TRIBUTE TO MY GRANDAD
My grandfather sadly passed away on 16th April this year, aged 89, and ahead of his funeral tomorrow I wanted to write some of my own thoughts and memories of him.
It was only after my grandfather passed that I realised he would have had no memory of his own grandparents. His mum’s parents both died long before he was born. His paternal grandfather, Alexander Milne Gordon, had died eighteen months earlier, and it was in his memory he was named, as Milne Eric Gordon, in June 1930.
I’m not sure how fond he was of that forename, he always preferred to be known as Eric. When he was in his eighties, I was able to tell him the origin of his name, from my genealogy research, how it had already been passed down in the family several times until it reached him, originating in a Scottish great-great uncle, Alexander Milne, born in 1799. Whether he felt any fonder of it after that I don’t know!
Grandad’s grandfather, for whom he was named, Alexander Milne Gordon (1868-1929).
His only surviving grandparent, his Irish grandmother, Mary Holohan Gordon, died a few months after his first birthday, so it is unlikely he had any memories of her either.
A bequest Mary left in her will, allowed grandad, his parents, and his six older brothers and sisters to move out of rented rooms in Sherrard Road, Manor Park, into their own house at 261 Roman Road, East Ham, where his younger sister Jean, became the final addition to the family eleven months later.
Grandad’s parents were then in their forties. They were both products of the late Victorian era, born and schooled in the 1890s. Grandad once told me his mum kept a cane hung on the wall, to use on them if they got out of line, and that was usually deterrent enough. I always got the impression he might have been a bit of a tear away though, as another of his favourite stories he liked to tell was of his baptism as a toddler, when he embarrassed his parents, by telling the vicar in a loud voice to ‘get off me you b*gger, you’re drowning me’!
I later found a baptism record for him, on 31st October 1934, when he was four years of age. He had been taken to church along with older siblings Jimmy and Mary, and younger sister Jean, and all four had been baptised together. Maybe they had been caught doing something irreligious on Halloween, and a quick baptism at the local church was thought to be in order to remedy matters!
Grandad with his mum and older brothers, at Roman Road, East Ham, mid 1930s.
When the second world war broke out, in September 1939, grandad was nine years old. Undoubtedly the war was a formative experience for him. He was evacuated away from London to the Wiltshire countryside, with sisters Mary and Jean, and billeted with the Prince family, who he came to be very attached to, and later revisited, with his own children, in the early 1960s.
Grandad, left, with sisters Jean and Mary the year war broke out.
In September 1940, the family suffered a shattering loss, when grandad’s father, Alec, was killed during the first week of the Blitz on London, while sheltering from a daytime air raid on his place of work at Beckton Gas Works. He was just 48. I only ever heard Grandad talk of that once, in the last year of his life, and then in reference to his mum’s feelings, rather than his own, which were obviously still too painful and personal to talk about.
Understandably devastated by her loss, his mum joined her children in Wiltshire. One thing I do remember my grandad telling me about that time, is how false was the idea Londoners all pulled together during the war in a ‘Blitz Spirit’. Many were out purely for themselves. His neighbours took advantage of his mum’s temporary absence in the countryside, to break through the partition wall and steal all the food they had stored, before doing a moonlight flit owing rent.
In February 1944, the family suffered another tragic loss, when grandad’s older brother Joe died, aged 26, in Anzio, Italy, at the Battle of Buonriposo Ridge. My grandad never forgot his brother, he visited his grave personally, in April 1968, and always kept Joe’s picture up on the cabinet in his living room when I was a child. In my twenties he told me I particularly resembled Joe, which meant a lot to me.
I was later able to research Joe’s army service for grandad, and give him some further information on the circumstances of his death, which I know meant a lot to him.
Grandad’s much loved older brother, Joseph Cormack Gordon (1918-1944).
When the war ended in 1945, with the surrender of Japan, Grandad had just turned fifteen, and was at a summer camp in the New Forest, Hampshire. This photo of him boxing there, is one of my favourites of him:
In spring 1947, sixteen, but old beyond his years, and darkly handsome with it, he met my grandmother Jean, at a Jazz club in Edmonton. She was nineteen and worked as a window dresser in Selfridges flagship store in Oxford Street.
They soon began dating. My uncle Brian Bellenger, Jean’s little brother, then aged eight, told me his first memory of ‘Jean’s new boyfriend’ was three months later, in June 1947, when grandad’s friends got him tipsy for his seventeenth birthday, propped him up against the Bellenger’s home in Forest Gate, knocked the door and ran away!
Not a great way to meet his future in laws, but they soon became very fond of him, thinking of him as a son.
He married nan, aged eighteen, at Leytonstone in May 1949, a little after two years since they first met. He was then doing his national service in the army and was sent away soon after to spend a year serving in the Far East. I have often thought how difficult it must have been for them as newlyweds to be separated at that time.
Grandad served his time with the Royal Signallers. He considered that experience extremely formative and important in shaping his adult character and often talked about it.
