The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville
This tribute, written by Joe’s son Joe and daughter Elaine for the Funeral Service on Friday 9th November.
Dad was born in Gateshead in 1921. The family were poor. They lived in 4 rooms on the top floor of a terraced house by the railway marshalling yard. Elaine and I remember staying there in the 1950’s. The terrace and the cobbled street were black from the coal dust. Tiny rooms and steps down from the scullery to the outside toilet.
Dad lived there with his parents and two sisters Dorothy and Lilian. His Dad became ill with TB and consequently unemployed. They all lived on 37 shillings a week dole. Food was occasionally scarce and shoes not always affordable either.
By all accounts Dad was a bright boy, there was talk of a scholarship to Newcastle Royal Grammar School but there were things to pay for and he couldn’t go.
He also grew strong and handy with his fists. He was fiercely protective of his two younger sisters, particularly Lily the youngest and most vulnerable. On one occasion Dad was cooking 3 kippers over the open fire with a toasting fork one each for the children. One of the kippers fell off the toasting fork into the fire and Dad shouted out, “Dorothy, your kipper’s fallen in the fire!”
When he was 13 Dad was sent away to a Home that trained poor or orphaned boys in a trade, the Gordon Boys Home near Woking, a long way from home. Run on Army lines it was founded in memory of General Gordon. It’s now a very successful school and we have representatives in the congregation today. Dad’s father, knowing he was dying, believed that the young Joe would have a better chance in life if he left Gateshead.
On his first night at the Home he was beaten up by older boys and this instilled in him a lifelong hatred of bullies. Being Dad he fought back, whatever the odds. Dad thrived at his trade of Engineering. He had found what he wanted to do in his working life. The school has given us his record. His four years at the Home featured rapid promotions and equally rapid demotions as he took on and occasionally fought more senior boys who bullied the younger ones.
When he left the Home in 1939, his Commandant’s report said: “Corporal Joseph Greenwell, a big strong boy; has put on 60lbs during his stay of 4 years; has done well at his Trade. Inclined to be hasty in his temper. Wants to join the Royal Navy.”
Dad remained grateful all his life for the start the Gordon Boys gave him. He was a Committee member of the Old Gordonians Association for many years.
Dad joined the Navy in 1941. He survived a torpedo attack in 1942 off North Africa which sank his ship, HMS Manchester. He swam 7 miles to the Algerian coast and was interned in a prisoner of war camp. The guards were Italian; he said the food was good. He got back in one piece within a year and served throughout the war and soon rose to the rank of Chief Engine Room Artificer.
He married mum in 1949, they had met on the dance floor in Portsmouth. They were very good dancers and Elaine and I used to look on with pride whenever they stepped up to dance.
Elaine and I knew most of the pubs in Portsmouth and Gosport before we were teenagers. Dad loved the service and had a fantastic career, travelling the world several times over. He was a great sportsman representing the Navy and his ships in most sports.
We loved the Navy life too, even though he was often away for 2 years at a time in the 50’s and 60’s. We watched, as children with Mum as his ships came into Spithead. He always came back with loads of presents and there were Christmas parties and weekend socials. They were very happy days for the family.
Dad retired at 60 and always said it was his second best decision after marrying Mum. He adored her and said she was the real boss in the house and he was right of course. There will be a list of jobs to do for him when they meet up and I’m guessing a stern talking to for all the remarks he shouldn’t have made in the last nine years.
He enjoyed his retirement too, taking pleasure in travelling on holiday to Spain with Mum, to Florida and France in particular with Elaine’s family and enjoying visits to Harbury where he made many friends in Church as well as the pub. He came to many parties with us and joined in all the games.
He loved this Church, his friends here and of course all his friends at The Falcon. He was a great gardener; his biggest frustration in the last 12 months was not being able to get into his garden. He loved his sisters, children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces and all their friends. He made an impact with whoever he met and in whatever company.
We have received cards and letters from many people, young and not so young, all remembering and extolling his many qualities: talented engineer, sportsman, family man, intelligent, well read, physically brave, fearless actually, very outspoken and a scourge of unmerited authority. He was a great raconteur, particularly in the pub and he had a fantastic sense of humour, a great laugh.
The day before Dad went into hospital for the last time he smiled at Elaine and I and said, “A short life but a merry one”. Not so short and a very merry one we think.
From humble origins Dad achieved a great deal and lived life to the full. We think this picture of him aged 21 tells you everything there is to know about him. We are all very proud of him. He was a lovely man.
Christmas Edition 2012
Joe at bar of The Falcon