Tribute to Suffolk councillor who put John on right path

1451 Sqn ATC at RAF Locking in 1975 with Phil French pictured second from the right in the front row and John Wombwell second from the left in the back row ANL-161219-174338001
1451 Sqn ATC at RAF Locking in 1975 with Phil French pictured second from the right in the front row and John Wombwell second from the left in the back row ANL-161219-174338001

A former Haverhill resident has paid tribute to the man he credits with saving him from spending time behind bars.

John Wombwell now works as an electronic component engineer, but says his life did not always look so bright.

The late Phillip French ANL-160523-151312005

The late Phillip French ANL-160523-151312005

The 58-year-old had some brushes with the law and credits meeting former town, borough and county councillor Phillip French, a Haverhill community stalwart who passed away in May, with helping to turn his life around.

“I wasn’t doing so well in school and the police in Haverhill knew who I was, and I knew them,” said Mr Wombwell, a former Castle Manor student.

“Then I joined 1451 Squadron Air Training Corps, which was then in huts at the bottom of Mount Road. Phil was the warrant officer of the squadron,” he explained.

“He saved me from going to Highpoint (Prison) in many ways. I was on the wrong side of the tracks and he stopped all that.

“I was in the air force for 10 years because of him and the training corps. We had our differences but if it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

He said Mr French ‘brought discipline to the cadets’ and increased their numbers from eight to 36, with kayaking, shooting, flying light aircraft and gliders, hill trekking and weekend camps with map reading, athletics and swimming among the activities on offer.

“There was always something going on, and mostly thanks to Phil,” said Mr Wombwell, adding that Mr French’s late wife Agnes was also ‘like a surrogate mother’ to him.

“Phil and ‘Ag’ had a profound influence on my life, and I will remember them both as two people who cared for others, and myself, without asking anything in return,” he said.