St Patrick’s Day 1923: my family connection

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When I was a child, I had a Grannie, Aileen Maltby. When she came to see us, she would sit at the kitchen table drinking tea. And as she did so she smoked, non stop. She didn’t even take the cigarette out of her mouth while she was speaking, it would balance precariously on her lip. A drift of smoke would curl upwards into her grey hair, which had developed a tobacco-coloured stripe at the front. Her conversation with my mother, sitting at the opposite end of the table, was often about her old hockey friends: redoubtable women with names like Peggy, Dorothy and Marjorie, always dressed like her in sensible tweed suits.

As a child I always knew that my grandmother had played hockey for England, and was later an international selector. In the 1960s, long after her playing days, the England women’s hockey team were given one Saturday each year when an international match was played at Wembley, and old internationals and selectors like her would get free tickets. As we lived in Gerrards Cross, much closer to the stadium than my grandparents’ cottage in Northamptonshire, she would arrive by car for a break on her way to the match. 

But what I did not know, until I came across my grandfather Ettrick’s diary in the early 2000s, was that her first international cap for England was against Ireland, and that the match was played in Dublin on St Patrick’s Day one hundred years ago, 17 March 1923. By then she was a mother of two, a daughter Audrey born in 1915 and a son David, born 1920. Ettrick’s diary records that he took her up to London to catch the boat train to Ireland, driving up together from their home in Hastings. 

His diary says nothing about what was going on in Ireland at the time, which makes me wonder how much was being reported in the English press. For 1923 would mark the first St Patrick’s Day celebrated by the new Irish Free State, and facing the challenge of a bloody Civil War. The first two weeks of March 1923 had already seen the deaths of six National Army soldiers, the execution of 16 Republicans and three grisly episodes in Kerry where anti-Treaty Republican prisoners had been tied to mines which were then exploded. 

St Patrick’s Day fell on a Saturday, but there was no let up in the number of incidents in the capital over the weekend. ‘Irregulars’ were arrested in Phibsborough and Manor Street and shooting incidents took place in Gardiner Place and Westmoreland Street. 

Did this trouble the English hockey players as they turned up in Sandymount on the Saturday afternoon for their match? The Hockey Field and Lacrosse magazine reported that there were some worries about the wisdom of a trip to Ireland, but it would seem the players themselves were not too bothered. According to the Irish Times, the day had dawned cold and bright, and the pitch was in perfect condition. England’s Miss Newell scored after ten minutes, following a ‘clever dribble’ and a pass by Miss Northwood. Two more goals quickly followed. In the second half, the Irish forwards made several breaks but couldn’t press home their attacks, and my grandmother, the goalkeeper, was ‘never really tested’. The match finished 3–0 to the visitors.

Next to the press report are two photographs. One is an action shot, excitingly captioned ‘An English attack checked’. The other shows the England team, but on a grainy microfilm I was unable to identify which one is Grannie. Two are wearing blazers over their pinafores, and I guess that, as the goalie, she must be one of these – but I can’t tell which. 

International hockey wasn’t the only sporting attraction taking place that day in Dublin. Reporters had attended a range of events where ‘sunshine gilded every view’. There was horse racing at Baldoyle, cross country in the Phoenix Park (won by the ‘Clonliffe crack’ HB Bingham) and a long list of matches under the heading of ‘Gaelic pastimes’ (one of which pitted the Civic Guards against the Grocers). Most exciting of all, however, was the light-heavyweight world championship boxing match at the Scala Theatre between the French champion, the Battling Siki, and Irish challenger, Mike McTigue.

Unfortunately, the fight – over 20 rounds – did not turn out to be an example of boxing at its best. ‘There was an almost total absence of those thrills and exciting incidents one is wont to associate with contests of such importance,’ says the report. This may not have mattered to the excited home crowd when McTigue’s ‘magnificent display of ringcraft, generalship and resourcefulness’ meant that he was declared the winner on points. 

As soon as the result was declared, the fact was conveyed quickly to the ‘huge crowd that had to be kept back out of Prince’s Street by barriers and the police. Cheer after cheer rent the air while inside the theatre enthusiasm reached almost ungovernable bounds.’ The police and barriers were necessary because during the fight there had been an explosion nearby in Henry Place. A group of insurgents were apparently unable to reach the Scala, so had detonated their mine outside the Pillar Picture House, damaging two heavy doors.

