British Veterans Fencing lost a member last weekend, I learnt last evening, but one that few would have head of. David was an ‘inactive’ member of the BVF and in fact was quite inactive in all ways except for his coaching.
He was a stalwart of Wolverhampton Fencing Club and almost single-handedly kept it afloat in recent years. He was 78.
For the benefit of those who didn’t know him, David was, when I first moved to the Midlands nearly 40 years ago, a teacher at the Royal School in Wolverhampton. In the early years he would turn out in things like the President’s Cup (Regional Team Championships) for Wolves FC but mainly restricted himself to coaching both there and at school. He always produced a good number of entries to the BYC Regional Qualifiers and other schools events. Those who are old enough will remember him turning up with his charges and organising them, refereeing and generally helping out, always in his well-worn Gannex raincoat. One of my early memories of fencing sabre was hitting an opponent on the little finger, in a freezing sports hall, turning to see if the judges had noticed and seeing David with one finger extracted from the pocket of the Gannex and raised as much as the pocket would allow.
I wonder at his discipline in school because the boys were often very disrespectful of him, although those who stuck with the sport, I think, came to respect him for what he did for them. He certainly had a good percentage of them over the years who qualified for the nationals, although I have no memory of how well any of them did at that level.
A rather diffident and private man, he was generous and gave of himself freely. He came from a Cumbrian farming family and inherited the large family farm when his father died. Whether that prompted him to give up teaching I don’t know but he left the profession, I think in his early 50’s. He remained in Wolverhampton, having no interest in becoming a farmer. He certainly helped his pupils financially, buying kit both for individuals and the club and, when such things weren’t frowned upon, ferrying them round to competitions without asking for any travel contribution.
Despite increasing ill health in recent years he continued to turn up as regular as clockwork to look after his little flock of youngsters – and still brought a few youngsters along to the BYC’s.
When I visited the club after a number of years not doing so, about 15 months ago, I was saddened to see the he was reduced to moving laboriously with the aid of a Zimmer frame. That didn’t stop him though. He was coaching away all evening.
I think one can say that he was one of those ‘unsung heroes’ one reads about. His efforts have probably gone unnoticed by most of us. It is highly likely that the only reward he has had for them has been his own personal satisfaction when one of his fencers achieved something worthwhile.