My beloved Grandpa

Skinner’s grandfather in his bandsman’s uniform.

Skinner’s grandfather in his bandsman’s uniform.

He was a foreman painter by trade, an amateur footballer in his youth, a popular member of the Town Silver Band for 37 years and a volunteer fireman for 15 years until his tragic death at the age of 59.

Above all, he was a devoted husband, father and grandfather.

I was his first grandchild, and the apple of his eye.

As mum, dad and I lived with my mother’s parents, Grandpa and I saw each other daily – albeit for only a few years. I remember him arriving home from work, lighting the gas and, without stopping to take his coat off, winding up my clockwork toys and sending them across the dining table to me on the other side. At other times, as I careered round the room on a baby tricycle, he would follow me on a wooden horse, and then dad might join in on some other toy wheels. Happy days!

A great music lover, Grandpa had been described as one of the best euphonium players in the county, and on Sunday evenings in summer time the family would stroll to the park where he played in the Prize Band’s weekly concert. I can recall, as we walked, the scent of honeysuckle hanging on the balmy summer air; the incessant cawing of rooks high in the tall trees; and then the mellow sound of brass instruments floating towards us on the breeze, the concert having already started.

In the park, a colourful setting awaited us – the bandsmen in royal blue tunics and caps, the red and gold bandstand surrounded by spectators in deck chairs within the enclosure, and outside, family groups and courting couples sitting on the grass, bordered by beautifully kept flower-beds.

Afterwards, at sundown, Grandpa walked home with us and we felt quite proud to be with a uniformed bandsman.

He also led a small orchestra formed by his firm, but most of his spare time was devoted to the local fire brigade. In those pre-war days, the force were all volunteers and could be called on at any time. We had an alarm bell half-way up the stairs which would ring shrilly-sometimes in the middle of the night, and as we lived near the fire station, Grandpa could be there within minutes. The bell remained (disconnected) long after his death, and I made good use of it when the stairs acted as part of a tramcar -with me as the conductor ‘dinging’ the hammer and shouting “Hold tight, please!”

It was ironic that Grandpa should lose his life during a routine fire escape
drill at a local flour mill, when he fell from 40 feet up-subsequently dying in hospital from multiple injuries. Ironic because some’years earlier he had volunteered, with two colleagues, to climb a 450 ft. aerial mast at a Post Office Wireless Station. The Evening News reported: “The steeplejack firemen took an hour to make the perilous ascent, and on reaching the top hacked away the burning wood support above the wires”. The Daily Mirror published photographs, and Grandpa was highly commended by the Postmaster General for work of “a particularly arduous and dangerous nature”.

Almost the entire community turned out for this greatly-respected man’s funeral. Traffic came to a standstill as the long cortege slow-marched from the church, through the High Street to the outskirts of town. It was headed by
the Metropolitan Police, followed by over 50 firemen in full dress uniform, then the Silver Band and members of the RAF Central Band. Twenty neighbouring fire brigades were also represented, then came local dignitaries and councillors, and finally the hearse and mourners’ cars. Along the route, silent crowds removed their hats as the band played the Dead March from Saul, and the Town hall flag flew at half-mast.

Being so young, I was spared a lot of grieving, but I don’t think Grandma or my mother ever really got over the shock. I wish I could have known him longer, and imagine the feeling may have been mutual.

The inscription on the wreath sent by Mum on my behalf said it all -“his best boy to Grandpa”. ^

James Skinner

The Silver Band photographed outside the rehearsal room six months before Mr. Skinner’s grandfather (first on left, front row) died.

The Silver Band photographed outside the rehearsal room six months before Mr. Skinner’s grandfather (first on left, front row) died.