Within a few minutes of the fight ending, news of the result had also reached the Shelbourne Hotel where the industrialist Sir John Irwin was addressing the annual banquet of the Companions of St Patrick. Although they had passed through troublous times, he said, there was one thing that he believed they required as Irishmen: ‘to learn the art of compromise and to practise the doctrine of toleration towards one another.’ Surely they could all agree in matters of the common good, and ‘unite as brothers in carrying forward this old country to the peace and prosperity that awaited her.’

As his speech concluded it was announced that McTigue had won, whereupon the Companions drank his health, sang ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow’ and gave three cheers.

While the Companions ate their dinner, the two hockey teams were having supper nearby, at the Bonne Bouche restaurant in Dawson Street. Apparently, the land mine going off just half a mile away was not noticed by the players and officials. ‘Fortunately we were making enough noise of our own to drown the explosion noise,’ says the Hockey Field and Lacrosse reporter, adding matter-of-factly: ‘There were two more in Blackrock on Sunday night.’

Explosions, audible or not in other parts of Dublin there might have been, but they didn’t rate an entry in my grandfather’s diary, which is sparse at the best of times. He is also silent on the subject of his wife’s return. Even her later international career, and she won a total of eleven caps, don’t always get mentioned. Her 1924 season ended in the spring, and soon after she became pregnant again. My mother Jean – their last child – was born on 30 December that year.

Some 40 years later, in 1961, my grandmother sat in our Buckinghamshire kitchen, wreathed in smoke as usual, on her way to Wembley to see the match against Ireland. It would be nice to think that her mind went back to that earlier visit. Did she recall the excitement of playing for her country for the first time? Given the difficult circumstances, were they applauded onto the pitch just for turning up, like the England rugby team was in 1973? And did she remember the greatest satisfaction of all for a goalie, that she kept a clean sheet?


Changes to this blog due to a rather dramatic change in life

On the evening of 12 January 2023 I was at home in our family house in Dublin, watching television with my wife Jacqui Kelly. At about 9.45 pm I suffered what I now know to have been a hemorrhagic stroke. Jacqui called an ambulance and we were very lucky when one came quite quickly. The two staff on board were excellent and I was taken to St James’s Hospital in Dublin, which is only about ten minutes drive from our house. (I was lucky that the ambulance staff were excellent, and I am now trying to find out their names which I will add here in due course.) I was also lucky to be seen by excellent staff in the accident and emergency department of the hospital, and I am going to add their names here, if and when I find them, in the future. I have also used the word ‘lucky’ several times in this first paragraph, and I could go on doing so many more times in the text that follows, so please don’t be surprised when I use the word again. Also, please don’t be surprised when I tell you about the excellent professionalism of the many, many hospital staff I have met since the evening of the stroke. As I publish this blog on Monday 6 February 2023 this was 25 days ago.

The staff have been excellent and many are from other parts of the world as well as Ireland. I will write more about everyone in the future. Hoping to post more here during this week!

Cambridge Ulysses edition let down by poor production choices

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I was very pleased to be given a copy of the new Cambridge edition of Ulysses as a Christmas present. In a handsome large format and weighing in at over 4kg, it’s an imposing volume. I’m a sucker for this kind of volume – a book about the making of a book: a facsimile of the original edition, accompanied by notes and other bibliographical references.

However, for all its grand design, I believe that the book’s overall effect is let down by some poor design decisions and use of inferior quality paper.

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You can see the basic design from the spread shown above. The novel’s facsimile is run in spreads on each side of the gutter, and the text of the annotations is in two, or sometimes three, columns underneath. It’s a neat touch to align the annotations with the left hand margin of the recto page of the facsimile. The numbers beginning with G shown in the left and right foredge margins refer to the line numbers of what Joyce scholars call the Gabler edition of 1986, widely regarded as definitive. These margins are also used for Joyce’s own errata notes.

However, you can see immediately the problem with the back margin. It is so small that the type is running into the gutter, and therefore difficult to read. This is a spread from roughly the middle of the volume, but with such a heavy book the effect is even worse on spreads near the beginning and end. In the meantime, the foredge margin is so generous that it has an acre of empty space on almost every page.

Showthrough IMG_4792 960px A quick glance at these shows terrible showthrough on every page, as can be seen above. Showthrough is a real problem throughout as can be seen again in the image below, which shows what happens on commentary section pages which have illustrations or maps.

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Because the commentary sections follow the same margin arrangement as the facsimile, the back margin is far too small, making it difficult to follow the text. Again, this problem is exacerbated in the sections nearer the front or back of the volume, as can be seen below:

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It would have only required a small adjustment of the back margins to improve the design and resolve the problem of the text disappearing into the gutter. I cannot be sure but it may well be that the problem may have arisen because of a decision to use the same back margin as the 1922 text, with its much narrower page width. An extra 5mm back margin could easily be taken from the generous foredge with no effect on the overall line length.

