A Life Well Lived
To Celebrate the Life of Alexander William Broadhurst
9th January 1922 – 30th March 2022
A number of Wags were unable to attend Bill’s funeral and the family have kindly supplied material which will hopefully make up a little for their diappointment.
One Wag who was present said “The service was held in All Saints Church, Harrow Weald, a very beautiful building and worth a visit, it welcomes visitors. The Grimsdyke Brass Ensemble were present, Bill was a former President, and they added to the atmosphere. Alexis, one of Bill’s daughters, gave a wonderful talk on Bill’s life, his parents, his love for his wife, his upbringing, his war years and the association with the Church since a child”.
The service commenced with the singing of Psalm 23 “The Lord’s my shepherd” – click here
This is the text of the Eulogy given by Alexis:
I haven’t stood in this particular place since about 1975. In fact, I stood here frequently between ‘68 and ‘75 to read the lesson, but never without several prior rehearsals at home, supervised by my father: “Stand tall, shoulders back, project your voice over the lectern – don’t shout – and remember to pronounce the final consonants so that each word is clear.” So, this is the first time I have stood here without a run through with my father, so …. “Dad, if you are listening, I hope all those tips you gave me are working and you can hear me clearly.”
My father was a true Taisho man. When I lived in Japan in the 1980’s, Japanese people were already at that time quite in awe of the Taisho generation and regarded them almost as a race apart. The Japanese emperor who gave his name to that period ruled from 1912-1926. People born in this period became known for their toughness: they were indomitable, indefatigable, resilient, resourceful.
They grew up without air conditioning or central heating, they could light a fire from sticks, and didn’t use microwaves….
They were born, some of them, just before the Great War, and soon after the era ended the entire world, Japan included, was affected by the Great Depression: if they survived these disasters, they were tough, and it showed.
My father had every characteristic of a Taisho man.
My father’s life was divided fairly equally into 3 thirds. The first third was from birth to the age of 30; a single man and a sportsman.
He was born and attended school in Harrow Weald: he went to what was colloquially known as “the Old Schools” which is now redeveloped as Blackwell Hall, next door, and then from 1933 as a founding pupil at Harrow Weald Grammar School – not 10 minutes’ walk from here in the opposite direction. Hard to believe, but as a young boy he was small for his age. He was also quite bright and so was bumped up a year…the lack of size, combined with an above average intelligence, made him a prime target for bullying and I don’t think he enjoyed his primary school years.
But he was resilient.
At a two-week Scout camp when he was about 12 or 13, he suddenly started to grow and when he tried to put his leather shoes on again after the camp to return home, he’d grown so much he couldn’t get his feet inside them. He didn’t stop growing until he exceeded 6 feet (just): by the standards of the time, he was tall. The height supported his growing success in all forms of sports: he was in the First team for all sports played at the school: football, rugby, cricket, tennis, athletics. He holds the curious distinction of creating and holding Harrow Weald Grammar School’s record for throwing the javelin, which was never beaten, and remained as it turned into a Sixth Form college in the ‘80’s.
War was declared as he started his final year at school, he went on to Goldsmith’s to train as a teacher.
He joined the RAF and in 1943 started active service. His dream was to train as a pilot, and he commenced training. Unfortunately, he contracted diphtheria, which nearly killed him. Upon recovery and back into training, the effects of diphtheria caused him to black out at altitude and he was therefore unsuitable. He was pretty gutted not to be able to continue with the friends he had made, and moved into RADAR, where he became an instructor.
As he said to me many years later, “diphtheria nearly killed me, but it saved my life”: of his cohort who started pilot training, he was the only one left alive at the end of World War 2.
Coincidentally from my point of view, my father was sent to the Far East in 1944. As soon as victory was inevitable in Europe, he was part of the large convoy sent out to the East to help defeat Japan. As the bombs were dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, he was stationed up in Darwin expecting to be shipped to the Philippines to, probably, become very close to the active battle arena. He said the feeling of relief when they heard that Japan had surrendered, as a result of the atomic bombs, was indescribable.
He was then sent to Singapore to help with the reconstruction.
My father was repatriated and landed in Liverpool weighing not much more than 8 stone – 50kg. He arrived home in January 1947, during the Hard Winter of ‘47 and not surprisingly, he became ill. He had been fit, although underweight, but he had spent a couple of years in the tropics and his body succumbed to the harsh change in conditions. Had he not come back at that time, from that location and not gotten sick, he would probably have competed in the London Olympics of 1948. He trained with British Olympic athletes, including Roger Bannister, but ultimately did not quite make the team: he attended as a steward.
On returning Home, he started teaching and worked in Wembley. In 1949 he secured a place to train for a year at Carnegie in Leeds as a PE Specialist, and it was there he met my mother. He returned to Harrow Weald after that year, and she followed him to Harrow a year later and stayed with an aunt. They married when she was 21 and he was 30.
End of phase 1.
Part 2: the Married Man. We are all aware that the Post War years were tough, but my parents were able to buy a house at the time of their marriage, the house my father lived in until he was nearly 97. Few young people have been able to do that for at least a generation.
