A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

In memory of my dad

My dad, Anthony Philip Akehurst, died aged 83 on 9th May 2022. I wanted to tell his story so that future generations of the family, and anyone else who chooses to read this, will know a bit about this kind, modest, generous, helpful and caring man.


It’s impossible to tell dad’s story without setting it in the context of place, because he was born, lived all except two years of his life, worked and died all within about a 20-mile radius. Go to a map of East Kent and draw a rough quadrilateral with the west side being the River Stour, the north side the A2 from Canterbury to Dover, the east side the channel coast from Dover through Folkestone to Dungeness, and the south side a line from there to Ashford. Almost everything in dad’s life happened in this little part of the aptly named Garden of England.


Every day for 40 years my dad would drive to work on his farm every morning and back every evening through scenery literally labelled as an area of outstanding natural beauty. He was deeply rooted in this place, and he understandably didn’t want to be anywhere else.


Tony was born in July 1938 in his parents’ home, Kano, in the village of Dymchurch on Romney Marsh. He was the fourth of five children, with older brother Douglas already being 13, and sisters Daphne and Olive 10 and 7. His little brother Bob was born after the war in 1947. Dad’s father Philip was an insurance agent. Phil and his wife Freda were highly religious people, very active at the time in the Salvation Army, but later leaving it after some kind of falling out over the running of the local branch’s band. The whole family were musical – there is a press cutting I have from a local newspaper detailing all the different instruments each family member including aunts and uncles played.


The early years of dad’s life were played out with World War Two as the backdrop, in one of the most dangerous places in the country. East Kent was known as Hell’s Corner because it was the nearest part of England to the Nazi occupied continent, hence subject to air threat and in the case of Dover, where one of dad’s granddads lived, to long range artillery bombardment from Calais. Dymchurch, with its lovely wide sandy beach, would have been a key landing point for Operation Sealion, Hitler’s planned invasion, and dad’s house was immediately behind the sea wall. His parents were advised to evacuate but were stubborn and the family stayed through the entire war years in this potentially vulnerable location. Dad’s father was away serving in the RAF, serving as a ground crew electrician at the Lincolnshire base of 617 Squadron, the famous Dam Busters. For a little boy, the war was exciting. Dad saw both German and Allied aircraft, and later V1 doodlebug flying bombs, fly low over the sea wall. Next door was an anti-aircraft artillery gun base with soldiers to chat to. American GIs would come past and hand out sweets. Dad assembled a collection of shrapnel.


Dad didn’t enjoy school, other than showing a talent at Secondary Modern school for woodwork and metalwork. His only anecdotes about it were about avoiding being in the front row so the teacher couldn’t whack him on the knuckles with a yard ruler. He left with no qualifications as quickly as he was legally allowed, which in those days was just 15 years old.


At this tender age, he started working as a farm labourer, in his words “shovelling chicken shit out of sheds”.


In April 1954, Phil and Freda moved from Dymchurch to Clipgate Farm, at Lodge Lees, a hamlet between Barham and Denton, and took up farming, so from this point Dad was working on the family farm. The holding initially consisted of 10 acres of land, a timber bungalow of a type built in 1919 for returning WW1 officers, chicken sheds and pigsties. In the first few years Clipgate produced eggs, which were sold to the public in the neighbouring towns and villages via an egg round. Pigs were also reared for sale at Canterbury and Ashford Markets. Dad talked about Christmases dominated by plucking vast numbers of turkeys. Over the years the farm slowly grew in size and diversity, particularly taking on contracting work to make it more cost effective to own tractors and combine harvesters, with major clients being at times Kent County Council for grass verge cutting and snow ploughing, and Pfizer, who owned an experimental farm next door at Breach Farm in the Elham Valley.


At 18, Dad was unlucky to be part of the final intake of conscripts who had to do two years of Cold War era National Service. Like his father and elder brother Doug he went into the RAF. He served on bases near Stratford-on-Avon and in Wiltshire, the only time in his life he ever lived away from Kent. His duties were to be a telephone operator, and because he could already play a trumpet from his Salvation Army days, a bandsman. He claimed in later life to be able to assemble and disassemble blindfolded all the main small arms, Bren LMG, Sten SMG and Lee Enfield rifle, in the event that Soviet parachutists had landed at night! He didn’t enjoy air force service. It was boring, arduous, they had very little money and he was homesick. If given weekend leave, he would motorcycle all the way back to Clipgate to get Sunday lunch at home.


