Frederick Oliver Straw – 20 March 1928 to 30 April 2012 age: 84
Fred was born on Tuesday 20th March 1928 in a house that was one of a block of eight, on Kneeton Road, East Bridgford on the banks of the river Trent to the east of Nottingham. His parents, Edgar and Lucy Ann, had been married in the village church nine years earlier. From the outset Edgar and Lucy continued the family tradition of giving children the first name of a close relative and then using the middle name for the son in everyday conversation – to avoid confusion with the older Straws – hence to many people here today Frederick is actually known as Oliver.
Fred was the fifth of six children, 3 boys and 3 girls; sadly two of the girls died in infancy with only Doreen Megan surviving to be just 21, leaving Fred as the youngest of three brothers.
As a small child Fred loved standing at the gates of the village school opposite his house and watching the children going in and coming out: he would insist on being there at their playtime and would not leave until they all went back inside. Indeed, if he wasn’t taken there he’d often slip off by himself to watch!
In 1932 the family moved to Netherfield to be near Edgar’s job on the railway; their new home was right next to the busy marshalling yard at Colwick and a far cry from the quiet and rural East Bridgford – but they soon got used to the constant noise of the steam engines and the clanking of the wagons being shunted. Fred loved to go back and visit family in East Bridgford as they had such large gardens – full of fresh fruit and vegetables and a pig sty. Fred’s mother was very fond of her older sister Aunt Charlotte, known as “Cis”, who had acted as a mother to her when their mother died. He remembered walking to Carlton (1 mile) to take the train to Lowdham then walking a further 4 miles to his Aunt’s house in East Bridgford. They would return home the same day – and he was only four-years old!
Fred’s Father remained true to his village roots and maintained no fewer than five allotments, where he raised pigs and ducks as part of war time effort (one pig for the family and one pig for the government) – this supply of wholesome fresh food no doubt contributed much to the family’s good health. Shortly after the war in 1947 Fred remembers the floods around Colwick and having to help his Father wade up to their chests in water rescue the ducks at the allotment because the ducks didn’t like getting wet! This also meant Fred missed a date at the cinema with a certain Margaret Olga Jefferson, not something to be done lightly. We’ll speak again of Margaret later.
In 1943 at the age of 15 Fred asked his Father for a trumpet after seeing a film starring Harry James. “You’ll have to pay me back lad” said Edgar. The trumpet cost £15 in 1943 which is about £550 in today’s money. He was taught by Jack Baldwin whom he held in great respect and eventually paid back his Father £15 when he sold the trumpet to his friend Frank Knowell. Frank and Fred were to become lifelong friends.
Music wasn’t his only love – for a while Fred played for the Leicester Tigers Rugby team but left after a hamstring injury that “hurt more than anyone can imagine”. If only the physiotherapists the 1940s had great medical care like we do today Fred might have gone on to make a professional career out of rugby!
Returning to music, Fred greatly admired the band leader Harry James and aspired to play like him: he began playing in a Dance Band with Jack Prince – a 5-piece group with Piano, two saxophones, one trumpet and a drummer. He later moved to be with a 14-piece group called “Rube Sunshine” that was based in West Bridgford. Dance banding paid well and enabled him to buy his future wife Margaret’s engagement ring which he could never have done on his apprentice’s wages.
Fred had met Margaret at a dance at her old school – The Dale School in Sneinton. They were married on 23 April 1949 at St Christopher’s Church in Sneinton. The church itself had been bombed during the war but the East Wall and beautiful window remained untouched; the wedding itself was in the church hall with tea afterwards at Margaret’s mother’s house in Mafeking Street, Sneinton. Now married and with a child on the way Fred decided he had to quit the glamour of dance bands and joined the Netherfield Railway Band; an organization supported by his Father.
These early years were hard ones for Fred and Margaret; they began married life living at her mother’s house, as was the case for so many young people at the time; both Elaine and Christopher were born during those years, in 1949 and ’53 respectively. Fred was justifiably proud when they bought a detached house in Carlton, a district of Nottingham where many of his family still live. Unfortunately a period of ill health for Fred forced them to move to a smaller property back in Sneinton but they were a determined and hard-working couple and eventually saved enough for a house here in Wollaton, moving in on 16th November 1971.
