Wednesday, May 24, 2006
If he were alive, this would be his 120th birthday.
He was born in Liverpool on May 24, 1886. When he was nine, his father died in the Workhouse, and his childhood was spent in extreme poverty. He left school at the age of 12 and, like his brother, worked in the printing trade. His mother, widowed at 30, put her two sons in a newsboys’ home and did what uneducated single women did: she went into domestic service.
Despite his limited formal education - or possibly because of it - he was streetwise in every sense. His knowledge of the streets and alleys of Liverpool was encyclopaedic and we could never catch him out.
He was my Dad.
On November 13, 1914, just 3 months after the start of World War I, he joined the 5th King’s Liverpool Regiment and four months later was sent to fight in northern France and Belgium. His papers say he was a specialist in trench mortar warfare, but like most WWI veterans, he almost never spoke about it. His wartime experiences are being further researched by my son.
On February 6, 1918, while on special leave, he married my mother at Walton Church, Liverpool, then went back to the trenches until the war was over. Their wedding photograph shows him in uniform, looking confident and proud, she in a white blouse, looking apprehensive - perhaps it was just at having a photo taken.
After demobilisation on February 18, 1919, he got a job with the London, Midland, and Scottish Railway, (LMS), as a ‘Carriage and Wagon Examiner’ - colloquially known as a ‘wheel-tapper’. They raised three sons, of whom the last – and only survivor – is me. He tapped train wheels for the next 34 years, through the years of the Depression and the air raids of World War II, when over 5,000 people in Liverpool were killed, among them his parents. When he retired at the age of 65, they gave him a watch, and a few months later he died. We buried him in Fleetwood cemetery, alongside our mother.
He was a placid, gentle, kind man and a loving father whose main – perhaps only - interest was his family. Because of his job, he was able to give us something not enjoyed by other working-class families: travel on the LMS rail network. In summer he would finish a morning shift at 2pm (having got up at 4.30 to be at work at 6), walk home from the station where he worked, collect the family, walk back to the station, and take us on another train to the seaside for the rest of the day – and get up at 4.30 again the next day.
But he and my mother gave us a great many other things: when I won a scholarship to a grammar school, it was their sacrifices that enabled me to accept it. They also gave us a love of theatre and cinema – Mum took us to musical comedies and pantomimes, Dad to gangster and fight movies. He gave me a love of travel and of words, and his word jokes are still enjoyed by the three generations that followed him. And he gave me my obsession with the fortunes and misfortunes of Everton Football Club.
Happy birthday Walter.