Saturday, 2 September 2017

Mourners rescued by Leyland Beaver

On April 20th 2011 Vintage Lorry Funerals took Roger Hurd, a Builder from Bath, on his final journey to Haycombe Crematorium.

Roger, whilst on a journey to visit his Daughter Jade in Cornwall, had picked up a Vintage Lorry Funerals card in Woody’s Transport Café at Sourton on the A30 near to Okehampton. He thought that the picture on the front was interesting and he noted that the STD code of the phone number was the same as his home town of Bath.
Sadly within a short period of time Roger had collapsed and passed away in his Brother’s arms. Roger’s Mum found the Vintage Lorry Funerals card in his jacket pocket and decided that if Roger had wanted the Leyland Beaver for his funeral then she would have no objections provided the flowers were arranged around his coffin in the same manner as in a hearse.

In the centre of Bath is a traffic system, just down the road from where Roger had lived, which prevents cars going through the centre, however, buses can travel through a set of two traffic lights. The facility is called the ‘Bus Gate’, however, it would be more appropriately called the ‘Money Gate’ because motorists, unaccustomed to the area, get confused with the sign, go through the traffic lights and end up being fined £60.
Roger was often walking through the ‘Bus Gate’ area on his way to the shops and he used to step in front of cars preventing them going through the ‘Bus Gate’ and saving them the fine. Roger was such a strong campaigner against the ‘Bus Gate’ that when he passed away his family sought Bath & North East Somerset Council’s authority for David Hall to drive the Leyland Beaver through the ‘Bus Gate’ enabling the vintage lorry to take the most direct route to Haycombe Crematorium.
With over 200 mourners expected it was decided to hold the service within the larger Chapel just inside the gates. Rog, as he was known to his friends, was then re-loaded onto the 1950 Leyland Beaver, amid rapturous applause, and all the mourners walked behind the lorry for approximately one mile down a steep incline to the Crematorium. David always waits to meet the Family after the service in case anyone would like to see inside the cab, however, on this occasion it wasn’t the cab that mourners were interested in but the deck of the lorry.
All the mourners had left their cars at the Chapel near the entrance and two ladies approached David and enquired if they could ride on the deck of the Leyland Beaver, saving them a long walk up a steep incline. David was happy to help but insisted that everyone had to follow his instructions. Using the ladder, which is slid out from a shelf under the deck, David helped the mourners onto the deck as some had inappropriate footwear. David then told the men to stand at the front of the deck and hold the headboard firmly. Ladies whose skirts may have become difficult to control in the breeze were invited to sit on the deck with their legs dangling over the sides. David admonished two young ladies who were sitting over the drive axle of the lorry telling them to move away from any moving part, ‘we don’t want to create next week’s business this week,’ David quipped.
David set off very slowly with over 30 people on board and as the Leyland Beaver climbed the hill he noticed the graves of German Luftwaffe staff who had lost their lives attacking Bath. As this was April 20th, Adolf Hitler’s birthday, David suddenly likened his rescue mission to that he had seen in a three part BBC documentary drama three months earlier about the events that took place after a U-boat sunk a Trooper Carrying Liner in WWII.
S.S.Laconia was a Liner that had been converted into a Troop-ship with guns mounted front and aft on its way from Egypt to England taking the long way around Africa to avoid German shipping in the Mediterranean. There were 2732 people on board including 80 civilians, 268 British Soldiers, 1800 Italian Prisoners of War, and 160 Polish Soldiers to guard the Italians.
On September 14th 1942 at around 2000 hours Korvetten Kapitan Werner Hartenstein in U-Boat 156 spotted the lone liner, spewing out smoke from it funnels and fired two torpedoes at a range of 2 miles, both of which hit the ship. The Laconia started to list and passengers were instructed to abandon the stricken ship, however, the Italians were locked in cages beneath the decks. Some Italians managed to break out and some sadly were bayoneted to death by the Polish Guards as they rushed towards life boats.
Hartenstein surfaced and made his way towards the Laconia in a bid to capture Military Officers. In the fading sunlight the U-Boat crew spotted floating corpses, over-crowded lifeboats and frantic swimmers crying for help. The U-Boat crew were astonished to hear ‘Aiuto, Aiuto’ the cries of help, help from Italians in the water, who at that stage in WWII were fighting on the same side as the Nazis. Hartenstein thought that he had attacked a Troop-ship but he now realised that Laconia was carrying many passengers.

Realising his mistake, Hartenstein immediately launched a rescue operation. Women and children were crammed inside the U-Boat, with the German Officers giving up their bunks to survivors, many people stood on the upper deck of the submarine and 200 survivors were in 4 lifeboats that were tied to the U-Boat with rope. Hartenstein used his Enigma machine to contact Admiral Donitz who immediately dispatched 7 U-Boats to support the rescue mission. Adolf Hitler found out about the rescue and forbade U-Boats being taken off their fighting roles. Admiral Donitz then took a very brave step and countermanded Hitler’s order sending U-506 and U-508, captained by Erich Wurdeman and Harrd Schach, which arrived around noon on September 15th. Donitz took the decision mainly to bolster the morale of the U-156 crew.

Sadly a Nurse, Doris Hawkins, was travelling with a 14 month girl called Sally and the young girl was lost as she was being transferred from the lifeboat to the U-156. Doris was distraught and the crews of the three U-Boats used search lights and spent considerable time looking for the little girl but Sally was never found. U-507 loaded 491 people, including 15 women & 16 children and U-506 loaded 151 people, including 9 women and followed Hartenstein, who was towing 4 lifeboats.
Hartenstein flew a Red Cross Flag and broadcast in English on an open channel, ‘If any ship will assist the ship wrecked Laconia crew I will not attack, provided I am not attacked by ship or airforce.’
The three submarines had remained on the surface for about 2.5 days but for safety reasons the three U-Boats split up and provided a separation between the vessels. On September 16th at 1125 hours an American B-24 Liberator Bomber from Ascension Island circled around U-156 and Hartenstein’s first thoughts were that it was going to drop supplies. However, despite the Red Cross Flag, people on the deck and four lifeboats in tow, the Liberator attacked and dropped depth charges which landed between two of the four lifeboats immediately wiping out half of the boats and their survivors. Hartenstein submerged U-156 very slowly to allow the people on the deck to swim free and the two remaining lifeboats headed for Africa. One with 68 people on board, lifeboat No. 9, reached the Liberian coast with 16 people alive, including Doris Hawkins and the other lifeboat was rescued by a British trawler after 40 days at sea but only 4 of the 52 occupants were alive.
U-506 & U-507 escaped the bombing run by the USAAF Liberator and continued to pick up survivors who had swam off the deck of U-156 before it submerged and all the survivors on the U-Boats were transferred to Free French vessels and landed in Dakar on 24th September.
The Laconia incident had far reaching consequences:-
The American Bombing of U-156 caused Donitz to issue an instruction that in future all rescue operations were forbidden.
Lieutenant James D. Harden, who flew the Liberator that attacked U-156, and his crew were awarded medals for the alleged submarine sinking whereas in truth they had only hit two lifeboats killing a number of survivors.
During the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, Admiral Donitz’s legal team used the rescue of the Laconia survivors to help the judgement of the Death Penalty to be commuted to 11.5 years in prison. Donitz survived World War II and lived to an old age, passing away on Christmas Eve 1980.
Werner Hartenstein, holder of the Knight’s Cross, Germany’s highest military honour, and his crew were not as lucky because 6 months after the Laconia rescue, the U-Boat was depth charged by a Liberator off the coast of Barbados and U-156 was sunk with all hands lost in March 1943.
Of the 2732 people who left Egypt on the SS Laconia only 1500 survived.
There was, however, a better outcome regarding the motorists fined for going through the Bath Bus Gate. Almost three years after Roger Hurd passed away Bath & North East Somerset admitted that the signs were confusing and refunded £250,000 of the fines already paid. You could sense that Roger Hurd would be looking down and smiling. 

