Alfred Bernard Ward, 1921-2012

My Dad passed away on Boxing Day at 12.10 pm. He came within half an hour of dying exactly 91 years to the minute after he made his entrance on 26th December 1921 at 12.35 pm.

His death was a lot more peaceful than his arrival: he was a breach baby, and the midwife’s attentions as they attempted to get him out left him with a severe neck injury that wasn’t corrected until he was eleven years old. The birth experience didn’t do a lot for Grandma either. Shortly after Dad’s surgery in 1932, his elder sister Molly fell over in the back yard and injured her knee. These were the days before penicillin, and a month later her leg was amputated just below the groin.

Dad was a Catholic working class Salfordian who married an upmarket high Anglican from posh Cheetham Hill. Mum tried to convert, but couldn’t fathom that degree of illogical belief, so they were married in a Catholic Church without flowers or choir. After two weekend  leaves from the RAF that produced my brother, Bernard went off to first East Africa, then India, Burma, Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong before sailing back slowly to Britain in 1946. I appeared in February 1948, and so Pop began to ask some serious questions of his Priest in the area of family planning. Not entirely satisfied with the response, he erred in favour of the chemist forever afterwards. But three years before that, my old man had already more or less made his mind up to leave the Church.

He had been stationed in Burma, just down the road from an active whorehouse where all the girls were Catholic. Each morning, all the girls trotted down to the priest and confessed their multiple fornications, receiving absolution. My father – brought up to believe that at least half the game with Confession was to try and not repeat the sin again – felt this absolution of sin on an industrial scale was offside, and ventured this opinion to the Priest. He got a lot of woffle back, and for him I think it was the beginning of the end of his belief in the hegemony of Catholicism. He remained Christian in his ethics, but stopped going to Mass. He never went back.

My father had to leave school at twelve, because his sister’s disability meant a loss of domestic income stream in a household where incomes were in very short supply. Grandad had returned from the Great War to a land meant to be fit for heroes, but where his job as a fine cabinet maker had somehow disappeared. So he went on the trams as a conductor, and became an active Union shop steward. He was a key organiser in Manchester during the 1926 General Strike, for which his reward was being locked out and then unemployable in that industry forever. After that, he did odd jobs and made bits of furniture to make ends meet until the 1947 Pensions Act gave him just enough to live on. He hated Winston Churchill for the rest of his life.

Dad worked at first as a delivery boy for a famous patissier and bakers called Greenalgh’s, after which he applied for the position as junior clerk in a new cotton merchants, S Stewart and Co. Up against 56 other kids, he got the job because he could do algebra, and knew what quadratic equations were.

In 1938 while attending Night School, my father came across a book called My Struggle, by one A. Hitler. As he described it to me forty odd years later, “I read the first two chapters and realised he was a bit of an ‘eadcase”. Two months later he volunteered to become a pilot in the RAF, but was turned down on the grounds of poor depth perception and serious colour blindness.

After the war, Dad used the contacts he’d made with the Cheung family in Hong Kong to change S Stewart & Co’s business model from being the export of finished cloth to the import of cheap Asian cotton. He rose to become first a travelling salesman in the firm and then a partner. In 1962 it dawned on him that denim wasn’t a passing fad, and shortly afterwards he changed the company’s model again to being a retail rather than a wholesale/institutional supplier. He moved almost overnight from being workware to fashion – and, I suspect, thoroughly enjoyed it.

By this time, my father was virtually the only Catholic cloth merchant in Manchester, where the Jewish community still held sway. In later life, he joked that his favourite hymn was ‘Oiveh Maria’, and in fact many of his business friends called him Ben rather than Bernard. Throughout his life, he was a bottomless fund of religious jokes, every last one of which were inclusive rather than racist. Although many of his basic judgements would be seen as racist today, in truth Dad detested bigotry and treated people as he found them. Worried at first when I brought a Chinese girlfriend home in 1967, by the time my relationship with her ended he was genuinely saddened by the breakdown.