He studied for his Bachelor’s degree, travelling to London in the evenings, while continuing to work as a teacher during the days, from 1950-55. It was only a few years into Part 2 that my father was appointed to the role that defined the rest of his life: he became a Headteacher, and I would say that he remained one for the rest of his life.
That was in 1958. On several occasions my father has said that he never woke up in the morning and did not want to go to work. 28 years as a Headteacher probably changes one’s outlook. From my perspective, the school was perhaps the fifth member of our family. Circus performers’ offspring train from an early age in the circus. I spent at least a day of every holiday counting textbooks and delivering them to classrooms ready for the start of the next term. I expect Celia might have done the same after I left home??
Many ex-staff and ex-pupils have been in touch to send good wishes on reaching his centenary in January and offering condolence a couple of weeks ago, sharing their memories of time spent with him and their lives affected for the better. Joan Rooke is here today: she worked for him at Pinner Wood and after her retirement, she then visited every week helping him, going swimming with him and as he got older, just spending time together. Thank you to those who are here and are connected with my father through Pinner Wood School. Sadly, the second phase of my father’s life ended in 1986.
He retired in July to spend more time with my mother, but she died of cancer in December. Within 6 months he had lost his wife and ended his career. Not great timing and must have been really tough for my Dad: Celia was away at university and I was working in Japan. The third and final phase of my father’s life was 35 years of widowhood.
But a Taisho-jin gets on with things and doesn’t complain. A couple of years into his widowhood, he did say to me “I shall never marry again: your mother was a wonderful lady and no one else could ever come close”.
In this period of his life, Brass banding, the Masonic Lodge, the Golf Club and All Saints Church took on much greater significance and used up much more of his time than they had before.
Curiously, I attended church every Sunday from when I was 5: not only attended but was required to attend, but with my mother only. My mother was born a catholic, raised a Methodist, and was confirmed in this Church probably around 1968. My father didn’t go to church regularly, and even more curiously, my sister wasn’t taken to church at all. I’ve no idea why things were that way.
But once he was alone, the Church filled an empty space in his life and I believe he regularly read the lesson, was active on Committees, was a churchwarden and member of the PCC. He did other volunteering tasks like driving the “Old Folks” to the Monday Club; as he, in his retirement, was not an “old folk”. I assume that members of those Committees are here today, and would also have experienced the headmasterly side of my father’s character, long after his official retirement from that role.
My father was baptized here, as was I, and my three sons. My father, despite his long affiliation with All Saints, was not confirmed here. During the 15 months he spent in Singapore immediately post war, he was confirmed in St Andrew’s Cathedral, Singapore. I think relief and gratitude at his survival must have been a very large part of his recommitment to the Church at that time. Thank you to those of you, and I don’t know who you are, who are here because of your affiliation with my father through All Saints Church.
As I mentioned earlier, my father was a great sportsman, and it must have been quite a disappointment that he didn’t pass that on to either of his daughters.
At the time of my mother’s death and the beginning of phase 3 of my father’s life he had a frozen shoulder and could not swing a club. However, that healed as these things do, and Sandy Lodge Golf Club began to fill more of his hours. At various times he played with the Dawn Patrol and the WAGS: the Wednesday Afternoon Golfing Society. There is a wonderful tribute to my father on the Club’s website and from that I know that he was Captain in 1995 and his name appears on their honours boards a few times. Not only the golf, but also the social side: rewriting poetry, particularly Chaucerian poetry, reciting Gray’s Elegy while on the course and various get-togethers, these were social events that he looked forward to with great pleasure, and of course the camaraderie of a long-lasting group of friends. Garry is here and maybe others: thank you also to those of you who are here from his golfing days.
I am not able to comment much on my father’s Masonic commitment, but he joined Goldsmith’s Lodge in 1942, before he was posted overseas, and attended a meeting, or meetings, in Singapore. He also attended with my husband in Penang on one occasion. He certainly received a commemorative gift to mark 70 years in the craft. I know he was a member of other Lodges too.
The final three years of my father’s life were spent in the Masonic Care Home in Watford. He was so well-cared for there by staff, with tremendous commitment – and patience, I would imagine – and in our daily phone calls he would always comment that the food was good, or the people were nice and “if he couldn’t be at home, it was the best alternative”. On behalf of my family, I would like to thank those who are here from Prince Michael of Kent Court, for their care and commitment to my father in the final three years of his life.
And the reason we have the pleasure of hearing from, and being accompanied by, the musicians today is that my father – following the skills and talents of his father – was formerly President of Grimsdyke Brass and President of the Peter Hinckley Trust that supports young musicians financially. Thank you, musicians, for giving your time to be with us here today and add music and sound to this event.
A Taisho man, an increasingly rare species, who has almost outlived his generation. His was a life well lived and this is not an occasion for sadness, but for reflection, giving thanks and sharing happy memories. I apologise for any mistakes or omissions and hope that we will have the opportunity later today for you to correct my mistakes and share those memories with us, his family, who are able to be here today.
I thank you for your attention.
To go to Bill Broadhurst Celebration of Life in pictures, please click here