Attention: You are using an outdated browser, device or you do not have the latest version of JavaScript downloaded and so this website may not work as expected. Please download the latest software or switch device to avoid further issues.

News > Your Stories > Your Stories

Your Stories

Roger Croker writes of his most interesting life.
Your Life - Your Stories
Your Life - Your Stories



Sidcot was my best, but not my first educational experience away from home. I was born in northwest London, just long enough before WWII to understand what was happening around us and why my parents had to make the painful decision – twice – to send me and my older sister, Janet, to Yelland Manor, a Quaker-sponsored evacuation home for children in the Lake District. Although it was not a formal boarding school, Yelland not only provided us food, shelter and a caring environment but ensured our basic education was not neglected.

While brief, these experiences taught me about independence and self-confidence and laid the foundations that Sidcot would build on.

Sidcot was still a small school after the war – perhaps a hundred students – and the first thing I noticed was that every new scholar was treated and genuinely cared for as an individual. That was important, especially to our international students who faced the additional challenges of adjusting to a new country and culture. Having been raised in a Quaker family, I felt instantly at home in the Sidcot environment and was able to fit in without changing a single thing. Still, whether we were Quaker or not, Sidcot never stopped challenging and inspiring each of us to do our best, become our best, and – of course – learn how to live adventurously.

I had always preferred mathematics and science to other disciplines and was happiest doing equations, conducting experiments and figuring out how the laws of physics worked. When not pondering these mysteries, I was somewhere outdoors, either on the rugby field (a scrum half), running long-distance and cross-country, cycling, hiking, or exploring underground with the Sidcot School Speliological Society. I also joined the Boy Scouts in Third Form and in time achieved the rank of Queen's Scout.

Being a less-than-gifted a writer, artist and linguist, I limited any cultural activity to whatever I wasn't truly terrible at. Playing Algernon in “The Importance of Being Earnest” was my one great moment in the limelight, but the theatre wasn't for me. I also had an interest in the violin which Miss Poole attempted to develop. While we eventually agreed that I would never be a virtuoso, for two years I had a spot in the string section of the school orchestra and happily fiddled along. Movies were a complete bore because I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to waste time watching them. Still, with my knack for all things mechanical, I was quite content to run the projector on school movie nights.

We all have that one teacher who stands out as an inspiration and role model and mine was Mr. Hinton. First and foremost, he ticked all the boxes for a perfect teacher: he totally understood and was passionate about his subject, he made every student feel worthy, and he always went above and beyond to ensure that we “got it”, thoroughly enjoyed what we were learning and would make the grade. The fact that he taught physics was a bonus. Mr. and Mrs. Hinton were also the Houseparentsfor Third Form residents of Coombe House and could always be counted on to support and guide newcomers through the challenges of their first year at Sidcot. While I might not have had to rely on them as much as the others did, I observed and understood the compassion and care they brought to their roles and was inspired by their example.

Finally, no story from this era would be complete without a tale about David Murray-Rust, in this case how he and his wife came to my rescue after I broke my knee playing rugby. The cast applied in hospital was cumbersome, I was going to be on crutches for some time and there was simply no way for me to climb the stairs to my dormitory. Hearing about my situation, the Murray-Rusts promptly offered me a room on the first floor of their home for as long as I needed it. They may not have been family, but I'll always be grateful for those three wonderful weeks when they made me part of theirs.

When the time finally came, leaving Sidcot was very difficult because I had been truly happy there. University was not an option at that point in my life and my path forward was far from clear. However, I was a Sidcotian and had been taught to live adventurously, so I set out as boldly as I could to discover what life had in store. I had become quite a nature enthusiast with all that time outdoors and loved animals of all sorts. As farming seemed to be a good option, I found a dairy farm in Staffordshire that would take me on. Being a farmhand was hard work but I enjoyed it immensely. It was also excellent training for someone aspiring to own his own farm one day, but two years later I realized that achieving this goal could take an extremely long time, much longer than I was prepared to wait. Long ago I had other dreams and this was the right moment to do something about them.

During the war years, when I wasn't away in the Lake District, I lived next to the RAF base in Hendon. Every day I would watch Spitfires taking off and returning from their runs across the Channel and understood that the dedicated and courageous pilots flying those planes were protecting me and my family. Young Quaker-in-training or not, I was determined to do the same thing when I grew up, so after leaving the farm my next stop was the London RAF recruiting office.

