THIS IS A TRUE STORY
I’ll never forget Thursday, 2nd December, 1965. This was about three weeks before my tenth birthday. It was a cold frosty day when my mam and I arrived home at about 4.30pm. I had been at school and my mam had been on the afternoon shift at Bassett’s sweet factory.
I used to go and meet my mam outside work after I had finished school, that’s why we arrived home together. My dad’s dad ‘my granddad’ had come to live with us after the death of my grandma seven weeks previously. So we were expecting him to be home but nothing could have prepared us for the shock of what we were about to find. As we entered the front door we were met by an overpowering smell of gas. My mam immediately knew something was wrong as apparently my grandad had tried suicide once before when he came back from The Great War, I don’t know what happened out there but I do know he was a stretcher bear and was possibly in The Somme and which is why my she said to me “Stand back, Elaine, It’s your granddad.”
My mam shot through to the kitchen where she found my granddad knelt up in my little armchair, his head in the gas oven. She opened the back door, turned off the gas and sat cradling his head in her arms for a short while. She then dragged my granddad through to the living room where she very gently placed him on the rug in front of the fire. All the time she was shouting at him, “What have you done, you silly old bugger?”
I remember screaming, “He’s not dead, is he? Please don’t let him be dead”.
My mam wanted me to wait there while she went to phone for an ambulance from the phone box at the bottom of the next road. I didn’t want to stay there alone with my granddad, not knowing if he was alive or dead. Reluctantly, she took me with her. Arm in arm, we slipped and slid on the icy ground down our road and onto the phone box. I don’t know if he was already dead when we found him, and when the ambulance men eventually arrived they wouldn’t tell us ether. I only know that he was dead on his arrival at the hospital. Anyway I was sent across to the road to a friend’s house but they could see I couldn’t settle so it was deemed that I would be better off back with my parents. Finding my granddad was such a shock to me and for some time I was scared to sleep on my own so my single bed was taken into my parent’s bedroom. I never liked sitting in my little chair again either.
The ordeal still wasn’t over though, especially for my parents. As it was a suspicious death there was to be a coroner’s inquest. My mam and dad had to go and give evidence at the coroner’s court. A neighbour told my mam that she had seen my granddad close the kitchen blind at about 1.30pm. Thinking he was just having a wash and a shave she thought nothing of it and never noticed the blind was still shut later in the afternoon. Apparently my granddad left a suicide note, which I have never seen. My mam always said she would show it to me when I was older but I think my dad made her destroy it many years later, it must have been too painful a reminder for him. But quite recently my mam told me the contents of the letter and how they came to find out about it.
My mam and dad didn’t even know there was a letter till they got to the inquest when it was thrust under my dad’s nose with the question, “Is this your father’s handwriting to which my dad replied, “Yes it is.”
My mother was questioned very closely at the inquest as she was the last person to see him alive. Questions like, “Had you had a row?” were fired at her.
It came to light that the letter must have been kept back when my granddad’s clothes were returned from the hospital. We can only think it must have been found in his pocket.
After the court case my mam went to see the police sergeant and demanded the return of the letter. After all, as she said, it was addressed to her and my dad. The sergeant said he needed to keep a copy and it might take a while. My dad, always one for a quiet life was all for leaving it, but my mam was adamant that they would wait for the original letter to take home.
I now know that the letter was addressed to my mam and dad and it read ‘Dear Iris and Len, sorry to cause you all this trouble but I just can’t live without mother ‘my Grandma’. It then went on to thank my mam and dad for everything they had done for him.
After the inquest there was a report in our local newspaper the Sheffield Star. This claimed that his daughter-in-law, my mam, had gone to work and left him in bed poorly. Although she has told me since that he wasn’t very well but that’s beside the point. Well, anyone who knows my mam will know that she was very angry about what they had printed. They went straight down to the Sheffield Stars office, my dad waited outside as he knew what my mam was like when she got annoyed. She slammed the newspaper article down on the counter and demanded, “Who do I see about this?”
The person at the desk looked at her in surprise and my mam said, “I’m the daughter-in-law you mentioned.”
“Oh”, he said, “You’d better see the editor.”
When she was ushered into the editor’s office she vented her anger at the misinformation. She said, “Your reporter wants to stay awake and listen properly, no such thing was said in court, I told them, “my father-in-law was up and about when I left for work.”
To be fair the ‘Star did print an apology a few days later but somehow my mam missed it; but her mother had seen it. She asked my mam, “Did you see the apology?”
When my mam said she hadn’t my grandma replied, “Fancy going to all that trouble and missing the apology