George Britten Eulogy 2007 Print

 

George Britten


Friday 9th March 2007
St. Mary Magdalene Church, Hilton

Address by Canon W. Girard

It is always a privilege to be asked to officiate at a funeral and I surely speak as well for Harvey Marshall and Hugh Sheehan as for myself when I say ‘thank you’ for this opportunity.

Many strands come together at a Funeral Service; one is that of gratitude for the way in which someone whom we love but see no longer has touched our lives - often these occasions are called ‘Services of Thanksgiving.’ But a Christian Funeral Service has in it more than that. Look again at the Service paper to see it headed with these words -

We have come here today to remember before God
our brother George, to give thanks for his life,
commend him to God our merciful redeemer and judge,
commit his body to be buried, and, in bereavement,
be a comfort one to another.

To remember George Britten before God is much more than an affectionate backward glance at days that have been. It is to be as one company, living and the departed, before the living God and in his eternal presence, knowing that to him we owe our creation, preservation, all the blessings of this life, the means of grace, and the hope of glory. It is to be thankful to God as much as to George for the way in which God’s purposes were worked out in him, touched this village, our lives, and the lives of others way beyond this parish.

He died a year to the day on which many of us were here for the Funeral of Freda, to whom he had been married for nigh on 60 years and with whom, pray God, he is now re-united. The last few years were not easy for either of them and we should recognise the way in which family and friends gave their support and especially for those who cared for him at Broughton during his last few months of disability, whose care, I know, George appreciated and expressed with that courtesy in relationships which marked his life.

He died at the age of 92 so there are few here who knew him as a youngster; for us he was ’part of the scenery’ and whatever the length or nature of our encounters with him, he was a man whom we loved and respected for himself and the significant place he had in Hilton for such a long time.

The first reading today, from Ecclesiastes, recounts the time and seasons of the doings of man. George was a man of those seasons and this parish - so well described by Jack Dady in his book ‘Hilton,’ - this parish with its farms, fields, hedgerows, streams, ditches, drains and roads; its peoples, school and churches, its activities and rural economy, settled the lines of his character, it was the stage on which he played out his life, and from which he never travelled far except to Sherringham for the occasional holiday, and to London on that memorable occasion in 2001 when he went to ‘see the Queen at Buckingham Palace’ to be awarded the MBE for his services to people as individuals or communities here and elsewhere. The insignia of that recognition is today properly placed upon his coffin. The award came to him much to the delight of his many friends ( and indeed much to his own delight too, and why not ! ). I have before me a photograph of him, proudly wearing his MBE, leaning over the gate at Park Farm, behind him the Village Hall, once the school he attended as a child and where, shortly we shall go for refreshments after this Service. Think then on the boy as he drink your tea !

There were often times when, it seemed to me, that boy that once he was would appear again in the man he had become - I read that after the investiture, on seeing his friends come to join him in the ballroom at Buckingham Place ‘He looked up, and saw us, and put his thumb up !’

He learnt his letters at the village school where he survived the last few years of rule by the formidable Miss Mackenzie Smith in whose memory a fund was endowed to provide a prize for an essay on temperance. Many years later, when I was Vicar and considered suppressing the fund for lack of competitors, George expressed his reservations. Partly because he did not want the village to lose something, but partly, because I believe once he had won that prize ! He went on afterwards to the then Grammar School at St. Ives which he left when was just 14 years old. And that was the end of his formal education; what he learnt thereafter, and learnt well enough to make him a competent farmer and effective man of business, came from what you might describe as the ’University of Life.’

At 14, no longer the interested child but a ’working lad,’ he joined his father Christopher (whose memorial tablet you can see upon the south wall of the church) to work the land. Fathers and sons do not always live or work together harmoniously, but George was fortunate in that the two of them did. They saw what could be done through hard and effective work with otherwise derelict, undrained and overgrown land. So it was that he developed his farming knowledge; while still in his teens his father was content to let him take on responsibility. That was still an era when farming was labour intensive - with 16 men working for the Brittens - days when particular man-management skills were needed for those who worked together on the land, were also often related to each other and, in any event, had still to live together in the village when the day’s work was done. George was not afraid of hard work, and what he expected of himself he expected of others, whether that was on the land itself, or driving cattle over to Bluntisham, or taking pigs to market. I wonder perhaps, being an only son, whether there was something of the driven in him. Traditional in their methods and outlook the Brittens may have been, but they were also open to the advent of the new, being the first in the area to own a combine harvester, and to adapt during and after the War to new farming conditions. And when the time came for him to retire, what immense changes had taken place in both the village and the agricultural economy.

