Factory worker, soldier, preacher, grandfather, Blackburn Rovers and Blue Jays fan. Born June 8, 1918, in Blackburn, England, died Sept. 10, 2012, in Mississauga, Ont., from kidney failure, aged 94.
Alfred was born into a poor family in Blackburn at the end of the First World War. His mother, Emma, conducted séances to supplement the family income, and Alfred worked the “smoke” machine to add theatrical effects to the conversations with the departed.
Though he was a promising student, he left school at 14 to work in a wallpaper factory six days a week, 12 hours a day to help support his family. He loved to play soccer and cricket and looked forward to games after work. He became a fan of the Blackburn Rovers FC and followed their wins and losses for 80 years.
When recruiting for the army began in 1938, Alfred signed up quickly, keen to leave the factory behind. He thought he was making a six-month, not a six-year commitment. As a soldier in the East Lancashire Regiment, he was with the British forces that had to evacuate from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940. For years, he had nightmares about the night when he was told to dig himself into the sand and wait hours for a boat to take him back across the English Channel.
Like many soldiers, he did not speak of what he had experienced. Alfred never wore his medals or paraded in uniform on Remembrance Day. When asked his age he would always subtract seven from his chronological age and say, for example, “45, not counting the war years.”
Yet those wartime experiences resonated throughout his life and in his speech, which was sprinkled with phrases like “I’m soldiering on” or “fighting the good fight” when he talked about challenges of raising six children or a social justice issue with which he was involved.
Veterans were given free education, and Alfred completed his secondary-school courses and graduated with a divinity degree from the University of London.
He became a Methodist preacher, convinced that surviving the poverty of his early life (two siblings died of TB), four years in the factory (an older sister died in an industrial accident) and seven years of war was not luck, but the grace of God.
With his wife, Ruth, and their first four children he moved to Canada in 1962, hoping to do better than the £4 a week that was a minister’s salary in England. They arrived in Montreal with the address of a place to spend the night, a job offer to minister to three rural churches in Comber, Ont., railway tickets and $10 cash.
They had two more children. Alfred was not a stereotypical father. Each morning he would bring tea and toast to everyone in bed. He would usually be singing Mona Lisa or some other popular song during the week, hymns on Sunday.
At 72, Alfred was in a head-on car collision and suffered head injuries. In hospital for more than two years, he regained most of his intellectual abilities and continued to be an inspiring guest preacher up and down the Ottawa Valley.
A widower in his senior years, he continued to “soldier on.” He was always grateful to experience the day as it arrived, enjoying the simple things – oatmeal for breakfast, a cup of tea, an occasional outing.
When he died at 94, his granddaughters proudly posted images of him as a young student on their Facebook pages.
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