In Memoriam: Samuel Lewis Bassett 1948 – 1971

Sam passed away on 1 August, just before his 93rd birthday. He died in Solihull where Margaret, his only child, lives. The Memorial Service was held at Capel y Bryn (between Llwynhendy and Llangennech) on 20 August. The Eulogy, prepared by Margaret, was read by Rev. John Walters (Year of ’61).

Samuel was born on 20 August 1918 in the pretty coastal village of Solva in Pembrokeshire. He was the third of three children with ten years between each of them. His father, Thomas Anthony, had started his working life in Llwynhendy as a collier aged 12 and the head of the family following the death of his own father, but had nevertheless managed to acquire an education and by the time Samuel was born he was a Police sergeant. The family moved to Narberth, and for a few years Sam lived in the police station there. Narberth is now quite a busy town, but during Sam’s time there there cannot have been much crime: only one prisoner ever occupied the cell adjoining the police station, and that was overnight as he was being transferred from one jail to another. Sam made a trip to Narberth three or four years ago and was intrigued to see his old home, now a private house, again.

The family moved again to Llwynhendy when Samuel was eight or nine and lived in Trallwm Road just round the corner from Capel y Bryn. Sam lived at No 80 for over thirty years. The large garden of the house, and of the next door house where his aunt and uncle lived, contained apple and currant orchards, a pigsty, herbs and vegetables, tended by Wncwl Hugh, with assistance from Sam. There was a lawn with a tennis court, which it was the young Sam’s job to keep mown and rolled. He was never very keen on other aspects of gardening but remained interested in lawn maintenance, albeit latterly in a supervisory capacity, throughout his life.

Samuel followed his clever siblings in getting a scholarship to the County School (Llanelli Boys’ Grammar) where he did well, and in due course to Swansea University. He studied English, with History and Latin. There is a suspicion that he would really have preferred to study something more scientific, but there would not have been funds in the family for any expensive equipment. Sam often said that he had just threepence a day, which he could use either as bus fare or to buy chips for lunch. Chips always won, and he cycled the ten miles from Llanelli to Swansea to university and then back every day; the exercise no doubt contributed to his physical fitness and strong constitution.

Sam took up boxing and was successful as a light-heavyweight at university and the RAF. His height was a considerable advantage: he said that he had managed to avoid being hit about the head, or indeed anywhere else, by keeping his opponents at bay with his long reach. He enjoyed watching boxing too, a taste he passed on to his daughter Margaret. She once rang him from London in great excitement to say that she had been entertained in the ITV hospitality box at the Albert Hall to see a World Championship fight, thinking he would be impressed. Not a bit of it: it turned out that when he had been a young man teaching in Fulham, he had made friends with the doorkeeper at the Albert Hall, who had let him in to see many a fight from the best seats.

Samuel graduated as a BA with a 2:1, an impressive qualification in those days. He then took his Teaching Certificate. However, the Second World War interrupted his studies. He volunteered for the RAF, hoping to become a pilot. He progressed some way along the training for pilots but at a late stage it was discovered, to his great surprise and dismay, that he was very short-sighted. When people expressed doubt that he could have got so far in training without this being discovered, he explained that the RAF’s procedure for testing eyes had been to line the men up right next to the eye chart while they were waiting for their turn, and being bored, he would memorise the letters and simply recite them. Ineligible to fly aeroplanes, he became a wireless technician, and there started his lifelong fascination with radio technology. At one stage his daughter counted 17 radios (or wirelesses, as they were then known) in various stages of disrepair spread around the house. They gathered dust and looked very untidy, but woe betide anyone who tried to throw away any apparently pointless bits of wire or Bakelite!

Sam was sent to Australia for four years during the War. Some men look back with fondness on their war service, but not Sam. He travelled to Australia on the Stirling Castle, a troop ship, and managed to get a job in the galley, which ensured that he would have enough to eat on the journey. His squadron was based in Alice Springs and in Darwin – not very comfortable places to be even today, but in military conditions the heat, the elephant grass and the crocodiles made a lasting and unpleasant impression. Although he kept a photograph album of his time in Australia, he never spoke much about his military service and considered it a terrible waste of four years. Any anecdotes about his time there came much later, from his old brother-in-arms, Ken Jones, who met up with him again in the 1990s and became a regular visitor until he sadly passed away a few years ago.

Sam had never smoked up to this point, and throughout the war he used to trade his cigarette ration for tinned peaches, his favourite food. On the way home however the ship called at Madras, where he bought a box of cigars for his father. To avoid paying customs duty he opened the box and smoked one. Sadly, that was the beginning of a heavy smoking addiction: he chain-smoked 60 a day of Senior Service untipped cigarettes for many years, to the despair of his wife and daughter. Although he heroically gave up “all at once” in the late 1960s, the habit inevitably affected his health in later years.

