John Kemsley Smallcombe – In Memoriam


Assistant Master MTBS 1963-1988

Having been appointed to teach geography and to take responsibility for careers, John and his wife, Barbara, moved from the south of England to 54 Coronation Drive, Crosby in the summer of 1963.  For the next five decades JKS was to become a familiar figure in the local area, often to be seen riding his ‘sit up and beg’ bicycle in the vicinity of the College Road shops.

Born in Sittingbourne, Kent, JKS was the middle child of three siblings.  His younger sister, Jean, moved to south eastern Australia many years ago and was, in the last two years, delighted to be able to chat with her brother via the use of skype.

JKS attended Chippenham Grammar School where he was Head Boy.  Always an enthusiastic sportsman he enjoyed many outdoor pursuits and, on leaving school, he joined the Forces towards the end of the Second World War and trained as a pilot.  He spent time in the Far East in a number of places, including Rangoon, and, for a period, worked as a code-decipherer.

Some of the happiest years of JKS’ life were spent at the University of Cambridge.  As an undergraduate of Peterhouse he enjoyed an active social life, taking part in plays, attending balls and competing on the sports field.  During holidays skiing trips were taken abroad with friends, and horse riding and mountain climbing were also enjoyed.

On leaving Cambridge JKS worked at Harrods and then for a furniture company, Horrockses, before deciding to go to Bristol to qualify for a teaching certificate.

Throughout his time at Merchant Taylors’ Boys’ School JKS enjoyed maintaining close links with his alma mater and, in his role as Careers Master, was instrumental in organising boys’ visits to his old college of Peterhouse and in his support of the Old Crosbeian Cambridge Dinners.  Many pupils were given valuable help and encouragement by JKS in the careers guidance he gave at school and his wisdom and sagacity were much appreciated and valued.

JKS’ contribution to the life of MTS was not limited to the areas of geography and careers.  An active and enthusiastic sportsman, he assisted with junior rugby teams and in the years following the opening of the swimming pool showed a strong commitment to swimming and to the John Harrison Club.  His first-hand experience of flying also proved invaluable in the work and leadership he gave to the Air Force Section of the school’s Combined Cadet Force.  For many years cadets benefited greatly from his considerable knowledge and expertise.

JKS’ home and social life were also of immense importance to him.  A close friend and colleague on the MTS staff was the Art Master, Trevor Hughes, with whom JKS enjoyed many bicycle outings, riding along the Leeds Liverpool canal towpaths, often involving refreshment breaks for cool beers carried in the basket of JKS’ bike. Holiday coach excursions the length and breadth of Britain were a feature of John and Barbara’s married life and cultural trips to Theatre Clwyd with another good friend and colleague, John Kent, and wife, Mary, were much enjoyed.

In retirement, with another close friend and former colleague, Charles Bailey, the two travelled by train to places where they could go walking for miles, enjoying the fresh air and attractive scenery of the English countryside. Dedicated to help improve the quality of life of those less fortunate and privileged than himself, JKS became involved with adult literacy and numeracy classes held at the Cambridge Road, Waterloo Centre.  As well as the important voluntary work he did as a Samaritan, at the age of seventy four JKS enrolled on a counselling course at John Moore’s University.  This co-incided with the then Prime Minister’s wife, Cherie Blair, becoming Chancellor of JMU.  As the most senior student on the campus JKS was asked to make a speech and, years later, revealed a hand written note from Mrs Blair saying how wonderful it was to have met him and how inspiring his speech had been.  She signed off with “Much Love, Cherie Blair”.  JKS completed the counselling course and went on to put it to good use in the help and support he was able to give to others.

All those who met him or knew him well, recognized JKS as being a quintessential gentleman.  Following Barbara’s death in November 2014, and for the rest of the two years of his life, JKS lived with increasing dementia and received twenty four hour care. Lorna Cooney, his chief carer, who became a close and trusted companion to JKS wrote, “The time I spent with John will remain a special time in my life and that’s because of the gentleman John was.  He was old school, a man who exuded charm and sophistication irrespective of whatever situation in which he would find himself.  John had this natural ability to hold a room, to command attention without uttering a word.  This was the man who still tipped his hat if he passed a lady. A man who at ninety years of age would stand aside to let a mum pushing a pram go ahead of him through a door, despite the fact that it was difficult for him to stand.  A man who never forgot to express his gratitude for any gesture of help or support offered him.  A man with a wicked sense of humour and a sparkle in his eye.  Lorna further observes, “John was also diagnosed with end stage kidney failure and the medical team that supported John throughout that time, were wonderful. John’s charm and charisma played a part in this.  He had a way about him that made people want to do the best they could by him, simply because of the person he was.”

Even past the age of eighty, JKS’ passion for swimming never waned.  In the company of former colleagues, Phil Judge and Dave Blower, he maintained his round the year routine of three early morning swims of forty lengths in the school pool.

Attended by family, friends and former colleagues, JKS’ funeral was at Thornton Crematorium on 24th November, 2016.  On Saturday 10th December, the anniversary of Barbara and John’s wedding in St Peter’s Church, Woolton, their ashes were scattered among the sand dunes of Crosby’s beach, a place they had so often enjoyed walking together, accompanied by their dog, Dougan.