My Grandfather Tom Gatford.
Sadly one of our members, Tom Gatford, passed away on 18th April 2020. He was in his 100th year of life! There was a family only cremation on Friday 15th May but we will be having a celebration of his life later in the year which everyone will be welcome to attend – please get in touch if you knew Tom and would like to come.
His grandson, Mark, has kindly set up a ‘Just Giving Page’ to raise funds for The Italy Star Association. If you feel that you would like to contribute please use the link below:
The money raised will help The Italy Star Association in its work with the veteran members of the Campaign in Italy 1943 – 1945.
On behalf of The Italy Star Association I would like to thank Mark and his family at this difficult time, and to anybody who has donated, ‘Thank You’
Mark has also written a eulogy to his grandad, which he has kindly shared with us below.
Robin Hollamby, National Vice Chairman, Italy Star Association 1939 – 1945.
Eulogy to Tom Gatford
Arthur (or Tom/Tommy/ Mr G. as he was known) was born on 6th June 1920 to Elizabeth and Charles in Norwood, Southall. He was the second youngest of six siblings – Nelly, Ted, Bill, Betty and Reg. He was a choirboy at St Mary’s Church, Bedfont Middlesex, where Rev. Philip Smith, who is laying him to rest is the vicar.
Tom married the love his life, Ivy Baker, on 7th June 1942 at St. Stephens Church in Hounslow. They had a daughter, Pat, in May 1947, requiring a move to Longford Avenue, Bedfont in Middlesex in 1952, this would become his much-loved home for nearly 70 Years.
In 1947, he joined the Royal Mail, or the GPO as it was back then, but took early retirement at the age of 60. In his 33 years, he worked his way up to inspector and was the chap who implemented the post code system for Twickenham sorting office (hence his initials, house number and Pat’s birthday all feature in his post code)! The GPO is also where Tom successfully introduced Pat to Dave. Dave was a GPO mechanic working in the Hounslow garage, and Tom asked him to come fix his Morris 1000 one Saturday morning and as they say… the rest is history.
Owing to his great age, Tom spent more years retired than he did working! Initially Tom’s retirement focused on nursing Ivy through her illness and until she sadly passed away. Later, his time in the Royal Artillery where he learned how to predict the weather from reading the clouds became an invaluable skill for his main passions – gardening, cricket and golf.
He would spend endless hours in his garden. As long as anyone can remember and much to everyone’s delight, he would give gifts of both the vegetables and the plants he grew to friends and family. He also dabbled with wine making, which was both delicious and potent in equal measure, so much so, Dave’s mum got very merry one Christmas Day and performed Knees Up Mother Brown before lunch! He liked a routine: Christmas Day was an example of this – 1pm lunch, followed by the Queen’s speech at 3pm and then after supper we used to play cards with penny coins until the early hours of the morning.
His other love was cricket. As a boy, Tom and his brother Bill were playing cricket on the Bedfont village green. We never did get to the bottom of who was batting or bowling, but what we do know is that a cricket ball broke the clock face of St Mary’s church tower, which explains why for a long time it was in disrepair. Tom passed on his love of cricket to his grandson, Mark. He, Ivy, Pat and Dave and Mark spent many hours playing cricket along the grassy seafront at Goring-by-sea near Worthing, followed by a cup of tea and the most massive chocolate éclairs in the Sea Lane cafe. This trip to Worthing was a favourite of his, Ivy’s and their dog, Whisky. He also loved watching village cricket at Headley near Box Hill in Surrey and BBC test cricket, in the days when England where struggling for form. He would be there with the batsman for every ball (you could say he had more focus than the English batsman), so much so, he wouldn’t notice if Pat took his plate of food away until much later!
Tom loved to listen to the radio (or wireless as he knew it). On the journeys home from Headley and Worthing we used to listen to Radio 2’s Tonight is Music Night on the car stereo. But it was during his time in the services that he developed his love for military music. During the summer months he used to take Dave’s mum and Mark to Kneller Hall on a Wednesday evening and to the Christmas Carol concert at St Edmund Church in Whitton.
Tom believed passionately in community and helping others. A prime example of this was his commitment to Heston and District Scottish Association, serving on the committee for 40 plus years by amongst other things, building the back drops for the themed evenings, collecting subs and then helping Barbara and Vera in the kitchen to make the teas and prepare the food. In more recent years, he also liked to help Pat by making the teas at the Whitton flower club.
He was a patient, tolerant and kind man who was good listener with the wisdom to let us think his advice was our own idea. He also spent many hours teaching Mark many of the skills that have made him the man he is today, they shared both the same birthday as well as many many fond memories – for example Mark learning to play chess (much patience was needed as Mark kept taking all his pieces), he also taught him how to make wooden bird boxes, helped him write his ‘reply to the lassies’ speech for Burns night and one very wet Tuesday morning he introduced Mark to golf at Hounslow Health.
