Edward Oates Tributes

Editor’s note: These pieces formed the eulogy at Edward’s funeral.

Where on earth do you begin trying to compose a tribute to Edward? That’s 101 years of life to sort through. There is so much history to cover, so many events that have taken place and so many people that have shared them. So in an attempt to avoid taking an hour or two this is a truly abridged version. I’m sure there will be many stories and memories recounted after the service! These are just a few of mine.

His legacy is two children, five grandchildren, and seven great grandchildren recently now eight, Willow having been born to Mary and Jay in October. Our kids, and later theirs, loved to visit him mainly in search of biscuits of course. With his kitchen door always open they were gone in a trice.

I first met Edward in 1975 in his shed, even then a bit tumble down, at the end of  his garden. He smoked a pipe in those days which was quietly smouldering away on the workbench. If I recall he was busy making a gearwheel for a clock. “You’ll be Chris then?” he enquired re-vitalising his pipe, filling the shed with smoke. “What do you know about lathes then?” Well as it happened I did and we were soon deep in conversion about all things engineering. For a Yorkshireman he was clearly a fine fellow. I think Jane eventually came to find me once it got dark.

A few years later he asked me to help collect a lathe from his mate’s house in Luton. What he failed to mention was that it was on the third floor of the building which in its turn was accessed by three flights of steps. Took awhile as we had to dismantle it and bring it down bit by bit…then there was the tooling that went with it.

Edward was the eldest of three and had a brother Norman and little sister Marlene, who is here. Their father, a Yorkshireman, had been in the RFC at Halton during the First World War where he’d met Gertrude Sluggett who lived at the Wendover Gas Works. After the War ended they moved to Hampstead for a while where Edward was born in 1920 before moving back to Huddersfield where he grew up. (To read more about Edward’s early life click here.)

Holidays were often spent at his grandparents house at the gasworks and later in one of the cottages that used to stand in front of The Grange in Wendover. He spent many a happy day cycling near and far on the District Nurse’s bike, Lucy Rowland, ‘a heavy old thing’ he would say, with a smile. We didn’t like to ask.

Back in Huddersfield after leaving Royds Hall Grammar he got a job with Hopkinsons Engineers as a clerk. A job he enjoyed immensely and as it was now looking likely that War would be declared, along with his mates he joined the 9th Army Field Workshop Royal Army Ordnance TA in Huddersfield where he was soon involved in registering and processing recruits and was quickly promoted to Lance Corporal.

When WWII broke out he ended up in the Quartermasters Office where he admitted he learned a lot of fiddles, especially how to get petrol and a car to go home at the weekend. By January 1940 he was a Staff Sergeant heading for France as part of the British Expeditionary Force.

In May 1940 the tables turned and on the 27th he was one of many heading for their allocated beaches, and hopefully evacuation.   Unfortunately the officer in charge took a wrong turning and they ended up on the beach at Bray Dunes.

The journey there had been pretty bad but things got worse as they weren’t recognised as a party logged to depart. With no food and constant machine gunning from the air Edward and the other senior NCOs met up and decided to ditch their officer and make for Dunkirk now in flames and enveloped in smoke. By all accounts the journey was harrowing.

They reached Dunkirk on 31st May and he managed to get aboard a ship by carrying a stretcher case with his mate, Harold Dugdale, down The Mole which was by now badly holed. They were moved on and had to continue down to a destroyer which they crossed over and were lowered down to a small supply boat tied alongside, the captain of which was keen to get away as was the destroyer.

Setting out for open water they were attacked from the air and a shout went out for spare ammo for the machine gun. Edward had draped his wet overcoat over the engine room grille to dry out. He remembered, luckily, that there was some rounds left in the pocket. As a result they were piping hot and he reckoned they must have gone off really well.

He never spoke about Dunkirk until the 50th Anniversary when some of the lighter moments were recalled. Evidently he was responsible for carrying the rum jar the contents of which he emptied into his water bottle to help keep spirits up or trade for water and food. In the end his group of six polished it off. He reckoned it must have kept their spirits up.

He joined the Henley branch of the Dunkirk Veterans Association and in later years has been interviewed countless times, carried out book and picture signings, met Royalty, and following a lovely meeting with Christopher Nolan researching for the film Dunkirk, in which a number of his recollections are featured. To read more, click here .

He was invited to a private screening at Warner Brothers accompanied by Pete, Alice and Mary. They asked if he and the other veterans present approved. Edward said he’d now been there twice. An accolade if there was ever one.

