Obituary: David Starmer

David Starmer
(OC 1943-1951)

Born 10 January 1933, died 10 March 2023, aged 90

David was both a former Chair of the Parents’ Association as well as President of the Old Caterhamians’ Association.


David Starmer’s family kindly request that donations in his memory are made to Caterham School’s Transformational Bursaries Fund. This fund provides school places to children for whom an education at Caterham would not be possible. Donations can be made online at or by calling Caterham School’s Development Office tel: 01883 335111.


It is with great sadness that I report the death of my father, Edward David Starmer, on 10th March 2023, and I would like to take this opportunity to share a little about his life.

He was born on 10th January 1933 in a room above the stables at Marden Park in Woldingham, the only child of Gustavus and Ena Starmer. From a young age, he was known by his friends as “Curly” for his curly locks, and continued to be known by this nickname by many friends. During WWII, with his father away on active service, he and his mother moved to Caterham for the war years. From his Grandfather, he learnt “the art of being a man in the countryside”, and his favourite way to get about was on his treasured bicycle, which became his way to meet friends, get interested in girls, go to and from school, and later to work. He always kept a note of everywhere he went, and over the years he clocked up 13,000 miles on that bike, probably cycling every road in East Surrey.

In 1943 he arrived at Caterham Prep School and loved it, describing it as a home-from-home, full of activities he hadn’t had chance to share as an only child. Sport dominated his school career, playing for the 1st teams in all major games, getting his School Colours for hockey and cricket, and he was Cross-Country captain.

Known for his flamboyant approach to cricket, he always felt the phrase in the school song that goes “Runs coming fast as the long shadows creep” could have been his own anthem. Terry Leathem, then headmaster, made sure his baby’s pram was well out the way when he was batting, as he was a big hitter. Memorable highlights included scoring eight sixes in “79 not out” at Ardingly, a six, 35 runs, a catch and a wicket at the Oval, and six sixes against the Old Boys, including one into a garden in Dome Hill! In hockey, he gained the reputation for being the team’s most dangerous player, with reports describing him as consistently centring hard, quickly and accurately.

After school, he briefly joined the Fuller’s Earth Union as a Laboratory Assistant before National Service, following his father into the Royal Artillery, which took him to Malta and on exercises throughout the Mediterranean. He played lots of sports, including football, swimming, athletics, cross country, and of course plenty of cricket, and his team’s best performance was the defeat of the Pakistan navy team when their ships put into Grand Harbour on an official visit. He said National Service turned him from an only child who was the naive product of an all-male education into a man with an urge to travel.

He then returned to Fuller’s Earth to fill in time until he found “a decent job” — and stayed for 40 years! He gained the reputation for being very entrepreneurial. One of his claims to fame was finding innovative ways to repurpose highly absorbent waste into things like pet litter, forming the Natural Earth products division for what became Laporte Industries. His policy was always to know and do anything his staff could do, which at one point included getting his HGV licence so he could drive a bulk tanker through the Dartford Tunnel to deliver pet litter granules to the Pettex factory at Thurrock.

During his youth he had met Beryl at the Congregational Church Youth Club, where he became Chairman and she was Club Secretary. They married in 1957 and had three children, Hazel, David and Julie.

He gave his family a love of the outdoors, taking them on walks through the bluebell woods, not allowed to step on twigs in case of disturbing the wildlife, like his Grandad had taught him. And when holidaying in tents became the new thing, he planned immense camping trips, taking the family all over Europe. Using just his AA map and campsite guides, he always got there. No Satnav or internet in those days!

Continuing his sporting passions, he played hockey for Purley with some other Old Cats and later for Kenley. Summertimes were all about cricket, playing for Kenley, Purley, Laporte, and then Whiteoaks, becoming Captain and Chairman. He was still known for his steady off-spin, his ability to hit the ball a long way, and his safe pair of hands.

He helped form the Caterham Sports Club and played squash every week, collaborating one year with another Old Cat to present the Jackson/Starmer Squash Cup to the School.

In the late 1970s, he chaired the School Fete Committee, which he described as the hardest job he ever undertook! And for the 1981 Fete he played a big part in creating the “It’s a Knockout” competition, attracting local teams and several thousand visitors and achieving a proud profit of £6,600 to be used on improvements to various areas of the School. He was also on the Parents’ Association Committee, Chairman for his last year, then a Foundation Member. In 1983 he was President of the Old Caterhamians’ Association and was very proud to have his name on a plaque on the School’s front gate.