Although Tom played golf, and had various ex-Post Office golfing buddies through the years – Peter, Norman, Jim… and others like Ray and Dave… to name but a few… Despite his resilience, let’s say that golf wasn’t one of his fortes. So much so, Dave joked that he played ‘Army golf’ because the ball went – left, right, left, right, left… and Pat adding that she would have Bing Crosby’s ‘It went straight down the middle’ played at his funeral. Tom took this ribbing in his stride, and even turned it into a positive… he would constantly re-appear from the undergrowth with a number of found golf balls to replace those lost by Mark.
Tom was conscripted in 1940 to the Royal Artillery 84th HHA Regiment, 260 Battery, B Troop. He served in the 1st Army where he was stationed in Bedfont, Windsor, Canvey Island and Dover before being shipped off to join with the 8th Army in 1942 landing in Algeria. He helped liberate Rome on 4th June 1944, where he also met the Pope; and his journey took him via Tunisia, Sicily, and the Battle of Montecassino. After the war he was stationed in Rome, where he was tasked with driving officers to and from Calais, France. Ironically, he only passed his driving test in 1948, a year after being discharged from the Army!
Tom loved to drive. David Potton has found memories of trips with his parents, and Tom and Ivy to Box Hill in their Morris Minor. They even adventured to Scotland in their Volvo 340, to have a touring holiday with Pat and Dave. In more recent years, he enjoyed regular mini adventures to Arundel, Sussex to visit his niece, Jenny. She recalls how one day he cheekily convinced some tourists that the red Ferrari parked outside the Arundel castle was his. It was after 60+ years of driving and at the age of 95, Tom finally gave up driving in the first person, but he could always be relied upon as a ‘back sit driver’.
Despite his age, Tom was frustrated at getting old. At heart Tom was a proud man of 21 years – young – who was always impeccably dressed. The Italy Star events such as Field of Remembrance, and summer garden and Christmas parties helped lift his sprits in old age; giving him great enjoyment and something to look forward to.
Tom was also an associate member of the Coastal Forces because of his time helping to defend the ports during WW2. The ex-sailors were very fond of Tom and one particular reminisced how a visiting Admiral to Remembrance Sunday on HMS Belfast took the mickey out of Tom for being Army; but before he had chance to reply, one of his friends Harry, forcibly told the Admiral that Tom was their Pongo (an affectionate term for an Army soldier) and to go find his own Pongo! Together with Peter (Vera’s husband), Tom led the introduction of bringing grandchildren to the Coastal Forces get-togethers to help strengthen their bond and ensure that their memories would not be forgotten.
Tom would start these days out to Italy Star and Coastal Forces events using his frame or sitting in a wheelchair, but as soon as he was with his comrades you would see his posture lift and he would begin to march with a swagger. He loved sitting with his friends reminiscing about their shared service.
In addition to the long weekend’s away with old comrades from the Coastal Forces to Dover and Canvey Island; Tom and his brother, Ted, went on holiday together to Jersey. Despite Tom’s fear of flying he agreed to fly from Southampton airport. So on the lead up to the trip, Jenny would wind him up by suggesting the plane would be so small that they would be running down the runway helping the plane take off like the opening credits of the cartoon series Fred Flintstone.
At heart, Tom was a tinkerer who liked nothing more than taking things apart and (try to) put them back together again. He also liked a DIY project and if there was a tool then he would have to have it! Despite his perfectionism being somewhat frustrating at times, to his testament all his projects are still standing to this day, For example, he built his front garden brick wall, the cupboard above the stairs in David Potten’s parents home, and teamed up with Dave to build Pat’s kitchen and back garden patio. His young at heart mentality extended to DIY even at the age of 89 he was helping to scrape off old wallpaper and painting the walls of Mark’s first home; later that year, he fell off a ladder whilst trying to clean his first floor windows… You could say… he was as strong minded and determined… as he was old.
Tom was one of the last of a generation of true gentlemen who had a cheeky smile and infectious laugh; Until the end, he always had a sparkle in his eye and was a charmer with the ladies. Mark recalls a story where not so long after he stopped driving, he caught his grandad waving at the lady in the car next to them. When challenged by Mark, Tom replied, “The day I stop looking is the day they’ll put me in my box”. He had rare gift – everyone wanted to know Tom, everybody wanted to sit and chat with Tom, everybody trusted and truly liked Tom.
Tom believed in education. He encouraged Mark to fulfill this potential and some of Tom’s proudest moments was seeing Mark graduate from University twice; and being at the centre of Mark and Kate’s wedding at Cambridge University last August. He loved spending his last Christmas with his new in-laws, Chris and Sean (Kate’s parents) at Mark and Kate’s new family home near Box Hill. Tom was looking forward to his 100th birthday and was making preparations for his ‘Celebration of Life’ in their garden but sadly it wasn’t to be.
It is impossible to summarize Tom’s innings of 99 years and 10 months of life – well lived. In talking to many of his friends and family, what we have taken comfort in is… although our numerous memories of Tom are different, we all experienced and knew the same Tom.
We all agree that it was a pleasure and privilege to have called him – dad, grandad, uncle, comrade, and friend. He was much loved by all that knew him, he is sorely missed but memories last forever so deep down in our hearts we know he will not leave us!