Dad in wartime - probably Egypt 1943
I hadn't heard my father's voice since September 1979. I was the last member of our family to see him alive. He was lying in a curtained hospital bed in Hull having suffered his second major heart attack that summer. He stretched out his yellowy tongue and then pleaded for whisky which seemed extremely odd as he was never a drinking man. I kissed him and later that night he left us.
Recently, my younger brother encountered a few old cassette tapes. He transferred some of the contents to CD and then voila - there he was - my old man speaking to me from over thirty years back. His voice was clear but what struck me so vividly was his pronounced North Yorkshire accent. I had completely forgotten that he spoke that way. He was talking about his postwar working life as a village primary school teacher. He spoke of his very first school memories. He was almost five years old and in Norton near Malton in the very heart of Yorkshire he could recall the playground celebrations that marked the end of World War One.
If Dad were alive today, he'd be ninety seven years old. Neither Shirley nor our children ever knew him which is a real shame. In his youth he was a rugby player, a cricketer, a rower, a piano player and a singer but as he grew older he became a water colourist, a photographer, a local National Union of Teachers leader, an advisor, a parish councillor, a church warden, an activist in the campaign to create a village recreation ground and the president of our village cricket club. Dad had oodles of energy.
His funeral in late September 1979 caused the village church to overflow with mourners and well-wishers. I remember trying to sing "The Lord's My Shepherd" in his honour but my voice could only quaver and, clinging to the hymn book, my hands shook uncontrollably. The words were in any case blurred by tears. In the last couple of years of his life, I had grown ever closer to Dad. He became my friend. I think he saw a lot of himself in me and was immensely proud that I had chosen to join the teaching profession, following in his footsteps.
To hear his voice after all this time was like listening to a ghost. Since he died, I doubt that even one day has gone by without me thinking of him. I would never put him on a pedestal but I would say that he was a good man, a good father and husband who tried to make the most of his life and didn't deserve to die at only sixty five.
Dad circa 1965 with three of his sons - me on right.