In 1982, he recorded a tape of Arthur Davies-Jones’ talk to the Parents’ Association in 1980 entitled “One Man’s Caterham School,” and then made it available to any interested Old Boy at a cost of £2 (postage paid). The family remember him doing the first few recordings in the dining room, using two tape recorders and a few restarted attempts due to noises from the kitchen and the dog barking at visitors! Later, a trip to Barron Smith Electricals saw a twin tape deck arriving in the house, which made the process a lot smoother.

David was also active in the community as a member of Caterham Round Table, and then Caterham Rotary Club, involving the family in all sorts of activities, including a 17 mile charity walk round and round Queens Park, manning the hot dog stall on Bonfire Nights and always joining in the annual Father Christmas tour around Caterham, playing loud Christmas songs and collecting for charity.

After he and Beryl separated, later he met Jean and they enjoyed many years of travelling all over the world. More recently the family were able to spend time with him again making new memories while he lived in his lovely care home in the New Forest. In particular through his 90th birthday week in January 2023 when he got to see most of his grandchildren and great grandchildren, the youngest for the very first time, so it was a multi-generational party, which he enjoyed immensely.

In his last days, he made a decision to ask Jesus into his heart and is now with the Lord in heaven, where the angels threw a big party to welcome him, and he will be loved beyond measure for eternity.

For his own epitaph he wrote “He loved his family and his family loved him”.

Written by his daughter, Hazel 


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Excerpts from David’s memoirs about Caterham are below.

Excerpts from David’s Memoirs …

Caterham School begins

Caterham School was the making of me! It was an achievement to get a Scholarship although academically I struggled, largely because I didn’t concentrate on my classwork and homework and I was addicted to sport. In September 1943 I sat in Class 1 in Shirley Goss, clad in my Green School uniform and chatted to Derek Boult (who has just died) and Tony Bull. Doodle Bugs were flying overhead and our teacher was an RAF pilot named Kite on leave from flying duties. When a V1 flew over he made us dive under the desks. It was autumn and the Chestnut trees were raining down “Conkers” which we used as missiles. Miss Dixon spotted me from a window and reprimanded me for being dangerous. My first brush with authority. My next came when David Loretto, I and a couple of other boys were fighting on the footpath going home. Doctor Hall (Main School Head) saw us and waved his walking stick. He reported us to Mr. Soderburg who punished us by making us clean out his chicken house. I remember Miss Martin in the office and Mr. Milnes my form master who was later to encourage my attitude to playing cricket, which was to hit every ball as hard as possible. We had our lessons in Shirley Goss but walked to Mottrams for lunch. I was in Pallister and we had a good football team. In the tea was a farmer’s son, known as Gaffer Tobit. Many years later my father used to visit his farm near Bletchingley when they were dealing with SCATS Agri-products. In my early years at the school I bussed on the 197 from Marden Parade to the Valley and walked the rest. Later and when we lived at Quarry Cottage and North Park I cycled.

Main School staff

At the end of my first year Class 2 was moved to the Main School for its’ teaching classes although it was still part of the Prep School. The imposing figure of Doctor Hall swept through the School in his robe and was revered, and feared, by the younger boys. His nickname was “Pillar”, a word that we always sang very loudly when it appeared in one of the morning hymns. The rest of the staff were identified by the classes that they taught. Arthur Davies-Jones was an OC and taught English, as well as coaching hockey, Harry Ward taught French, Wakefield was Science, Doc Maddock was another OC and took Physics, Jack Daw was History, Grinder Walker for Geography and Weedy Walker took Biology and coached Cricket. Jimmy Wenden taught Chemistry and took Gym Classes while Chick Foister took Mathematics. Hayward also took French and Music while COD Milnes was also Music. Beauvais was an eccentric art teacher and Baynon taught Music. He and Arthur composed the School song, “Debtors”, which is still revered, but mainly by older OCs, but sadly not well known at the School.

