Tributes paid to ‘true gent’ who had huge impact on Littlehampton’s history

Tributes have been paid to a Littlehampton resident whose voluntary community service has left a lasting mark on the town’s history.

Wednesday, 9th June 2021, 4:40 pm

John Coles, who lived in Seaton Road in Littlehampton from the age of 23, passed away at 88 years old on May 30.

A carpenter by trade, John worked as a self-employed builder/painter and decorator and spent much of his time at Chichester barracks while carrying out national service.

After rising quickly to the rank of Sergeant, John soon joined the army cadet force and spent 35 years volunteering his time to train the younger cadets, including giving up weekends and two weeks’ holiday every year to go to cadet camps.

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He was also the band master for the Sussex army cadet force and a keen multi-instrumentalist.

Mark Hollebone met John when he was five days old and described his lifelong friend as being ‘like a father to him’.

While in the Cubs, John taught Mark how to play an instrument to get one of his badges, and taught him how to mend a broken window before his dad got home after he had broken it playing cricket.

At 17 Mark was working full-time for John and they became business partners until his retirement ten years ago.

“He was a true gent with a great sense of humour and will be missed by many,” Mark said.

Councillor Mike Northeast was a friend and neighbour of John’s, who contacted him while serving as the Millennium mayor in 2000.

Mike wanted to include a clock to reflect Littlehampton’s maritime heritage as part of the town centre regeneration – the very clock that now stands in the precinct.

Salvaged by a local fisherman from a bombed Second World War church in Portsmouth, it lay in pieces in the Manor House needing a tower to hang its pendulum.

Mike turned to John, who repaired clocks in his spare time, and asked him to look at fixing and installing the clock in a custom-built tower that had been commissioned.

Despite it being the biggest job John had ever taken, Mike said he ‘was not fazed in the slightest’ and expertly put the clock together.

For many years after, John would visit the town centre clock and the clock on St Mary’s Church on Monday mornings to wind them up.

He was awarded a town merit award for his work with the town’s clocks.

“If it wasn’t for John’s skills we would not have our landmark clock that is steeped in local history,” Mike said.

“He was a really nice bloke and he would do anything for his town, a true gent that you don’t meet many of.

“He was one of those people who nobody had a bad word to say about him – he was just a genuinely nice person. His passing is a sad loss.”