Thursday, 25 September 2014

Remembering my dad Jim, one year on

Just over a year ago, I was going through my dad's papers on his computer and stumbled across this mini biography. I don't know when he'd written it, but I suspect he knew he didn't have long to live and he wanted to write things down. I was so grateful that he had. It was the week after he died, so I sent the text to my husband in NZ with some photos and he put it together as a handout at Dad's funeral.

I have read it many times since and reflected on a marvellous life lived in quiet obscurity, like many others of his generation. So here is Jim in his own words, followed by the Eulogy that I gave at his funeral.

I was born in 1931 in York to Alice and Cyril Barlow of “Richmondville”, Strensall York. I was educated at Strensall Infants School. It was an old school, but we were well taught and given the cane when it was needed - but it didn’t do us any harm. It was always cold in winter and we had outside toilets and cold water wash basins. We had goldfish and it was my job every week to change the water. During the holidays I took the goldfish home to look after.
I had a very bad attack of asthma, so lost a lot of schooling between the ages of 6 & 9. My mother, being an ex- teacher, used to get material from the school and teach me at home. My Grandpa James Barlow used to come and tell me stories and keep me entertained on his melodeon and singing folk songs. Our family doctor recommended I learn to ride a bicycle and take up cycling. This I did and was still doing it 50 years later.
I then went to the newly built Joseph Rowntree Senior School at New Earswick. I enjoyed my time there and took part in all the plays that were produced. We were encouraged to do music. I was in St Mary’s church choir at Strensall and chose the singing side, and this stayed with me right through my adult life. I was also very interested in drawing and sketching, so I went to the York School of Art for evening classes.

There was an active sports section and my main interests were cricket, boxing and fencing. Out of the three, I chose fencing. I was in the youth team and this is where I first met my wife Elaine, who was already a proficient fencer.
During the war years as a school boy we got up to all sorts of things. When there were any plane crashes locally we used to dash there on our bikes to see if we could get any trophies before the “officials” arrived. Having an ARP (Air Raid Precautions) Post right next door to the family home, I got friendly with all the men, and was asked if I wanted to be a “runner”. Every time there was an air raid I had to pedal round the village on my bike swinging a rattle and making as much noise as possible. We never worried about danger as a boy in those days. I helped the local Royal Observer Corps with their Aircraft Recognition studies as we boys were very proficient at that, and also was an official “patient” for the Red Cross to practise on.
One weekend, while out on my bike, I heard a plane coming very low, and a Messerschmitt 109 came right up Station Road at tree top height. I could see the pilot very clearly and we later learned that he had shot the village postman in the next village as he sprayed it with gunfire. Strensall policeman PC Teasdale had a go at him with a rifle, which had no effect. To a young lad it was exciting stuff. We also had a search light and gun enplacement near to us, so I sometimes used to ride down there and take the “lads” some of mum’s baking - a thing they used to appreciate.
Grandpa Barlow and I were good mates and being a retired farmer he passed on a lot of good advice to me as a young lad. During the war we kept pigs, chickens and rabbits, grew plenty of potatoes and vegetables, and had a lot of soft fruit and apple trees. I used to cross Flemish Giant and Belgian Hares for the meat and got 2/6 each for them which was a lot of money to me.
My Dad did a lot of business at the Army Camp in the village and I used to help him deliver paraffin to the officers’ quarters. I remember Dad getting an order for 20 BSA Bantam motor bikes. My job was to unpack them. They came in thick cardboard crates and we and some of the neighbours made blackout boards with these for the house windows. We also had a Canadian Air force Base 6 miles away at Eastmoor Aerodrome. These lads were always coming to borrow cycles. Some used to stay and have a game of cards and mum made them a supper. A lot of them you never saw again as they were killed on bombing raids. We never had a cycle stolen; they always turned up, together with a crate of peaches, meat, or some sort of food, but never money. Great lads, but sad memories as well.
I left school at 15 and was hoping to be a commercial artist but, with so many men coming back into the business after WW2, the advice I was given was to get myself another trade and go back to it later. So I kept it as one of my inside hobbies and used to do a lot of sketching of my favourite film stars of the day. I took an apprenticeship in engineering with Messrs Cooke Troughton & Simms, Optical & Scientific Instrument Makers.
When I was 19 I joined the Royal (Auxiliary) Air Force until my call up at 21 for the regular service. I then signed on for four years as a Motor Transport Driver Mechanic. I was demobbed in 1956 as a corporal and re-joined the Auxiliaries of 609 (WR) Squadron until they were disbanded on the day I got married. During my service I fenced for the RAF in England and Ireland on a number of occasions. After my demob I went back to work for Cookes until we moved to Teesside in 1971.
I met up with Elaine again and we got engaged and were married at Strensall Church 3 March 1957. We had a bungalow built at Huntington, This cost £1650, a lot of money when my wage was £9 per week. In 1961 our lovely daughter Jane was born. In 1968 I joined York City Police Force as a Special Constable and was with them up to moving to Billingham.
I moved in 1971 to work at Hartlepool on marine engines. It was a massive company with trains coming through the shop to pick up work. It was very interesting but very cold working conditions. I was made redundant after 9 months. My RAF pal, who was in the carpet business in Hartlepool, then asked me to work for him as General Manager.
Elaine and Jane moved up from York after I got settled. We were in lodgings until we bought our house in Billingham on 5 February 1972 for £5000. It was short of a garden and I set about trying to find something as we had always been used to our own produce. In 1974 I was allocated an allotment close by with Billingham Allotment Association and have been on the site ever since and have been chairman for 10 years.
From October 1973 I was back in engineering with Steelcraft Precision Tools at Sedgefield until it went out of business in 1990. I took early retirement and had to go on Invalidity Benefit due to my osteo-arthritis. I have had no regrets retiring early as I have had a very busy life.
After I retired I took up genealogy to look into my family history. I already had a lot of information that my paternal grandmother left. I find it very rewarding and have found a lot of cousins I didn’t know about and long lost ancestors that I wish my parents had known about. I also took up drawing and painting again after 50 years. I joined a local art class and I have been exhibiting my paintings at shows and exhibitions for a number of years.
Since 1958 I have been very involved in music. I was a member of the Railway Institute Male Voice Choir and of York Light Opera Society, taking part in shows at the York Theatre Royal. On Teesside I was a member of the Billingham Synthonia Male Voice Choir as a soloist and member of the bass section. For the last 18 years I was their Treasurer, retiring in December 2007.
Another of my loves was my Morris Minor cars starting with my first one in 1963. I have owned and worked on rebuilding 3 right up to 2003 when I had to give my last one up as with having a false knee I was not able to drive it. I was in a Morris Minor National Club. We used to show our vehicles at functions all over the country. My “inside” hobbies are painting, philately and postcards.