Memories of masters

Stories can be told about them all, but I will just relate those that stick in the mind. Doctor Hall was an expert on Far Eastern studies and left Caterham to become a Professor on the subject at London University. He had two sons at the School, one of whom was killed in the RAF during the war. Dr. Hall was succeeded briefly by Arthur Davies-Jones until Terry Leathem was appointed. Terry, known as the “Bear” came with an impressive Army record having been a Lt. Colonel at Bletchley Park in the decoding section before attending the Nuremburg War Crimes trials. He was benevolent, firm, but fair and he took the School into the post-war evolution that we all benefitted from. I owe him for some of my various sporting achievements. While doing my National Service I played a lot of hockey, but still in my School position of forward. Terry asked me when on leave to play in his team against the 1st XI at full back. I never played forward again, getting in the Surrey County 2nd XI after my National Service. When watching School cricket he made sure his sons pram was safe when I was batting as 6’s were my forte! Terry presented me with my School CC cap at morning Assembly for scoring 79 not out against Ardingly College which included 8 6’s. The phrase in “Debtors” “Runs coming fast as the long shadows creep……” could have been my anthem! To say thanks one snowy Christmas Eve I gave Terry and his wife Mary a brace of Pheasants that I had shot. When I was 40 I joined Caterham Rotary Club, when my proposers were Terry and Roland Rignall (local butcher and OC). Terry said I had serendipity, whatever that means. There is now a Lethem Room in the Pavilion which is used for team teas and functions.

Arthur Davies-Jones

Arthur Davies-Jones was second master and taught English. If someone did something he didn’t like he would give that person’s side-burns a tug (a wigging) as punishment. He was an OC and had been the 1st X! Goalkeeper. Aside from teaching he was editor of the School magazine and kept in touch with OCs for many years. On retirement he lived nearby and many an afternoon in the summer on my way home from work in Redhill I would sit with him on the bank, reminiscing. When I was Chairman of the Parents Association, I arranged for him to talk to an attentive audience about the history of the School. I played squash at the school, by arrangement, with other OCs on Tuesday evenings and one day I had a chat with him on the Home Field, when he was as bright as ever. Sadly that night he died. While on the staff he lived with his wife, who pre-diseased him, at Throxenby on the corner of Underwood Road and Pepper Alley. Later he lived in the Abbeyfield Care Home in Queens Park Road until he died. He earned the right to be called Mr. Caterham School.

More staff stories

Harry Ward was my French master and in the fifth for the Form Master. He was well respected by boys and parents. During one cold winter he was unusually off ill for several weeks. Parents in our class had a collection for him and bought a bag of fruits and other goodies and David Loretto and I were given the task of delivering it to him at home in Clareville Road. We were afraid of his reaction, but he appeared to be touched by the gesture. Respect gleans affection and we all gained by the event. W.N.Maddock took Physics, but we all remember his skill and addiction to Amateur Radio, as seen in his enormous aerials on top of the Science Block. His call sign is never forgotten. It was G2AJS. He kept bees in hives on the hill behind the “San” and when he was showing me how to develop and print photographs during the holidays I was kept going by the honeycombs that he left in the dark room for me. When he retired, he lived in the West Country and Geoff. Stowell and I attended his funeral in Barnstaple. He left a legacy to fund a Scholarship in his name. He was an OC and a bachelor, as was Jimmy Wenden who taught Chemistry. Wenden’s punishment tool was a gym slipper whacking on the behind. He was deputed with the task of teaching 5th formers about sex, an event looked forward to with curiosity and interest by adolescents who probably knew more about the mechanics of it than a bachelor master. During the summer holidays and just after the war Jimmy was responsible for those boys who volunteered to work in the fruit farms around Wisbech, far from the Battle of Britain. Mr. Beacock took Latin classes, but only Bass and Salmon, our year geniuses, understood it. For one homework task the geniuses completed the work while the rest of us cheated and copied their answers. Mr. Beacock spotted the skulduggery, but didn’t know how to proceed. There were only a few of us in Weedy Walkers A-level biology year, including me and Bernard Pritchard who later became a Dentist and on retirement repaired violins. Weedy also coached cricket and encouraged me to play naturally. I met him on the stairs as I went out to bat at the Oval and sought his advice. “Just play it as it comes”, he said. A six and 35 runs followed by a catch and 1 wicket later made it a memorable afternoon. Man of the Match was my friend Graham Culverwell who took 8 for 30. Weedy was very fussy about his cricket pitch. One lunchtime when some boys under a punishment regime were rolling the pitch for an afternoon match managed to “accidentally” squash a loose ball into the crease he was not very pleased. Chick Foister made his Maths classes more interesting by introducing mathematic puzzles where crosswords were replaced by numbers. They were fiendishly difficult, but a pleasant deviation from normal sums and formulae. Dr. Hall took us for Current Affairs at a time when we were winning the war and I still have my scrap book that he made us keep of the V1s, V2s and the D-day invasion. Mr.Haywood will always be remembered for his parody on the Churchill Speech of “We will fight them on the beaches” only he called it the “Beeches”, now the All-weather sports field.

