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Tributes to Robert 'Bill' Chesterfield of Sandwich who was dedicated to helping the young

By Eleanor Perkins

Tributes have been paid to a man who leaves a lasting legacy of teaching and who touched the lives of generations of youngsters in Sandwich.

Robert Chesterfield, 96, better known as Bill, was a key figure in the town and in the wider Dover district from the 1950s, when he became a councillor of Sandwich Borough Council.

As last mayor of the borough and first mayor of the town council, he led Sandwich through the local government reorganisation of 1974 including the establishment of Dover District Council and Sandwich Town Council. He went on to serve on both authorities until 1995.

Mr Chesterfield with pupils at Sandwich Junior School
Mr Chesterfield with pupils at Sandwich Junior School

During that time, he was mayor from 1985-87, vice-chairman of DDC from 1979-80 and chairman from 1992-94. He would tell his grandchildren he wasn’t a VIP in the sense that he was a Very Important Person but rather he held a Very Important Position.

In the Second World War he carried out distinguished service as a pilot in the RAF, which included flying Spitfires.

It was the tragic loss of children’ lives that he witnessed that inspired him to become a teacher.

Mr Chesterfield joined the staff of Sandwich Primary School where he enjoyed a long career.

He continued to be a member of the local Royal Air Forces Association (RAFA) and ran the Sunday School at St Clement’s Church, with which he had a long-standing active connection. In 2014 he was made an honorary Freeman of Sandwich.

Of all of his achievements his family want him to be remembered for his teaching and love of children.

Robert Chesterfield, better known as Bill.
Robert Chesterfield, better known as Bill.

Head teacher of Sandwich Junior School, Sheilagh Roberts, said: “Mr Chesterfield dedicated 60 years of service to the children, both as a teacher and following his retirement, he served as a school governor, stepping down at 90 years of age.

“He continued to visit the school weekly and the children loved his visits. He was an incredible support to the school he loved so much and exemplified what service to others means.

“We tell our pupils that prayer in action is love, that love in action is service to others – Mr Chesterfield never stopped serving his school or local community. He taught many of our parents and grandparents and they will have fabulous memories of this remarkable man who always put children first.

The school celebrated his incredible 96 years of life with a special assembly where children lit and dedicated candles to him.

Mrs Roberts added: “The children who represented their year groups made the most beautiful dedications, that were not only incredibly moving, but truly reflected how much he was loved by us all.”

Edward Wadhams, Eleanor Rixson, Katherine Sharp and Charley Hall from Sandwich Junior School dedicate candles to Bill Chesterfield
Edward Wadhams, Eleanor Rixson, Katherine Sharp and Charley Hall from Sandwich Junior School dedicate candles to Bill Chesterfield

The Mayor of Sandwich, Cllr Paul Graeme, said: “Bill has left a legacy of teaching and encouragement that enriches our town.

“As Mayor, he kept a steady hand on the tiller through the local government changes of 1974 but that was only one chapter in a long and distinguished story of service, in wartime and in peacetime.

“On behalf of Sandwich Town Council, I would like to extend my deepest condolences to his family and friends.”

Former mayor Cllr John Bragg said: “Sandwich has lost a modest and unassuming man who has rendered the town great and selfless service over very many years.

“He will be missed by all who had the privilege of knowing him and our thoughts at this time must be with his family to whom he was devoted.”

The Rev Canon Mark Roberts, Rector of Sandwich, said: “The death of Bill Chesterfield is a milestone for Sandwich and particularly also for St Clement’s Church. His part in our lives stretches back very many years, particularly recalling his devoted work for our Sunday School.

“Bill was a man of deep Christian faith and his church attendance every Sunday was central to his life. He was bravely with us until only a few weeks ago. May he rest in peace.”

He leaves behind an ever increasing family including two daughters Elaine and Melanie, three granddaughters and a great grandson.

His funeral will be held at St Clement’s Church, in Sandwich, on Friday, July 22, at 11am, with a gathering afterwards at the Guildhall.

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