But Alfred Bernard Ward was very far from being a saint. In many ways, he tried to bolster his lack of social mobility by forcing it upon my brother and me. Something of a risk-taker in business, he was a highly conservative conformist socially: had his sons turned out to be accountants and bankers, he would’ve been delighted. As it was, when my brother showed promise as a cricketer (and much worse, I wanted to be a writer) Pop was hugely disapproving. Mollified when my brother Mike became an industrial chemist, the news that I’d got a job as an advertising copywriter evoked the response that I had “thrown away sixteen years of education to write bloody advert jingles for spivs”.

Despite his dark side however, Dad was a great provider who delighted in the achievements of his family. He wasn’t good at communicating this pride to his sons, but there is no point in judging Great Depression formed parents from the vantage point of 2012. As a kid, I idolised my father, and I never adjusted to the sight of him as an Alzheimer’s victim towards the end of his days. To me, his triumph over class and religious prejudice was and remains an inspiration to me – as does his intellect which, while untutored, was at its peak quite remarkable in its breadth. He could speak a fair amount of Hoinam Chinese, Hindustani, Swahili, and last but not least, RAF.

RAF slang peppered Dad’s conversation throughout my childhood. If anything fell to the floor, he would say “Pe-doing!” (bombs gone) and at other times use terms like bumph (bureaucracy) gen (information) belt along (travel at high speed) u/s (broken) and drink (the ocean). But he was no fan of glorifying the experience: on his way back home during 1946, he chucked all his medals overboard. He didn’t like the War; he just liked England, and all it had to offer. I thank God that he had little or no idea what the lunatics were doing to it after 1997.

At some time in the future, I will start to miss him – but not at the moment. I can’t feel much at all for the Zombie that my father became. But given time, he’ll start to reappear in my thoughts as he was some time around 1962: when he had Irish black hair without a trace of grey, and blue eyes hypnotic enough to make many a girlfriend  say to me at the time, “By ‘eck, but your Dad’s a bit of alright innee?”

 

99 thoughts on “Alfred Bernard Ward, 1921-2012

  1. Sadly, they don’t make them quite like that any more, (the bloody spivs have taken over). Had an uncle die with Alzheimers a few months ago. You have my sympathy.

  2. Had to face this nearly two years ago.
    When I was younger, I did not get on with my father, it was only in his later years we got on. He had a good innings, 94 years.
    Thoughts are with you.

  3. You’ve brought up memories of my father….it took me a long time to get back to the living man I had known…every Remembrance Day he would turn off the box and curse those who called killing sacrifice.

  4. I’m so terribly sorry for your loss, John. Any time you’ve written about him, your deep love and respect for him shines through. With your description of Lyla, she sounds like the image of him and I sincerely hope she will be a source of great comfort to you in the coming days, and for many years to come.

  5. First time to comment on your blog, although a regular visitor. Sitting here at 5 am trying to colect my thoughts, the last month spent in and out of hospital watching my dear mother deteriorate with dementure after being admitted on my 50th birthday for a series of falls eventually leading to her being unable to walk.

    At 94 mum was up until a few weeks ago, a lively fiercly independent lady, ex army (along with my deceased dad., a veteran of Dunkirk, El Alamein and Tobruk, thankfully away before he could witness the lunatics dismantle our country) . Mums wisdom and integrity are of a diferent age, and despite the so out of character ramblings coming from her at present, her innate warmth and decency shine through, and on that occasion when the fog lifts, I see he person she was/still is.

    Your descriptions of some of your dad’s sayings brought a smile to my face, terms which I use myself after years of listening to them from my old man and mum, belting along, u/s and bumph being favourites!

    I dont know what the future holds for mum, I guess my brother and I avoid admitting the truth to ourselves, shellshocked by it all perhaps, beleiving that hope springs eternal and that the Grace of God will prevail whatever the outcome. Suffice to say that whatever decisions need to be made I will endeavour to do right by her as she has always done for us. We wont fall for the Liverpool Care pathway or any other form of state organised genocide, after all they gave their youth to fight against tyrrany and its our duty to make sure they dont get culled by it in their final days. We, the post war generations should have made it our duty years ago to protect what mum and her generation struggled to build, but isnt that the lamment of those who grow up in a time of peace and prosperity?.

