Harry Gray’s Thanksgiving Service

Harry Gray.png

The rain was continuous and the parking was difficult, but Harry Gray’s friends and relations are made of sterner stuff and came to his thanksgiving service in their dozens, despite these obstacles. We crowded into St Mary’s Easton on Monday 21st December for his service.

We sang ‘Praise My Soul the King of Heaven’, ‘We Plough the Fields and Scatter’, ‘Guide me O thou Great Redeemer’ and ‘Jerusalem’.  Lynda Gray read a poem by William Henry Davies (‘What is this life if, full of care’) and Sally Williams read a poem by Joyce Grenfell (‘If I should go before the rest of you’).  The Bible Reading was John 14:1-6.

The family and a friend David Small read a number of tributes which are reproduced here with their permission:

Sarah Gray:

Harry, his two brothers and sister Mary spent their childhoods steeped in farming and the country life.  Looking back now it is easy to imagine a rural idyll of hay meadows, Short Horned cattle and Shire horses. But my father was never sentimental and always embraced change.

He never volunteered any information about his childhood. He may not have been at one with his family in all respects, such as his apparent lifelong dislike of horses in contrast to his father and brothers who were accomplished horsemen. Growing up at Graces our ponies were routinely referred to as “the cat’s meat” in todays speak that would be “the lasagne”.

His father died very prematurely in 1940, which must have been a terrible shock for the entire family. Harry left Dauntsey boarding school at this time, possibly due to his family’s sudden change of circumstances. Whether he had harboured any academic ambitions was something that he would never be drawn on.

Immediately thereafter he worked on various farms in neighbouring counties including a brief stint at a racing stables, which he must have hated. Subsequently, he worked for his Uncle Percy Edmunds’ engineering business in Itchen Abbas.

It was around this time, in the late 1940s that he met a certain Miss Collinswood. Some friends had invited Iris to an event at the recently re-established Winchester Rugby Club. Their intention was to arrange an introduction to the dashing Harry. Harry was a decent player and a sometimes team captain. Iris was living with her parents in Southgate Street, where her mother ran a millinery shop. They were married 65 years ago in St Cross Church. The Hampshire Chronicle apparently covered their marriage under the heading “Prince and Princess Charming ”.

Harry and Iris took up residence at Graces Farm while the rest of his family moved to Cheriton. Having married well, his father-in-law being an engineer in the rapidly emerging oil industry, it soon became possible to buy the freeholds of Graces Farm and Easton Farm. Those were the days!

Michael Gray:

Father was a fairly shy man but would soon lighten up after a couple of drinks.

At one Christmas party his rendition of the death of Lord Nelson, taking the parts of both Nelson and Hardy, a very energetic performance, had everyone in fits of laughter.

In the early 60’s he became NFU County Chairman. After a polished performance many other jobs came his way, such as a board member of United Oil Seeds and Hampshire Farm Developments.

He got a different perspective on business through his work, as an employer’s representative with the industrial tribunal, and witnessed with much interest its evolution and increased professionalism.

At a local level he joined the Itchen Valley Parish Council and eventually became Chairman.

I joined father in ’75 and we soon built a working relationship in which we bounced ideas off each other.

He was always well informed, his normal routine was to read the Daily Telegraph after breakfast, which kept him up to date with world affairs.

He was a good after dinner speaker and able to respond very effectively to guests, particularly at the T-Bone Steak Club.

He was a familiar sight driving through Easton, with  a dog or two usually standing precariously on the tailboard of his Land Rover. Despite his lack of patience a couple of these dogs became quite good gun dogs. Pheasant shooting was probably his favourite recreation.

Father was always a reluctant gardener and would try to avoid mother when duty called. His preferred method was a knapsack of Roundup “jolly good stuff”.

In his younger days he rarely took holidays, but as he gradually retired from his various jobs, he and Iris spent more and more time travelling, often with close friends from the farming community.

Having been born at Graces in 1923, it was always his wish that he would die there. That ultimately proved impossible, although he was still at Graces just 5 months ago.

He loved his farm, his family and the Itchen Valley. He was progressive in his attitude to business and believed that as time moves on, we must move with it.

He felt fortunate to have lived such a life and rarely expressed any regrets.

David Small:

I have been asked to say a few words about Harry’s involment in the establishment of Hampshire Grain in the 1970s. I worked for SCATS for 41 years and over that time got to know him very well.

Harry had been a founder member of an on-farm grain marketing co-operative known as Southern Counties Grain. He was very committed to the idea of farmers working together for improved efficiency and to cut costs.

At a time of rapidly increasing yields along with a couple of wet summers many farmers were facing post-harvest storage and drying problems. Harry approached me and asked “What was I going to do about it?”

Harry soon came to the forefront of a small steering committee set up with SCATS to look at the ecconomics for a central crop storage and marketing co-op for Hampshire farmers. At this time there were few such organisations in the UK but many good examples on the continent

It took us a year or so to purchase some land and to secure substantial British and European grants. This resulted in planning permission for a 20,000 ton central grain store which would be owned by its farmer members. All that had to be done was to get the commitment and the cash from the farmers.

