Dr Edward Durell Kenneth Coombe (Ken) was born in Jersey on 01 February 1925 moving shortly thereafter to the Isle of Portland, where his family were quarry owners. He was educated at Shebbear College, Devon, and during WW2 applied to join the Royal Air Force as a pilot.
In 1943, Ken was awarded a place on a six month RAF University Short Course at the University of Oxford as a means of receiving his initial training through Oxford University Air Squadron, which was undertaken in parallel to reading History at Worcester College. In June 1944 Ken undertook his pilot training on Course 22, Number 4 British Flying School located at Falcon Field, Mesa, Arizona where he flew PT-17A (Stearman) and AT-6A (Harvard) aircraft. He graduated as a Pilot Officer in January 1945 and was presented his wings by Air Commodore EDH Davies with Group Captain Leonard Cheshire, VC, DSO in attendance. In the RAF, Ken went on to serve with 37, 40 and 104 Squadrons flying Vickers Wellington and Avro Lancaster Bombers. In the latter months of the war, having been posted to Italy, Ken was shot down during an operational mission over northern Italy, ditched into the sea, and sadly lost one of his crew to wounds resulting from anti-aircraft fire. After several days at sea, the crew were fortunately picked up by an allied ship. After the war in Europe ended Ken was posted to Egypt for eighteen months until demobilisation.
Ken left the RAF in 1947 in the rank of Flight Lieutenant and returned to his home at Wakeham on Portland to take over the family-owned stone quarry business at Grangecroft. In 1948, Ken married Margot Guy, the sister of an Old Shebbearan College friend. Whilst on Portland, he served as Town Mayor, Magistrate and Reeve to the Court Leet. After selling the family-owned quarrying business in the early 1970s, Ken trained as a geography teacher at Weymouth College, receiving his BEd from Southampton University (1970-1974) and taught locally in Weymouth. In the 1970s Ken served as secretary of the Dorset Branch of the Geographical Association.
Ken returned to Oxford in the late 1979, aged 54, to complete the degree he started during the war. Having already studied for a year in the 1940s, Ken was required to complete his degree in only two years. He transferred his studies from history to geography, however, as Worcester College at the time did not accept geography students, and he found tutorial support and guidance through Dr Tony Lemon and Dr Pam Berry at Mansfield College. In 1981 he received his first Oxford degree 31 years after matriculation. Ken was awarded the School of Geography’s top prize for the best dissertation and in the following year, 1982, received the Royal Geographical Society’s best first-class dissertation prize based on his work entitled Some aspects of coastal landslips and cliff falls in Portland and elected as a Fellow. Afterwards, Ken returned to teaching geography at several independent schools, including Head of Geography at both Denstone College, Derbyshire, and Channing School in Highgate, London.
On retiring from teaching in 1990, at the age of 65 Ken returned to Oxford University as a postgraduate research student at Mansfield College to read for his DPhil at the School of Geography under the supervision of Professor Andrew Goudie. Ken examined the Holocene evolution of the Fleet Lagoon, Dorset, close to his former home of Portland and the Dorset coast he knew so well. He undertook a comprehensive coring survey of the Fleet sediments by raft, which provided the first detailed study of the Holocene palaeoenvironments of the Fleet, sea-level changes and further insight into the formation of Chesil Beach. During his coring and survey work Ken, as an aside, managed to locate and retrieve, with the help of the Royal Navy and Royal Engineers, several unknown prototypes of Barnes Wallace’s bouncing bombs as the Fleet had been used as one of the early testing sites.
Ken sadly lost his wife Margot during the latter stages of writing his thesis but went on to complete his doctorate in 1996 at the age of 71. During his time in the quarry industry Ken gained a detailed understanding of the geology and structural geomorphology of the Isle of Portland, which he went on to publish in 1996 with Denys Brunsden and Andrew Goudie in the Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association. Ken was for many years an active member of the Fleet Study Group and worked closely with Dr John Whittaker from the Natural History Museum and Dr Alan Carr. Ken provided expert review input for the successful submission to UNESCO to include the Dorset and East Devon Coast on the World Heritage List.
Ken finally retired to Poole in Dorset where he spent his latter years continuing to pursue his interests along the Jurassic Coast. Ken was an outstanding organist, and in 1968 rescued and installed a Father Willis organ into the church of St John’s in Fortuneswell, Portland. Ken also had a deep passion for steam engines. In 1959, he rescued from the scrapyard and restored the iconic Burrell Showman’s Road Locomotive Quo Vardis as well as owning another Burrell Showman’s engine, Perseverance. Ken lived an exceptionally full, long and productive life. He was generous in spirit, always willing to share his knowledge and had a passion for the importance of education. He passed away peacefully at the age of 95 and is survived by his daughter Elizabeth and three grandchildren.
Professor Adrian G Parker
Oxford Brookes University
Dr Ken Coombe (2025-2020)
By placing a booking, you are permitting us to store and use your (and any other attendees) details in order to fulfil the booking.
We will not use your details for marketing purposes without your explicit consent.
You must be a member holding a valid Society membership to view the content you are trying to access. Please login to continue.
Join us today, Society membership is open to anyone with a passion for geography
Cookies on the RGS website