    So John (I hope you dont mind me being so “familiar”?), my heart goes out to you and I understand your feelings about remembering your father in a different time and context to recently, sitting by the hospital bedside with my mums hand in mine watching her talk of things which arent real, I tell myself that the “real mum” is in my memories and in my childrens smiles and laughter. I hope 2013 brings a happier time for us all, better must come surely.

    Regards

  6. Sounds like a good guy, who made a contribution to the Universe and to boot, he’s responsible for this blog. Not many followed in his foot steps. You have my sympathy

  7. Beautifully written John, my sympathies to you and your family. Though after such a long road I don’t think anyone would begrudge you a sense of relief that your dads suffering is over.

  8. Those of us who have lost parents will understand your grief right now – no matter how old you are, or how mentally remote they may have become of late, they’ve always been there and it’s the loss of that permanence which hits you.
    Those who survived our fathers’ generation lived through times we never experienced, all affected in some ways, some displaying it more than others. But they made us who we are and we just hope we made them proud – I’m certain you did.
    RIP Dad Ward – I never knew you but you did a good job.

  9. My sympathies, John. I lost my dad this year too. He had also been suffering from severe Alzheimer’s and it was a relief when he died and left his zombie state.
    Your dad sounds like he was an incredible man.

  10. He sounds like one heck of a character, a huge figure in your life of whom you must be rightly proud. My own father passed away this year and I barely knew him. The more I learned about how he had touched the lives of others and what he had achieved against the odds, the overwhelming feeling was one of pride in him rather than the sadness of losing him. My sympathies are with you and the Ward family.

    Be at peace Alfred. Per Ardua Ad Astra.

  11. My condolences John for your loss. The memories will stay with you forever. My father also was ex RAF (1906-91). They were a special breed and try as we might, and achieve what we have, it is almost impossible to match them.

  12. Thanks for sharing your news in such a generous and well written tribute, you’ve had a difficult year, I’m sure many people will identify with what you have said. Hope the next one is better.

  13. There is nothing I can add to what has been said, my sincerest condolences to you, your father was a great man from an era that had integrity and honesty.

  14. John,

    Your father will have been very proud of you and especially of the home you have created here for free thinkers and non haters. I don’t think it matters how old you get, the integrity represented by your fathers’ generation is a great loss to bear.

    The final gift he gave you is the strength to carry on.

  15. Sincerest condolences also, fully understand your ‘zombie’ reference. Alzheimers is such a cruel end for our brave wartime generation deserve. At peace now.

  16. Sincere condolences. Remember him how he was in his maturity, not how he was stricken by his illness. It’s never easy, even if the end is a blessed release.

    Still, judging by you, your Dad didn’t do so bad in raising a fine child with decent values. Not a bad achievement to leave behind. Best wishes to your family.

  17. Alfred Bernard Ward; clearly a true spirit and an inspiration to his family and friends. May their sorrow be tempered by celebration of a life well lived and a release well earned.

  18. Condolences to your father from a new follower of your blog.

    I lost my mother almost two years ago and went thriough a grieving period I have only just about fully recovered from. I quote something you wrote here:

    “but there is no point in judging Great Depression formed parents from the vantage point of 2012″

    My Mum was born in 1930 into poverty and made herself wealthy through no education, inheritance just hard work. In the latter years I told her openly “I love you” but she’d only say “Same to you”, until her very last ohine call to me when she was going into the hospital to die next day. When I said once more “I love you” she replied “And I love you too” the only time – that was when I knew this was our final phone call.

    We will never ever know the privations and scarcity our parents knew, nor the attitudes which formed them, yet we are every way a product of those times.

    If it is of any help I blogged the best I could about my grief:

    http://iamrogertheshrubber.wordpress.com/category/grief/

    If I can only give you one perpective two years down the line, it is that the deeper the love you felt for your parents the worse the grief. When you climb out the other side (I almost became alcoholic) you will actually begin to see grief almost as a gift.

    Good luck.

