Mum and Dad

My parents funeral took place on January 30, 2018 at Crewe Crematorium. This is the eulogy I read in celebration of their lives.

Mum and Dad

Shakespeare wrote in his play The Tempest:

We are such stuff as dreams are made on / And our little life is rounded with a sleep.

Mum and Dad were together for over 70 years and rounded out their lives when, both aged 97, they passed away together earlier this month. Over the course of their very long lives they saw many, many changes.

Mum was born on June 10, 1920 in the leafy Nottingham suburb of West Bridgeford. We always knew when it was her birthday because they played God Save the Queen on the radio, not for Gwen, but coincidentally it was also the Duke of Edinburgh’s birthday on June 10, he was a year younger than Gwen, born in 1921. Another coincidence is that 53 years ago today, on January 30, 1965, the largest funeral since the end of the war took place in London, when Winston Churchill was honored at St Paul’s. Our memorial today is a lot smaller, but no less significant for those of us here today.

Gwen was 15 when her Dad moved the family to Derby where he told her, “y’know, girls don’t really need to go to school, so you should probably find a job…” In some ways, she already did have a job. She had to mind Jack, her younger brother, most evenings, while her parents made the rounds collecting payments from the mining families they sold clothes to. Years later, she vowed to always be at home when her own children came home from school, and not leave them in an empty house. Her first job outside the house did not last long. She had a position with the Post Office transcribing telegrams for delivery, until a supervisor noticed she had atrocious spelling – something I’ve inherited.

During the war she worked as a PT instructor and helped build scale models of the French coastline that were used to train troops for the liberation of Europe.

She met Dad at Rolls Royce in Derby where he worked in the drawing office at the aircraft engine division and she was what was known as a tracer. He would offer her a lift after work on the back of his motorbike to her parents’ house on Hillsway where she was living. They were married on Feb 10, 1949 in St. Peter’s Church, Littleover. It would have been their 69th wedding anniversary in a fortnight.

Mum was the bedrock of the family. She kept her promise to always be there when Elaine and I got home from school. For many years she was the lunchtime cook at the Horseshoe Inn in Willaston where, rain or shine, she’d ride her moped the mile and a half there and back. Her most famous customer was probably the comedian Frankie Howard who stayed at the Inn when he appeared at the Town Hall in Nantwich one year.

Mum might have served chips with everything to Frankie and her lunchtime customers, but at home she was always conscious of feeding the family healthy food. I remember she started making her own yoghurt in the early 1960’s. I mean, who’d even heard of yogurt back then? For many years she always had a crop of alfalfa sprouts going on the kitchen counter. While Les could put food away like nobody’s business, she was frugal in her diet, her lunch was often just a Ryvita and an apple.

Gwen was also adept at crafts: making lampshades, arranging flowers and kitting. All her grandchildren – Christopher, Emily and Neil – were kept warm as babies with her hand knitted jumpers.

She was a stoic, uncomplaining, Derbyshire lass. My cousin Philip has researched the Adshead family (her maiden name) and found they were originally silk-weavers from Cheshire, before that industry collapsed. And so, by way of Nottingham and Derby, she returned to county of her ancestors.

Macular degeneration slowly robbed her of her sight over the last 15 years, and her hearing was not what it once was. But Gwen soldiered on: cooking, brewing endless cups of tea, washing up and generally making sure Les behaved himself in the house. Eventually, they left their bungalow at The Beeches and moved into the warm and caring environment of Brookfield House.

When she slipped away on the afternoon of Tuesday January 16th Les was asleep in bed with a chest infection. Mercifully, he did not wake up to ever hear of Gwen’s passing until he, too, passed away in his sleep at noon the very next day.

Les was born in Oulton, Staffordshire on January 1, 1921. His family go back generations in those parts, all the way to the Norman Conquest when the French nobleman De Gryphon settled in Staffordshire. He was so clearly identified with that part of England that, on their first trip to visit me in America in the late 1970’s, a chap on the ‘plane heard him chatting to Mum, tapped him on the shoulder and asked, ‘What part of Staffordshire are you from?” (This is something that always astounds the Americans I tell that story to.)

Les was taught in a two-room schoolhouse in Oulton and left school at 14 to pursue his engineering education at night school. He earned his UEI certificates in engineering drawing in 1938 and was a draughtsman in the war while also serving in the Home Guard (very rightly called Dad’s Army) during the war. His work then took him to Rolls Royce in Derby and to his wife-to-be.

After they were married, Gwen and Les first rented a flat in Crich, a safe 17 miles north of the in-laws, and then bought their first home in Horsley where they kept chickens in a huge garden and set about starting a family. Just before I was born he transferred with Rolls to the car division in Crewe, where they moved into their first house at number 2 Clyde Grove in 1952. In 1957 they moved to a semi in Sandylands, Wistaston, just off Church Lane, which Les bought for the princely sum of £2,000.