During the War years as the nation depended on the land for its food George as, a farmer, was not released for military service. He did, though, come peacefully ‘face to face’ with the enemy when German Prisoners of War worked on the land and came know them, as men like any other, remaining in contact with one of them for the rest of his life.

After the War he married Freda, then ‘in service’ at Brampton where George would go a-courting, by bicycle. Whether or not he ever carried Freda on the cross-bar I do not know (picture it in your minds) but others going a-courting likewise did, and were fined by the police ! They were married in 1947 and while on occasion he may have jested that he only ’married her for her cooking’ their marriage provided for the two of them what the Prayer Book describes as ‘the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity;’ what Dr. John described as a ‘convenient and commodious Sacrament,’ an essential human relationship which contemporary society seems now hardly to value.

Prosperity and adversity; they were to know both these for while together they contributed so much to the ‘common good’ of this village in its church and social life - and much enjoyed the doing thereof - they knew the sadness of not seeing their two children survive. There was in my remembrance of him, as I look again at that man in the photograph leaning over the gate of his house, always something wistful about him. It was more than just the loss of his two children, there was something of regret that he had had to stay behind whilst others risked, and gave, their lives during the War, and maybe there was an awareness of the frailty of our human nature, and the transience of our mortal frame, here for so short a time while the land itself abides through the generations.

George became a man who had a careful concern for the people that worked for him and for the village in which he lived, and when one such died ‘away from home’ George ensured his body be brought ‘back home’ for burial. He retained values he had absorbed as a youngster, a capacity for hard work, an expanding sense of duty or responsibility to place and people that gave him life and livelihood, and a courtesy in relationship that persisted right to the end of his days.

In his lifetime the ‘old order’ changed. When I came as Vicar in 1976 that ‘old order’ was still incarnate in that trinity of George Britten, Maurice Furniss and Rupert Stocks, all now passed to their rest. With them George served this village faithfully as Parish Councillor, Charity Trustee, Village Hall Committee member, Common Rights holder; taking part in village festivities be they ‘one-offs’ for the War’s end, Coronation and Silver Jubilees of the present Queen or ‘the hardy annuals,’ much of which was centred around the large Village Green which he tended and on which he once played a moderate style of cricket, and the school, now the village hall. His father had been Churchwarden of the Parish and George himself had been a member of the Parochial Church Council, his religion was what you might call ‘old style and village;’ he was not afraid to disagree with an Incumbent, and the presence today of the Methodist Minister bears witness to George’s concern for the wholeness of this village, indeed the ‘wholeness’ of a Christian presence that included the Methodist Chapel and its people as well as those of the established church.

George was a man of charity, and I use that word in its proper, old English sense, of someone who concerned himself with the well being of others, be it on a personal or community level, in public or in private. This is not the place to list those who benefited from that interest; his public benefactions are well known and representatives from such are undoubtedly here today; his private benefactions were just that, private, and there will be those who know of these here today.

George had been both blessed with material possessions and also acquired them by his own hard work, but he was not dominated by these; the coupling of capacity and sense of duty gave him opportunity to give to others. He kept and treasured the many letters of thanks he received, not out of any sense of personal aggrandizement but out of the feeling that things ‘should be done proper,’ to say ‘thank-you’ was a part of that, just as ‘thankfulness’ is a part of our ‘doing things proper’ for him at his funeral. I saw him shortly before he died and when I wrote afterwards I sent him a ‘Thank-you’ card. But on the envelope I placed a ‘safety warning’ for once opened, this musical card actually played the Beetles singing the phrase ’Thank you very much.’ It gave him occasion, I hope, to smile again just as he did on that photograph I have before me.

I mentioned the first Bible Reading, and now I mention the second, words written by S. Paul what time he was actually in prison, chained to his prison guard. Yet out of that adversity S. Paul was still able to write such encouraging words of affectionate regard. Set that reading now against the background of George’s life and our present sense of loss, always felt when any one dies, as we remember them and are reminded of our own mortality, as wrote John Donne, priest and poet - ‘ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for you.’

The seasons of his life on earth now passed we -

remember before God
our brother George, give thanks for his life,
commend him to God our merciful redeemer and judge,
commit his body to be buried, and, in bereavement,
be a comfort one to another.

To that God in whom we live, and move, and have our being, be praise and glory, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

 

 

Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 January 2013 17:29