  19. Sympathy at this hard time for your family. I am sure from the wonderful obit, that all that is good will go on with you and the memories will become free and happy and even more plentiful. I hope that is soon.

  20. Your father lives on, in you and his other children and then in your and your siblings’ children and no doubt will go on living in the minds of his descendents for a very long time to come, in the form of Family History.

    A wonderful tribute to Bernard, thank you for sharing. You have my condolences.

  21. You have won the lottery John ! Having great parents ! Believe me I know (both for me not here now, but boy do I remember them); money, they did’nt have much but gave me something very, very special; you are sooooooo lucky; Derrick

  22. A touching tribute John, sorry for your loss, I am sure your father was secretly very proud of a son who could write with such eloquence.

  23. Sorry to hear that John, you have been carrying a heavy load of late. He will come back to you but it might take a while, as it did for me with my late wife.

    Her light eventually shone through the darkness of a bad ending.

  24. Alzheimer’s or not, being somebody’s kid no more is dramatic.
    Miss him and cherish his memories as often and as much as you can. Thanks for sharing this.

  25. Very sad to hear of your loss. My own 81 year old mum has spent two weeks in hospital over Christmas however she is hopefully soon returning home to my 83 year old dad who has gone down with the Norovirus, just as I have too. This unfortunately means no visiting the hospital.
    While most people have nice Christmas’s it isn’t the case for everyone.

    • I am not a doctor; this is not medical advice; For Norovirus, I take 10000 IU of vitamin D3 per day, also 1000-2000mg Vit C is a useful adjunct.

  26. Sad to hear of your loss John, sounds like you’ve had a rough year, all things considered. Hope that the new year is way better.

  27. Sounds like quite a chap, John. I suspect you will have us all remembering our fathers today …

    At least he can ‘stand easy’ now.

  28. A wonderful tribute. I’m sorry for your loss. Just last night was discussing the nature of fathers, and our tendancy to judge them based on today. I bet yours would have some gruff response to your tribute, which would translate more or less to pride.

  29. John
    So sorry to hear of your loss. You obviously didn’t waste 16 years education as this remembrance alone is worth more than any trite ad. Amazingly my dad – who died in 1984 – was also in RAF and was devastated when he couldn’t become a fighter pilot because of colour blindness (a condition he passed on to me) He became a mechanic keeping the Spitfires and Lancasters in the air, and after a spell in GB went out to India and Burma where he suffered terribly and would never talk about his experiences. My Mum always said the Roy that came back was not the same Roy that went out. I was never close to him save in his last few years: probably because I didn’t know him ’til I was 4.5 years old. I think of hom more now than ever I did when he was alive. I’m sure you will grieve and then remember him as he was.

  30. I hope I get that sort of eulogy from my son. Reasonable as well as full of affection.
    I don’t see why JW finds it good that his father decided against more children – would another couple of Wards been such an imposition?
    And Manchester Jewry – what happened there? Assimilated too much or just stopped breeding? How different the UK would be if it had been the Jewish population that romped away rather than the population we imported from Pakistan. We might be a more reasonable and confident nation.
    For all its bumps for him personally, Ward senior lived through a good century. He was looked after through a long old-age, for instance. Readers of this blog suspect that that sort of care won’t be on offer for us. Parents are a worry, as long as they are alive, and then they don’t always pick a good moment to pass on. This is the year’s low point, when resilience is not great.
    Still, honour your father and your mother, as someone once said so let us give thanks for our old dears and press on.

  31. Beautifully written and a great tribute to him. I lost my mother 31 years ago – far to early, and my father 8 years later. Both were wonderful examples of kindness and careing. Now, with Grandchildren of my own, I think of them more and more. Particularly, I am in awe for the way we were brought up. We carried knives for cutting branches, whittling and playing splits. No one was injured ( probably thanks to thick leather shoes) and at a young age we would play all day in the woods and fish in the creek with no parental supervision. No watches or mobiles and it is only their confidence in raising us which must have given them peace of mind. It’s a difficult time for you but a visit from your Granddaughter is always a sure cure for any sadness.

