One of the area’s most respected and inspirational scout leaders, Alan Thomas, has died at the age of 91. Emmanuel church in Grand Avenue was filled with generations of scouts on July 15 for his memorial service. Born David Alan Thomas in Forest Hill, south east London, in 1927, he was three when his parents
One of the area’s most respected and inspirational scout leaders, Alan Thomas, has died at the age of 91.
Emmanuel church in Grand Avenue was filled with generations of scouts on July 15 for his memorial service.
Born David Alan Thomas in Forest Hill, south east London, in 1927, he was three when his parents moved to a newly built house in Raeburn Avenue, Tolworth. It was to be his home for the remainder of his life.
He attended Grand Avenue primary school before moving on to Surbiton Grammar School, in the buildings which now form Hollyfield School. After national service in the Royal Engineers (leaving with the rank of Second Lieutenant) he studied mechanical engineering at Battersea Polytechnic.
It was there – through the Gilbert and Sullivan Society – that he met Jill, who was taking a three-year teaching course in domestic science.
They married in 1953. A shared love of music and performing continued throughout their lives, in Emmanuel church choir and, separately, in male voice and ladies’ choirs. Both were members of the Hook Singers.
Alan was appointed work study officer for the Metropolitan Water Board; his tasks included calculating the number of sheep needed to keep the grass short on the slopes of the Queen Mary reservoir as an alternative to mowing. The descendants of those sheep are still keeping the grass neat today!
Alan’s office was in London, so he travelled from Berrylands station. In 1981 he purchased a Brompton folding bicycle for both stages of the journey to the office, and home again – something fondly recalled by his daughter, Hilary, who made her home, with her husband Julian Power, in the Isle of Man. Her brother, Martin, works as a postman in Kingston.
But it is for his scouting life that most people will remember Alan, affectionately nicknamed DAT after his initials.
He joined the cubs in 1935 and scouts in 1938, going on to become scoutmaster at 3rd Tolworth Scouts in 1957. From 1970-76 he was district commissioner of Surbiton.
He led expeditions for venture scouts in England, Scotland and on the continent, including one which saw senior scouts climbing a 12,000ft peak in the Austrian Tyrol after training on sandstone rocks in Sussex.
Other adventures included a trip to the Kyle of Lochalsh, near Skye, with an overnight camp on an uninhabited island, feeding on mussels and making a map survey. Another was to Beinn Eighe in the Torridon Hills in the Highlands, venturing to parts few had reached and savouring hoosh, a mixture of ground dried meat and fat, as eaten by Scott and Shackleton on their Antarctic expeditions.
As a climbing instructor, Alan donated money to the 1st Tolworth (St Matthew’s) scout group to buy a climbing wall for their headquarters in Pyne Road. He was the first to climb the wall at the opening ceremony… in his 86th year! Rather than making it a bequest, he wanted to see his gift being used.
Alan received scouting’s highest honour, the Silver Wolf, in 2000 for service of ‘the most exceptional nature’. In 2007 he received the Chief Scout’s Long Service Decoration for 50 years’ service, but continued for a further eight years as group president of 1st Tolworth.
“Scouting has given me many wonderful memories of exciting experiences and comradeship with like-minded people,” he said.
He loved anything to do with trees and wood. He ran forester badge courses for the scouts and was a qualified chain saw operator, putting his skills to good use during the ravages of Dutch elm disease, and in the aftermath of the hurricane of 1987. In 1997 he was presented with the Mayor’s Award for outstanding service to the Royal borough.
It was a short step from felling trees to seasoning wood, which he turned into a wealth of beautiful objects. Plates, dishes, bowls, apples and other fruit were produced and offered for sale to raise funds for the scout group and churches to which he was affiliated.
Alan also turned his mind to creating a lightweight mountaineering tent, patenting some aspects of the design, including elastically linked aluminium poles – now a feature of almost every tent.
Knowing that his life was nearing its end, Alan had anticipated attending the St George’s Day service at St Matthew’s church. To his great disappointment, medical staff ruled that he was not strong enough to make the journey. However his neatly pressed uniform was brought to him, and he was able to make his scout promise for the very last time, as he had wished.
David Alan Thomas, born December 29 1927 in Forest Hill, died June 25 2019 in Surbiton.