Last Friday was my father\’s funeral. I spoke about him at the funeral, and a number of people of have asked me what I said. I\’d like loads of people to know what he was like. So here it is:
\”Dad and I spoke a bit over the years about this moment – we concluded that it was better this way round than him speaking about me – but he did grant me that it would’ve spared me the effort of writing and reading this! It doesn’t make it much easier, but he knew I had some ideas, and, as recently as our trip to the Somme only a few weeks ago, I promised not to be too rude or unfair :-).
The first thing I ever discussed with dad was an overall description of him – I put to him two choices I had in mind “Cantankerous old sod” or “Cantankerous old bugger”. After the briefest of discussion, and with a big grin on his face, Dad chose “Cantankerous Old Sod” as this runs off the tongue so much better.
But that does him a great disservice. The first words that I thought about once I started typing were Duty, Honour, Service, Loyalty. Having read things people have written about him, more descriptions come to the fore: morally strong, great principles, widely respected, good sense of humour (just as well), champion of justice, generous, a good friend to many (as we know from all the cards), a great character, dignity and courage.
These last two qualities, along with strength of character, were displayed to the full in his last months.
I’d add one more attribute – my godmother said this week– “he was always tolerant of others’ views” – she didn’t add, even hers 🙂
So, what can I tell of dad? Over the years I filed away stories dad told, things he said in order to do him justice today. I don’t have long, so necessarily will not complete the task, but I hope a few things will paint a good picture.
Often when my sister and I complained about the hard life we were experiencing Dad would tell us of his childhood spud picking. He wanted to explain to us that life was much easier for us than it was for him: getting up in the dark and picking spuds until late evening spending hours bent over the fields – and all for nobbut 3 farthings. Many years later, his mother told us a similar tale of how he tried spud picking for a day, lasted 10 minutes and then came home. I rather suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Dad went to school at Duke of York’s Royal Military School in Dover. Known as Dukies, the boys led a near military life which, “I think”, made Dad. He had many memories, but I think one of his proudest was marching down the Champs Elysée in Paris for Liberation Day in 1950. On the same trip, he got to ride in an amphibious assault vehicle on the D-day beaches.
After school he went to Sandhurst and joined Ypres Company of New College – and I think this may have been the beginning of his lifelong interest in the battles of Northern France in World War I.
Dad told that at Sandhurst he had a knack for getting into trouble effortlessly:
Once there was a crush to get out of the class. Being at the back Dad decided to leave via the window. Unfortunately a passing CSM with (as Dad put it) nothing better to do spotted him. Apparently this was the equivalent of regicide and Dad got a huge rocket, he was told to return and leave properly, but to go back the way he came in. Obedient as ever he climbed back through the window, to be met by the lecturer, a Major. Diametrically opposed in his views to those of the CSM, he considered entering a room via a window “should be covered by the Ten Commandments”. Dad said the Major proceeded to demonstrate his considerable ability in both the English and bad language. The saving grace in all this for Dad was that whilst exercising their vocal chords neither man thought to take his name. He said it taught him one lesson of value throughout his life since. ALWAYS SIT NEAR THE EXIT!
Dad signed up for the West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’ Own), Fourteenth Regiment of Foot, his family’s regiment (a big mistake as he later discovered). He served in Malaya (going there without telling his mum during his last home leave!). He also served in Northern Ireland – where in a pub in the Bogside, in army fatigues he decided it was probably safe to order a Guinness in an Irish accent. I worked there in the 80’s and it wasn’t even safe to leave the car dressed in civvies.
Dad experienced a number of accidents and major injuries in his life. The worst was in the 50’s when he was riding his bike and undertook an army lorry that he knew would be turning right into the army base. Unfortunately “know it all” Bryant was wrong, and he slammed into the left hand side of the cab and was thrown across the junction of the road. He suffered a nasty injury to the elbow, but his leg was damaged so badly it ended up shorter and he limped ever after. EVEN THIS did not complete break his silly bugger sensibilities – after 9 months of various operations and treatment he was finally heading to the hospital to have his last plaster cast removed. In early celebration of this he thought it entirely prudent to run across the road (on crutches and in plaster). Almost inevitably he put his crutch down the drain, broke his leg, and spent another 3 months in plaster!