Samuel became engaged to, and in 1952 married, the lovely Ivy, who was by that time teaching at Bryn school. The new Mrs Bassett moved into the house in Trallwm Road with her husband and mother-in-law. In due course their daughter Margaret was born, and the family stayed there until 1960.

Sam secured a teaching post at Dynevor Boys’ Grammar School in Swansea. He taught there until the school was forced to become comprehensive in the 1970s. Dynevor was an excellent school and many of its alumni went on to great things in the fields of, inter alia, academia, politics and religion. Familiar names of boys whom Samuel taught include, amongst many others, Professor (now Lord) Brian Griffiths, Spencer Davies the musician, Julian Lewis MP, Dr Rowan Williams and of course the great Rev. John Walters. Sam found teaching bright boys very rewarding and by all accounts was a good and popular teacher. His imposing stature and obvious physical strength meant that he had no difficulty in maintaining discipline and was sometimes called upon by other teachers to come into their classrooms to restore order. He genuinely empathised with his pupils and liked to encourage them to fulfil their potential. He would hold up his best pupils as shining examples of diligence and hard work for his teenage daughter Margaret to follow, much to her bemusement, as she had inherited the characteristic Bassett laid-back approach to life. He also taught at “night school” at Swansea Tech, and commented that it was easier to teach students there than some of the boys at school, as the evening students were there because they really wanted to learn.

Following comprehensivisation, Sam taught at Hafod School for the last few years of his career. This was an eye-opener, and was very different from the cerebral ethos of Dynevor. He continued to do his best for his pupils as always, although this sometimes meant teaching thirteen-year-olds to read rather than discussing the work of the metaphysical poets.

There was, and may still be, a little group of former Dynevor staff who met for coffee in Swansea on a Monday morning. After he retired Sam joined his former colleagues for these sessions for some years. After he stopped being able to make the journey in, he kept in touch with some of the Dynevor masters. In particular, Mr Haydn Chandler was a frequent visitor and the friendship between him and Sam continued until Mr Chandler’s death a few years ago.

Sam’s imposing stature, looks and intellect could have led him to be otherwise, but he was a quiet, unassuming, very kind man and would always be willing to help anyone. He was generous of spirit, always saw the best in people and would go out of his way to encourage and help them to do their best. As a family man he was a strong, utterly dependable, patient, protective and loving. His daughter is very privileged to have grown up with such a rock to support and defend her.

Sam retired a couple of years before his due date, as did Ivy. However, theirs was not due to be a carefree retirement. In the autumn of 1987, Sam suffered a very severe stroke, which it was doubtful he would survive; but his great strength and determination prevailed and, slowly, he recovered. He regained his good humour and much of his physical and mental capability, but he lost the ability to translate his thoughts into words, either in writing or orally. For the final quarter of his life – 24 years – his ability to communicate verbally was severely restricted. Nevertheless, frustrating though it was, he never complained or moaned about his limitations and never sought to take his frustrations out on anyone else; he just got on with what he was able to do. He continued to do the crossword in the Sunday paper; he read voraciously, especially after he discovered Large Print books, and looked forward to his regular visits to the Library in Pontarddulais where librarians Pam and Sarah succeeded admirably in keeping him supplied with suitable titles.

Sam enjoyed music, particularly tenor singers. He was a good pianist and liked to entertain himself and the family by playing jazzed-up medleys of popular songs from the 1940s. He would play the piano daily for his own enjoyment, occasionally accompanied on guitar and harmonica by Ivy (yes, really) even after his stroke, and the house was full of music for an hour or so every day until Dupuytren’s contracture, a shortening of the tendons in the fingers, made it impossible to open and stretch his hands. He finally agreed to undergo an operation to alleviate the contracture in February this year, and the operation was successful and made life easier for him, although sadly not for long. He had an extensive collection of records, tapes and CDs, and generally preferred to listen to some melodious aria than to watch television, unless snooker was on!

The saddest thing about reaching a great age is that most of the friends of your youth, who share your memories, leave this life before you. Sam and Ivy celebrated their Golden Wedding in 2002. Sadly, Ivy passed away in 2004, and Sam thereafter lived in Pontarddulais with his daughter Margaret and her sheepdog Tip. Tip and Sam were a good team and enabled Margaret to continue to go out to work by looking after one another during the day. Tip died, full of years, last October and that night Sam, pacing around grieving for his old pal, fell over and broke his arm. Notwithstanding his broken arm Sam enjoyed the journey from Pontarddulais to their new home in Solihull and settled in very well. His strength was never quite what it had been before his fall, but he was well and happy until the last week or so of his life, when he found it an increasing struggle to get up and washed and dressed and shaved – although he did so, unaided, every day. The end when it came was sudden, unexpected and very swift.