259. Eulogy for Dennis

Welcome to Luke’s English Podcast. This episode is entitled “Eulogy for Dennis” and it’s devoted to the memory of my Grandfather Dennis, who died at the end of December last year. The music you can hear is by Al Bowly, one of Dennis’ favourites. I hope you find this episode interesting to listen to and if you feel moved to do so – you are welcome to share your thoughts by leaving a comment on the page for this episode which you can find at teacherluke.co.uk – “Eulogy for Dennis” [Download]

Introduction
A ‘eulogy’ is a tribute – either written or spoken, usually celebrating and praising someone who has just died. This episode is a eulogy for my grandfather Dennis, who died recently at the age of 94. Much of what I am saying has been written in advance of recording, so I’m reading from a script. I’ve said plenty of times before that I prefer to record without a script because I think it makes my speaking more natural and authentic, however in this case I felt I had to write a script before recording because I wanted to prepare my thoughts and comments carefully. So this episode is scripted – which is good in one way because it means that it’s there if you want to read what I’m saying. I expect I will go ‘off script’ at times, and express my thoughts as they come to me, so there may be some unscripted parts. Either way, you can follow the bits that are written by going to teacherluke.co.uk and finding the page for this episode.

I hope that you don’t find this episode self-indulgent, or overly personal. I invite you to listen and share some memories of my Grandad, who I regrettably never featured on the podcast in person. I hope this episode can be a sort of celebration of his life, as well as a respectful tribute. I’ve been preparing this episode all morning, and ideally it would be more detailed, with input from the rest of my family, perhaps some readings of his favourite poetry or literature and anecdotes from his childhood. In the end, I realised that I just couldn’t spend too much time on it, and so I’ve just decided to start recording. If I don’t record this episode today, I might never do it.

If you want to make a comment in response to this episode showing some sympathy, and you’re wondering what to write, the appropriate things are usually “I’m really sorry for your loss” or “Condolences to your family”. It’s okay though, don’t feel obliged to write anything unless. I’m fine of course, although I do miss him, and so does the rest of my family. He had a pretty good innings.

Comments are always welcome, and if you feel like sharing similar experiences or ideas, go ahead. Teacherluke.co.uk. This is episode 259 “Eulogy for Dennis”.

I’m not entirely sure if my podcast is the appropriate place to give a tribute to Dennis – this is a podcast for learning English, but at the same time my podcast is a way for me to communicate and share thoughts with an audience of intelligent people around the world. If the content of each episode is interesting for you to listen to – great. It’s good for your English if you are interested in what you are listening to, and even though I’m not directly teaching you language in this episode, there’s still a lot to be gained from just engaging with what I’m saying, intellectually or emotionally. I hope you can get a lot of comprehensible language input from Luke’s English Podcast, and hopefully more than that too. For me, I want to be able to tell people about my grandad, because now he’s gone and his actions are consigned to history. I just want more people to know what he did, and that he was a good guy.

Although I want to be respectful, there’s no need to be overly sombre or sad in this episode. My grandad had a great sense of humour and he wasn’t the sort of person to dwell on dark and depressing thoughts. I imagine that he wouldn’t want me to take this episode too seriously, and he’d just want everyone to be happy and glad for what they have. It makes me happy to be able to share memories and knowledge about this member of my family.

So, I’m just going to talk about Dennis, just so you know about him too. He was a really popular man, and I hope his quiet charm comes through in this episode. He was also a modest bloke, so if he was here now, he’d probably find this a little bit embarrassing and unnecessary. But he’s not here, so I can do what I like, and I would like to spend some time talking about him! So, that’s what I’m going to do!

Childhood
I don’t know that much about his childhood really. He lived opposite a church. He grew up in quite a large house, and I think he really enjoyed growing up there, with quite a lot of space to play. I can’t really tell you more about his early life, because I don’t know enough. If he were here, I would ask him all about it. Suddenly, I want to know everything about his life story.

DennisWartime
So, in 1939
-No choice but to fight
-He didn’t tell us about the really dangerous and traumatic stuff he must have done
-His report
-Military Cross

Dennis’ Report
THE MILITARY CROSS
LIEUT.D.HALLAM – THE EAST YORKSHIRE REGIMENT
This officer has commanded a platoon in a rifle company continuously since D-Day, showing throughout outstanding gallantry and powers of leadership, especially on patrol.

