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The Maltonian Web - Biography

Thomas Arthur Williams

Head, Malton Grammar School 1938-1951

Notes provided by Mr Williams' granddaughter and her husband, Penny and Mike Bassey, in November 2007. Also a tribute by Alfred Barty in the 1951 Maltonian, and a news clipping from 1915. Some photographs were also sent.

Thomas Arthur Williams

Thomas Arthur Williams was born on 6 July 1888 at 60 Bennett Street, Newton (just north of Chester), the son of Frederick Williams, described as a clerk, and Sarah.  Frederick was born in Chester in 1852: the certificate of his marriage to Sarah Ann Hall (aged 24) in 1879 gives his father as John Dicken Williams (a builder) and hers as Thomas Henry Hall (a waiter).  As the family tree shows, Thomas Hall (1828-1889) and his wife Ellen nee Sheen (1836-1916, born in Ireland), had eight children.  [Family legend has it that an ancestor was mayor of Chester and is commemorated on a plaque erected after the cathedral was renovated.  Sir Gilbert Scott renovated the cathedral in the mid 19th century and  a John Williams was mayor 1849-51 and 1862-3.  It is yet to be discovered whether he was a forbear].

Frederick (1852-c1920) and Sarah (1855-c1941) had six children:

  • Kathleen Mary (Cass) (1880-1979) – unmarried – school teacher
  • Norah Gertrude (Lu) (1882-1960) – unmarried – school teacher
  • Marjorie Ellen (Madge) (1884-1969) – unmarried - deaf
  • John Frederick (Jack) (1886-1946) – BSc of Manchester University - married Dorothy – parents of Patricia; he was a school head and a president of the National Association of Head Teachers
  • Thomas Arthur (Tom) (1888-1964) – BSc and MSc of Manchester University - married Isobella Mackie (1897-1935) in 1920 – parents of Eleanor (Peggy); in 1940 married Eleanor Nancy Hyde Orr (Nell) – parents of John and Angela – head of Malton Grammar School
  • Dorothy Ada (Dolly) (1891-c1974) - married Samuel Austin in 1913 – parents of Mary and George – trained in tailoring

In 1917 they were living at 12 Beechwood Avenue, Romily near Stockport, having previously been at Woodbank, Breek End, Chapel en le Frith.  Frederick must have been reasonably well off in order to send the two sons to university.  Cass, Lu, Madge, and later Dolly, were the 'aunts at Southport' who Penny remembers fondly from visits there.  She also remembers Tom, as her Grandpa, a kindly gentleman meeting her at York station and driving her to Holmgarth, the Malton home, for holidays: and later when sadly he was wheelchair-bound after a stroke. 

Tom had an eventful life.  Aged 26 he joined the Royal Naval Division at the beginning of World War I and, taking part in the disastrous landings at Gallipoli, was wounded, taken to Malta where he developed jaundice, and then to Alexandria.  Later he joined the Yorkshire Regiment – the Green Howards – and was commissioned:  in France he was captured and became a prisoner of war at Lahr near Baden Baden.  His Colonel wrote to his father to say he was missing believed killed, but later the Red Cross informed the family of his capture.   He returned to Malton Grammar School, where he had taught for a year before the war, as senior master in 1919.  The next year he married Isabella Mackie and their daughter Eleanor (Peggy) was born in 1921.  Isabella died, aged 37 in 1935 and Peggy went to live in Edinburgh with her mother’s sister, Auntie Annie, only to return when war broke out in 1939 because her father feared Edinburgh would be bombed.  Tom had become headmaster of Malton Grammar School in 1937 and in 1940 married Eleanor Nancy Hyde Orr (Nell) (who had taught French in the school).  They had two children: John and Angela.  He retired in 1951 and died in 1964 after a severe stroke that left him more or less speechless and in a wheelchair.  According to the obituary notice in the local newspaper he was: an officer of the Grand Lodge of Freemasons; county secretary of the North Riding Boy Scouts’ Association for more than 20 years;  vicar's warden at St Leonard's Church, Malton; and for many years a member of the Urban Council.    Nell, his widow for 40 years, died in December 2004.