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

A Heavy Weight Funeral in Bloxwich

Whilst David Hall was taking a break on his way to a funeral in Reading he received a call on his mobile from a lady in Bloxwich. She said that she had found David’s number from the Vintage Lorry Funerals website and wanted to know the cost of a funeral in Bloxwich. David asked if the Deceased was her Dad, however, the lady replied that the lorry was for her Husband who was only 53. Having recently been to Walsall, which is the next town to Bloxwich, David could provide an instant answer on the price. The Deceased’s only wish was that he should be taken to Streetly Crematorium on a lorry. The lady had enquired if her Husband’s former employer could have provided a lorry, however, the company pointed her towards ‘a bloke in Bradford-on-Avon who has a Beaver.’
Whilst David was on his mobile, he noticed that a young man in a Grundon uniform was waiting to speak with him. David had previously undertaken his Dad’s funeral in Newbury on February 2nd. He shook David’s hand and said, ‘We will never forget the brilliant job you did for our Dad and the excellent Obituary article you wrote for Vintage Roadscene.’
David then phoned Sean Hayward who runs Haywards of Walsall a transport firm with over 80 vehicles, with whom David parks the 1950 Leyland Beaver the night before a Midland’s funeral. Sean said it was no problem and he would get Quinn Holmes, his Fleet Engineer, to make space available in the garage and Quinn would take David to the Premier Inn and collect him in the morning.
David’s next phone call was to the Bloxwich Funeral Director and Marie who answered the phone asked if David was a friend of the Family. David was disappointed that despite his marketing efforts, not for the first time, someone in the funeral industry had never heard of Vintage Lorry Funerals. Marie asked the height of the side roller and then expressed her concerns as all her employees were female and the Deceased in his casket was thought to be 36 stones. David responded, ‘You’ll need to find some blokes to lift the coffin onto my lorry.’

Cognisant that an all female team would be at the crematorium, David thought of how he could revise his handling techniques which would enable him to operate on his own on the deck, supported by one person on the ground, treating the Deceased as if he were 15 stones.
David can never recall having achieved so much whilst taking his 45 minute legal break from driving, parked in a lay-bye on the A4 in Thatcham.
David worked out the best way to Bloxwich which involved going round the old inner Birmingham Ring Road the A4040, which has stretches of dual carriageways in dense populated areas. With no toilet facilities on this route David spoke to Neeley Transport at Stechford and asked if he could take a comfort break at their facility. The man who answered the phone said, ‘The old man would love to see your wagon’.
The journey went well and David made his first stop at Alcester Services on the A46. Having experienced no hold ups David was surprised when the traffic came to a standstill on Maypole Lane due to road works under the low bridge on Colebrook Road. A long delay was envisaged with cars turning around in front of the Leyland Beaver attempting to find an alternative route. David spotted in his wing mirror two workmen returning to the road works after a shopping expedition to buy sandwiches. As they passed the vintage lorry David pointed to the ‘Funeral In Progress’ sign in his windscreen. The men then started to run and took over the management of the traffic lights manually overriding the system. They stopped the oncoming traffic travelling toward the Leyland Beaver and frantically waved the cars in front of the vintage lorry through the lights and as David passed the men they took off their hats and bowed. It is said that a picture is better than a 1000 words but on this occasion a sign was better than any words.
When the Leyland Beaver trundled into Neeley’s yard their transhipment operation came to a halt. All of the Fork Lift Operators were older men who had been Lorry Drivers in the 1950’s and as soon as they heard the Leyland 600 engine they jumped off their Fork Lifts and surround the Leyland Beaver. They said, ‘Sounds Good…That Slow Tickover….The restoration is immaculate.’
David was instructed to park in the corner of the yard and with the transhipment operation being performed in front of his eyes, David was transfixed, whilst he ate his sandwiches. In a multiple delivery transport operations the consolidation between consignments is paramount to achieving profitability and this rests with two people, the person who routes the load and the person who loads the trailer. The former usually gets most of the credit in the office, however, in David’s opinion the person on the Fork Lift has a more important role as he has to find the best way to fit the consignments onto the trailer so that nothing is damaged and the Driver will have the minimum of pallets to shift at a delivery point. Loading a trailer from one side has its’ challenges and planning must take place to determine which face of the pallet should be up against the far curtain. Normally a Traffic Manager tries to get a quart into a pint pot and the Fork Lift Driver must decide which consignments can be double stacked. To see Fork Trucks moving at speed, turning a pallet of the ground, positioning it on the deck using side shift and reach facilities was fascinating to watch.
A man with a clip board was checking the consignments and came over to David and had a chat about his lorry. The penny then dropped that this was Mr. Neeley and David apologised for not recognising him. He didn’t fit the persona projected by his staff and the ‘old man’ description conjured up an image of a much older man. Mr. Neeley provided an insight into his business and he was interested that David had previously managed a frozen food groupage operation some 30 years ago which had the same characteristics of making a good margin on small consignments. As David and Mr. Neeley watched the transhipment operation David quipped, ‘You could sell tickets to watch this super show.’ Mr. Neeley laughed and said David could stop there as long as he wanted and indicated where the toilet facilities were.
Having previously arranged to meet the Funeral Director at 1500 hours David drove through Walsall and took the road to Bloxwich. The plan was for the Funeral Director to see the lorry and for David to explain how the coffin would be loaded, with the need to establish how many men would be available in the morning being the cardinal consideration. Within 10 minutes of David being there the Widow arrived and took an envelope containing cash out of her handbag and gave it to David. She was there with her children and a friend of the Family who looked at the lorry and said to the Widow, ‘You have done him proud.’ David was intending to measure the coffin and the Widow offered that he should do this without delay as David had been on the road a long time. However, David said the most important thing was for her and her family to say their last good byes and he had all the time in the world as Haywards weren’t expecting the lorry until 1730 hours.
David got to Haywards at 1645 hours and the entrance gate into the part of the site he would be parking was blocked by a lorry and a car. Having been there many times before everyone knows the vintage lorry and the vehicles moved off just as Quinn was opening the gate. Quinn watched David reverse into the garage which had been swept an hour earlier to ensure no metal got into the tyres of the 66 year old lorry. Quinn made David a cup of tea and David embarrassed the Fleet Engineer with his rendition of Manfred Mann’s ‘Mighty Quinn’. David handed over two boxes of biscuits and put his sandwiches in the fridge, before Quinn took David to the Premier Inn. Quinn had arranged to collect David at 0745 hours but instead of a car coming down the street David saw a Haywards Service Van that was equipped to escort Abnormal Loads. When David saw the ‘Abnormal Load’ sign on the head board he thought this was very apt knowing that he was about to load a heavy weight coffin.
A number of men helped David load and turn the coffin on the deck, however, at the crematorium David use a lever mechanism to lift the head end of the coffin and he turned the coffin himself on the deck supported by the Funeral Director on the ground. After the service an elderly couple came to shake David’s hand to thank him for the dignity he showed in manoeuvring their relative on his vehicle.

