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Legendary Stratford fencer David Kirby dies from Covid-19 aged 70

TRIBUTES have been paid to Stratford fencing legend David Kirby, 70, who has died from Covid-19.

David Kirby.
David Kirby.

The former army major was head of coach development at Shakespeare’s Swords - the renowned fencing club he established at King Edward VI School over 30 years ago.

Credited for introducing fencing to thousands of youngsters over four decades of coaching, he was regarded as one of the leading lights in modern fencing.

He coached dozens to national and international glory - including local double Olympian Louise Bond Williams.

He was a trailblazer for women in sport and modern day coaching methods - not bad for someone who did not really “do sport”.

Kirby was born in Westminster in 1950 to actor Max Kirby and wife Aurea.

He joined the Royal Green Jackets from school as a private and managed to get into Sandhurst at the second attempt in 1970.

He became an officer in the Royal Engineers and postings across the UK and Europe followed - including tours in Germany and Northern Ireland

It was whilst commanding a company at the Army Apprentices College in Chepstow in 1984 he was charged with heading up the fencing club as well as the college band, which he conducted whilst playing the flu.

It was this experience that led him to offer his services to KES during his final army posting to Long Marston in 1987.

The KES boys did not know what had hit them with the arrival of this charismatic army Major.

Old Edwardian Adrain Bedford said: “The first thing he did was introduce the basic army warm up. By the end of a term I'm not sure we were any good at fencing, but we were very fit.

"He taught us to climb ropes without using our legs or feet whilst regaling us with stories of how many mortar bombs you could put into the air at the same time. This last tale increased in number with each telling.”

His efforts started to pay off and the club has been at the forefront of sabre fencing in this country ever since - often making up the majority (and sometimes all) of the British sabre teams at all levels - fostering a clutch of national and international champions.

Ironically, for a club based at what was then an all boys school, Kirby was at the forefront of the development of women's sport.

He trained female athletes in the art of sabre before it was even a proper recognised sport for women.

So, when it finally materialised he had a host of world quality fencers ready to go.

Louise Bond Williams was among them, and in 1998 she won bronze at a pilot world championships.

She went on to represent Great Britain at the 2008 Athens Olympics and then again at London 2012.

She said: “He nurtured a real team spirit. He encouraged training camps with everyone involved and worked hard at getting competing clubs to work together.

"He was a positive influence for everyone on the team, regardless of which club they came from, or whether he was their individual coach or not.”

Kirby held a number of other top fencing positions over the years, including at Eton, Birmingham University, Filton College and Sydney.

Latterly, he focused on training the next generation of coaches including running courses in Stratford that attracted people from across the globe and across sports.

In 2013 he taught Shakespearean actor Jonathan Slinger to fence for his memorable portrayal of Hamlet at the RST in Stratford.

Chris Buxton, head coach at Shakespeare’s Swords, said: “What David contributed to the world of UK fencing over the years is simply unprecedented. This, along with the direct positive impact he had on thousands of young lives, will be his legacy.”

He lived near Evesham and leaves a widow Marguerite, three children, Philippa, Susy and Peter (himself an accomplished national and international fencer), and five grandchildren.

Kirby's funeral will take place on Wednesday with a memorial service to follow at a later date.

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