My final production point of disagreement may be linked. This concerns the difficulty of actually reading the book. When it is placed flat on a table, my copy only remains open when reading between pages 220 and 740. If I don’t hold the edge down when reading pages before or after this range, the book closes with a thump. This is caused because the book block is bound too tightly to the boards for its weight and size.

It’s sad that these design and production defects spoil the overall effect of what is otherwise a handsome and useful contribution to the chequered publishing history of what I’m told is a literary masterpiece. (See this article by Stacey Herbert for the book’s production history.) I read most of Ulysses in the summer of 1969, when the Penguin edition was published, but I confess I never got to the end. I am looking forward to finding the time to tackle it again sometime soon. I’m ready, my kitchen table is ready, and I will do my best to complete the project. Wish me luck.

Read more about this edition in this Irish Times article by its editor Catherine Flynn.

Triple whammy for headlines as tabloids agree

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Sometimes, when you are a sub, you think up a great headline. Even better is when you know it’s almost certainly going to be the the front page splash. So there must have been gnashing of teeth back in Blighty last Friday night, when all Saturday’s front pages went live on the websites after England had drawn 0-0 with the USA. Never mind, chaps and chapesses. Now England are through to the next round, there will be another chance to pull out the pencil.

In other World Cup news it has been officially confirmed that not only do the Welsh have the best anthem on the planet but they also are the best singers. This has been well known in Britain and Ireland for decades where we have the Six Nations, an annual rugby tournament, to thank. But because Wales has been unavoidably absent from the football World Cup since 1958, most of the rest of the world has never seen and heard the full-on experience of a rendition of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau on a sporting occasion. (And the ones in Qatar weren’t even the best versions I’ve ever heard, with the music played too fast: hear it sung at home in Cardiff for the ultimate experience.) But it was still a winner with our friends from far places, such as Ella Brockway of the Washington Post who purred ecstatically: ‘The Welsh national anthem is elite. Runaway winner of the World Cup of National Anthems Bracket, imo.’

Click on the coverage on ITV News to check it out.

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The BBC also has a story about the anthem, and has conveniently published the lyrics with a translation for us mere mortals:

First verse:
Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi (This land of my fathers is dear to me)
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri (Land of poets and singers, and people of stature)
Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra mad (Her brave warriors, fine patriots)
Tros ryddid gollasant eu gwaed (Shed their blood for freedom)
Gwlad, Gwlad, pleidiol wyf i’m gwlad (Land! Land! I am true to my land)
Tra môr yn fur i’r bur hoff bau (As long as the sea serves as a wall)
O bydded i’r heniaith barhau (For this pure, dear land, may the language endure forever)

A bit of Googling has unearthed this version. 2013 in Cardiff before a rugby match v. England. Sung without a band, by the crowd in harmony.

Five nights in Sunak country

Richmond map 960pxThe accession of the UK’s third prime minister in four months reminded me of the couple of times I visited his parliamentary constituency, Richmond in North Yorkshire. The first was in 1989 when I was part of the Labour team helping our candidate take on a new young Tory called William Hague in the by-election caused by the resignation of Leon Brittan to become a Vice-President of the European Commission. I’m going to draw a veil over that experience.

The second was in 2009 when Jacqui and I did the whole St Bees Head-Robin Hood Bay Coast to Coast walk. It took us a total of fourteen days to cover the 195 or so miles, and five of the nights were spent sleeping in various B&Bs in the Richmond constituency. At least one of the landladies whose houses we slept in was a fan of Mr Hague, and had his books displayed on the coffee table in her living room.

The overnight stops are shown below. I see from my notebook that the distances involved were:

Saturday 25 July 2009: Kirkby Stephen – Keld. Distance 12 miles.
Sunday 26 July: Keld – Reeth. Distance 11 miles.
Monday 27 July: Reeth – Catterick Bridge. Distance 14.5 miles.
Tuesday 28 July: Catterick Bridge – Ingleby. Distance 19.5 miles.
Wednesday 29 July: Ingleby – Great Broughton. Distance 12 miles.

Pictures to follow when I dig them out of my archives.

Perpetua: by Royal Appointment

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As I watched on TV the congregation leaving Westminster Abbey after the Queen’s funeral last week I noticed that most were carrying a copy of the printed Order of Service. Such is the speed of modern communications, I was able to find a downloadable PDF on the website within a minute or two. Well done those royal flunkeys responsible.

