Monday, 10 June 2013

Horace Preedy - A Tribute

Horace Preedy on his 107th birthday
Dad was born on 17th January 1906, in East Ham, the third of four children. At the age of three he caught diphtheria and was taken to hospital in a hansom cab. He survived but contracted a heart murmur for which he was grateful later.

He left school at fourteen and worked for a while as an apprentice painter and decorator.  He progressed to working in the City, starting as a messenger then as a clerk for a firm of stockbrokers. Here he met Mum and she recalled the event in the reminiscences that she wrote at the age of 91. She says:-

“There was one customer who fancied the country girl who served him in the teashop at Stratford Broadway where she worked and asked if he could see her after work. The other girls asked his name. She said she didn’t know and they laughed and teased her saying, “It’s not Horace is it?” At their next meeting she asked him his name, “It’s not Horace is it?”, she said. He burst out laughing and said that it was. She said “I can’t call you that! Don’t you have any other names?”

He told her that his other names were Horace Robert Arthur, and so Bob was chosen, and he remained Bob in the office for years.”

They were married in Chingford in June 1935, and in the late thirties they lived in a bungalow in Billericay, owned by Horace’s parents, on a third of an acre, with a garden lovingly tended by Horace. They had two dogs and they used to play badminton and tennis at the local club. They’d achieved the dream life style of a young couple in the 1930’s and the only thing missing was a child or two.

A year and a half later the slump of the thirties had caught up with the City and Horace, always cautious, was concerned that he might be next to be sacked: so he took a part-time job with the GPO in the Brentwood Telephone Exchange. Some days he would come home from the City and then cycle six miles to the Exchange for an evening’s work. In August 1939, after a year’s probation, his status as a civil servant became permanent. He left his job in the Stock Brokers and went to work as a telephonist.

On 3rd September 1939 war was declared. He continued to work as a telephonist, frequently riding his bike to work at night whilst air raids were in progress. In 1942 he was drafted into the Signals Regiment and was well behind the front lines as the invasion advanced across France in 1944.

He liked to tell the story that in 1944 his unit was due to be sent to Burma. Dad was 38 at the time. The doctor who examined him at the medical looked at his papers, in which he was classified as A1, and said,

“You don’t want to go do you?” He certainly didn’t want to be sent to fight the Japanese in the jungles of Burma so he said “ No sir!” .
The doctor said “You have a heart murmur, but it’s well compensated and nothing to worry about,” and classified him C3. This meant that he was unfit for tropical service! It was a lucky escape because there were few survivors from his unit after their tour of duty!

The bungalow in Billericay was sold during the war and Mum, by now pregnant with Brenda, was sleeping on her brother’s sofa. Brenda was born in October 1944. Accommodation was very scarce by the end of the war and in the winter of 1944 Mum and Dad found a few rooms to rent in Westcliff on Sea, where they lived for the next 38 years.

At first the gloomy house, with navy blue wallpaper, was shared with two old ladies. In the scullery there was a stone sink, a copper to heat water over a gas ring, and a bath, which was not plumbed in and had to be bailed out. Needless to say, in my childhood, baths were only a weekly event.

After discharge from the Army he went back to the GPO, but soon he took the Civil Service Officers exam, passed and was allocated to the War Damage Commission. This meant getting up at 5 o’clock, walking to the station to catch the steam train to Liverpool street and then taking the tube to Acton. They still worked Saturday mornings so on Saturdays he had to travel for a total of six hours to work for four!

He applied for promotion, passed and was transferred to the National Assistance Board, which later became the Department of Social Security. His job was to visit claimant’s on Canvey Island to assess their cases. He had an auto-cycle, a sort of primitive moped, which meant dressing up in waterproofs and driving to work in all weathers. When he found old people struggling to get by he applied his own discretion and was able to give them some extra money for household items, but he was not at all sympathetic to men who wouldn’t work.

He bought a car in the early sixties. I remember that one day we took it to Canvey Island to fetch a little Yorkshire terrier from an old man who could no longer look after it. It was filthy and smelly, with matted hair and an aggressive nature. It was my job to restrain it on the back seat! When we got home Dad dressed up in a plastic mac and sou’wester, dumped the little dog in the bath, cut off most of his fur and gave him a good wash. In the next few months a beautiful silver-haired Yorkie, called Nobby, became one of the family, but he was definitely Dad‘s dog. Several years later, when Nobby was dying of heart trouble, my father would sleep in a deck-chair downstairs in order to stay with him at night, and reassure him when he was in pain.

Dad was a pioneer of DIY in the fifties and bought a table saw, which was dangerously plugged into an unearthed lighting fitting. He was very practical, he knew about carpentry and even how to "wipe" a lead pipe joint, but where he learnt it from I’ve no idea! As a child I used to watch him working and whenever I asked a question he patiently explained what he was doing.

While he worked steadily at modernising and improving the house, which by now he had bought, he sang songs from the 1930’s especially the Fred Astaire numbers that he used to dance to in his twenties. He always had a tune going on somewhere in his head. He‘d wanted to learn the violin when he was young but couldn’t persuade his parents to buy him one. He never did learn to play a musical instrument, but he was, none-the-less, very musical. When she was helping him with the decorating, Brenda remembers him singing “When Father Papered the Parlour” a hit from 1910. Less characteristically, she also remembers him dancing with her down the hill to the station to the tune of “ We’re off to see the Wizard…“ when we were going to a cousin’s wedding.

Normally though, he liked peace and quiet. In the evenings after work he was always outside in the small garden patiently chopping up things with his secateurs to feed the worms. Brenda and I both owe our love of gardening to him.

In 1982 Mum and Dad moved from Southend to Wantage to be nearer Brenda, and her husband Les. Here, as well as having a larger garden to keep him busy, he could still be seen painting the bungalow at the age of 92.

It was typical of him that he almost never complained and accepted what life sent his way. He was very patient, stoical and only rarely showed any anger. He didn’t need a lot of people around him but he had a strong sense of duty to his parents, his family and to a few close friends. He was polite right through to the end of his life, a real gentleman, and always said thank you when you took him a cup of tea or a meal.

In his later years, unlike my mother, he was still mobile, but he suffered progressively from memory loss, so he acted as my mother’s arms and legs while she told him what she wanted, and where to go to find it!

When Mum died from a massive stroke at the age of 97 we asked Dad, on the way back from the funeral, if he knew where we’d been and he said no. Sometimes Nature can be kind as well as cruel.

He never smoked and only drank alcohol at Christmas. He owes a good part of his very long life to these things, but Brenda has been his carer for the last ten years, whilst he slowly declined, and she has looked after him attentively. I’m quite sure that without her care he would have died some years ago.

She has also made it possible for him to die peacefully at home, in his own bed, at 107, the seventh oldest man in Britain. He died in his sleep on 2nd June 2013.

Thanks Dad for providing a stable and loving family home for us to grow up in. We’ll both miss you.

John Preedy


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