Mr. Sidney Frank Fooks, M.C. - (written in 1996)Born in Salisbury on 25th August 1892, 'Beaky' Fooks went quietly to sleep last May at the age of 103 in his beloved Winchcombe.
There were so many milestones in his life, and such affection and loyalty from his former pupils at Harrow County and his friends everywhere, that much that would be said at this time has appeared in these pages over the years.
His life had four distinct stages, the first being his childhood and education in very modest circumstances and the second his war service. No one has ever heard what act of bravery earnt him the MC - he would never talk about it and, indeed, it was only in very recent years that he could bear to talk of the War at all, perhaps because he first found release in his poetry, perhaps because he felt a historical imperative. He certainly co-operated in his late nineties with more than one academic archivist anxious to preserve first-hand accounts of that bloodiest of wars.
The rest of Beaky's life may or may not have been moulded by his experience on the Somme, although he did once say, in an aside, that "it ruined my middle years." That is a sombre thought, for these were the third stage of his life, the Harrow County years. Those who knew him as a teacher would never call those years ruined; rather, they were years of enormous fulfilment and such influence in the quiet profession he chose that many of those who came under his tutelage stayed devotedly and affectionately in touch for the rest of his life. How or when he was dubbed "Beaky" he could not recall, although he once confided that "1 never much cared for it." Of course, he saw the passing of many of his pupils - the youngest of whom can scarcely be less than sixty now - and there were still something like fifty in touch a couple of years ago.
The fourth stage, of course, was the longest, his retirement lasting nearly 44 years. He took early retirement at 60 (a sad blow to at least one boy, still only half way through his 'A' Level English!) 'while I am still young enough to make something of it.' He took up painting and became a considerable water-colourist.
Moving first to High Wycombe, he soon moved to Winchcombe, in which he passed the rest of his life in blissful rural idyll. His cottage was a mile or two outside the village in tranquil Corndean, and not another building could be seen from his window. It was here that he wrote his dozen or more delightful volumes of Winchcombe Verses. Many friends who received them would send him a contribution to his favourite charity, LSPRA.
When he moved there, Beaky reckoned that it would take twenty years to become accepted. Whether it did take that long he never mentioned, but he certainly became a local celebrity and was loved by his many friends and cared for by them as his mobility diminished. None cared more generously and affectionately than Doris Moore, a one-time neighbour, who visited him often, saw his installation into the retirement home where he spent his last eighteen months and arranged his funeral.
It was an occasion he would have approved of thoroughly, perfectly organised, sad without being solemn, a quiet celebration of a well-ordered life which demanded little and gave much. There was a good turn-out of Old Gayts and Hylton Oberst spoke superbly. After reading two of Beaky's verses, the second Dotty with Decimals, he went on to say:-
I think we all knew that Sidney had a sense of humour, but the sense of mischief, of irreverence in that poem was not appreciated - not even suspected - by those of us who were his pupils at Harrow County School.
For Mr Fooks the schoolmaster was a figure of immense authority, though he never needed to use the battery of sanctions that schoolmasters had at their disposal in those days, detentions, the 100 lines, or - the ultimate - a painful interview with the Headmaster. All it took was a sort of growl from Beaky Fooks: "Settle down! Get on with your work. LET THE OTHER FELLOW ALONE!" to quieten the most lively class.
Apart from that, we remember perhaps three things about him:-
He was a modest man. He never talked of his achievements. He never talked about the Great War, or his part in it, or how he won the Military Cross.
He was a discreet and loyal man. He never shared with us the staff-room tittle-tattle, and he didn't murmur during the turmoil that followed the retirement of Randall Williams as Headmaster in 1946.
Above all, he was an enthusiast for his subject. He introduced us to the works of Chaucer, to the poems of Keats and Shelley, and Browning, to the novels of Trollope and Thomas Hardy. He infected us with his own enjoyment of Shakespeare, and especially his most colourful characters, Beatrice and Benedick, Dogberry and Verges, Sir John Falstaff, Bardolph, Nym and Ancient Pistol. Each generation will have its own cast of characters, depending on the "set books".
For many of us he was, quite simply, the best schoolmaster that we ever knew. And in saying goodbye to Sidney Fooks, we can do no better than turn to the last page in our own School service book, put together by Randall Williams and George Thorn in 1923, the year after Sidney joined the staff of the County School. It is quite short:-
"Oh Lord, who has supported us all the day long of this troublous life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes and the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over and Sidney's work is done; now Lord, in thy mercy, grant him safe lodging, a holy rest and peace at the last. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
Many reminiscences of Beaky Fooks have come our way since the first news of his death, one a rare anecdote of his war-time experiences. He was leading a patrol searching derelict farmhouses. As he entered the darkened doorway of one he was struck violently across the back of the neck. Fearing the worst, he discovered to his slightly embarrassed relief that he had trodden on a wooden rake leaning against the wall!
Another concerned an incident in the Staff Common Room at School. In a heated argument between two members of staff one moved to strike the other. Beaky, an older and most un-physical man, put himself squarely between them and said to the aggressor, "You'll have to deal with me first." A schoolboy of that era might be surprised that such an episode could occur, but none would be surprised that Beaky restored peace by the effortless command he had over unruly behaviour.
For us many former pupils still in touch, it was as much a pleasure and a privilege to hear his voice, to read his letters, as it had been to share in his classes. We met him as a schoolmaster, but soon and for ever he was a man whose friendship and caring concern we treasured and who treasured ours. We shall miss him enormously.
Colin G. Dickens
From the Old Gaytonian 1996 (Copies of the 2000 issue available from Colin Dickins - Colin@north-wood.demon.co.uk )
Sidney Fooks at Craiglockhart War Hospital
The HYDRA was the magazine of the Craiglockhart War Hospital. Wilfred Owen was editor for six issues from 21 July 1917. Later issues were edited by J.B Salmond, an experienced journalist and minor war poet. The hospital doctors believed that it was essential for shellshock victims to be as active as possible, so the magazine was run by and for the patients, with the main purpose of advertising events and activities.
Issue number 5 - June 21st 1917 records the arrival at the hospital of Captain S. F. Fooks of the London Regiment.
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