The recruiters were absolutely delighted to meet me but in the end we differed on a few minor details, like what roles might be open to me or how far I should expect to go. To say I was disappointed was an understatement, but after settling down I decided it was time to seek some life advice from a cooler and wiser head. The logical choice for this consultation was my maternal uncle, Fred Wade, a highly respected nuclear physicist and a very important role model as I was growing up.

Uncle Fred had always had a warm spot for me, and when confronted with my dilemma suggested I may have been looking at things the wrong way and should examine the problem from a different perspective. He shrewdly observed that I was probably expecting to achieve my life's ambition close to home but was now having to contemplate settling for second best, whatever that was. Fred, whose own career had taken him to many parts of the world including North America, noted that in some of these countries a young man with the right skills, ambition and willingness to work hard could become whatever he wished. Perhaps a bright young fellow like myself might want to think about that.

This was all I needed to hear, and before long Fred was seeing me off on a one-way flight to Canada and my next great adventure. This was no small gamble because I was leaving with only a suitcase, seven pounds in my pocket, a date to show up for basic training, and the firm belief that I had what it took to become a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Thankfully the RCAF saw things exactly the same way, and I went on to complete my training, graduate with the rank of Flying Officer and, for the next few years, serve and protect my new country.

I had first arrived in Canada in 1957, long after the end of WWII and, later on, the Korean conflict. Because the RCAF's stated intention was to train a strong air force reserve that could be mobilized in the event the Cold War heated up, most of us were not destined to remain beyond five years. So, after completing my service, including a tour of active duty at the Canadian base in BadenSoellingen, Germany,

I left the RCAF and began my career as a commercial pilot. My first experience was in “bush” flying with a small company called Austin Airways. Austin operated in Canada's far north where the weather was harsh and unpredictable and ground transport was sparse-to-non-existent. I learned to fly several types of aircraft which, amongst other things, could land on water or ice depending on the time of year. This job also provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to visit some of Canada's most remote regions and their inhabitants, and because pilots like myself were often the only connection between these communities and the outside world and their survival depended on us, we were always welcomed and treated like family. One of my favourite far north communities was Cape Dorset, a hamlet on a tiny island tucked just below the Arctic Circle, which was - and still is – the home of a thriving community of globally-recognized Inuit artists.

I had always followed the exploits of Sir Edmund Hillary, which may explain some of the interests pursued during my time at Sidcot. Now that I had learned to survive life in Canada's far north, I decided it was time to write and ask if he would take me along on his next expedition. Although he didn't accept me, his personal response remains one of my most treasured possessions.

With my heart still set on seeking new adventure, I decided to leave Austin Airways to join a Canadian mining company as an airborne geophysical surveyor. Not long after, the company shipped me to Australia to do similar work in the outback where Canadian mining companies were becoming quite active. After a memorable year there, I returned home and rejoined Austin Airways. However, it wasn't long before the company was acquired by Air Canada and I found myself flying passenger routes for a major international carrier.

Marriage and children followed, my experience and seniority with Air Canada continued to grow, and over the next close to twenty years I was able to visit nearly every corner of the world while doing what I loved the most. Much of this was thanks to Air Canada, but because safety regulations limited the number of hours per month I was allowed to fly passengers, there was ample time for other ventures. Over the years I was able to build a successful aircraft pick-up and delivery business on the side with my co-pilot, partner and best friend, Glen Code. Best of all, I was finally able to buy a farm of my own!

I was truly grateful for this life but had no idea it was about to change. Air Canada had just presented me with a new opportunity to relocate to Montreal as Base Operations Manager for Austin Airways and I decided to take it. Much of the work was in the office or on the tarmac, but there were still opportunities to get back in the cockpit and instruct pilots in Canada and overseas on the finer points of  various aircraft.

arely into my forties, and with many good flying years left, I suddenly suffered a major retinal detachment. Despite best efforts by the country's top eye surgeon, my vision was permanently damaged and I had no choice but to surrender my commercial license. For me, staying in the industry without being able to fly was unbearable and shortly afterwards I resigned.

