Tribute to Frank Thornber, my father.
When I Die and Leave Behind
When I die and leave behind
This earth I love
These trees, this sky,
The pounding sea,
The yearly hope of spring,
Cry not for me,
My soul has wings
And in it's freedom sings.
Frank Thornber, my/our Dad was born on the 6th September 1932, although
his original birth certificate seems to have been altered to a year earlier,
but more on that later. He lived in small cottage on Forrester Street,
Padiham, Lancashire, the eldest of three boys, brother of Richard and
Dad's ancestors had been big property owners in the area, but had fallen
on harder times by the time my Dad came along. There was still some property
in the family and Dad used to go around with his Grandmother collecting
rent, a chore he never enjoyed. Dad spent a large amount of time living
with his Aunty, whilst his mother was ill, which proved to be a hard and
very strict experience.
On a brighter note, one of Dad's ancestors bred what we would nowadays
call a rare breed chicken, the Thornber hen, which is still around and
seen by my brother Christopher, fairly recently at a country show.
Attending what is now called Padiham Primary School, Dad enjoyed some
of his classes, but wasn't averse to bunking off lessons to climb the
nearby Pendle Hill with his friends.
On completion of school at 14 years of age, Dad was apprenticed to be
a locomotive fireman and steam trains became a lifelong passion. Unfortunately,
the rail company and Dad parted company when it was discovered that his
eye-sight wasn't up to the requirements to become a train driver. Career
choices for a young Lancashire lad were limited at that time, it was either
the coal pit or the cotton mills, so Dad spent a short time as a Tatler
or mechanic working on the looms in Progress Mills, where his Dad worked
and his brothers would eventually join too. Being cooped up in a noisy
weaving shed didn't suit Dad, so at the tender age of 17 and a half or
possibly 16 and a half (hence we think the change to his birth certificate)
On the 14th September 1950, Fusilier Thornber joined the King's Own Fusiliers
and later the Lancashire Fusiliers, where he served for 12 years, reaching
the rank of Corporal. The photograph on the order of service is one of
the first photographs of Dad in his uniform.
No sooner had Dad finished his basic training before he was being shipped
off to Korea, where he saw action on the Korean Peninsula, losing many
close friends and ending up injured and on an American hospital ship.
Once recovered, Dad was posted to Hong Kong, a country he always remembered
with affection, experiencing the nightlife of Wan Chai and acquiring his
first tattoos - something he always regretted.
Dad's main job in the army was working in MT (Motor transport to the uninitiated)
becoming in charge of the motor pool in Wellington Barracks (Bury) and
later training members of the TA personnel.
The post-war years of the 1950's were an unsettled time and military personnel
were called on to protect and rebuild war torn Germany. Dad found himself
with the Lancashire Fusiliers in Germany and it was at this time that
one of my Mam's army penfriends acquired a girlfriend and asked Mam if
she could write to his friend, a nice lad who didn't have anyone to write
to. Letters started to flow and Mam soon found herself as the 'middle
man' in communications between Dad and his mother, a life long occupation
for my Mam!
Mam and Dad met when he came to Redcar on Christmas leave in 1955. Dad
was obviously taken with Mam and asked my Nana (not Granddad I might add!)
in the following February if they could marry. An engagement ring in a
Valentine's card (February 1955) sealed the deal, although my Mam was
a bit bemused as to whether it was a formal proposal. It obviously was,
because Mam and Dad married in June 1956, hastened along the way by the
start of the Suez crisis. They managed to fit in a honeymoon in Blackpool
and Dad, ever the romantic, made Mam do the rowing in Stanley Park! Dad
and Mam's marriage lasted for 52 years through thick and thin, good times
and bad with Mam always unfailingly looking after and supporting him to
the very end.
Various posts in the UK followed. Bury, TA barracks around the country
and London at the Tower of London (not for treason, although he did frequent
the Glasshouse on a couple of occasions for minor incidences) but for
changing the guard and was escort to the Queen's keys in the Tower.