The use of Perpetua Bold on the cover caught my eye, although the Times Roman setting beneath for the dateline grated. Inside I was pleased to see that the Perpetua theme was carried on throughout, with a nice use of spaced caps, drop caps and italic.

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Perpetua was in fact used for the last great State occasion in Westminster Abbey, the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. I remembered this because I have a copy of the special edition of the Monotype Recorder celebrating the life and work of Stanley Morison, and I recalled that it showed the covers of the Orders of Service for the Coronations of both George VI and Elizabeth II, as seen below:

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(I have taken the above illustration from the collection of PDFs of the Monotype Recorder on the wonderful Metaltype website.)

Sadly, I couldn’t find the full Coronation Order of Service online, although I did come across a couple of images. One, on the Parliament website, shows a handsome double page spread:

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The second is just a snippet of one page, on a University of Nottingham blog:


There are a couple of things about this second image which makes it different from the Parliament version. The text is in black only and the section heading is in u/lc rather than caps. The Nottingham blog from which I sourced the image says that it is from the “Music with the Form and Order of Service”, so perhaps this was a different publication for use by the choirs and musicians.

But what is the same about both is that they are typeset in Perpetua, with a lovely long-tailed Q which I imagine was specially cut. I’m guessing that it was set in Monotype, but I’m not enough of an expert to be certain. The 2022 digital version is a faithful reproduction.

Perpetua is a lovely typeface, and looks splendid when used for this kind of setting. However, in my view, it never really works in books – there is something about its idiosyncrasies which makes continuous reading difficult.

We’ll see next year whether it’s used for Charles III’s Coronation. It would be nice if it is. But I wonder if he might issue one of his ‘black spider’ decrees that some other type be chosen? On a recent visit to Poundbury in Dorset, with its ‘feudal Disneyland’ architecture, I didn’t spot any evidence of an interest in typography or lettering.

Good old Caslon


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One of the loveliest things on the modern interwebnet is the anonymous Gentle Author’s Spitalfields Life, who writes every day about things he comes across in his small corner on the fringe of the City of London. (It’s interesting that he lives just a mile or two from the home of another anonymous blogger also dedicated to the daily long-form art, Diamond Geezer. How do these two wonders keep things going for so long?)

Last Saturday, the Gentle Author wrote a piece about another distinguished Londoner, William Caslon, which contained a lot of local information which I wish I’d known when I lived nearby. He is surely right when he describes Caslon, nearly three centuries after his death, as still:

“the pre-eminent letter founder this country has produced. Before Caslon, there was little letter founding in Britain and most type was imported – even Shakespeare’s First Folio was printed with French type. But Caslon’s achievement was to realise designs and produce type which have been widely used ever since.”

And it all happened around the eastern fringes of the City of London. “The Caslon family tomb stands alone today in front of St Luke’s Old St, just yards from where William Caslon started his first letter foundry in Helmet Row in 1727 and, with pleasing consistency, it is lettered in Caslon type.”

“It was in the creation of his distinctly English version of Roman letters and italics, derived from the Dutch typefaces that were most commonly used in London at that time, which was the decisive factor in the establishment of Caslon’s reputation.

Caslon’s first type Specimen of 1734 exemplifies a confidence and clarity of design which has become so familiar that it is difficult to appreciate in retrospect. The Specimen offered a range of styles and sizes of type with an unprecedented authority and a distinctive personality which is immediately recognisable. As a consequence of the legibility and grace of Caslon’s work, his became the default choice of typeface for books and all kinds of publications in the English-speaking world for the next two centuries.”

The Caslon type crossed the Atlantic and became very influential in the just-about-to-be born United States of America when John Dunlap of Philadelphia set the type for the first printing of 200 copies of the Declaration of Independence, working into the night of 4 July 1776. It’s a source of pleasure to those of us of a typographic bent that one of the Committee of Five final drafting committee was Benjamin Franklin, statesman, polymath and printer, later to have a typeface named after him. Whether Franklin instructed Dunlap to use Caslon’s typeface is not known.

Caslon’s type has remained extraordinarily popular in the USA, probably more so than in the country of its birth. It is still used by the New Yorker, both for the paper copies and in the online version. There are those, however, who dislike it: one such being the American type historian Bruce Rogers, who thought it overused in England, which he described in the early 20th century as a “Caslon-ridden country”. This may well have been a reaction to the insistence of George Bernard Shaw that all his books be printed in it.