  32. The write up for your father was a wonderful mark of respect, I’m sure he would be very pleased, and very proud. My condolences on your loss. Please find consolation in the years of love and respect that you held for your father, and he for you.

    Don.

  33. What a beautiful eulogy. I feel that I knew the chap. I come from the same neck of the woods myself and hearing those place names again helped in painting the picture of your father.
    Best wishes from a fellow Northerner.

  34. Sorry to hear of your loss, John. My thoughts are with you today.
    My father hated Churchill with much the same passion and for much the same reason. This carried over to my brother and me although obviously not with the same venom. It was always a puzzle why this should be so, so I read Roy Jenkins’ huge biography of the man. It didn’t help, because I got the impression Roy didn’t care for Churchill either.
    Although Bernard’s last years were a trial, 91 is a bloody good innings and I’m sure the memories of these later years will be soon swamped by the many wonderful years you spent with this remarkable man.

  35. Hi John,
    I met your Dad a few times and he is exactly as you describe,
    and very witty to boot.
    A mighty oak has fallen!
    Sincere condolences to all the family.
    I will be in touch.
    Love
    Gerard

  36. Your dad sounded like a pretty decent man. At least he was honest enough to see through and reject the hypocritical rats nest that the establishment known as the church has become. Thanks for sharing this with us.

  37. Sympathy, John, Sympathy. All one can offer. If you will forgive the Churchill reference, keep buggering on: the work you do is valuable.

    Sod of a year for you. I hope the clouds part a little soon.

  38. Just occurred to me that you might not have known his nickname in the RAF. Having spent some time with RAF, Army and my mother service the Navy, I can tell you that without a shadow of a doubt he would have been ‘Sharky’ Ward. It is one of those nicknames that appear not to have any logic. Like ‘rattler’ Morgan or ‘Bungy’ Williams.
    One can understand ‘Spider’ Web etc but there are those like the ones above who’s origins are lost in the mists of service time as it were.
    Like him, when I came back from the Falklands I was somewhat anti-war but later I realised I had been lucky to fight in one where there was a discernible enemy, unlike the poor sods today.
    Anyway, just thought you’d like to know.

  39. So sorry to hear of your loss, Mr.Ward. One doesn’t get over these things, but one does get used to them. When my own father died, I thought how sad it was that I would never see him again. However, when my eldest son grew up, sometimes when he turns his head, or smiles, or looks up, I see my father standing there. I do hope that one day, through your grandchildren, you will have the same experience.

  40. My father was RAF too.
    He didn’t think much of advertising either! For him ‘spin’ was what Jim Laker did, like 19 wickets in a test match against Australia at Old Trafford for 90 runs against him!

    A Leicester Grammar School boy he ‘made good’ after the war having been a pilot from ’39 till after the Berlin Air Lift in which he participated. Wanting to better himself, or us, he sent his sons to public school where they could get to know all about the doubious ‘benefits’ of single sex education.. the sinister evolution of which JW so courageously attacks.

    My first memory, dating from the late ’40’s, is of a cricket match he organised in our village with Sikhs in turbans, lots of Africans and West Indians, all University students.
    These non-Whites are rare sight in the England of the day.

    Hungry for excitement after the war he and other demobs in their late 20’s would leave their pub favorite pub, The Bell, in their sports cars and go off down the steep hill from Outward to Smallfield having cut their engines to see who could get the farthest, had the most balls, while freewheeling.

    Thank you Mr Ward for being ‘a chip off the old block’. He is surely proud of you.
    God help us! and let us learn to help ourselves, as you do.

  41. It happened to my Mum just before Christmas in 2001. Strangely enough, although I am not religious, I found the experience extremely uplifting. She said, I Do not need a Priest. I just want to hold your hand…and so she had her crucifix around her neck in one hand, and mine in the other..If anyone went straight to heaven my Mum did….

    You might even recognise me – I am only a few years younger than you – and we used to go to the same places in Manchester at the same time..You were the one pulling all the pretty girls, and I was the one in love, too shy to ask.

