Friday, 27 July 2012

Centenary of an unsung hero

This might be the opening day of the London Olympics 2012, but this day is special in other ways, and I want to celebrate one of the world’s unsung heroes today.

My Dad – Walter Stanley Biggs -- was born on July 27, 1912, so today is his centenary.

His father, Henry, who died when his children were all still very young, was a coachman, according to his birth certificate. Dad’s mother, Ellen, had the maiden name Butler, and came from the Reading area.
Dad died in June 1978, aged only 65, so has been much missed for 34 years. He lived and worked in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, for many years.

He spent all his life working for and helping others. Tributes paid to him after he died referred to his ‘great friendship and help’, ‘kindness and loyalty’, his ‘craftsmanship’ and ‘honesty’.  He was also said to be ‘highly respected’, a ‘good friend and adviser’,  ‘trustworthy’, ‘sincere and warm’ and ‘full of life and devilment’. They said he ‘always seemed to be helping somebody’ and ‘our own lives are richer for having known him’.

My Dad was a motor engineer by trade – and very clever at it. If you can be gifted as a motor engineer, he truly was. It was almost as if he could tell you what was wrong with a car just by looking at it. And he always used that gift to help others. I can remember as a child my Dad going out in all weathers at all times of the day and night to help people whose cars had broken down.

He was only human, of course, he’d curse when the phone rang at 11pm and it was someone in trouble on the road. But he’d always go and get them moving.

He lost his own father when he was still a child. My knowledge of that history is sketchy, but I think Henry died when Dad was about ten years old.

World War Two saw Dad serving in the RAF as a flight sergeant. That’s where he learned his engineering trade. He earned the Burma Star, serving there on the aircraft used for troop movements. He ended the war there in very poor health. When he eventually returned home he had lost so much weight and looked so ill that his own mother didn’t recognise him. But he loved Burma and its people and always longed to return there. Sadly, that was never to be.

He married my mother in 1952. She had been widowed in the war and already had two daughters; and he was a great dad to us all.

He taught me to drive when I was four years old.  I sat on his knee and steered the old car down our road, and he built me my own little car, powered by pedals, from discarded bits of real grown up cars.

He showed me how to fix a fuse, chop wood, ride a bike, how to use a cricket bat and how to catch a ball.  He was great at gardening and we always had fresh fruit and veg. He’d also go fishing and shooting and bring stuff back for the table.

My Dad was vehemently opposed to the use of physical punishment. He would never smack his own kids and would speak out about those who did not ‘spare the rod’ with their children. He was well ahead of his time in this, of course. But we had great respect for him and fear of his disapproval was enough to keep us in line.

Put simply, he taught us all how to live. Not just by showing us all the practical stuff, but by his example of generosity, kindness and honesty with everyone.

He made sure we grew up fit for the world . He taught us how to give.
Most of all, he taught us how to love, just by being who he was. All we can do is try to live up to his example.

He will always be my hero.

Below: Dad and Mum in 1975


  1. Jackie, that is such a beautiful piece of writing that could come from no other place but the heart. Your Dad sounds like he was an incredibly inspiring man to have grown up with - believing in the one thing that opens up so much generosity to others, love. I hope you enjoy your day as much as I really enjoyed reading this x x x

    1. Thanks Julie. Check out the next one, which is a poem I wrote to mark his centenary. It occured to me that he and Liz Pellowe shared their birth date and that the poem would be fitting for her too -- they both loved the wild places!
      I can transcribe it to apply to a female, what do you think?

    2. I have just read the poem and it would be perfect for Liz, as it is for your Dad. Its so calm and thoughful when reading it.
      I was watching Coast the other evening and they were at Skomer with the little puffins - along with a host of other birds, but there were so many of them and it made me think of Liz and how she liked to visit Skomer to see those little puffins, and I hoped she had at some point managed to see as many as were there.
      There is always a memory around every corner of those we have lost, and for most today will be remembered as one thing, but for others it is filled with something even more special. I think Liz would love the poem as much as your Dad, but I also think it would be a comforting thought for others that have lost. I hope many more will read it.
      Also, after my first reply, I was thinking about what you had written, and what it reminded me of was Danny, Champion of the World. I think there is something special to be able to have such wonderful memories to tell in a story, I bet there would be so many stories you could tell about your Dad....I would be an avid reader for sure x x x