Thomas Arthur Williams (1888-1964)

(further notes)

Further records of Tom have come to light including copies of letters with the signature of his father (Frederick) and two photographs of his mother (Sarah nee Hall).  One letter, dated 12 January 1918, acknowledges receipt of Tom's discharge certificate from the RNVR and Hurt Certificate and the other, dated 4 September 1917, acknowledges receipt of Tom’s Commission (as 2nd Lieutenant in the Green Howards) – a curious juxtaposition of dates!  A naval form recording his being wounded at Gallipoli asked, ‘sober/not sober?’:  he was sober.  The difference between this question (for ratings) and the flowery language (for officers from the King) of his Commission document is a reminder of social attitudes of that time.   Tom was in the 5th battalion of the Green Howards and the pages of the history of that battalion in 1917/18 give detailed accounts of the front-line fighting in which he was involved and in which so many officers and men were killed and wounded.  He was gassed on 5 September 1917 and in April, after the Battle of the Lys, was reported missing – he had in fact been taken prisoner.  By the end of June 1918 the 5th Green Howards consisted of no more than 7 officers and 151 other ranks and a few days before the end of the war, the 5th Battalion was demobilized – due to 'heavy losses incurred'. In all probability Tom only survived because he was out of the fighting as a POW.

A note from the York Gazette 10 July 1915, sent in by Michael Hickes in February 2008

Mr T A Williams, a former teacher at the Malton Grammar School, who is now with the 1st Naval Brigade newar the Gallipoli Peninsula, has written to the Grammar School headmaster (Mr E L Watt) as follows: - "We landed unmolested, the Turkish line being a number of miles from the point. We could hear the heavy artillery fire, but no artillery. We collected our gear and after a march for a mile were told to dig ourselves in defore dawn.  Up to last week-end we had no real scrapping.  We were shelled daily, but had no casualties.  At the first sign of danger we were ordered to the dug-outs.  On Firday there was somthing like a baombardment of the Turkish positions, and their casulaties must have been enormous.  Within a mile or so of the firing line the danger from rifle fire commenced.  Sniping a la T. is a very thorough business.  The man and his equipment are painted green from head to foot and victims are numerous.  In general attack we had to advance on hand and knee, and we got back to the rest camp with perhaps a dozen casualties, including two killed. 

A list from the Victoria University of Manchester shows that Tom gained a Class II Teacher's Certificate in October 1911.  A newspaper photograph shows him with his troop of boy scouts at the 1929 World Jamboree at Arrowe Park, Birkenhead.  A newspaper obituary notes that he was District Commissioner of scouts for the Malton area, and ‘during the 1939-45 war helped to organise the local Home Guard and also initiated and commanded the Air Training Corps – so over his lifetime he served in all three armed forces.

In June 1965 a former teacher, Mr D J Lloyd, wrote The History of Malton  Grammar School, 1547-1904; 1911-1965. This tells us much more about the man himself.

TAW's years of office [as Headmaster], though they brought the School many successes and much praiseworthy achievement, were a time of acute difficulties.  Barely had he taken the measure of his task than School and nation were overcome by the horrors of the Second World War, and he and his depleted Staff were coping as best they could with a flood of evacuees, shortage of books and equipment, and all the vexations of war. ... The difficulties did not vanish with the armistice, for the astringencies of wartime continued throughout the Forties and there were then to be accommodated all the changes and upheavals brought about by the 1944 Education Act and the other legislation of the new Welfare State.

If ever one man personified MGS it is surely TAW.  Quite apart from the success of his Headmastership the School owes much to his work as an extraordinarily active Assistant Master.  Coming to the School in 1913 he quickly threw himself whole-heartedly into all its activities, in the classroom and on the sports field.  He taught Science with flair and firm direction, he established the School’s fine traditions for Football and Cricket, he founded its Scout troop, he participated in its concerts and entertainments, he organized School outings.  But what the School gained from TAW was far more than the sum of all his activities, as Head or as Assistant. it was the man himself, and this is the theme that runs throughout the many tributes paid to him on his retirement in 1951.  His parting gift to the School was a handsome Bible, bearing on its flysheet the simple words: 'To MGS from TAW'. 