Education failure

There are probably many more anecdotal stories about the staff, but I’ll leave it there. Because of my birthday date I should have been in the next year’s intake, so I was really a year younger than the class average. I found it hard work trying to keep up with the learning capacity of most of my classmates, so became destined to be at the bottom end of the class. As Mr. Leathem put it in my leaving report in 1951, “David is not academically gifted, but has become a contributor to School life”. In other words I was not very clever in my youth, but took part in anything of interest, especially sporting activities. I passed the (then) Matriculation Exam with 5 Credits and other passes, failed Alevels in the 6th form, stayed on for a third 6 th form year…and failed again! It wasn’t until I studied on day release at Ewell Technical College after National Service that I passed on A-levels in Physics and Chemistry. I was into my first year at Ewell on a Degree course when I was promoted to a Management position at Fullers Earth Union and found I preferred to get involved in the day to day running of the factory rather than sitting all day and an evening listening to lectures which had no interest or meaning to me. My colleagues Peter Cargill. Roley Bashford and Ken Clarke stuck with it and got HNCs. Features of our time at Ewell include playing Knock-out whist every lunchtime and racing each other back to Redhill after classes. I had a Lambretta Scooter, Roly and Peter motorbikes and Ken a motorbike and sidecar. I know I always lost!

School sport

My saving grace at Caterham School was sport. In the Prep School we played football and cricket and I was good enough in both games to get into Pallister house teams. We played cricket on the “Titch Pitch” where a boy named Howell scored a remarkable century. His father died young and Howell had to leave the school, but would have been an outstanding batsman later in life. Once in the main school there were more opportunities for sport, but at that time I was physically short and slight and uncompetitive. I first became successful in athletics, being able to throw the javelin, discus and shot reasonable distances, but in particular I was good at distance races such as the mile and cross country. Cricket was introduced to me in the “Alphabet” competitions when we played on batting strips around the perimeter of the Home Field. I recall fielding at very short leg and the ball coming to me from a bat a few feet away and landing in my lap. Once when batting I hit a ball out of the Home Field, over the road and just missed a window in Weedy’s house overlooking the ground. I graduated through the cricket teams, getting my first 50+ against Royal Russell school for the 2nds. At the end of that season Micky Moss, the 1st XI captain gave me a chance in the 1sts against Purley Grammar school. I scored 57 not out and was playing against Peter Mitchell who I later played with in the Whiteoaks/OC team.

During my final year I was a fixture, both batting and bowling with varying degrees of success. I have previously mentioned my 35 at the Oval and 79 not out against Ardingly. On Old Boys Day I scored 47, which included an enormous 6 off Tony Jessup out of the Home Field to the garden of the first house in Dome Hill. The first team was very successful under the captaincy of Neil Austing. In batting order it was: P.Rasmusen, D.Peck, B.Evans, N.Austing, M.Cosh, D.Lorretto, Me, D.Pearce, G.Robson, P.Cantrel and G.Culverwell. I bowled off-spin and had some 3 wicket hauls. The Hockey 1st XlI that year consisted of many of the names in the cricket. Mention must be made of Rodney Southwell the goalkeeper (he was later a County Badminton player). We were losing badly to a county class HA side and he was determined to keep the score down. He successfully headed a shot off the line – in the days before head guards were mandatory. I got into the Rugby 2nd XV at Stand-off with J.Warrior, Lorretto again and T.Welch. We just gave the ball to Tom Welsh and watched him weave his way through the opposition. Against Seaford College we were unbeatable, even I scored 3 tries! I was captain of the school and East house Cross-country teams. In the House competition Tom Welch was the easy winner, but East did well. At 2nd equal were Taffy Fish, Michael Williams and me while coming in next was John Warrior. We beat Ardingly in Sussex, but were beaten by Purley County who had Gordon Pirie (UK runner) and his brother running. I ran in the 800 yards and Mile in the summer term always on grass. The previous year’s team used the cinder track at the Guards Depot, in Caterham, where I recall W.Bewick winning the 100 yards with huge strides over the cinders. My daughter, Julie, lived for some time in the previous army depot overlooking the track site. I learned to swim in the school pool – where we had to swim naked. It was an all-boys school! The encouragement I received from the Staff and my team-mates set me on a course that dominated my leisure time, but kept me fit and mentally alert, able to cope with some of the stresses at work and in my private life.


