Leatherhead Parish Church: Leslie & Joan Ralph

11 Sep 2007: Nigel Godsell, Joan Ralph's cousin's son writes: In their younger days both were very fit, played tennis at their local courts and were keen cyclists. Indeed, Les cycled to work in Richmond for years. Likewise Joan used to cycle two or three times a week from their home on the Common to the shops, up and down Wimbledon Hill. As active members of the Cyclist Touring Club, he and Joan spent holidays cycling many miles around Dorset and Devon.

A Rudge & an Elswick - taken on a 60-70 mile day trip in Summer 1952, near Lulworth, S Dorset

Les was also a demon all-round cricketer, turning out for the annual match between rival firms of Solicitors played on Richmond Green. Les had wide-ranging hobbies that he avidly pursued, from both classical and popular music, through building and sailing model boats, to stamp collecting. Other interests included model railways, taking me from the age of nine to the Horticultural Hall, Westminster for the annual exhibitions organised by The Model Railway Club of Great Britain. We also attended the stamp (collectors) exhibitions held annually at the same venue.

Joan's interests revolved around the garden (she was a member of a Fuchsia & Geranium Growers society as well as the RHS) needlework and knitting, and their pets - first tortoises then cats.

In later years, Leslie and Joan abandoned their cycles, in favour of the motorcar. With the car, they proceeded to investigate further the countryside surrounding Cheddar and Axbridge, in Somerset. They both had a great love of this part of England, which they readily shared with my wife and myself. They became firm friends with Frank and Kay who ran the Old Court House B&B in Axbridge, their base in the West Country for many years. Indeed, such was the friendship that Frank & Kay used to stay with Les and Joan, and join in the large family and friends celebrations over the Christmas period.

Joan was in her element at family and friends' get-togethers, and many memorable meals were enjoyed at their house whilst sat in their moderate size kitchen on improvised, and sometimes precarious, seats such as an ironing-board spread across to two chairs to seat four people. Joan was always keen, using us young children as the excuse, to play games that invariably degenerated into howls of laughter. Les used to do a sidesplitting turn as 'Eerie Edwyne' at the Christmas get-togethers. The act borrowed a lot from Tommy Cooper! The protracted, precision handkerchief folding followed by a raucous nose blowing, Leslie made his own, and was an absolute showstopper.

Having lived on Wimbledon Common throughout their married life, the 'honorary Wombles' retired to Leatherhead to make many new and dear friends.

The above notes contributed significantly to Canon David Eaton's Address at Joan's funeral.

Here are some photos reflecting more of their life and interests:

War Service Les met Joan at a dance in Grantham on the 12th May 1944 and they were married exactly a year later.

Immediately following their marriage, Les serving with the RAF component of the USAAF IX Troop Carrier Command was posted to India. This picture was taken in June 1946 when Leading Aircraftman Leslie E. Ralph was en route back home from India aboard Cunard White Star liner Georgic. Leslie's time in India left a lasting impression on him. After all, it's where he honed his (vamp-style) piano playing skills by entertaining the 'chaps' in the mess.

Lance Corporal Joan A. Skilling, Auxiliary Territorial Service, in 1944. She was attached to a SE London Anti-Aircraft battery and fiercely proud of having been so. Joan felt, for years, that the ATS had failed to be fully recognised for their important part in the defence of London and the vital role of freeing-up enlisted men for the 'fronts'.

West Country Les & Joan loved the atmosphere at the densely-wooded Ebbor Gorge that was a perfect place to sit with a late-afternoon cup of tea and listen to the birdsong occasionally interrupted by the buzz of an insect - this 1970 picture of Les & Joan was taken one month after celebrating their Silver Wedding.

Model Boats Les started building model boats in 1966. Not all was plain sailing...

Les is shown below with a hand on Tuna the first model boat built by him with the absolute minimum of tools. He is with Nigel Godsell, who says "whereas I cheated and used power tools for my one and only excursion into model boats - also a cabin cruiser, named Rona". In this 1967 picture taken at the Kingsmere Pond on Wimbledon Common, Tuna and Rona are about to shove-off on their somewhat ignominious maiden voyages for, following a simultaneous release, they collided after a few seconds and continued on in a wide arc with their sides firmly touching. Les and I raced-off around the pond to retrieve our boats with the roars of laughter, from Joan and my wife, ringing in our ears.