What was I to do next? It had been a long time since I had faced this huge a challenge and it took a great deal of time to figure this one out. I tried several things, none of them particularly thrilling or productive, but eventually the light bulb went off. By this time, I was living in Muskoka, Ontario's version of the Lake District, in a cottage on the shores of Lake Muskoka. All my immediate neighbours were seasonal residents from Toronto, several of whom were quite wealthy, and one of the first things I noticed about them was their non-stop obsession

with property improvement. Whether adding new buildings, expanding or renovating existing ones, or simply keeping up with whatever everyone else was doing, these people always had projects on the go and constantly needed building contractors. One day it occurred to me that all that science and mathematics training and aviation experience were an ideal background for someone interested in the construction business and that I could quite likely become a successful general contractor. The first and most critical step was to apprentice myself to a master carpenter, learn enough about other trades to be able to organize and oversee their work, and then see whether my friends and neighbours would give me a go. The strategy worked and my new career took off.

Several years passed before fate stepped in again. It was 2003, Uncle Fred had just passed away from prostate cancer, and I needed to go back home to Dorset to bid him farewell. By then I had been on my own for some time and was perfectly happy with that life. I was even beginning to think about retirement and perhaps a final move to the east coast of Canada. But on the flight from Toronto to Heathrow I found myself seated next to a most interesting woman named Donna who was on her way to business meetings in London. We hit it off immediately, the hours flew by, and by the end of the flight we both knew this was no chance encounter. Less than a year later we were married.

Traditional honeymoons last only a week or two, but ours continued for the next six years. Donna's work as a regulator involved a number of international responsibilities, one of which had now opened the door to a posting at the Bank for International Settlements. After deciding we definitely wanted to do this, and because she was needed at very short notice, we moved up the wedding and a few days later flew to Switzerland for what we expected to be a two-year assignment. But the two years led to four more, thanks to a second unexpected opportunity for Donna to take on a more senior role with a second international organization based in Madrid. It was a challenging time for both of us, but we were given the chance to live in new cultures, make new friends and, when time permitted, pursue our mutual love of global travel.

One of Donna's work assignments provided an opportunity for us to visit Chile together. It was her first time there, but I had come to know this spectacularly beautiful country much earlier during my days delivering aircraft. She was smitten, just as I had been, and when we had a second chance to visit we took the time to comb the Pacific coast for a perfect second home by the ocean. And we found it.

When the time came for Donna to retire in 2009, we looked at several options, including Chile, but in the end decided to return to Canada. Chile remained part of our lives for several years afterwards and to this day we remember this as a very special part of our life together.

Everyone knows Canada is a huge country and we must have looked at nearly every corner of it before landing on the tiny fishing community of Beaver Harbour, New Brunswick and a rustic Oceanside home on the Bay of Fundy. We were attracted not only by the beauty and simple lifestyle of this place but also its unique history and connection to my roots. The original town had been founded in 1783 after the United States War of Independence by a shipload of United Empire Loyalist refugees, primarily Quakers from the border colonies of Pennsylvania and New York. Having full permission from the Crown to organize and operate the town as they saw fit, these Quakers made history by establishing Beaver Harbour as the first community in North America to prohibit slavery within its boundaries, decades before slavery was finally abolished in both countries.

Ten years have passed and Donna and I are still happily settled in Beaver Harbour, in good health, and active enough to be able to do what we love. While we are blessed with good friends and family here, in various parts of Canada and around the world, what I continue to enjoy most is maintaining and improving our home, communing with the local wildlife and watching the highest tides in the world come and go.

Last October, Donna and I, together with Uncle Fred's daughter Veronica and her husband Michael, made a memorable visit to Sidcot. It had been over sixty years since I left, and I was struck by how much the school has grown and evolved while preserving the best of everything I remembered from my youth. This was a very special moment that I will treasure always.

In closing, let me salute and wish every success to the current and future generations of Sidcot scholars. Each and every one of you will begin your adult life with the same excellent foundation that Sidcot provided me so many years ago and will have the same chances as I did to live an adventurous life. I believe I lived up to Sidcot's expectations and so will you.

Similar stories

Remembering them

Please see below details of recent deaths of Sidcotians we have been made aware of. In friendship, the alumni office. More...

Have your say

This website is powered by