but was in for 1964. Was good friends with Veitch. In Hesperus. Graeme Veitch – also a Kenyan (and still lives there) who did row in our victorious VIII in 1963. I think he was Harbinger and became CCCC for the 1964 Michaelmas term.
OB Sodiende: Was a Hesperus chap. Very good runner and played left wing for the 1st XV in 1963. Came from a wealthy Nigerian family (sounds familiar…). Very charming but not much more.
Colin Venn I do remember but our paths rarely passed. The ‘marathon’ referred to was the 100% run in which every boy in the College had to participate.
R. Birkinshaw’s Christian name was actually Romney. Came from South Africa. His mother and brother ran a music/record shop in Johannesburg. The last I saw of him was in the late 1970’s when he was working for a large advertising company in Jhb. A very alternate left-wing fellow with a good sense of humour and fun. At one stage their office was opposite ours on the same floor (44th) of the once famous Carlton Centre in the Jhb business district.
I can’t help with Frank’s Hesperus friend concerning the Bob Dylan album. ( After two terms in Port Jackson, I spent the 1961 summer term in Hesperus, before being drafted to the new division, Illawarra, down at Croft House, which opened in September 1961. KMD Hooper (alias Hoops) was the first housemaster.
And on to the padre – he was JH Laxton, ex RN Chaplain, with a ginger beard rather like the sailor on the front of the old Senior Service cigarette packets! He taught Divinity as well and visited each division on his Vespa scooter once a week for ‘Prayers’ after prep. He also did some rowing coaching and drove the college bus transporting crews to regattas. Basically a good chap, but prone to sarcasm. It was he who caught me riding Mike Nicholson’s grid in the dark one night without lights when I was not allowed a grid and nearly ran over his black Labrador. Result was “housemasters” and the punishment was four cuts accurately delivered by Hoops after lights out when I was in my pyjamas. I was unable to sit for two days, but enjoyed hero status during that time!
The Captain Superintendent, to whom I think he is referring, was Captain AFP (Patrick) Lewis C.B.E. R.N. (Retd). He did have a Great Dane, but I can’t remember its name.
Sadly, I hate to burst Frank’s love torn heart about Joan Hodges (who I do not recall –however, there was a youngish well developed woman who served in the Bursar’s store, called I think, Anne, to whom I think one or two of the older cadets displayed amourous intentions. The Captain’s secretary at the time was a Miss Vincent, who I can only really describe in the S.African vernacular as a “Thin lipped viper”!
Tiger Knights – retired RN PTO instructor. Legendary fellow and not to be trifled with. The other retired RN CPO was Jackie Finch, the College Master at Arms and fencing great. Saw service in the 1st WW and was proud of his medals headed by the 1st WW trio. He was the deliverer of cuts for those poor cadets whose misdemeanor was so great that they had to attend ‘Captains” and suffer whatever ghastly fate awaited. The other dreadful punishment dished out by Captains was having to run round the Parade Ground holding logs above ones head. And I think, too, you had to stand by the dias for every parade, including Sunday Divisions.
The DOS was K (Kenneth) I Toplis MA (Cantab). Seemed to smoke his pipe endlessly; I recall his office in Study Area being stained brown with nicotine. He was a good chap, hard working, who tried to upgrade the NCP’s academics, but I always felt was let down by the poor calibre of teaching staff – with a few exceptions. With my fairly regular “Red Card’ I was well known to him.
Frank’s CCC of Hesperus for 1963/64 was my old friend NRHO (Nigel) Harley. The CCCC for that year was Gregor Cumming. For Morrison, he is remembering Garth Morrison who was CCCC, I think in 1961. He was a good chap and became a famous OP in his illustrious career, being made a Knight of the Thistle and dying (of cancer) too young in his early 70s a few years ago.
If Frank was a bugler in the Band he would remember RIB (Sam) Strachan who was Drum Major I think in 1962 and now lives in Melbourne, Australia. He and I keep in touch and you also know him well. Others in the Band during his time would have included Colin Childs, Graeme Veitch, Tim Dow (who went into the police) and Sean Rhodes.”
Robin Knight (56-61) added: “We last heard of Gbola Sodeinde (59-63) in 2005 when he met Michael Askwith (59-63) when Michael was on a UN mission to Nigeria. After leaving the College, Gbola continued his education in both the UK and USA, majoring in Business Administration at the US International University in San Diego. He then returned to Nigeria and worked in various administrative, business and research appointments until his retirement in 2004. He was the first African cadet to attend the College and was a very popular – a speedy wing three-quarter, outstanding runner, Cadet Leader, and member of the Guard. We haven’t heard from Gbola since but at the time (June 2005) he said he would be very pleased to have further contacts with OPs, so if anyone is in Lagos you can reach him on 0805 246 3282 or c/o his email address firstname.lastname@example.org