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My Uncle Jack.

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Old 9th May 2020, 11:02
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My Uncle Jack.

An exchange of posts in the Gallery with Ray Spursnut has inspired some memories of one of my Uncles. It is appropriate to post this on this site as Uncle Jack served in the Royal Navy at the end of WWII.

He had endured training camp at Butlins Skegness and qualified as a radar operator and was due to be sent out to the Pacific in 1945. That was cancelled after Japan surrendered, much to his great relief because although he had some documents or a certificate stating that he was a radar operator, he always said he had no idea what the little squiggles and blobs on the screen actually meant.
After the War ended, he was deemed to be surplus to Navy requirements apparently, despite the huge investment made in his training and accommodation at Butlins, and swiftly returned to Civilian life. I'm not too sure exactly what jobs he did, but one day he saw an advert for a shop assistant in a new shop selling furnishings and carpets in the Eastern suburbs of London. Uncle Jack obviously saw the potential of making some good commissions as folk started to spruce up their homes after six years of rationing and sent in his application. He was hired and started work almost immediately. He settled in and took to the trade like the proverbial duck to water. Occasionally he would offer a fitting service, the same day if necessary. This would mean an extra charge and commission, in addition to selling the various bits and pieces for the doorways and carpet edges. The customers would get a big surprise when Jack turned up to do the fitting himself in the evening after the shop closed. He would explain that he couldn't book a fitter at short notice so thought it best to do it himself so the customer didn't have to wait. The fact that he had never fitted a carpet didn't deter him, but he was a quick learner and started to get more sales and fitting jobs from recommendations. He also got on very well with the owner, and as the company grew, Jack gained promotions and ended up as a Regional Sales manager. The chap who hired him in that first shop was Phil Harris, Later Lord Harris of Harris Carpets fame. (I shall come back to this later.)
Jack and his family moved from Ilford to Hemel Hempstead and later to Stevenage when the village was deemed to be a "New Town" in the expansion planning of the 1950's. While he was still living in Ilford he joined the British Legion and turned out as a free scoring batsman for their cricket team. Jack would either open or go in first or second wicket down. Coincidentally my Dad also played for the same team, and was the opening fast bowler. Jack said he only faced Dad's bowling once in the nets and refused to do it again. Jack probably could have played at a professional or semi professional level, and my Dad was scouted by Essex County as they were looking for a replacement for Ken Farnes who had lost his life in a flying accident when training during the War, so the Ilford British Legion Cricket First XI were a pretty impressive squad of players. One story I was told involved my Gran telling Jack if he scored a century that afternoon she would buy him a pint after the match. Dad heard this and asked if he could get a pint too. Gran told him to take five wickets. So Jack went in to bat, got his head down and duly scored a century. Dad, not to be beaten took his five wickets. I think Gran was pleased!

As time passed, Jack bought himself a car so that his growing family could all be kept together when travelling. Also Jack was making a name as a fairly successful ten pin bowler and won a few competitions around the Home Counties and Essex. I can't remember exactly what make or model it was, but it had a starting handle so must have been something from before the War, or possibly very early '50's. Anyway, one day he had some trouble when out on the road when the engine spluttered to a halt miles from anywhere. He opened the bonnet to see what was wrong, even though he was pretty clueless about mechanical things. (He called the distributor "That black Bakelite thing down the side of the engine.") Not finding anything obviously wrong, he tried starting it with the key, but the battery was not turning the engine fast enough, so he fetched the starting handle from the boot and inserted it through the hole in the front bumper. Not being able to see where it fitted into the crankshaft pulley, he went back to the boot to get a torch. Returning to the front, he promptly whacked his shins on the handle rather painfully. He managed to get the handle in place, and after a couple of turns remembered he hadn't turned the ignition back on. Going back to do this, he somehow managed to bash his shin again with the door. Getting rather irate and short tempered, he went back to the front of the car and made heavy contact with the starting handle once again. It didn't help matters that his wife, Aunt Sybil, was struggling desperately not to laugh. Anyway, Jack tried starting the engine again but without any success. Eventually, as he and Sybil were contemplating what to do, another motorist saw their predicament and stopped to help. Seeing that Jack was a member of the RAC, he gave him a lift to find a phone box and call for help.
When the patrolman arrived, Jack and Sybil were sheltering in the car with the bonnet up. The patrolman told them to stay where they were while he investigated what was wrong, walked round to the front of the car and whacked his shin on the starting handle that Jack had forgotten to remove. Eventually after re-gapping the points and tuning the carburettor they got the car moving going again. The patrolman kindly put the starting handle back in the boot and drove off.

Jack enjoyed a long career with Harris Carpets and was often invited by Lord Harris to join him at events such as the show jumping tournaments at Earls' Court or Olympia in London. On these occasions Jack would travel down from Stevenage by train. One night, after the show he made it back to Euston just in time to catch the last train. Unfortunately he fell asleep, missed the stop at Stevenage and woke up just in time to get off at Huntingdon. I believe that finding a taxi at that time of night in a small town was a challenge!

During the 1990's a part my job involved selling aerosol spray adhesives to customers, and I came across a number of independent traders who had worked for Harris Carpets, and they all remembered my Uncle Jack. They all spoke highly of him, which was very pleasing. Jack crossed the bar in 1994, and my brother and I attended his funeral in Stevenage Old Town. The Vicar gave a nice eulogy, beginning his talk with the words;

"I never met Jack, as I think his preferred establishment to gather with friends was more like the property over the road!"

The "property over the road" was a pub.

The Vicar did, however, read out a nice valediction from Lord Harris, which told us of Jack's long service and contribution to the success of that company.

Anyway, as Ray said, he was one of Life's unforgettable characters.
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Old 9th May 2020, 14:53
Spursnut England Spursnut is offline
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Hi Roy, I was right, he was a true character! To think he was just down the road from me in my younger years too. I was born in Romford, lived my early years in Dagenham and went back to Romford in my early teens and then on to Brentwood, all within 40 minutes of Ilford. Stevenage too, I have spent many an hour in MBDA, and I will pm you a very humorous story of an incident in there mate. You were obviously very close to your Uncle Jack, and he really does seem to have been very streetwise, you have always needed to be in East London!!!
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Old 9th May 2020, 18:06
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Ray,

We must have passed each other in a street somewhere! I grew up just North of Chadwell Heath, and we would get the bus into Romford most Saturdays for shopping. I can remember Romford Market during the week too when going there in the school holidays. My Uncle, who was my Mum's brother, grew up and lived in Seven Kings until he married Aunt Sybil. Two of my Aunts and Uncles lived in Brentwood in the 1970's and '80s,too. One couple had a bungalow there before moving further out to Woodbridge, the other a nice house before their children got married and moved away.

Uncle Jack would do a tour of as many nieces and nephews as he could every Christmas and leave his presents for them. I would usually get one of the larger Airfix kits, which started a lifelong hobby. I remember getting Dad to help with some of the trickier ones, like the Avro Lancaster, or HMS Hood. Eventually I built others myself, but they have all got lost in various house moves.

Happy days indeed.
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