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Ploughman John died doing the job he loved

Oswestry | News | Published:

Tributes have been paid to one of Britain's greatest ploughmen who died doing the job he loved.

John "Sonny" Smith was offloading his tractor for a display at the Oswestry Show when he collapsed from a heart attack.

He died a few days later on August 6, aged 81.

Mr Smith did not miss a Cruckton Ploughing match for 40 years and represented Cruckton Ploughing Society more than 20 times during national competitions.

He was also well-known for passing on his expertise to younger ploughmen and as a judge at local and national competitions.

Competing at Cruckton in the early 1950s with the E27N.

Mr Smith's friend, David Beare, Upper Cefn-y-Pwll, Abermule, Montgomery, said: "I was an aspiring ploughman and Sonny spent a long time patiently teaching me the basics, for which I very grateful.

"He was a valued member of the Society of Ploughmen and spent untold hours teaching, offering advice to budding ploughmen and judging at countless local and national level matches.

"Sonny also restored tractors to a very high standard and became a specialist in Ford 3000 and 4000 tractors fitted with the quirky Select-O-Speed sequential transmission, being one of the few people to know how to set it up correctly and repair it when it broke.

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Sonny Smith aboard his Fordson E27N, tuning in the radio to the Home Service.

"Sonny was an honourable, generous, kind, talented and modest man who always had time for others. He was a true country gentleman.

"In latter years he suffered from health complications, which kept him away from his beloved ploughing matches.

"His widow Jackie was, and still is, a great supporter of the ploughing match world.

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"She remembers meeting Sonny in 1978 at a ploughing match in Germany. When they got married he had a spanner in his pocket - and when he died he still had a spanner in his pocket.

"He will be sorely missed."

Mr Smith, who acquired the nickname Sonny for being the only son with three sisters, was born into a Shrewsbury farming family.

He left school aged 14 to help his father Jack with the agricultural contracting business in 1939, at a time when huge tracts of pasture were being ploughed up all over Britain to help feed a nation at war.

By 1942 he was helping out on weekends and holidays when his father bought a Fordson N for him to drive.

He left school in Christmas 1946 and in the following January he was bought a new Fordson E27N Major, with lights and electric starter, which was a luxury at the time.

Demonstration ploughing with his Ford 4000 and Ransomes TS78 5-furrow semi-mounted plough.

He worked his tractor for more than 2,000 hours a year alongside his father's Oliver 80, using Ransomes three-furrow trailer ploughs.

Mr Smith competed in his first Cruckton ploughing match aged fourteen in 1947 and won first prize on his father Oliver 80 and a trailer plough.

Mr Smith won the Reversible Class championships 10 times and became overall British Reversible and Conventional champion in 1971, which saw him qualify to plough at the World Championships in the USA, in 1972.

He won the European Reversible Championship in Britain in 1984 and again in Germany in 1988, before retiring from active competitions.

The funeral will be held on Tuesday (AUG 19) at Olberbury Church, near Shrewsbury, from 2pm.

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