There followed a succession of Sunday afternoons spent model boating - weather permitting - as we tried different combinations of propellers and rudders to improve the performance of our boats. Joan and my wife would often leave us to it and go for a walk across the Common, or visit the gardens of Cannizaro House as they shared a passion for gardening.

Les at the Kingsmere pond on Wimbledon Common, in 1985, about to launch his scratch-built model of the Kriegsmarine Gneisenau class battleship Scharnhorst. Les's final essay in model boat building was a 6 foot long model of Royal Navy's battleship HMS Hood, again, built from scratch.


The Legal Business The Institute of Legal Executives was established in 1963 with the support of the Law Society. It recognised that many non-solicitor staff employed in fee earning work, and in the management of firms, needed and wanted a formal method which would improve standards and award recognition for knowledge and skills.

Les strongly sympathised with their aims and applied for, and was accepted, as a Fellow of the Institute. He wholeheartedly supported a colleague's suggestion to form a local branch of the Institute. Consequently when in 1967 the southwest London branch of the Institute of Legal Executives was formed, Les became secretary.

The branch flourished with a very active social side and the year became full of Wine & Cheese Evenings, slide lectures & shows, and Dinner Dances. The branch's Dinner Dances were held at The Bull, Sheen.

This picture was taken in 1970 when Les was Chairman of the branch, with Les & Joan are the President of the Institute and his wife (they attended all the branch functions) and the President of the Mid-Surrey Law Society.

Royal Air Force Association Les along with Joan joined the Morden branch of the Royal Air Force Association. Over the years they were involved in many RAFA functions and marched in Remembrance Day Parades along Whitehall.

Daisy Youell has kindly provided this photo of them on a Wings Appeal sortie. She added that she had many happy memories as they were good friends and great company in the 'RAFA gang' (aka the Morden Branch).

24 Sep 2007: from Hilary (Les's cousin) and Michael Harmer - It’s difficult for us to think of Joan and Les as anything but a couple as they were like youthful grandparents in our family circle. Our abiding memories of them are of the many Christmases they shared with us and with their other close relatives, Nigel and Jane and family. Christmas Day would be spent in Worthing and between then and the New Year we would meet up with Nigel and Jane at the 'Ralphs' for a second Christmas. Each year there was an additional member of the family as Jane and Hilary took it in turns to have another baby! Joan was in her element cooking and serving dinner and Les was his usual patient self doing as he was told. After lunch we would take a stroll on Wimbledon Common followed by tea and the 'Christmas tree presents' that were hung from its branches for the children - and the various cats never forgot to give presents either! We would then all settle down to playing party games during the evening. They were real traditional family Christmas celebrations and typical of the kind and generous nature of Les and Joan.

12 Oct 2007: from Carol Johnson (née Godsell), sister of Nigel, Joan's second cousins

From a very early age Joan and Les were part of my life. They lived at the top of the hill on Wimbledon Common and we lived at the bottom in Raynes Park. My childhood is full of memories of my 'aunt and uncle', in fact, Joan was my second cousin, but because of the age difference, and in deference to that age gap, I was taught to call them aunt and uncle.

During the late 1940s, 1950s and 1960s we often visited them as a family group, mum, Judy (Joan's first cousin) and dad, Frank Godsell, my younger brother Nigel and I, and we were all a lot fitter then! After having walked up the hill, we would grab the cricketing gear and off we would go to find a suitable pitch on the Common. These cricket matches would always be full of laughter, even hysterics because the 'bat' was usually an old tennis racket. The most memorable was the day that my dad bowled and Les went to hit the ball but instead of an amazing shot the ball went straight through the strings. Everybody creased up with laughter, Joan and my mum, Judy, amongst the loudest and giggliest.

Carol batting and Les wicket keeping on Wimbledon Common:

I have to explain that outwardly Leslie appeared to be a very serious conscientious person and very much the ex-RAF type (not the done thing, old boy) but underneath there was humour and mischief that given the opportunity would readily emerge. He was very fond of WW2 movies and was proud of his time in the RAF and we would tease him incessantly about The Bridge on the River Kwai and The Dam Busters. He was also a great fan of period dramas of the Ripping Yarn' variety like The Man in the Iron Mask.

Our other pastime, during our visits to the common, was blackberry picking. Judy, Joan and I used to attempt to find the largest, juiciest and inaccessible ones. Joan and mum used to stand by urging me forward, whilst I dived into the thick bushes.

