Donald Short [Heath 1938–1943]

If you were a boy at Crossleys during the 1950s and 60s, and if you were interested in sport, you would recognise the man who was pictured in nearly all of the first XV photos at the end of the back row, always wearing a white pullover and grey flannels. That was Donald Short, our PE master, who taught generations of pupils the value of exercise and sport as an essential part of a well rounded education even in a school where there was an emphasis on academic achievement.

I think we would all describe him as a gentle man whose determination to get the best out of all those he taught would inspire you to want to do your best for yourself and for the school without the need to shout, threaten and curse. That isn’t to say that he wasn’t a disciplinarian. He did inflict punishment when required as I remember from the time when all our form went into the swimming pool without his permission and were all lined up in our wet swimming trunks and whacked with a gym shoe. Ouch!

Sport at Crossleys was taken to a high standard under his teaching, particularly rugby, and the school teams achieved great successes at fifteen and seven a sides. It was a big surprise when he left to extend his teaching experience at other schools. Shorty’s successor did not take over immediately and so we were left without a head of PE for a term. I was rugby captain and I joined with others in the sixth form who were planning to go to PE college to put together a programme of PE for the school. Such was Shorty’s organising skills and attention to detail that he had left notes and records of teams and their performances, contact details for fixtures for his successor which was a big help in keeping things going.

Whilst at Crossleys he was Scoutmaster for the school troop, 5th Halifax, and led them on memorable annual camps to the Lake District and North Wales. The scout troop met in the cellars beneath the school and it was here in the rooms which had been dug out from the foundations where we had such a great time. The camp equipment was stored here and each summer they were taken out and piled into a truck which had been loaned to us (and which we had cleaned!). The scouts all piled on top of the gear, a sheet pulled over the top, and then Shorty would drive us away to camp.

He was born into a family who operated a fleet of large heavy duty wagons, TE Short & Sons Ltd, who operated from Union Street South, Halifax, but never entered the family business. He was at Heath Grammar School from 1938 to 1943 and left to study PE at Loughborough College. He did his National Service in the Royal Navy and then was appointed Head of PE at Crossley and Porter.

At Crossleys he became friends with Tom Gallagher who taught woodwork and the two of them were highly regarded members of staff who were not from the academic faction. They enjoyed leading walking groups in the Dales and the Lakes. Another close friendship from the staffroom was John Lucas who was Deputy Head and who taught English. It was John who introduced Donald and Peter Green, another good friend, to the plays of Shakespeare which they went to enjoy at the Stratford Memorial Theatre over a period of three years.

Having been brought up in a motor engineering environment it was only natural that he had a love of motor vehicles and was a very capable motor engineer. He and Peter Green took part in many car rallies. In the 1950s/60s the two families holidayed together driving long distances to Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and France.

When he retired, Donald and his wife Mary toured with their caravan in Europe and then went on to hire motor homes to tour in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, USA and Canada. Travelling on wheels was a major feature of his life and so, when he stopped driving his car, he was to be seen all over Halifax, on his bike.

Throughout his life he devoted so much of his time to others who needed help and became involved in the Halifax Society to the Blind, Maurice Jagger Centre and many more organisations serving the old and disabled. He was a reader for the Talking Newspaper service for the visually impaired for many years.

When his wife Mary died he found it very hard to carry on without her love and support. His health deteriorated and, since he had been a Freemason for a large part of his life, a place was found for him at a Masonic care home in York where he died on the 24th October 2018 aged 91.

Michael Denton

Reprinted with permission from the Crossleyan.