Friday, November 01, 2013

Trevor Pearce and David Pearce - the RAF in Canada

I am leaving this post in place as a matter of record. Happily, Mr Pearce did get in touch and has been extremely helpful. A later posting will record some of the insights from his very kind assistance. 

My 2006 posting about Dad's wartime experiences attracted a comment - the only useful one so far. This was from Trevor Pearce, as follows:

"I have been doing some research about my father David Pearce and his time in the RAF during WW2. it appears that our fathers did their multi-engine flying course together in Canada in 1942. I have more information if you would like it


I would be very very grateful if anyone knows Trevor and can contact him, as I know every little about Dad's time in Canada.

One thing that I have discovered is the context for the training in Canada. This began after the fall of France in 1940, when it was deemed too dangerous to train aircrew in Britain, and so the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan began. The scheme was enlarged after May and June 1942, but it began to be run down after November 1943. Presumably Dad would be back in England by then, flying reconnaissance.

Trevor Pearce's information has been invaluable, because it puts a date on Dad's involvement. Mr Pearce, do contact me - I would be so grateful! 

Graham Stark RIP 1922-1913

Sadly, Graham Stark passed away in London on 29th October. Here is a link to the Guardian obituary:

Graham Stark is perhaps best-known for his roles as the comic stooge, notably alongside his friend Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau in the early Pink Panther films from 1964.

There are connections with Dad - he too was born in Wallasey, went to Wallasey Grammar School and served in the RAF. I have wondered if Dad knew him at school - they went there at the same time, but Graham was born on 20th January and Dad on 23rd July, so maybe they were - just - in different school years. If my memories of school are typical, you would not know someone in a different year, although sometimes you might be aware of an older boy. Anyway, despite Graham Stark's appearing in various TV and cinema comedies beyond Clouseau, there are no memories of Dad pointing to him on the screen and stating "I knew him". Mum, who did know Graham socially, and who was saddened when I told her tonight about his death, said that Dad never suggested that he had known him.

Oddly, I came across a member of the Stark family - his elder brother, I think - in the 1980s. An irate man who lived in Wellington Road in New Brighton, although, frankly, the matters about which he contacted me would have annoyed me too.

It's odd to think that any of Dad's contemporaries were still alive until recently, and shows how long ago he left us.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Dad – The days it happened October 11-12th

For once, politicians’ fathers have been in the news lately. There was the appalling attack by the Daily Mail (a paper Dad read, sadly) on Ralph Miliband, the father of the leader of the opposition, and a slightly surprising convivial defence by David Cameron, who said he would most certainly defend his father, “whom I miss every day”, against any attack. Good for him; he went up in my estimation over that.

It is odd to read that Ed Miliband was so badly affected by the death of his father that he needed counselling. It is as though one’s Father’s death is unremarkable, and should not cause profound sadness, dislocation, depression, even (in that 1950s catch-all phrase, a “nervous breakdown”). There is nothing unusual about Ed Miliband’s reaction, and since he has had the courage to admit this, I don’t mind stressing that my Dad’s loss had a massive impact. I didn’t know what counselling was in 1986, but it would have been helpful and comforting, to say the least, to have talked about me feelings to someone sympathetic, who would at least (I hope) acknowledge that significant grief is understandable, is legitimate, and hard to bear. Whether one labels that as mental illness or ill-health, and whether that would lead one to the latest trendy catch-all cure of CBT (enough said about that) is another matter. I’m not sure whether one always seeks a solution to bereavement; it’s a learning experience which is entirely unwanted, and has to be lived with and through. Unfortunately.
Anyway, this is about Dad, not me, and what proved to be his last day. He, Mum and friends were going to spend a weekend in Llandudno, a favourite place. Mum attended a meeting in Wales, and Dad was meant to pick her up on the way. He was packing the car for the weekend, lifted cases…and that was it. He was found later in the car, looking quite peaceful, or so it was said. The front door of the house was open, the faithful dog standing guard in the doorway, and the man next door in Wallasey, a close friend, came to look for him, and found him. Curtain on that.

Mum waited and waited, in Wales, wondering why he did not arrive. Hours later, she managed to ring and heard that he had gone hours before. Two very kind people, who had attended the meeting from mid-Wales, and would have gone South to go home, kindly ran her back to Wallasey. The phone calls, to his many friends, then began, with many encounters with disbelief and shock.
It was now early evening, and I was about to end a two-day break in mid-Wales. The man who had found Dad, a kind man who wanted to do things by the book, said that I should be telephoned. “A son should know when his father had gone”, he insisted. But others said no, and I’m grateful to them. He meant well, but he was wrong about me, at least.

