John and KES

The Old Lennensian is the Newsletter of the Old Lennensians Association, which was revived in 2005 by and for former pupils of King Edward  VII School (KES) in King’s Lynn. The Autumn Edition of the Newsletter, which was published this month, was the first since John died last May. On the front page is an introduction by the Editor, Andrew Stephen:

I could have edited an entire edition on the subject of John Turtle and have had, for the first time, to select some of the many messages I received in an effort to give a true and adequate picture of the man. And how apt this response has been. John, as we all know, was largely responsible for the fact that we have an Association at all and was clearly admired and loved by all who knew him. 

In the rest of the Newsletter there are many lovely messages and memories of John from other members of the Association, in particular a moving tribute from his lifelong friend, David Cobbold.

David writes:

“The Salvete section of The Lennensian for December 1945 lists alphabetically the names of the seventeen boys who had enrolled in the Preparatory Department in the September. At the end of the list, baldly, in accordance with the formality of the times, was “Turtle”. Thus began John’s connection with the School which was to last throughout his life.

John had been born in Huns’ton in 1937 and, unusually for a boy from that town who attended KES, he entered as a boarder whereas most boys travelled daily on the bus. His father, Jack Turtle, was an architect by profession and had married Dorothy, nee Tilson, whose father Edward Tilson ran a building firm in South Wootton. During the Second World War Jack was Garrison Engineer to the town of Hunst’on in which was stationed an Army contingent. This comprised men from various Regiments and included from time to time soldiers from the Brigade of Guards who used to be brought to Lynn to drill on the Tuesday Market Place.

imageAt the end of the War Jack and Dorothy Turtle purchased a plot of land in Sandy Lane, South Wootton, and built what could well have been the first post-War house in Lynn. When it was finished and the family moved in, John ceased to be a boarder – he had not been happy – and was allocated to Keene House as a dayboy.

John had a high IQ and found studying to be relatively easy. He moved up the School in A Forms and in the highest Sets. The same could not be said of his sporting achievements – as a tall rather gangling lad he was not cut out for sport, nor did it interest him.

He was, however, well suited to hold a key job in the Combined Cadet Force, that of Quartermaster. He worked closely with Alf Futter, the assistant groundsman. He had served in the Royal Norfolks during WWII. Together they were in charge of the Armoury, situated in the main building near the Cloakroom and, later, when the Cadet Hut was built beside the railway line, the inter-unit communications equipment which was used on field exercises.

He had an interest in and flair for theatrical productions, which he probably inherited from his mother who had been a keen member of the Hunst’on Players. John’s speciality was stage equipment and when he reached the lower Sixth form he became responsible for the lighting, curtains and scenery in the annual productions of Shakespearean plays and two Gilbert & Sullivan operettas which were held jointly with the girls’ High School.”

image
John plays Cattermole in a KES production of The Private Secretary in December 1955. Michael Begley, who later became a teacher at KES, plays the Curate.

In his later years at KES, John became a prefect and Captain of Keene House. 

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Headmaster A.H. Sleigh is flanked by prefects in May 1955 in front of the statue of King Edward VII in the school grounds. Michael Begley, School Captain, is to the left of the Headmaster and John is behind him.

David continues:

“John left KES in 1956 to become an undergraduate at University College London. He lived in London from then on. But throughout his life John had an abiding love of Norfolk and was a great proponent of the continuation of the Norfolk dialect. He loved to revert to its usage and was a long-time supporter of FOND, the Friends of Norfolk Dialect. An example of this is the “About John” section of his internet Facebook page where he had added “Tha’s none o’yure blooda business, bor. Dew yew want ta be a Nosey Parker too big for yure bewts, do you understand tha’s for me to know and for yew to find out. No, oi ‘int a’ gawn to tell ya”!!

Over a lifetime we have never lost touch completely but inevitably going our separate ways made contact sporadic, particularly as I was away at sea in the deep-sea Merchant Navy for 9 years. We did manage to meet in 1962 when John and Jenny came down one evening to Royal Victoria Docks, London to visit me in the ship on which I was then serving. We exchanged greetings from afar occasionally but it was not until retirement that we resumed regular contact.

It was in 2004 when I visited John at his home in Mill Hill that the idea of reviving the Old Lennensians’ Association came into the conversation. In due course we decided to proceed and the inaugural meeting to revive the Association was held in the Library of the School which in turn led to the Centenary Reunion in 2006. John was the Chairman and his tact, diplomacy, vision and leadership were invaluable in consolidating the re-formed Association and taking it forward.


I pay tribute to a fine friend and gifted man. His approach of meeting everyone on the same level be they bishop, cabinet minister or “man in the street” was admirable and remarkable. He had no time for pretentiousness and was very sincere and genuine.

One of John’s little known talents was writing poetry, an ideal genre for his creativity as it combined his marvellous wit and wry observations of people and life in general. An anthology has been collected and printed by Jenny with an original title “Work Not In Progress”. There are still a few copies available from her in return for a donation to the RNLI.
We shall always remember you John as an appealing, charming, warm hearted, entertaining and attractive personality but perhaps pre-eminently for your clever, witty and laconic sense of humour.. The Association owes much to you for your dedication in reviving its existence based as it was on your nostalgia for the school, your detailed and unsurpassed knowledge of its history and your subsequent unwavering support.

I have lost a steadfast, loyal, sincere and entertaining friend and I shall forever cherish the memories of our many happy times together over a lifetime.

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John and David

John died on the 7th May 2016 and a Service of Thanksgiving was held for him at St Paul’s Church, Mill Hill village on 20th May. Amongst the large congregation were, of course, family members, plus many former colleagues and friends including seven members of the Association.

Requiescat in pace, John, you were an inspiration.”

Thank you so much David, and all the other OLs who contributed to the Newsletter, for their memories of John.

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