The day of the funeral it was raining. The village church where the service took place wasn't large enough, and there were about 30 people stood outside in the pouring rain. There wasn't even standing room in the church. Dad's choir took up the entire nave and they sang a Welsh hymn that he loved. When the hearse arrived in the street where we lived, all the neighbours came to the gates to farewell him.

Dad shared everything he had and everything he was with whoever stood still long enough to receive. He couldn’t stop sharing – it was pathological. Potatoes were a case in point.
The first day I saw him in hospital it was “Thanks for coming love, now there’s a lot of potatoes on the garage floor that want brushing, washing, weighing, sorting and sacking – 80 pounds of them” There aren’t many left because he insisted on giving them away.
He shared his passions with me: folk music, opera, aviation, family history, antique fairs and daft jokes. Regrettably, his horticultural, artistic and practical skills passed me by, and when I married Simon, he realised I had married an equally hopeless case. Many a time in NZ I have said to my husband, “I wish Dad was here, he’d know how to do that”. He rescued many a person from their practical ineptitude.
He shared his considerable organisational and book keeping skills with charities, choirs, allotment associations and his family. In his last weeks he was planning and organising me and fretting about mum. He and mum had been married for 56 years but been friends for longer.
He warmly adopted all my friends into his extended family and I when I introduced him to Facebook, I found many of MY friends jumped ship and adopted him. He had friends all over the world and was Big Daddy to most of them.
To all of you here, we thank you all for loving us and supporting mum and I, especially in the last few weeks. We have reaped the friendship that Dad sewed amongst you.
Dad, you leave a much larger space behind in this universe than the one you occupied. Your love is our inheritance, I pray we spend it well.


  1. He sounds wonderful - what an amazing life! As long as you keep on using what he taught you, you keep him alive in this world :)
    You are indeed very lucky that he found the time to write such a fantastic autobiography. Thank you for sharing it (and him!) with all of us!
    All the best,

    1. Thank you Toby for your kind words and for taking time to read his life story. It means a lot to me.