    God Bless You,

    Tony

  42. Heh! John, What a fulfilling life your old man had! You are right to be proud of your Dad. Let’s face it, we are all going to pass on eventually, hopefully to the Buddhist way of thinking (no I’m not but), and to have had a life and left kids with honest and truthful thinking is a credit. Condolences.

  43. About 155,000 people died today.

    Some were good people, some were bad, a great many were mediocre.

    All will be mourned in one way or another, we should all take comfort in that you are mourning a parent and not a child.

    Thoughts be with you, a new year beckons and adversaries new and old to be faced with renewed vigour.

    Once more into the breach…

  44. John,

    If you were still or ever going to Catholic Church in Ancoats, Manchester in the late 50’s, your priest was called Father Bernard Wood….

    He was still very much alive 12 months ago..and I suspect still is, because no one has told me he has died. We didn’t however get a Christmas card this year, but maybe he can no longer write. He has been a family friend all my life, and he is a very nice man.

    We have been occasionally meeting and exchanging long letters for years, even though I totally gave up the Catholic Religion and All Religion as a load of bollocks at the age of 15.

    I never thought of Cheetham Hill as Posh. I saw one of Motorhead’s first ever gigs there, after he got turfed out of Hawkwind who I used to go and see at Salford University years earlier.

    I was in Love when my Dad died, in 1977 but I also lost her.

    She had introduced me to Neil Young, so I knew how to search for a heart of gold.

    Tony

  45. JW, what a eulogy. He was quite a man. And his spirit lives on in you. Friends and I often raise a glass at dinner to toast “the boys upstairs”. They are always in our hearts… somewhere.

  46. Deeply impressive (a) as a man and (b) that you can write what seems so balanced, as well as so generous, a tribute at a time like this

  47. My sincere condolences on your father’s passing. I lost mine too in April – aged 90, and also RAF. It was a release for him as he had no quality of life, but I will try and remember the better times, as I am sure you will with yours.

  48. My condolences John. My dad was born the same year as your dad and died 10 years ago on the fourth of July. US Army Air Corps / USAF Dec 8, 1941 – July 1946, as it was told to me. He was in full possession of his faculties till the end and it tore me up to see him go.

  49. Thank You for this lovely hymn to your Dad, John!

    My mum (1922 – 2011) did not become a zombie but was helpless due to all sorts of other ailments. I sort of don’t miss her, as I feel that I’ve internalised her and I hope you will do, too. Dads are always heroes for their sons at first, and it’s super when they actually are!

    My mum, like your dad, hated war, after she managed to rescue me across the fires of Dresden…

    I so much wish we could make real what exists since 1928: the illegality of war. At the time it was the Kellogg-Briand-Pact. Since then the Nurnberg Trials confirmed it.

    Why do politicians not respect international treaties signed by previous governments?

    I guess one has to conclude: power corrupts. And absolute power corrupts absolutely. Maybe politicians are only there for us to kind of ‘get honed’, whereas parents get us ‘tuned’!

  50. Late on parade with this………. only one word to say as all else I could say has been done better above……. Condolences.

  51. John, that is a fantastic eulogy and I am sorry to hear of your loss. My Dad was of the same generation as yours, fighting in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany during the last war. He died in 2009. My Mum is still alive but has dementia, and I am slowly watching her disappear. It’s not what I’d wish for anyone. My Dad died totally disillusioned with the way things have gone in this country. Thoughts are with you

  52. Sorry about your loss,similiar experience 2 years ago.I can see that you have put some his genes to good use in the quality and truth of your blogs. I always feel that I could have written the same article. I am a similiar age-we are the last generation to be born with any common sense! Robert

  53. A lovely piece on your father. I read most of it when you posted it, but have re-read it. I lost my mother to galloping cancer two years ago. It’s always pretty devastating when you lose a parent – even if you weren’t as close as you had been in earlier times. I wish you the very best and hope the aftermath (taking care of the business side of someone’s death) is not too painful. Promise yourself a great holiday at the end of it. You will need it and deserve it!

  54. Condolences John. We all handle these event differently as individuals. My father died decades ago. But on occasion a memory resurfaces and it seems like yesterday. So in a sense they live on, For which we can be grateful.

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