Thursday, March 6, 2014

Memorial Tribute

By Emma Kimber


We come to a memorial service with our own thoughts and feelings and with our own beliefs about life and death. Whatever form those beliefs take, whether they are religious or not, we all of us have the same human needs. Those are universal. Faced with the death of a loved one we all need to find suitable ways in which to express our grief. We need to honour those we have loved and to demonstrate our love as generously as we can and sometimes we need to find the strength to begin our own lives all over again.

As a result, this ceremony will simply be a quiet and thoughtful attempt to celebrate the life of someone who has been very dear to you. It gives us an opportunity of expressing gratitude for a life shared and enjoyed. We shall speak of friendship, admiration and love. And we shall remind ourselves of the richness of our memories. From these, I hope you will be able to take both joy and comfort.

We are here to remember and celebrate the life of Philip Smalley, who passed away on 9 January, aged 92. I know that some of you have just come from scattering his ashes at the paddock at Green Pastures, but at this time of revisiting your grief, I hope you can remember Philip with joy in your hearts and not be too sad at his loss.

Mark and Roger have given much thought to this memorial service, as had Philip himself, and he expressed his desire to have a Humanist ceremony. My name is Emma Kimber and I am a celebrant of the British Humanist Association and it is my privilege to have been asked to conduct this ceremony for Philip today.

It is normal to be sad on these occasions because in a very real sense, Philip is no longer physically part of your lives. The process of grieving, too, is natural  - all that has life, has its beginning and its end. Life’s significance lies in the experiences and satisfactions we achieve in that span and Philip’s life was certainly full to the brim of fulfilling events in his work and family life. He lived life according to his values, and his influence lives on in the unending consequences that flow from his life and character.

Now, rather unusually but somewhat wonderfully, I have a message from Philip to you all gathered here today. This was passed on to me by a Humanist celebrant colleague, Peter Herridge, who took  Peg’s funeral some years ago and who met Philip last November to discuss his funeral. The message from Philip reads as follows: “Dear folks, I was just getting the hang of it when the music stopped, so I would like to thank you all for celebrating my life".

Mark and Roger have asked me to say a few words about Philip’s life on their behalf and we shall also hear more personal tributes from grandchildren Carolien and Marlies. A piece of music specially chosen by Philip himself will be played about half way through the service and to finish, we will have a poem read to us by a great friend of Philip’s, Graham Boaler.

Philip was born on  the 29th of May, 1921 in Lytham St Annes, near Blackpool,  to parents Sam and Grace and was the youngest brother to Cyril, Grace and Phyllis. His childhood was spent mostly outdoors and mostly, up to mischief – a typical little boy growing up in an era of no radio, television and certainly no computers. His parents owned a corner grocery shop and brother Cyril was away in Birmingham working as a journeyman joiner whilst sisters Grace and Phyllis were busy trying to make a living in Fleetwood market selling cheap clothing or jewelry.

When the Second World War started Philip was working at Redman's Grocery Store in Blackpool and it wasn't too long before all his contemporaries were all talking about joining up. Of all the Forces, Philip chose the Royal Navy  - he said that a big factor in all this was the question of which branch of the services had the most liberal attitude to smoking and which had the best uniform!

He joined up In February 1940 and within a few weeks of beginning his Commission, they received a signal from the Admiralty to join up with the Battle cruiser H.M.S. Hood and try and intercept the German Battleship Bismark and Battle cruiser Prince Eugene. Philip witnessed the infamous sinking of H.M.S Hood which was an event that shook the whole country and the Navy especially, as she was the very symbol of power and strength.

Philip’s naval career during the war took him all over the world, including Malta, Singapore, South Africa, Malaya and Ceylon as Sri Lanka was known then.  In 1943 he contracted a bout of dengue fever that everybody called "dingy" fever. He spent some time in the hills in a convalescent camp recuperating but his time in the East was coming to an end. He arrived back in U.K. in the spring of 1944 and was stationed in the main barracks at H.M.S. Drake.

The war came to an end and on 5 January 1946, Philip was released into civvy street. He was fitted out with a dark blue three piece suit and a matching trilby hat. He first made his way to his mother’s new home at Duneside but this was not to be a permanent situation for Philip. He was keen to get to London and join his brother Cyril in whatever venture they could bring about. The venture turned out to be photography and after six months, Philip was approached by The Sunbeam Photographic Company to work taking photos of the general public on the prom an beach at Folkestone. He went, and it was there that destiny awaited him. He met a “slim young woman” named Peg, who was working in the company office. 

Before long he was introduced to the rest of the Wigens family and his life was changed for ever. Not only had he fallen in love with Peg, but the whole family were a revelation to him in genuine kindness and consideration.

Philip and Peg were married on 6 Nov 1948 at All Souls Church in Folkestone and they went on honeymoon to the Trouville Hotel, Bournemouth, which Philip described as “full of old-aged pensioners”. The couple moved to London in 1949 and children soon followed - Mark was born in  1953 and Roger some three years later. The family gradually enlarged over the years with the arrival of grandchildren Eric, Carolien and Marlies, Harry and Catherine, and great grandson Daniel.

[Readings Carolien and Marlies]

Philip and Peg worked together in their Developing & Printing business on the Fulham Road, often doing the 'rounds' and delivering photos to chemist shops in the west London area and collecting films to be processed. Life in London was busy but enjoyable. Weekends were often spent at the Isle of Grain and they visited the Italian Bertorelli's restaurant at South Kensington and the Greek Cosmopolitan in Putney for Sunday lunches.