Judy, Joan and Carol blackberry picking circa 1957

Joan was always very enterprising and keen to try out new ventures. It was during a venture into catering that she and her crew took on the task of catering my wedding reception in August 1965. My vision of her there, was her outfit (not the wedding one) but of the traditional waitress in black and white with the little pinny.

It was at that time that I moved away from the family and though I did not visit them much during the year I did always try and visit them at Christmas to enjoy one of Joan's famous Christmas dinners. I know my brother has described the seating arrangements at these events. I do recall that some of us younger ones were seated in an area that subsequently included the WC of a new bathroom (formerly the kitchen). The other feature of the festivities was Joan's general knowledge quizzes, which I often used to win, compiled with a lot of effort by Les. Dad lightened these otherwise 'to be taken seriously at all costs' written quizzes by employing his Bletchley Park brain and classical education to provide enigmatic alternative and humorous answers for the questions. Quizmaster Joan's response at answer-time was a laugh, having rapidly caught the misinterpretation, and the dismissive rebuke: "No, Frank!" Dad for his part acted suitably miffed!

Synonymous with Joan and Les were the tortoises, Percy and Mabel and it was always the first thing we children used to ask, "Can we see the tortoises?". As the years rolled by Percy and Mabel grew bigger and bigger and were joined by cats.

Room for a small one on top!

Indeed we used to exchange stories about our various cats. It was, in fact, her last cat, Smudge who caused the most concern after her death in that we had to find him a new home. I am pleased to say that he is now living in Mickleham. I am sure that Joan would have approved of our efforts.

The following appeared in the November 2007 Parish magazine:

The Family of Joan Ralph would like to thank everyone who came to her funeral service in September. Joan and Leslie were very happy during their years in Leatherhead and made many friends from the Church. She was always very thankful for the care and companionship she received especially in recent difficult times. We know she appreciated your support and friendship. Jane Godsell

11 Sep 2007 Frank Haslam writes: Alison Wright handed over the role of Friends of Leatherhead Parish Church Membership Secretary to Joan and Les, and they were also part of her parish magazine team, editing photos.

In 2001 Ron Presley OBE, the then chairman of the Friends wrote in the annual newsletter:

"The passing of Les Ralph has been particularly keenly felt. Les and Joan were due to retire this year having served five years as joint Membership Secretaries, organising the collection of subscriptions and collecting boxes: they had also hosted most of our Committee meetings. Earlier this year Les suffered a stroke. After the AGM I took him a gift of CDs and flowers for Joan, to express our thanks for all that they had done. However, Les's health deteriorated and on a hot Summer's day many of us gathered with his friends and family for his funeral in his beloved Parish Church."

In 2002 Ron noted "Very generous friends and family gave a total of £1000 in memory of former Membership Secretary Les Ralph, contributing significantly to the refurbishment of the church clock."

I occasionally took Joan and Les to meetings of Guildford RAFA, which they seemed to enjoy - they were members of the Morden Branch. Les was always proud of having served in the RAF and often spoke of his time in India. Joan was equally proud of her ATS service and it came as no surprise that she had been on a gunsite!

from the October 2007 Parish magazine
Joan Ralph
It was always difficult to believe that Joan and Les Ralph were relative newcomers to Leatherhead, because they really wanted to be involved and quickly became embedded in the life of the place. I inherited them with the magazine! They (and for a short time Mary Hamilton) used to choose the illustrations for each issue, and our monthly sessions were great fun. First it was scissors and glue (it was a few years ago!) and then with the computer, with many oohs and aahs from the Ralphs about the wonders of modern science. They were so enthusiastic and cheerful about it all, and very loyal friends.

Remembrance: source Wright

I had further cause to be grateful to them when they took over the duty of membership secretaries of the Friends of the Parish Church. Joan was a staunch supporter of the Sunday morning service at Leatherhead Hospital and Helena Hill's prayer group.

After Les died Joan was often stuck for transport, and I tried to teach her to drive a scooter She went at it with great determination but kept turning the handlebars too soon, with the result that the back crashed into the lamp post, hedge, or other obstacle.

She was great on Gloria [the minibus] outings, laying the law down, sometimes complaining, but always pleased to be there! We will miss her, and Rene Vokes, a lot. Emma Vivian's newly formed book group will miss Joan as well: one always knew where one stood with her, and if she thought a book was a load of rubbish, she said so!
Alison Wright

unless otherwise stated, images via Nigel Godsell: if you have more photos of Les or Joan or further remembrance to add, please contact Frank Haslam, the editor of these pages.

return to Remembrance home page

page last updated 30 Nov 2007