South Hams Chess Club
South Hams Chess Club

Biography of Philip Homan

Philip Homan

Philip Homan, after whom our league is named, did a lot to foster the development of our club in its early stages.

Clifford Peach founded the club in 1982, but by his own admission lacked experience. The club had not been going long when Philip joined. He helped put us on the road to playing in leagues and because of him internal competitions became more organised. He was a fixture on the committee, but didn't push himself forward. Rather, he was a father figure always available with sound advice. He always had a corner in the room for those who just wanted a pint and a game. In those days it was nothing to have 24 players in the room (sometimes 30) - not all members, some casual players simply came for an evening out.

Philip, although he had a lot of chess experience that we didn't have, welcomed anybody at the club, was popular with everyone, encouraged serious chess, but loved playing friendlies. Anything to get people playing - it didn't matter to him.

Clifford organised and ran the South Hams Chess Congress. It was really popular, always full and sold out, a maximum of 26 played by invitation at the Hallsands Hotel. Philip was a great supporter of the idea so much so that after he died his widow donated a Trophy specifically for the Congress, to be called The Philip Homan Cup.

So who was he? He was born in 1916 at Rolvenden in Kent, was head boy at Maidstone Grammar School and did a law degree at the London School of Economics. It was possibly around this time that he played his best chess. A snippet from the school records in 1937 mentions that, as a treat, he gave a simultaneous display against the school, winning 10 out of 11.

His career as a civil servant began at the Estate Duty Office (a forerunner of the Inheritance Tax section of HMRC) and he was a sub editor of the leading text ‘Green on Death Duties’. When war intervened, he joined the RNVR and training at Dartmouth was his introduction to the South Hams. He was also involved in tank landing craft exercises on Slapton Sands.

Around his time at Dartmouth he was courting Clemency Hobson who was to become his wife. Clemency’s father had ‘discovered’ East Prawle as a family holiday destination in the 1920s and Philip hiked over from Dartmouth to see why they made such a fuss about it. It is still the family’s preferred holiday destination almost a century later!

After the war Philip resumed his civil service career, now in the Board of Trade and his chess, playing London League chess for a civil service team (as well as playing for a time for Maidstone). He worked on trade with Scandinavia and then France (today he would have been on the Brexit negotiating team!). In 1959, during something of a thaw in the ‘Cold War’, he was the trade expert on the team for Harold Macmillan’s Moscow summit with Khrushchev, spending two days with the leaders negotiating a relaxation in trade between the two countries. As his responsibilities increased, he had to abandon competitive chess (around 1960).

He then switched to the Department of Trade and Industry’s domestic side and was, in succession, head of the DTI in the West Midlands, head of the DTI in Scotland, head of the DTI Mechanical Engineering Division and finally Director of the Metrication Board before retiring in 1976 as a Deputy Secretary.

Philip and Clemency moved to Stokenham the following year. It had always been their plan to retire to Prawle, but as avid gardeners, Stokenham was as near as they could get without being too windswept.

How good a chess player he was at his peak we do not know. What we do know is that at some stage he played against Sir George Thomas and against C.H.O.D (Hugh) Alexander (both British Champions). His eldest son still plays with a set that Philip bought with his prize money for winning one of the lower divisions at Hastings. He favoured the Ruy Lopez and Queen’s Gambit openings, but his old volume of MCO is filled with annotations in his distinctive handwriting deep in the footnotes of many openings, which is testament to the depth and breadth of his knowledge of the game.

Philip died of cancer in Derriford hospital in 1988.

Clifford Peach
Mark Homan
December 2020