Sunday, 4 September 2011

My Grandfathers

Inspired by the fact that today is Father’s Day in Australia and that I have just seen one of the saddest movies of all time, my next blog is dedicated to my grandfathers.
I was blessed to have four grandfathers, although I only really knew one of them well enough to write anything about with any real heartfelt emotion.

My paternal grandfather died when I was 10 years old and I curse my childhood memories sometimes, as they are not rich with any memories of him. What I do recall are only fractured scenes, like from a movie that you saw years ago and only remember snippets of. He left an indelible impression on me though, and his death caused my father such an outpouring of grief. I vividly remember being told to go to my father’s bedroom one afternoon, only to be told that Grandad Ward had passed away in hospital earlier that day. I shall never forget my father’s tears. For a child my age, it was an especially poignant moment for me.

Herbert Ambrose Ward was a quiet man, a somewhat serious man, and a bit of a loner I think. The opposite of this was his enormous sense of humour. He really enjoyed a good joke and liked to play pranks from time to time. My childhood memories of going to visit my grandparents are marked by the fact that he spent much of his time away from the hustle and bustle of noisy visitors and us over zealous grandchildren, preferring to stay in the kitchen preparing the pot for tea or going outside to tend to his garden.
Born 5 August 1910, in the market town of Bungay, he was the first-born son of Arthur Ward and Barbara Hargreaves. Having served in the Boer War Arthur was a strict, austere man who my father remembers, kept a rifle in his hallway by the front door! This is quite ironic of character given that Arthur gave his son the name Ambrose, from the surname of the man who ran his favourite local drinking establishment.

Herbert Ward, doing what he loved most
Herbert was a keen cinemagoer and he loved film all his life (one of all-time favourite actresses was Mary Pickford). During the war years he kept a diary of films he showed the troops at Barracks, as part of his service with the Royal Army Service Corps was with the Army Kinema Services. An electrician by trade before the war, Herbert's love of cinema won out and despite taking on a post-war job at Beccles Maltings, he worked in the evenings and weekends as a Projectionist at both the Regal Cinema and the Beccles Cinema in Saltgate.

I do recall visiting Grandad in the Projection Room after I had been with my father to see a film at Beccles. He would take me up the back stairs and we would enter this dark, pokey room filled with cigarette smoke and I would be deafened by the loud, clacking sound of film running through the reels.

My parents divorced when I was still quite young and my father married the second daughter of Frank William Denson and Mildred Alice Leach. Frank was born 18 April 1914 in Beccles, the son of William Denson and Frances Lillian Leon.

Frank Denson (left), taken at Beccles Museum
opening ceremony in 1975
My childhood memories of him is with a pipe permanently in his mouth. He looked stern and serious on first glance, but he was funny too. He liked to tell me about local affairs, more of a historical nature than current. Frank is a renowned Beccles historian and Borough Archivist, and for many years worked at the Museum. He has spent many years of his life transcribing and researching the history of the town. Frank is still very much alive, having celebrated his 97th birthday this year.

My maternal grandfather passed away one year before I was born and my grandmother married again two years later. By this time I was about 18 months old.
I grew up hearing countless stories about Percy Preston, not all of them very flattering. My mother certainly missed him terribly when he died (and, naturally, still does 44 years on), not least because their relationship was not always smooth sailing.
Percy could be a hardened man, made bitter from his war experiences, but he also possessed a heart of gold, which endeared him to many local townsfolk of Bungay.
(What struck me when I started researching the family history was that both my grandfathers were born (and lived during their formative years) in the same street of Bungay! If they knew one another back then, I was never made aware of it.)

Percy Preston, with his wife Lilian
Percy was the first-born son of Percy Preston (senior) and Ellen May Jolly, born 29 September 1913. Better known to everyone as Pat, he was well known in the town for his participation in the Salvation Army Band, and, in his post-war years, for his job as Dust Collector in Bungay, and CafĂ© owner in Cross Street. Percy would open his doors for anybody in need of a cup of tea and a plate of bacon & eggs. Lorry drivers would detour off the main road to Bungay based solely on Percy’s goodwill reputation around the district.

Since researching the family history in-depth I have acquired Percy’s army records and set about meticulously researching each individual service he completed. What unravelled was a gallant and sometimes heart-wrenching story.

From his pre-war service in Dacca, India to his capture at Dunkirk in 1940, his years spent in a Prisoner of War Camp on the Polish borders to his rehabilitation in 1943, and finally to his Medical training at Aldershot and subsequent service with the Ambulance Trains in Epsom, county Surrey, Percy spent a total of 29 loyal years in the British Army.

My grandmother married two years after Percy had passed away. This is the grandfather I remember best of all, and spent the most amounts of quality time with. I remember him for all sorts of different things, such as his tobacco (Drum), his use of Blycream and Old Spice, his love of Westerns (especially John Wayne movies) and reading crime novels. He worked hard all his life, and was not afraid of getting ”stuck in” wherever he was needed.

Alf "Buster" Sampson, with my mother Denise
Alfred James Sampson was born 3 July 1926 in Mettingham, county Suffolk and was the first-born son of James Sampson and Alice Trett. James Sampson ran a farm in Mettingham and all of his sons helped out, and none were adverse to the hard graft. I have many happy childhood memories of Grandad digging and planting in the allotment patch that he lovingly kept. He was always outdoors, getting his hands (and his clothes!) dirty and muddy, and frequently getting wet!

At the beginning of this blog, I mentioned I had been to see a sad movie today. It was called ‘Red Dog’ and it tells the true story of a red Kelpie who travelled the length and breadth of North-West Western Australia (the Pilbara Region) in the 1970s. One place he called “home” from time to time was Dampier.
When my Grandad, better known to everyone who knew him as “Buster”, emigrated to Australia in 1978, he worked harder than ever. Taking on a job in Dampier, he would be away from the family home for weeks at a time. Dampier was a hot and unforgiving place, a mining town, and a man’s man territory. Alf seemed to fit right in, and he made many firm friends over the years.

I sorely wish I had known each one of my grandfather’s better. Growing up, I would say the females of the family were a stronger influence and presence in my daily life. My grandfathers taught me to remain quiet inside, to feel strongly about something but not to act out in a gregarious way or be driven by material possessions. Also, they each possessed a fabulous sense of humour, each one of them loving to share a good joke and have a hearty laugh. It may sound daft but I always associated the men in my childhood like the company BP – they were the “Quiet Achievers” in my life!

So I end this blog by saying “Happy Father’s Day” to my dear father and to the fondest memory of each one of my grandfather’s – Percy (Pat), Herbert, Frank and Alfred (Buster).
You are all missed and you are all loved. I hope this blog will do each one of you a small piece of justice.


  1. You were lucky to have four Grandfathers - albeit your memories are few, but fond. I had two - one who I adored, and one who I was afraid of because he spoke with such a strong Dundee accent I couldn't understand him, and couldn't answer his questions so he shouted at me!

  2. Thank you for your comment. Admittedly, I had a good chuckle when I read about your scary Scottish grandfather! x