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Colin Silk to James Essex

A letter to an old pupil

From Norma Essex

IN December 2000 Colin Silk wrote a letter of reply to James Essex who, on learning that his old English master was still alive, had written to him from Australia. We have Colin's reply here, kindly sent in by James's wife who found it while clearing up his papers after his death in 2004. James had been very grateful for the many advantages gained by his short period of schooling at LCGS before he left to join the Royal Navy during the war. He spent several years in the Far East at sea followed by a long career in journalism in the UK and Australia.

At the time Colin wrote his reply he was suffering from several disabilities, notably his sight, hearing and to a lesser degree his coordination and memory. The writing was somewhat difficult to read so his wife Beryl added some extra details to his letter before it was posted to James.

To enable the Old Lewesians read Colin's writing on the OL website, Beryl has recently kindly provided us with a transcription which is appended below. We hope that former pupils of Colin will find this letter of interest and they will, no doubt, not be surprised that his interest and skill in English, Theatre and Rugby have been passed on to his descendants!

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13 Highdown Road
East Sussex

December 2000

My dear James,

Lovely to hear from you after all these years! I hope you will be able to read this, but as I will tell you my eyesight is bad and I can't properly see what I write, as I write it. Yes, I am fortunate enough to be 90 years old but as you suggest not without restrictions. I am registered partialy sighted, so I qualify to be a member of the Royal National Institution for the Blind Talking Book Service which I find a great blessing, though my hearing is bad as well, so I don't know how much longer I can go on hearing the tapes. I feel I am one of the luckiest men I know, so I shall not give up yet awhile. At the moment I feel I shall be stone deaf in time! Fortunately I have the most wonderful wife, who rescues me time and again.

Now, James, do I remember you? I hope I do. What comes to my mind is a good-looking boy with dark hair. I hope I am right. I have quite lost touch with Ken Hills. For a while he and his wife were near neighbours of us here, and my son Nicholas used to baby sit for them. They, like us, were members of the Lewes Theatre Club, so we had quite a lot of contact. 1942 was the year I was called up. My eyesight was bad then, and I was called to the RAOC as an insructor and went off to Saltburn by the Sea for a couple of years. Then I got a commission and transferred to the pioneer Corps. We were fire-watching in Liverpool & then in Wimbledon & then I was summoned again to be attached to the Indian Pioneer Corps, & went to India to learn Urdu (not a good pupil, I fear). Then off to Rangoon and eventually home on St. Valentine's day. All an interesting experience! So in 1946 I was back at our School in Lewes where I remained till I retired in 1975.

Our twins (boy and girl) did well at school and both got to Oxford. Our son turned out to be a good rugby player. He captained the Oxford Rugby XV which just lost to Cambridge and went on to play four times for England. As you may guess I was very proud. Judith became a beautiful girl and a good actress. At Oxford she met her husband, and it wasn't long before they got married - the first wedding in the School Chapel. Like all our family they are very loving and good to me. Nicholas became a Doctor at Peterfield and they had a girl and three boys. We also have a second daughter, who married a former pupil of mine who is head of English at Pate's, a school in Cheltenham. They have four (4) sons, of whom we are very fond. In fact we are lucky to have a large & living family, who don't live too far away & are a great joy to us as well as kind. Amanda - our youngest daughter is second in the English Department at Cheltenham Ladies College. We are due to go to her for Christmas. Chris will come and fetch us. We don't know exactly when!

Now back to your letter which I found extremely interesting. I'm sorry you had such a painful experience with the Japanese. Judith's father-in-law was a prisoner for a bit, but he is dead now (at 85) so I can't ask him if he confirms your views.

My wife Beryl and I have been married for 60 years - which shows how lucky I have been. We not only have three children. We also have eleven grandchildren, four great grandchildren.

I see you are back in Australia, temporarily coping with avocados. If you any chance you return to England, do give us a ring with the idea of coming to see us. Our telephone number is 472929.

I realise I forgot to mention that I am in poor shape physically, as my balance is rather uncertain and I walk with two sticks. Sad that walking used to be one of my greatest plesures! Still you can't have everything, I admire you being able to carry on with a quadruple by-pass!

With kindest regards to you too. I'm so glad you wrote.


Colin Silk died in May 2003 aged 92