Les was extremely handy and loved tinkering at a succession of “blinking jobs”. He kept a series of second-hand cars roadworthy: rebuilding engines, re-boring cylinders, adjusting spark plugs and so on. I can still remember the license plate of his beloved Morris Minor – HWM 775. It was a constant battle. Our annual holiday trips to North Wales often involved long stop-overs at garages in the depths of Snowdonia waiting for a replacement radiator hose to be fitted that would allow us to continue the journey to the caravan at Black Rock Sands or the holiday cottage in Borth-y-Gest where we’d join my cousins Michael and Philip and their parents Marjorie and Jack.

Those cars also took us every Easter and Christmas on the long road from Crewe to Stone where we visited his Mum and his sister Rita’s family: Margret, David and Andrew are here today. Then onto Derby and Gwen’s parents and our other cousins. We’d count the Christmas trees on the way there and sometimes stop for fish and chips from a van outside the Swan with Two Necks on the way back.

Les loved his music and he’d hum along to Sing Something Simple on the car radio. Bing Crosby was a particular favorite and he knew the lyrics of many of the crooners’ hits by heart.

Dad worked tirelessly on DIY projects, wallpapering and painting a succession of homes in Wistaston, Shavington, Winterley and The Beeches in Nantwich. He converted attics into bedrooms, erected garden sheds and much, much more.
Les was admittedly accident prone. He was famously late for my cousin Philips wedding having driven the car clear across a roundabout on the journey there. His excuse? “Well, it wasn’t there last time I drove along that road!”. Never at a loss for a project, he also tried my wife Sandra’s patience on a visit to spend the holidays with us in America when he decided to build a shelf behind the cooker just as she was getting the turkey ready for the oven on Christmas morning.

He had a life-long interest in photography and when they moved out of the Beeches I sorted through a vast collection of over 6,000 photos he’d taken over the years. Following his retirement, Les took up art with his usual passion and dedication to detail. His architecturally precise paintings of Church’s Mansions and other Nantwich landmarks hang in our homes today.

Throughout their time together, Gwen and Les enjoyed their lives to the full. They visited many parts of the UK in their caravan, spent wonderful holidays in Ireland with Sandra’s parents. Richard, Sandra’s brother, and his wife Dierdra are over from Limerick. They visited National Trust gardens around the country, including, of course, those at Dorfold Hall their son-in-law Nigel and my sister Elaine maintain so well. On multiple trips to America they visited Yosemite, the Sierra Nevada, Death Valley, New England and many other scenic spots.

I’d like to specifically thank Elaine and Nigel for the support they provided to Gwen and Les. If it was not for them, our parent’s final years would have been much different. Thank you.

However, as a wise man once said, all good things come to an end. When life had run its course, Les, ever the gentleman, let Gwen pass through the doorway before him, if only by a few hours. Many people have remarked how beautifully appropriate it is that a couple who were together so long were together at the end. It seems a very acceptable way to die.

I’ll leave you with another quote:

Death is utterly acceptable to consciousness and life. There has been endless time of numberless deaths, but neither consciousness nor life has ceased to arise. The felt quality and cycle to death has not modified the fragility of flowers, even the flowers within the human body.

Thank you all for coming to celebrate the 97 years Gwen and Les spent on the earth. Unlike the flowers, their memory won’t fade.

Those were my prepared remarks. However, earlier this week I spoke with Gavin and Max, the funeral directors. They explained that Gwen and Les will be placed in the Rose Garden behind the crematorium. A hole will be dug in the flower beds and our parent’s ashes will be placed in the earth. This reminded me of the lyrics to an Irish musician Bob Geldof’s song on the 1992 album ‘The Happy Club’. It wouldn’t have been Les’s cup of tea, in fact you probably couldn’t get further away from Bing Crosby. The words seem very appropriate given what Gavin and Max told me. So I’ll leave you with ‘The Soft Soil’:

Let the soil be your soft pillow
The grassy blanket keep you warm
Let the leafy branches cool you
And the blue skies keep you from all harm
Let the wind keep fresh your memory
Let it blow across the land
Let the rain refresh your spirit
Let the damp earth hold your hand.

Now the evening sun is racing on
Lying flat on wintery fields
It carries on its restless winds
The sounds of fifty church bells pealing.

And all the bells you’ve ever heard
Are ringing out for wat you’ve done
Like all the dreams in all the world
You’re shining reckless like the sun.

This video is a memorial to their lives.

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2 Comments so far
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Great lives. Fine words. Deepest condolences.

A beautiful tribute, Ian. My condolences for your loss and my best wishes for happier days ahead.

John



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