On Thursday 10th November we held the funeral service at St John the Baptist Itchen Abbas for Margaret Harrison a former resident of Itchen Abbas.
Her daughter Di chose the following hymns: ‘I the Lord of Sea and Sky’, ‘The Lord is my shepherd, I’ll not want’, and ‘the Day thou gavest Lord is ended’ and there were readings of the poems ‘You can shed tears’ and ‘How did she live?’ and the lesson was John 14:1-6 ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. Di gave a eulogy (see below) and was supported by some thoughts from Margaret’s Australian family read by Chris Wilson (also below).
Mrs Harrison, Margaret, Mum was a very special lady. Kindness personified, always content with her own company, selfless, always putting others before herself, cheerful with a lovely sense of humour, warm, interested in others, generous of her time and a wonderful hostess. If you are all happy, she used to say, then so am I.
I feel that it is fitting to mention here how grateful we are to all the kind and dedicated staff at The Dower House who enabled her to spend her last few years being treated with the kindness, love and respect she deserved. They say you reap what you sow and the Dower House was her reward for a life well lived. I know most of Easton wanted to add their names to the waiting list after Lorna’s funeral. I think we can now add Itchen Abbas to that list as well.
Her type written letters were legendary. Whatever crisis occurred in our lives, whether real or imaginary, she always found the right words of comfort.
She touched the lives of many. In all the lovely e mails and letters we have received, for which I truly thank you, very few people said that she was a lovely lady. That might surprise you. However, many said ‘ she was the loveliest person I have ever known’ Or words to that effect. She never said a bad word about anybody (although I did start to hear a few home truths about her mother in law as her memory and maybe her inhibitions went a little!)
And I can remember one occasion when she reprimanded Chris shortly after we were married. Dad had just died and the three of us celebrated her 80th birthday in a cottage in Dorset. We were doing the Tesco’s basics list and Chris suggested adding treacle tart. Mum responded ‘we are talking about essentials young man – milk, bread, loo rolls.’ Needless to say a treacle tart ended up in the basket!
She came from humble beginnings. Born during the First World War on 29th August 1917 the only child of Ernest and Alice Amelia Marchant. Her father was in the Navy and lost at sea before she knew him. Her mother was a cleaner. Also very kind and devoted to Mum. She was brought up in a tiny flat above The Oval tube station in Kennington south London. She spent her early childhood being looked after by an elderly childless couple up the stair. Holidays were a week by the seaside in a guest house in Hastings once a year. This rather tough start gave her great inner strength and acceptance through the rest of her life.
She won a scholarship to the local county secondary school in Bermondsey and was aiming for a university place but when her mother’s war pension ceased she had to leave school at 16 and find a job. She became a medical secretary to Professor Dodds at the Middlesex Hospital at 30 shillings a week. There were two candidates at the interview and later Mum found a note scribbled on a pad in his desk ‘green and stupid, brown and better’. Mum was wearing a brown coat!
Early on she posted the mail into the night safe at the bank by mistake. On another occasion when she was asked on the phone if the Professor was in, she replied ‘no’ as instructed because he did not want to be disturbed. When the caller then asked her when she was expecting him to return, she said ‘I will just go and ask him.’ He must have forgiven her because later he gave her away at her wedding in lieu of a father.
Life in London during the Blitz was hard. Their flat escaped a direct hit but the church across the road was hit by a bomb and burnt to the ground. They had a cat who would disappear into a cupboard under the stairs shortly before the arrival of the bombers and before the sirens went off – some sort of sixth sense. They would often go under the kitchen table rather than down into the underground.
She was introduced to my father, Ken as a blind date because the nurse he was meant to be going out with was ill and the rest is history as they say. We have now moved onto the 2nd World War and so time was precious again. Dad was supposed to have three weeks convalescence leave after contracting pneumonia in France. They announced their engagement on the Sunday, married on Thursday and after a two day honeymoon Dad was re called and sent off to Burma for the rest of the war until 1947. They met again on Waterloo Station two and a half years after their wedding. Mum later confessed she was worried she wouldn’t recognise him! There were two wedding dresses in Bourne and Hollingsworth and one fitted so she bought it, the cake was made sharing everyone’s rations and the jewellers they went to had been bombed the night before and was just a hole in the ground. What a contrast to modern wedding planning. But it lasted.
