In memory of Jack Simms '35

(9 April 1917 - 17 January 2014)

Jack passed away after a short illness in 17 January 2014 at the age of 97.

Jack pictured with his wife Doris



Jack was born in Oxford on 9th April 1917. Although christened John, he was known as Jack throughout his life.

His birth certificate shows him simply as John Simms, but at some point, and at quite a young age, he decided to give himself a middle name, and chose Anthony. His family tell me that they are not sure why he did this, or why he chose that particular name – they think he must have decided that his original name was simply too short, and that John Anthony Simms had more of a ring to it. Jack was brought up in Leckford Road, in North Oxford, and went to school firstly at St Faith’s, then at St Philip & St James, and finally at the Central School in Gloucester Green.

He sang in the choir at Phil & Jim’s, and was a member of the Church Lads Brigade. He greatly enjoyed the Brigade, where his favourite marching tune was Onward Christian Soldiers. He was very keen to attend Brigade camp and first did so at the age of nine – arriving home afterwards with only half of his kit, having managed somehow to lose the rest.

After leaving school in 1932, Jack joined what was then the Pressed Steel Company in Cowley. After three years’ workshop training, he embarked on a five-year engineering apprenticeship. This was the start of a long and illustrious career as a Chartered Mechanical Engineer. Jack was a gifted engineer and loved his profession.

During his working life, he was involved in many projects: as well as designing cars, he worked during wartime on planes, armoured vehicles, and even the British version of the jerry can which involved x-raying a German can captured in the western desert.

He was seconded to the Ministry of Works as a consulting engineer, and in 1944 he was Engineer in Charge of the experimental department, working on the Gloster Meteor aircraft and on one-man submarines. Although in a reserved occupation, Jack was a member of the Upper Thames Patrol, part of the Home Guard. The Patrol was known by its initials of UTP, which were considered by many to stand for “up the pub”. The boat in which they patrolled was owned by one of the squad, who was very protective of his varnished decks and insisted that the men wear carpet slippers whilst on duty – a memory which never ceased to amuse Jack. Towards the end of the war and immediately afterwards, Jack continued to work for the Ministry of Works, being involved in the design and production of prefabricated steel housing.

Jack met Doris in 1940 at a dance in Oxford Town Hall. It was apparently not love at first sight, although the relationship blossomed and they married on Boxing Day, 1942. As it was wartime, there are no photos of the day and the wedding cake was made of cardboard. It was, nevertheless, a very happy occasion.

After a short honeymoon at the Cumberland Hotel in London, Doris and Jack took up residence in a flat in George Street, Oxford, above where Jamie’s Italian is now situated, with very few mod cons, even less furniture and no carpets. Jack was seconded to a post in the USA in 1946, to work on a new design of stainless steel railway carriage. He and Doris lived for a year in Philadelphia, having flown out from the original London Airport with its passenger terminals consisting of ex-military marquees.

On their return to Oxford, Jack and Doris settled in Harbord Road, in North Oxford, adopting their daughter Tracy in 1957. In 1958, Jack became Chief Engineer at the Pressed Steel plant in Linwood, and he, Doris and Tracy moved to Scotland, eventually settling in Newton Mearns, just outside Glasgow.

In 1966, he was appointed as Group Standards Engineer at Cowley and the family moved to Woodstock. Jack retired in 1980, his distinguished career earning him a feature in the Oxford Times. He was by this time a Fellow of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, and continued to do consultancy work for the British Standards Institute for some years after he retired. Jack and Doris had many very happy years of retirement.

Jack had always loved driving and both he and Doris enjoyed going out and about – often visiting places of interest around the UK. A particular pleasure was going for pub lunches in the Cotswolds! They also ventured further afield, visiting India and China, as well as European destinations, being particularly fond of France and Italy.

In recent years, Jack and Doris were embraced by Oxford Brookes University as their oldest alumni. Although they didn’t know each other at the time, both had studied part-time in their youth at the Oxford Schools of Technology, Art and Commerce, which came to be known as the Oxford Polytechnic, later Oxford Brookes, and had met John Brookes himself. They were able to contribute their memories to the College’s archives and were delighted and proud to be invited to visit Oxford Brookes and to have their photographs published in the local press.

Jack was in good health until his 96th year but became housebound in November 2012 following a short illness. Doris took wonderful care of him at home until his condition deteriorated earlier this month and he was admitted to hospital, where he passed away three days later.

Jack and Doris were a devoted couple. On the morning of the day he died, before he slipped into unconsciousness, Jack had spoken to the doctor at the JR about their 71 years of marriage. Their long relationship was a central part of their lives and crucially important to them both.

Tribute by his daughter Tracy

My Dad was a quiet, private and kind man, who rarely spoke without first considering what he had to say and who rarely wasted words. He had a dry sense of humour and could convey his amusement (or sometimes, bemusement!) with a shake of the head and a roll of the eyes. He had a real passion for engineering. He told Mum recently that he felt he had been destined to become an engineer, his interest in building things and making them work having been sparked by a Meccano set which he owned as a boy and which he had used to build large and elaborate models, which filled his bedroom.

He knew his stuff: shortly after Dad’s retirement, I met someone who had worked with him at the Engineering Department in Cowley. We got chatting and, when he discovered that I was Jack Simms’ daughter, he told me that Jack was the only senior person in the department to whom he would ever go for advice, because he knew that the information which Jack gave him would always be accurate.

I told Dad this at the time – typically of him, he didn’t say much but he did smile broadly and look justifiably pleased. Even into old age, Dad never lost his interest in gadgets and he embraced computers in his early eighties. This was at the time when companies and institutions started inviting people to “visit our website for more information”. Dad realised that here was a new innovation, which he hadn’t mastered, and decided that he needed to rectify the situation. He enrolled in a beginners computing course at the local school; we gave him our old computer and he was away – browsing the web, sending emails and writing letters – later graduating to internet banking.

I was very proud of him and told everyone I knew that my dad had become a “silver surfer”. He was very well organised – if there was ever a screw or nail of a particular length needed, Dad would disappear into the garage and produce one from his meticulously labelled stores. He always kept things which he felt would be useful at some point in the future. I don’t know whether he ever actually found a use for that glass washing machine door but, knowing Dad, he probably did.

Dad loved our children, Sophie and Hannah, and he and Mum used to care for them once a week when they were small, while I was at work. The girls and I have recently been thinking and talking about him and both remember enjoying Grandad pushing them around Mum and Dad’s back garden in his wheelbarrow (at some speed)! Sophie remembers them being taught by Granddad to bang their knives and forks on the table at lunchtime, and to shout in unison “where’s my dinner?!” if Nana was a little slow in serving lunch. This is probably the sort of thing, which only grandfathers can get away with!

It was sad to see Dad not able to be active during the last year or so of his life, although even during this time, I think he was able to quietly enjoy life a lot of the time, despite often not feeling well.

He read the paper and watched TV, and didn’t lose his sense of humour. He had a carer, Emma, whose daily visits really cheered him up and Mum and I are both very grateful to her for that. These are just a few of my memories of my Dad. He was a lovely Dad and there is so much more that I could say, if only there were time. He and my Mum were incredibly happy together for 73 years and I don’t know how one could even begin to fit so many years’ worth of memories into such a small space. We will miss him so much – but we will never forget him.