This is part seven of my Dad’s story. It was amazing that he wrote it, I’d never really known him to write anything until then. He was brilliant and we all loved him to bits. He never spoke about any of this, so if he hadn’t have written it down we may never have known…
Twice Lost, a personal memoir by Harry Milner Howard
Chapter Seven – Wetherby
After nearly ten years of marriage Irene and I decided to start a family, and on April 10th my daughter Louise Elizabeth was born in a private hospital in Oldham. At that time we lived at 3 Worcester Rd, Alkrington, Middleton, and had many good neighbours and friends. We had a lot of parties, many of them fancy dress, and got together to get a better deal for our children at school. On May 22nd our twin boys Michael George and Robert William were born at Oldham General Hospital. I was away at the time on business and we only knew that we were having twins three days before they were born. I went to work as usual on Monday morning heading for Wales thinking there was six weeks to go before they were due to arrive. On Tuesday morning the phone went in my room in the hotel and it was Irene’s mother who told me I was the proud father of twin boys. Although having a little girl of three and twin babies was very hard work, especially for Irene, our life was a happy one and seemed complete. ‘Ideally happy’ I would term it, and that’s how it’s been ever since. The boys had one or two mishaps over the years. Beside our house in Wetherby runs the River Wharf and next to it is a rock cliff about twenty feet down. When they were about ten Robert came running home saying Mike had fallen down the cliff. Irene was never an athlete but when she thought her young son was hurt the adrenaline flowed. She jumped a three foot fence and left me lagging behind. Michael had fallen down the cliff but a bush had broken his fall and he was O.K. Rob crushed and broke his arm on a big swing gate at church, and later broke his toe on it, and broke his other arm playing football. When he was four and in bed he began screaming, we ran upstairs and he said he had swallowed a Penny (an old Penny). We took him to hospital for an x-ray and it turned out that he must have dreamt it!. Mike fell off his bike and was concussed and said that he had lost half of his mind, and I also remember Mike stabbing Rob in the head (accidentally), and shooting him in the back with an air pistol. However the one I remember the most was when we lived in Manchester. The drive ran down a slope to the road and I’d left Mike and Rob playing in my car. They were about six and Rob was pretending to drive. Mike must have moved it out of gear and taken the hand brake off and the car started rolling back down the drive. They told me later that at first they thought the house was moving forwards! The car rolled down the drive and right across the road just stopping before a garden wall across the road. Robert stopped in the car frozen to the seat and Michael ran in and told me. I ran out and all I could see was this little white face just about showing through the windscreen.
I said previously that coming to Yorkshire was a good move, and living in Wetherby was the reason. It is worth telling how it came about that we bought our house on Glenfield Avenue. It was 1971 when we moved to Wetherby and it was very difficult at that time to buy a house, especially if you were moving from a distance. Many houses never went on the market, they were sold privately, and even if they went on the market they were grabbed immediately. Irene and I had been coming from Manchester to Wetherby every weekend with no luck. On one particular weekend we had been trying to find a house in Boston Spa and Wetherby but had no luck. We were really getting a bit desperate and thought about having a house built, but we’d done that before and didn’t really want to start again. We had one more house to see in Wetherby but Irene had a terrible headache so we went straight home to Manchester. On Monday morning I came back over to Yorkshire, went to work to check everything was O.K. then made my way to Wetherby to have a look at this house. I went to the estate agent and he said that it hadn’t officially been put on the market yet so he didn’t have any details, just the address. I went to Glenfield Avenue and wasn’t sure of the number. I saw a very nice young lady in a garden so I stopped and asked her if she knew if there was a house for sale, and she told me it was the house opposite. So I went to the house and a young lady confirmed that the house was for sale. I looked around then told her that I was very interested and could I put a deposit on it immediately. I asked how much she was asking and she told me to come back in the evening to see her husband. I agreed and I was ready to do a little negotiating even though I knew it was a seller’s market. The reason was that the young lady across the road had hinted that if I played my cards right I could get a good deal. This did me a very good turn and I’m pleased to say that that young lady and her husband twenty five years later are very good friends and still live across the road – Kath and Bob Bentley. I was quite curious as to why Kath had said I could get a good deal but of course I didn’t ask her or the seller. I went back that evening to see the husband and it turned out that he was on leave from the Merchant Navy. He had two weeks more leave and he wanted to take his wife back with him to the Far East where he was a Skipper of a tanker. He was asking £7000 for the house and I told him my ceiling was £6000. We negotiated a price of £6500, £500 was a lot of money in those days, but there was a condition to the sale – I had to give him the whole amount within a week. I phoned my head office and spoke to the Chairman who said he would have a cheque in the post for £6500 the next day. So that was settled – twenty years later it was worth £100,000. I learnt later that the reason they wanted a quick sale was because their marriage was going through a rocky period and he wanted his wife with him. But with all situations there is some good comes of it and I’m pleased to say the good came to me; I got the house which we have been very happy in, and got £500 knocked off the price!