Caslon himself died in 1767 and is buried in St Luke’s church in Old Street, London. This is now deconsecrated and used for rehearsals and performances by the London Symphony Orchestra. One hopes that, as they pluck and blow through their latest repertoire, the musicians think occasionally of the important history of the man in the tomb outside.


Pic: Wikimedia Commons

The last Lord’s Gentlemen v. Players match

GentsPlayers 2up 900pxSixty years ago, on Friday 20 July 1962, I was at the final day of what would turn out to be the final Lord’s cricket match between the Gentlemen and Players. Up until the end of the 1962 season, English first class cricket was played by a mixture of paid professionals (Players) and unpaid amateurs (Gentlemen), and every year a team from each category played a three day game at the home of cricket, as well as a later match at the Scarborough Festival. So on this particular Friday a small group of boys from my school travelled up to London where we bought scorecards, watched the game and hung around at the close of play for long enough to get autographs. I dutifully filled in my scorecard with a stubby pencil and at the end of the day had it signed by one of the most recognisable figures in the amateur team, Rev David Sheppard, sometime captain of both Sussex and England, who went on to become Bishop of Liverpool.

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1962 was the year in which sport began to change as the amateur tradition started to fade. Earlier in July, Rod Laver had won Wimbledon and before the season was out would turn pro. He capped off his career by winning the US Open and thereby completing the Grand Slam. This surely speeded up the process that brought in the open era in tennis just six years later. Athletics followed, the Olympic tradition of only allowing amateurs to compete was largely devalued by the combination of sponsorship and surreptitious payments in the west and the blatant use of state subsidy in the Soviet bloc. Restrictions began to be relaxed in the 1970s. Rugby Union took a lot longer.

Somewhat surprisingly, cricket prefigured these other sports. The process to abolish amateurism had already taken several years and gone through various committees before being ushered in by a vote of the Advisory County Cricket Committee on 26 November 1962. (The whole event is documented in Charles Williams’s book, Gentlemen and Players, Phoenix 2013, which is an entertaining read.) The last ever Gentlemen v. Players match (which actually took place at Scarborough between 8 and 11 September 1962) had been played.

Edward Craig, who played for the Gentlemen, is interesting in that he appears to have decided not to pursue cricket as a possible career. He scored 1000 runs at an average of 42 in his first year at Cambridge when he was just 19 and was first selected to play for the Gentlemen. Mike Brearley went up to Cambridge in the same year and also scored 1000 runs. In those days he was a wicket keeper batsman. Craig, who went on to have a distinguished career in philosophy at Cambridge, ending as Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy, is discussed in this 1981 Cricinfo article by none other than John Arlott.

For the record, the line up in the September match at Scarborough, the last ever Gentlemen v Players, was as follows:
Gentlemen: Tony Lewis, Roger Prideaux, Mike Smith, Ray White, David Kirby, Alan Smith, Richard Hutton, Colin Drybrough, George Richardson, Richard Jefferson, Ossie Wheatley.
Players: John Edrich, Norman Horner, Bob Gale, Ken Barrington, Brian Close, Albert Lightfoot, Derek Morgan, Barry Knight, Geoff Millman, Fred Trueman, Tony Lock.

Ramsden’s ‘Don’t Mention The War’ notes

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Looking for something to read in the inevitable queues on a couple of upcoming journeys, I took John Ramsden’s 2006 book Don’t Mention the War down from my shelf. I had glanced through it a decade or more ago when I bought it, but never read it right through. I’m glad to say that it is a terrific, easy read and I will get round to writing more about it when I finish it. But in the meantime, I want to write now about the defect in book production which pushed the footnotes out into cyberspace, and the inevitable consequences.

When I bought the book, I noticed this ominous sentence at the start of the bibliography: ‘ The note section can be found on the Internet at ‘ I recall checking this website out, and may even have downloaded the text. However, God knows where I filed it. Probably on the computer I was using then – four or five computers ago.

Little Brown’s decision was a bit unusual, even then, and seems to have led to a certain amount of discussion. Someone called Dan (who I take to be the historian Daniel Todman who was a colleague of Ramsden’s at Queen Mary) wrote on the Airminded blog that there had only been a handful of complaints. However, I reckon this misses the point.

This is because when, sadly, Ramsden died in 2009 only a year into retirement his website eventually vanished along with the link to his notes. So now all you get is an error message.

