1950 - 1952
Eulogy: John Cronnolley (Dad)
Quite a lot of the service today, Dad had stipulated what he wanted to happen. He had a wicked sense of humour as he’d said for years and may have even told you that he wanted to go up the flue to “The Stripper” and most recently, wanted the song by Queen, “Another One Bites The Dust”!
John Cronnolley was born on 8th November, 1929, in Cheetham Hill to Doris and John Cronnolley – 10 days after the Wall Street Crash, which started the Great Depression. They were hard times living in the slums of Cheetham Hill at the beginning of the 1930s and Dad failed to thrive with a bad chest, so when Doris and John heard that a new estate was being built at Kirkhams – with big sister Sheila and John at 23 months, they moved to 36 Derby Road, Whitefield.
Dad started school at St Margaret’s Infants, Prestwich and walked on his own all the way from Derby Rd, (well over a mile!) but often didn’t get there on time as he used to spend ages looking in the model shop (which is now Armstrongs infamous chippy) at the model planes and cars. With other schooling at Victoria Lane Primary and then Higher Lane School, Whitefield, he didn’t learn to read until he was 11-years-old with the book Milly Molly Mandy. He always joked that on the first day at Higher Lane, he started in the A Class in the morning, but by dinnertime, he was in the C Class – and his constant joke was that he rarely, if ever, got a big tick!
Growing up in the 1930s was tough and when little sister Pat came along, Dad was very handy taking her out for walks in the pram – mind you, by all accounts it was a bit of a rough ride for Pat inside - as they were always trying to use the pram in their bogey races with the Sweeney gang. Dad was very handy domestically though and used to help his Mum with her “piece work”, sewing “sou’westers” and aprons on the sewing machine. From a very early age, Dad was always curious about how things worked. He wanted to take them apart and put them back together again and loved tinkering with his Dad’s motorbike.
Like many, he left school at 14, for an apprenticeship as a linotype operator at the Prestwich & Whitefield Guide in Earl Street, Prestwich - often nipping round to Bests, the bakers – where they made the best custards ever – so he said! ’
He joined all sorts of clubs including the Sea Cadets, and in the aftermath of the Second World War, like any young person was aspirational for a better world, so joined the Labour League - but the love of his life at the time was his bike and the Cycling Club. They cycled over mountain, hill and dale, and would think of nothing about nipping up to Blackpool, or the Lakes or over the Peak District for the day on their bikes. He made all sorts of ingenious adaptations to his bikes usually out of scrap, which worked most of the time. With more rides and adventures from John O’Groats to Land’s End with Geoff Briggs, his life-long friend & with Blackie, Stan and Bill – and loads of others, he used to spend every Tuesday down at the old Velodrome in Fallowfield, Manchester, and knew the world-famous cyclist Reg Harris.
One weekend he decided that he was going to ride to London and back (we think someone had made him a bet that he couldn’t do it) so he cycled to London and posted a postcard when he got there on the Saturday before the last post. He beat it back as he arrived around 10pm Sunday night, before the postcard arrived on Monday morning. Allez! Allez! Allez!
But it was when he was around 18/19, that he was to meet the real love of his life - for Mum, Jean – had gone into Stand Grammar School for Girls, Whitefield, with her life-long friend Irene, looking for a youth club, when on the walls, she saw some photographs of Dad crossing the finishing line in a race. She turned to Irene and in a moment of prophetic revelation, declared “I’m going to marry him”, and some time later, she would meet him for real, at the Milk Bar in Prestwich. They started courting but any future developments were put on hold when Dad turned 21, because he was indentured but also received his call-up papers for National Service - and became 22452182, Fusilier Cronnolley J – with the 1st Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers.
He served in Egypt in the Canal Zone at Suez at the height of the war living 2 years in a tent - and driving a Bren Gun Carrier. With the bitter-sweet relationship of the camaraderie of the army and literally fighting for their lives, these two years were to be a defining time that later as family, we would hear about time and time and time again!
Meanwhile, Mum used to write to him every week and two years later, Dad was de-mobbed and on 19th March 1955, they were married at St Mary’s Church, Prestwich and moved to the hell-hole of a top-floor flat in Sedgley Park. This rat-infested large house became their first home and later, when new baby John arrived on the scene, they all knew they had to move as soon as possible. They managed to rent a house on Venwood Rd, then Carr Avenue, Prestwich. Dad had managed to get some casual work as a linotype operator on the Evening Chronicle and at the Daily Express and was finally taken on nights at the Daily Express. He loved his job and would often work as much overtime as possible providing for the growing family. You couldn’t get much family on the back of a bike, so he saved enough to buy a little blue A35 van. Dad immediately set about putting windows in it and tinkering with the engine because in 1958, Mandy came along and then 3½ years later in 1962, a little unexpected surprise turned up – in me!
On 14th August, 1964 (51 years ago tomorrow), the family moved from Carr Avenue to Perrymead. Dad’s parenting skills were strict and from the – “put the fear of God into them” camp rather than the more modernist – “let’s be best buddies’ philosophy. Family holidays, mainly during Whit Week, with various Caravans over the years down to Cornwall, Wales, Devon, were fun and to this day, we can still remember Dad fixing a caravan wheel puncture on a blind bend on the A30 near Okehampton in Cornwall with Mum directing traffic in her red wellies!
