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A Tribute to Mike Umbers

A Tribute to Mike Umbers (Retired Lieutenant Colonel) our late President

It was with great sadness that we learned of the death of our President, Mike Umbers, who passed away on 14 November.

A memorial service takes place on Tuesday 19th December, at 1.00pm at St. Leonard’s Church.

Mike was a long standing and active member of the Society, who with Janine – they married in 1963 - had settled in Hythe in 1984 after a distinguished military career.

His first encounter with the town was in 1960 when, as an Infantry Officer, he attended the Small Arms School for eight weeks of training. Three years later and as a Captain, he was posted back to Hythe as an Instructor at the School. At the time of his military retirement, Mike had achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Once settled in the new home, Mike pursued his interest in local history, became a member of the St. Leonard’s Church congregation, and a member of the Civic Society. In 1995, and then as Vice-Chairman, Mike stepped into the vacant newsletter editor’s role, continuing for another ten years (58 issues in all).

He was made an Honorary Life Member and a Vice-President of the Society, before becoming our President in May 2023.

He was known and admired by many in Hythe and was a keen and active supporter of the Royal British Legion.

Here, members of the Society reflect on their memories of Mike.

David Paton (History Group): We both having an army background (mine being minor, his being more than Major) and an interest in history especially of Hythe, we had many discussions about various aspects of the subject. Mike’s knowledge was extensive and well researched and he taught me a lot which helped when I started as a Town Guide and 'Bones' Crypt Steward. Mike was a modest and honest man who would accept different interpretations of versions of history if they were well backed-up by research. His many articles/booklets about Hythe's history, especially St Leonard's Church, are his important contribution to local history and the Town he loved.

Anne Petrie (History Group Chair): I only knew Mike for the last ten years of his life. He was a kind and courteous man, very knowledgeable, but a man who wore his learning lightly. I always turned to him as a first resort for the history and architecture of St Leonard’s church and he was generous in sharing his knowledge. He was equally generous in acknowledging any contribution to his research made by others. Mike seemed never to lose his enthusiasm for history and new avenues of exploration. I remember his delight when together we found a long-hidden memorial stone at the church. I also remember his impish sense of humour and lack of self-importance, despite his achievements.

Chris Melchers (Past Chairman and President): I knew Mike well from 1999, when he suggested to my late wife (who he worked with on the Friends of St. Leonard’s committee) that I might like to join the HCS committee. At that time Mike was Vice-Chairman and Editor of the HCS Newsletter until December 2005. Then, he resigned from the Committee as he disagreed with the decision that was taken to support the council’s plan for a new sports centre on the South Road playing fields. However, he continued to support HCS in every possible way, contributing many articles to the newsletter and organising exhibitions and other Hythe Festival events. His career connections with the army – he was in charge of the small arms ranges at one time – enabled him to organise visits there during Festival Weeks and, latterly, to the Redoubt, the history of which he studied and presented to visitors as a guided tour. He was the author and co-author of several books of local history including “A Saltwood Miscellany” with Brian Doorne in 2007 and contributed a long series of well-researched monographs to St. Leonard’s parish magazine on the origin and history of numerous features of the church. Many of these were re-published in an anthology “About St. Leonard’s” in 2015.

Crispin Davies (Past Chairman): Though I only had a passing acquaintance, I still find it difficult to square his wonderfully quiet and friendly manner with the balling out to lower ranks on the parade ground.

Alan Joyce (HCS Treasurer and Membership): Back in 2004 I was the Conservation Tree Volunteer for Hythe and also the local Sustrans National Cycle Network Co-Coordinator for this area. My work in both roles became known to Mike, then HCS Vice-Chairman, for at that time there was local controversy about designating Ladies Walk as part of the Sustrans Route 2. I believe Ron Collins, a former Chairman, had been speaking with Mike about having somebody on the Committee to represent tree conservation interests, and Mike had also been aware of my cycle routes role. In his most persuasive way Mike suggested I would be a valuable member of the Committee. So I started in that role. Two years later Mike sweet talked me into the Treasurer role as a vacancy arose, saying that if I agreed Anne Woodward would take on the Membership Secretary role. The rest is history. During Mike's time I worked with him on a number of Society projects and exhibitions and always found him meticulous in preparation and execution, always prepared to listen if alternative suggestions were made, and always courteous and helpful.

Since he became President earlier this year, Mike wrote a number of pieces for our website, under the banner of ‘Forgotten Histories’. The most recent ‘Lest We Forget’ in two parts were published before Remembrance Sunday. His writing was well researched and his style was entertaining and humorous. There are two more pieces ‘in the can’ which will be published in the New Year, as Mike wished.

He will be greatly missed.

Our heartfelt sympathies and thoughts are extended to Janine and the family.

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