So I did a bit more Googling, this time of the website address, and came across this Twitter post from the Cambridge historian Ben Griffin:

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Thanks Ben. I rushed to the Web Archive link and found Ramsden’s original post. I downloaded the notes, made them up into a PDF and printed them out. So now I have something I can at least tuck into the back of the book when I put it back on the shelf.

As to Ramsden himself, he seems to have been an intriguing man. A writer about the Conservative Party, but also an active Tory himself who had even done his time as leader of the council in the London Borough of Redbridge. There are some lovely tributes to him online, including this obituary in the Guardian by Peter Hennessy, a blog post by Bob Jones and a piece on Conservative History Journal.

Ramsden notes

So just in case the WebArchive itself goes under (unlikely I know, but you never know) as a public service I decided to post my own printable 19 page PDF of the notes (shown above) for anyone to download. If everything works OK, you should be able to get them from here:  Ramsden notes

One hundred today

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My father, John Lisle Foster, was born one hundred years ago today, 22 May 1922, in what was then Blantyre, Nyasaland (now Malawi). He was the older of the two sons of Lionel Hubert Lisle Foster, a District Commissioner in the British colonial service, and his wife Judith Mary (née Sandberg).

Like many children of the colonial service, he spent most of his early schooldays in England, not seeing his parents for a year or more. He and his younger brother Humphrey were shipped from Africa to England, boarding at a prep school during term time and then going to a relative’s home for the holidays. It is hard to believe now, but it what was expected at the time. He was sent to King’s College choir school in Cambridge at the age of eight or so. As a result, although he was not a chorister he always had a good singing voice. In later life this could be heard at church services, his consonants being pronounced distinctly in the way he had been coached in childhood.

He must have expressed an interest in science and engineering because he won this book, the interestingly named Romance of Modern Engineering, as a school prize for Mathematics when he was 13.

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He went to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, in either the autumn of 1935 or early in 1936. I’m not sure which date is correct, but I know that he was in the St Vincent term, as he wore his term’s tie all his civilian life. At this time, Dartmouth acted as a school for boys who were destined to be navy officers. As he was still 17 when the war started in September 1939, he must then still have been at Dartmouth. In due course, he went on to the Royal Naval Engineering College at Keyham in Plymouth, where the war had meant that the course was accelerated in order to get the training done as fast as possible. After being commissioned as a Sub Lieutenant (E) in January 1943, his first posting was to HMS Ceylon.

The process of attrition for Royal Navy officers may not have been as severe as it was for their brethren in the RAF, but it was galling enough, and many of his Dartmouth colleagues fell in the war. One was on HMS Hood, sunk by the Bismarck in 1941, another lost a leg on HMS Penelope in 1944. Dad, however, saw out the war on a series of heavy cruisers and battleships. 

After the war, he served in a series of ships, mainly in the Mediterranean fleet based in Malta, and on shore in Rosyth and Plymouth. Having met in Hastings, he and my mother were married there in 1948. I was born in Malta in 1950 and my four brothers and sisters in Plymouth between 1952 and 1956. 

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By 1958, the war had been over for more than a decade and the services were contracting. Officers in their mid-thirties were offered a “golden bowler”, a lump sum and a pension for life. Dad took the offer, and we moved as a family to Gerrards Cross, within commuting distance of the Guinness brewery in Park Royal, west London, where he got a job. He joined an engineering department which seemed to be full of ex-service personnel – the chief engineer had been a Brigadier in the sappers. Guinness was only the second employer he ever had, and he would stay there for almost thirty more years, retiring in about 1984. 

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Dad behind his desk at Guinness in a photograph taken for a staff magazine. 

He was an old-fashioned engineer, a dab hand at calculating with a slide rule or log tables. He wasn’t really big into DIY but he had a few tools, some of which he passed on to me when I left home in the 1970s. The big screwdriver shown in the picture at the top of this article had, he told me, actually come from his own father so it could itself be 80 or 90 years old. 

I love these old tools. They have a heft and a feel which demands respect. I’ve inherited a few things from both my parents, but these working implements are amongst the most prized. And I will look at them with pride and affection today, as I salute a father who, sadly, never got to his own century.

John Lisle Foster, officer, gentleman and engineer, 22 May 1922– 25 May 2002. 

ADDENDUM: My brother Andrew, who has Dad’s old toolbox, has sent me this photo.


Most of the stuff it contains hasn’t been used for years, although Andrew has a ratchet screwdriver which occasionally comes in handy. I like the block of soap he must have used for easing screws into very hard blocks of wood (you can still see the grooves, apparently) and the old style round pin plug.