Surbiton Character dies at 80

Picture of Denis 'Bill' Vail of Surbiton.

Denis Vail, known as Bill to many of his friends, died recently aged 80 on April 1st. He was known for his sense humour and family and friends have noted that he had the last laugh dying before midday on April Fools Day.

Denis Gilbert Vail was born at 33 Richmond Grove, Surbiton on 16th February 1929, the eldest child of Gilbert and Bessie Vail. As a boy he attended Christchurch School and Hollyfield Road School. The punishment books of both schools are apparently full of his misdemeanours. When a teenager he was a member of the local Army Cadets, East Surrey Regiment, and assisted the Home Guard. As a young man he did not wait to be called up for National Service but joined the Royal Signals in which he served for six years attaining the rank of sergeant. He spent time in occupied Germany and after leaving the Regular Army joined the Royal Army Reserve. Subsequently was called up to serve in the Suez Crises for 6 months in 1956.

Denis returned to civilian life and lived in Surbiton prior to marrying Betty Drake in 1955. The couple lived in Deer Park Gardens, Mitcham for some 25 years. Denis and Betty divorced in 1983 but remained friends.

Following in his father’s footsteps he was a member of the St John Ambulance in which he served during the 1960s. He had a number of jobs including working as a grocer for Sainsbury’s, a manager for Home & Colonial, an insurance agent and a salesman for Brooke Bond tea. But for most of his working life he was a postman in the Streatham area. He was an active member of the Streatham Postmans Social Club, a member of the Royal British Legion and the Royal Signals Association.

After his retirement from the Post Office he returned to Surbiton living in Moray House in Adelaide Road. His time was spend working part-time for the Corp of Commissionaires, Angling, Sea fishing and socialising with his friends at Surbiton Royal British Legion Club. It was at the Surbiton Legion Club during the 1990s that he made contact with many of his old school friends and former neighbours.

Denis was known for being generous to his friends and family and to good causes. He had an interest in technology, science, mathematics, local history and nature. His sense of humour – seeking comedy in all things is what he will be remembered for.

He is survived by his younger sisters Doreen and Tina and his two sons, Ray and Andy. His memorial service will be held at Kingston Crematorium, Bonner Hill Road, Kingston,on Wednesday 15th April at 3.40pm. It will be attended by local members of the Royal British Legion along with family, friends and neighbours.

His son Ray Harrington-Vail said,
“My dad defied medical science – he spend most of his adult life smoking, drinking and eating unhealthy food …and managed to live to 80….he spend his whole life misbehaving….we will all miss him!”


I shall be paying my respects to my father Bill VAIL, and all old soldiers, at Surbiton War Memorial on Sunday 8th November. I hope that many of his friends will be there.
I would urge everyone who enjoys the freedom they have to give some money to the poppy appeal and to remember...

Thank you for your kind comments regarding my late father.

How spooky i was looking up the address to Surbiton British Legion and this about denis.

Denis was a very funny kind generous man who is missed very much and it was a privelege to have know him.

No thanks required Ray as it was my pleasure. In fact I know I saw him around Surbiton now and again from looking at the photograph.

I never met Denis Vail, but reading about his life it's clear he was a man who understood duty to his country, loyalty to his friends, and love towards his family. Never meeting him was my loss, as men and women like him are scarce these days. He was one of the 'old school' and the world needs more like Denis Vail...

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