Then it was the red carpet premiere. Another invitation, another limo. Pete, Owain and Alex took him and what a day they had. Alex, who is in the TA, so being military, was charged with accompanying Edward to Kensington Palace to meet Prince Harry whilst Pete and Owain enjoyed the Green Room. When a call was made to Pete at one o’clock in the morning he told us that they were ready to go but Grandad was talking to Kenneth Branagh. I had no idea who that was so just said OK. They got back at three.

He also went to the Dunkirk Remembrance Days and on countless trips with The Association of Dunkirk Little Ships and was quickly adopted by Alan and Ann, owners of the RIIS. Their kindness meant an awful lot to us and him, in his Yorkshire way obviously. Recently we turned up some pulleys for the RIIS on his old lathe. A fitting tribute.

A memorable trip for him was a picnic on the banks of the Thames at Windsor Castle along with Mark, his nephew, who was in the regular army. Prince Philip came over to chat to them. Edward said ‘Sorry but I’m a little hard of hearing’ whereupon Prince Philip replied with a smile ‘Join the club!” He got sent a great picture of the meeting.

The annual Veterans’ cruise on the Thames was always the highlight of his year sitting like royalty on the aft deck alongside other veterans, port in hand waving to countless well-wishers that lined the banks and locks. After a fine sing song and meal of shepherd’s pie and peas, rather than return in a vintage car he was always welcomed back aboard RIIS for the return trip. He’d be wrapped up in a blanket and armed with a large port. This year he was unable to come however his picture, cap and medals graced the deck and we all raised a glass or three. He was missed.

After Dunkirk he went to North Africa, taking part in the Alamein push with the 8th Army. From what he has told us most of the time there involved seconding motorbikes and jeeps and going to the seaside. There was obviously a lot more to it than that, much involving arranging recovery of damaged tanks and sorting spares for them –  not a pleasant job – and so we never got any more than that, however Edward, being Edward, managed to benefit ending up speaking Italian and Arabic.

Demobbed in Cairo in 1946 he returned to Wendover, lodging with the Ratcliffes along the Aylesbury Road, getting a job in the local tax office and re-acquainting himself with his old pals including Nora Brown from Bank Farm.

In 1947 he married Nora and moved to Park Street in Aylesbury and eventually back to Sydney Terrace in Wendover now with Michael and Jane in 1956. He continued working for the Inland Revenue moving from office to office, eventually ending up as The Collector of Taxes for Hitchin and commuting daily.

On one occasion a rear spring broke on his Austin Cambridge. A replacement was found courtesy of Curly at Halton Scrapyard and off I set to Hitchin to replace it. A nice chap brought me out a cup of tea. I naturally explained that it was a cash job. I think Edward bit the end of his pipe off. He retired in 1980 but that wasn’t my fault.

He was great with his grandchildren, and latterly his great grandchildren and they loved him probably still mainly for his biscuits, and drawings of Mickey Mouse. Known as Mr Pastry, on account of his white hair and tash, he was a familiar sight dragging our small children at speed on shopping forays. “Hands in pockets,” he would order, prior to entering a shop. He was a source of borrowing stuff. They were always told that there was ‘a back’ to them and amazingly they did go back. Never worked when I said it!

He loved working with wood and would make toys, inlaid boxes, musical boxes all with second hand timber that he would fret saw and sand until it looked proper. If anything broke he could mend it. It was always likely that somewhere would be a bit that would fit.

He made wonderful telescopes from drainpipes and the kids, and latterly the grandchildren, got to see planets and stars far, far away the names of which he knew in an instant. He was also a very active member of the Aylesbury Astronomical Society and played a large part in the restoration of the telescope at Upper Winchendon.

He had a very strong sense of mischief and a dry cheeky sense of humour. When he came round for a birthday party, Christmas Dinner or the kids went for tea it usually ended up with a competition to see who could flick peas into the custard. This would always result in a severe telling off by Nora.

Over the years he had a fair few cars and his driving, especially in later years, was legendary and eventually even his grandkids would decline a lift. He tended to use the loud pedal with vigour as he did with pianos. Neighbour Trevor had one on the patio and one summer’s evening, whilst sitting out the back it was decided to have an old-fashioned sing-song. Edward was an enthusiastic player and tended to land on the keys rather than play them, his feet firmly planted on both pedals. It was impressive loud and hilarious.

Driving ended when he suggested that the brakes were faulty and would I mind taking him over for Veterans meeting at Henley. I found nothing wrong with them but as we reached a crossroads near Stokenchurch he explained that the last time he went to stop there the car just sailed across. He then went on as an aside to mention he didn’t have much feeling in his feet anymore!

