On August 20th, 2013 my beloved grandfather died at the age of 89. A staunch atheist and one time communist he spent much of his life putting other people’s needs before his own. For fifteen years he worked voluntarily for the NHS and was one of the key figures responsible for the commissioning and naming of Boston Pilgrim Hospital. Below is his eulogy.
‘David Meredith Thomas was born in Dartford, Kent, in 1924. He went to school in Loughborough, served with the Fleet Air Arm during the war, and then studied law at Cambridge. ln 1952 he qualified as a solicitor, married his wife of 60 years Joyce, and joined the Jebb and Tunnard legal practice in Boston, Lincolnshire.
These are the ‘facts’ – However, David being David, life was rather more exciting.
When he was three, his father left with the nanny, and they took David with them. His mother and her friend Lottie stole David back. David was immensely proud of having been “kidnapped” by his mother, who then brought him up. He attended Loughborough Grammar school, and became a keen member of the Air Training Corps, achieving outstanding athletic success at the Area Sports by winning the 100 yards and the long jump. His testimonial reads “he was really keen, smart and efficient, and has made his mark in the squadron with his ability, and his powers of leadership”. His proficiency was rated “superior” and, aged 17, he was considered suitable for training as an airforce pilot. He wanted to be a naval pilot and so would be in the Fleet Air Arm. ln pursuit of this he studied aeronautical engineering for a year at Loughborough College. In 1941. Aged 18 David began his pilot training at the United States naval air station in Michigan on the Great Lakes. After further training in Florida and Ontario, he received his “wings” in December 1943.
l asked him if he was frightened when landing a plane on an aircraft carrier for the first time. He just said “Yes, but when you are young you think you can do anything.”
Training at the airfield.
After further training in Scotland and the Solent, he joined HMS indefatigable in the Mediterranean, in November 1944. This, newest and largest aircraft carrier, was part of the newly formed British Paciﬁc Fleet. In January 1945 David took part in strikes against oil production in Sumatra. These raids, conducted in bad weather, reduced the oil supply of the Japanese Navy. 48 out of 500 Fleet Air Arm aircraft were lost. 30 Japanese planes were destroyed in dogfights, and another 38 were destroyed on the ground. In March 1945 the British Pacific fleet supported the invasion of Okinawa, an island about 1200 miles southwest of Tokyo. The fleet’s role was to suppress Japanese Kamikaze attacks on American Navy vessels invading Okinawa.
The British carriers were subjected to heavy and repeated kamikaze attacks, but their armoured flight decks proved highly resistant.David told me that he was lying in his bunk, and a doctor was standing in the cabin, when a Kamikaze struck the Indefatigable. The doctor was killed by the blast. He wrote, on the back of a photo of the damage to the deck, ‘damage due to “suic-sod”’.
HMS Indefatigable – My grandfather’s ship.
He had crashed his Avenger, while landing on the Indefatigable, and had gone overboard. l asked him what happened next. He said “l had a little swim!” He was rescued, uninjured, by the Quiberon, an Australian destroyer, and was returned to the Indefatigable by Breeches buoy. He was ordered to ﬂy another Avenger immediately, to prevent loss of conﬁdence.
At the end of the war David’s mother, whom he adored, was dying of cancer. He wished he could have returned home sooner, but he was able to be with her during her last 2 months. She died in his arms.
He studied law at Selwyn College Cambridge from 1946 gaining his BA in 1948. One day Joyce (his wife) was with friends at a bar and, hearing an attractive voice behind her, looked round. David saw her and they got chatting. He invited himself to lunch the next day, at her flat. Punting on the Cam, etc followed. ‘
My grandmother and father with ‘aunty’ Judy.
David was considering a career with the colonial service in Uganda. Joyce said “you had better talk to my ‘father about that”. He changed his mind, and settled on being a solicitor in England. He became articled to a law finn in Loughborough. In 1952 he qualiﬁed as a solicitor, married Joyce, and moved to Boston.
David’s legal practice at Jebb and Tunnard included conveyancing, and plenty of work representing petty criminals in court.
In 1965 aged 41 David became chairman of the Boston Group Hospital Management Committee. Three years later, in June 1968, Pilgrim Hospital was inaugurated by the Lord Lieutenant of the County. David played a considerable role in the planning process, and in ‘making it happen’, and was always very proud of the hospital. He went on to become chairman of the Lincolnshire Area Health Authority.
ln 1976 the main ward block of the hospital was completed, and in 1977 the hospital was opened by Princess Anne. Joyce has a glamorous photograph of Princess Anne with David at the ceremony.
He tried hard to ensure that Lincolnshire Hospitals received their fair share of resources and, while he was chairman, active planning of the new hospital at Lincoln was resumed. Joyce accompanied David on visits to various hospitals and wards. The committee work and visits must have taken ages, but his 15 years in NHS management was all voluntary.
Stone placard with my grandfather’s name toward the bottom corner of the image.
David loved Spain and became ﬂuent in Spanish. He loved being with Joyce and the family in their apartment on the Costa del Sol which is in an oasis of beauty in the concrete jungle. He enjoyed going to bars, and chatting with the locals, especially in areas where only Spanish was spoken
.He was a keen walker, going off for a week most years to the Yorkshire Dales and elsewhere, with 3 of his ‘mates’. He also enjoyed drinking with them at their local, the Cowbridge Inn
He enjoyed sailing a Mirror dinghy with Joyce and the girls, Rutland water and Falmouth being favorite places.‘ He also sailed across the Bay of Biscay to Southern Spain, with Mike Harden and Denys Brackenridge, a voyage of about 2000 miles, which took 6 weeks. – i
The family enjoyed caravanning, and Joyce particularly remembers the Loire valley where they enjoyed excellent French cuisine in small cafes especially in Chinon. ln England Fineshade wood, near Stamford, was a favorite caravanning spot.
David loved painting in water colours and reading. He enjoyed pool and snooker, and played both well. One of David’s sayings was “You might as well as you had”. Years after telling me this he said “You know Jonathan that advice can get you into a lot of trouble.”
The last picture I ever took of my grandfather a few months before he died.
He was a free spirit who enjoyed nature and natural places. We used to walk together in Spain and at Freiston Shore and he was kind enough to call me one of his ‘mates’. One of the things l wish l had done was go with David to the new nature reserve at Frampton, which l am sure would have delighted him.
David had a prodigious memory and could recall places in Spain, by name, with ease. Sadly he became ill this year, but showed great interest in, and knowledge of, all who cared for him.
He eventually died, at home, surrounded by his adored and loving family. He was a true gentleman and will be greatly missed.’