David came back using the A452 which is a fast dual carriage way in parts that goes around the east side of Birmingham in which the traffic flows and his first stop was at Tewkesbury where David normally refuels with competitively price diesel.
For once David got home in time for his tea, however, whilst his wife was making the meal David sent pictures to the Widow.     

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Southbourne & St. Albans

David Hall received a phone call from the Daughter of the Deceased about a funeral in Southbourne, near Chichester, however, an inquest was required and there was no firm date for the funeral at this stage. It emerged that the Deceased had been a Van Driver but his passion was the Land Rover which he had used each day to drive to work.
When David found out that the main Floral Tribute was going to be a 3D Land Rover he quickly got the contact number for the Florist, Flowers by Allison. The vintage lorry had previously carried Floral Tributes created by Allison Hiderah over 8 years ago and by looking back at the old file for a Waterlooville funeral David found his contemporaneous notes, ‘quality flowers that travelled well.’
Allison was pleased to hear from David and understood his request that three dimensional Floral Tributes should be created on a wooden board. Allison said that her Husband would make the stand for the Floral Tribute, however, she couldn’t make any estimate of the width, length or height of the Land Rover Floral Tribute.
Five days before the Southbourne funeral David still hadn’t heard anything about the 3D Land Rover Floral Tribute, but he had to start building the support structure for the Floral Tribute. Wanting to exceed the Family’s expectations, David decided to customise the support structure so that the Floral Tribute would appear to be sitting on the bonnet of a Land Rover in the position that a spare tyre was often positioned.
On a Thursday morning David was having a cup of coffee, reflecting that he still had no measurements of the main Floral Tribute for the Monday Southbourne funeral, when the phone rang about a funeral in St. Albans. In his email that requests information about the funeral, having experienced problems with the Southbourne funeral, David stressed to Kerry, that he required a timely response. Within 40 minutes of sending the email David received a reply to most of his points, which included the name of the Florist for the St. Albans funeral. At 1600 hours David received a phone call from Kendalls Florist and Emma informed him that the flowers would involve ‘DAD’, ‘POPS’, a Coffin Spray and the Gates of Heaven. She also provided the measurements for each of the Floral Tributes. The Gates of Heaven is an exquisite but delicate Floral Tribute which is hated by Funeral Directors because there is no way to secure the Gates of Heaven in a hearse, however, David has developed securement techniques which ensure that this Floral Tribute is never damaged on the vintage lorry.
David couldn’t believe what had happened. He was still in desperate need of information for a funeral in 4 days, but he already had all the information he needed for a funeral in 14 days!
Kerry, from the St. Albans Funeral Director, was excellent, the most immediate person David as ever met in the funeral industry. She also had an in-depth understanding of what was required for loading the coffin and Kerry confirmed that the Leyland Beaver would fit into their covered loading area. Kerry also checked that the vintage lorry could park overnight within the Funeral Directors’ garage and recommended a cost effective hotel for David nearby.
On the Friday morning David sent an email to Flowers by Allison asking that the board beneath the Floral Tribute should be no longer than 36 inches and no wider than 12 inches. The only response David received was that Allison would meet him to handover the Land Rover Floral Tribute at 0800 hours on Monday in Southbourne Farm Shop.
David always evaluates the best route to a Funeral Directors and often there is conflict in his head with part of him wanting to stick with the roads he knows but another part keen to explore new areas and perhaps uncover a gem, like an unclassified former Roman Road that has a good surface, is straight as a dye and not much traffic.
David decided to divert from his trusted B2150 through Hambledon & Denmead and opted to go via Clanfield, picking up the B2149 & B2148 which lead directly to Ensworth, the next village to Southbourne. Getting away at 0430 hours, David was at the Clanfield turn off by 0710 hours and he couldn’t believe his eyes. The main B2150 through Hambledon was closed for night tarmac operations and if David hadn’t opted for the Clanfield road he would have been in serious bother. David often believes that things are meant to be.

David arrived at Southbourne Farm Shop at 0745 hours and when Allison handed over the Floral Tribute he instantly understood why she couldn’t provide an early indication of size. Traditionally three dimensional Floral Tributes are made by Florists gluing blocks of oasis together, however, Allison’s Husband had made a lifelike scaled wooden model of the Deceased’s Land Rover which she had then covered with sheets of designer board oasis and then added the flowers. The flowers were of secondary interest with one’s eye immediately attracted to canvass cover, wooden wheels and radiator grille. It was the most realistic Floral Tribute David had seen to replicate a 4x4 vehicle.
Moores Traditional Funeral Directors were excellent with attentive Bearers with Les Whigman, in charge who conducted the funeral. David always asks the person travelling with him, ‘How would you fancy sitting there for 10 hours and accompanying me on a trip to Great Yarmouth?’ Everyone so far has declined the offer, citing too noisy, too hot, not enough leg room, but Les Whigman said, ‘I’d love to spend 10 hours in this seat, I love old equipment, the sounds and the smells’.

David’s lorry got a wonderful reception in front of the Family house in Hambrook and everyone was delighted with David’s efforts to customise the display. Two days after the funeral, apparently the Land Rover Floral Tribute was back in the Flowers by Allison shop, taking pride of place on a shelf with everyone remarking how wonderful it was.
The preparations for the St. Albans funeral were straight forward with all the information being available at the earliest stage possible. David arrived early at the Funeral Directors and within 40 minutes the Leyland Beaver was parked undercover and David was in his hotel and tackling a Sudoku puzzle. David had allocated 90 minutes to wash the vintage lorry, however, the glorious sunshine meant that the lorry had arrived in an immaculate condition.
The following day David walked to the Funeral Directors and had a cup of tea whilst their morning meeting took place. David was then taken to collect the 1950 Leyland Beaver and the Funeral Director’s employees stopped the traffic whilst the vintage lorry was slowly reversed into their facility with less than 9 inches either side through the doorway.