Harry attended many meetings, culminating in a large gathering of about 100 local farmers.

I had asked Harry, as a well known and respected farmer, to say a few words of encouragement to his peers. He stood up and said simply “Now you’ve all heard the facts and figures, we all know what is required, we all need this, so don’t mess about, get your cheque books out”. He then sat down. There were murmers or “Hear Hear” and as they say, “The rest is history”

Harry was elected and served as chairman of Hampshire Grain for over 10 years. He was also appointed to the Board of SCATS in 1979 where he remained until his retirement after 9 years service.

Until very recently Harry regularly visited Hampshire Grain, now with a capacity of 63,000 tons, and maintained his interest in it’s development.

For me, Harry was a well read man of few words, all of which were meaningful and to the point, he was always open to new ideas and once he was in agreement he would be totally supportive but did not “Suffer fools gladly”. If he said to me “I don’t know about that” I would probably know I had got something wrong.

He was a man of his word,to be totally trusted and I was privileged to have known him as a colleague and friend. I know he will be sadly missed by his family and by all who knew him.

(At the Crematorium) Gillian Gray Knight:

A Few Personal Reminiscences of Uncle Harry

My earliest memories of Uncle Harry are a little hazy, but, like so many of the members of this amazing extended family of ours, he has always been an important part of the fabric of our lives. [One of the things I do remember from the early years is Harry’s hair. Unlike Father, who had gone grey before I could remember, and Uncle David, who was, even then, definitely thin on top, Uncle Harry had a full head of dark hair!]

As children we spent most of our time on ponies and were infrequent visitors at Graces, but we often saw Uncle Harry at shooting lunches at North End, or with our glamorous Aunt, Iris, at parties at Westfield, when he was never short of questions about our latest exploits.

I started to get to know Harry better when I began working at North End. One of the weekly tasks allotted to me was to take a tractor and trailer to Graces to deliver oats to be rolled for the horse, and to collect bags of cake for sheep and cattle. Some of these were 1 cwt bags which were a considerable challenge for me to move. However, the Gray brothers and cousins were of one mind – if you want the job, just get on with it – there would be no concessions for the fairer sex! However, coming to Graces had one huge advantage – namely Fred Stone, who threw those sacks around as if they weighed almost nothing, and he often took pity on me.

In the Spring of 1998 I received a phonecall from Mike: Ruth, the farm secretary, wanted to finish in April and would I be able to help out for a while? Tricia and Andrew were still at Kindergarten in the mornings at the time, so visits to Graces were fitted in between the drop off and pick up times. Harry was very accommodating of this rather rushed arrangement and always had everything ready for me in meticulous order when I arrived in the office, so that I could crack on immediately. I think it was quite a relief to him when the children were both at Itchen Abbas Primary full time, and I could be a little more relaxed. This also had the added advantage of opportunities to chat for a short while, and, over the years, we covered a wide variety of topics, from farming to education, from sport (mainly Harry) to music (mostly me), to the opportunities for the next generation. At times I was also able to ask Harry’s advice about some farming issue or other, and he always gave carefully considered and valuable suggestions.

School holidays provided an opportunity for Tricia and Andrew to get to know their great uncle and aunt better, as they had to accompany me to the office. Harry would always welcome them, asking how they were getting on at school and what their latest achievements were. Tricia was always, very properly, called ‘Patricia’. While they were there, I could usually engage them with some filing or addressing envelopes, but more often than not Iris would whisk them away for a drink and a biscuit or to play in the garden.

As the years went on, and Harry’s deafness worsened, chatting became more of a challenge, but he could generally hear me. Softly spoken ladies on the telephone were less fortunate and more than once he would put down the phone in exasperation, being unable to properly hear anything being said. On the other hand, hearing any of the Gray brothers was never a problem, and when they were together the decibel levels would rise considerably. Harry also had a pretty distinctive voice, and I remember Father telling us a tale one tea time. It was at a time when answerphones were just becoming more widely used. Harry had apparently made a phonecall, only to be greeted by an answerphone. As he put the phone down, without, as requested, leaving his name and number, he expressed his opinion of these new-fangled machines in a few, succinct words. Not long after, to his surprise, he received a call. The answerphone had done its job – apparently Harry’s voice, in his unintentional, anonymous message, was unmistakeable!

One of my most recent memories, having finished in the office, is of sitting with Harry at the kitchen table, looking at some old photos. He very quickly identified John Henry and some of his offspring, but was less sure of the characters in a photo taken at a dinner, except for a young brother John. There was one particularly handsome young man and I asked Harry if he knew him. Humour suddenly bubbled to the surface as he retorted: “Good looking, you say – must be me!”

God bless you, Harry.



This entry was posted in Tributes. Bookmark the permalink.