Henry Charles and Lotti Banfather

My father passed away on Sunday the 2nd of March 2014 just before 6pm. He had been becoming increasingly frail and took a sudden turn for the worse about 2 weeks into the new year.  Then about one week into February his condition began to deteriorate almost on a daily basis until a few days before his death, it was no longer possible to have any kind of meaningful conversation with him. It was obvious what was happening and it was just a question of when. On that Sunday morning it was very plain that he was in a twilight world and he did not respond to any kind of contact or stimuli.

 

Both my parents opted for home care and thus nurses had been calling regularly for quite some time. As dads’ condition worsened so the frequency of the visits escalated and I must say the nurses and home care assistants have been wonderful in their concern and sympathy. They have seen to it that he was made as comfortable as possible and he was, over his last few days, receiving regular morphine injections to ward off the pain from various ailments.

 In this time of grief it has actually been a joy to us to see how our children rallied round and gave us all full support.

 If dad had only have lived another 6 weeks he would have reached 98. I guess it is a fairly normal reaction in this kind of situation to look back and reflect on the life he had lived. Born in the middle of the 1st world war he lost his own father at the tender age of seven.  At this early age he suddenly became the oldest male in the household and took on responsibilities far beyond his years. His mother missed getting a war pension for her husband’s death by just a few weeks and therefore went out to do two jobs to keep her family fed, clothed and housed. Dad cleaned house and saw to it that his younger brother went to school despite him clinging to each lamppost along the way. He had his nose broken protecting the virtue of his sisters from some older boys. It was not all bad though, he adored the traditional Christmas pudding and when his mother made several of them some months before Christmas, as she always did, he raided the larder. This pre Christmas gorging was cleverly hidden by a devious method. The puds were in basins and he tipped out a pud, cut a slice off the bottom and then placed the top part back. Looking at the puds it was not possible to see that there was only a thin slice left and the basin was empty under this top disc. I have never heard if this misdemeanor was punished or not. They had a kitchen table that had drawers in for cutlery and the like and it was in one of these he hid some tame white mice his mother had forbidden him to keep.

I can still see the smile on his face when he told how mother had gone around the kitchen shaking her head saying “I swear I can smell mice somewhere”.

 He was called up and fought right through WWII.  He served both in north Africa and, later on, participated in the landings on the Normandy beaches on D-Day. That part of his life is hard to imagine to one who never has seen war first hand. Somehow he pulled through without any apparent psychological trauma despite being one of the first to enter the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and see the carnage the Nazi regime had inflicted.

When dad recounted some of his war experiences he had a propensity to relate only humorous anecdotes. The horrors he undoubtedly went through he buried deep in a closed off compartment within him that rarely was ever accessed. He stayed on in Germany after the cessation of hostilities to serve a while in peace keeping troops who helped Germany take the first steps back to normality. In this capacity he met the woman who was to become his wife and he smuggled her out of Germany and into England and then spent the next 68 years with her. If my information is correct, they had one son. This son followed the new family tradition and fell for a foreign national and in 1977 moved to Sweden.

 In 1991 mum & dad pulled up their roots after having lived in Weybourne Close in Harpenden for 47 years when both were retired. Living close to us meant that they had daily contact with their grandchildren, who thanks to this all became fluent in English.

 Dads’ grandchildren are lucky enough to have reached adulthood with all four grandparents alive and he was also lucky enough to see two great-grandchildren while he was still able to appreciate the fact.

 I  have always looked up to my father and respected him as he was an unwaveringly calm and collected man who was never panic stricken and seemed to have an inner strength that he could call upon to see him through any situation. He was never at a loss on how to react and he spread a calming influence to all around him. He seemed to able to turn his hand to almost anything and would never give up until he had solved whatever task he had set himself. From what I understand a lot of these characteristics have been passed on and I now see why I have enjoyed some success in my various jobs, it is his influence and credit must go to him. I have almost never heard him complain in adverse situations and the last time I saw him cry was on the loss of Struppi, the dog both my parents adored.

