Tributes to former Hastings teachers, Bob and Vera Wisden

Tributes have been paid by the family of two former Hastings teachers following their recent death.

Friday, 29th October 2021, 10:08 am
Bob and Vera Wisden in 2001 on their Golden Wedding anniversary SUS-211029-095749001

Bob and Vera Wisden lived their entire lives in Hastings, teaching thousands of the town’s residents over many years.

Bob, 98, formerly French teacher at Eastbourne Grammar School, moved to become head of the modern languages department at Hastings Grammar School in Parkstone Road in 1968.

He stayed there through the transition to William Parker School until he retired in 1983.

Bob and Vera Wisden on their wedding day with sisters Eileen and Margaret as bridesmaids SUS-211029-095759001

Vera, 93, was music teacher at Hastings Secondary Modern School for Girls from 1951, teaching there for 15 years and composer, together with friend and fellow teacher Jean Thompson, of the school song which was still being sung until 2011 when, already now renamed Hillcrest, the school became The Hastings Academy.

Vera subsequently also taught in various other private schools, namely Charters Towers and Ancaster House in Bexhill, Vinehall School in Robertsbridge, Claremont Prep School in St Leonards, and Westerleigh School in Hastings.

The couple’s son and daughter, John Wisden and Julia Acott, paid tribute to their late parents.

John said: “They first met at the tender ages of seven and four when Bob’s classmate, Eileen Tarry, brought her little sister Vera to the Sunday school at the Clive Vale United Reformed Church one Sunday.

“While Vera had just the one sister (Eileen, who also died in Torquay at the age of 98, earlier this year), Bob had two siblings - an elder brother Donald, who sadly died in childhood from meningitis aged 11, and a younger sister Margaret, who passed away a decade ago in 2011.

“Christened as Arthur Raymond Wisden, as a baby ‘Bob’ used to bob his head, earning him the nickname which then stayed with him for the whole of his life.”

Bob started school at Clive Vale Infants and then Junior Schools.

Later he went to Hastings Grammar School in Nelson Road before eventually studying modern languages at Exeter University.

Throughout the 1930s Vera and her sister Eileen attended the local Infants and Junior schools together, then progressed on to Hastings High School.

John said: “Both extremely musical, they became very talented young pianists, and indeed enjoyed singing and playing the piano throughout their lives. Vera subsequently became Head Girl at the Hastings High School, Bob remarkably having also been Head Boy at the grammar school.”

When she was 10, Vera was one of a group of children chosen to plant a tree in Coronation Wood in honour of the crowning of King George VI. Half a century later Vera and 30 of her fellow childhood tree-planters were tracked down to repeat the exercise the year after the Great Storm in 1987.

During the Second World War Bob was a navigator with the Fleet Air Arm.

John said: “He engaged in bombing runs in Norway and it was there he had his first brush with death, ditching into freezing Arctic waters off the Lofoten Islands. With only the one lifejacket on the plane the pilot, a Scotsman named Archie Sims, donned it and swam around the plane to cling on to Bob until they were picked up by the dinghy of the attendant frigate. Lifelong friends thereafter, Archie visited Hastings in the mid-1960s, and Bob travelled to Scotland to see him when he retired.

“In the first week of August 1945 with the war nearing its end, Bob had his next horrific brush with death. His crew of three had duly bombed the Tokushima runway at the entrance to the Inland Sea, and had turned to head back when they were hit by anti-aircraft fire. The pilot knew immediately that they couldn’t make it to the carrier, and asked Bob for courses and co-ordinates to one of the three possible waiting rescue vessels. On receiving them he chose an American submarine positioned offshore in the Pacific Ocean and the pilot ‘ditched the plane beautifully’

“Unfortunately, the pilot and the bomber ‘didn’t make it’, but the crew of the submarine rescued Bob, again by dinghy, and eventually transported him back to the Northern Marianas island of Saipan.”

Back in England, Vera, aged 12, joined many other young evacuees, and was sent by train to Ware in Hertfordshire.

After returning to Hastings, Vera’s house was hit by a bomb late in 1941 with she, her mother Ada and Eileen all inside.

They suffered minor injuries from flying glass and shrapnel and had to move out to temporary accommodation, with the Minister of Clive Vale Congregational Church offering them rooms in the large manse nearby and just down the road from Bob’s home. A year later their own house, re-built, was declared safe enough for them to return.

After the war, Bob resumed his languages degree in French and German at at Exeter University, gaining a BA First, and then studying for a further year externally in Paris before gaining an MA in modern languages.

Vera was crowned Hastings May Queen in 1946 and continued to develop her musical education, living initially at home with her mother and later completing her Teacher’s Training Certificate from Furzedown Training College in 1947 and her LRAM in Singing Performance in 1950 from the Royal Academy of Music, leading thereafter to her first and principal teaching job at Hastings Secondary Modern School for Girls in Rye Road.

John said: “She revelled in her career as a music teacher, loving her pupils as much as her music. As head of music she also enjoyed the challenge of developing her school choirs and the annual producing of end-of-year musical performances.

“Vera also pursued her love of music in her personal as well as professional life, singing for pleasure for many years as a member of the Hastings Philharmonic Choir.”

Bob and Vera married in August 1951.

Their first home was a flat in Havelock Road, before moving a few years’ later to Ashburnham Road, just down from Vera’s childhood home, and then to St Helen’s Down in 1965, where they spent the next 56 years together.

They were also to have two children, and eventually seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

John said: “During retirement, Bob developed different hobbies, for several years devoting time and dedication to wine-making from natural sources - apple, blackberry, elderberry, elder flower, parsnip and dandelio. He was also able to spend more time renewing his passion for walking in the countryside, photographing specific country scenes and then painting them in extraordinary detail.

“At home Vera was a tireless and avid gardener, finding great relaxation in her gardening, nurturing and encouraging her plants to grow. She loved colour and grew stunningly beautiful chrysanthemums, dahlias and azaleas, which adorned both the front and back gardens with blazes of colour. In her later years, and following her visits to Asia, she also developed a passion for orchids.”

Bob died on June 16 and Vera on August 16.