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About A Week: A Good Man

Peter Hinchliffe pays tribute to a fine man, Tom Hellawell. Tom wrote excellent articles. They appear in Open Writing under the title Yorkshire Lad. Do read them. They’re a special treat!

Tom Hellawell had a way with words. He was a master of the wry reply.

He served at sea with the Royal Navy during the latter days of World War Two. His ship was on patrol in northern waters.

I asked him if he had been involved in battle. “Well,’’ he said, giving me a cool look “there was a time when a porthole appeared where there had not been a porthole before.’’

So much for a German shell which smashed through the ship’s metal plates not far from where Tom was standing.

There was no medal for outstanding bravery. Everyone then serving at sea faced the prospect of a sudden and violent death. But Tom deserved a score of medals for the fortitude displayed in his civilian life.

He didn’t have a cart-load of troubles. He had a 50-wagon trainload of them.

His mother and father both died before he was 10. His grandmother then cared for him, but she died long before he was grown up.

Tom made his own way in the world. He worked in textiles, reaching managerial level. He lost a job he enjoyed because of an accident. He was helping to fell trees. One of them toppled onto him, smashing umpteen bones in a leg.

Bone was taken from various parts of his body to repair the leg. Further ghastly medical problems lay in wait. There must have been times when he thought his purpose in life was to give surgeons a chance to test their skills.

He had cancer of the jaw, then lung cancer. An artery in a leg was replaced by a plastic tube. The operation was not a success. Four toes had to be removed. Oxygen was piped round his home to help him to breathe.

A lesser person would have given up the fight. Not Tom. He studied with the Open University, becoming a helper at OU summer schools around Britain.

He taught history for the Huddersfield branch of the University of the Third Age. We met through U3A, becoming firm friends.

Tom wrote vividly of his boyhood in a Yorkshire mill town.

“Carts were plentiful in those days. Spivy’s ice cream man had a pony for his cart. He was about the same height as the pony, and dry-humoured.

‘What kind of hoss is it mister?’ we asked him. ‘It’s a warr hoss,’ he replied.

‘It isn’t’ said we. ‘It isn’t big enough.’ We knew our history.

‘It’s a warr hoss,’ the ice cream man persisted ‘and if it gets any warr it’ll dee.’’

Then there was the occasion when two chaps were giving a woman a lift home from the local WMC on a hand-cart, she being too druffen to walk.

The cart had to be lifted over two metal posts. The unconscious lady was in an undignified position.

Willie held the shafts. Abe lifted the back of the cart. “Ah ta all reight Abe?’’ Willie asked in the darkness. “Ah can’t see a thing.’’

“Tha sud be weear ah am,’’ said Abe. “Ah can see ivvery-thing.’’

Tom wrote on to the very end. He was found dead in his favourite chair. A pen and paper were close at hand.

After Tom’s funeral I sorted out the articles which Tom had written while a member of my U3A writing class. There were more than 80 of them, each one wonderfully well-written. They cried out to be read. They deserved an audience.

I decided to run them week by week in Open Writing. I needed a title – a column title, if you will. I ran them under the name Yorkshire Lad. Tom was a Yorkshireman through and through.

The last of Tom’s articles appeared in Open Writing this week.

Tom was a splendid man. I wish he was still here.


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