George Rough (1922-2017)
My dear friend George died in his sleep on Friday night. He was always petrified of losing it,a half life in a home, dementia and incapacity. He got his way. Once again it was “Lucky Roughy”.Ever the practical man he fell ill at the end of June was admitted to hospital and still worrying about his roses,the funeral paid for,the plot next to his beloved Nellie arranged, as he planned and hoped, he slipped peacefully away.
He was one of six born on a farm in Mitcham ,now very much a London suburb. Aged eight the family sold up and moved to East Putney. Coincidentally Mexfield Road is where Vivien and I set up our first home 45 years later.
George left school at 14 and worked for a variety of engineering companies. He always maintained if hadn’t been for the War he would have had a successful career in engineering. A good sportsman, accomplished at both soccer and cricket.But before he could qualify the War came.
In 1940 he was called up and joined the Royal Artillery, Vivien’s father’s regiment. In 1942 he and his then fiancé went to a dance in Putney. Two of his mates had to leave early to get back to their ships at Chatham. A farewell pint in the Spotted Horse. While in the pub a bomber struck and scored a direct hit on the Cinderella Dance Hall, George’s fiancé was one of the 81 killed. A few months later he married Nellie one of her friends whose boy friend had died at Dunkirk.
Soon after he was called away to the Italian campaign. He would not see England again until 1946. By then his daughter Pat was three. George was a driver and had his best friend die in his arms, he missed death narrowly so many times that he was nick named “Lucky Roughy.” Nevertheless he was invalided by shrapnel. When he came home he and his new family had to live with the in laws. He never forgave Churchill for failing on his promise of “homes for heroes”. He hated Remembrance Sunday as it brought back memories and he couldn’t sleep for days. For six years after the War he sweated badly most nights.
A life long Labour supporter he was anti Royalist and for that matter anti immigrant. He expressed the Leave EU position succinctly when he once said ,”No one talks to any one any more and if they do,its not in English”.
Any way the maintenance engineer job the Gas Board ended with hospital after a horrific accident which today would have netted him a massive compensation. Then in l967 he got the job as the maintenance manager at Wandsworth Town Hall. This 24/7 post came with a grace and favour flat. As a prestige venue many up market weddings and social events were held at the Town Hall and George had many fond memories of hobnobbing with Vera Lynn, Bob Monkhouse, Frankie Vaughan and David Jacobs. Invariably when I arrived at his house he was either listening to a Glen Miller type big band or watching a 1940s Laurel and Hardy type comic. He and Nellie loved the big shows and ballroom dancing, they were a diamond couple.
I once asked George if he had any regrets in life “Yes, I worked too hard”. He was in full time paid work 54 years-I? 37. But he knew no other way, he was old school, and rightly proud. A man who not only had a full set of tools but needed a tool shed. He could not understand how I survived with barely a hammer and a screw driver. Brilliant at his job, the Council insisted he stay on extra years but rewarded him ,on retirement at 68 ,with a two bedroomed house in Putney Vale, where I met him courtesy of Age Concern, five years ago.
His daughter Pat forwent her chance to go to university, instead followed her husband into the RAF. George never approved, the husband died an alcoholic and her life style meant his daughter predeceased him by several decades. Nellie died fifteen years ago. His grand daughter now runs a B&B in France. His nephew Graham was closer than any son, his grand niece Kelly, her partner and boy will inherit the house.
George loved his garden, I’ve never known my roses so bad, was his catch phrase, he was always doing things for his neighbours, until the end was upgrading his house-in the last year he had artificial grass, a wooden floor and a new boiler installed. Maybe he was getting it ready.
Two years ago a long stand standing close neighbour Rosemary moved to be replaced by a Thai family. On his birthday the two boys brought round a cake and a card. I said, See George,Not so bad after all. He looked at me and said ,Early days. We both laughed. At the end of May we sat in his garden and had a midday glass to celebrate his 95th.
He was a lovely man,whose life experience was so different from mine we had lots to learn from each other. Every week he visited Nellie’s grave in the nearby cemetery, I asked him when he talked to her how did he describe me, Hugh,you’re the one who ‘s always asking questions. I once asked him what he thought of the officers in the War. He talked of the useless ones from the Indian Army who hadn’t a clue. My grandfather was one such officer!
He was grounded in a loving family ,he had a successful marriage, he was dealt some bad life cards but played them really well, he never complained and brought joy to many, he served his country, loved his family and his neighbours, and was a good man. It doesn’t get much better. Earlier this year he typically gave me a rose bush, it has flowered magnificently. Thank you George.