David was made to feel like part of the Funeral Directors family sitting in their restroom sipping tea and chatting to the men. Kerry handed David the cheque and also his sandwich box which had spent the night with the milk in the staff fridge. As the sandwiches were handed over the men laughed and one said, ‘Don’t you know that the crem has got a café?’
Jim had an in-depth knowledge of the engineering in the 67 year old vehicle having been a Coach Driver in the 1950’s & 1960’s. Rob, the limousine Driver, asked David which part of the North East he originated from. It transpired that Rob was originally from Murton, the next Pit Village to Easington Colliery where David has gone to school. David said that his Great Uncle Bob Wallace had worked at Murton Pit and Rob said that his Father had also worked at Murton Pit and he had often heard him talking about Bob Wallace, which is not surprising as Bob was a Deputy at the Pit. Within the Mine a Deputy was in charge of a group of Miners, responsible for achieving production targets but more importantly the safety of his men. In the 1950’s accidents were part and parcel of the risks the men took and the Deputy would listen carefully for cracks from the wooden pit props being a sign that he should get his men out quickly. Bob Wallace on occasions had to take horrendous decisions if a man was trapped with rocks on his hand. It was an instant decision that Bob had to make whether a man had to loose his fingers rather than loose his life and a number of men were saved by Bob’s actions. Bob Wallace’s left hand was severely crushed in a mining accident and Surgeons managed to save three digits and moved his little finger making it his thumb. It was humbling for David to learn that 40 years after his death people still remembered Bob Wallace. Another interesting fact about Bob Wallace is that he came back from the Somme, surviving some horrendous injuries, however, just after the battle he was put on a charge and briefly imprisoned for an act of kindness. Bob had given a starving German Prisoner a piece of his bread.
The gates at the West Herts Crematorium were 9 ft apart and set near the road where people attending a nearby school would abandon their cars. Luckily the funeral day coincided with a Teachers Strike day and the road was empty. As it was imperative to get the Leyland Beaver straight in line with the gate posts, David slowly drove past the posts before quickly applying full lock on the Steering Wheel, the Leyland Beaver spun on a sixpence and the cab slowly came round as David took off the lock and ended up exactly in the middle of the gate posts, 9 inches clear each side. Kerry and the Deceased’s two Grandsons, who were in front of the lorry, gasped as if they had seen a Paul Daniels magic trick.
Something amazing happened whilst David was offloading the Flowers, Adam Ginder from Ginder Funeral Directors stepped forward and took the ‘DAD’ Floral Tributes from David’s hands. Never before has David seen rival Funeral Directors help one another. The Funeral Director’s employees were correct that West Herts Crematorium does have a café, situated next to the flower area, and it was doing a very good trade. People leaving the café saw the vintage lorry, expressed a lot of interest and David has never given out so many business cards at a crematorium.

David’s journey home involved the old A4, which had been a three lane road in the 1950’s but drivers behind the vintage lorry were reluctant to pass with traffic coming in the opposite direction. David reflected about his Uncle Bob’s left hand and how as a 5 year child David would ask if Bob would take it out of its mitten for David to look at it and asked questions that an older person wouldn’t have raised on ground of sensitivity. However, the inquisitive young boy helped Bob Wallace’s confidence and a great relationship was established.
So David thought he could best convey that the A4 was a three lane road was by putting his thumb and first finger together and allowing three fingers to protrude, like his Uncle Bob’s left hand. David steered the Leyland Beaver as far left as he could, displayed the three finger sign with his right hand, a Van Driver approaching understood David’s gesture, moved towards his left and a huge gap opened up. Suddenly the penny dropped, a reluctant female Driver edged past, then a Van, then a Sports Car. So it gathered momentum and over 200 cars passed the vintage lorry using the ‘middle lane’ between Thatcham and Calne, with Drivers paying no attention to the hatched road markings. Drivers coming past were delighted and expressed their thanks by a friendly toot on the horn, a brief spell of 4 way flashers or more sedately simply putting their hand in front of their driving mirror, as drivers would have done in the 1950’s.               

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Sutton Coldfield-something bad turned into something good

On the morning of Friday May 27th 2016 David got up at 0400 hours ready for an early start at 0445 hours for a funeral in Sutton Coldfield. The route is well tried and David often uses the A46 around Bath, up into Stroud, the A38 around Gloucester to Tewkesbury and rejoining the A46 to Oversley Mill Service at Alcester, normally David’s first stop.
David put on the computer for his wife to check the roads whilst he took a shower. Whilst David was having his breakfast his wife shouted, ‘The A46 around Bath is closed for Night Tarmac Laying and won’t reopen until 0700 hours.’ This caused David to have a quick change of strategy. In recent years David has always used the ‘Gloucester route’, which he has christened The West Side Story, because it is easier to get vehicles around the Leyland Beaver due to the high incidence of dual carriageways and three lane roads, wide enough to get vehicles three abreast. In addition, Oversley Mill Services on the A46 near Alcester have excellent toilet facilities. David is well known to the members of staff who allow him to park the Leyland Beaver whilst he takes a 45 minute rest break. A well stocked shop, with a good supply of newspapers and magazines is also next door to a recently built McDonald’s restaurant.
David set out from Bradford-on-Avon on the back road to Corsham, evaluating how he could cut back and join the A46 north of the road works, however, the burning thought in David’s mind was that must arrive at Sutton Coldfield by 1000 hours. As he approached Chippenham David thought it would be beneficial to abandon the A46 strategy and go via the old Fosse Way, which David had used in the infancy of Vintage Lorry Funerals. The high incidence of double white lines, lack of any dual carriageway and limited three lane roads caused David to review this route in 2006. In addition there are no toilet facilities on the Fosse Way apart from Tesco at Stow-on-the-Wold which opens at 0600 hours. However, in this emergency situation it was a case of needs must and David crossed the M4 and headed for Cirencester.
David doesn’t use a Sat Nav, he has a list of road numbers and landmarks to watch out for, drawn with coloured pencils, on the back of an envelope attached with a bull clip to a Road Atlas which lies across the engine cover. The only problem was that the route plan in front of him was for the A46, not the Fosse Way, so David just went with road sense established over many years and followed the signs.
At 0600 hours David reached Cirencester and saw hardly anyone on the road. The first part of the road to Stow-on-the-Wold involves 3 very steep hills, including the notorious Fossebridge. The 1950 Leyland Beaver is excellent on hills and on the two lanes uphill section of Fossebridge a large modern day articulated vehicle pulled out, attempted to overtake but couldn’t catch the Leyland Beaver which was cruising up the steep slope at 25 miles per hour in top gear. At the brow of the hill David slowed down and waved the articulated vehicle past and the Driver’s Mate, sitting in the passenger seat, put up two thumbs signifying that both men in the modern lorry were in awe of the performance of the 66 year old vintage vehicle.
The steep down hill sections on the Fosse Way enabled the Leyland Beaver to achieve 42 miles per hour down the slope and this uplifted the average speed. In addition the traffic lights in Stow-on-the-Wold and Moreton-in-Marsh are set on a short timescale change so David was never stopped for long. Any cars that came up behind the Leyland Beaver were driven by experienced drivers who came past the vintage lorry as soon as David signified that the road was clear up ahead.
David was surprised at the progress he was making having reached in 2.5 hours, Halford, where the road splits and the original Fosse Way becomes the B4455 and goes through to Leicester or Ratae Corieltauvorum as it was in Roman times. In 3 hours he had just left the A46 just south of Warwick, which was becoming crowded with rush hours traffic, joined the A4177 and reached Balsall Common. David looked at the Smiths Speedometer and realised that he had travelled 90 miles, averaging 30 miles per hour, which was excellent for a lorry with a top speed of 32 miles per hour on level roads. If David had gone via his preferred A46 route in 3 hours he would have only got to Oversley Mill Services and travelled 80 miles.
The A4177 leads onto the A452, which is mainly dual carriageway and follows the M6 closely before cutting north towards Brownhills. The traffic was busy on the M6 but light on the A452. David took the A5127 to Sutton Coldfield and landed at the Funeral Directors at 0900 hours, 4 hours door to door, no stops, saving an hour on the A46 route.
As David waited for the Funeral Director to open, he bought a paper, sipped his coffee and ate his Toffee Crisp. He thought that despite the shock that he had at 0400 hours things hadn’t worked out so bad. A location that had been felt to have been at the extreme of David’s 5 hour driving time to go there and back in a day, was reached with one hour spare! Thus if the Fosse way could be used for east Birmingham and beyond then it may be possible to undertake Lichfield or Leicester on a there and back basis if the funeral was booked for the afternoon.
This was an example of how sometimes events don’t turn out as bad as people dread or that every cloud has silver lining.

