Who was John Clements?
A question that we get asked a lot but, when you read his story below, you see why it was such an obvious choice to name the Centre after him.
John was born and brought up in Codicote and, after he left Hitchin Boys’ School in July 1971, he studied Physical Education and English at Loughborough College of Education where he was extremely successful in every aspect of his course. He left Loughborough in July 1974 and went to teach at Prior Park School with a personal report that placed him amongst the very best produced by the College.
In September 1975 he took up the post of Physical Education teacher at Sherrardswood School, Welwyn. It was whilst here that he was one of a party of six adults and thirty-seven children who were staying at a ski-resort in Northern Italy on an eight day visit.
At about 4 a.m. on 12th April 1976, smoke was noticed and John was one of those who quickly raised the alarm and ordered the children to go down-stairs. A number of children were led to safety through dense smoke by other members of the staff who, having got out of the hotel, then helped further children to escape from a first floor balcony to the ground.
Meanwhile, John had climbed down from a third floor balcony on the West side of the building to a second floor balcony; he then reached the first floor where he organised a number of children into small groups and assisted them to escape by means of a rope he had improvised from knotted sheets. When the room was evacuated, he refused to leave the hotel and went back into the building which, in a matter of minutes, was burning fiercely.
He was seen on at least two occasions to go back into the hotel after carrying or dragging people out, and he ignored repeated attempts to restrain him, tragically leading to his becoming overcome by fumes and his eventual death. This outstanding display of gallantry and devotion to duty in circumstances of extreme danger led to his being awarded the George Cross.
John has left many memories in the village to cherish and many qualities to emulate. His honesty, integrity, courage, good humour and enthusiasm for life were there in all his actions and words for everyone to see and hear. He was often described as a really genuine person. Many people have particular memories of John and, however varied they may be, they all illustrate his wholehearted and selfless approach to life.
The high standards he held for himself were an example to all who were associated with him and he upheld them to the very last. His integrity was epitomised in his final actions when he put the safety of the pupils in his care above that of himself.
All that he achieved in his short life and the tragic way it was prematurely ended will never be forgotten. It is for this reason that this enormously admired man – who still has many of his family and friends who live in Codicote – was such a natural choice as someone to whom the new Centre should be dedicated.