On the 23rd October 1944 outside VENRAIJ he was leading a daylight patrol which was ambushed at very close range; with complete disregard for his own safety he controlled the withdrawal of the patrol in the face of heavy fire and remained behind himself within about fifty yards of the enemy keeping up a constant stream of smoke grenades until he was certain that everyone was clear. But for his coolness and initiative a large part of the patrol might have been lost.

Prior to the capture of HELLIGENRODE on the 16th April 1945 he led his patrol deep into the enemy’s positions and by deliberately drawing their fire was able to pin-point posts which materially assisted the planning of the subsequent attack.

Following the capture of GR.MACKENSTEDT on the 16th April and again during the mopping up of Bremen, his dash and aggressive action in the face of continual sniping inspired his platoon of very young soldiers with a determination which quickly gained them their objectives.

On the 18th April outside DELMENHORST his company and its support troops were held up by an 88mm gun and an enemy position on their left flank, but with superb initiative LT. Hallam led his troop round a covered flank and by the speed of his attack overwhelmed a position equal in strength to his own and accounted for the entire garrison and the gun.

At all times this officer has been an outstanding source of inspiration to those around him and has shown powers of leadership above his rank.

Family Life
-Photos of him and my Gran. They were younger than I am now. They looked so sweet together. She was gorgeous – very pretty and elegant. He was handsome, and elegant too in his own way. Clever, with a dry sense of humour, and a decorated war hero (although I think Gran was not so impressed by that – I imagine by the end, they both hated the war and just wanted it to end so they could be together. She never really mentioned his war experiences either.)
-Post traumatic stress? They didn’t really believe in that sort of thing in those days.
-My Gran bought a house during the war, and they settled down there. Again, seeing pictures, I feel like I would like to meet them. I can’t help thinking that we would have got on. Well, we did get on of course, really well, but it would be amazing to meet them when they were the same age as me – on the same level of status etc. This makes me think of Back to the Future – a film which I’m hoping to talk about on the podcast soon.
-He didn’t talk about the war much. I expect he wanted to put it behind him.
-My Mum says he was a bit removed at times, and not always emotionally engaged. Maybe this is related to how he dealt with his wartime experience, or maybe he was just an emotionally reserved person. That’s not to say he wasn’t warm – he was. He was kind, loving, and thoughtful, but perhaps a little bit reserved when it came to expressing those things openly. His warmth came through in different ways – like in his humour, his obvious enjoyment of being with the family, his interest in our news and so on. It’s almost impossible to imagine him in a war zone, fighting as a soldier. He was most at home in his armchair, reading, doing crossword puzzles, watching cricket and laughing at jokes or making jokes. Like many other men and women of his generation, he was pulled out of life and forced to engage in bloody combat. Forced, by the need to go to war against the enemy, to fight back against the Nazis. He was forced by events outside his control, which swept him away from his otherwise peaceful life. Conscripted into the army, I imagine he found himself wondering how it had happened. I’m sure he was well aware of what had happened to so many other men of the previous generation in World War 1 (nearly 900,000 of them died) and so I can’t imagine how it felt to be walking into a similar situation. I suppose he took on the challenge like everyone else. He was only one of thousands of other soldiers who were asked to fight for their country. I think he had a sense of national duty, and duty to the king and so on. That probably helped him, and I don’t think he questioned or challenged the allied command, or the general fight against the nazis. I expect he saw it as a necessary move, albeit one that he wished was not at all necessary.