Both Philip and Peg passed on their sense of gratitude about their lives to Mark and Roger and taught them to enjoy sharing their good fortune and to celebrate how lucky they were to live in a nice house with enough money behind them. Their family life was also influenced by the strong bond of Peg and her sisters and the close and caring extended family.

Travelling was always a joy for Peg and Philip. It was in 1965 that they journey to Jersey. Other family holidays were spent in the South of France, Spain and Mallorca. 1972 saw the first of 7 trips to Canada, the last of which was when Edith's granddaughter, Marnie Drake, married in 1999.  Other destinations included Texas, Portugal, Australia & NZ, South Africa, Israel, Venice and Malta.

After Philip's retirement in 1985 they moved to Green Pastures, here in Holton. They both adored gardening and Peg was in charge of keeping things looking tidy, leaving the heavy jobs to her husband. Philip and Peg received a card from Queen Elizabeth on their diamond anniversary in 2008. This was to be the last big family occasion before Peg’s health began to deteriorate. She sadly died in February 2009 but with the support of his family and friends around him, Philip continued on his own journey of life.   

When Philip was diagnosed with throat cancer, he started a journal entitled “The Writing On The Wall” which started on 10 December 2012 and stopped on Christmas Eve 2013. He remembered an incident possibly a year earlier when he was assailed by a violent sensation in his throat and from then on had difficulty in swallowing – this, he concluded, was the beginning of the cancer and in his own words, “this is a case of the great movie coming to the end where the lion roars again and a big guy bangs a gong.”

The journal is 85 pages long and is a very moving piece of writing about someone who knows their time is almost up, but what struck me the most about it is that there is not a scrap of self-pity, anger or resentment within the words Philip wrote, which reveals the truly noble character of the man. I’d like to read to you just a few excerpts from the journal in Philip’s own words – most of them funny but some more poignant:

December 2012 – “mischievously, I toy with the thought that I allow the news of my cancer to leak into the public domain in one spot and observe how it travels through the village and how folk would handle it, and I would adopt the manner of a veteran who has been awarded a medal for long service and tell people if they live long enough they will get one too.”

Jan 2013 – “I could have a year or at the very, very best 5 years. Well it is quite possible I would die of something else before succumbing to cancer in that time. So, if I get two peach seasons in the bag I would indeed be lucky. Asked of the Radiographer how many machines there were and the answer was three. I said to the same radiographer that at nearly 92 I don’t have much of a future but “I do have a past” at which pricked her ears up and said “A past !”  - yes, and it’s been written up in the local paper and I’ll let you read it tomorrow, I said.”

April – “the afternoon brought momentous news of the birth of Daniel Philip my first great grandson to Carolien in Holland. Four weeks premature but a perfect birth. Mark sent a video and some photos by email -  great joy all round.”

May – “throat very difficult quite painful now.  Saw Dr Fox at 2.30 and she soon broached the subject of my prognosis and asked whether I would like to have the death at home or hospital as needed to make provision for that and for me to think about what I wanted as the end was likely to be not too far away. My stiff upper lip was nowhere to be seen and it was a bit tearful I regret to say. But she was very understanding and supportive.”

June – “picked up at 9.00am and then to St Margaret’s Hospice centre. Made very welcome. More volunteers than walking wounded. Super garden nicely laid out. Joined them for lunch which for me included a G&T!! Did not see the hospice side of things at this visit but as I can come again will see it then. Taken home at 3m. Roger waiting for me when I got home.”

July – “my Dr Fox appointment was at 11.0 but just before that the doorbell rings and standing there were a couple looking so upright and bushy tailed I could not avoid saying “Jehovas Witnesses?” to which  they said yes. I just knew it, says I, you have that glow about you, do you put it on when you get up in a morning? And so on and then said “ Sorry you can’t do much for me I’m Jewish, Mazel Tov, and so they trotted off all merry and bright.”

August – “great excitement at around eight in the evening when Cory came in to the sitting room showing off her engagement ring, congratulations were the order of the day.”

November - Peter Herridge, the Humanist celebrant, arrived at spot on 10:30. We talked and talked and by then time got to 11.45 he really knew all about me and my wishes I got to know something about his Navy career and life afterwards. He departs with a modest bunch of grapes.

In an email I received from Peter Herridge describing that very meeting, Peter said, “I met with Philip on the 20th of November 2013.  Although clearly unwell he was still bright and lucid with a real twinkle in his eye and we shared an hour of delightful humour. He was an extraordinary chap”

December – “Mark busy getting out the mosaics from the veg plot to the site around the tree. Managed to drink a cuppa with the aid of a straw, slowly, slowly. For the last two days had the feeling that there was a monkey sitting on my left shoulder.”

Tuesday 24th December – The monkey didn’t appear today...

And this is where the journal ends.  At 8am Christmas morning an ambulance was called and he was taken to Yeovil hospital where he initially recovered, only to pass away at home on Jan 9th. Mark said that whereas the stay in hospital was trying, the final week at home could not have been better, with support from St Margaret's Hospice, Marie Curie, Somerset Care and the District Nurses and for that, we should all be thankful.

Period of reflection
We’re now going to hear some music, it’s called “Whispering Grass” by The Ink Spots, specially chosen by Philip for this occasion. If you would like take some time now to reflect on all the wonderful times you’ve spent with Philip, then please do take this opportunity to do so now.

Closing words
On behalf of the family, I would like to thank you all for sharing in this ceremony today. May I say how disappointed I am not to have ever met Philip but that is has truly been a privilege to have read about his life and taken this memorial service for him. He has enriched all the lives of everyone gathered here today.  

[Reading Graham: The Lion and Albert]

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