As his successor, Mr Taylor, said at Speech Day, 1951: 'The inscription shows the essential humility of the man; the gift his Christianity'.

TAW's colleague for thirty-two years, Mr Barty, wrote of him in The Maltonian, in the course of an account of his many services to the School:

... Then came 1939. In spite of the ever increasing burdens his wonderful good humour and consideration for others still persisted ...Through all the changes that life has brought he has remained my friend, but he will know that I write with sincerity on behalf of all my colleagues when I assure him of not only of our admiration for his work but of our personal affection and wish him a long and happy life. Though he may have relinquished the cares of office, we know that he will continue to serve his fellows as unselfishly as he has always done...

And indeed so it proved.  Typically, TAW continued to live close to the School that had been his life, and though the later years of his retirement were shadowed by serious illness, he never failed, when health allowed, to take the closest interest in the affairs of MGS and in the lives of the hundreds of Maltonians he had known .  His death in the autumn of 1964 was a grievous loss to all of us who have the School at heart.

Schooldays at MGS during this period, under the firm but benevolent rule of Mr Williams, were reputedly pleasant ones – as pleasant, that is, as schooldays could be anywhere with the fears and economies of wartime, and the austerities of post-war recovery.  Discipline, it would seem, was more rigid than under the earlier regime.  Mr Williams, the most just and kindly of Headmasters, had little tolerance for rowdy or anti-social behaviour, but his personality was such that it needed only the infrequent use of the cane to bring the unruly to heel.  Steady work, he believed, was the essential business of a grammar school, though he could play as hard – and as skilfully – as the next man when the occasion demanded.  Yet the intimate, friendly atmosphere of a country grammar school lost nothing on account of this firmer authority and direction.

There are two references to his wives.  Isabella (Peggie as she was known), described as 'always so popular a figure at School functions' and Nell: Miss Orr, who was in charge of French and also Senior Mistress ... left the Staff in 1940 for the happiest of reasons, her marriage to the Headmaster.  She returned to teach French in 1947 after giving birth to John and Angela.

A tribute to Thomas Arthur Williams
by Alfred Barty, which appeared following his retirement in the 1951 Maltonian

" T.A.W."

For those of us who have spent many years of our lives in Malton, it will be strange indeed to think of M.G.S. without T.A.W. During a friendship of over 32 years I have accumulated many happy memories of my association with him as my colleague and as Headmaster. I can remember the happy and more or less carefree days of the 1920's; our little adventures together in the Territorials; our School excursions; our jaunt to visit the battlefields of 1914-18 which we had both known; not forgetting our sea-sickness on the Ostend boat, which, even on our arrival at Victoria, prevented us from imbibing anything stronger than sodawater.

Our income in those days was meagre and our pleasures had to be simple. Those were the days when it was a struggle to get together our lists of furniture; but we enjoyed many happy evenings trying out one or other of T.A.W.'s seemingly inexhaustible repertoire of card games, or possibly trying to polish up his preposterous Stanley Holloway monologues.

This happy period was followed by the anxieties and bereavements of the 1930's and life seemed to become more and more grim. His deserved appointment as Headmaster in 1937 was welcomed by us all, but added much to his responsibilities.

Then came 1939. In spite of the ever increasing burdens his wonderful good humour and consideration for others still persisted and even the war years have some happy memories.

It would perhaps be an impertinence for me to speak of his work as Headmaster. While maintaining an the good features which characterized M.G.S. under his predecessor he made some changes and innovations which greatly raised the general standard of work and behaviour, and moreover secured closer co-operation and friendship between parents and Staff. When any new proposal has been under consideration he has always been prepared to discuss the matter with his staff; and there has been no riding rough-shod over others, even when opinions have differed. It was largely through his wisdom and courage under difficulties that M.G.S. has come through the war and post-war period, and the stamp of his personality must surely abide. .

Through all the changes that life has brought he has remained my friend but he will know that I write with sincerity on behalf of all my colleagues when I assure him of not only our admiration for his work but of our personal affection and wish him a long and happy life. Though he may have relinquished the cares of office we know that he will continue to serve his fellows as unselfishly as he has always done.
A.B.