Every so ofen a few of us – all local retired ministers – meet for a catch-up on how we are managing the delicate exercise of loyalty to the institution we once worked for, but without the power to do much to change it. There was no shortage of talk when we were together this week, much of it is anecdotal as we shared stories of where we have been, what we have done; and what the job has done to us. But also what its like to be at this end of our lives. At one point we shared memories of our families, especially our fathers, and how we regretted that we never moved beyond a child/adult relationship. I have written about this in these blogs. There was so much more that we never knew about them and by the time we wanted to, it was too late.
My wife has written a book about her father which has just been published.* Before her research began she knew little about him, for he died when she was only five and a half. After her mother married again, she was sent to boarding school and when she was at home during the holidays, her father was hardly ever mentioned.
Photos produced and sometimes shared, and she and her sister were told that he was a hero: a footballer who had died fighting for his country; but that was it. Through her research she now knows so much more about him, has become firm friends with the cousins she discovered in recent years, and our sense of family has been enriched. Her book tells the story of a remarkable man.
Eric Stephenson was born in 1914 in East London, the family moved to Leeds in 1930 by which time Eric had already made his mark as a footballer, playing for London Schoolboys. The family found a Methodist church in Roundhay where he and his five brothers and sister felt at home. Eric was involved in the Boys Brigade and continued to play football as an amatuer. But then his father lost his job, and Eric became the bread winner of the family by signing with Leeds United Football Club earning £12 a week! There are extracts from various soccer writers in the book and invariably they mention his skill, intelligence and unselfish gamesmanship.
He played twice for England in 1938 and was part of the English squad which toured in Romania, Italy, Yugoslavia in May 1939.
Like many Christians of his generation he had a pacifist attitude to war, but this was overcame as he recognised the enormity of the Nazi threat to Europe. Although after being trained at Sandhurst he became a commissioned officer and was stationed in the Indian Army with the 3/2 Gurkha Rifles, and it was when he was fighting behind the Japanese lines in Burma, that he lost his life.
The book is full of detail and Eric’s life is illuminated by the memories of those who knew him and the correpondence that survives.
I was aware of some of the stories about him as they were being collated, and now reading the finished book, it is more than a moving and evocative experience for me. I feel I have almost met him in a way that perhaps I have never quite felt about my own father.
*’The Happy Warrior, From Leeds United to Burma’ by Jan Rippin £9.50 plus p&p e:firstname.lastname@example.org