The funeral was conducted by a young Funeral Director called Leon and David wasn’t sure how to spell his name so he asked if it was spelt the same way as Leon Russell, who wrote Delta Lady for Joe Cocker. Well young Leon hadn’t heard of either gentleman! When Leon was paging the cortege at Streetly Crematorium, it became evident to David that Leon was going the wrong way around the system but there was no discreet way to warn him. Sounding the horn would have been inappropriate and David didn’t want to ruin Leon’s confidence so the lorry and the following limousine ended up the wrong way in the porte cochere. Being 30 minutes early and the wrong way round, nothing could get much worse for Leon, who was crestfallen. Leon explained to David that this was the first time he had been to Streetly Crematorium and David told him that Leon Russell’s most famous song was Stranger in a Strange Land. Leon said that the song described perfectly how he felt.

Whilst the service was taking place David drove the wrong way into the car park, turned the vintage lorry and parked in the corner. Whilst he was having his sandwich some mourner for the next funeral parked his 4 x4 in front of the Leyland Beaver blocking it from leaving the car park. David got out of the cab and asked the person not to leave his vehicle in that position, using a gentle, polite and persuasive tone. In David’s experience people in grief, late for a funeral can do silly things, abandoning their cars with no thoughts of anyone else’s need but their own.
Coming home David thought he would use the Fosse Way again but this turned out to be a bad decision. This was the Friday before a Bank Holiday Monday and a lot of people were travelling to the West Country and using the Fosse Way. The quick-fire traffic lights in Moreton-in-Marsh and Stow-on-the-Wold, which were ideal at 0630 hours not holding up minimal traffic, were a nightmare at 1630 hours with only small batches of a large volume of traffic being let through and the remainder being held back. This created an ever increasing length of stationary traffic approximately a mile outside of each town. The biggest problem was caused by the Tesco traffic lights with local people having completed their weekly shopping forcing their way into the queuing traffic.
It also wasn’t easy to get cars past the vintage lorry has a high preponderance of cars with caravans could not overtake quick enough before the next oncoming vehicle arrived. Coming towards Bourton-on-the-Water David spotted Bernard Saunders and his Daughter working on cars outside their workshop. David piped his horn and they waved back. David has known the Saunders family for over 15 years and he always rings them if he needs any advice on road conditions in their area.
The journey home took 6 hours, so David noted in his Lessons Learnt List that the Fosse Way is not always the answer and selected use in the future should be part of the Vintage Lorry Funerals operating plan. Also a road check should be made the day before the funeral not on the morning of the funeral.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Swanley and Sixpenny Handley on consecutive days

David Hall received an email from a Swanley lady who had recently lost her Brother and asked for a price for a funeral ending at Bobbing Crematorium. As the Leyland Beaver had previously been to Swanley, David made the lady aware that two Funeral Directors were located next door to each other with ample parking for the lorry within the taxi ranks on the opposite side of the street.
Unfortunately the Family chose the Funeral Director on the east side of Swanley whose facility is in Manse Parade, a parade of 8 shops with a narrow unmade up rear access road that was unsuitable for the 1950 Leyland Beaver. To make matters worse either side of the Funeral Directors were Caffé Cinos and a Newsagent and David envisaged that the area in front of the shops would be congested in the early morning, with people popping in for a paper and contractors in their vans collecting their breakfasts from the Café. Often in preparing for funerals David needs to solve some logistical problems and this Swanley funeral was no exception.
For Swanley funerals David parks his lorry overnight in Kwik Fit’s pristine facility in Sevenoaks Road, using a relationship established with Kwik Fit Head Office Management which allows him to park anywhere in Britain provided the lorry will fit into the garage area. The magic about Kwik Fit Swanley is that there is a low cost hotel within walking distance, which offers a bed only and David gets his breakfast at Costa Coffee on his way to collect the lorry at 0800 hours.

Detailed internet research of the east Swanley area highlighted that the Jehovah Witnesses had a Kingdom Hall with lots of land within a secure compound with a locked gate just around the corner from the Funeral Directors and David asked the Funeral Arranger to make an approach. A relationship was established and agreement reached for David to have use of the yard from 0930 hours when someone would arrive to open the gate.
So David had to work on the problem of what to do with the Leyland Beaver between 0800 and 0930 hours. Through the night the solution came to David, which involved getting up early, foregoing his Costa Coffee breakfast, collecting the lorry at 0700 hours and having his breakfast in the Café next to the Funeral Directors. Looking at the Caffé Cinos website, it stated that they could deliver breakfasts so David rang the Café, explained what he would be doing from the Funeral Directors next door, and asked if a breakfast could be delivered to his lorry whilst he was sitting on double yellow lines, his fallback plan if no space was available.
Around this time David received a phone call about a funeral in Salisbury for the day after the Bobbing Crematorium funeral. David normally plans at least a day between funerals to prepare the support structure for the flowers and to wash the lorry. However, the Family were very keen to use the 1950 Leyland Beaver and David agreed to do the funeral knowing that this would mean working late into the night, an early start and washing the lorry at the Sixpenny Handley Funeral Directors. The Salisbury Family were so pleased with David’s commitment that the payment for their Dad’s funeral was transferred immediately into David’s Bank Account.
David arrived early at Kwik Fit on the Sunday afternoon and the staff members were pleased to see him again only 5 months at David’s last Swanley funeral. Jamie Jack exceeded David’s expectations in two ways. He asked David to reverse the Leyland Beaver into the MOT Bay even though 60 minutes were left of their trading window and in addition Jamie said that he and a colleague would be in at 0700 hours which was fundamental for David’s plan for an early start, which was his only chance of finding any space near the Funeral Directors.
David collected the lorry at 0700 hours and took the back road into Swanley East which involved some very narrow lanes. As the Leyland Beaver arrived at the parade of shops, David saw, as he had expected, vans, cars and delivery vehicles in front of the Café and Newsagent. However, David noticed that there was just enough room for him to park his lorry on the area in front of the Mann Lettings Estate Agents at the far end of the parade. This meant parking the lorry within 12 inches of the Estate Agent’s Manager’s car which was positioned in front of his shop and at right angles to the radiator grill of the Leyland Beaver. The Manager came out to check that there was no damage to his car and David introduced himself. The Manager, Gary Steadman, was very impressed with the pristine lorry and he agreed that David could park there whilst he had his breakfast in the Café.

