Farewell to Arthur

Yesterday I came home to the sad but not surprising news that Arthur had died. He would have been 97 on Independence Day, he was always proud of the fact he was born on that day, and after years of failing health was seriously ill with cancer. I had forgotten just how horrible this disease is in the final weeks as the person’s body slowly shuts down.

So not a surprise but certainly sad. Arthur was unofficially adopted by our family and many others. I certainly regarded his as an unofficial great uncle who lived opposite my grandmother and who would go everyday at 3pm for afternoon tea.

Arthur had no surviving family that I know about. His wife died a few years ago leaving him very lonely, so my image now is of him sat next to his wife in heaven. They had no children despite a desire to do so, Arthur loved children and would I’m sure have been a great father.

Yet, whilst he was lonely after Elna’s death, he had many friends who became his family. The Methodist Church, which he joined in his youth, was his family. He served as a lay preacher for 70 years and for the last twenty years Monks Road Methodist Church was his family.

Arthur was a quiet, little man but he has lived through some of the great moments of history. I know some of his stories, the ones he repeatedly told at tea at Grandma’s. I wish I had had chance to ask him more.

This is a history blog, and he lived through history, so I think it only fitting he has a post dedicated to his history.

Arthur, or Claude Arthur, was born in Guernsey in 1921. His family did not have much money. His stories from these school days include the year that Santa forgot him. He awoke one Christmas to find no presents and when he went to his uncle, his uncle promised he would come the next year. I never liked to ask what had happened.

A happier story was the day his teacher was telling them stories about Jesus. This obviously had a large impact on Arthur and began his lifelong involvement in the church.

He was a very clever person but like many had to leave school as soon as he was fourteen to go to work for a company that sold tomatoes in greenhouses. Apparently this was a major island trade back then due to its warmer climates.

Arthur always retained a love for his childhood home and would go back for visits with his wife before she became ill.

But he left at the age of eighteen with the other young men and children just before the Germans invaded the Channel Islands in 1940. Despite the British Government’s decision not to protect the Islands from invasion, many children escaped to safety and many young men like Arthur came to fight for the British Army.

However, Arthur has always had bad eyesight. For years we have had to introduce ourselves if we saw him out and about, as his eyesight was so bad he could not see our faces clearly enough to see who it was. And yet they gave him a gun and set him on target practice.

However, it didn’t last long, his sight was so bad! Instead he served for two years in support roles, first working in the mess canteen and later as an Officer’s Batman.

But after two years he was discharged from the Army due to his eyesight and sent to work for a company making soldiers’ uniforms. He was in charge of the stock room, which must has held responsibility as he still seems shocked at how his pay doubled from what the Army had paid him.

He often told the story of how he arrived at the train station alone and asked one of the VAD ladies, there to welcome new arrivals, where the nearest Methodist Church was located. He was already a member of the Church and his instinct was to find a group he knew already as his family. The lady turned out to be the Minister’s wife and she welcomed him to the town and the local church.

At some stage in his late twenties, I think, he went to Cliff College.

Now if you have ever met Arthur he would have mentioned Cliff College. It was clearly the happiest period of his life.

Cliff College used to train Methodist Lay Preachers, and it is still a religious college but now open to all denominations.

The Methodist Church had always been important to Arthur, and he was keen at studying. So having the chance to study the bible with like minded people, and training to preach and spread the word of God by preaching at different missions was clearly a high point of his life. It is therefore no wonder he loved to recall this period of his life so often.

I think he would have liked to be a Minister but he said noone thought he could cope with all the study with his eyesight. Instead he served as a lay preacher for seventy years and still preached occasionally into his nineties.

He was asked to stay on to help in the college canteen and there he meet his wife, who I think was a cleaner, who always went to the local church. So he fell in love and got married.

Sadly, they never had children as much as they both would have loved them. But they were happily married until Elna died nearly ten years ago, leaving him very lonely.

At some stage in the sixties they arrived in Lincoln and Arthur worked as a caretaker, first at Big Wesley, the main central Methodist Church in Lincoln, which has since been demolished.

Later he worked as a caretaker at Lincoln College and then at Our Lady’s Church in Lincoln. He clearly enjoyed working with the children and they liked him too. They would often tell him their worries. He always talked with mystified horror about the child that told him they loved him more than their father because their father beat them.

He and Elna used to look after friends’ children, even taking them on holidays.

When fit and able, the two of them travelled all over Europe on holiday. They even visited Communist Russia during the Cold War.

After Elna’s death, Arthur was lonely despite his many friends. Until a few years ago he would regularly go on holidays or out for days on the bus or train on his own. Until the last few months he still went into town and church events several times a week, and for long walks.

I used to frequently see Arthur on the bus on his way home after another adventure out. Ask if he was okay, he would always reply, “I wish my eyesight was better, but I’m okay”.

He used to scare us given how bad his eyesight was and how he never looked when he crossed roads, not that he could see coming cars. He would go for long walks to areas he didn’t know despite long tellings off by Grandma to be safer.

Yet, despite getting lost or turning ill or falling on several occasions, someone always came to his aid and helped him up and home.

My last memory of Arthur when he was still active was having given him a hug and kiss after tea at Grandma’s and watching him walking unsteadily across the road home. I choose to remember the image of a funny looking little man who was as brave as a lion until the end.

A man who always had lots of friends, and kept plodding on no matter what.

Farewell Arthur. And a glorious happy ever after reunited in heaven with Elna.


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