Roland Thomas 1919 – 2006

Originally published in the December 2006 edition of the Membership Newsletter (No.41)

Roland Thomas 1919 – 2006

From a farming background in  mid-Wales, Roland was conscripted into the Navy in 1939 and served for six and a half years as a Senior Signalman on minesweepers and then on warships in the North Atlantic and the Far & Middle East.  For some of his naval years he was drafted into the Norwegian navy for which he was awarded the Kriegsmedallion, presented to him by the King of Norway.

Immediately after demobilisation, he studied Chemistry and Soil Science at Bangor (under G.W.Robinson) and in 1949 joined NAAS (later ADAS) as a Soil Chemist.  Initially based at Aberystwyth and then Cambridge where he worked on copper and manganese deficiencies in the Breckland, with spectacular results.  He also studied wind erosion and the stabilisation of sands and peats.  He was then transferred to Newcastle H.Q. for four years where he took a particular interest in glasshouse crop nutrition.  For the latter part of his career he was in charge of the ADAS Soil Science Department at the Starcross centre in Devon from where he retired in 1982.

He lived at Dawlish and immediately became very active in the social life of the community.  He joined the Rotary and Probus movements and toured overseas on their behalf.  However, his most important contribution as a public spirited citizen was to be appointed Chairman of the ‘Friends of Dawlish Hospital’.  He held that post for many years where he provided much of the impetus to raise funds for the completion of a new hospital; an achievement of which Roland was justifiably proud.  He initiated a Welsh Society at both Newcastle and Dawlish both of which prospered for many years.  A fluent and enthusiastic Welsh speaker, he could pronounce without a pause the name of that village with 26 letters!  A convivial, larger-than-life character, Roland was well known at BSSS Conferences as a raconteur of long and complex jokes.  Many will remember his presentation of a monologue on ‘The Death of Nelson’

We think he would not have minded having the following true story retold, of an incident during his wartime career.  While his ship was docked in Australia, Roland took a short leave-of-absence and borrowed a motor cycle to visit a Welsh community inland.  After a warm and hospitable time with them, he was riding back to port and was faced by a Y-fork in the road. Not knowing which to take, right or left-hand he was so undecided, he did neither and went straight on through a field gate.  Although knocked out he was no seriously injured and woke up in hospital and then back to his ship.   After this painful episode his lifetime policy was ‘that it is better to make the wrong decision than none at all’.

Roland will be greatly missed for his cheerful, optimistic personality and his faithful, helpful companionship by his family and all his friends and past colleagues.

Provided by Ken Shaw and Tom Batey