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My dad was a physical man. I remember how only a few years ago we were walking across a packed out Clapham Common on a sunny weekend. It was a zig-zag of hellos and ‘don’t I know you?’ conversations, as my dad headed from one group to another, saluting, shaking hands and ignoring all the social barriers that stop people in London chatting to each other. I followed a step behind my amicable smiling father, sometimes I felt the need to explain his condition, or to apologise a bit to the more startled people as they peered cautiously from behind their Sunday newspapers. Then we came to the drunks on the bench and dad wanted to start a sparing match, I felt worried enough to brace my hands against his chest and stop him, only I couldn’t. I never realised until that moment how solid he was. He went straight ahead with calm indifference to my efforts to hold back this man in his early seventies.
That was my dad. Even tempered, friendly and easy to under-estimate. Like the way the Scotsman called tanky under-estimated him , aboard the minesweeper, the Golden Fleece. Tanky resented the fact that this southern softy nicknamed ‘curly’ would neither fight, nor back down to his bullying. Only when the Scotsman blocked the door and refused to let him pass without a fight, did my dad finally hit him and then a moment later stepped calmly over the slumped body of the other man.
The environment which created my father was a harsh one by today’s standards, although it was common to many of his generation. By the age of twenty-one he had lost his father to TB and been bombed out. It is a hard world to imagine where you come home to find a large chunk of masonry on the pillow, where your head should have been resting that evening. Then whilst away in the navy he learned of his sister’s death by TB, alone in a south coast sanatorium, whilst his mother struggled under the weight of several jobs to keep the rest of the family going. As a submarine detector, his ship had the vulnerable job of sweeping mines ahead of the fleet during the D-Day invasion.
But to really understand him, you have to understand Battersea. It was a poor area, dominated by the railways, but as the Times noted it was also a ‘peculiar place’. Full of people who believed that the world could and should be run differently and more fairly. It elected the Indian communist, Saklavara as its MP in the early twenties. Archer House, where mum and dad set up home was named after the first black Mayor in Britain.
There is an urban myth, about the people who dare to invite Jehovah witnesses into their homes to lecture them. My dad was that legend. He would lecture them on how Jesus was the first socialist. He believed in a socialist future and there were a few debates aboard the Golden Fleece about how they were going to change things when they got back from the war.
Battersea was a distinct community, with family inter-connections which could rival any village. My father’s parents at one point lived in a short road where the four families which are my grandparents all lived next to each other. The Wingrove’s lived next to the Clarkes, the Barlows and the Jacksons, side by side in four terraced houses. So when my dad’s brother started dating and then married my mum’ s aunt, it was not seen as unusual when Rose and George did the same.
Many of you will remember my dad from way back, but most of us now share an image of him in decline, a slow fading away of the person we knew and the person who knew us. I hope that you will come back to the house and look at the old photos of the young bruiser on a motorbike. And remember that the young man who jumped off the ship into the crystal waters off the Borneo coast was also the kid who dived off Battersea Bridge into the far from crystal waters of the industrial Thames. He had spark, a twinkle in his eyes and more perspective on our world, when he was twenty, than most of us will achieve in a lifetime.
In the last year, my dad voice disappeared to a whisper of half-remembered words. Yet, I know that his voice is in our voices. And because of that, what he was and what he stands for, will be remembered.
George, my dad, comes from a generation which knew the true value of things. Enough money for a comfortable life and enough sense to make the best of that life. He was wealthy, because there are riches more than money. If you don’t believe it, then take one look at his wonderful wife, Rose, our mum. Take a look at the friends & neighbours here today and at his family. He has people who will miss him. In many ways we have been missing him for years. That is why I’m happy that today we can celebrate a good man who had a life well lived.