Posts Tagged ‘West Mon tragedy’

Further information about the West Mon tragedy in 1947

August 6, 2012

LATER EVIDENCE ABOUT THE WEST MON TRAGEDY

I recently received an email from Mrs Susan Dove who is the daughter of Mr L.J.Wildash who was the art master at West Mon. Unfortunately my over-enthusiastic mail filter put the email into my junk box where it has been languishing until I discovered it today when looking for another expected email which has not yet arrived.

I always try to include on this blog all points of view and, when looking back over 50 or 60 years, our memories can suffer in the matter of accuracy. The memories of both Eric Smith and myself did in the matter of the site of the Peake’s bus crash which I later corrected. Therefore I print below the full email I received from Mr Wildash’s daughter Susan.

Here is the copy of her letter:

 

    “I refer to the email from an elderly ex-pupil that you have published regarding the unfortunate tragedy at West Mon School in 1947.

    You must be aware that confused and traumatised children will remember different aspects of a tragedy, not always accurately.  Add another 60 plus years, and I must now correct the fiction that you have allowed to be published worldwide on the internet.

    My father, L J Wildash was the very talented Art Master at West Mon School. Contrary to what you have allowed to be published, he COULD swim.  He was a very strong swimmer and also very fit.  Besides being an artist he was a sportsman, with silver cups to his name.  No headmaster would allow a non-swimmer to be in charge of a swimming class! The picture of my father as a non-swimming wimp doing nothing is almost libellous.  If he had not been so fit, both boys would have drowned.  He was exhausted AFTER his attempt to save the lives of the two boys. 

    Before working at West Mon School my father saw active service during the war, and was chosen to go on special assignments.  His nature was always to protect others from danger.  He was a very brave yet sensitive man.  To see him vilified by incorrect memories is deeply unfair. It must not be overlooked that the Coroner said that without my father’s actions, both boys would have drowned rather than one.

    As you can imagine, he was traumatised by the whole tragic accident, and although he was asked to stay on at West Mon School, which he loved, the tragedy was too much for him and he and his family left Wales forever.

    Susan nee Wildash”

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Tragedy at West Mon 2. Words from a key witness.

May 1, 2009

As I’ve stated in the new short heading to this blog, I’ve had quite a number of emails sent to me concerning the contents and other people’s memories. These are personal emails and not the same as the comments which are included in the blog from time to time as they are sent in.

 

Last week I was thrilled to receive several emails from an old West Mon boy, Peter Jefferys who, for the past 42 years, has been living in Ilfracombe. He was surfing the internet looking for a picture of West Mon when he accidentally came across my blog. On reading it he was amazed to find the account of the tragedy when Robin Lafone was drowned in the school swimming baths.

 

Peter was in the new form one I referred to in my original account of this tragedy and in his email he says:

 

I was the boy who ran for help and was in the same class as Hancher and Lafone. Lafone was a close friend and sat next to me in class. The day’s events of this tragedy will be  with me always, and sadly the circumstances of the accident were not as generally accepted. The teacher in charge was unable to swim, and my memory of him in the water hanging on to the side of the Baths with his gown still on, is as clear now as then. I ran for help [without towel] to a classroom on the ground floor, and the teacher attempted to save both boys. I was a boarder at the school, having moved down from London in 1945? until 1950. Hopefully I will be able to make contact with others who were at West Mon during those years. [The school song is now running through my head, whilst writing this.]”

In my reply to Peter I asked him some questions to try to clarify in my own mind exactly what happened on that day. He replied:

 

The master in the water with gown was not the teacher that I went for help to.  [I cannot recall the his name.] The teacher that I went to in a class came back with me and dived in to try and save the boys. My recollection was that Garnett was not there. I did wonder why the boys were not questioned at the time about the event, but maybe we were all thought to be too young to be reliable witnesses.

Lafone jumped in, as he had been dared to by the boys, and he had been told to jump in from the deep end of the baths and jump towards the side so he could get out, although he admitted he could not swim I think he felt he could not lose face.”

Taking account of all the comments and emails I’ve received about this matter, I think I’ve now arrived, as near as possible, to a definitive account of this tragedy. I’ve come to the conclusion that, over the intervening 55 years, there has grown up around it a sort of West Mon folklore, some of which is not very accurate. For instance, it was interesting that Peter said he was not wrapped in a towel when he ran for help. I must agree.

 

From Peter’s account it seems as though Garnett was not in the baths at the time but that the master in charge was someone wearing a gown. Garnett never wore a gown but as the sports master, he would certainly have been able to swim, so I can only suppose that another member of the staff, who would have been relatively older because the young staff members were by then in the forces, was standing in for Garnett, possibly for only a short while. If this is the case, then it’s doubly tragic that the accident occurred during that short time.

 

It’s also very sad that Robin Lafone should have died as the result of accepting a dare from some of his fellow students. If any other former West Mon boys were at the school when all this happened I shall be most pleased to have their comments. And if any of them knew Peter Jefferys and wish to get in touch, I have his email address.