Harrow County School for Boys

BIG BILL TURNER

by Sidney Fooks

Few Old Gayts will remember Big Bill, for he joined the staff in 1922 and left after four years. His job was to run physical training and he was succeeded, of course, by "Swanny" Amos. I got to know him intimately. The sadness of his life was that his wife was an alcoholic, never got out, and the end was not long in coming. They had no children.

Bill was a model of physique, 6'4" tall, sandy hair and freckled. He blinked constantly. Once early on, when I went up to the School field I saw Bill at the top of the field, clad in his running strip and practising sprint starts. He told me he ran the 100 yards sprint professionally and was practising for a match at Preston at the weekend for 100 purse. Whether he won or not I cannot remember.

In World War I he was a captain in a Scots battalion and had been seconded for special duty by the War Office in 1917, the year of the Russian revolution. The project was to bring help to the Bolsheviks, who were trying to oppose the Communists. Aid was to be sent by troops going to Northern Russia, but Bill was made a Colonel and given command of a battalion going to Persia. They were to go north and create a diversion. The mission failed.

After demobilisation he had various jobs, ultimately being appointed to the staff of the School. The great surpnse for me came when he told me he was leaving to take a post as a lecturer in English Literature at St Mary's Training College at Hammersmith. To my question he admitted he had no qualification in English, although he had an M.A. degree of Edinburgh University. Further questioning revealed that he would rely on his exceptional memory: he would buy a good history of English Literature, read a chapter through a couple of times and give it as a lecture the next day. To prove to me his remarkable talent he said he would read 25 lines of Milton once and repeat it. To my astonishment he did.

How he got on at St Mary's College I do not know, but the next surprise was a letter from him saying that he had been appointed Principal of the Training College at Hyderabad in India. That was the last I heard of him - except that from time to time I received copies of Shakespeare plays edited by him.

In time these ceased to come, but he was an extraordinary character.

Sidney Fooks

Reprinted from the 1989 Old Gaytonian by permission of Colin Dickins


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