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Mansel Barnes


Mansel Barnes, who died on March 23 2013, was a man of many interests and passions. He had a love of the countryside, singing, his family, Wales and rugby (and especially Welsh rugby)

He was a popular and witty top tenor and was also one of the remaining handful of choir members who did National Service in the post-war years.

A love of wild places: Mansel on holiday in Cornwall

Mansel Herbert Thomas Barnes was born in the village of Hirwaun near Aberdare in 1929. His home was close to the Brecon Beacons and he quickly came to love the beauty of the countryside, going for long stream-side walks with his father – a coal miner who worked at the Tower Colliery – to pick nuts and blackberries. He learned to tickle trout in the streams – a skill he passed on to his family – and made day-long outings into the mountains with groups of pals in search of wimberries which they would sell for a shilling or two.

At the local infants school he shone at reading and helped less able pupils. Later he won an eleven-plus scholarship to Aberdare Boys’ Grammar School. It was there that he acquired his life-long passion for rugby and a love of poetry and singing. From time to time amid new repertoire for CMVC Mansel would sing well-remembered songs from cantatas he had sung in his youth. He sang in school concerts and his maths teacher was conductor of the Cwmbach MVC. He joined the Junior St John’s Ambulance Brigade and the YMCA, enjoying the Sunday-night hymn singing and camping trips to the Lake District.

National Service in the Royal Air Force saw Mansel securing weekend passes to play rugby for his station! He may not have learned to fly while in the RAF, but his knowledge of the coast where radar stations are no longer was extensive. Always meticulous, Mansel made sure that when in camp, his hut won the radio for the week by ensuring that bedding and kit were folded and spaced immaculately - measured with a rule and straight string.

Back home again – while playing for his local club Aberaman RFC, a rugby injury resulted in a never-to-be-repaired severance of the right lateral popliteal nerve, leaving his leg with no sensation from the knee down.

He studied mathematics and physics at university in Cardiff and also played number 8 for the basket-ball team.

It was while at university that he met Mary Goodwin. They were married at Llanishen Church, Cardiff, on a snowy February day in 1955 when the sun shone for the wedding. Mary, he said, remained “the love of his life” for the next 58 years.

The love of his life: Mary and Mansel on their silver wedding day

Mansel and Mary moved to Croydon where Mansel joined Mullards of Mitcham, part of the Philips company. After nearly 25 years with Mullards, Mansel changed careers, teaching maths at Fairchildes school in Addington for the next 13 years. He helped run an after-school motor mechanics club, keeping staff cars in trim. He was chair of the staff association.

He entered into all aspects of school life, from playing Jacob in “Joseph” to helping with scenery, school trips, end of term parties for his form and sports events. After “retiring” again he spent several years as a visiting teacher for problem children or those who were ill, winning their respect with his wit, care and understanding.

A constant in his life was rugby. He joined the Old Purleians RFC (which later became Purley RFC and then Purley John Fisher RFC) soon after moving to Croydon. A wily centre in his playing days, he was club president from 1985 to 1991 and a popular stalwart of the club. He became choir-master for the club choir, helping them win prizes and even teaching them to sing Welsh hymns for club tours to Wales.

Club members have paid tributes to his enthusiasm, his impromptu medical skills, and his way with referees. One said: “He was a gentleman, a rugby enthusiast, a Purley man through and through who loved the camaraderie generated through playing, supporting, drinking and singing.” He retained his devotion to Welsh rugby throughout his exile in England, taking special delight from the championship-winning 30-3 defeat of England shortly before he died.

He was a committed Christian who attended St John’s, Old Coulsdon, acting as sidesman in family and baptism services. He was a devoted family man, taking great pleasure from the achievements of his three children, Philip, Veronica and Ruth, and from his grandchildren and great granddaughter. Among his duties – willingly assumed – were running the second-hand clothes shop at Emanuel, serving as committee member at Archbishop Tenison’s, and shouting encouragement from the touchline when watching the Old Palace Lacrosse team.

Mansel the family manfrom right, Mansel, Mary, daughters Ruth and Veronica, grand-daughter Rachel (Ruth's daughter, now aged 23!)

Mansel joined CMVC relatively late in life, doing so in 2001 in the company of three other Purley RFC members, Dave Bannister, Martin Perkins and Ralph Osborne. He was a lively and popular top tenor, cracking jokes and making irreverent asides. He relished the friendship, camaraderie and banter, and usually returned home to tell Mary: “I had a good sing.” He was part of a coterie of Welshmen who could be relied upon to sing Welsh-language pieces with fervour and pride.

Mansel suffered a major stroke in 2008 but continued to attend rehearsals and to sing at concerts from his wheelchair. He was looking forward to the Patrons Concert at the Arnhem Gallery and had already sent his choir jacket for cleaning when he died.

Sporting his colours:  Mansel the Welshman (Photo: Phil Talmage)

Mansel will be remembered for his generosity and willingness to help others. “He was always a helper,” says Mary, who provided most of the information for this obituary. “Whether it was taking equipment to camp, helping someone with wall-papering, fixing a television set or even, on one notable Christmas Eve, repairing someone’s entire electrical circuit at their home….Mansel’s outlook, his attention to detail, his care for others and their difficulties, and his way of life all reflect his Christian upbringing and his continuing Christian belief. He touched many lives with his enthusiasm, gentleness and kindness.”

Mary adds that she was moved by the choir’s singing at Mansel’s funeral on April 8. “So many members came and sang with such richness and heartfelt sympathy.” Their singing, she says, “brought tears and smiles.”

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