Back home working on the farm, dad’s social life centred on the East Kent Young Farmers, which I believe he was an office holder in. He played bass guitar in a band with Bob his younger brother on lead guitar and earned money from gigs at weddings and the like well into the 1980s. Whatever he got up to in the 1960s before meeting mum, he never told us!


In 1970 he met my mum, Nan Davies, at a jazz gig at Bridge Country Club. You can read more about mum here: http://lukeakehurst.blogspot.com/2021/04/in-memory-of-my-mum.html


He fell in love with this trendy and stylish young woman, who was eight years younger than him and from a rather more middle-class background. They had in common a love of music, and families that, whilst otherwise not very similar, were both staunchly Labour.


In October 1971 they married at Canterbury Registrar’s Office, and initially lived with mum’s parents in Rough Common, on the edge of Canterbury. Dad became very close to his in-laws George and Molly, who were delighted that their daughter had met a calming influence!


My mum viewed dad both with adoration but also as a long-term project – a rough-edged farm boy who needed to be poshed up a bit. She made him read library books every week, with some success as he got really into the historical novels of George MacDonald Fraser and William Clive. I’m not clear if listening to classical music was something he had done before, or a mum-imposed thing. She corrected his speech - dropped H’s and saying “ain’t” and swearing too much. He ignored her and carried on speaking the way he always had. Later she got him to give up smoking, but I’m fairly sure he carried on sneaking the occasional roll-up at work. He was given a constant rota of jobs around the house and garden, which must have been exhausting on top of a tough physical job at the farm. The bit of her lifestyle he really did buy into was the food, he was prepared to accept being bossed about as it came with cordon bleu dinners.


The family grew, to dad’s delight – the beam on his face in pictures with us as babies is something else. I was born in 1972 and my brother Sam in 1974 and sister Ella in 1976.


Dad was a wonderful father. He played sports with us and whilst he wasn’t that engaged directly in our play in the modern way he would ask us about everything we were doing and affect to being astonished by the complexity of our toy soldier battles compared to his. Where there were practical tasks, like fixing a Hornby railway set onto a massive base board, his DIY skills came into play. He drove us around on request to school, to drop us off to go running, and when we were sixth formers to and from the pub. On Saturday mornings in the school holidays he would often take us to the farm while he worked, leading to my brother taking a deep interest in tractors and their engines which set him on the path to be a Professor of Mechanical Engineering. He didn’t push advice or life lessons on us, but was there if we needed to talk to him, as long as it wasn’t over the phone, his conversations on that being limited to “I’ll just get your mother”. Everything we did or achieved seemed to delight and amaze him. When my sister encountered health problems, he devoted himself to her care, and has been there for her for decades providing incredible support through many ups and downs.


After a couple of years living with Molly and George, dad and mum moved to Coverts, another of the 1919 bungalows in Lodge Lees, on the plot next to Clipgate.


Dad was initially working on non-farm jobs as an insurance agent for his father’s old employer Wesleyan and General, and then as a sheet metal worker and later foreman at ActionAir and Canterbury Sheet Metal Works. He hated the factory jobs, and missed farming, so in the late ‘70s he went back to work on the family farm, staying there for the rest of his working life. This was the only major decision he ever took without mum and it angered her a lot, but I think it was probably essential for his happiness to be doing the job that he loved.


Farm life is necessarily seasonal, and my childhood memories are of dad almost staggering through the door having worked every daylight hour at harvest time, sunburnt and covered in dust from the combine harvester.


Throughout my childhood dad never earned much, money always seemed to be extremely tight. Their financial situation only really improved in the 1990s. Dad personally never carried any money at all, he gave his entire pay straight to mum as he didn’t want the rows over money he had seen between his own parents.


In 1979 mum and dad, having waited for a decent rather than decaying home for several years, benefited from the Callaghan government’s push on new social housing and were allocated a newly built house on The Hyde, an estate in the village of Chartham, just south of Canterbury. They lived in Chartham the rest of their lives, moving in the early ‘90s to Swanhaven, a house in the heart of the village. Mum’s extensive involvement in the village community and various clubs and committees meant that dad had a supporting role helping set up fetes, fairs and jumble sales, and helping us be perennial winners of “most unusual pet” competitions by bending the rules to include farm animals.