 Dad had his first mild heart attack at the age of 87 and it was then that reality hit me for the first time and I realized that I would one day have to get used to the fact that was not around anymore. In the years between 87 and 97 he had a further mild heart attack and a small stroke. On each occasion I steeled myself to the possibility that he might not make it.

Having seen him become ever weaker over the days that led up to his death I realized that I had been mentally preparing myself for the day I would lose him for about 10 years. Over the last couple of days of his life I actually hoped he would die quickly and peacefully because I sensed the pain and anguish he was suffering and my one wish was that the suffering should end. If anyone deserved a painless and easy death he did.

 Despite having had those 10 years to get used to the idea of losing him, once I realized that he had finally succumbed, I felt as though I had received a hammer blow. Perhaps this sudden change in circumstances has an added impact due to the fact that we were pretty much in daily contact and because of this his absence has had a more profound effect on my life than it might have had if we had lived far apart for a long time.

 At this time of year, when the days are getting longer, temperatures are getting milder and spring is definitely on our doorstep, so my walks with our dogs become more pleasant and it is easier to ramble in the countryside and let my mind wander. Long walks have been my opportunity to think back over the years and recall adventures and events that have long lay dormant but now resurface causing in some cases smiles, and in others tears. Hopefully my father has now joined his ancestors in a place where there is no suffering, no pain and only joy and if this is where he is he has most definitely earned the right to be there.

 Harry Charles Banfather

Only son

 

Lotti Minna Anna Banfather nee Nöthel.

 My mother passed away on the 22nd of February 2015. If she had lived 8 more days she would have died on the same date as dad one year earlier. Her funeral was one year minus 1 day from the date of dads’ funeral.

 Mum was born on the 7th of July 1921. At the break out of WWII she was just 18 years old and was thus 24 when she first met my father at the end of the war. Through the war she became well acquainted with the persecution of the Jews and her family, along with the local policeman, were instrumental in helping several Jewish families escape the gestapo. This in the rural village of Gehrden, situated about 6km from the outskirts of Hannover. These actions were not without risk and the Nazis searched their home on at least one occasion. Whether this experience was the root cause of mums somewhat nervous disposition I do not know.

 What I do know is that when she met her British soldier who was to become her lifelong partner, everything changed and she again took a large risk by letting dad smuggle her into England, an action that, at that time, broke every rule in the book. Their relationship was so enduring that such hardships as living for a considerable time on one ration book and as an illegal alien were borne with no great trauma. The relationship was further complicated by the fact that some in dads family reacted negatively to his bringing one of the enemy into the household.

 Things soon settled down and as quite a number of German girls had been smuggled into Britain, an amnesty was eventually announced and she was finally able to become a British citizen and therefore free to marry my father.

 Due to health issues in the form of uterine fibroids mum was told that she would have difficulty conceiving. This finally did happen and the single piece of evidence stands here before you.

 Mum quickly picked up the English language but a couple of small Germanic speech quirks remained with her her whole life, the most noticeable being her saying familje instead of family.

 Mum held a number of jobs in England; she started in a dry cleaners and soon became the shop manageress and then manageress for a chain of the same shops. She was a housewife for a number of years during my early life but then started part time as a dinner lady at a local infant’s school. From this she went over to being a personal secretary to a managing director in a rubber factory not far from our home in Harpenden. After a number of years in this position she sought alternative employment when the factory was closed down and production moved to Australia. Her boss tried to persuade her to go with him to Australia but her ties in Harpenden were too solid for her to be able to accept this offer, however, it proves that her boss held her in great esteem. She became instead a translator for General Motors at the Vauxhall plant in Luton and there she remained until she retired at 60 years of age in 1981. Her securing the position at Vauxhall gave mum and dad the opportunity to travel to work together, for dad had worked at the same plant for many years.

