Managing Director of H&G Simonds Brewery, 1959
Eric Duncan Simonds, known as Duncan, was born in June 1917 at the family home, Pensdell on Murdoch Road just outside Wokingham. In 1920 aged just 3 the family moved to Mertonford nearby where they lived until 1931 when they moved to Audleys Wood. He was the 2nd of three sons to Eric & Amy Simonds, Louis (1910-1947) Kenneth (1920-2006) and Amy (1914-1914). The 3 brothers were very close.
Here I will try to show my father’s very full life both in pictures and with a more serious side. Hoping that there will be something to interest his family, his colleagues and especially his grandchildren.
He was educated first at St Neots and then at Eton from 1930 – 1935. Here in Summer 1935 in the formal uniform of the day. The winged collar marks him out as the ‘Head of (his) House’.
There was then no concept of a ‘Gap Year’. But in February 1936 he set off in a school party of 23 boys by ship to Australia, which took them a month via the Suez Canal. He recorded every part of the then extraordinary trip across Australia from Perth to Brisbane by train & bus in a scrap book, that you can see HERE: [awaits scanning]
For the young of today, it is worth reminding you that the whole trip, in every detail, had to be organised by letter. [snail mail!] It took each letter just over a month to travel out – and the same to travel back – so it was a huge feat of organisation!
In 1929, with truly remarkable foresight, he wrote a school essay on the prospects for a ‘Channel Tunnel’. Some 65 years ahead of the reality! Read it on the bookshelf below.
In February 1936, he arrived by ship [30 days at sea iaboard RMS Orontes] in Freemantle, Western Australia with a party of 23 schoolboys on what seems to be one of the 1st ever group of students to tour Australia. [The original gap year?] In these days of instant communication, consider that every facet of the tour had to be organised by letter, which took well over 2 month to get a reply! His scrap book of mostly press cuttings is on the bookshelf below. He related that there was a group of local girls who were so keen to get to know them, that they followed the tour across Australia – maybe the original ‘groupies’?
In the summer of 1936, he travelled alone across Europe by train & bicycle to Austria. Returning with first-hand accounts of the rise of fascism in Germany. He referred to the fear among the Austrian families that he stayed with of impending trouble with Germany. In March 1938, just over a year after he left, Hitler annexed Austria (The ‘Anschluss’) and Europe was on the road to WW2.
He then went up to Magdalene College, Oxford, for 2 years, leaving early so as to join the family firm as a trainee in the Brewing Room in October 1938. Duncan noted that, like his father before him, his early duties included sweeping the floor and mashing the beer. Foreseeing troubles ahead, in February 1939 he voluntered to join the H.A.C. (Honourable Artillery Company). The onset of War interrupted his training as he was called up on September 1st 1939. He was immediately dispatched to the Officer Cadet Training Unit (O.C.T.U.) in Catterick for officer training, from where in March 1940 he was commissioned into the 4th Regiment of the Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) in Egypt and later to ‘C’ Battery, where he remained till June 1943 being twice Mentioned in Despatches. In January 1941 he was wounded fighting into Tobruk. He was promoted Lieutenant in September 1941, Captain in July 1942 and acting Major in 1942. He also served as a gunnery instructor in Cairo, Italy and Larkhill, where he was involved in developing the role of a Gunnery Forward Observation Officer (FOO) from a Lysander aircraft.
He left England as one of a draft of 30 officers and 220 men. On his return he wrote: ‘These 30 officers were all newly commissioned subaltern, fresh from OCTU and incredibly green and frightened young men they were. Our route was Southampton, Le Havre, Marseilles, Malta, Alexandria, Abbassia. Now, green and frightened though we were, we were the very first OCTU officers ever to arrive in the Middle East, and as such this was something of an event.’