During my first 20 years I had met many people and made friends with a lot of them. Some encouraged me, others put me down, some didn’t want to know and a few were mocking or even hostile. In no particular order in this section I write about those who for whatever reason made a mark on my period of growing up until I left the Army. John Reardon and School staff I have mentioned already.

Others include:

John Culver was a close friend in the 6th form. He cycled to school from Whyteleafe and once a week he and I cycled to Purley Astoria or Regal cinema to see the latest film. At weekends we went shooting together at North Park with some degree of success. When I married Beryl he was my Best Man and in his speech he described her as “The one he caught himself”! He was a member of the school Air Training Corps section and for National Service he joined the RAF. He learned how to fly fast jets, but this was curtailed when he got Hodgkins Disease, possibly caused by the flying. He had married, but there were no children when he died in his 30s. We attended his funeral.

David “Popeye” Lorretto was at Caterham Board School in Beechwood Road at the same time as I was, and we arrived at the Prep School together in 1943. He came from a large Catholic family and two of his elder brothers (John and Mike) were at Caterham School, both of them named on the Honoratus Boards. David was in Emylyn House so a rivalry with me in Pallister was inevitable. As described before Dr. Hall caught us fighting and we did a chicken house cleaning job as punishment. All the time we were in the Main School we languished at the bottom of the class. But on the sports field we excelled! In the 2nd Rugby XV I planted the ball for him to kick the conversions, while in the Hockey 1st XI he was inside left to my left wing. For the cricket 1st XI I batted at 7 to his number 6 and we had a few useful partnerships. He was third highest scorer for the season with 317 runs. Cosh had 321 and Austing 369. I had 199, mainly built around three good innings. We both stayed on for a 3rd 6 th form year and were called up at the same time. When we were supposed to be doing Private Study we skived off for a walk up the hillside. After National Service he went to the US, married an Italian Heiress and was the CEO of a major Canadian timber company. I last met him and his brother Mike at an OCA reunion a long time ago. During the Blitz and after one very noisy night the Salvation Army started playing early in Markville gardens where they lived. Carlo, the father, shouted at the Band to go and play elsewhere and let people get to sleep. It worked!

Graham “Welly” Culverwell lived at the end of Markfield Road. The area was awash with Caterham School boys. As well as the Lorettos and “Welly” there were Alan Nash (Cricket Captain), Tom Blackwood (fast bowler), Don Simpson, Derek Boult, Stewart Latham (family dairy shop) and Barry Johnson. “Welly” was a fast and fiery opening bowler. On top of 8/30 at the Oval he took 47 wickets in the season. Cantrell – also Senior Prefect – took 32, including 8/28 against Hurstpierpoint. I managed to bag 17 with my off-spin. I met Graham years later at the school when one of his boys was a pupil.

Terry Leathem succeeded Dr. Hall as Caterham School Headmaster when I was in the 5th form. He had been an Army Officer in the decoding section at Bletchley Park and also an observer at the Nuremburg war trials. He was efficient, firm, but understanding, bringing a new kind of leadership to a School that was ambitious and destined to become one of the UKs best Independent Schools. He was raising a family with his wife Mary when he arrived and claimed he put the pram in a safe place when I was batting. My proudest moment at the School was when he presented me with my cricket colours cap in morning assembly after my 79 not out against Ardingly College. I have him to thank for being able to extend my Hockey playing career into my 50s when he invited me to play at full back for his invitation XI against the School – never to play in the forwards again! When I applied to join Caterham Rotary Club he was the President and he and Roland Rignall were my sponsors. As I have reported earlier, I presented Terry and Mary with a brace of pheasants one Christmas when he was still living at the School as a Thank You for his interest and confidence in me – a not very bright Scholarship boy!