“I couldn’t have met or wished for a better person or colleague if I had tried” - tributes paid to St Albans veteran and Poppy Appeal collector

Norman Davies teaching in Singapore.

Norman Davies teaching in Singapore. - Credit: Archant

Royal British Legion stalwart dies aged 82.

Norman Davies as Standard Bearer.

Norman Davies as Standard Bearer. - Credit: Archant

Poignant tributes have been paid to a St Albans veteran who served in Korea and Malaya, before embarking upon an educational career spanning several decades as an ‘inspirational and caring teacher-in-a-million’.

Norman Davies, 82, of Beresford Road, died from heart failure at his home on July 12.

He was well known in St Albans for his ready smile, quick wit and strong commitment to the Royal British Legion, after joining the local branch in 1998 and attending official events in the city, in memory of the fallen.

Norman became a popular fixture during his many voluntary fundraising stints for the Legion, as he would be seen annually in Morrisons supermarket in Fleetville – usually enjoying a chat with shoppers while selling poppies – and at St Albans City Station. He also delivered British Legion collection boxes to local pubs, to help raise tens of thousands of pounds for the charity.

Norman Davies teaching at Queens.

Norman Davies teaching at Queens. - Credit: Archant

In a touching tribute to his friend and fellow veteran, Don Dell, until recently the chairman of the St Albans branch of the Legion, said: “I couldn’t have met or wished for a better person or colleague if I had tried”.

Don recalled Norman becoming a Standard Bearer in 2006, initially in a temporary capacity “as he knew that I needed some help”.

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Sadly, Norman’s final parade was in May this year, having attended 42 parades and 12 funerals over the past 11 years in an official capacity as St Albans’ Standard Bearer.

Don added: “The year 2006 was also the start of his involvement in the Poppy Appeal, which he did with zest and courage. There was never a dull moment with him, he always had a joke ready, but could talk seriously as well.

Norman Davies and family.

Norman Davies and family. - Credit: Archant

“I am sure he will be greatly missed at Morrisons, as everyone would ask after him if he wasn’t around. I am sure he will be missed by the landlords of the local pubs who knew Norman well.”

Describing him as a “very loyal colleague and friend, who didn’t take fools lightly,” Don said that Norman was also, “very close to his family and [his sudden death is] a wrench for the family; my heart goes out to them.

“Our heartfelt thanks to the Davies family for sharing such a wonderful father with us.”

Well known locally as a character, Norman’s cheekiness was apparent as a youngster during the Second World War, when he was evacuated from London during the Blitz. While attending junior school south Wales, he held the class record for the boy who received the highest number of canings in one day.

He spent his early adulthood with the Royal Corps of Signals, one of the combat support arms of the British Army. Signals units are among the first into action, providing battlefield communications.

Norman served in Korea in 1954 before joining the campaign in Malaya in 1955.

In a speech he wrote about his years after being demobbed, Norman said that in 1961 he was a, “hard-up teacher working in the East End of London. To make ends meet I secured a part-time job as a chauffeur with a company supplying limousines, mainly Rolls-Royces, to the film industry around London.”

Thus, he ended up driving many a Hollywood star, including Robert Mitchum, Gregory Peck, Warren Beatty and Gina Lollobrigida. One of his more infamous passengers was former showgirl Christine Keeler, whom he ferried to court in 1963.

There has been a deluge of tributes from his former students, particularly as he taught at Queens’ School in Bushey for nearly 30 years, and was head of Sutherland House for most of that time. Ann Garratt, a former deputy head of Sutherland House, described Norman as a “game-changer in many kids’ lives”.

During annual school trips to the Forest of Dean, where he taught pupils how to use walkie-talkies, Norman, ever the wit, would encourage them to write in their daily journals, ‘Mr Davies loves and cares for us all’. This quip was returned in kind by his former charges when, upon retiring from Queen’s School in 1999 he was given a trophy engraved with those very words, and which he kept on a shelf ever since.

Former pupils remember him as a ‘warm, caring man’ and a ‘teacher-in-a-million’, while one described Norman as, “loved by most, feared by few but admired and respected by everyone. A true gentleman whose integrity was without question”.

Christo Tofalli, landlord of Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans, and a former pupil, said that Norman was a “mentor and inspiration to me and many others. His lessons, compassion and guidance didn’t stop when I left school. He moulded my career and channelled my energy in all the right areas.”

Norman Davies is survived by four children, six grandchildren and two step-grandchildren.

• A funeral service will be held on Thursday, July 27, at 2pm at West Herts Crematorium in Garston, followed by a wake at Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans. Family flowers only, but donations can be made to the Poppy Appeal through Phillips Funeral Services.