I learned early morning, when my sister, from Middlesex, phoned. The hotel reception people had to come to the room and tell me there was a call from her, which seemed odd. I recall the details – “It’s Dad. We think we had a heart attack, and…..” She went on to tell me, but if the phone had been cut off somehow, I already knew; she was using the past tense. I went upstairs, collapsed onto the bed, and yelled out to my first wife what had happened (she had thought, somehow, that it was something routine). She rapidly finished packing and we drove off through mid-Wales. The world had, it seemed, ended, it was somehow lying on its side. I recall the valley beyond Corris, and saying, in amongst the tears, that Wales could still be a beautiful place – this seemed such an incongruous observation. She told others afterwards – I never regained a memory of it – that I had both talked (no surprise, for those who know me!) and wept all the 90 miles back. I knew all the clichés, and they were all true – an era had ended, nothing would ever be, or feel, (quite) the same again. All that has changed in 27 years is that the “quite” has been inserted. 

And yet, when I got back, expecting Mum to be in a state of daze, perhaps lying down in bed, she was simply there in the kitchen, saying hello. I too would be incredibly calm when my first wife died (although this was expected); at that time, I just went home and started getting dinner ready.

The rest of the family were there, and in a morass of uncertainty and seeming disbelief. My wife seemed, on the surface, more upset than anyone else. She was upset for herself, but upset for me too, and aware, having lost her own father 10 years before, of what it would mean for me. But for her, it was a major personal loss, because Dad had been like a father to her.

The aftermath would be long and complicated, with many and multiple reverberations. One may think that someone’s passing is the end of their life, but it isn’t the end of our life with them. I had no idea how strongly I would feel about my Father so many years later. The memories, and the love that underlies them, live on and on. And so they should, now the pain of familiarity has subsided.

Mr Miliband honours his father, openly, almost 20 years after his death. My Dad held very very different views from Ralph Miliband (as does his son), but having talked (by odd coincidence) with people who knew Ralph M, it is clear that these men shared a common decency. That’s a word marred now by so much clichéd use, but a fundamental nevertheless.

An emotional business, this blogging!

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Dad and Knolton Bryn in the 1930s

Until he passed away, Dad and the family would visit regularly his uncle Rowland, aunt Amy and cousin Ronald (Ron) at their home in Knolton Bryn in the Maelor Saessneg area of Wales, and latterly at a bungalow further south, just by the England/Wales border.

I have many happy childhood memories of Knolton Bryn, where Aunt Amy and family lived in a  long cottage that had been two houses. Uncle Rowland had been a cobbler, and his wooden hut still stood when we visited in the 1960s.

Uncle Rowland was Dad's mother's brother; when their own father died, the brother and sister were dispersed, so that Hannah (Dad's Mum) went to live in Wallasey, and Uncle Rowland and his mother went to live, eventually, in Knolton Bryn. Their new home belonged to Edwin Sadler, to whom his mother was married after being widowed.

My dad had many fond memories of his own of the house in Knolton; when he visited it was, effectively, his grandmother's household. It seems that he was sent there for much of the school holidays, as his Mother was working. Uncle Ron was born in 1930, and was thus 8 years younger than him, and I suspect that he explored the area alone. Probably he spent much time around the Bryn - an area of common land that was just outside the house; at the foot of the unmade lane was a tin chapel that Aunt Amy looked after in later years.

Dad was so impressed that he sought to be a farmer after the war, and went to work on a farm in Higher or Lower Kinnerton, on the English/Welsh border; this was probably in 1946. His home movies from the 1960s show a considerable interest in farming, and I recall walking down the lane from Knolton around 1967 with him and Uncle Ron; we visited a dairy farm, and the farmer there told me that if I wanted to be a farmer I should have the sense not to!

I don't know when Dad visited, but I would suspect between the time he went to secondary school (1933) or boarding school (maybe 1935) and the outbreak of war in 1939.

