INDIA-L ArchivesArchiver > INDIA > 2001-06 > 0993551209
From: "John Feltham" <>
Subject: [India-L] Obituray
Date: Tue, 26 Jun 2001 20:26:49 +1000
JERRY CORNES, who has died aged 91, followed up a career in the
Colonial Service by becoming headmaster of West Downs Preparatory
School; in youth, however, he had been more widely known as a superb
middle-distance runner, the winner of an Olympic silver medal in a world
still undarkened by professionalism.
Cornes's athletic prowess began to attract notice at Oxford, not that he
allowed training to exclude other university pursuits. He played a full
part in the life of his college, Corpus Christi, and enjoyed the distinction
of being rusticated for pelting the dons on the college's high table with a
In the Oxford University Sports of 1930, the mile was won in a time of 4
min 28 sec. Cornes came third, but realised that he could have done
rather better. Competing a fortnight later in the Varsity match, he won
the mile in 4 min 22.6 sec.
Four months afterwards, Cornes found himself representing the British
Empire against the United States at Chicago. Running with an
Australian, a Canadian and another Briton (Reg Thomas) in the 4 x one
mile relay, he helped to set a new world record of 17 min 2.4 sec. The
next year, 1931, representing Great Britain against Germany, he was a
member of a relay team which established another world record by
recording a time of 15 min 55.6 sec in the 4 x 1,500 metres.
Cornes gave the appearance of running with great ease. He liked to
turn on the pressure in the third lap, so that the opposition had nothing
left at the finish.
In 1932, when he was President of Athletics at Oxford, he won the
Varsity cross-country race, beating the previous record by almost a
minute, and also triumphed against Cambridge in both the mile and half-
mile. In a typically generous gesture he paused at the end of the mile to
allow Jack Lovelock, a New Zealander who was second string in the
Oxford team, to dead heat with him and thus gain a Blue.
Later that year Cornes went out to Los Angeles to compete in the
Olympics. As he came into the home straight in the last lap of the 1,500
metres final, he felt he had the race in the bag. The crowd rose, as he
thought, in his honour; in fact, though, they were cheering another
runner, an unknown Italian called Luigi Beccalli. By the time that Cornes
apprehended the danger, it was too late. The disappointment nagged
him for the rest of his life. "I did not represent the United Kingdom to
collect silver," he said.
After Oxford Cornes went into the Colonial Service, though he still
managed to run when on leave, and in 1934 finished third behind
Lovelock and Sydney Wooderson in the Empire Games mile at the
He took a nine-month sabbatical from the Colonial Office to train for the
Berlin Olympics of 1936. In the final of the 1,500 metres, Lovelock ran
the race of his life to carry off the gold. Cornes returned the fastest
time of his life for the distance (3 min 51.4 sec), but this only sufficed to
gain him sixth place.
John Frederick Cornes (always known as Jerry) was born on March 23
1910 at Darjeeling, the son of a judge in the Indian Civil Service; he had
a twin sister and a younger brother. Partly due to the First World War,
after the age of three he spent his childhood away from his parents with
relations and friends in England. Sent to school at Clifton, he excelled at
work, games (especially cricket) and athletics.
Having left Oxford with a Second in Modern History he chose the
Colonial Service in preference to the family firm of Cornes & Co of
London, Kobe & Yokohama. In 1932 he was sent to northern Nigeria
where he rode from village to village collecting taxes and assessing
In 1937, Cornes was transferred to Palestine, where as terrorism
began to increase during the Second World War, he took to sleeping
with a pistol under his pillow. He was lucky to escape with his life when
the King David Hotel was blown up in June 1946, having just left the
hotel to investigate the effect of diversionary bombs in front of the
Shortly afterwards Cornes returned to Britain. With his young family
growing up, he refused further postings abroad, and found an
agreeable job as supervisor of the Colonial Services courses at Oxford.
This involved helping visitors from overseas to acclimatise to life in
Britain; to this end he ran a hostel, the Colonial Services Club, and
founded a cricket club, the Hartebeestes. He also enjoyed dining rights
at Corpus Christi's high table, formerly the target of his bread missile.
In 1953 he left the Colonial Office, and the next year, after teaching for
a couple of terms at the Dragon School, bought West Downs
preparatory school at Winchester.
West Downs was then a highly traditional boarding school for about 100
boys. Cornes proved a breath of fresh air, encouraging all kinds of new
activities, including film shows, musical productions, pets and
computers. There were visits to plays and concerts - but also to a
telephone exchange, a butterfly farm, and a chocolate factory. Games
players were encouraged, but so were non-games players, and even
school haters. And while horizons were being widened under Cornes's
liberal regime, the Common Entrance and scholarship record became
one of the best in the country.
In the 1970s the demand for boarding places began to decrease; and
although Cornes's decision to introduce day boys, and day girls, meant
that the number of pupils reached a peak of 165 in 1978, he was unable
to make the school permanently viable. When he retired in 1988, West
Downs closed. Six years later the site was sold to King Alfred's
College, now part of Southampton University.
Jerry Cornes married, in 1937, Rachael (Ray) Addis, youngest
daughter of Sir Charles Addis, formerly chairman of the Hong Kong
and Shanghai Bank. They had four sons.
Daily Telegraph. London
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