John Mountford, who died in June 2022 aged 93, did not enjoy the best of starts at Wellington College in 1942. First, illness then extensive damage done by German bombing around Exeter caused prolonged transport havoc, delaying our father’s arrival for his first term. Despite this beginning, he was, in later life, able to reflect on five very happy years at Wellington: the friendships he made, some strong academic success, which later led to reading PPE in Brasenose at Oxford and the enjoyment of a variety of first class sporting opportunities. His highlight though was undoubtedly being awarded the King’s Medal after being Head of College in 1947.
He was born in 1928 in Nevern Square in Earl’s Court. Tragically, his father died suddenly aged 40 when he was only 8 months old. He also had an elder brother, Dick, who had died 2 years before aged just 4 months old. He had no memories of either. He must often have wondered how life could have been different, but he never dwelt on this or felt sorry for himself. He did know about his grandfather, E W Mountford, an architect whose main claim to fame was as the architect of the Old Bailey and numerous other public buildings.
He was brought up by his mother, who must have been an extraordinary woman. They were not well off. After war broke out, they left London and moved to Cornwall, after his prep school relocated from Sussex to Padstow. His mother and grandmother moved to Daymer Bay in Trebetherick. Here he spent many happy times in a beautiful part of the world, and no doubt first developed his love of food including real clotted cream!
During his three war years at college, he recalled many uncomfortable nights wrapped in sleeping bags in the air raid shelters but thankfully they suffered no bombs. He also recalls going to harvest camps, stacking corn into stooks, as part of the school’s contribution to the war effort. The boys were always well informed about the progress of the war through newspapers and were allowed to crowd around the radio in the evenings to listen to important broadcasts including Churchill’s inspiring speeches. They would hear in person the direct experiences of returning OWs, including winners of at least two VCs and Field Marshall Sir Claude Auchinleck himself. School-leavers would, of course, go straight into the forces, and hearing of their wounding or killing in action truly brought home the horrors of war. He also recalled exactly where he was when in May 1945 the Germans surrendered.
Our father remembered with fondness his tutor and housemaster of the Anglesey, Claud Hughes-Games, and his wife Winifred. He was also privileged in his last year to get to know well the Master of Wellington, Wilfred House, and came to appreciate how strongly he felt about the welfare and success of the boys, and of the college in general during an incredibly testing period.
He went straight from Wellington into National Service. We often teased our father about the fact he had never passed a driving test. Out of the blue and with next to no experience, he had been appointed Transport Officer whilst in the Royal Artillery, which came with an automatic driving license, thus escaping the civilian requirement. From there to Oxford, he had originally been offered a place at Brasenose to read modern languages until a very senior manager at ICI, the renowned industrials group, advised him to improve his graduate job prospects by reading Economics. I suspect the last minute change would not have gone down well at Oxford!
His close friends at Brasenose were mostly developed from sporting interests. He played rugby for the college, at least when the Blues were elsewhere. Playing cricket with The Hornets, he recalled the ignominy at Hook Norton of their star batsman hitting his ball into the open-roofed corrugated outside loo, with the clattering din announcing his bowling shame to the world. Despite this instance, he loved the delightful venues and camaraderie that the best of village cricket offered.
But the pivotal and most important point of his life came whilst he was in his third year at Oxford. There he met Wendy Gowlland, introduced by a mutual friend, another OW, Michael Bardsley (C 47). In our father’s informal and incomplete memoir, he recorded the headlines: “1952 – introduced to Wendy Gowlland in January, danced in February & March, engaged in April!” They must have done more than danced but suffice to say they married a year later.
At an Oxford Ball, suffering, he claimed, from a rugby injury, our father records that our mother found him very timid and said she had to push him from the main dance floor into a dimly lit, in quotes, “smooch room” – whatever that was! He said, they never looked back after that!
After graduation, he did indeed join ICI and transferred not long after to IMI, the metals division in Birmingham, in all spending 25 years in industry, as he rose to senior ranks. Amongst other things, he knew everything there was to know about titanium used in all sorts of high specification applications, from nuclear submarines, jet engines and Formula One racing cars to “go-faster” hip joints. His career took him all around the world and on occasion our mother was able to travel with him.
Imbued also with a sense of public duty, he seized the opportunity in 1974 to become a magistrate in Solihull, Warwickshire, which gave him an entirely different perspective on life. He found this very worthwhile and a way of giving back to the community. When our parents moved south following early retirement from IMI, he joined the Esher & Walton Bench spending, in all, well over 20 years as a magistrate, some of those as Chairman. In a different sphere and era, he also shared stints chairing the Solihull Conservative Association.
It spoke to our father’s tenacity and determination that after leaving industry earlier than he might have hoped following a restructuring, he moved into two completely different and demanding fields, which took him through to full time retirement. Both were running trade bodies. The first, the British Independent Steel Producers’ Association (BISPA), represented the UK steel industry. The second, the Fine Art Trade Guild, led to him becoming a member of the Stationer’s Company and a Freeman of the City of London.
My father was mightily proud of his family of four children and twelve grandchildren, although he may not have always said it out loud very often. Typically English you might say. Our parents reached their 69th wedding anniversary in April last year, an amazing achievement in itself; for many, they were joined at the hip.
Our father’s legacy cannot be in doubt – his family and friends can testify to that.
We are and will always be hugely thankful for him.
With special thanks to Toby (A 72) and The Mountford Family.