It does make me angry that those who wage war force people like my Grandad into such horrific situations. Many many men lost their lives, and the others suffered in other ways – physical injury but also mental or emotional trauma which must have affected these young men deeply. I think of the powerful men who, motivated by some twisted and distorted sense of justice decide they have the right to decide who lives and who dies, and with a sweep of the hand, cause untold suffering and consequences around the world for generations. What supreme arrogance and small mindedness is it, that causes some power hungry maniacs to believe they can do that? What kind of egomaniac thinks they can play with the lives of millions of people just to satisfy their own hunger for power? What on earth makes one guy think he’s the one to rule the world? It’s sick and it disgusts me that certain autocratic dictators will stop at nothing to satisfy their bruised egos. Anyway, there’s no need to go into it any more – I think enough has been said about war and the causes of war, and I know it is complicated, and I don’t want to open up some debate because there are many shades of grey, and what looks like the actions of a power hungry psychopath to one person, may look like righteous leadership to another person. It depends on your point of view, and what kind of propaganda you’ve been exposed to, but ultimately, with great power comes great responsibility, and in so many cases, those who seek great power rarely manage to behave responsibly. Spiderman taught me that. I’m sure there are leaders who do a great job, and are both powerful and responsible, compassionate, and caring – and it is really hard to keep the peace sometimes. But when you go out of your way to slaughter millions just because you don’t like the way they look, dress, pray, or otherwise live their lives – get a grip on yourself. If I met Hitler, I’d ask him “Who the hell do you think you are, mate?” He’d probably tell me that he was someone special, but it would be the wrong answer. He was just another schmuck. One of the biggest twats in recent memory, along with a bunch of other people who I’m sure you could name.

Just one point, which may be me just stating the obvious, but it wasn’t the Germans that were the enemy, it was the nazis, or whatever you want to call those people – you know what I mean. There were plenty of Germans who suffered at the hands of the nazis. So it’s not ‘Germans’ – it’s facists. The fascists came from all sorts of countries. It was a battle of ideas, not based on where you were from.

Also, I know that Britain doesn’t exactly have a perfect past either. We were a huge colonial power, and Britain/UK/England has done some messed up stuff in history too, in India, in the middle east. Everyone’s involved in war to an extent. But I do believe it’s possible for mankind to exist without war. I know this sounds a bit cheesy, but there you go.

As John and Yoko said, “Give peace a chance” – just entertain the idea for a moment that perhaps war is not the answer, and that the whole world could decide to just get on. I know it is naive, but why not? Communication, diplomacy, talking to each other, using words, listening, finding compromise and trying to solve problems – that must be the way forward, unless you believe in the end of the world and in fact somehow fantasise about it happening. I don’t believe in the end of the world. I think the world will go on for many more years, as long as it is not hit be a huge asteroid (like when the dinosaurs were around). Did you know, the dinosaurs lived way way longer than us? We look back at them as a failed species, but they were around for about 135 million years. We’ve been around, as the dominant species, for about 200,000 years. So, the dinosaurs were around 675 times longer than us. Just to put that in perspective, that’s the equivalent to about 1 day compared to about 2 years. Imagine your first day in a new job. Just the first day – you’re nervous, you don’t know anyone, you find it hard to get along with the other people who work there, you don’t like them at first, you don’t know how to do your job very well, but it’s just the first day, and you’ve got 2 years ahead of you. So for humans, it’s still our first day on the job, as the dominant species. We’ve achieved nothing compared to the dinosaurs, if staying alive is the objective, that is. For us humans, we should learn to get along or we won’t make it as far as the dinosaurs. We haven’t even started really… I don’t really understand what’s going on in the world. It seems so confusing sometimes. Why are there wars? Why does human kind feel the need to smash itself up from time to time? Isn’t survival on the planet hard enough? Perhaps we are hard-wired to fight against each other for our own survival, but we have only recently invented weapons of mass destruction. Our instinct, developed over years of evolution, has maybe equipped us with a keen sense of survival, which includes the will to fight each other, but now we have massively destructive weapons so isn’t it time to use our brains to control those basic instincts towards violence? I mean, just play a video game or go to the gym if you have that much aggression inside you. Do some sit ups maybe, rather than getting all angry and causing world war 3. Just have an ice-cream and chill out. OK, rant over.

