Obituary: Gordon Turbervill, Halesworth schoolteacher with an international outlook

Gordon Turbervill

Gordon Turbervill with Ben and Grace during a visit to the Somme battlefield in France. - Credit: Huw Turbervill

Gordon Turbervill, who has died aged 83, was  head of modern languages at the former Halesworth middle school.

In that role he enjoyed an extraordinary trip to Japan that helped him come to terms with the ordeal his father suffered working on the Burma Railway in the Second World War.

Mr Turbervill arrived in Halesworth in 1976 after a childhood in Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, Wales, after previous jobs in the Royal Marines (he won his Green Beret), the Intelligence Corps, and then the Metropolitan Police in London.

He had served in Singapore, Saigon and Borneo. He returned to England to get married to Hazel, a warm-hearted nurse who was the nursing sister at Patrick Stead Hospital in Halesworth. She died in 2019.

Turbervill family

Huw, Hazel and Gordon Turbervill. - Credit: Huw Turbervill

He was head of modern languages, and was happy for many years under the headship of Ron Stone.

Many of the pupils found the classes of ‘Turbo’ or ‘Turbey’ entertaining at times, but colleague and friend Neil Howell recalls: “He set himself extremely high standards, and took it hard when people didn’t do as well as he’d expected.

"He also found teaching people of mixed abilities in the same classes frustrating. He’d be required to teach French to someone who would go on to be a doctor, and they were next to somebody who through no fault of their own couldn’t write their own name.

"That was the policy at the time. But the Ofsted inspector sat in with the class and afterwards agreed with Gordon that it was unacceptable – a week later Gordon had his victory.”

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He struck up a productive friendship with John Mawby, his counterpart at Bungay High School. He also had great friends in the staffroom like Laurie Shepherd, Nick Bennett and Keith Morgan (all Welshmen), Derek Love, Alan Holzer, Nestor Wilson, Jill Pirrie, Ken Perkins and the secretary, Frances Holman.

Mr Howell added: “Gordon  took countless trips to France for youngsters and adults. His organisational skills were exceptional. And we had such fun times in Paris, and visiting stunning chateaus like Amboise.

“He also took part in school sporting occasions. In the swimming gala he competed in the staff v pupils medley and one year mistimed his dive into the pool, absolutely soaking spectators, which was hilarious; he had mixed fortunes in the annual cricket match.

"He refused to wear a box one year and paid the price I am afraid. The pupils were greatly concerned after David Mendham, a fast bowler, had landed a fearful blow. Another time the local newspaper praised his successful bowling, an ‘enterprising mixture of under-arm and over-arm’ deliveries."

There was a fascinating adventure in 1994. Halesworth twinned with a school in Japan, Shirakawa. Now initially this prospect filled Mr Turbervill  with dread after what happened to his father.

But he struck up a close friendship with the visiting teacher, a true gentleman, and they went to Minsmere to watch the birds and the rising sun together. Mr Turbervill went to Japan in return and had a fantastic time.

He found teaching stressful and exhausting, however. He became a different man when he retired in his mid-50s, and loved taking schools to Paris and Disneyland as a freelancer. He also translated for Halesworth police when French lorry drivers got into trouble.

He ran the Halesworth twinning with French town Bouchain, and loved weekends there, with Bill and Fiona Pagan. He played Santa every Christmas in their marketplace.

Lunchtimes in retirement were spent doing crosswords in the Angel with Sweeney the hairdresser, Paddy Cox and John the golfer.

His hobbies included sailing, the Sea Cadets, the Rotary and the Freemasons. He was also a voracious reader with a thirst for history, especially the First World War.

He leaves a son, Huw, a sports writer who started his career at the EADT.

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