John Henry Gomery


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John Henry GOMERY

John Henry Gomery was born on 12 July 1910 at Blaina, in what was then Monmouthshire, the son of Charles Gomery and Mary Beatrice Langley. John was very young when his father joined the King's Shropshire Light Infantry in late 1914 and went away to war, never to return home again. Mary Beatrice was left to raise four small children alone, of which John Henry was the oldest.

In 1937 John married Beatrice Madge Jenkins (1911 - 1998), they had no children.

John Henry Gomery died in 1980 aged 70 at his home in Marlborough Street, Six Bells, Abertillery.

An article printed in the Weekly Argus, dated Thursday 25th March 1971, on his retirement as headmaster of Cwimtillery Junior Mixed School (known locally as the Cock and Chick), tells the story of his life and views on education.

Forty Years of Teaching in Monmouth

He'll be missed at the Cock and Chick

By David Hands

Primary school education has gone too far from the formal surroundings of the 1920s and 1930s - without some formality and method there can be no firm basis for providing a good education.

These are the reflections of a man who has spent forty years as a teacher, 18 of them as a head teacher. On April 30, John Henry Gomery will retire from his post as headmaster at Cwmtillery Junior Mixed School - known to many pupils, past and present, as the Cock and Chick.

Mr Gomery, sixty, has spent all his teaching life within Monmouthshire - but some of the most formative days of his life were spent far from home, as a prisoner-of-war in a Japanese internment camp.

He was born in Blaina and was among the first pupils to attend Hafod-y-ddol School in 1924. He trained as a teacher at Caerleon Training College, where his main subject was English and took up his first post during the depression years, at a juvenile instruction centre in Blaina.

"It was not a school in the ordinary sense," he said. The pupils, aged between 14 and 18, who were unemployed and attended to earn their dole money, learned woodwork, ironwork, some English and sports.


Then came a move to Blaina Central Boys' School, where much of Mr Gomery's spare time was taken up with playing fly half for Blaina Rugby Club and Brynmawr. In 1937 he had moved to Six Bells, Abertillery, and married. He and his wife, Madge, still live in Marlborough Road, Six Bells.

His teaching career was interrupted by the second world war and in 1940 he joined up as a gunner in the Royal Artillery. In 1941 he was posted to Malaya and was captured when Singapore fell in February 1942.

As a prisoner-of-war he worked on the Burma railway - the railway of death to so many Allied prisoners - and was among the lucky ones who were still alive at its completion in summer 1943. He was transferred to Ubon in Thailand, where he helped build aerodromes, and was liberated in 1945, suffering from malnutrition and dysentery.

Of his terrible days as a prisoner, he said: "You had to get into a mental attitude of living day by day, of having no other life, so gradually you forget about home. The only think to do was to accept the inevitable, and that type of mental attitude helped to save the people who got through it in some sort of sanity."

"It was as bad as it has been depicted by writers. But the compensation was that there is nothing like such an experience for character building. Having got through it helped to give me a slant on life which helped, being in a position to understand real values."

Mr Gomery still finds it hard to translate his experience into words. He returned to Britain and found difficulty in adjusting to civilian life, to the bustle of the post war world. He decided that the best way of getting back to normal was by getting back to work, so he cut short his leave and picked up his teaching career at Park Terrace Junior School, Pontypool.


In 1953 came his first headship, at Garn-yr-erw Junior Mixed and Infants School, Blaenavon, to be followed by headships at Llanhillith Junior Mixed, Abertillery Boys', and in 1968, Cwmtillery Junior School.

During his career he has been president of Monmouthshire Federation of Headmasters, and of the Abertillery Headteachers' Association. He has been chairman of the Old Tylerians Club in Abertillery and of the local Burma Star Association. He has maintained his sporting interests and, taking up bowls after the war, became chairman of the West Monmouthshire Bowling Association and is the chairman of the Six Bells Sports Club.

Education has changed since his early days, but Mr Gomery is not sure it is entirely for the better. Many teachers, he says, are worried about schemes being introduced suggesting that children will be better educated if there is a minimum of formality and uniformity, pupils being allowed to proceed at their own pace in activities of their choice.

"Experienced teachers will say that children are happier, and consequently become better scholars, when they know exactly where they are in the day to day life of the school. They enjoy a measure of uniformity and hate the boredom which can arise from being too free."

Mr Gomery believes free activity should be part, but not the mainspring for school work. "There should be reasonable time for cultural, social and sporting activities, but if overdone, it can only lead to window-dressing and unhealthy competition. Such present-day trends are taking us away from the real aims of the primary school and lowering the academic standards."

Children, says Mr Gomery, should be taught the tools of learning at primary school, to read, write and calculate. "But in the wider field primary education should help them to live in a community."

There are 210 children at the Cock and Chick whose community will be a little smaller for the loss of John Gomery.

If you would like to know more about this family please email me .

Weekly Argus Thursday 25th March 1971 - thanks to the South Wales Argus for permission to use this article.
Also my thanks to Alan Bennett for bringing the article to my attention and sending me a copy.
Last revised: 26 April 2006
Linda Hansen 2006