Obituary: Edward James


Edward Oswald James, LDS RCS (Eng) JP

(OC 1943-1947)

Born 29 September 1929, died 15 December 2020 

Edward’s life was well documented – largely by him – for which we are incredibly grateful.

Edward was born in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, into a family that placed great importance on their faith. His grandfather had been a Congregational Minister, which partly explains the family’s links with Caterham.

His early life was coloured by the tragic loss of his father in 1941, when he was 11 years old. His father’s surgery was converted into a nursing home so that his mother could deploy her nursing training and experience from Barts to keep her family going, at least until the NHS was established.

‘Edwi’ was a bit of a handful, a prankster, and he later dined out on the stories of his escapades.

He began his secondary education at St Michael’s School near Llanelli. He was then sent away to board at Caterham, where his uncle, Ben Phillips, was a School Master.  At the time it was felt he might thrive in a different environment, and the plan proved successful.

At Caterham, ‘EO’ gained his school colours in rugby, hockey, and athletics. Caterham School did not relocate during WW2 because the premises were considered safe enough. However, by 1944 the doodlebugs put it firmly in bomb alley. EO recollected taking one of his school certificate exams during a particular lively phase in hostilities. A doodlebug approached (cue his raspberry blowing impression), the Second Master bellowed ‘under your desks,’ there was an eerie silence, and then a big bang – around a mile away.  He maintained that the doodlebug was the reason he passed his English paper.

He was Senior Prefect, and the initials ‘EO’ were woven into the chorus of ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’ at his final school Carol Concert. He maintained his connection with Caterham as an Old Boy and later as President of the Old Caterhamians’ Association. He will be missed by other alumni, including John Mathias and Henry Richards.

‘James’ began his National Service in December 1947, among the last group to enrol under war time conscription conditions.  He joined the Welsh Regiment in Cardiff, transferred to Aldershot for basic training and then joined the Royal Army Dental Corps at Sandhurst. He became NCO in charge of No.80 Army Dental Centre until his Class B release.  He also played rugby there for the staff 15, (Sandhurst Pirates).

He considered staying in the army to complete his dental training, but he was worried that he might be in a desk job by midlife rather than seeing patients.  While in the army, he was called up for the Berlin Airlift, and he generally made light of this.  However, more recently, when disturbed from a deep sleep, he awoke confused and in a panic about going to Germany. When asked why he was so concerned, he said he believed he may not return.  This not a worry that he had mentioned before, but with some quick thinking, he was assured that an invitation had arrived from Sandhurst.

The advantage of wartime conscription was that his subsequent studies and living costs were funded by the government, which made a huge difference to family finances, and more importantly allowed ‘Ted’ to be a student for longer than was necessary. He enrolled at Guys in 1949 and he qualified in dental surgery in 1955 because the incentive to play hospital rugby outweighed the imperative to pass exams the first time around!

He made it into the Guys 1st XV in 1950 and he enjoyed 6 seasons at that level, supplemented by playing for Llanelli RFC during holidays.  He was awarded University blues in rugby and athletics at a time when the University hospitals were blessed with talented athletes, like Sir Roger Bannister.

Edward returned to Llanelli to practice dentistry in 1955 and in time became the ‘James’ of Davies, Davies and James.

He played 2 more seasons for Llanelli RFC when he returned home, then continued his playing days with Llanelli Wanderers until 1960, where for a while, he held the record for the number of tries in one season – 21.  Edward needed to take care of his hands for work, so he switched from rugby to hockey and played for Swansea from 1965 to 1967.

He had embraced his social and working life on his return home in the 50s, and in 1962 he married Catherine. They had 4 children between 1965 and 1971 and this meant that he could practice running passes on Cefn Sidan beach in Pembrey. These days the family can field a squad of 15 with subs; there are 12 grandchildren.

Edward had a sweet tooth, and spent his life making up for war time rationing. His love of desserts, cakes and chocolate did not cause him any harm and he maintained his fighting weight.

Edward’s home and professional lives coincided from time to time; he occasionally extracted his children’s teeth at home in the lounge.  Also, the team at Davies, Davies & James enjoyed an annual practice outing to locations of interest. The photos of surgery and family trips are eerily similar, and it is entirely possible that the large James and Davies families purchased cars with 3 rows of seats in the 80s so that only 2 vehicles were needed for practice outings.

Over time, Edward developed a taste for photography, with a focus on increasingly eclectic subject matter. The photos of the replacement of the water main in Murray St, Llanelli are particularly special, and they deserve a wider audience.

Edward achieved over 40 years in practice, and ‘retired’ from full time dentistry in 1995.  He was made a lifetime member of the British Dental Association in 1990 and he was also active in the British Dental Benevolent Fund which took him to London frequently.  He loved being in London again.

Edward played tennis and squash at Llanelli Lawn Tennis Club, and he was Chairman of the Tournament Committee for the Carmarthenshire Championships, and Club President.  His umpiring at Llanelli Lawn Tennis Club prompted an application to umpire at Wimbledon at a time when match officials were in short supply.  He officiated at Wimbledon from 1961 to 1986, and he umpired Wimbledon doubles finals in 1977 and 1979.

The infamous McEnroe match was in 1981, and he is immortalized by a few moments of TV coverage.  The video clip has had around one and a half million hits on You Tube.

Edward was Dental Surgeon for Llanelli RFC from 1971 and President of the club from 1994 to 1997.  He was appointed as a Justice of the Peace in July 1974 and he was Chairman of the Llanelli Petty Division, dispensing gentle guidance.  He was a founder member and President of the Cefn Sidan Rotary Club and an active member of St Illtyd’s church in Pembrey until his mobility issues made it difficult to attend services.

In his spare time Edward was in his garden, trying out his many horticultural gadgets. He secretly had a Forrest Gump-like enthusiasm for cutting grass on a ride on mower.

Edward’s life changed when Catherine’s health deteriorated, and he took care of her at home until she passed away in 2012. He was a sociable person and he found it difficult living alone. However, he coped well with support until May 2017, when he sustained an unstable neck fracture in a fall. Thankfully, his fighting spirit and a will to live overcame, but he was not fit enough to return home which was a huge sadness to him.

He then became a resident at Towy Castle, a lovely residential environment, and the wonderful team there cared for him magnificently.  He surprised his family by responding to conversation in Welsh while there.  He had learnt the language to engage with his Welsh-speaking patients many years before.

Edward’s life was enriched by his long-standing friendships, a wide network of acquaintances and the love of his close and extended family.  His story would not be complete without a particular mention of his sister Audrey. They kept each other grounded, danced beautifully, spoke every week, and both of them made it into their 92nd year.

Edward was kind, diplomatic, professional, a good conversationalist, and as interested in what others had to say as he was sharing his views.  He was also blessed with a good sense of humour and a strong work ethic.

We are immensely proud of him.

‘Yma o hyd’

Written by his children


Click here to read a tribute from the OCRFC, written by Bill Broadhead

Edward Oswald James Order of Service