The following tribute was read out at the memorial service held for John at Holy Trinity Church Meldreth on 25th July 2017 by Chris Duguid, one of John’s daughters.
Our Dad, John, loved Meldreth, the people and the church and someone once called him Mr Meldreth, which he found quite amusing.
Dad wanted a celebration of living, his notes were very clear – no muffled ringing and his favourite hymns. It is fitting that the oldest bell in the tower here dated 1617 and bears an inscription: “I sound not for the souls of the dead but for the ears of the living”.
Over the years Dad, his sister Sylvia and others told me so many stories about his life. He also recorded his memories for Meldreth Local History Group and for the Friends of Holy Trinity reminiscences evenings held here at the church. So here are just some of them.
John was born in the British Queen in August 1923. He was the youngest of five children of Herbert and Agnes Gipson. His sister Sylvia said he was a busy little boy with white blonde hair, rosy cheeks and a terrible temper especially when he was hungry!
Our grandfather Herbert farmed a smallholding up Mettle Hill and one of Dad’s earliest memory was helping William Waldock (Ernie Waldock’s father) harness the horses for work from the pub stables. One particular morning the old mare dropped dead and Dad remembered Phil Jude, the knacker from Barrington, winching the horse onto a flat back cart. He then went on to tell me that in 1933 my grandfather, bought a Fordson tractor at a cost of £100. It had iron wheels because grandfather said rubber was no good – they would slip when it was wet! That was the end of horses on the farm.
He told stories of the old men who came in the pub with no money and who offered to eat raw onions and dead mice for a pint of ale and a farmer named Jarman who would stand on his head before he left. And how his clothes and the bed sheets smelt of tobacco and beer because on wet days the washing was hung in the tap to dry.
John attended Meldreth School. His lifelong friend Raymond Course told the story of being in Miss Butler’s class: she was a strict disciplinarian and took great exception to small boys fiddling in their pockets. She would tell them to go and throw the items on the open fire in the corner of the classroom. On one occasion a certain pupil was fiddling and Miss Butler told him to go and throw the offending items onto the fire. Firecrackers went off which was put down to something in the coal. This boy had thrown a shot from a shotgun cartridge onto the open fire! It wasn’t until 2011 that Dad admitted that it was him and he laughed as he said: “I threw the shot on the fire! The funny thing was that one of the girls said that the fire at her house often spat like that because of the coal and Miss Butler believed her. The fire was a great distraction to us boys. As was the open water tank above that was used for hot water. Every time we went to the fire, we would open the damper a little until finally the water in the open tank would begin to boil and spill over! No health and safety concerns in those days.”
During his time at school, Mr Dainty moved to the village and was recruiting for the church choir. Dad sang in the choir for nearly 80 years. He loved music and his greatest regret was that he could not play an instrument (unless you count the bells). He was an expert on hymns, their words and music. He famously used art and music as his specialised subject at Melbourn’s All Saints Hall mastermind quiz. Unfortunately his love of music did not extend to rock and roll so he didn’t win, as he didn’t know who the lead singer of the Rolling Stones was!
Hobbies: Bell Ringing and Cars
His bell ringing career began in those early days too and he rang his first peal in 1939. [More information on John’s bell ringing is available in the tribute by Derek Sibson which was also read out at the memorial service and is available under downloads below.]
Dad always had a passion for cars and motor bikes. He told the story of Sunday afternoons when grandfather would have a few pints and a large Sunday lunch then go for a nap. Dad and his friend Wilf Butler would push grandfather’s car out of the pub yard and crank it up and then go for a drive. One Sunday they got to Whaddon and realised they were running out of petrol. Luckily there was a petrol pump in Arrington. So they knocked on the man’s door and Dad asked for ¼ gallon of petrol. The man said “you won’t get very far on that boy” to which Dad replied “that’s alright cos we don’t want to go very far.”
He also syphoned petrol from his father’s car for his motorbike. Grandfather often complained that his old car didn’t do many miles to the gallon!
John left school at 14 to become an apprentice; first in Shepreth and then to Jack Wedd at South Cambs Motor Company in Melbourn. He had many stories to tell about this time and loved to reminisce about all the old cars and lorries he had repaired.
World War Two
In the early 1940’s Dad joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers and served in Burma and India where he ran a mobile workshop with 250 members of the Indian Army. He didn’t talk about his time in the war until the late 1970’s when he began to tell us stories. One thing the British Army did not have on the mobile workshops was a compressor so they could not pump up tyres. But guess whose workshop had one? He said he had cobbled it together from some odd parts, later admitting that he had stolen it from a discarded American vehicle.
In 1947 he returned to Meldreth. On arriving at Meldreth Station he was asked for his ticket by station staff who he put the V sign up to. (It wasn’t a V for victory!) He felt that after being away so long and the war having been over for two years nobody had the right to challenge him for his ticket! He walked into the British Queen and his father shook his hand and said “Well done” and the war was never mentioned again. His father asked him what he was going to do. When he replied that he was going to set up a repair workshop in the barn at the rear of the British Queen his father and brother said he wouldn’t make a living as only a handful of people in the village had cars! They were wrong and he soon had a thriving business.
