Paul Briscoe My
mother Monica remembers a visit to her father Jack after she and Paul
had been married a short while. Jack and Paul had been enjoying a
conversation together. She was sitting at the bottom of the winding
staircase at Home Farm, the family home in Parham. I imagine Jack had
that benevolent smile in his eyes that I remember him by. Jack just
said fondly, "Look after him, Pip," (Pip was Mum's pet name). Jack had
weighed the man and decided he liked him.
These few words marked
Paul's passage into the third era of his life. First he was the
foreigner in Germany. Second the foreigner in England. Now he was
becoming accepted; eventually he would settle down. Already, at age 28,
Paul had lived two of his lives, giving a wealth of material for the
natural story-teller in him to draw on.
I will eventually start at the beginning, but first I want to colour in a picture of his character a little.
sense of duty determined much of the course of his life. Monica tells
me, after burying her father Jack in 1975, she and Paul were passing
through Jack's farm, in fact just past Oak Farm in Parham. Paul said,
"We must look after this farm... for Father's sake."
true to his word. The family moved up to Home Farm in Parham from near
Braintree. Paul set aside any further advancement in his teaching
career; he took a lower grade post, so he would have more time outside
teaching to help maintain the farm cottages, woodlands and the
like---while my mother's cousin Herman stepped in to manage the
cropping side of the farm.
It might seem as if it was more guilt
than duty that drove him. He certainly had a good dose of guilt
instilled in him during his Catholic upbringing. In Germany, from age
eight through to his mid teens, as a good Catholic boy, he had to
confess to the Priest every naughty thought that had entered his mind.
certainly harboured guilt for his part in the Holocaust. On
Kristallnacht a year before the War broke out, he played his small part
in the sacking of the Synagogue in Miltenberg. It was two months before
his first confession, but although his first list of sins was very
long, he said he did not even think to include that one. After the War,
once he understood how he had taken part in one of the greatest sins of
all time, he didn't allow himself the excuse that he was only eight;
nor that the teachers had goaded all the boys on. Inside, he had known
that what they were all doing was wicked. Never again would he do
something he knew was wrong just because he was told to. I don't
remember him ever teaching me that, but he must have done---if you cut
him open, that principle would be written through him to the core.
I don't think guilt drove his sense of duty. I think it was more
Protestant work ethic than Catholic guilt. Mum thinks he was trying to
repay a debt to society. He always remembered those who took him under
their wing: his extended foster family in Germany and those who helped
him rebuild his life when he returned to England. None were obliged to
get him started in life---through family ties or obligations---they
just did, as a normal act of humanity.
Although his mother
effectively abandoned him as a child, he looked after her from when he
was fifteen to the end of her life. But he also took on responsibility
for looking after many other people in small ways, as if he was making
general reparations towards society on account of those who had looked
after him. And perhaps in some way he was also trying to repay a debt
on his mother's account.
His moral compass gave me a strong
direction to follow: One day he found a pencil accidentally still in
his ear when he got home after school. He told me that once you stole
the smallest thing, even a government issue pencil, you were on a
slippery slope. He'd make sure it went back in the woodwork cupboard
the next day. Let's be clear, when I say a pencil, we're talking about
a little stub---a quarter of a pencil.
Yes, he was a thoroughly
good man. But let's not get carried away with rose-tinted funereal
memories. He had a temper that could flare up if he was criticised,
more so if he knew the criticism was justified. And sometimes his
temper flared when his unceasing helpfulness was not given due
recognition, although he suppressed this anger more often than not.
all those of you in Fram who remember him up a ladder fixing some
elderly lady's gutter, or with his arm in a cistern in St Michael's
rooms,... think of it from Monica's point of view. She was often
sitting there at home with the dinner getting cold, with no idea
whether he had fallen off a ladder, or just tried to fit in an extra
couple of jobs on his way home. (Strangely, my wife Lyn inherited this
trait from my father's wife.)
Whether driven by guilt, duty
or atonement, Paul certainly achieved more than many of us would in
three or four lives. But that's because he crammed four different lives
into his four score years.
Christopher Paul Briscoe was born on
12 July 1930 in Streatham, South London; the only child of Reginald
Briscoe and Norah, who was born a Davies. Reg died when Paul was two.
Without any life insurance, Norah returned to her work as a freelance
journalist. She left Paul in the care of his nanny, Beatrice.
age five, Norah took Paul with her to Germany, in part following an
invitation from a potential suitor called Seppl and in part following
the opportunity to file stories on the rise of the Third Reich. At
first Norah traipsed Paul round Germany with her, leaving him with
Seppl and his family whenever she returning to England to file copy.
