2010, Memorial Bench

MARK AND STEPHEN JOHNSON MEMORIAL BENCH

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On Sunday, 9th May, 2010 over twenty Old Honitonians (two coming from as far away as Thailand and Brazil) and friends travelled to Rousdon and gathered at the “bus stop” on the former main school cliff path, just below the old summerhouse, to dedicate a bench in memory of the brothers Mark and Stephen Johnson.

Stephen Johnson (1968 – 1970) died in a tragic shooting accident in 1970 at the end of his V th form year, whilst Mark Johnson (1965 – 1970) had been a member of the crew of En Avant, making an expedition to Smith Island in the Antarctic.  Setting off from Southampton in 1977, En Avant reached Rio de Janeiro, and after a brief stop to re-provision it headed south but was never heard of again. By 1978 it was accepted that disaster had overcome the vessel - no wreckage ever being found.

During their time at Allhallows both boys had been popular members of Middlemist House.  Stephen was well known for his sense of humour and his extensive love and knowledge of birds and the undercliff area. Stephen was both an individual who enjoyed his own company and also very much a team player – regularly being entrusted with the Middy House mascot on House match days, and being a member of the disciplined CCF Silent Drill Squad. His tragically early death ended a life that had been full of potential.

In his final year at Allhallows, Mark was both Head of House and deputy Head Boy. Captain of the 1969 1st XV Rugby team and 1970 1st XI Hockey team, he was a natural athlete and a leader in every sense of the word both on and off the playing field.  A talented actor, he superbly played the role of Bill Sykes in the school’s 1970 production of “Oliver!”   He was a gifted artist and writer who, like his younger brother, also had a wonderful knowledge of birds and wildlife in general.  He extended the hand of friendship to those around him and was an inspiration to those who came into contact with him.

Early in 2009 and spurred on by the fact that 2010 would see the fortieth anniversary of Stephen’s death and Mark leaving Allhallows, Richard Anderson, Mark’s successor as Head of Middlemist suggested to a number of Mark and Stephen’s OH friends that it would be a good idea to “do something” to commemorate the two brothers. Within forty-eight hours of the suggestion being made, sufficient money had been pledged and donated by OH’s to allow the idea of a commemorative bench to go ahead.

It was felt that a location within the undercliff area of the old school grounds would be the ideal site for the bench and agreement was generously given by Mr. Barry Moore a resident of the Rousdon Estate and owner of the old quarry, to site the bench on his land in the man-made recess known to generations of OH’s, as the “bus stop”.  Not only providing weary walkers coming up from the old pumping station with a place to stop and rest, the location was a spot that both Mark and Stephen would have walked past on numerous occasions during their time at Allhallows.

The solid bench was especially commissioned from oak. Its design was the concept of Myf Adams (nee Gregson). The individual curved shape and wainey edges of the bench representing the undulations of the sea and the cliffs, a tribute to the lives and interests of the two brothers.

On Sunday, 9th May all those OH’s who had contributed to the project met outside the old main school building at Rousdon and  took the familiar walk down the cliff path to the “bus stop” for the short but very moving commemorative ceremony.

Richard Anderson opened proceedings by welcoming and congratulating all those who had donated and helped to make the event possible.  Welcoming particularly the presence of Mark and Stephen’s parents, Dr. Michael and Mrs Jean Johnson, their sister Clare and her husband, David, and their younger brother, Hal (1975 – 1980), he also paid his own tribute to Stephen and Mark.

Peter Sloan then reminded those assembled of the unique and particular qualities of both young men before Myf Adams read a fitting poem by Primo Levi’s poem entitled “To My Friends“ from his work “The Mirror Maker.”    The brief ceremony was concluded with the assembled company raising a glass of champagne to toast Mark and Stephen and “their” bench.

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Afterwards, it was back to 1 West Lodge (formerly Shallow House) for a BBQ lunch in the garden which provided stunning views of Lyme Bay and a fitting backdrop to a morning spent down the cliffs.  Before leaving, Dr. and Mrs Johnson were given an inscribed folder containing a copy of the poem “To My Friends”, and the signatures of everyone who had attended and contributed towards the bench.

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OH’s in attendance were as follows: Myf Adams, John Anderson, Richard Anderson,  John Ball, Steve Bath, Chris Bryan, Nigel Clist, Diana Davis (nee Fitzgerald) , Tom Hammond, Justin James, Patrick Musters, Ian Vere Nicoll, Simon Kidner, Simon Martin, Caroline Plumptre (nee Wilson), Peter Rooke, Tessa Evelegh, Peter Sloan,  Mark Tatchell, and David Viccars.

Also in attendance were Derek Blooman and Richard and Shirley Ambrose who were later joined by Graham and Mary Jones

 

Those OH’s who contributed towards the project but were unable to attend were, Mike Aston, Chris Coates, Andrew Mason, Richard Webber and Carol Woolnoth (nee Shaw).

At the request of Dr. and Mrs Johnson, the excess of the funds raised from Mark and Stephen’s friends was donated to The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

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Every OH who makes a visit back to Rousdon is encouraged to take a stroll down to the “bus stop”, to rest a while on the bench, and ponder for a moment on two young lives that were so tragically cut short and on the enduring friendship that exists amongst all those who shared their schooldays with them.

 

Peter Sloan.

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