I have wondered how he got there from Wallasey. My suspicion is that he will have taken the train from Seacombe to Wrexham Central, to change there to the local Great Western line that had only opened in 1895. He may well have alighted at Trench Halt (which had opened in 1914). There were eight workings each day on weekdays during this period. If he did continue to visit in 1940, this would not have been by train, as regular passenger services between Wrexham and Ellesmere were suspended in June 1940 for the duration. the service was diverted to buses between Wrexham and Ellesmere, and perhaps Dad used this rather than the railway, as it might have been able to stop on the road nearer to Knolton. However, I recall him pointing out the site of Trench halt in the 1960s (it had closed, with the line, in 1962), when the road overbridge there was being demolished, and I imagine this evoked a memory for him. I will never know, and this hardly matters; but it was clear that Knolton was a place that gave him much pleasure, and an abiding interest in the countryside and farming. Odd for a man who lived his whole life in the same suburban town!

Uncle Rowland died in 1974; Uncle Ron, tragically young, in 1984; I recall Dad at his funeral. Aunt Amy outlived both her son Ronald and Dad; she died in 1987. They are all well-remembered, with much affection.

Monday, October 11, 2010

24 years ago today

I have always been confused about the precise date that my father passed away, primarily because I only learned about it the next day. I was away in holiday in Wales at the time.

But it was 11th October 1986, in the afternoon. Twenty-four years later, it is time for a modest tribute to my father from his son. Obituaries tend to be full of the curriculum vitae items, but I recall a more personal tribute that I wrote for the local paper. It's lurking on an old floppy disk somewhere, I think, and I must dig it out.

JPJB was, simply, the kindest of men. I would dread seeing a boat broken down, or a car broken down, because he would see it as his duty to stop and offer assistance. He would go out of his way to help anyone, even when that person was not appreciative of his efforts. Sometimes that would lead people to lean on him too heavily, so that the burden was too great for him. He often looked pained, perhaps reflecting a sadness that he was not always understood, or that he was taken for a ride. It has been hard to live up to his example, hard to try not to feel compassion. But that is the main impression of him that has lasted for 24 years. The rest is memory; there is much to recall, events and scenes, but feelings are much more difficult.

Last week someone who did not know me phoned me and asked if my father was still alive; it seemed an astonishing question after such a long time. Mum recalled last year someone telling her what a wonderful person he was, long after he left us. And more recently a mutual friend recalled a small detail about him that I had not known. We never reach the final point of recovery, when there is nothing more to know about a person.

He is still much missed, and often quietly mourned. The world still seems a strange place without him, somehow incomplete. And yet if he was here, the world would seem stranger still, as so much has changed. He made a major impact.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Marriage in 1947

When my parents married in August 1947, it was in a Catholic church known as English Martyrs, in Wallasey Village. It was not in the present church, but in a tin shed that dated from 1907. Mum recalls walking up the aisle here and her footsteps echoing. This church was demolished about 10 years ago, and I foolishly failed to photograph it.

Mum has been associated with the church for a long time, as was I before I left the Catholic religion. Here's something about it, from the Diocesan yearbook of 1954:

English Martyrs, Wallasey Village

On Monday August 31st 1953, His Lordship, Bishop Murphy, solemnly blessed the new church of the English Martyrs in St George's Road, Wallasey Village, and celebrated the first Mass.

For years [since 1907] a temporary building, largely constructed from corrugated iron, has done duty as a church. The Parish itself began to take shape in 1901, when a Mass Centre, supplied by a priest from Ss Peter and Paul's, New Brighton, was set up in the house at 59 St George's Road. This house was demolished in September 1951 to enlarge the building site. Under Canon Stanton, the first Parish Priest, Fr William Reade [1908-1910] and Fr Edward Byrne [1910-1925] the small congregation was adequately accommodated. In Canon Fisher's time [1925-1933] the first steps were taken towards the building of a new church.

Canon McNally [1933-1941] continued with the scheme but was prevented from bringing his plans to fruition by the outbreak of war.

It was left to his successor Fr P J Coughlan to realise the dream of many years, and in September 1951 the work began. The foundation Stone was laid on May 4th 1952 and less than 18 months later the church was completed.

Every credit must be given to the Architect Mr F X Velarde, to the main contractors, Messrs Tysons Ltd for a building in every way worthy of its sacred purpose. On the purely utilitarian side Messrs Crittalls have provided a first class heating system.

The architectural style is reminiscent of an early Roman parish church with its campanile and baptistery separate but adjoining the main body.

The Sanctuary, with its simple altar, reredos of the Last Supper in silvered stone, and hanging Rood is perhaps the feature of the church.