Fred passed his 11+ exam to go on to the Henry Mellish Grammar School but was unable to take his place as his parents could not afford the school uniform. At school he remembered particularly enjoying Maths and Woodwork; he had a definite flair for both and he was justifiably proud when a box he made was sent around other schools across the country as an exemplary piece of work.
With thoughts of Grammar School behind him Fred began working for William Lawrence & Co Furniture Manufacturers immediately after leaving school in 1942; the factory was commissioned to help war effort by mending the wooden parts of RAF aircraft. He worked making and repairing wooden frames for fins and flaps on fighters and gliders. A year later Fred was offered an apprenticeship as a joiner with the railways, which he gladly accepted and he stayed with them until his retirement in 1993. Railway work was considered vital for the war effort and also later in the rebuilding of Britain after the war so Fred was never called-up for national service.
Unfortunately we now know that it would have been during his time as a joiner in the 1940s and 1950s that Fred was exposed to the lethal asbestos dust that was later to so cruelly claim his life; although not directly working with asbestos he did work on the steam locomotives at the same time as the boiler-smiths who were stripping out and relining the locomotive boilers.
Despite working long hours and with two children to support, to say nothing of his banding, Fred studied for his City and Guilds with a view to becoming a teacher of woodwork. However, in 1960 another opportunity arose with the railways. He was offered the chance to train for the then new management discipline of “work-study” at a locomotive depot in London. With Margaret’s support he accepted a position to as a Work Study Engineer and spent most weekdays in the capital lodging around Willesden, North London. By 1962 he was fully qualified and Margaret had a special ‘London present’ as she called it. Elaine and Chris now had a younger brother – Paul Timothy!
Never afraid of hard work, Fred managed to secure a series of promotions over the next three decades with British Rail. From humble beginnings as an apprentice joiner he worked his way up to management grade as a work study manager at Toton, the largest diesel depot in Europe and then on to become the boss of the wagon maintenance and repair depot for the whole of the East Midlands during the 1970s and 1980s, responsible for over eighty staff.
Being ever the honest worker and in a quest for efficiency savings he managed to make his own job redundant in the late 1980s but was fortunately able to move to other management posts in Derby and then Birmingham for his last years, ending up as the Industrial Engineer in charge of all fixed plant and machinery on the Regional Railways of British Rail. His patch stretched from as far south as Devon to as far North as Glasgow! Fred finally retired in 1993, just a few days short of having served BR for 50 years. In those latter years he and his wife Margaret started to enjoy continental holidays to Spain, Italy and in particular France and, on retirement, were able to spend long summer weeks abroad.
Having covered Fred’s work career I’ll turn to family matters again.
During the 1970s and 1980s, five of his six grandchildren were born. Claire, James and Helen to Elaine and Keith: Mark and Thomas to Christopher and Lynne. Fred’s sixth grandchild, Daniel, was born in the Millennium year of 2000 to Paul and Katrina. This year‘s joy was unfortunately tinged with sadness when Margaret, died of ovarian cancer in late March 2000. At least they had had enjoyed a happy Golden Wedding party just a few months early with all their family around them.
Despite the sad loss of his wife Fred was fortunate enough to not only have the love and support of his family, but also of the many friends he had who were both former work colleagues and band mates, especially the “other two” of the “Last of the Summer Wine” trio, namely Frank (he of the second hand trumpet from the 1940s mentioned earlier) and Ken who had both also served apprenticeships as fitters with BR. They found a new level of friendship and support as widowers up meeting regularly for long walks, with a little refreshment along the way – Fred’s neighbours on Wollaton Vale have fond memories of seeing him walk past their window after such outings! The three friends also took many holidays abroad where they really saw themselves more as the Three Musketeers than Compo, Clegg and Foggy!
Yes, just in case anyone here doesn’t know or hasn’t already got the point, Fred was a keen bandsman! Indeed, that statement doesn’t really cover it at all in terms of how much Fred loved being part of the band that is now known as Carlton Brass. He was a member for six decades, an accomplished player, rising to become first cornet and then playing soprano cornet. But he also was a staunch supporter and Committee member becoming Chairman and later the Vice President. He was very honoured to be voted in as President in 2010. This comment posted on the band’s website is just one of many lovely tributes but does sum him up – “He was such a dedicated bandsman who gave huge encouragement to all players whatever their talents.”