Eventually he became pretty much wheelchair bound. We used to joke that you could get in anywhere if you had an old person in a wheelchair. He thought that was brilliant so got loaded in the old persons’ car and carted off places.

In the past year or so it got much harder to get him up and about so outings were limited to a trip round the back for tea or on a nice day we’d sit him in the road. Calling in for chat I’d always ask where he’d been that day. “Oh.” he’d say, “Drove up to Huddersfield and had fish and chips.” We’d then move on to talking about riding motorbikes in the desert or how we would mend the roof on the lean-to.

For his 100th birthday we had a socially distanced party in the road. It was a glorious, sunny, happy April (2020) day. Rumour has it we fired him over the village from a cannon but he enjoyed the experience and landed firmly but safely in Trevor’s hedge.

Even in recent months it was great that so many friends and relations, even the grandchildren and great grandchildren called by regularly to see him and check on the biscuit tin.

For me I miss the enormous sneezes, often amplified by the listener in the kitchen at one o’clock in the morning, my chats, often surreal, and our outings continously accompanied by his cassette of the Huddersfield and Kiethley brass band which I, in my mind, hurled into the Thames at the Traditional Boat Festival but never had the courage. As it happens you were listening to them on arrival and I admire you for that.

He passed peacefully away, at home, having made 101. It is with huge gratitude that we thank all the carers he has had, especially Roger and the two Sues who, through their dedication, ensured that he enjoyed his later years to the fullest, at home, and celebrated his 101st birthday. Most of all I thank Jane for being there 24/7.

Chris Dunkley, son-in-law


I would like to take this opportunity to express some of my thoughts and memories about my grandfather, Edward.

Grandad was a unique character.  He was a modest man, a man of great integrity, of intellectual pursuits and many skills and talents.  He had a can-do attitude to life; he was creative; he had an active mind and would keep up with the modern world and technologies.  He was computer literate and always keen to embrace the new.

I have strong and abiding memories of his time pottering about in his beloved shed/workshop.  This was an important and evocative structure, tucked away at the bottom of the garden, away from family, neighbours, the odd dog or cat.  Accessible to all but a magical place for a small boy with its smell of seasoned wood, old oil and cold steel.

Within this structure, many toys, jigsaws, farms, dolls’ houses even a Noah’s ark, were designed and constructed and duly presented to all his grandchildren.  This shed seemed to me as a young child to resemble an Aladdin’s cave of delights, bursting at the seams with a myriad of materials, tools and machinery.  In due course, I was privileged to learn to make and repair a wide range of things, guided by Grandad, and eventually entrusted to use the facilities myself. He was always willing to help and advise with any problem which required analytical and practical thought and deliberation. I am pleased to report that I have inherited this passion for the chaotic but calming influence of a shed of one’s own.

Grandad was a man of diverse interests. I remember his passion for astronomy and he was active for many years in the Aylesbury Astronomical Society.  I have early memories of accompanying him to the wondrous Winchenden Observatory and have some very special recollections of star gazing with him and indeed once even met Sir Patrick Moore in his company.

Grandad was a generous man. I was always astonished at the range of eclectic and sometimes bizarre riches he would acquire for me, ranging from stationary engines, an assortment of old clocks and even on one occasion, a taxidermied crocodile head, which I treasure.  He gave me a collection of his old hand tools – some of which I still use to this day.

He was not a vain man or one that valued the fripperies of an ostentatious way of life – I particularly recall the battered beige Austin Maxi which he drove for years and foiled breakdown on several occasions. He did things his own way.  Even how he scraped out the ice cream container and the application of the hundreds and thousands was done with typical Grandad style.

Paradoxically, he could extemporise on literature, poetry, languages, he was a decent artist with a musical ear and he could regale a room with some songs from his youth and even the army.

In later years, in a happy and fulfilling retirement, he would look forward to his regular visits to Huddersfield and he would never fail to bring us local gifts – mainly broken biscuits, dandelion and burdock pop and my mother’s particular favourite, liquorice Pontefract cakes. At these times, he would often hold forth with an impromptu Yorkshire adage, just to remind us all that he was proud of his Yorkshire heritage.

At heart, Grandad loved his family and the happy and contented homelife with Grandma. He was proud of his grandchildren and great grandchildren and his legacy will continue. There is no better way to commemorate and celebrate the heritage and long, long life of my grandad Edward Oates.

Owain Jones, grandson

Thursday 7 October 2021

St Mary’s Church, Wendover