James Donald Turner was born on the 20th May 1912 of farming stock. He grew up in Durston, a small village NE of Taunton. James entered Allhallows in 1923, at the age of 11 and so began his long and distinguished association with Allhallows. He was senior prefect, captain of all major games as well as full and small bore shooting.
James was already an officer in the territorials when war broke. He joined the 7th Bn of the Hampshire Regiment and helped at the evacuation from Dunkirk. The 7th Bn part of the 43rd Wessex Division was made a reinforcement Division. At this point James applied for a course at the Military College of Science on small arms ammunition. After what he described as the hardest 6 months of work that he could remember he was seconded to the Chief Inspectorate of Armaments where he spent the last two years of the war on the inspection and proof of ammunition.
James met Caroline in 1942 where she was serving as a WREN in Harwich, they married in August 1943 in Wilmslow and so began a very happy and successful marriage.
Returning to Allhallows in 1946 as senior chemistry master, James proceeded to teach, inspire, and help generations of students to achieve high grades in their examinations; he had a deep knowledge of his subject and the ability to explain and enthuse young people to science.
He played the trumpet well and was a splendid entertainer with firstly the Honiton Harmaniacs and secondly with the Rousdon Rythmics.
James was an outstandingly successful master-in-charge of rugger. The unbeaten 1948 fifteen captained by Joe Richards with the likes of Bill Luff and Mike Ray-Hills has and will be longed remembered. His catch phrase of ‘run like a stag’ will bring back many happy memories for those who were coached by him. As Housemaster of Venning, Second Master and Acting Headmaster he was an unqualified success and it was the School’s good fortune that he was never to seek fresh woods.
James was always immaculately turned out. He was a traditionalist with old fashioned values, he never failed to wear a rose in his lapel on Minden Day. Many boys who were not in his house saw a man who was reasonable, wise, fair and nice, which made them wish they were in his house.
His enthusiasm for OHs and the OH Club knew no bounds. It was all consuming. He started the OH Cricket Week and I remember as the outgoing captain of cricket the thrill of being asked if I would like to attend cricket week. His encouragement and support during the early years of the cricket weeks was really appreciated by all especially Stuart MacGregor, who captained the side for many years.
It was perhaps as a shooting coach that James is best remembered. His record for any school whatever its size is second to none. Seven Ashburton Shield victories between 1946 and 1980 a top eight finish on 23 occasions says it all. He made Allhallows the premier shooting school in the UK. Roger Wheeler told me that in 1960 he was taken to Bisley by the headmaster, VAL Hill. The range at Bisley is quite large and Wheeler asked Val Hill how he intended to find the School eight, Hill’s reply was ‘ just look for the largest crowd round the shooters’.
Good coaches and leaders are born not made. James was a natural, he brought a wealth of experience, patience and understanding to those whom he coached. The essence of James can best be shown by what David Shaw, now a retired Brigadier, wrote to me:
"I joined the full bore shooting team in 1960 when Alec Crawford was Captain. I already knew how to shoot but James told me when I was 14 that he thought that I would captain the side one day and he was, amazingly, right. I was Captain of the winning team in 63 and 64 and he went on to do the treble in 65 after I had gone. James was a highly experienced and a talented and calm coach-and I think it was this calmness that affected us all so positively. He never flapped and appeared always to have himself and everyone else under control. Mind you, when he did get cross, you knew it! Mostly, his displeasure was manifested in brooding disappointment rather than fireworks. People wanted to learn from him and wanted to please him: moreover, the shooting team wanted to do well for him".
As a housemaster I thought he had a brilliant balance of discipline and encouragement all wrapped up in a huge amount of wisdom. Once he found some cigarettes in my desk: he called me into his study but never mentioned them. He didn’t have to-they were sitting right in the middle of an empty desk and he toyed with them as he spoke about leadership and discipline and example. I was a prefect in his house! It didn’t stop me smoking but it made me more careful and he didn’t have to sack me. Amazing psychology!’
In later years Giles Blomfield, Roger Wheeler and I used to meet James for lunch on an annual basis. They were wonderful occasions and we all felt privileged.
When Allhallows closed, it was JDT who drove over to see the vicar of St. Michaels, Honiton to arrange for the reredos, the wonderful oak panels listing the fallen OHs of both World Wars, to be placed in St Michael’s.
James Donald Turner was a very, very special man and I and all OHs have been privileged to have known him.