To list all his accomplishments and indeed adventures with Carlton Brass over all those years is not possible to do here, but I’m sure the band can tell you more later.
Despite having his share of aches and pains Fred generally enjoyed good health and travelled afar with family and friends, reaching Finland, the USA and Australia. In 2002 he travelled to New Zealand for the wedding of his eldest grandson James to New Zealander Mandy.
Fred was immensely proud of his family; he was so pleased that his three children and his grandchildren all went to university thus getting the higher education he had been denied. He was especially chuffed when Mark gained his Doctorate in 2011.
He loved his whole family, and really enjoyed regular family get-togethers and of course weddings. In December 2009 Thom married Erin and in August 2011 Claire & Lucas tied the knot. Unfortunately he did not feel well enough to travel to Helen’s wedding to Guillermo in 2011 nor did he get to Mark and Amy’s wedding in the autumn of 2011, having been diagnosed with Mesothelioma just days before.
As I now wrap up I thought it appropriate to recall a few of the fond recollections that the family members have about Fred:
• Christopher would like everyone to know that he was immensely proud of his Father. With so many memories to cherish he finds it too difficult to select just one to mention however, his memories can be summed up in them being of a kind and caring man, a sentiment echoed by siblings Elaine and Paul and the rest of the family.
• To his grandsons Mark and Tom, and Daniel – ‘Fred’ was always Grandpa, a term that they have always used with great affection.
• Mark and Tom hold cherished memories from childhood through to the recent past. When in Nottingham, they would stay with ‘Grandpa’ when possible. These were great opportunities for them to spend time on their own with him and they used to particularly enjoy the tales he would relate and the generous measures of whiskey and other libations he would insist they have.
• Christopher’s wife, Lynne, and both of his daughters-in-law, Amy and Erin, would also like to record that they too have very fond memories of the warm and generous person that Fred was.
• To Elaine and Keith’s children, Claire, James and Helen, he was a warm and loving Granddad and a GREAT magician finding pennies behind their ears. He was ‘cool’ in his leather jacket and smart shoes and I think he might have offered them a drink or two as well. They remember with love and pride the look on Fred’s face when the band played at James and Mandy’s Anniversary party and his own 80th celebrations.
• For Paul and Katrina and their son Daniel who was born in the year 2000, Fred was ever-ready to play – crawling on the floor with Daniel when he was a baby, playing make-believe Thunderbirds, Power Rangers and Ninja Turtles games when Daniel pre-school; playing board games after dinner when Daniel was at primary school. And for the past five years or so Grandpa was Daniel’s number one fan for sports, supporting him whatever the weather during his football matches. Grandpa bought Daniel’s football kits, his first badminton racquet and his karate black belt, the latter which will last him all his life.
There was a discernible decline in Fred’s health in during 2011, but it wasn’t until October that he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a disease with no known cure, caused by exposure to asbestos. Throughout the last months of his life Fred continued to be the caring and kind Father, Grandfather and Great-Grandfather he had always been and, no matter how uncomfortable he might have felt, he would always be concerned to know how others were. He enjoyed seeing his Great-Grandchildren Rose and Charlie when they came over for Christmas though saddened that he was unable to play with them: his youngest Great-Grandchild Maia was able to raise a smile from him until the very last few days.
Throughout his illness Fred conducted himself with great dignity. He never lost his sense of humour and so with that and his ‘lovely blue eyes’ he endeared himself to the nurses and carers who tended him. The family are indebted to the support given by the District Nursing Team, Marie Curie Cancer Support and to Mo – who never had a day off – and to Ohio all of whom contributed so much and with such compassion to make his final weeks comfortable.
Fred’s death is a great sadness to all those who knew him. However, it must also have been a blessed release for him and those who did know him should think rather of his lovely smile breaking out in better days, rather than of him being ill. Although “his metronome is now truly wound down”, the family’s memories of him are many and will always be at their most strongest whenever they hear the music he loved.
Fred died as he lived – quietly and without fuss. Everyone who knew him said what a gentle man he was, never one ‘put himself forward’, a good friend and a real gentleman. A lovely, lovely man.
• He is survived by 3 children; 6 grandchildren and 3 great children; his brother-in-law Bill and several cousins, nephews and nieces.