Ron Thorn

ONE of the longest serving employees in the 151-year history of the Journal, Withycombe s Ron Thorn, the master of the printing press for more than half-a-century, has died aged 91.

ONE of the longest serving employees in the 151-year history of the Journal, Withycombe's Ron Thorn, the master of the printing press for more than half-a-century, has died aged 91.

Ron, who died at his Burnside home surrounded by friends and family on August 12, was at the heart of the paper's bygone 'hot metal' days; when the arms of the small but productive army of Linotype machines delivered all the news and advertisements in slim 'slugs' - or lines - of metal, writes David Beasley.

Born in Exmouth on June 26 1918, to James Thorn, who owned a furniture haulage business and his mother Gertrude, he was educated privately in the town before landing his first job at the age of 14 as a telegram 'runner' for the Post Office.

In 1932 he joined the Exmouth Journal as an apprentice lino-typist, artfully creating column-width mirror-images of the names of the many schoolchildren who would every year visit the paper's Chapel Hill offices, now part of Bentley's car showrooms.

Working in the time of the printing industry's six-year apprenticeship, after which young men would become a 'journeyman' and be subject to a 'banging out' ceremony in the composing room, he worked alongside Steve West, among others.

Former editor of the Journal David Bazell said: "Ron Thorn would delight pupils from schools all over Exmouth with this personalised example of how, when linked with other lines of metal type to make sentences and paragraphs, and clamped into page-sized metal forms, the resulting pages were laid flat to have, first ink, then newsprint, rolled over them to provide a readable image thanks to a large and noisy printing press that would shake the whole three-storey building."

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However, his career suffered an interruption in 1939 with the advent of the Second World War and he joined the Royal Artillery as a mechanic and driver.

Less than a year later, in May and June 1940, he found himself part of the Expeditionary Force in Belgium.

The Royal Artillery was desperately trying to halt the advance of the Wermacht, buying time to enable the evacuation of more than 300,000 troops off the Dunkirk beaches in France.

After Dunkirk the following year in 1941, he returned to the regimental HQ in Bangor North Wales, and there, at a dance, he met a nurse, Kit who would go on to be his wife of 63 years.

But, like so many other couples, then the marriage was put on hold until after the war and he once again returned to the front lines, variously in the heat of Egypt, North Africa in Monty's 8th Army and latterly in Italy and in Germany.

Once demobbed in 1945, Ron and Kit married on September 11 at Bethesda in Wales and, briefly, he took up a printing position in High Wycombe.

In 1946, he returned to Exmouth where he resumed his position at the Journal and moved to Moorfield Road.

The year after, their son Ken was born. Ken would also work at the paper as a lino-typist and he said: "When I was young, he used to take me around the Journal offices showing me around the machines. It was very exciting and I decided I wanted to be a printer as well."

Sadly, though, his life was met with tragedy with the death of his adopted daughter Julia.

But despite working at the paper for 50 years, he was never a Luddite and was always quick to embrace new technology right up until he retired - be it from computer to film processing which superseded the hot metal process.

Ron retired in 1983, moving to Burnside, and enjoyed a long, happy retirement, walking, reading and pottering about in the garden.

Dave Bazell added: "He is remembered as a quiet, kindly man, always willing to help or advise and, particularly, to process, without fuss, late or amended stories thrust by sub-editors into his care."

He leaves a wife, Kit, a son, Ken, two granddaughters and a great grandson. The service took place on August 20 at Withycombe Parish Church.