Grandad aged 18, during his Military Service in the Royal Signallers.
Grandad during his Military Service in the Royal Signallers.
Picture of nan that grandad kept pinned to the wall by his bunk in the barracks, taken by him on their honeymoon, shortly before he was sent away.
Picture taken of Grandad, by Nan, outside her home in Forest Gate, the year they met, 1947.
Grandad returned to England, at the end of his military service, on the 1st May 1950, and began work in the City of London, commuting daily by bicycle from Leytonstone, a twelve-mile round trip along the Mile End Road. Nan fell pregnant for the first time two months later, giving birth to my mum, Susan, the following April.
Their first married home together was 41 Brierley Road, Leytonstone, which they rented from Jean’s Bellenger relations, who had occupied it since the 1890s.
When mum was two and a half, with a loan of £150, from Jean’s father Albert Bellenger, to cover a deposit, they were able to buy their own house together, at 160 Shrewsbury Road, Forest Gate.
My grandad never forgot his father in law’s generosity in giving them that loan out of his own small personal savings. It allowed them to get a foot on the property ladder, and set them up steady in married life. He often spoke fondly of it, and considered my great grandad Albert as one of the kindest men he ever knew.
Grandad at his first Job in the city of London, early 1950s.
My mum’s little brother Melvyn Gordon was born sixteen months later, in April 1956. Eight weeks after they left East London for good, purchasing a new home at Elm Park, in Rainham, Essex. Family life there consisted of day trips to the cinema, park and beach. Grandad also regularly travelled back to London at weekends to watch his beloved West Ham play.
After their marriage, nan and grandad continued to enjoy live music, the medium that had first drawn them together, seeing amongst others, the great American Jazz vocalist, Sarah Vaughan, performing live at the Royal Albert Hall.
Nan and Grandad as Newlyweds 1949.
Nan and Grandad on an early holiday together.
His career meanwhile was progressing steadily and, aged 28, in December 1958, he was given the opportunity to be promoted to a managerial post for the first time, but as it meant relocating his family from London to Liverpool, he reluctantly turned it down.
In 1960 they moved again, this time to South Benfleet, to be closer to Grandad’s mum, by then living with her brother Joe Tomkins in Hadleigh, Essex. The same year grandad purchased his first motor vehicle, a Ford Thames Van, and began driving lessons. He eventually passed a driving test a year later, a few weeks short of his 31st birthday.
Grandad at home with children, Sue and Melvyn, South Benfleet, Essex, January 1960.
The following year, in February 1962, Grandad was offered another managerial position, this time with a freight company, at Heathrow Airport, and accepting the post, moved his family to the village of Langley, close to Windsor, in Slough, Berkshire, where most of us have remained since.
My nan Jean already had links to Slough, having been sent there during the war, with her brother Brian, to live with their Great Auntie, Alice Porter, who owned the boot and leather shop, on William Street, since 1907. As an evacuated teenager Nan attended the Tonman Mosley High School in Slough, and finished her education there, so had existing friends and family in the town.
Grandad’s new job at Heathrow opened up a world of new opportunities, enabling him to travel the world extensively in the 1960s and 1970s, often on company expense. Nan was at first a reluctant flyer, but after taking her first trip abroad at the age of 36, to Vienna, Austria, in April 1964, she also became a regular companion on his trips abroad, for both business and pleasure.
Through work and his membership of a Masonic Lodge, he became friends with many influential people, including airline entrepreneur Sir Freddie Laker, who visited his home in Langley.
One of his most memorable jobs was organising the transport of Tutankhamun’s magnificent gold death mask and other personal effects from Cairo to London, for an exhibition opened by Queen Elizabeth II in March 1972.
Work photograph taken of Grandad, circa 1964.
Grandad at a work function early 1970s.
With the birth of a granddaughter Mandy, in April 1968, grandson David in April 1977, and myself his second grandson, Richard, in November 1979, his family steadily grew during this time. I was born whilst he and Jean were on another of their foreign trips, in this instance to Cairo, Egypt.
My earliest memories are mostly of my grandmother. Grandad was still working very hard in his career at this time, and I tended to spend day time visits with nan, before being collected and taken home when grandad returned from work in the evenings.
When my grandmother sadly passed away in 1985, my grandfather stayed with us for a short while, and I remember my brother and myself being very excited by this, and playing with him roughly and enthusiastically at that time, though in his grief, it was difficult for him, and we were naturally insensitive to the situation through our tender years.
He soon after travelled by night flight to Australia, to visit son Melvyn. Grandad’s second granddaughter, Jessie Gordon, had been born in Australia, just weeks before nan passed away, and he was keen to see her in person.
On returning to England he shortly after met Philippa Price, who would later become his second wife. Personal happiness returned, and my own memories of this time include several summer holidays spent together in Clacton on Sea, regular Sunday outings to local car boot sales, and fond family Christmases spent together playing cards and trivial pursuit.
Photos from happy holidays in Clacton in the mid-1980s.