As a result of this injury Dad was invalided out of the army – ever helpful the Army gave him a career planning choice of about 1, and he took the Civil Service exam. He was always proud that in the English exam he came first across the whole intake. His prize (for so it was considered!) was to work for the Inland Revenue. He worked his way up the ladder over the years studying evenings and weekends and worked in several London offices finishing at London Somerset House working on special projects. He made many friends in the Revenue, and although it was not his 1st career – he made a good success of it; although he told me on several occasions that his “calling a spade a shovel” attitude may have been career limiting! He joined and led the Inland Revenue Rifle Club at Somerset House for many years, and continued shooting after retirement, stopping only when the range was closed down after the 1998 ban.
But although the accident and working at the Revenue were not Dad’s first plan, if these had not happened then Mum and Dad would not have met at his friend’s party. Mum had been invited by her friend and flatmate. Six months later they were married (adlib here, \”mum and dad, not mum and her flatmate\”). At the risk of sounding immodest, within a couple of years, they had 2 of the most beautiful and well mannered children the world has known.
One of Dad’s distinguishing features was his beard. I have no firm recollection of him without it, but it came about because in the 60’s Dad was in a bad car crash in Yorkshire and badly damaged several fingers. As a result shaving became difficult as he always poked himself in the eye with his now rigid little finger, thus he grew the beard that he kept ever after.
After the car crash he took up canoeing; which led to sailing which he then taught for Waltham Forest, gaining various RYA certification and skills, including navigation (although I have to confess his first crossing of the Channel with a just a Silva compass and a 1 page chart was not his best decision!)
It was no surprise then, that he joined the RNLI and (inevitably!) became the local treasurer.
Dad claimed that my confirmation was only the second time he’d been in St Edmunds RC church in Loughton. I was touched that he should break a great abstinence in order to witness it. However I think the Governor upstairs took his revenge on Dad as all the photos he took of me with the Bishop came out black!
I’m glad to say that although I inherited from Dad a full head of hair, extreme height, good looks and svelte figure; much more importantly I inherited:
• an unquenchable pride in being English
• a lifelong regret I’m not a Yorkshire man
• A strong belief in fairness, equality and justice.
Throughout the time I really knew him, he was always a keen supporter of the underdog, (perhaps this explains his love for the Yorkshire and England sporting teams…) Despite his army history, he was generally scandalised by war, and I am relieved that he never fired a shot in anger in Malaya and therefore never had to regret something there.
Despite his injuries he maintained a strong interest in many sports especially snooker, F1, Rugby and shooting – and he really enjoyed watching the Army 7’s rugby team beat the professionals at Twickenham on more than 1 occasion.
Last week my wife said that if Dad did something, he normally ended up running it. She is absolutely right, but it is not only that, his choices from the Army onwards were characterised by service to the community, not just hobbies. Teaching sailing, being a magistrate, Venture Scouts, RNLI, his Union, the gun club, his school’s Old Boys Association.
In his latter years, he was a benefactor to a number of good causes: he sponsored a retired Ghurkha (he’d served with them in Malaya), the Thiepval memorial visitor centre at the Somme, Duxford’s air museum. All things that he saw as worthy causes deserving his support. Last year he was surprised and shocked to find that despite many visits to the Somme, he had 2 previously unknown Great Uncles who’d served and died there. I was very glad he got to go back one more time to see their memorials.
Lastly, a personal memory. The time I saw Dad laugh the most was when Mum and Dad came up to Norfolk one time. After we parked the car, I was reaching onto the back seat to fetch something. Dad, with his back to me, leant his weight against the door to close it trapping my upper arm. Entirely innocently Dad continue to apply further pressure until my exclamations of discomfort made him look round. When he saw what was happening he burst into the biggest and longest burst of laughter I can ever remember from him. Of course, I joined in as well. To be honest I’m not really sure why it was funny, and I’m not sure he did either, but it was!
And that’s how I’d like to remember him\”