Dad seemed to be able to turn his hand to practically anything from mending car engines, making wardrobes, furniture, decorating, kitchens, making concrete paths, plumbing – you name it, he’d have a go at it – and did it brilliantly. Now most people who know me well, know I love my bed – my pit. Well, I remember in my teenage years, being absolutely furious with him when he decided (without telling me) to take my old bed down to the tip as he’d made me a new divan bed out of the new-fangled MDF with a bit of padding on it. I was not chuffed! – and I never did get those divan drawers you promised me!
Dad was forever the performer and the showman! He learned his Dad’s monologues, “Albert the Lion” and “Sweeney Todd” at an early age with a critical eye over presentation skills and timing. He later made mini-movies with his wind-up cine camera, the best film being his magic elixir for mixing concrete for the path and dancing on the old bandstand in Heaton Park.
He had nicknames for everyone – and was always pulling everyone’s leg but there was an integrity and honesty about the man. He would never lie to you – especially if you asked him his opinion about something – because you got it!
He was a man that made an impression wherever he went - partly because he would talk to anyone (and everyone!) about anything and everything - all…. day…. long. It also did not matter if you had heard the story in question before, because God Himself could not stop him from telling you a second, third, seventh, fortieth time!
But that was because he was curious about life – and how everything ticks. The best invention ever, he used to say was the television. He thought the invention of BBC 2 with its documentaries and the Open University, opened up the world of learning and education to him and barring the paying of the licence fee, for him, knowledge and learning was now accessible to all. He loved his family and he thoroughly revelled and bragged constantly about his grandkids.
A few years back, my husband Mike and I escaped for a weekend in Jersey – and when we rang home to speak with the kids who were staying with Mum and Dad – Megan asked “where exactly are you?” We’re in Jersey – where’s that? Well, why don’t you ask Granddad to get the atlas out (the book of maps) and he’ll show you. “Oh no – I’m not going to do that – he’ll spend the next half hour trying to fill my head with knowledge and I want my tea!” Well…laugh?!! – and ever since, it’s become a family phrase about “Ooh no, I don’t want to be filled with knowledge today!!!”
And a few years ago, Dad came across a Pam Ayres poem that he stipulated that wanted read at his funeral. It sums him up to a tee – so at this point I’m going to ask Bethany and Megan to come and share ‘They Should Have Asked My Granddad!’
Newspapers were a constant in the home – and Dad eventually went on the staff and became Deputy Advert Printer of the Daily & Sunday Express. The stress and the tensions of the job played their part and Dad sometimes wasn’t an easy man to live with - and like all of us, none of us are perfect.
In 2010, the downhill descent into serious illness began with the diagnosis of bowel cancer with an operation. Then we nearly lost him six weeks later when he got the toxic form of C Difficile. He managed to pull through by the skin of his teeth such was his willpower to live, and then he lost the sight in his right eye after a mini-stroke in the eye. Dad’s GP, Dr Prabhaker at Prestwich Health Centre, said to Mum when he rang the other day that “John was one of my favourite patients…but I always needed to put him at the end of the surgery as his stories would go on!” With a terminal diagnosis after secondaries had been found last year, and two bouts of pneumonia, CDiff again and kidney failure, it was the pneumonia that was finally to get him in the early hours of last Thursday morning.
“Do everything to the best of your ability – you can’t do any more than that”, was his maxim. He was so proud of young John following him to work on the papers and becoming a really good linotype operator and Mandy following her vocation into nursing – and being so good at it - and me with the music and Faith (well that was probably more of a challenge to him – but he’s probably arguing the toss even now with St Peter and talking the socks off the Lord!)
I genuinely believe the Lord has, in the words of Psalm 121 been watching over his life – his comings and his goings. The Lord watches over all of us and is deeply interested – and loves to be involved in the choices we make. And when Dad’s breathing was becoming quite weak, we all gathered around the bed and using Psalm 121, and picturing Dad riding on his favourite bike through the mountains and the hills from whence came his help – we blessed Dad for all he gave to us and to everyone – and gave him permission to go on to his next journey with the Lord. He couldn’t speak but he heard.
During the 17 days he was on the Infectious Diseases Ward J3 at North Manchester Hospital (who were nothing but fantastic), he knew all the nurses names and where they hailed from, and who they were going out with, etc. But all this time, Mum was at his side – as she has been all these years – more than 60 years of sacrificial love – celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary this last March.
Dad has been carried to his final place of rest and it is good to remember that it is Christ who carries us. At the beginning of our service we heard the words that “in the presence of death, it is Christ who offers us sure ground for hope and confidence. Faith, hope and love – and the greatest of these is love. How we love, and how we express our love is at the root of what it is to be human.
For John (for Dad) the battle with life is now over, and he is at peace.
To God be the glory. Amen.
Jean and John , with the grandchildren Laura, Rachel, Bethany and Megan