Stan Whitnell - Obituary

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We aim to publish obituaries of those Old Bordenians we have lost, even if sometimes we learn of their passing sometime after the fact.  In a recent drive to update records we were sad to hear of the death in 2021 of Stan Whitnell.  His nephew and fellow OB Allen Whitnell kindly provided this obituary of Stan which we are honoured to publish.

Obituary for Stanley Whitnell – 30th November 2021

Stanley David Whitnell was born on the 7th August 1931. Son of William (known as Bill) and Rose Whitnell of Sittingbourne in Kent and brother to Jack. Born on the east of the River Medway, he was forever a very proud “Man of Kent”. His early years were of course dominated by the all too close presence of the War and the Battle of Britain in particular. He regaled his children with memories which included;

·       Years of his young life sleeping in the cellar for fear of bombing raids, where his brother Jack had made bunk-beds for the family.

·       Of cycling to downed aircraft in the hope of recovering souvenirs. Live ammunition was particularly popular for the boys, although less popular with parents.

·       Of earning money through hop and fruit picking. His Mum urging him to hide under the hops if any Messerschmitts came looking to strafe the countryside. It being a well-known fact that hops are an effective defence against machine gun fire!

·       Nevertheless, the hop picking proved to be financially beneficial and in 1944 funded him and his schoolfriend to make a trip up to Wembley to see England v Scotland. His son still has the programme, which identifies the half time entertainment as being provided by Glen Miller’s United States Army Airforce Band.

·       It was at the half time interval that he was gifted an orange by a US officer who was there with his “lady friend”. “I knew it was an orange”, said Stan, “because I had seen a picture of one in a book”. However, the book had neglected to explain the necessity of peeling an orange before consuming it, but thankfully the officer’s “lady friend” managed to educate him.


Stan attended Borden Grammar School from 1942 until 1947, where subsequent generations of Whitnells continue to undergo their education. Although evidently a good scholar, it was on the sporting fields where he displayed particular aptitude and where his keenest passion lay. He played cricket for the school, later the Old Boys and thereafter for Gore Court. His goalkeeping prowess at football saw him play to a high standard in the Kent League. He and friend and fellow Old Bordenian Andrew Edney remained occasional OB dinner attendees into the last decade.

He also developed a keen interest in jazz during his school days, no doubt inspired by his musically gifted brother Jack. He told us with great indignation how one day at school the class was asked to name a famous composer. Stan raised his hand and said Duke Ellington, for which the music master beat him. We might now agree that there was only one person who should have been beaten for displaying such evident ignorance, and it wasn’t Stan.

Like most young men of his generation however, a life of leisure and frivolity was curtailed by his being called up for National Service in 1949. He had already shown an interest in studying Mechanical Engineering and so no surprise that he joined the Royal Engineers. To his dismay, his service career proved to offer little if any time in warm Drawing Offices and instead comprised of hours of building Bailey Bridges across Scottish rivers in the middle of winter, or up to his waist in seawater assembling these structures across Chesil Beach. He would recollect that cold, wet days invariably concluded with the consumption of atrociously cooked food. “Good quality food ruined” he would say. Nevertheless, hindsight being a wonderful thing, in his older years he was extremely proud of his Regiment and is here with us today wearing his Royal Engineers tie.

By way of concluding his military CV, it is worth noting that he only narrowly missed being sent to fight in the Korean conflict. Several of his National Service comrades were selected in a somewhat arbitrary manner, but sadly perished not through enemy action, but due to disease which ravaged the troopship during transit. He recounted that he greeted the announcement of a 6-month prolongation of his own army obligations, by hurling the boot he was polishing at the offending radio.

At the conclusion of his National Service, he returned to live with his parents in William Street, Sittingbourne. He freely admitted to spending several care-free weeks socialising and a return to his beloved sport. Prompted by an early morning encounter with his father (one going to work, the other only just returning from the pub), he went to London and secured work with the Engineering company Simon Carves.