The owner of the Caffé Cinos was very welcoming and offered David a choice in how he wanted his eggs cooked and if he wanted tinned plum tomatoes or fresh tomatoes. By opting for the tinned plum tomatoes, David replicated the ‘All Day Breakfast’ that Archie Stamper, a Fellside Transport Livestock Driver, had bought him in 1958 at a Carlisle Café when they were on their way back from Hawick in a 1950 Leyland Beaver. Travelling in MRM 893 changed David’s life and influenced his decision to follow a career in transport. This is the reason why David’s wife bought him MXV 610 in 1995 so that he could relive the beautiful boyhood memories that he had with Fellside Transport.

Whilst David was having his breakfast a young lady came in with her Dad and sat on the table next to David. As the young lady talked about the benefits of sharing a flat with 5 girls at university, David commented, ‘In my own Daughter’s experience 6 girls sharing a flat is ideal until one of them has a boy friend who moves in!’
As David left the Caffé Cinos he noticed that the main B2173 road from the A20 was gridlocked and that someone had parked outside the gates of the Jehovah Witnesses car park. David asked the Funeral Director whether the most sensible strategy would be to abandon the previous plan of transferring the coffin out of sight from a Private Ambulance and to load in front of the Mann Lettings Estate Agents Shop. David and the Funeral Arranger approached Gary Steadman and David thought that the young lady alongside him would have to plead impassionedly for ‘Help’ LikeTina Turner in Sings Like The Beatles BBC 4 (Won’t you please, please, please, help me!). However, David’s concerns were misplaced because Gary was happy to help and David would like to thank Mann Lettings for their kindness and the tolerance of the staff as the Leyland Beaver was parked in the area reserved for their cars.

Whilst the service was taking place at Bobbing Crematorium, David adjusted the coffin stops ready for Salisbury the following day and took steps to ensure that the display could be quickly removed when he got home as a minimalistic approach was required for the funeral which would start at a Sixpenny Handley Funeral Director.
David left Bobbing Crematorium at 1430 hours and by taking small roads to the south of Guildford, David avoid rush hour traffic in the town and after 4 hours and 20 minutes driving he reached Sutton Scotney Services on the A34 within 10 minutes of the deadline to take a 45 minutes rest break. After having a burger for his tea David set out for home, refueling at Ludgershall just before the Service Station closed for the night.
When the Leyland Beaver arrived back at Bradford-on-Avon it was almost 2130 hours and when David pulled the engine stop, much activity took place a bit like a Pit Stop in Formula 1 Racing. Whilst David dismantled the display on the deck, David’s wife was cleaning the lorry and it wasn’t until 2345 hours did they get to bed.
The alarm went off at 0500 hours and David set off for Six Penny Handley in Dorset. The Leyland Beaver had no problem climbing the steep hairpin bends on Zig Zag Hill on the B3081 and David was amazed at the wonderful long distant views from the top of the hill.

 There is a saying in the funeral world that when it comes to a Family’s requests nothing is wrong, it is only different. David found it very different having a funeral with no Funeral Director. Richard Adlem had prepared the body but took no part in the funeral. The Family sourced the coffin, provided the Bearers and booked the slot at Salisbury Crematorium. Some Funeral Directors are not best pleased when a Family pay David directly and Richard Adlem had every reason to feel bitter, but he wasn’t. He welcomed David into his back garden and they had coffee together watching the garden birds as they talked about old times. Richard was awarded an MBE for his services to the funeral industry and what broke the ice between them was when David told Richard that the previous night he had slowed down on the A25 through Westerham to salute the statue of Winston Churchill.

David knew his way to Salisbury Crematorium but when he got there he had no one to page him up to the porte cochere. David had to ask the Deceased’s Grandson, who was travelling with him in the cab, to get out and find someone looking important and provide a signal when David had to travel up the hill.

Friday, 31 March 2017

That was the week that was!

In April each year David Hall attends the Classic Commercials Show in Malvern at which he meets members of the public interested in his vehicle. In addition families who have previously used the 1950 Leyland Beaver, visit the show each year to see a picture for their Loved One’s funerals within the 24 that David features within the display. David also uses Malvern as an opportunity to build a ‘Theme’ which could be displayed in a funeral to provide an example of what can be created to stimulate the thought processes of people visiting the show.

In 2016 the ‘Theme’ created was a 1960’s Leyland Ergo Cab the first example of a tilting cab in Britain which fundamentally changed how lorries could be serviced, as previously Mechanics had to work on the engine from within the cab. David created the model with a realistic tilting mechanism that could be used in a crematorium just before the coffin was off-loaded as a mark of respect, just like someone removing their hat and bowing their head.

During the February David attended the Commercial Transport in Preservation AGM and he became aware of a Spring Road Run which would take a new route encompassing three White Horses in Wiltshire. As this was scheduled for the Sunday before the Classic Commercials Show in Malvern, David thought that the Leyland Ergo Cab could get two ride outs in 6 days. He had previously written an article about a funeral in Calne and the Family of the Deceased had kept in touch with David providing old photographs for the article. Consequently David contacted Stuart Smith and his daughter Sara Jane about travelling with Leyland Beaver on the Spring Road Run, Stuart in the cab and Sara Jane as the roving photographer. David felt that the Road Run would provide a good marketing opportunity near his home and also the opportunity to appear in the Wiltshire Times, a weekly paper that services north Wiltshire.
David has found that in the funeral business there can be no future plans made because one phone can change everything. David sometimes thinks that funerals are like Policemen, whenever you want one they are thin on the ground and whenever you don’t want one, one pops around the corner.
A phone call from a Portsmouth Funeral Director provided a funeral for Thursday April 7th for a former Drayman with Brickwoods Brewery. A job on the second day of a new Financial Year is the best present a Self Employed man can have, however, the Thursday was between the Sunday  CTP Road Run and the Saturday Malvern show. David could have cancelled either of the Sunday or Saturday events, however, this would have involved disappointing the Smith family and countless people on the Saturday who would have needlessly driven hundreds of miles to see the picture of their Loved Ones funeral on the vintage lorry, only to find that the 1950 Leyland Beaver was nowhere to be found.
The solution was to undertake all the jobs and devise a way to transfer the Leyland Ergo Cab off the deck onto a table close-by within David’s garage on the Sunday night and undertake the reverse procedure on the Friday morning. What is more, the plan required that only David and his wife could be involved in the transfer given the likely time of day that the activity would take place.
At this stage there was no knowledge about the Floral Tributes for Portsmouth, however, the Funeral Arranger was most helpful and provided a ‘heads up’ of the likely flowers from the Family. The list included, a ‘Heart’, a ‘Pint of Guinness’, Daffodils in a box and three ‘Name’ Floral Tributes, ‘DAD’, ‘GRANDAD’ and ‘BRICKWOODS’. David immediately recognised that ‘BRICKWOODS’ being a ten lettered word would be too long to fit across the deck and as the coffin is rotated on the deck prior to off-loading it is not feasible to place ‘Name’ Floral Tributes alongside the coffin like Funeral Directors do in their hearse.

