Sunday 30 November 2014

Harry Vaughan Davies 1916 - 2014

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Great War, when the so-called civilised world was plunged into darkness from which it only reawakened four years later. It was during this period of madness that on 6 October 1916 my father, Harry Vaughan Davies, came into the world. The largest and perhaps bloodiest encounter of the conflict, the Battle of the Somme, was still raging at the time and it would be another two years before the world finally came to its senses. But they were uneasy times: in his formative years my father would have lived through the Irish War of Independence, the Great Depression and the rise of communism and fascism.
Despite all this, my father was born into an ordered and privileged world. His father, Harry Hayward Davies, worked as a salesman for S & J Watts, a major textile business in Manchester, which occupied the warehouse that is one of the city’s stand-out architectural features today. Harry Hayward's parents had been publicans in Salford and he first met my grandmother Rachel when she was working as a servant in their hostelry, the ‘Craven Heifer’. They moved into Eskdale, a house on Mayfield Road in the Victorian estate of Whalley Range in South Manchester, which had been built as a desirable neighbourhood for ‘gentlemen and their families’ at a time when Manchester was said to do things which the rest of the world only did tomorrow. By the time my father was born, King George V was on the throne and the toll gates to the estate had been dismantled and electric trams now ran along its perimeters.
My father went to William Hulme’s, an independent grammar school, and every week he would attend Sunday services at St Edmund’s church on Alexandra Road, along with his three siblings, Bessy, Tom and John. They were fine parents, my father would recollect, and he had a happy childhood. Often he would tell us about the tricks that he and his brothers would play (on sometimes unsuspecting victims) in Mayfield Road. Holidays were part of that world and every year, the family would pack their trunks, board the train at Manchester Exchange and spend their summers at Colwyn Bay on the North Wales coast, a place which they all grew to love and one that would later become a firm favourite with future generations. As a young man, one of my father’s greatest pastimes was playing the clarinet in a band with friends, at a time when the great dance bands were all the rage.
When he finished school, he started a career in insurance but after a few years this was rudely interrupted by the Second World War. My father was called up and joined the Royal Artillery and it was during those turbulent years - working on the anti-aircraft defences in Oxford - that he met Olive, a Scarborough girl, with whom he fell in love. On 5 September 1947, after having been demobbed, they got married at St Mary’s church in Scarborough. Their betrothal marked the start of 65 years of happy marriage.
Back in civvies, my father reassumed his career in insurance and the young couple moved to a semi-detached house in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, the next suburb on to Whalley Range in South Manchester. By the time I was born ten years later, my father was already in his forties and Harry and Olive had already brought two sons, Francis and Jonathan, into the world.
When I came along in 1957 the world was changing rapidly. It was an age of post-war reconciliation, mass consumption and increasing prosperity. Dad bought a car in the Sixties (even though he didn’t have a driving licence at the time). This new-found mobility enabled us to go on undreamed-of trips and holidays further afield (notably the Scottish Highlands), as hitherto we would have had to take a train or coach to holiday destinations like Scarborough and Colwyn Bay. The car opened up new horizons for my mum and dad and they would eventually travel abroad , still uncommon in the Sixties and Seventies.
Dad continued to work at Sun Life, but he was shrewd enough (and well-off enough) to retire when he was 59 (when I was still at school). In 1984, when we had all left home, my parents decided to move to Thornton-le-Dale on the edge of the North Yorks Moors, which was a favourite spot my parents visited on trips to Scarborough. It was here, where they played an active part in village life, that they spent their happiest years. He was able resume pastimes he had enjoyed as a young man, such as walking and playing instruments, such as the clarinet, saxophone and trombone. He also became quite prolific at painting and drawing: oils, acrylics, charcoal and pencil - you name it - he tried it. Every week mum and dad would go on weekly outings to Scarborough or York. But what they enjoyed most of all were the visits from their 5 grandchildren.

Dad has a lot to answer for.  
He had a huge array of interests ranging from motor racing to cricket, classical music, jazz music, playing the clarinet and the saxophone, hymn-writing, walking, mountains, Welsh rugby and the Welsh language, steam trains, liners and many others, so I suppose some of it was bound to rub off on us.
On holiday, my father and mother would take us on long walks. It certainly had an effect on me: my mother used to call me the ‘mountain goat’ and I can never recall a time that walking long distances has been a chore.
When I was a young, he took us to test matches at the local cricket ground. Australia, West Indies, India, we saw them all. In my teens I became a junior member of Lancashire County Cricket Club, and come rain or shine, after school my friends and I would stroll down to Old Trafford to watch the proceedings. 50 years later I now find myself running my own cricket team in Holland.
And as long as I can remember, my dad had a photograph of the Matterhorn above the fireplace in the living room. I was fascinated by the legendary feats surrounding its first ascent and later in life I made my own pilgrimage to the mountain.
He was always engrossed in something or other. It was one of his endearing features. From that point of view, I don’t think we couldn’t really have wished for a better dad.

It’s so long ago, it’s difficult to remember dad as a working man. Quite often, while mum was getting tea ready in Badminton Road, as kids we would happily skip to the bus stop on Wilbraham Road, impatient to meet him after work. And when mum took on a part-time job and had to catch the early bus to work every day, he took on the task of getting us ready for school with gusto.
Holidays were always the best time with dad. We would have a whale of a time. He was able to relax and – except when the car broke down, as it frequently seemed to do - he was able to have quality time with the family. Fun was guaranteed! 
He was both a gentleman and a gentle man. The vast majority of the time, dad was good-humoured and if he did get cross, it was invariably with himself (a trait I can reliably say he has passed on to the next generation). But woe betide if, on one of the very rare occasions, he did get angry with us as kids, it meant we really had done something wrong!  

Paradoxically, he was able to devote more of his free time to his five grandchildren in his 38 years of retirement, than he could offer us as a working father. They had a whale of a time with grandpa. He would invariably end up doing silly things with them - playing games, composing rhymes and making up songs. He even went as far as to write verses for our dog!

I could write a lot more about my dad, suffice to say he was a great husband, father and grandfather. Everyone who knew him has their own fond memories of him and he meant a lot to many people. 
Dad has been with us so long, I can hardly imagine life without him. It was tough making him comfortable in the latter years. I spent two weeks with him this July and life was taking its toll, but despite the grumbling and grouching that accompanied old age, he was still very much the dad I knew and loved. Whenever I came to stay, he was overjoyed when I arrived and tearful when I left. I always tried to make light of it, in the hope that there would never be a last time, but sadly there was. He probably loved us more than we could imagine.
It will be hard without him and I shall miss him terribly.