Obituaries

Valhalla V. H. Grossmith (neé Hill)

19th March 1923 – 18th March 2012

Val Grossmith passed away in 2012 having spent the last 20 years of her life in Farnborough, Hants – a keen member of the local band until she gave up ringing in 2005.

Val was brought up in Liphook, Hants and learnt to ring at nearby Bramshott in 1939, progressing to Grandsire Doubles and Plain Bob Minor before the wartime ban on ringing. (No Bob Doubles in those days, she proudly told us in later life.) She began training as a nurse in Oxford and when the ban was lifted in 1943, with much trepidation she joined the Oxford City ringers, initially ringing at St Ebbe’s and St Giles’ churches. On gaining confidence she progressed to All Saints’ (now Lincoln College) and was quickly taken in hand by Walter Judge who liked all young ladies who showed bellringing promise! Besides ringing, Walter also taught Val to drink beer and throughout her life she only drank it in pints.

Val’s first peal was at Burford in September 1943 and by the end of 1944 she had rung 16 peals with Walter including Grandsire and Stedman Cinques at Oxford Cathedral. On one occasion in the pub after a Farnborough practice she recounted a visit to Leicester Cathedral where, after losing a peal attempt there, she drowned her sorrows by consuming 13 pints! (But beer was weaker in wartime, she said.)

At the start of 1945 Val moved to London to begin training in midwifery, and was soon ringing at many of the famous towers. Later that year she moved to Guildford, where she rang a number of peals with Alf Pulling at Holy Trinity and elsewhere.

In 1948 Val moved to S Rhodesia where she met Ron Grossmith, then a policeman. They married in 1950 and began tobacco farming: they had four sons, but never the girl Ron wanted. But – no bells – so ringing came to an abrupt halt.

In 1959, ten bells were provided for Salisbury (now Harare) Cathedral and were chimed from a gantry as the tower had not yet been built. Although Val lived over 60 miles north, she visited the city on occasions to ring handbells and was able to watch eagerly as the tower took shape. Val became a Founder Member of what was to become the Zimbabwe Guild, and rang for the dedication of the Cathedral bells in November 1961. Later, she was made the first Honorary Vice-President of the Guild, for services rendered. She attended practices (on the front six bells) as often as she could and in October 1962 she took part in the first peal (Grandsire Doubles on the back six) which was rung by five ringers from England and a locally trained tenor ringer.

By 1980 Kwekwe had obtained a ring of six bells and in 1981 Val took part in the first peal there – Cambridge S Minor, by an all-Zimbabwe band.

From about 1970, Val made extended visits back to England, trying to fit in as much ringing as she could by visiting her many friends and relations around the country. She was in the UK in 1991 for the International Striking Competition: so too was a promising young African ringer, who then gained valuable ringing experience under her guidance.

Meanwhile, at home Val had inspired her local primary school and, later, a group of farmers’ wives, to ring tunes and changes on handbells, to such good effect that the school won Honours at several Eisteddfods, and the wives achieved the Guild’s first, and so far only, quarter peal in hand (PB Minor, in 1985), both under the leadership of Val’s friend, Gill Henderson.

Mainly during the 1970s, Val instigated a series of enjoyable and effective “Ring-ins”, which brought progress in change ringing in both the towers in Zimbabwe, with the active assistance of local and visiting experts.

Sadly, Val’s husband Ron died in 1985, leaving Val to run the farming business alone. As none of her sons were farmers, and in view of the worsening political situation in Zimbabwe, she returned to England in 1991 and took up residence in Farnborough in 1992. Val did not run a car at this stage but thought nothing of getting on her bike or putting it on the train and going ringing everywhere! Rarely would she accept a lift and insisted on making her own arrangements to attend many Central Council Meetings first as Representative and then as Alternate Member for The Zimbabwe Guild. Her cycling home down the hill from Farnborough church was likened to The Ride of the Valkyries – woe betide anyone getting in her way! By bus or on her bike, she continued Sunday ringing, and helping many learners at two or three local practice nights each week, spurred on no doubt by the prospect of a pint afterwards in the pub.

Something special just had to be arranged for Val’s 80th birthday in 2003. She had let it be known that she had done everything in life she ever wanted except flying an aeroplane – so a surprise test flight was arranged for her on the morning of her birthday. The evening was spent with many of her friends over a meal in a local pub after which she was taken home, but she accidentally left her house keys in her driver’s car. The next morning a phone call revealed that, in party dress, complete with balloons and flowers, she had climbed in to her ground-floor flat through the window (which was always left open)! Unfortunately no-one witnessed the spectacle.

A couple of years later Val felt she could no longer continue ringing to her high standards so decided to give up. Rather than be reminded of the good times at the end of a rope, she let it be known that she no longer wished anyone to visit her, even ringers, and regrettably became something of a recluse, stubbornly independent to the end. Val did, however, allow just one old ringing friend to take her out fairly regularly for a pub lunch and just the one (strong) pint.

Val died on Mothering Sunday, the eve of her 89th birthday. She is survived by her two eldest sons, two granddaughters and two grandsons, great-grandson and great granddaughter (most of whom live in South Africa) and by her daughter-in-law and two granddaughters (living in Zimbabwe). She will be remembered for her energy, enthusiasm and cheerfulness, and was a valued friend.

Goodbye Val, and thank you for touching the lives of so many people.

M. J. T. (et al)

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