Bill Marshall pays tribute to league life-member Tom Mathers
TOM Mathers, who has died aged 92, certainly had an unusual claim to fame. A life member of the All Rounder Cricket Bradford Premier League and a popular member of St James’ Church on Bolton Road, Tom learnt to drive a car on board a ship!
It happened while he was on board HMS Victorious in the spring of 1946 when the aircraft carrier was requisitioned as a troop ship to bring home naval personnel for demobilisation.
Tom’s son Peter, reading a eulogy to his dad at his memorial service at St James’ Church, said: “From that time he was never very good at long journeys, but he became very adept at emergency stops!”
Tom, who was born on February 12, 1927, was the fourth of five children of Thomas Mathers and Eunice Mathers (neé Sugden).
He started school aged four at Hutton Infants School in Eccleshill and then went to Wellington Road School, where a teacher heard his lovely soprano voice and started a choir at Eccleshill Parish Church.
Tom sang there for three years but had to retire from the strictly amateur choir when he and all of the other choirboys were deemed to be professionals as they had each been paid 6d (two and a half pence) for singing at the wedding of Jack and Nora Hardcastle.
After returning to Hutton Board School in 1938, Tom thought that he had fallen lucky when the Second World War broke out the following year.
As most of the male schoolteachers were called up, many schools, including Hutton, went on to half-days.
Peter said: “All the young children were excited about going to school for half a day but what they didn’t realise was that the other half of the day they were expected to work in the Dig for Victory scheme at a large field opposite the school.”
Tom left school on April 6, 1944 and started work the following day at the Yorkshire Engineering Welding Company (Yewco), but factory work didn’t suit him and, after a few false starts, he was employed at a butcher’s.
Realising that this was his niche, Tom remained in the retail trade for the next 55 years.
Despite it being rationing and facing housewives clutching their precious ration books, Tom proved the consummate diplomat.
Peter said the housewives were “expecting a nice little joint for their Sunday dinner but (were) coming away with a small scrag end of mutton and two slices of corned beef.”
Tom was called up for National Service that year and was sent to Butlin’s Holiday Camp at Skegness, which had been requisitioned by the Services as a recruitment centre for enlisting navy personnel.
The winter of 1944-45 was one of the coldest on record, and one night one of the two other recruits billeted with Thomas suggested borrowing a brazier, which they managed to smuggle into their chalet.
Sometime later there was an almighty scream from the top bunk as the occupant was suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.
They got rid of the brazier outside and spent the rest of the night freezing as they had to leave all the windows open.
The occupant of the top bunk was taken to the sick bay and was never seen again. After six weeks at Skegness, they were sent to Irlam, near Manchester, to be detailed for training camp and then to Hednesford, near Lichfield.
After training and passing out as an air mechanic, Tom was kitted out in tropical gear to be sent to the Far East but that same week in August 1945 the Americans dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan surrendered.
The following week Tom was sent to a Fleet Air Arm base near St Merryn near Padstow, and finally in March 1946 to Plymouth when he boarded HMS Victorious.
Two days into their return journey, the ship was hit by a typhoon in the Great Australian Bight and was damaged so badly it was not fit to continue, limping into Fremantle for repairs.
Tom and his colleagues were given a month’s leave staying with residents of Western Australia and after the repairs at Fremantle, HMS Victorious was ordered back to Sydney to pick up another load of homeward bound naval personnel but instead of taking on board 3,000 servicemen, they welcomed aboard 700 young Australian war brides who were returning to their bridegrooms.
After a few days’ leave back in Bradford, Tom’s life changed for ever when he met his future wife Kathleen.
Encouraged by his sister Barbara, Tom, who was still in uniform, went to an old- time dance at the New Victoria, noticed six young ladies chatting and boldly asked one of them for a dance.
That was Kathleen, and two years and three months later she became Thomas’ wife.
After being demobbed in 1947, he went back to shop work and in 1952 he bought a van to sell goods on the new estates being built in Bradford and Shipley.
This business took off so successfully that, after only two years, Kathleen and Tom had saved enough to move from the small back-to-back in Valley Road, Shipley to a semi-detached at Wrose Road, Bradford, where Peter was born.
With the extra needs of a bigger house and a family, Kathleen and Tom decided that the van business didn’t give enough security so they bought an off-licence and grocer’s at 95 St Margaret’s Road, Lidget Green.
Tom, Kathleen and baby Peter started their new life in the shop on May 1, 1962 and stayed there for 25 years and 10 months.
For a time in the late 1960s and early 1970s the shop also paid its way as student accommodation so Kathleen, Tom and Peter decamped into a semi at 70 Grasmere Road, from where their long and happy association with St James’ Church started.
Tom and Kathleen eventually retired, selling the shop on February 29, 1988 and buying a house in Sefton Grove near Bolton Junction.
Unfortunately after only one year of retirement, Tom suffered a stroke which affected his right-hand side but, with the help of doctors, nurses and physiotherapists at Bradford Royal Infirmary - and the patience of Kathleen – Tom was living an almost-normal life a year later.
Kathleen – the love of Tom’s life - died after a short illness in 2009 and he missed her dreadfully but his spirits were lifted by his wonderful neighbours and Minnie the cat.
Tom’s health deteriorated further so in October, 2015 he made the difficult decision to move into Stonebridge - Anchor sheltered accommodation in Idle, which was his home for almost the rest of his life.
In August plans were made to leave Stonebridge as Tom needed 24-hour care and he did move into a care home at Undercliffe, but he was only in residence there for four days before he was hospitalised during his final illness.
Tom’s involvement with the Bradford Cricket League started when he played for Eccleshill in 1947 but it is with Idle that he is best remembered and he was immensely proud to have received the league’s most prestigious award – the Sir Leonard Hutton Trophy in 1993 - and he was made an honorary life member of the league in 2003.
The Rev Stephen Lees, who conducted the memorial service, said: “I have known Tom since I became vicar here six years ago.
“A colleague at the time said to me ‘Mr Mathers will always call you vicar’. I got the idea in my mind this must be a very formal, stuffy character.
“Well Tom did always call me vicar but stuffy not at all. I quote from a lovely tribute on the Bradford League website ‘The words proper English gentleman might have been invented for Tom’.
“A proper English gentleman . . . charming, friendly, always with a smile (sometimes bearing scones!) and a lovely sense of humour. Tom was someone you loved spending time with. He was much loved at this church.”
Lees added: “I remember him giving me some advice at the regular 9.30 midweek Communion. Bear in mind I am not the most organised person or the greatest timekeeper.
“In the most gentle way, Tom said ‘Vicar, I wonder if it would be a good idea to find the Bible passage in advance and place a bookmark so you can easily find it’. I really couldn’t argue with that!
“I loved to visit Tom when I could at Stonebridge, where we would sometimes end up singing and always end up praying . . . there would sometimes be tears but I was always sure of the presence of God . . . God whom Tom trusted and loved.”
Lees summed up Tom as a person when he said: “A hard worker . . . butcher, grocer-cum-landlord-cum-café host . . . very inventive, always with an eye on what the customer (or more accurately friends!) wanted or needed.
“Tom, a keen cricketer, then a loyal servant to Idle Cricket Club. I quote the tribute from the Cricket League website once more: ‘Tom was a winner of the prestigious Sir Len Hutton award in 1993 for his outstanding services . . . he was always there at Idle to greet you with a warm handshake and a smile and the words ‘Welcome to Idle’.”