He clearly remembered each of the soldiers he commanded and deeply regretted ‘losing’ any one of them. He did not speak of his wartime experiences until the last few years of his life, so here are a couple of his anecdotes and quotes:
“War is 90% boredom and 10% stark terror”
His 2 brothers Louis and Kenneth were also serving officers. Communication between them was almost impossible, so imagine his delight when, in his armoured column heading West in the desert he recognised Kenneth’s battalion heading the opposite direction nearby! He was duly spotted and they had 5 minutes together! In October 1943 he was recuperating from illness in Cairo and discovered that his two brothers were in the same city – this memorable photo was the result:
His own C.V. mentioned just this: ‘Called up for Service in H.M. Army in September 1939, having been a member of the H.A.C. prior to mobilisation. Service with R.H.A. in the Middle East and North Africa 5 years, attained the rank of Major. Twice wounded. taken prisoner and escaped, mentioned in despatched 3 times.’ Never keen to talk about his clearly awful experiences, he once related how he had scrambled out of his slit trench when a German tank passed with its hatch open – and dropped in a hand grenade!
Anecdotally, He was proud that his battery had fired the 1st salvo of the war in Africa, firing from Egypt into Lybia, then again at the very end of the war in Northern Germany, they were still firing when the final ceasefire was called.
His official war Service Record is HERE:
Demobbed from his military service in 1946, he rejoined the Brewery serving under his father Eric Simonds. In March 1947 he was appointed Director of both H&G Simonds Ltd and of the Cirencester Brewery. Both his marriage to Monica Stevens (1924-2016) and his appointment as a Director of the firm were announced in the June 1947 issue of the Hop Leaf Gazette, shown below.
The Golden Cockerel story 1967 – TO MY SONS, The Story of their Simonds Descent
He took on responsibility for all public houses and enthusiastically set about modernising both them and the management of the brewery. Through this and other initiatives he furthered the brewery’s good trading relationship with it’s Licensees. The Simonds hotel estate expanded and an Off-Licence business, Arthur Cooper, was started and swiftly grew in number of shops. He oversaw the successful expansion of the company’s Reading Pale Ale and Tavern beers into pubs around the country as well as a joint venture with Guinness in Park Royal to brew & market ‘Harp Lager’. In the latter years of Eric Simonds chairmanship, he was ably assisted by his son. Duncan was appointed Joint Managing Director of Simonds Brewery with Richard Quarry in September 1953. He was able to initiate the 1st ever installation of tanked beer in a cruise liner, which presented huge technical challenges due to the length of pipes to the bars, aboard the Queen Elizabeth.
In 1954 Duncan was appointed the 1st President of the newly formed ‘Association of Licensed Trade Stock Auditors’.
In 1957 when the board was debating the fateful merger with Courage, his was the only voice arguing that a business with some 1,100 pubs, 50 off-licences and 30 hotels was large enough to make its own way in the new world of TV advertising. He argued compellingly that so long as H & G Simonds committed itself to modern management, vigorous marketing and a proactive approach to acquisitions, it had a prosperous independent future.
Following the merger, in 1960 he was appointed Group Sales Director of the enlarged business, Courage Barclay & Simonds Ltd, moving from Reading to the Courage offices in Southwark, when he was also appointed Chairman of the ‘Brewers Export Committee’. For whom he wrote in 1962 in strong terms about the risks to the industry in joining the E.E.C. Also in September 1962 he made his first visit to Simonds Farsons Cisk Ltd and their brewery in Mhriehel , Malta. A business that had been founded in 1929 by his father Eric Simonds and Mr Lewis Farrugia. The visit report in their news letter is ‘HERE’.
Other appointments included: In the autumn of 1964, as the trading name of Courage Barclay & Simonds ceased to exist, he became Group Sales Director of Courage Brewery and was also appointed Chairman of both Anchor Hotels and Arthur Cooper (Wine Merchant) Ltd, where he joined his cousin David Simonds. He also held directorships of; Harp Lager Ltd, The London Board of the Liverpool London & Globe Insurance Company Ltd and the British Travel & Holiday Association. He retired from the Courage Group in 1977, but went on to transform the family business of Victoria Street Properties from a business with just one property at 156 Victoria St, W1, into a multi-unit property business that he and Gavin Simonds took successfully to market in 1990.
