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.

His 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."

Paul stayed 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.

He 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.

But 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.

And 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.

At 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.

The 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 era.

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 which not?

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.

No 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.

Paul always 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 the fold.

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:
* His handiwork lies within Framlingham Castle & Saxtead Mill, which he helped restore while working for the Ministry of Works
* He 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.
* He 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.

A 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.

Well, 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.

Bob Briscoe
1 Sep 2010