The only solution was to position ‘BRICKWOODS’ diagonally across the deck and to create an ‘arrow head’ with the ‘GRANDAD’ Floral Tribute then positioned to form the opposite face. Around this time David took a call from a lady called Pia, a friend of the Family who would be creating the Floral Tributes. Her first question was, ‘How long is your vehicle?’ David sensed that she had also spotted the potential difficulties of the ten lettered word, however, he stressed that she should not tailor her ideas to fit the vehicle as David would make wooden supports to fit her flowers. English wasn’t Pia’s mother tongue and some people might say the same for David, coming from the North East of England, with his distinctive accent. However, they managed to communicate and Pia was unlike other young ladies as she said that David could ring her mobile at any time. Often in David’s experience, young ladies don’t primarily use their phones for phoning, their main use is texting, internet research and taking pictures. The etiquette in contacting a young lady is normally to send her a text asking when would be a good time to call. Pia emailed David at 21.40 hours giving the measurements he required, however, there was no mention of the Daffodils in a box, so David took Pia at her word and rang her mobile at 21.50 hours. Pia was happy to take the call, but she said that she knew nothing of the Daffodils in a box.
The following day David receive a call from Matt, son of the Deceased, and he said that his Dad had always joked that when he died all he wanted his son to do was to throw some Daffodils in an old orange-box. The Family were struggling to find an orange-box but David said that he could supply one, using his relationship with S.K. Fruits in Trowbridge.

When the Funeral Arranger emailed details of the funeral it was evident that the Deceased was a Jehovah’s Witness as the Kingdom Hall was the location of the service prior to burial in Milton Cemetery. As David was building the Support Structures for the flowers, the tune he had in his head was Sir Van Morrison’s ‘Kingdom Hall’ an upbeat number on his Wavelength album. Van’s mother had taken him in his younger days to both the Kingdom Hall and the Pentecostal Church in North Belfast. Whilst David does not want to contradict a Knight of the Realm, in David’s opinion Van linked the title with the Jehovah’s Witnesses but the essence of the song is about the scenes he must have witnessed in the Pentecostal Church ‘….oh they were swingin’ down at the Kingdom Hall, oh bells were ringin’ down at the Kingdom Hall.’
On the day of the funeral David left Bradford-on-Avon at 0430 hours in the pitch dark and as he went on the Melksham bypass he could see many blue lights flashing in the distance. Between Devizes and Melksham a car had failed to take a sharp bend and with the incumbents still inside, the car was embedded into a hedge when David arrived at the scene. Unfortunately two Transit Vans were blocking the Leyland Beaver’s route around the accident so David broke the law, he used he used his horn when the lorry was stationary and it was before 0700 hours. The Transit Van Drivers became aware of the Leyland Beaver and pulled out of the way to let the lorry through. As David could offer no help to the Firemen he carefully steered around the damaged car and was on his way. After collecting his paper at Sutton Scotney Services at 0615 hours he reached the M3 Motorway by 0700 hours. David travelled parallel to the M3, under the Spitfire Bridge, before taking an unclassified old Roman Road over the hill to Morestead and he got to Corhampton on the A32 by 0720 hours. David went south on the A32 for a short distance before turning left onto the B2150 and was on the A3 in Waterlooville by 0745 hours. He turned left onto the Havant Road before taking the A2030 Eastern Road dual carriageway which runs down the east side of Portsea Island. David passed Fratton Park, home of Portsmouth F.C., and was outside the Funeral Directors at 0815 hours.
Pia and her Partner delivered the flowers and helped David put them into their positions on the deck. Pia’s precise measurements meant that no rearrangements were needed and the display was perhaps one of the best David has created to date. A clean symmetrical display with the ‘Heart’ and the ‘Pint of Guinness’ being arranged to be at the same height and an arrow-head rear display, formed by the ten and seven lettered ‘Name’ Floral Tributes, which also created a facility to accommodate flowers from friends so that they didn’t detract from the family’s Floral tributes. David sent pictures to Val Spicer, whose bases were used by Pia and the company complimented the Florist on her work.

Friday was spent dismantling the Support Structure and then transferring the Leyland Ergo Cab model back onto the deck before erecting the Vintage Lorry Funerals sign. David then placed the 24 pictures of previous funerals on the two boards, and positioned them either side of the sign. Saturday involved another early start with the 66 year old lorry trundling out of Bradford-on-Avon at 0415 hours, arriving at the Three Counties Showground in Malvern at 0645 hours.  Claire Lunn gave David his entry documents and inviting him to park the vintage lorry near the entrance gate so it was the first vehicle people would see on entering the show. Stuart Smith and Sara Jane visited David and were impressed with the quality of the pictures and were amazed to see the Leyland Ergo Cab performing the tilting manoeuvre. Later in the day, David arranged for Stuart and Sara Jane to meet Mike Forbes, Editor of Vintage Roadscene, who had featured Stuart’s Dad’s Obituary so prominently in the previous month’s magazine.
When David was coming home from Malvern he recalled the events which had taken place in the past 6 days and remarked that ‘that was the week that was’ , remembering the BBC TV Programme which ran from 1962 to 1965 and was the launch pad for David Frost, Roy Kinnear, Lance Percival, Willie Rushton, Bill Oddie, Johnny Speight and many more.

Monday, 27 February 2017

A Taxi Drivers Funeral in Newbury

Vintage Lorry Funerals Leyland Beaver is 67 years old and although the maintenance is much simpler than modern truck one job on the old lady tends to lead to another one. Changing a front tyre before a Salisbury funeral turned into a nightmare when one of the wheel studs turned with the nut. ATS Euromaster put the nuts, which they had already removed, back onto the studs whilst David Hall phoned John Satchell, his mechanic, who told David to get a replacement stud. John runs John Satchell Motors, employs 5 mechanics and is responsible for the maintenance of over 500 vehicles and trailers in North Wiltshire. However, he always manages to find time to check over the lorry before a funeral, often arriving at David’s home not before 1930 hours having been on the go since 0500 hours! John always appreciates the light snack that David’s wife prepares for him. David was given a trophy at the CTP Bournemouth to Bath Run for having one of the best kept lorries, however, David didn’t believe that he had earned it and gave it to John Satchell to keep it for the year in recognition of all he had done.

Vintage Lorry Funerals support network includes Mark Pyatt, who along with his four Brothers, restores vintage Leyland Lorries at weekends and Mark provides replacement parts for the Leyland Beaver in a service which David affectionately calls Pyatts Parts. A package arrived within two days with two wheel studs and nuts, not the single wheel stud and nut which David had requested. A plan was put in place so that after the Salisbury funeral the 1950 Leyland Beaver would travel to Westbury, the home of John Satchell’s 5 bay workshops. The funeral in Salisbury went well and the Family were delighted with the replica Flat-Bed Lorry that David had built to prominently display the ‘POPS’ Floral Tribute.