On the outside, the mass of golden brick is relieved by small windows, which at the Sanctuary end are grouped by modelled cast stode mullions.

Francis Xavier Velarde (1909-1962) would design other churches, notably one on Blackpool (vacanted since 1999) and in Hoylake Road, Birkenhead (tinned up about a year ago). I recall Canon Coughlan, as he became, from my childhood in the 1960s.

Back and with an expanded scope

Well, I haven't attended to this for over a year. Sadly, in that time almost the last men who knew Dad as a contemporary have passed on.

In future, I am going to focus on other aspects of the family as well

Thursday, February 08, 2007

London Gazette - 1942

A phone conversation tonight revealed this entry in the London Gazette:

24th Apr. 1942.
-1087717 Joseph Pemberton Jepson B*****

He was not yet 20 years old when he was made a Sergeant in the RAF.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Trent College - note 20 December 2006

Dad was at Trent College, apparently, between the ages of 13 and 18. There he learned to play hockey, as he recalled, pinching his older sister Pam's hockey stick. He would play hockey until at least the age of 45 (i recall him playing at Harrison Park, probably in 1968) and I gather that he was on trial, at least, for Nottinghamshire Colts. he liked Trent because they did not just insist on sport, he told me, as they had a spinney and encouraged other outdoor pursuits.

Although Trent College was in Long Eaton, Derbyshire, it was near the Nottinghamshire border. I have been looking at the College website to day, and have lifted and edited this excerpt:

In 1892, the Evangelical College and School Company Ltd. (established by Francis Wright’s surviving family) took over as Trustees of Trent College and remained its Directors until November 1966 when the School became Trent College Ltd.

In 1901, Rev G.J.S. ‘Daddy’ Warner joined Trent College as Chaplain and later, Second Master. His was an immensely important contribution to the School, spanning 64 years.

1914 saw the outbreak of the First World War. Of the 531 Old Tridents who served their country, 94 were killed; it was a matter of great sadness for the School.

Tucker was succeeded in 1927 by Headmaster Geoffrey Bell. Trent was about to face the Great Depression, which meant that Bell was restricted in the developments he could carry out at the School. However, during Bell’s Headmastership, the Warner Library was opened (1929) as well as the Cricket Pavilion (1933). Bell was held in high regard by the boys at Trent and was seen as a forward-thinking man, even though the School’s finances were less progressive.

Bell also oversaw Trent’s great unbeaten rugby 1st XI sides of 1932-33 and 1933-34, which included the now-famous Prince Obolensky, who went on to play for Oxford and England and is still remembered as one of the country’s finest rugby players.

Bell left Trent in 1936 for a new Headmastership at Highgate and was succeeded by Ford Ikin, who reported being appalled by the dilapidated state of the buildings that greeted him on his arrival at Trent.

Ikin immediately set about persuading the governors to spend money on sanitation, new beds and decoration, as well as removing the gas lighting that had been criticised in an inspection in 1929. The School was dramatically improved and filled to its capacity.

However, another crisis loomed. Weymouth College, also owned by the Evangelical College and School Company Ltd. was in financial crisis. Ikin received a letter from the Chairman of the Governing Body advising that none of the Masters’ salaries could be paid at the end of the Michaelmas term. He was then advised that both Trent and Weymouth Colleges would have to close as the bank could no longer support their £20,000 overdraft.

As the Headmaster of a modernised school with a full roll, Ikin persuaded the Governors to allow him to contact B G Catterns, a former pupil and Deputy Governor of the Bank of England. Catterns encouraged the bank to give Trent a year to sort out its difficulties. The decision was made to close Weymouth College and concentrate on Trent. The immediate crisis was over and Trent was saved.

Despite the losses of World War Two, these were happier years for Trent. ‘Daddy’ Warner continued to be a central figure, held in affection by everyone who knew him.

Dad told me little else about the school, itself, its dilapidation, or the financial crisis (he was probably unaware of this). He did say that when he arrived he was the smallest boy in the class (or the school??), until another boy, even smalle, came along. They got his name wrong and he was known as "The Class Bongey". I would have been appalled by this, but he seemed quite amused.

One other recollection is that when he was going off to the school, his father simply said "be a good scout", and that was it.

I may email the College's Trent Association, to see if there is anyone who recalls Dad. A long shot, because they would now be 84-85, but worth asking!