He never talked very much to anybody about himself. Sometimes, there’d be a snippet of what had happened to him once upon a time.
Rarely did he express an opinion about anything going on around him or around the world.
Everybody liked this quiet man; it was as simple as that.
His quietness may have been the result of a terrible childhood experience. His Dad “died of wounds” after being bayoneted in the neck in the Somme trenches in 1917. George was eleven when the news came.
What sorrow that news brought to his mother and him cannot be imagined now, in this smaller and communication-conscious world. Then, Epsom was a small market town in Surrey: the South-East Stockbroker Belt had not even started in those times.
They’d lived on The Common – a piece of open land even today, I think, though encroached upon by “progress”. Farm labourers they were, his Mom and Dad. Their parents had been the same. George would follow in their footsteps, learning the same skills and the same work ethic.
They were Anglicans. His Dad’s name is on the Roll of Honour in Epsom parish church. It was there that George joined the Cubs, then on to the Scouts. He became a Rover Scout, and – from the little he said about those times – he had enjoyed himself and made some good friends.
The fresh air and seemingly healthy lifestyle of the farming community did not spare George illness. In his early teens, he was given only a few months to live owing to tuberculosis. But he recovered completely.
His mother re-married a few years after the Great War. “Pop” Ruberry was a pleasant man and George accepted him as a parent. When hard times came to Britain in the 1920s, the three of them emigrated to Australia to find work and start a new life. The work they found was farm-labouring, naturally.
George loved the life Down Under, and was respected for his knowledge of horses. Real horses they were, of course, great big ones which pulled ploughs and carts. At twenty, he was handling six- and eight-in-hand wagons – and that was a lot of horse-flesh!
Then, he met the girl with whom he would share the rest of his never-too-easy life. She, too, was an immigrant to Australia. They were married in the small, wooden parish church of Sherwood, a suburb of Brisbane now.
Hard times hit Australia. Work became scarcer. George became a hobo, “hopping the rattlers” – meaning sneaking free rides on trains – and sleeping wherever he could find. One night, he slept in a sports stadium underneath the wooden benches. When he crept into the stadium it was very late and was as quiet as the grave. When he got up at sunrise, hundreds of other lads popped out from beneath the same benches!
He spent a short while at that time as a prison guard, standing up in a tall wooden tower above the prison yard and armed with a carbine. Australia was a tough land.
But times were too hard. He and his wife, Annie, decided that they must return to Blighty. They skimped and saved and finally had just enough cash for one of them to go home.
They decided it should be Annie, home to her family in Wolverhampton. There she would work and save to put George’s fare together. It took her seven years to raise his fare.
He returned in 1937. It was during the Spanish Civil War and his ship was stopped in the Bay of Biscay and searched by heavily armed Nationalist soldiers looking for escaping Republicans.
In Wolverhampton, George and Annie had a tiny little house in Oxley Street. Their furniture was not new, of course, so looked a little scruffy. But the place was kept immaculately clean.
George worked – more or less as a labourer – at the Goodyear Tyre Factory on the Stafford Road. It must have been awful for him to make the mental transition from farm-boy to factory hand.
The couple had left the grave of their first child, a girl called Margaret who died within a few hours of her birth, in Australia. They never talked to other people about it, and perhaps not to each other.
Their son, who grew into a healthy young man, was born in 1939, six months before the next World War began.
George remained at Goodyear’s through the war. He became part of the factory’s Home Guard unit. Wolverhampton did not receive the blitzkrieg which decimated other British towns and cities. However, one night whilst on Home Guard duty, George saw – in the glare of local searchlights – a German plane shot down and destroyed. He saw, too, one of its crew parachuting to safety not far from Goodyear’s factory. He reported what he saw, but was told he was mistaken and not to mention it to anyone.
He stayed at the tyre-factory until just after the war ended, working long, tiring hours, night-shifts mainly. He must have known that, however useful the pay was, he had had enough of being cooped up in such a dirty place.
In 1951, he was offered a job driving a dray for Butler’s Brewery in Springfields. So he went for it: back to horses and the outdoor life.
The pay was only just above half of what he was paid for the long overtime hours and night work at Goodyear’s. Annie could never forget that. But her husband was doing something he loved so she coped on their reduced income.
Their son was “called up” – conscripted – to do his two years’ National Service. Annie almost went to pieces on the morning her son went off to catch the train which would take him to the training depot, but she hid her emotions until he had left the house.
The lad walked to the station and called at the Brewery to say goodbye to his Dad. George came to the reception area to wish him good luck. It was a brief meeting: George had work to do and was given but a brief moment off.
It was then that, for the first time, his son really knew how much his father loved him. George, the quiet man, used few words. Yet – perhaps remembering his soldier father who had been killed in action when he himself was but eleven – put a work-hardened hand out towards his boy.
“Goodbye, son,” he said as his tears began to fall, “Good luck – and please take care of yourself.”
For the two years their son was away, mainly on Active Service but safe from any real danger, Annie wrote to him nearly every day. George scribbled a few lines occasionally, and perhaps they were the words the young soldier appreciated the most.
When he returned home, nothing much had changed. He started courting and his parents took to his sweetheart straight away.
Alas, George died a year before the pair wed. Ironically, at the age of fifty-seven, it was tuberculosis that killed him. His death was quite sudden.
I had grown up and married and settled down after living twenty-six years in my father’s house. Now that I knew more of the world, there was no Dad around for me to sit and talk with about his life and his thoughts and his opinions. He had been a quiet man. I would like to have known more about him.
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I add this picture of my father’s father dressed in his best Army uniform about a year before he died in The Great War. I know hardly anything about him, but thought it appropriate to put this photo on the same page as his son.