We settled down in our house with good neighbours. The day we moved, Friday April 21st, 1971, I was missing my friends in Manchester. We had to get used to a new life – not easy. However the following Friday Richard Lee who lived across the road who we’d met a couple of times during the week, knocked at the door and said “Come on Harry, all the boys go for a drink on Friday night”, so off I went, and twenty five years later though we now go on Thursdays and some of the faces have changed, we are still doing it. Irene also made new friends, Louise went to the High School, and the boys went to Crossley Street Junior School and we all settled down. Louise was at the age when it was more difficult to move and to settle down. Irene and I knew it, but there wasn’t much we could do about it, but we felt it very much, particularly Irene.
Back at work I settled into my new position. The branch was in a terrible state. The sales team were at rock bottom without an ounce of enthusiasm, and they’d been leading the manager a dance which I think was part of the cause of his breakdown. Can you imagine a Lancashire man running a sales team of Yorkshire men! My managing Director suggested I gave the man I’d taken over from some time off, then put him out on the road as a salesman. I felt that this would be a difficult thing for him to take, to have to face the salesmen, office girls and warehouse staff. I also thought he would make a very good second in command. There is quite a large margin between the boss and second in command, (as Harry Truman said, “The Buck stops here”) so against the M.D.’s wishes I made him my assistant. It turned out to be a very successful partnership. The next thing to sort out was the sales force. The top salesman was convinced he was going to be made manager. When he didn’t and I appeared on the scene he made it clear in many devious ways that he was going to make things very difficult for me. He was a spoiler; he would influence the other salesmen, demotivating them but always making sure he came top. Most of the team couldn’t see through him, I say team but there was no such thing, it was a shambles. I bided my time, it was not easy to dismiss people and there was no redundancy. I brought another young man into the firm to be trained for another company. I told the spoiler to take him out and train him. He thought this person was joining as a junior manager and was furious. He refused to take him out and all his bitterness came spilling out. He completely lost his temper and told me what he thought of me so I sacked him on the spot, gave him a month’s salary, and never saw him again. After he had gone I could work on the rest of the team. I gradually sorted out the wheat from the chaff. The ones who were never going to be salesmen I gave different jobs or suggested that sales wasn’t the type of job for them. Most of them agreed but needed a push so I gave them time to find another job. Gradually I got my own men around me and we became one of the top teams in the Group, and quite often the best team.
There was one occasion when we were the top team a reporter from Head Office wrote a very glowing article about us and finished by saying “Having a Lancashire lad in charge of a team of Yorkshire men must be a good thing”. He was obviously a Southerner and didn’t understand the situation between Yorkshire and Lancashire. The article was written in the Groups newspaper. Everyone normally got a copy, but not that month; I destroyed all our copies. As the saying goes, ‘What the eyes don’t see the heart doesn’t grieve about’!
My management style was part autocratic, part democratic, and over the years management styles change but I always believed and kept to the style of never worrying about being liked, but aiming to be respected. That meant that I worked hard and always tried to do better than I thought I was capable of. I felt that management was all about example. Maybe I was right, maybe I was wrong. After a few years I was put in charge of the Newcastle branch as well as Leeds so I spent half the week in Leeds and half in Newcastle. I didn’t consider travelling to work to be work time for my staff so it had to be the same for me, so I would set off from Wetherby in time to get to work in Newcastle by 8.00 am, and wouldn’t leave until after work hours. When I was sixty two there were managers getting early retirement and pay offs, and that’s what I wanted so I began requesting this from the Personnel department. In fact I made a nuisance of myself until Irene and I were invited to London to have dinner with the Chairman. I was told politely that I would be staying on until I was sixty five. But he said that as I had got things running smoothly I should take time off when I wanted, play golf, take Irene away for a few days anytime. In fact he was saying I could unofficially work part time on full pay, but the bottom line was to keep the branches profitable. Before we left I even negotiated a new car for when I retired, make and colour. So that is what I did – ‘the good life’. During my time at Yorkshire my sales team won quite a few holidays. In fact I think we won more holidays than any other team. We had a few in this country, and also in New York, The Canary Islands, Majorca, Portugal, Corsica, and Paris. Irene also went into a competition from Moffats and won two weeks in the Caribbean. What with our own holidays – La Manga in Spain, Madrid, Malta and conferences overseas we had our share of holidays, in fact you might say we had our fill. One of our first holidays to Spain was in the days when you travelled in a suit and tie. At Ringway (now Manchester) Airport I was queuing for a coffee and the young lady in front was having difficulty getting a saucer from the spring loaded server, so I helped her. When we got on the plane she was on the next seat with her husband, and we just nodded. When we got off the plane at Almeria people were going to all different parts in various buses, Irene and I were the last to get on our bus and sitting on the front seat was the same young lady and her husband who muttered something about a bad penny keeps turning up. I thought ‘what a strange person, I wouldn’t like to know him’ and off we went dropping off different people at their hotels until there were only four people left on the bus, us and them! We got off at the last place together and were staying in the same apartment block, which was brand new and beautiful. I decided not to say anything but the husband, Brian, was quite chatty and invited us up to their apartment for a drink. He introduced us to his wife, Doreen, and it turned out that they lived in Yorkshire only ten to fifteen miles from us. We spent the whole holiday together and became firm friends. We went to their daughter’s wedding and to this day though it must be fifteen years since he mentioned the bed penny, I always remind him of it!
When I was young and lived at home my mother always said, “I hope you don’t grow up to be like your father with his women and alcohol”. She would also say this to Irene which I’m sure worried her at the time, though as they say ‘Love is blind’ and I presume deaf as well! Just after we moved to Wetherby Irene and I were invited to a wedding in Manchester. Irene was looking beautiful as usual, but there was one difference; she had bought a gorgeous blonde wig so was now a blonde! On the way back from the wedding we passed my mother’s house. It was nearly midnight but I noticed the downstairs lights were on so I said to Irene I wanted to play a joke on my mother. At first Irene wouldn’t agree but I managed to persuade her. I left Irene in the car outside the house and knocked on the door. My sister answered and I told her that I had been out with this young lady and she wanted to use the toilet. Doreen refused and said “How dare you, your mother will be furious”, so I went inside and told my mother and she was furious and said “I was hoping that you’d never turn out like your father!” However I went back to the car and brought Irene into the house against their wishes. We went into the front room and at first they sat there with stony faces, then they looked at Irene and suddenly recognised her. We had a good laugh, and I don’t think my mother ever worried that I’d turn out like my father again.
When Louise was fourteen and the boys were eleven, Irene went into hospital for a hysterectomy operation. This is actually a straight forward operation, the most difficult time being afterwards when you have to take it very easy. I think at the time we expected Irene to be away for about two weeks. The operation seemed to go quite well, I went to see her when she was still under the anaesthetic. I came away thinking that the next day she would be fine. That evening I got a phone call from the surgeon to say something had gone wrong. Irene was haemorrhaging and they would have to operate again and needed my permission. I asked if it was serious and was shocked to hear that there was only a fifty fifty chance of Irene coming through the operation. Can you imagine how I felt? I remember going upstairs to think things out and I didn’t want the children to see me upset. What would I do if she didn’t come through? I just couldn’t believe it would happen and happily it was a success. However Irene was in hospital for six weeks and needed a lot of nursing when she came home. All the time Irene was in hospital Louise looked after everything when I was at work and made wonderful meals. I don’t know what I would have done without her.
In 1978 when I was settled running the business in Leeds I had been thinking that since the war I had completely concentrated on myself and my family, and I felt that it was time to help and think about other people outside the family. Discussing it with Irene she suggested that I joined the Samaritans. She knew someone who was one, and could give me all the information I needed. So I joined and stayed with them for nearly ten years until I retired. In the office there were two telephones and a room upstairs for clients visiting the centre. Besides being on duty at the centre we had a flying squad that could be called out to visit clients between 10pm and 8am when the centre was closed to visitors, though the phones were open 24hrs a day. Usually there were two people on call for the flying squad, a male and a female. One time when I was on duty my partner and I were called out to go to a house where somebody with a young voice was saying she was very frightened. It was 2am. We got to the street and could tell which house it was because every light in the house was on and the front door was wide open. We went into the house and there were two young girls about fourteen years old. Their parents had gone to Spain on holiday and the two girls were very upset and convinced there was an evil ghost in the house. They had locked the dog in a room because they thought the evil spirit had got into the dog and then one of them thought the spirit had got into her friend and so she had phoned the Samaritans. There was no convincing them that it was just their imagination so we settled down with them until the morning. When it got light they started to feel better and we left them with neighbours in charge. On another occasion my female partner answered the doorbell and found a strange looking man on the doorstep. This was not unusual. She showed him to the visitor’s room and came down to ask me if I would see him, and told me he was carrying a stick. When I went into the room he was sitting there with a pickaxe handle between his knees; some stick! I sat opposite him, on the edge of the chair, ready to move quickly. I rang for some coffee, and when it arrived I handed it to him and at the same time took the pickaxe handle and put it against the wall. We talked for a while and when he finished his coffee he got hold of the handle again and started to leave. Just before he went I asked him why he was carrying it round with him and he said that he’d just bought it as his other one had broken when he was digging up his path! Some were violent and one man once threatened to go to the ironmongers and buy stuff to blow the centre up. Another time a young lady rushed into the centre and sat on the stairs weeping and shouting. She had a handful of tablets and said she wanted to end it all. It was a cry for help but who can really tell. I sat on the stairs with her for two hours, the pills tightly gripped in the hand I was holding. When she had calmed down she opened her hand and all the tablets had been crushed to powder.
The children grew up and went to university, Louise to Hull, Michael to Loughborough, and Robert to Nottingham. They all got their degrees, Louise a Law Degree, and Robert and Michael Psychology Degrees. Louise stayed in Hull, and the boys lived in Nottingham. While Louise was at Hull University she got married, and a year later Christa Jade was born. Unfortunately the marriage didn’t last. Louise was in a music group called Red Guitars. They were signed to Virgin, the Richard Branson record company and at that time they were playing all over the country and overseas, so Christa came to live with Irene and me at Wetherby. She was five years old and stayed until she was seven. She was a lovely and loveable child and it was two very happy years. Two years after Christa went back to Hull to live with Louise I retired. This was the start of a new life. I had three farewell parties. One for the staff in Yorkshire, one with my peers in Majorca, and finally the official retirement party at the Hilton Hotel in Leeds with my peers and bosses.
At the end of my speech I said about Irene and I “This is the first day of the rest of our lives”. I’m sure I can speak for Irene as well as myself, we have enjoyed every second of it. I have been retired eight years now and it’s getting better. When I retired we had one grandchild, Christa, now we have got six. In fact the last one was born a few days ago on 2nd April 1996 as I was writing this. He is Louise’s son called Asa Harry. Their first is Corey who is three years old. Michael and Sylvie live in a beautiful house surrounded by vineyards in Beziers in the South of France and have two children, Arthur (Michael’s step-son) who is eight and Samuel Robert who is three. Michael met Sylvie when he and Robert were playing in a band a few years ago. Robert and Bronwen live in Nottingham and have a baby daughter, Stevie Gina.
When we first retired Irene and I decided to take long winter holidays. Malta was our favourite place at the time and we decided to spend a month on holiday in winter, which we did for two years. I became very interested in Malta’s history which is very interesting, particularly from when the Knights Hospitallers arrived and became known as The Knights of Malta. I built up a large amount of photographic slides and put together a script which gave a brief story of the Islands history which I showed to many organisations in the area. After a few years we decided to spend less time going away because we found our whole life was a holiday and we enjoyed having a few days away in this country instead.
About four years before I retired Irene became a Catholic. The feeling and desire had been with her for many years, and so consequently we had many Catholic friends and did a lot of things within the church. At this time they decided to build a new church, so I joined the money raising committee and we raised many thousands of pounds. The new church was finished in 1986 and the old church next to it was converted into the church hall and hired out for church functions and so on. We also hired it out to make it cost effective and for three years I looked after it, cleaning it and generally keeping an eye on things. After that I felt it was someone else’s turn so I resigned from the committee, it was time to relax. In 1993 I became a Catholic. I believed in God but hadn’t gone to any special church, though for quite a few years I went to the Catholic church with Irene. It was not as if I had seen the light and suddenly became religious, but I liked the way the Catholic Church did things, and the friendships within the church. There was something special about the relationships we had and I felt differently inside. Just before I became a Catholic a new priest came to the parish, Father Paul Moxon. He was my kind of man and was a great help to me. But the priest who had the most influence on me was Father Eamon Fitzgerald. We played golf together every Monday morning and he would answer my questions. He was a very sensible and understanding person. When I came into the Church there were four people who stood for me. They were Bob Bentley, Maggie Roux, Jim Hill, and Brendan Naughton who are all great friends and mean such a lot to me.
In 1988 when I retired from work we planned a party for our friends from the church choir Irene ran and conducted. It was quite a step forward when she formed and organised the choir. The party however ended up being for most of our friends in the church. We had a great time but out of it came the St Joseph’s Golfing Society. At the party we organised a golf day and an evening meal with our wives at Aldwark Manor, a beautiful house which had a small golf course. There were a dozen golfers and partners for dinner but the Society has gone from strength to strength and we now have a waiting list to join. We have about thirty golfers and about eighty people come to the dinner. I was voted as Life President which was a bit of fun at first, but now just gets accepted. I also completely run the Society; organising the golf at different clubs and organising the evening dinners, the menus, prizes, trophies etc – with a lot of help from Irene!
Irene and I spend quite a bit of time in Manchester with my sister Doreen and her family and they spend time with us in Wetherby. Doreen’s family comprises of Bill her husband, Julie and Tina their daughters, Julie’s son Billy, Tina’s son Joseph. We have great times and great fun together. Julie’s marriage broke up when her husband walked out on her when she was seven months pregnant. He obviously didn’t want his son then but ever since Billy was born he has caused nothing but trouble, wanting to see more and more of the son he walked out on. He owed many thousands of pounds when he left his family. In my opinion he was a spoilt boy and also a coward and just couldn’t face up to having a family and owing all that money.
I’ve said earlier that my paternal grandfather came from Ireland and was a Catholic, but since we were brought up by my Mother whose family were Protestants I cannot remember ever meeting him. I knew that he came from County Cork and came to England where I presume he met my grandmother. It’s possible that her Christian name was Memory; my grandfather’s name was William Henry Howard, and that’s all I knew. In 1994 Irene and I went to Ireland with a few friends for a holiday. We were touring and had stopped in County Cork and were having a few drinks in the back room of a pub. Also in the room were three young Irish couples and we spent the afternoon singing and telling stories. I asked them if they had heard of the name Howard and one of the boys said yes he had, and that they were well known, the ‘Howards of Banteer’. The next day we set off after breakfast and we were travelling with Bob and Kath Bentley. Bob noticed a sign ‘Banteer’ one mile ahead so we decided to go and see if we could find the Howards. I went into a local store and asked in there and they directed me to the farm of Joseph Howard, just a short way up the road. We went a few miles up this country road and thought we were lost so asked a labourer who explained the way in great detail and gave quite a long monologue. Unfortunately we couldn’t understand a word he said! Further on we asked an old lady in a cottage, she must have been a hundred years old and she said “Are you foreigners?” She then told us where the Howard’s farm was and we arrived at the door of a nice house opened by a young lady. I said I was looking for the Howard’s of Banteer and she said “You’ve found them”. She invited us in and told me she’d just finished a degree in archaeology and was going to start a law degree. She introduced us to her mother but her father Joseph and her brother were out on the farm and were not expected back until the evening. I told her I was searching for my grandfather’s family and it turned out she was studying her family’s history quite seriously. She said that the Howards had originally come over from England just after Cromwell brought his English armies to Ireland. The Howards were Catholics and came over as workers for one of the titled families that were given land. I told her my grandfather’s name and guessed at his date of birth and she concluded that we were probably related. She said that she and her family considered themselves to be Anglo/Irish and her Mother who was pure Irish said it was quite daunting when she first married Joseph because it was quite something belonging to an Anglo/Irish family. The daughter was called Nora though she liked to be called Noni, and she hopes to come to England for her Law degree. I said that if she did she would be made very welcome if she came to visit us.
I’ve always been vaguely interested in paintings and I’ve often wondered why famous paintings were so famous. Was it just that they were painted by a famous artist or was there something special about the painting? Why did I like certain paintings? So I decided to do something about it and enrolled as a mature student of Leeds University for a BA. Degree in Art History and Art Appreciation. It was quite something; three thousand and five thousand word essays for my exams. I had to ask Robert how to write an essay, I didn’t know about introductions and conclusions. My education was sadly lacking, in fact it was just about nil. Everything I know I have learnt in the University of Life. However I am really enjoying the course and getting better in my essays. In my first year I got a pass mark of 61% which I think it is a 2:2.
A few years ago we met Brendan and Betty Naughton. Betty is an artist and also a great pianist. Now Irene has always tinkled on the piano, but we’d given ours to Michael and Robert when they were both in Nottingham. However Michael had moved to France and Robert and Bronwen were moving and didn’t need it so Betty said to Irene that if she got the piano she would teach her to play again. Irene said that Betty was a marvellous teacher so we got the piano back and she started her lessons. Talk about keen, she never stopped practising. She was really doing well and went in for her grade three piano exam and got a very good distinction mark after only seven months. Can you guess what happened next? Yes, Irene said she wanted a new piano, which she got with Betty’s help. She has now taken her grade five and passed. Now, what can I say about Betty? She is a lovely person. It is always difficult to write about somebody you like very much. I think someone is very lucky if they find a best friend in their life, and Irene has said to me that Betty is very special to her and in fact she said she was that best friend. Now what are the chances that when two wives make such good friends that their husbands will get on, never mind form a friendship, and I feel a very strong friendship for Brendan. I wrote earlier that when I was very young I put a shell around myself. Well since then I have never got close to anybody, and now after all this time I feel very close to Brendan. I can talk to him, and there is a strong likeness in the way we have done things during our working life, though Brendan in business had been far more successful than me. I could say that in the short time we’ve known each other, maybe five or six years, I feel we have become close friends. Brendan, Betty, Irene and I have been to several superb painting exhibitions together, including a Cezanne exhibition at the Tate and have had many great days together enjoying each other’s company.
There is one member of the family that I haven’t mentioned. He was with us for fourteen years; Sammy our West Highland White Terrier. When we bought him he was a gorgeous puppy who jumped up and down in excitement in his kennel when we first saw him. The boys were fourteen and Louise seventeen. We all loved Sammy very much. Four years after we bought him the boys went away to university and Louise was already at Hull University so there was just us: Irene and me, and Sammy. We had ten years together. I think I must be a bit soppy writing about a dog as if he was human, well he nearly was to us, even though he was very self-willed and full of his own importance. When he was fourteen he fell ill and died peacefully.
I’m finishing this journal on my seventy third birthday – April 16th 1996. Tonight we are going out to dinner with our very good friends Brendan and Betty. Irene and I are surrounded, although at a distance, by our children and grandchildren, and are so very happy in our life together. All the family are gathering in Wetherby at the weekend, with the newest member, Asa Harry Clough-Howard who will be eighteen days old.
This journal is for my family, but especially for Irene my wife, with whom I have been in love since we first met.”
Harry Milner Howard 16.4.23 – 23.11.96