 As hostility petered out between England and Germany, so holidays became possible and during my formative years almost all summer holidays were spent in Gehrden and enduring ties were formed with my grandmother, uncle, aunt and cousins. These frequent trips and stays with relatives in Germany had one important extra consequence for me, a fair fluency in the German language. I am sure that my successes in securing some of the jobs I have had have been greatly aided by being trilingual. For this I owe mum a debt of gratitude for I feel that the first few trips over to her family must have been nerve racking, her having just upped and disappeared out of the country with an enemy soldier without so much as a by your leave.

 I only ever felt welcome at my relatives in Germany and never had to withstand any kind of banter at being British born. The one thing I have noticed of most Germans is that if you appear to have made an effort to learn their language you will be welcomed everywhere. If you also have a predilection for German beer that welcome becomes most hearty.

 Mums roots were in rural Germany, her father Heinrich Nöthel was a miner and a small holdings farmer and apparently was known far and wide for his great talent for being able to handle horses. His wife, my grandmother Minna Nöthel nee Meier, was a small but robust woman who spent almost all her time on the family farm. A love of the land was not passed on to Mum who has always stated that she loved such places as London and liked to live in the hustle and bustle. Sometimes family traits skip a generation and although I could never be a farmer, I could never consider living anywhere other than out in the country. A love of animals and certain earthiness comes from both sides of the family, a fact that is proven by mums often retold story of her father walking across the farmyard. In those times the local women would often sit together out of doors and do such small chores as peeling potatoes together and chat at the same time. On the occasion in question my grandfather walked across the yard in front of the local women and for each and every step he took he broke wind with gusto. At first the women acted as if scandalised but as he got further away they all broke down laughing. This curse of intestinal gas formation has plagued the family apparently since time immemorial.

 Mum often told us over the last few months that her time in Sweden was among the best times of her life because her greatest joy was when she had her grandchildren around her. This is a fact I understand better now that the same joy has come into my own and Ann-Mari’s life. Mum also greatly enjoyed socialising with family and friends and she has always treasured mealtimes, coffee get-togethers, holidays and daytrips with a close circle of friends and family. In England this included our relatives and some special friends. In Germany immediate family and old friends from pre-war times were included and here in Sweden, the now not so new circle of friends and family that came along with my union with Ann-Mari.

Mum, Dad and I have had the good fortune to have one UK family member who has been almost constantly in touch and also been a frequent visitor. Toto, you and your immediate family were those to whom mum has always expressed great affection and lately mum had had your mum and dad in her thoughts as she looked back on her life. When she figuratively speaking “lost” her son to a foreign country, mum was pretty devastated. However, on moving to Sweden all this paled into insignificance at the warmth of the reception from her newest family members here in the form of grandchildren and all of Ann-Maris family. For this I thank you all.

 From my point of view mum lived a fortunate life. She survived the war, she found her soul mate, he was a pillar of strength and he stood by her for 69 years.

Many women spend 20 years or more mourning a lost husband but here again mums good fortune saw to it that the time of widowhood was just under 1 year.

Just over 3 years ago mum was admitted to hospital for the first time in her life since my birth 60 years ago and I was told she had maybe 3 months to live due to renal failure. It was this combined with a complicated infection to which she finally succumbed.

After dad passed away mum slowly declined and she often expressed a wish to join dad wherever he is. The infection that she contracted caused her finally to agree to medical treatment but no treatment was successful because her body systems were shutting down. Her fight took 4 weeks during which she steadily lapsed deeper and deeper into a comatose state and her last week with us was a week of troubled sleep before she finally let go.

 Mums passing marks the end of an era, both my parents were the last ones left in their respective families, dad was the last of 5 with 1 brother and 3 sisters. Mums only brother passed away some years back. Mum was last in the oldest generation in my predecessors and I go to the front of line. My children have been fortunate enough to have got up to their late 20’s early 30’s with both sets of grandparents alive and my parents were fortunate enough to see great grandchildren while they had the ability to comprehend the fact. 

 My sincerest hope is that mum and dad are reunited in a place of happiness and joy.

Harry Banfather 2015-03-20