As we grew up and had families of our own, dad was delighted to become father-in-law to my wife Linda and Sam’s wife Catherine, both of whom he adored. He became a much-loved grandfather to a total of five little boys and has played an important role in bringing up my sister’s son Caspar, as she is a single parent and has lived with him at Swanhaven.


Dad made his first ever trip abroad with me (a day trip to Boulogne) as late as 1991, but he wasn’t a narrow-minded person, he liked to know about the wider world and enjoyed holidays with his children in Portugal and Italy and a period where he and mum explored Europe on coach trips.


I’m not 100% sure when dad formally retired from the farm, as he didn’t let on to mum that he had done so, and carried on going there every day, possibly to avoid being set chores. In any case, the ratio of tractor driving to tea breaks gradually reversed over time. He loved to spend time there with Bob and his wife Averil, who were not just his relatives and business partners, but also his closest friends. As late as the week before he died dad was at Clipgate, driving a golf buggy with Bob.


Having enjoyed robust health until he was nearly 80, Dad was diagnosed with a progressive lung disease in 2019, and this eventually caused his death, but he bore this unpleasant illness uncomplainingly and with considerable dignity, alongside deterioration in his hearing and eyesight which meant that he had to give up his car. Losing mum in April 2021 was a devastating blow to him after 49 years of loving marriage, but he was determined to carry on enjoying life, and in this last year enjoyed time spent with family and trips out to eat and to visit the farm. After mum’s death it was very touching that my private and reserved dad felt able to talk about his love for her and for us, and to hear how much we all loved him.


His mind was sharp and he kept his love of life right to the end, the week before his death he was still enjoying steak and a glass of wine at home.


Like many farmers, dad combined a love of being in the countryside and around nature with a passion for machinery and engines and driving. He loved music and could play piano, trumpet and guitar, and listened to a wide range of sounds but particularly trad jazz. He enjoyed both hearty food and fine dining, red wine, a G&T and a pint of Shepherd Neame Master Brew bitter.


He was a modest and somewhat shy man who never boasted about anything, but took obvious pride in his wife, children and grandchildren and their achievements.


But he was also extremely passionate in his political views. A lifelong socialist and Labour supporter, and in the ‘80s a big fan of Tony Benn, he was angry about injustice and inequality, and hated the Tories and the SDP.


He retained a keen interest in current affairs right until the final hours of his life, when he was asking about Ukraine and the local election results.


I never heard anyone say dad had done them any wrong, and I met many, many people he had helped through countless small acts of kindness. Everyone who met him enjoyed his company, and he was held in great affection by an incredible range of people.


He lived his life selflessly, working hard, nurturing and caring for his family, always putting others first.


He was fundamentally a very good, and lovely man, who consistently did the right thing as a husband and father.


I am honoured to be his son and loved him very much.


Dad is survived by his three children, five grandsons and his brothers Doug and Bob.


Blogger Stewart Wood said...

I am sure he was honoured to be your father, and loved you very much too, Luke.

2:53 pm, May 11, 2022

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry for your loss Luke but you've done him proud here.

3:11 pm, May 11, 2022

Anonymous Dan Neidle said...

So sorry to hear about your loss, Luke - the article is lovely. May his memory be a blessing.

3:56 pm, May 11, 2022

Anonymous Matthew Leigh said...

Dear Luke, This is a lovely tribute. I'm really sorry for your loss but it's clear that your father was treasured.

4:26 pm, May 11, 2022

Anonymous Gill Hulse said...

Thank you Luke, this is such a wonderful tribute to your Dad. He quite often used to babysit for us when we lived in the Hyde in the 1980’s. He was so patient and kind to our two daughters. I am sure you all miss him very much.

6:53 pm, May 11, 2022

Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is wonderful. I hope you and your family are bearing up ok.

8:52 pm, May 11, 2022

Anonymous Andy McKay said...

Hi Luke, that paints a very endearing and detailed picture of a clearly principled and kind man. Detailing his life in this way is a lovely gesture.

11:31 am, May 12, 2022


Post a Comment

<< Home

Free Hit Counters
OfficeDepot Discount