He lived in Woolwich during the week, with his Aunt and Uncle. He worked during the day and studied in the evenings at Woolwich Polytechnic for his HNC in Mechanical Engineering. Weekends allowed him to return to Kent for those ongoing sporting demands. His Aunt’s hobby was the making of teddy bears and it was at the height of the Suez Crisis on a Sunday evening in 1956, that Stan was stopped on Horseguards Parade on his way back to his lodgings by a large police sergeant. When asked to reveal what was in his bag, Stan opened it to present his clothes for the week and another bag (added by his mother), full of old and ripped lady’s underwear. “It’s for my Aunt”, he said aghast, “she stuffs toys”. “I’m sure she does Sir” said the evidently sceptical policeman, “now on your way” and he left Stan imploring that “she does honestly!” He would admit that whenever he recalled the event, or saw Horseguards, he would wince with embarrassed memory.

He secured his HNC and moved to work for Matthew Hall, still in London, but returning to Kent at the weekends, perhaps still with an eye on a professional sporting career. He did indeed sign a contract in September 1962, when he made his shrewdest decision and married Philomena Whooley from Co. Cork. “Sportsman Weds” hailed the title in the East Kent Gazette above the photo of the newlyweds. They had met at a wedding in Kent where each knew the respective bride and groom. “Phil” was working at the Irish Embassy in London at the time.

They moved to Sittingbourne and bought a house on Borden Lane. Sadly in 1963 they experienced the tragedy of a still-born baby girl. But their strength and the support of friends and family helped them through and in 1964 first a son, Liam arrived and then daughter Sally in 1967. Stan continued to commute to London by train, leaving in the morning before the children were awake and returning at night when they were already asleep. Nevertheless, weekends remained remarkably unconstrained by parenting chores, with football or cricket matches dominating Saturdays and there was always time for a round of golf on Sundays. His indefatigable wife meanwhile, keeping the domestic ship on course!

The spell was duly broken when the brave decision was made in 1969 to move to Madrid, at that time still under the control of General Franco, where Stan secured work with Lumus Espanyol. A glorious near six years followed, where the family explored the wonders of the Iberian Peninsula, absorbing the culture, language and cuisine of a country which will always remain close to their hearts. The international move did not curtail Stan’s sporting ambitions. He finally hung up his football boots after two seasons with a team of South American exiles and in the absence of any cricketing options, chose to represent the British Embassy at darts. A sport or an excuse for a beer? The jury remains out.

Stan & Phil chose to return to England in 1974, in order to provide educational stability for the children. CJB at the time (and latterly John Brown), was the employer and Portsmouth the location. He told the family about Portsmouth and what to expect on the South Coast. All of it sounded terribly exciting, in particular for Liam the exploits of Pompey, the city’s famous football club. Over the years they have proven to be a fickle and unreliable love, much as his other shared passion, that of Kent County Cricket Club.

Stan retired in 1993, following the completion of a number of exciting projects with John Brown, one of which included a three month secondment to China, this long before the opening up of this vast country. His retirement allowed him to focus on his golf handicap. He remained steadfast in his assertion that technology was central to maintaining handicap parity. As his already notorious short backswing became even more truncated, the investment in new lightweight alloy clubs ensured that driving distance was not compromised. He became Captain of the Great Salterns Veterans and later a Trustee of the Club itself.

Among the things for which Stan is remembered by family and friends (in no particular order) are:

·       The exhaustive search for good beer in a good pub.

·       Heated debates surrounding the best quality sausage. It was the Pompey King incidentally which eventually claimed the crown.

·       The sage driving advice of “Always reverse into a pub car park. That way it will be easier to get out if you’ve had a few.”

·       His somewhat dubious dress sense in later years, spanning exotic shell suits to highly patterned tank-tops worn with checked shirts. Sometimes even topped off with a cravat.

But beneath this veneer was an articulate and often deep-thinking man. Yes, a bon-viveur and raconteur, but also a traditionalist, a man of his generation you would say. He never wavered politically or ideologically. He was a socialist, but arguably with a small “s”. Always on the side of the underdog, he craved fairness and in his own way, equality. He respected all religions, races, beliefs and gender orientation.