How did I end up talking about that? I was just expressing anger about those powerful individuals who wage war. I know I might sound naive when talking about this subject, like you might think “Yes, but war is a necessary evil and blah blah” – well, I’m just saying it’s a pity. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

Oh and by the way, my grandfather was not bitter about the people he was fighting in the war. He never spoke badly about anyone really. I think the most outspoken thing he said was that he didn’t agree with women being priests in the Anglican church – a pretty old fashioned view, but there you go, and that’s nothing to do with the war. Other than that he didn’t have a bad word to say about anyone really. In World War 2, Japan was an enemy of the allies, but Dennis was so pleased to meet my Japanese friends when I invited them to my parents’ house at Christmas a few years ago. He was really friendly with them and we had a really great Christmas. Of course we did! Why would he bear a grudge against people who were clearly nothing to do with a war that happened generations ago? There’s no good reason for him to have done that.

I don’t want to go on about war too much. It’s annoying that his generation will forever be associated with it. It was only a small chapter in his life really. There’s no need to dwell on it. It didn’t make him who he was. He was more than that. He did so many other things, including having a family and raising two children. That’s worth celebrating as much as anything else. Of course I’m going to say it, but I love my uncle and my Mum massively. They’re just great, and that’s it.

Eulogy
This is the Eulogy I read out in church during the funeral service. It was written by Dennis’ children – my Mum and my Uncle.
They felt they wouldn’t be able to read it out without getting emotional. So, they asked me to do it. I was so proud to be asked. I didn’t feel too nervous. I was happy to read it. I didn’t get emotional until right at the end, when I my voice started shaking a bit.

Things we will remember about our Dad (words written by my Mum and my uncle)
His quiet, modest, ironic, witty and amusing presence.
His intelligence, erudition and knowledge.
His love of reading, especially Dickens and Trollope, who he re-read many times.
His ability to write – short stories, poems, articles, wonderful letters and inspirational little magazines which he produced during the war to boost the morale of his platoon.
Going with him to the public library to be introduced to the likes of Robert Louis Stevenson, Conan Doyle and PG Wodehouse.
His diverse musical tastes; encompassing Beethoven, Gilbert and Sullivan and Al Bowlly.
His facility for mimicry and pastiche.
His phenomenal memory – “ask Dad he’ll know” was frequently said by all members of the family.
His love of, and pride in, Yorkshire; its cricket team, its landscapes, towns and villages and all the happy memories it held for him of his childhood with his older brother and cousins; and later his pleasure in taking us on family holidays there, climbing Pen y ghent and Ingleborough, brewing up coffee on a primus stove, sheltering from the rain under bridges. And recently his enjoyment of visits with Shirley to Cononley, getting to know and love the village where his grandparents lived.
His affection for his school, Queen Elizabeth Grammar, in Wakefield where he obviously had a great education and whose headmaster A.J Spilsbury, was a life-long hero.
The cardigans he used to wear, the pockets of which always contained stubs of pencils with which he completed the cryptic crosswords he loved and was always so expert at, even up to the last few months of his life.
His love of France and the wonderful holidays he and mum had; travelling the length and breadth of the country, camping or staying in rather primitive gites. And, after Mum died, the holidays based on French courses he attended in various parts of France.
His amazing facility for languages, most particularly French, Spanish and German, the talent for which he has not passed on to us!
His skill with a watercolour brush.
His public spiritedness – volunteering to work at the Cheshire Home every Monday evening for 23 years.
His hatred of computers, but his amazing facility for texting on his mobile phone!
His characteristic silent laugh in which he closed his eyes and threw his head back, while quietly expelling air through his half open mouth – not a sound escaping!
His resilience and, sometimes infuriating, self sufficiency.
His even temper which he only ever lost on one memorable occasion, with very good reason!
The skill he displayed in cooking after Mum died, taking pride in hosting lunch and dinner parties.
His luck – sustaining only one injury during his very active war – a cut lip which he got while playing football! the good health he enjoyed during most of his long life, up to the last two or three years; and, after mum died, to have the companionship of Shirley with whom he had some very happy years; not least because, thanks to her Sky subscription, he was able to watch cricket all day long! They also went on many holidays and trips, and she looked after him so lovingly during his last months.
The modest bravery he displayed in his youth. When we asked about the MC which he won in the war he would say, airily “oh, they were ten a penny..”
His stoicism in the face of his death saying just a couple of days before he died “what will be will be”.
His quiet religious devotion, no doubt instilled in him from the day of his birth in a house just over the road from Beverley Minster, where his father was a chorister.
He was an exceptional example of a past generation.
As Hamlet says of his father:
I shall not look upon his like again.