In 1986, at the age of 55, he became a great grandad for the first time to my niece Kerry Harding. Her brother Daniel was born in 1988, the same year a third grandson, Alastair, was born, to son Melvyn and his wife, who had now returned to England. Through Philippa’s family, Grandad had also gained a step granddaughter, Harriet, and would later gain another, Emily.
A further three grandchildren would be born to him by son Mel’s marriage to Teresa Chorley; Scott, Cole and Kara, and by the time of his death he was grandad to eight more great-grandchildren through daughter Sue; Abby, Macey, Sophie, Lillie, Annie, Demi, Frankie and Harley, and from 2007, nine great-great grandchildren, Denni, Nyren, Chardae, Emilia, Vinnie, Jayden, Lacey, Chantelle and Ronnie. He loved all of his large family dearly.
Grandad with great-granddaughter Kerry.
Grandad with great-granddaughter Kerry and granddaughter Jessie.
Grandad always had a good sense of humour and fun, and one of my abiding memories of childhood holidays in Clacton involve him teaching me the words to ‘My Dead Dog Rover’ a comic parody of popular 1920’s song ‘My Four Leaf Clover’, which he had heard on the radio and that had particularly tickled him. With careful coaching I performed it on stage in the children’s talent show three years in a row, each time going down a storm with the crowd, and winning first prize.
The demolition of my great grandmother Bon’s home in Leytonstone, to make way for a new school, in 1978, enabled grandad to repay the kindness her late husband had once shown him, by helping her financially in relocating to a new home in Langley to be near us. From my own point of view this enabled me to have many happy childhood memories of time spent with my great grandmother that I might not have had otherwise.
When Bon sadly passed away there in 1988, I inherited her coin collection and began collecting for myself. Seeing my interest Grandad generously gifted me his own childhood coin collection to help.
As a teenager, he was always keen to encourage my interest in history, particular on the era of the war. I think he was eager for the younger generation to understand a little of the momentous times he had lived through as a child. He would collect history DVDs on offer from newspapers, and would often try to get a copy for both himself and for me. When he couldn’t he would make copies from his own so he could gift me a complete rather than a partial set. It was a small gesture but one I appreciated.
On his 70th birthday I returned the favour as best I could, by putting together and gifting him a complete set of Tony Hancock radio shows on MP3, a shared interest we both enjoyed.
As I became more and more interested in photography, in the late 1990s, studying it at college, we also bonded over that interest, and he would take delight in showing me the latest camera he was using and whatever smart new features it had.
It would be safe to say my Grandad loved technology and gadgets. In the 1980s and 1990s he often had his camcorder in hand to record family events, and on at least one occasion to catch me performing in a trumpet concert with a school band, much to my embarrassment since!
He could often be found in his home office tinkering with computers, and became something of an expert at restoring old machines, and selling them on. We were all gifted free computers from him during this time, which certainly helped with schooling and college studies.
A photograph I took of Grandad and Philippa together at Halkingcroft, Langley, in 1999.
In 2012, at the age of 82, after fifty years of residence, grandad moved away from Slough, into a gentler retirement in the Lincolnshire countryside, to be close to his step daughter Teresa and her husband Stephen, both of whom he was extremely fond of.
Despite the distance we continued to keep in contact and visit as best we could. I personally stayed on four occasions between 2013-2019. Though a city boy, born and bred, he seemed to have no regrets about his move, and enjoyed the quieter pace of countryside living, taking in clean air and solitude by his pond, and tending to his garden and coy carp.
He was always overjoyed to see us on our visits, and still as full of life and as sharp as ever. My favourite memory of those visits is of grandad making his great granddaughters, Macey and Denni, laugh hysterically while playing cards with them in the evenings, playfully sulking and crying at each loss. He also greatly enjoyed making us his famous Oxtail soup recipe to nourish us on arrival.
Grandad enjoying himself playing cards.
Grandad with granddaughter, Mandy, and great-granddaughter, Macey, Lincolnshire, 2013.
His last years were tinged with great sadness at the loss of his only son Melvyn to cancer in June 2018.
At around the same time I was able to locate and restore some long forgotten cine reel footage my late uncle Brian had taken of Mel playing in the garden as a child, and the family visiting Agar’s Plough festival together in Spring 1963, and grandad was overjoyed to see that for the first time in 55 years.
On my last ever visit, he allowed me to take away his and my late grandmother’s photo collection, which I scanned, cleaned and organised for him over the next few months. He similarly got a great deal of joy looking over them again on his computer and putting the pictures into slideshows to watch on his TV, and it was satisfying to be able to do that last thing for him and hear how much pleasure it had given him. All of these are happy memories that I will treasure.
I was in the process of colourising these same photos, when he sadly fell ill and passed, just seven weeks short of his ninetieth birthday, and have used some of them in this tribute.
First known photograph of my grandad, aged two, with his mother Julia, taken shortly after the family moved to Roman Road, East Ham, Spring 1932.
The last photograph I took of my grandfather, taken in his garden in Lincolnshire, August 2019.