Royal Warrant Holders Association: Like his father, Duncan held the Royal Warrant. In his case for Queen Elizabeth II from 1955 to 1963 and was President of the Royal Warrant Holders Association in 1963. In a unique ‘double act’, his wife Monica also held the Royal Warrant at the same time, for supplying The Queen with flowers from Moyses Stevens, her family business!
Brewers Society: He was elected a member of the Council in 1949 and served as Chairman from T.B.C. until his death in 2002. Other family positions in this great institution are listed on page 96 of the Hop Leaf Gazette of March 1950:
Reading Conservatives: Like his parents, he was an active member of the Reading Conservative & Unionist Association, becoming Hon. Treasurer in 1948.
Licenced Victuallers Schools: He was active in supporting their schools and charitable works and events all over the country, becoming President in 1959-60, when the title photo of this page was made.
Royal Insurance Co. Ltd.: Director of the London Board. Liverpool London – Globe Insurance Co. Ltd. Director
British Travel & Holildays Association: Director
Harp Lager Ltd & Harp Lager (Ships Stores) Ltd.: Director
The Brewers Sociey, Export Committee: Chairman in 1962. He wrote this INTERESTING ARTICLE on the challenges and opportunities facing the industry as it joined the EEC.
Reading Civic Society: Became Chairman in 1988 until his death in 2002
Duncan was a wonderful family man who was steeped in his family’s history of living as gentry for around 800 years within 12 miles of Reading. His family motto & crest are explained, partly in his own words; HERE. One of his most treasured archives was the family tree prepared for his grandfather Louis. In about 1985 he wrote his own extensive ‘Family History’ for his 3 sons that he enitled; ‘TO MY SONS, RAYMOND, COLIN, GAVIN – AN ACCOUNT OF THEIR SIMONDS DESCENT‘ which is also on the bookshelf above, with many of the stories he had heard from his extended family through the then common process of ‘Oral Record’. In their turn, his sons ‘interviewed’ him and made an extensive film of his memoirs shortly before he died – that I hope to load here in due course.
A boating enthusiast & keen sailor himself with 1000’s of offshore cruising and racing miles on his log, In 1966, Courage sponsored An established solo sailor to built a radical light displacement catamaran, to compete for the prestigious ‘OSTAR’ [The single handed transatlantic race 2 years away] To prepare the boat, it was entered in many of the UK big offshore races, with Duncan and his 19 year old son Raymond on the crew. During an otherwise successful campaign and whilst racing in the 1967 ‘Crystal Trophy’ race calamity struck and the boat pitch-poled about 16 miles South of the Isle of Wight, whilst enroute to Cherbourg and Plymouth. Here is a montage of images and if you are very bored and want to read the full story, it is on the bookshelf.
He also spent many years supporting his three sons in their sailing campaigns around the world with his trusty old Range Rover. Towing boats around Europe into his 60’s so that they could fly out after work on a Friday, compete for 2 or 3 days, then leave him to pack up and return home up to a week later!
In 1997, the British Soling Association published this article in honour of his service to the class and for his 80th birthday: 1997 Soling Association
To celebrate his 80th birthday, his sons threw him a dinner party for 80 friends & family. Here are the key guests:
Duncan died peacefully at the home he loved Winloed on August 18th 2002. He was buried in the family plot alongside his parents & grandparents at Cliddesden parish church, close to his family home of Audleys Wood. Click on these links to read his obituaries of August 2002: Times Obituary and the Chronicle Obituary
In June 2017 to mark his 100th birthday, his three sons organised a Simonds family reunion at Audleys Wood near Basingstoke. It says something for his family spirit and legacy that 170 people gathered from all over the world to remember him and to renew or even establish family connections across countries & continents!