Another 100 year celebration
A few weeks ago I wrote a blog post in memory of my paternal grandfather who would have been 100 that day. Now I am writing a similar post about my maternal grandfather who would have been 100 years old today.
I didn’t know my Grandpa as well as my Grandad as sadly he died a few weeks short of his 71st birthday, just before I turned 9. Whereas my Grandad lived 20 years longer, dying the same month, but just short of his 91st birthday. So the memories I have of my Grandpa are childish ones: I remember a very old man – it is funny I saw him that way as he was only slightly older than my parents are now, and they seem so much younger – and I especially remember him calling us children “ducks” or “duckie”.
Most of this tribute to Grandpa comes from things I have learnt about him as I got older, mostly from my mum and an uncle, and I think he was also a pretty remarkable man, like my Grandad.
The things that stand out the most about him for me are that he was a primary school teacher, and later primary headteacher, and that despite being a pacifist he enlisted during World War II.
But the one thing that stands out the most, and that we all know about in our family, is the epic letter he wrote to my (then 2 year old) uncle, on 23rd July 1944, during the Second World War. It is not a letter aimed at a 2 year old, but in fact an explanation to both my uncles (my mum and aunts were born after the war) of what state the world was in, and why my Grandpa was fighting in the war, in case he didn’t get to see them again.
It is so strange to read a letter written at a time when people didn’t know if they were going to see another day, and no one knew whether Britain would be victorious or come under Nazi occupation. My Grandpa felt the need to explain to his children why he was fighting. Despite being a pacifist he signed up as a volunteer before the inevitable conscription, as he felt that he couldn’t stand by and do nothing when there was such a threat to our personal freedom, which gives us an idea of just how scary that time in history must have been.
The letter is such an interesting read (in order to respect the privacy of my uncle who it is addressed to, and my other uncle who is mentioned in it I won’t be sharing its contents), with such a clear description of life at the time, and the doubt and uncertainty that everyone lived in. I have my own copy of it as many years ago my dad made copies of the letter (I say letter but it fills an old school exercise book), and bound them so all of us could have a copy of this personal document from our dad/grandpa.
Grandpa was assigned first to the RAOC – Royal Army Ordinance Corps, he did not declare that he was a teacher as he thought he would get assigned to either the Education Corps or to Intelligence and he wanted to do something more interesting during the war. Had he done so he would in all likelihood have been signed on as an officer straight away. However, as his father was a dispensing chemist, the family were able to afford to run a car before the war which meant my grandpa knew how to drive. So when he volunteered he said he was a lorry driver in civvie street, though he had never driven a lorry. Within hours of arriving at camp he was instructed to drive a 30 ton truck up to Glasgow!
He transferred to the REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) at the end of 1941/start of 1942, where he was eventually promoted to Senior Staff Sergeant (the highest rank available to a staff NCO) and with the war coming to an end he was invited, but declined, to sign up as a commissioned officer. His decision to remain an NCO went against him when applying for headships as, in the immediate post war period, preference was given to those who had been officers during the war. To help counter this prejudice, he added to his teacher’s training college diploma by spending a year in correspondence course study which earned him the title of Licentiate of the College of Preceptors (LCP). This title is now the equivalent of a B.Ed.
After the war Grandpa became involved with the National Union of Teachers and was, for a while, the Chairman of the Stafford and District branch. When he was appointed a headmaster, he was a pioneer of the latest teaching methods, being an early introducer of cuisenaire (an aid to teaching infants basic mathematical concepts) and ITA – initial teaching alphabet. This latter was a method to help children, who were having reading difficulties, to read. The system was pioneered by the Pittman family, of shorthand fame, with whom he kept in regular contact during the several years it operated in his school. It was also said to help other children learn to read up to a year earlier than normal.
Subsequently he became interested in the Gifted Children’s Association, of which he became the first President, spending his Saturdays with gifted children, enabling them to optimise their learning and mixing socially with other gifted children. In his capacity as an office holder of the Association he received an invitation to attend a garden party at the Palace.
Grandpa was a headteacher at two new schools over his teaching career, and unlike being appointed as a head to an existing school, this is a more onerous and difficult job as you have to build a system, routine and culture with an inexperienced staff. He was never one to shun hard work.
Grandpa was also interested in religion and politics: in the 1960s he became a local methodist preacher, and spent most Sundays travelling to small chapels to preach, where there was no resident ordained minister, going sometimes as far as the Welsh borders from his home in Wolverhampton. Then later on in his life he became active in his local liberal party branch.
He was also a voracious reader which has been passed on to his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as there are certainly a vast number of book worms in this family, myself and L included! Grandpa was a passionate gardener, and, with the help of one of my uncles, he transformed his last garden into the most beautiful and perfect outdoor space.
I love the fact that, along with my Grandma, he was pretty adventurous, as, at the age of 64, they flew to Fiji and New Zealand, and cruised back from Tahiti through the Panama Canal, which was quite a rare thing for people of their age to do in the 1970s.
My mum tells me that he was immensely proud of his 5 eldest grandchildren who he knew before he died. He thought we were incredibly bright (no doubt grandparental pride!!) and apparently he was always glad to expand on our knowledge. Sadly he never met his 4 younger grandchildren, who were born after he died, but my mum tells me he would have been very proud of them and all their achievements. He would have been so pleased that 2 of them have decided to take up a teaching career, and in Early Years, which was his and my Grandma’s particular area of interest.
Happy 100th birthday Grandpa! Some memories: