Wednesday, 4 April 2012

A Very British Life

On Monday, a very British life was celebrated in Eltham, south London. My cousin Mary's partner, Colin Gilmore Smith was born in India in 1944, of two Anglo-Burmese parents. Colin's father worked for the timber merchants Montague Meyer, and, after the end of WWII, was posted with his wife and Colin to Sarawak. In 1953, aged 9, Colin was sent on his own to school in England, on board a merchant ship taking timber to the UK. The school was Eltham College Luckily for Colin, the father of another small boy at the school had himself had to be separated from his parents (in Hong Kong) at a young age, and took Colin under his family's wing. A group of four boys made firm friends with Colin, and they spoke eloquently at the memorial service in the school chapel after the funeral. It was a large gathering, many of whom were of a similar vintage to Colin, some younger because he made a great and continuing contribution to the school after the tragic early death of his own son Miles aged 16 in a road traffic accident. It was a remarkable day; the sun shone brilliantly in a cloudless blue sky, and many people remarked without irony how much Colin himself would have enjoyed it. His life was in many ways a hard, even tragic, one, but through force of character and with the help of many devoted friends - including my cousin Mary - he triumphed, being of a determined and apparently extrovert temperament. The ebullient 'life and soul of the party' was, of course, only half the story, as his closest friends pointed out as they struggled with their own emotions during their tributes to him. There was laughter and not a few tears at Eltham College chapel on Monday. RIP.

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