Dad converted an old van so he could drive bell ringers around. One of these ringers was Charlie Cook from Newton. That is how he met our mother Joan. She was Charlie’s daughter and they were married at St Margaret’s Church in Newton in 1953 by Derek’s father. They began married life in a cottage in the High Street before moving to the Nook, where they lived for nearly 60 years.
In the late 1950s Dad was looking to expand and first considered buying the Railway Tavern and yard. But his brother Norman told him told him that Woolpack Farm was to be sold from the estate of H O S Ellis. Dad thought this was too expensive but his brother suggested he sold off the orchard as building plots to raise the capital to build his garage and filling station. This is what he did and so maybe Dad was the first property developer in Meldreth! He ran the garage for less than 20 years but for many people it was a place to go for a chat or advice or just hang out and is fondly remembered by many. He wasn’t much of a businessman, he just liked mending cars! Jack Clark, Dave Day, Graham Smith all worked for him and many others worked in the office and served petrol.
In 1978 he retired and dedicated much of his time to bell ringing and restoring not only Meldreth & Melbourn church bells but also bells around the UK and in Philadelphia, USA.
He used the old chapel at the back of the house as a workshop. It was stuffed full of paraphernalia only known to Dad. There were thousands of bits and pieces related to cars, bells, lawnmowers: you name it he had it. The work bench was piled high with tools but he always seemed to lay his hand on the right tool for the job. Everything was covered in grease! He loved it, it was his sanctuary … from our mother.
He was a skilled engineer but also an inventor! He made our Girl Guide unit several collapsible fireplaces. They were an ingenious design and were admired by Guide and Scout leaders wherever we camped!
He would spend happy hours at Herbie‘s scrapyard in the village and bring home all sorts of things to “mend” for the grandchildren … bikes, pushchairs, pedal cars … Everything was repairable.
Dad served on the Parish Council for 31 years. Whenever we drove over station bridge he would call it ‘Gipson Way’ as he said he and George Palmer had harassed the County Council for a footpath to be built over the bridge for many years and eventually they succeeded.
Dad was Churchwarden here for 35 years. He was also tower captain, maintaining the bells and the clock. He climbed over the bell frame like a monkey even into his 80s. I think it was probably his favourite place. He knew every corner of this church and would love to show any one who showed the slighted interest the bells and the barrel organ.
In 2011 Dad received “unsung hero award” from archbishop of Canterbury for his services to Bell ringing, and to our mother’s delight was invited to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party.
He was a kind loyal and compassionate friend to many. He cared for his brother Norman and his sisters Muriel and Sylvia, then latterly our mother Joan as she became less mobile.
Our parents both set a wonderfully strong examples of love, respect for others and service to the community.
Dad would talk to everyone and he was full of quirky facts, such as “What’s the width of a railway track?” or “How many gallons of water does Rutland Water hold?
Latterly when his short term memory began to go, he would say that he never looked his age and delighted in asking people, “How old do you think I am?”
His other question was “Where were you when the bomb went off?” much to the bemused face of a young check out girl in Waitrose. “I was in Rangoon in Burma you know’’.
In 2011 he left his beloved house and chapel in the High Street and moved to the bungalow in Woolpack Way. Even up to the last day he wasn’t moving! But we had a plan, so on moving day June McKay offered to take him out ringing and my sisters and I moved them. On returning to Woolpack Way he sat on the sofa and said “who’s making a cup of tea?” and the old house and chapel was rarely mentioned again. Dad celebrated his 90th birthday there on a beautiful sunny August day in 2013 with over 100 friends and family. And our parents were able to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary their in December 2013.
He loved his eight grandchildren. Laura, Jonathan, Claire, Charlotte, Louise, Ben, Abigail & Kate gave Dad endless happiness: holidays away, games, terrible magic tricks and even worse jokes and puzzles, an old mini to drive round the garden in with a three-point-turn on the patio much to mother’s horror and cooking sausages for breakfast. Our children loved Meldreth and visits to Grandma and Grandad. Dad’s much-loved great grandchildren Emily, Isobel and Emily Rose called him Grandad Jelly Baby because he ensured that Jelly Babies were always in large supply on visits. We hope they will be able to tell Florence Albert all about him.
After our mother, Joan’s death 18 months ago Dad moved on again to Maycroft Care Home in Meldreth High Street. He was reluctant at first but soon settled there. He enjoyed the company and especially the food and was visited regularly by many friends and family. We must thank Lynne and all her staff at Maycroft who have been so kind and caring. He could not have received better love and care especially in his last days. He died peacefully on 18th June 2017 less than 100 yards from where he was born.
Like our mother Joan, he was a constant in an ever-changing world and he has touched so many people’s lives. This tribute is one of many we have received and came from Hilary’s friend Peter Guest: “He taught me a lot. Everything was repairable, and that’s a great skill to have. He was always doing things for others: the village, the church, the young lad who needed a bit of direction, the older man who needed to keep his car on the road, the bells. He had a calmness about him that had to be admired. I never saw him get over excited with anyone or anything and I never saw him angry. He understood people from all walks of life and could talk to anyone and everyone. He was special, everyone knew him. I’m not sure we have characters like him these day, a true scholar and gentleman.” Thank you Peter, that really sums up our Dad.
And finally as Nelson Mandela said: What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is the difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we have led.
For more information see also: