This week has been… difficult. There’s a post coming up about writing this, and the events leading up to it, but this is the eulogy I read at my grandfather’s funeral this afternoon.
Frank Miland was born in Cambridgeshire during the First World War, and he and his family – Lily, Audrey, Arch & Eric – moved to Pembury when he was 8. He worked on the farm as a boy, catching rabbits to sell rather than cook, but during the depression they lost the farm, so Frank was sent out to work, and he did whatever there was, from delivery driver to errand boy, until when the second World War broke out he joined the Army, and was sent to be a delivery boy for them instead, driving an ammunition truck in Dunkirk.
Once, when the bombs started falling around them, they decided driving an ammo truck was probably less safe than the ditches around them, and hunkered down under the nearest headgear they could find, which turned out to be some german helmets, but the safety of the ditch proved insufficient, as he was captured, and as a Prisoner of War was forced marched for four months across Czechoslovakia and Poland, where he spent the next four years, then back to Bavaria where he was freed by the advancing Americans. The conditions were beyond imagining, without food or any standard of clothing, but he made the friends he could on either side of the fences, and when he spoke of his war, which was never often, that’s what he spoke of.
When he returned, he met and married Muriel in 1948, and found any job he could, Cycling to Dartford and Leybourne until the elder Frank, my great-grandfather, loaned him the money for a motorbike, which made him well known in his village, even if all you could hear was the roar of the motor, and all you could see was his back though the dust.
Free time he could find was spent with family and with his friends at places like the old time dance club.
My mum, Jill, was born later on, and a while after that so was I, and my brothers. There’s a lot of life in between, but I’m not sure what happens if I go over my time limit, and I’m fairly sure I shouldn’t find out.
My enduring memories with my grandfather are of things being built, of the workshop in the garage, of the motorcycle sitting in the back. I remember summer afternoons harvesting the strawberries, and then sorting them into punnets to send out to the greengrocers of tunbridge wells. I remember Picking fruit from the garden to cook in crumbles later, and Riding on a trailer on the back of the tractor he was driving, sending potatoes down a chute to be automatically planted.
My grandad was a force of nature, but also a fixed point in the universe, solid and occasionally unyielding, confident of his place in the world, who loved and cared for his family and did everything he could to keep their lives on an even keel.
He was retired for almost all the time I have been alive, and seemed eternal. I personally regret not making more time in recent years to go visit him and my grandma, as full of life as he was, it always seemed like there would be time when everything was less busy.
He died after a long and active life, leaving behind Muriel, Jill, and our family; of complications arising from pneumonia. Which is, to my mind, like eventually arresting Al Capone for tax evasion.
It was the only thing that could get him in the end.
Thank you, grandad, and we will all miss you.