Willie - Instalment 2 (Work in progress)

I can only refer to the elements of Willie’s childhood that have survived in some form or other. My father rarely spoke about it.

Click on any photograph to enlarge it.

Willie became a member of the choir at Ilkeston Parish Church when he was aged about 7. That it was important to him is without question as he remained a loyal member for an astonishing 75 years. He was a talented singer. He was a soloist as a boy and later as a tenor. It's a great picture of him all ready go as Nanky Poo in the Mikado. (Coincidently, I've a very similar Mandolin hanging on my wall).

On the basis of his talents, he was offered a scholarship to one of the great Cathedral Choir Schools. His story is that his mother, Ethel, decided that such a course wasn’t “for the likes of them”, and the offer was declined.

He played football (soccer), he was a goalkeeper. That was a revelation to me as I’m passionate about the game – and yet never knew that he played. I just discovered the photograph and asked about it. Cricket was his main sport and I can remember him playing for local teams when he was in his forties.

Back to the singing. He tells the tale of how a well-to-do gentleman had left the request that Willie sing the beautiful “I know that my redeemer liveth” from Handel’s Messiah, at his funeral. At the time, Willie’s voice showed signs of breaking – a potential disaster. He was instructed by the choirmaster not to talk a word or to sing in the days leading up to the funeral. He even went to school armed with a letter of explanation. He made it, and received a  treasured letter of thanks from the gentleman’s family.

He was into amateur dramatics, meeting there a young school teacher, Nancy. I suspect the photograph of Willie leaning against the tree was a publicity shot. I hope so.

When he left school at 15, he was fortunate enough to find work in a local textiles company, run by an enterprising Dutch immigrant. He tells tales of  collecting cheese from the Netherlands from the railway station and rolling it down the hill to the factory for the owner.

In 1940, Willie followed Harry into the army, initially  as an infantry soldier, to take part in World War 2. (To be continued)