Her dear mother was knocked down and killed by a drunk driver in London in 1949. This was a great loss to her, but she just got on with life, my brother Graham being only 5 months old.
They moved to Winchester in 1956. It was soon after this that our strong links with Australia developed, basically thanks to Dad’s generosity and Mum’s hospitality. The first of a long line of Australian Anaesthetists arrived in Winchester in the early 60’s. To quote a colleague of Dad’s ‘generations of young Aussie anaesthetists were taken under her wing and mothered’ and the first of these e mailed me last week and said ‘she was a mother figure to so many Australians and without her we would have been lost souls in the UK’
Graham, decided to do his PhD in Australia, met Maurene and settled over there. Instead of feeling sorry for herself because he was so far away, she welcomed her new family with open arms and has entertained numerous Australians here ever since. Maurene became much more to Mum than just a daughter in law. They had an incredibly close relationship made even more so by their support of each other during my brother’s illness and early death. Mum became such a loved member of their extended family that when Adrian, her grandson, got engaged to Lizzie he decided to get married in Winchester because ‘if Grandma can’t get to Australia aged 95, the wedding will just have to come to Grandma, along with about 50 Australians!’ Not only that, her first great granddaughter Claudia was flown over here to meet her, aged just 10 weeks, despite the reservations of the rest of the family!
Mum was delighted when her granddaughter Gini was married to Alex in Australia in August 2012 and announced they would be spending the next 3 years in London and produced two more great grandchildren for her over here, before returning overseas earlier this year.
And now Chris is going to read a tribute on their behalf. They all wanted to be here today but with young babies, the youngest not yet three weeks old, and the great distance it is simply not practical. They are however here in spirit.
Chris Wilson read the following from her Australian family:
I am just so lucky to have shared Margaret as a joint mother in law with Maurene and I feel hugely honoured to have been asked, by the family in Australia, to read what they would like to say about her.
Grandma, I want you to know how much I loved you and how privileged I feel to have had you in my life.
Although we lived for most of my life on opposite sides of the globe, I always felt a closeness and connection to you, that I have not had with anyone else.
You always looked after me, looked out for me, celebrated my successes, and were able to overlook my shortcomings.
I have so many wonderful memories of the time I spent with you, going back to when I was only six years old.
The thing that stands out above all else, however, were your letters from as far back as I can remember.
There were weekly letters arriving, produced on your type writer, with extra information hand written up and down the margins keeping us informed of all the things going on in Winchester and beyond. I think this is the reason I always felt so connected to you and my family in the UK.
You were generous, caring and thoughtful, but above all else, you were, quite simply, the best grandma I could ever have imagined or indeed asked for.
Gini, says about her grandma:
She was the most wonderful grandmother, and one of my favourite people in the whole world.
She had a huge influence on my life, which may be surprising given that we lived so far away, but through her letters and visits, we stayed connected to her and our English roots.
She was caring and generous, and she spoilt us!
When I was about 10 years old, Grandma would send me the children’s section of the Telegraph newspaper every week, simply because I liked the stories.
By the way, Gini has since become a journalist.
Later, she sent me parcels full of fabric scraps, so I could make dolls’ clothes out of them.
She was impressed by everything we did, however small it might be.
We would look forward to her visits to Australia with such excitement, and would be crushed when it was time for her to go.
Grandma was from another time and another world, that I am so grateful I was able to experience.
I loved her stories and was happy to hear them all, over and over again.
I feel that I knew her friends and the places she went to with Poppy, Dad and Diana and all the things they did.
She was warm and loving and made us laugh, and I just smile whenever I think of her.
I am so lucky to have had Grandma in my life and I am so glad that my daughter has her name and that Alex, Scarlett and Thomas were able to meet her.
Finally from Maurene, Margaret’s daughter in law.
Margaret Harrison was a wonderful mother to me.
Her generosity, which knew no bounds, meant she was always totally supportive and gave unconditional love.
She loved to laugh, both at herself and with others, but always in a very kind way.
Margaret’s life was a lovely story with a happy ending. Much of it is chronicled in her thousands of letters to her family and friends, which I treasure. She corresponded with Graham every week from the time he went away to school at 8 until he died. These were very witty and fun and serious if needed. There is a book in them for sure.
Her life was well lived and her passing is a great loss to those who loved her. I do not think we will ever see the like of her again!
Her legacy lives on, however, in her grand and great grandchildren.
Revd Alex Pease