Raymond Sullivan

t has been really exciting for me to return to the UK over the past 3 years to attend the reunions of our Grammar School. I have come to realize that the friends I made in those days are ones that I will cherish and admire for all my life.

I attended the grammar school during the transitional years between the reign of Headmaster D.T.Davies, representing the old guard, to a new and more vibrant leadership under Dr. Saffell. In my advanced age, my fondest memories of EVGS are mainly times that we escaped from the confines of the school. These include the bus trip to Aberystwyth, Griffiths’ geography field trip to the Clydach Gorge and the rugby teams visit to Dover. I must admit that I did not excel academically, so it is not surprising that I remember these events over such class highlights as Ms Hughes lecture on the human reproduction in the 3rd Form biology class, and the dull repetition of falling off the apparatus in gym classes. I was most fortunate, however, to have discovered at the age of 14 that I wanted to be a geologist. My brother, Herbert, and I made this career choice after reading an article in the Daily Express. As a result, I managed to struggle through the Grammar School to achieve my A levels in spite of the efforts of a language teacher to delay my progress. Looking back to those far off days, I now feel that the Sciences may have taken a back seat to the Language/Arts at the school. This is well illustrated by the academic awards made at the Eisteddfod and /or prize giving held each year in the Workmen’s Hall. I watched with envy as the parade of budding poets and essayists walked on stage to receive their prizes.  There was never an award for the most creative physics experiment or the most poetic mathematical formula written in Welsh. On the other hand, the Sciences were blessed with some of the best teachers in the school. These included Griffiths in Geography, Powell in Physics, Thomas in Mathematics and Hopkins in Chemistry.

For the past 46 years, I have lived in Canada and the United States. I suppose that I was part of the early brain drain from the UK – although many of the teachers would argue that point. After getting my doctorate at the University of Glasgow in 1960, I joined Shell Oil Company in western Canada. It was in Edmonton, Alberta at a rugby team party (the Druids Rugby Club) that I met my wife Barbara. We have been married now for 44 years and have two sons. Both sons majored in Geology. After a vacation in San Francisco, we decided to relocate and I accepted a position at San Francisco State University.  I taught at the University for 39 years and still maintain my office in the Geology Department. At first my Ebbw accent made my classes appear to be a foreign language requirement at the University. At times, I would try to explain to my students some of the unique aspects of the Welsh Grammar School system. They never understood the significance of the 11plus entrance exam, and waiting for the results to appear (for everyone to see) in the Western Mail. To this day, I can identify the persons in my age group that scored highly in this exam. The students were aghast at the stories of the chisel throwing woodwork teacher, the table tennis bat wielding art teacher, and the terrorizing hands of a certain English master. They are some what amused by my descriptions of the little circular blue cap we were required to wear at the school.  In the 6th Form, I attempted to wear the cap in a more fashionable way by sticking it on the side of my head. I remember Saffell asking me if I was trying to make the cap appear that it was not part of my attire, or instead as an object trailing beside me. Most of the boys of my era experienced in the first few years the constant hunting and hassling by the Prefects each lunch time as they searched for captives to fill empty spaces for first sitting session in the dining room. Discipline at the school was always fierce and after school detention was always a threat.

Life certainly improved in the 6th Form and my year was the first to occupy Bronwydd. I no longer had to deal with the non-science classes and I could focus on subjects that I liked to study. To my surprise, Saffell eventually made me a Prefect after being passed over in the lower Sixth. It was at this time that the dynamic lesson given by Ms Hughes on sexuality began to make sense as we enjoyed meeting and dancing with the girls in the Friday afternoon sessions.

Looking back over those happy days, I must admit that they prepared me well for University and to some extent my professional life. I believe, however, it was the interaction with my fellow students that enriched my life during this period. Going to grammar school opened many opportunities and for that I am forever grateful.


This was published by an American magazine

The school reunion of the class of 1953 was scheduled for a Saturday evening in July  2003 in the village hall at Skenfrith, near Monmouth.  I had to look at a map to make sure I knew the location of the village.  I believe that the selection of Skenfrith was unanimous particularly since our former head boy, Alan Jones, was organizing the event and lives in the village. It is amazing how the school hierarchy still persisted 50 years after leaving school.  Alan had extended an invitation for us to spend the weekend at his home in Skenfrith so we were very much looking forward to a relaxing and memorable time.

My wife and I arrived from San Francisco on Friday.  By early afternoon, we were on the road heading west and enjoying the most beautiful weather that I can ever remember in Britain.  We               choose to meander through the countryside by taking the back roads through the Mendips and the Cotswold to avoid the traffic on the M5. We spent the night at Symonds Yat and headed to Skenfrith after lunch on Saturday.  We discovered Skenfrith as a sleepy little village nestled in the Monnow River valley. It is comprised of a castle, church, pub and a few houses.  What more does one need to enjoy the good life?  Skenfrith Castle is one of a trio of Norman strongholds within an eight-mile radius.  The other two are Grosmont and White castles.  All were built in the eleventh century. The locals must have been a very energetic group to require the need for three castles within a bowshot of each other.  Today, the most important event of the year is a rubber duck (yellow ones, of course) race on the river and the villagers were preparing for the great race during our stay.  It appears that people come from far and wide to participate in the duck race. Its popularity rivals that of the Oxford/Cambridge boat race – so we were told.

We joined our host, Alan and his wife Shirley, in their beautiful home located on one of the sheep farms that are scattered over the red sandstone hills above the town.. Also spending the weekend were our old friends Terry and Shirley O’Leary. Terry and Shirley were Grammar School sweet-hearts.  I was amazed during the evening to discover that many other couples had similar history including Eric and Shirley Smith, Peter and Pam Marchant, and John and Barbara Harding. Those Friday afternoon dance sessions in the gym were more productive than I had realized at the time.

 The reunion dinner in the evening was a much-anticipated affair since I had not seen most of my classmates during the intervening 50 years.  I had no idea what to expect at such gatherings, but in retrospect what impressed me the most was the joy and spontaneity of the evening.  There was often a moment of hesitation at greeting some one, but then the years slipped away, and it was like being back in the sixth form.  Graham Jones, yet another head boy, gave a brief welcome and then no more speeches but all talk. I was also happy that no one seemed to remember that my nickname was Sugar.  In fact, Spud was now Terry and Shacky was Alan; although John Thomas was still Tucker.  No one put on airs and graces; how could you when you had lived through so much together in the Grammar School, and had shared many intimate moments? I have concluded that the best and truest friends are those made in our school days.  The event was clearly a success and there is a suggestion that we have another reunion in 2004 and it is tentatively scheduled for mid March.  We have our airline tickets ready to go.  Rumor has it that it may again be located in Skenfrith.  Such events will truly put the town on the map.

© evcgs former pupils 2013