As a Grandfather we only got the best of Dennis, and that was a lot. I remember him as just a great person to share a joke with. He was always up for a laugh, and as Mum and Nic mentioned, he was brilliant at doing impressions and characters. He was just a lovely, intelligent, mild-mannered and warm presence and we have nothing but joyful memories of our time with him.

My memories
Here are just some of the things I think about when I remember my grandad.
His tone of voice – it was soft, and comforting, humorous.
His general knowledge, and knowledge of history and literature.
His memory.
His love of cricket.
The glasses of sherry he would drink when he came to our place (served by my Dad).
Drinking whiskey with him at Christmas.
His friendly “Hello Luke” and a good firm hand shake.
His slippers which he used to wear.
His sense of humour – he could copy different voices, and he was always funny when he did this.
His style (and the style of my Granny – she was really elegant).
His French cars.
His love of France – and the language. He spoke fluent French and even wrote a few short stories in French too, which were published somewhere. My girlfriend and I used to sit with him and chat in French sometimes. Well, mainly them because my French is a bit limited, to say the least.
His love of Sherlock Holmes stories. We had this in common, and we would sometimes chat about Holmes & Watson. I played him my mystery story from episodes 29&30 of LEP. He enjoyed them. I’m sure he could have written something better.

I could go on. There’s so much to say and I’m sure I have missed some details, but there you go.

My Gran died in 2002, and my Grandad was always there for her. It must have been really hard to lose her after all those years, but he was a survivor, and he kept going, living alone for a while, before after about 6 or 7 years he got himself a girlfriend, called Shirley.

At the time, I didn’t even have a girlfriend, so I was pretty impressed with him.
Shirley & Dennis lived together in the last years of his life, and she looked after him really well. If it hadn’t been for her, he might have ended up in a care home, and he wouldn’t have wanted that.

Grandad stayed mentally alert all the way up to the end of his life. He was brilliant at crossword puzzles, pub quizzes, TV quiz shows and games. In the end, he died as a result of a heart condition. It wasn’t completely unexpected or a shock, but it’s still unavoidably moving and difficult to deal with when a member of the family dies. My Mum was with him when he passed away, holding his hand.

That’s it. He’s gone now. Where did he go? I don’t know.
Some people have their answers to that question, but I can’t be sure.
But it’s okay. All things must pass, it’s the way things are – better accept it.

Song
Here’s a song by George Harrison.
Artist: George Harrison
Song: All Things Must Pass
Album: All Things Must Pass
Tab from UltimateGuitar.com

Verse:
A D/A E** D
Sunrise doesn’t last all morning

A D/A E** D
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day

E A/E E** A**
It seems my love is up and has left you with no warning

E A/E E** A**
It’s not always gonna be this grey

Chorus:
Em D Dsus4 D
All things must pass
A D/A A D/A E** D
All things must pass away

Sunset doesn’t last all evening
A mind can blow those clouds away
After all this my love is up and must be leaving
It’s not always gonna be this grey

Bridge:
Em D Dsus4 D
All things must pass
Em D Dsus4 D
None of life’s strings can last
A D/A
So I must be on my way
E** A
To face another day

Now the darkness only stays the nighttime
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
It’s not always gonna be this grey

Second Chorus:

Em D
All things must pass
A D/A A
All things must pass away

A D/A E** D A D/A E** A** E***

  • Marta KL

    Hi Luke, I know it´s a bit late, but I´m really sorry for your loss. I listened to this episode only yesterday.. Just want to send you this song, my fav one on this topic. It´s the one I love most from PJ :)
    www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTb9GNIxpMk

  • I think it’s in the human nature to live in the state of war, from time to time. It’s disgusting but it’s who we are indeed.

    It’s interesting, but my grandmother also doesn’t like when people participate in TV shows not being dressed in nice suits or elegant dresses. Somehow time have impact on people’s outlook from different countries. It’s amazing.

  • Pedro from Peru

    Luke, I am lost for words… All I can say is thank you for being the awesome guy you are and thanks very much for sharing this with us.

    Peace (y)