Children came on the scene and Mam and Dad produced me, Sue and Christopher
by the time Dad left the Army in 1962. Life in Civvie Street proved to
be quite tough and 100 hour working weeks driving long distance lorries
the length and breadth of the UK were the norm for Dad. Life eventually
settled into more regular hours with work for Smith of Madison and finally
Calor Gas, as a tanker driver until he retired. In the meantime, two more
children, Alison and Katrina enlarged the Thornber clan.
What was Dad like? Well, I am sure you will all have your own stories
and memories of 'Mr Calor Gas', Frank Thornber, my Dad and I look forward
to hearing some of them later. My early memories are of times spent with
Dad in the cab of his lorry, stops at transport cafes for a big breakfast
and even bigger mugs of tea, a quiet unassuming man with a droll, observational
sense of humour, who made friends easily, but had his own personal demons
that he constantly battled with. He was a man who liked the open road
and passed on his appreciation of travel, how to read a map and his love
of dark chocolate - thanks Dad (pat stomach)
On the subject of food, Dad would always, without fail go for the prawn
cocktail starter when dining out. One Christmas Day years ago, most of
the family went out to for a 4 or 5 course Christmas meal at an Italian
restaurant. Dad, true to form ordered the prawn cocktail starter, but
hadn't banked on the size of Italian portions. Well, his jaw dropped on
the starter's arrival and was heard to exclaim 'Dorothy, look at the size
of those prawns. They're almost a meal in themselves.' This became Dad's
catchphrase and used by various members of the family over the course
of the years.
Dad enjoyed overseas travel, especially to warm countries and took holidays
in the former Yugoslavia, Madeira and Malta - a place he visited at least
a dozen times and contemplated retiring to. He joined his brother Clifford
on several cruises and trips to many Mediterranean countries. My biggest
regret is that I did not get the opportunity to take Dad back to Hong
Kong, something that he would have loved have done.
Hobbies wise, Dad biggest passion was photography, a love which has passed
on to my daughter Yasmin. Dad was asked to take photos at a number of
weddings, christenings and family gatherings and was very good at it too.
You may not know, but his earlier interests were woodwork, keeping an
allotment, learning about computers. My Mam also assures me that he was
a pretty good dancer, listing the square tango and rumba royale amongst
his favourite moves. He also enjoyed the Whit Walks in Padiham, something
he tried to attend when he could.
Dad had eclectic tastes in music and my early memories are filled with
sounds of Reginald Dixon at the Blackpool Tower organ, the strings of
Mantovanni. He even bought ABBA's Waterloo when it was released for the
Eurovision Song Contest. Dad was a big supporter of my music career, especially
in later years and bought me my first ever brass band record, Black Dyke
Mills Band, who played the music you heard at the start of this service.
It is no secret that Dad enjoyed a pint, hence the floral tribute that
you see today. His last pint was taken at the Lakes Social Club, of which
he was a founder member. Dad always joked about a Co-Op ham tea for his
funeral, a tradition amongst earlier generations of the Thornber family,
and it is fitting we should have the opportunity to send him on his way
with a final drink and bite to eat in the Lakes Club, where I hope you
will join us on completion of this service.
Dad was also a strong supporter of the Royal British Legion and its Poppy
appeal (hence my unseasonal poppy) for which there will be a collection
in lieu of flowers at the end of this service for anyone that would like
Dad's wish was to be laid to rest with members of his family and his ashes
will be interred with those of his father, mother and two brothers in
the Memorial Gardens in Padiham.
I would like to finish this tribute with the collect or regimental prayer
of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers that my Dad would have known;
O God our guide from of old, grant that wherever thy servants of the Royal
Regiment of Fusiliers are called upon to serve, we may follow the example
of thy servant St George and ever prove steadfast in Faith and valiant
in Battle, through him who is the Captain of our Salvation, Jesus Christ
our Lord. Amen.
Rest in peace Dad.
David J Thornber