David arrived at Westbury around 1600 hours and John Satchell guided David as he positioned the Leyland Beaver over a pit. John and a young mechanic immediately went to work on the wheel and with much physical exertion they eventually removed the wheel and drum that evening. John telephoned David on the Tuesday to say that both replacement wheel studs had to be used and he had organised ATS Euromaster to change the tyre in his workshop. David suggested to John that the wheel problem was caused by Eastern European tensions, because the original tyre was from Romania which didn’t want to be replaced by the new tyre which was from Czechoslovakia.
The problems caused by pot-holes on the old A-Roads has resulted in cracks in the wooden framework of the 1950 Cab and whilst the Leyland Beaver was at Westbury David arranged for Atech Coachworks, who undertook the original restoration of the lorry, to make a repair job. However, whilst the Leyland Beaver was in West Wilts Trading Estate, David took a phone call from Camp Hopson Funeral Directors in Newbury regarding a Taxi Drivers Funeral on Monday November 3rd. It had been explained that the lorry was off the road, however, having been assured that the funeral would be minimalistic and involve just a Coffin Spray, David, not wanting to disappoint a Family, took on the job.
David telephoned Kevin Lucas at Atech and explained his predicament which would require the work to be completed in two days. Mike Hunt, Kevin’s business partner met David on the Thursday morning and drew out how the steel bracket would resolve the problems and Gregorz Malek worked very late on Thursday night to make and fit the brackets.
At around noon on Thursday David was given the Florists contact details and he was surprised to learn that there was no Coffin Spray, as had been suggested by the Funeral Director, but ‘SIDS TAXI’, two 3 ft x 2 ft Designer Boards , a 23 inch x 15 inch ‘Cat’ , a 15 inch ‘Heart’ and a ‘Pillow’. In addition the Family had asked that the Deceased’s Taxi Sign should be carried on the lorry, not the metal sign which is fixed to the boot but the plastic ‘Top Hat’ which is fixed to the roof of the Taxi.
With the lorry being away in Westbury David evaluated the best way to secure the flowers in an eye catching way. He visualised that if the ‘SIDS TAXI’ could be split into two 4 lettered words, then if the ‘SIDS’ was secured above the ‘TAXI’ and then the ‘Top Hat’ taxi sign fixed above ‘SIDS’ then David would have the main items to create a replica of a rear of a Taxi Theme. What is more, the basic elements were already in place on the lorry from the Salisbury funeral, however, a complete dismantling would need to take place to get the ‘SIDS’ in the same plane as ‘TAXI’ if he was to replicate the rear window of a hatchback Taxi.

David’s main concern at this point was how to secure the ‘Top Hat’ sign and Angela at CABCO, for whom the Deceased had worked, was brilliant in providing measurements and describing the function of the powerful magnets within the sign. Joan Watton, Funeral Director, Camp Hopson kindly sent a picture of the underside of the sign and David realised that the best way to secure the sign was by sitting it on two metal strips that David had previously used a number of times to secure a ‘Cross’ on top of a coffin.
When David arrived home with the Leyland Beaver at 1600 hours on Friday he knew he had the equivalent of three days work complete in only two days. David, with the sound of Van Morrison’s Here Comes the Night ringing in his ears, worked until 2200 hours on the Friday night, completing the first fix of the front display. David normally spends Saturday morning reviewing the paper, whilst listening to Sounds of the 60’s on the radio. However, on this Saturday morning Brian Matthews show was recorded and the weekend papers were never looked at. Having started in his garage at 0815 hours and within the first 30 minutes finding stained wood of exactly the right length to connect ‘SIDS’ and ‘TAXI’, David knew that things would work out how he had planned and the length of metal strips were exactly right for the ‘Top Hat’ sign magnets to latch onto.
The rear display had to incorporate two 3 ft x 2 ft Designer Boards, a ‘Cat’ a ‘Heart’ and a ‘Pillow’ and what is more the ‘Cat’ and ‘Heart’ had to be secured with a quick release mechanism as these Floral Tributes were to be placed on top of the Coffin at the Church and the Cemetery. David devised a pyramidal structure with the Designer Boards loaded back to back, with the ‘Pillow’ facing rearwards and the ‘Cat’ and ‘Heart’ facing the head end of the Coffin. By using wooden boards a similar shape to a Floral Tribute David can make the flowers appear to float apparently unsupported. The triangular shaped board that was used to support the ‘Cat’ had previously held a similar Floral Tribute in Hungerford, a ‘Car’ in Bristol and replicated a ‘Wingtip’ in Gosport. By 2100 hours on Saturday the first fix of the rear display was in place and this meant the Sunday could be spent on the second fix of both displays in which David equips his Floral Tribute Fasteners with a colour to match the flowers as closely as possible.

On the Monday morning David got up at 0500 hours and was away by 0545 hours. After collecting his paper in Calne Post Office he arrived at Camp Hopson’s Newbury facility at 0815 hours and John Firth and Joan Watton watched David reverse into their immaculate building. The first hour was spent washing the lorry, removing the dirt which had accumulated on the chassis, caused by the previous night’s rain. Paul Stag then took David and Joan on a dry run to enable David to make a judgement on the best manner to approach St. John the Evangelist Church. Paul made David aware that people used the Church car park as a free facility for shopping or working in the locality and it was obviously a huge concern as it was a factor outside anyone’s control. So rather than drive into the car park like a hearse would, David elected to reverse into the car park from the main road. David paced out the distance to the parked cars, he also shifted a wheelie bin and he confirmed that he could complete the manoeuvre provided the situation didn’t deteriorate.
David Left Camp Hopson with Joan alongside him in the cab and she informed him that over 40 taxis would follow his lorry to the church. She had advised the Police about the potential impact on traffic flows, however, they declined to get involved in a way that they often do at Traveller funerals or those for Hell Angels.
At CABCO Taxis the 1950 Leyland Beaver stopped for the Deceased’s colleagues to show their respects. David spoke to the Head Taxi Driver and expressed his concerns about keeping 40 cars together without a Police presence. However, the man said, ‘Don’t worry we’ll sort it ourselves.’ As the vintage lorry moved off from CABCO two taxis broke off from the cortege and went ahead to block traffic at any junction that may inhibit the progress of the cortege. In this way all the Taxis remained in line behind the lorry to the Church, however, David admonished a Policeman driving a Police Car who was attempting to come between the lorry and the first taxi.
Normally a Funeral Director recruits some extra part-time gentlemen to help at a Church and often these men can appear to be reluctant to participate when David requests any help. However, this wasn’t the case for Camp Hopson staff. As David approached the Church, Paul Stag, driving the hearse in front, pulled right across the road bringing the traffic to a halt leaving space for the vintage lorry to reverse off the road into the car park. David could see that Gerrard had created a total exclusion zone close to the entrance and managed cars wanting to get beyond the exclusion zone with the same enthusiasm as East German Guards stopping people getting into West Berlin. The Leyland Beaver moved slowly into the entrance watched by Terry and as the lorry pushed through the undergrowth at the edge of the drive it was evident that someone had left their car sticking out from the line. The only way through was to virtually touch the car with the rear wheel of the lorry before David applied full lock on the Steering Wheel as quickly as possible. Luckily Terry was on the same wavelength and didn’t try to stop David getting so close to the car, which a younger less experienced person would have done.
A number of mourners congratulated David on his reversing skills and David found out that the car which was parked jutting out from the line was parked by the Vicar conducting the service no less! David took pictures of the flower displays whilst the service was taking place.
As the vintage lorry approached the grave in Shaw Cemetery it became clear that someone had parked their car on the path leading to the grave blocking the only route for the coffin to reach the grave. David said to Joan, ‘Some joker has parked his car just where you need to be, and I know that car, it was the one that I wiped the dirt off the front corner at the Church’. Joan looked up and saw that vicar, robes flowing in the breeze, pacing up and down, oblivious to the problem he was about to cause.
For the first time ever the Family were the last out from the cemetery and each member came to David to shake his hand to say thank you for all that he had done.