But by age six Paul was settled permanently with his foster-family.
last time his mother visited was soon after Paul's first communion aged
eight---his first opportunity to confess all those sins. Seppl
announced around this time that he and a new love, Hildegard were to be
married. Norah told Paul she would return in a couple of months to take
him off Seppl's hands, back to England. But a year and a half later she
had still not appeared and the War broke out.
I'm not going to
dwell on Dad's German era. Many of you will have read one of his books.
Or you may have heard the best bits during one of his many talks about
his life. Instead I will jump to what you might call his waif and stray
He turned up looking like England's last hope in his plus
fours and pork pie hat---his foster mother's hurried attempt to allow
him to fit in, even though he was returning to the land of his birth.
In chapel he sung "Deutschland, Deutschland über Alles" while everyone
else sang "Glorious things of thee are spoken". He tried to become a
history of Architecture student until his mother's funds ran dry. He
became the odd-job man for the wonderfully eclectic mix of characters
he slept alongside in the International club in London. Then assistant
groundsman at Norwood cricket club. Such a confusion of experiences;
the strange game of cricket must have seemed just as odd as the
Nigerians using this WC contraption in their room to send floods of
water through the ceiling of the International club. How could he
possibly have recognised which of these was traditional English and
His mother then moved them out to Thelnetham near
Diss, to the farming community run by the slightly famous and slightly
more eccentric John Middleton Murray, who led his Sunday service
dressed as Jesus the carpenter. That was Paul's introduction to how we
English do farming, with Gladys the landgirl driving the Bedford truck
topless. Then a brief spell standing in as the grave digger in Stoke by
Nayland, followed by general handyman, waiter and dogs-body at Polstead
Country club before renovating cottages in Monks Eleigh.
wonder he goose stepped on the first parade after signing up in the
British Army for National Service. Posted to Germany, but now meant to
be representing the British, he befriended a local German family and in
particular their daughter Renate. They returned to Marlesford together,
but before their daughter Christiane was born Renate's mother
visited and took her daughter back to Germany.
kept in touch, but his British life started to move into its more
established era. He got a job at the Ministry of Works and that was the
point where he met Monica at a dance in Fram Assembly Rooms. They
married in 1956, and as we know, Monica's father soon accepted him into
Kate and I were born during his two-year teacher
training in Bristol which you have heard all about from Freddie. He was
posted to Braintree in Essex, teaching woodwork and German. He
renovated our cottage home and built a sound base for his new family.
In the second third and fourth eras of his life he left a tremendous legacy of small but important achievements:
handiwork lies within Framlingham Castle & Saxtead Mill, which he
helped restore while working for the Ministry of Works
built part of the fabric of countless high school students---a
grounding in the practical aspects of life, and I'm sure he instilled
sound moral principles at the same time---both capabilities that would
outlast all their academic qualifications. Some have kept in touch with
him throughout his life.
* After taking on management of the
non-crop side of the farm in 1975 he planted hundreds, perhaps even a
thousand, trees---long before climate change entered centre stage.
was the driving force behind the establishment of Framlingham Furniture
Project in the great barn at Home Farm. As always, he handled the
practical side---getting stuff done was his hallmark.
* As warden of
the fine Church we stand in today, he never lost his 'just do it'
attitude while at the same time organising others for larger projects
such as the repair of the bells.
Castles, windmills, thousands
of school children and trees, the furniture project, the Church, all
these stand as his achievements. And the countless times he was ready
to give practical help to local people in need of a hand. As
one letter to Monica recently said "I cannot imagine Framlingham
without Paul, he was part and parcel of the town." Although he was the
eternal optimist, taking on more than most of us ever would, he
achieved so much because he was always prepared to put in hard graft.
final illustration of his optimism, near to the end of his life. I had
told him he should see the people he wanted to see before he died. So
had the doctor and so had others. He had taken all this on board. This
was a few months after his prostate cancer had jumped to his bone, and
even a couple of months after his kidneys had looked like they would
fail within weeks. But he kept going to the end because he never gave
up. Just recently, he asked the doctor, "How much will I be able to do
once I'm better?"
As a child, he had felt let down by his
mother, then by his father-figure Seppl who failed to live up to
expectations too when he switched sides near the end of the War. He
felt let down too by another father-figure, the pastor in Miltenberg
whose fallibility was revealed when he was discovered with a broken leg
after a failed escape from a lady parishioner's bedroom.
I can truly say I am proud of my father---he never let me down, he
remained a man of integrity, and he deservedly spent his last few
months satisfied that he had achieved everything he set out to achieve.
1 Sep 2010