Thursday, 18 August 2022

John Cassells — September 27, 1934 to March 13, 2016

JOHN did not have an easy start to life. Born just before the Second World War

JOHN did not have an easy start to life. Born just before the Second World War into a military family, he lost his father, George Wilfred, a professional soldier, in the Monte Cassino offensive in Italy.

As a direct result of this loss, at the age of nine, he and his twin brother George were sent as boarders to the Duke of York’s Royal Military Academy for an army education, leaving their mother and sister at home in Stonor.

Both twins were very able sportsmen and also performed well academically. They were popular among their peers and made many friends, some of whom John would see at regular reunions throughout his adult life.

From the academy both twins graduated into the regular army where they joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, stationed initially as trainees at Arborfield.

John enjoyed his time in the REME, making more good friends and visiting many parts of the world that at that time he would have been unable to visit independently.

He earned promotion and a promising army career lay ahead of him until, sadly, fate once again intervened.

In 1956, at the age of 21, his twin brother George was killed in a shooting incident in Cyprus.

No longer having any appetite for army life, John was compassionately discharged and returned to live in Henley.

Using the skills he had learned in the REME, John pursued a career in toolmaking and engineering with various local companies during which time he worked on the development of Concorde, among many other projects.

Always wise with his money, he purchased his bungalow in Greys Road when it was constructed in 1958 and lived there continuously until shortly before his death. He did not own a car until he was in his thirties and would cycle to work in Maidenhead, White Waltham and other venues, taking White Hill in his stride — a sight some people still comment on!

John was a gifted sportsman throughout his life. He enjoyed a variety of sports but his main love was rugby union.

He played more than 100 games for the first team at Henley Rugby Club from 1956 until he was in his forties. Initially, he was a flanker but then moved to prop.

His enthusiasm for rugby encouraged his sons, George and Christopher, and grandsons Peter, Ollie and Michael to follow in his footsteps at the club.

He was a keen runner throughout his life and earned many medals from runs all over the country, including the London Marathon, which he ran in support of the Alzheimer’s Society.

He played an active role in various walking groups, including the Long Distance Walkers Association where again he made many new friends.

On one notable occasion he combined his interests by walking to Chester to meet up with a Henley Rugby Club touring party on the afternoon of a match, changing directly into his kit, playing for the whole game and then walking on to Newcastle to visit relatives.

After many years in engineering, John became a postman in the Henley office. These final years of his working life were perhaps his happiest. He enjoyed meeting people and making new friends, particularly on the Stoke Row round, where he was adopted as a member of the community and invited to many local events.

The post was always punctual but if you ever met up with John he was always ready for a chat and showed great interest in his friends’ lives and families. He was also more than happy to relate his recent life history to all who would lend an ear.

Sadly, John lost his mother, Joan Amy Noel, to Alzheimer’s disease, the inspiration for his London Marathon run, and more recently his sister Shirley and brother-in-law Maurice (Uncle Mac), all of which hurt him badly. Shirley and Mac in particular had been of great support to him as his own Alzheimer’s disease worsened.

John had suffered from worsening Alzheimer’s disease for several years but, with the help of medication and the support of his family, had continued to live at home. He would still take his regular daily walks and, hating an untidy Henley, appointed himself as an unofficial litter collector on his travels.

As his memory failed, his chats would become more repetitive but he still loved to talk to anyone who had the time. He was happy to relate his date of birth and home address and to demonstrate that he could still touch his toes.

He coped with some memory failure by calling all the girls and ladies he chatted to “Cinderella”, something which many of them remember fondly.

John loved family occasions and get-togethers — they could not happen often enough for him.

He would always enquire after family and grandchildren in particular and enjoyed any visits to him. He played a full part in our last family Christmas gathering, organising all, and winning many of, the games played and spending time with his sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren.

Although he had been looking forward to moving in with family, John’s condition worsened as 2016 began.

His illness started to affect his good spirits and he seemed to realise that his condition would not be cured. His pride would not allow him to become any more dependent on others and he gradually faded away before his family’s eyes.

John will be sadly missed by many, many people in the area and beyond and particularly by his sons, George, Christopher, Ian and Robert, his surviving sister Patricia and all of their families.

• The funeral took place at Reading Crematorium on Wednesday last week and was followed by a wake at the Catherine Wheel in Hart Street, Henley. The family requested that any donations be made to the Alzheimer’s Society, c/o Tomalin & Son, funeral directors, 38 Reading Road, Henley-on-Thames, Oxon, RG9 1AG.

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