In memory of our dear friend John, from the Greenways xx
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In loving memory of John Frederick Tomlinson who sadly passed away on 3rd December 2020.
It may be a kind of co-incidence but John was born late in 1920 not too long after the great Flu epidemic after the 1st World War. He was born at the old Rugby Maternity home, a building subsequently known as Soroptimist House, on Hillmorton Road opposite Lawrence Sheriff School field. He was born into a family who were established in Rugby, the home town of their father , later in the 19th Century. The family trade was joinery and cabinet making and later in life this was Johns chosen career path too. He attended Benn School as a youngster and moved on to the old Murray School whose site is now a development of houses between Murray Road and Bath Street. It was a convenient move as John grew up further down Murray Road and his aunts and uncle lived in Bath Street. A scholarship to Lawrence Sheriff School meant that he started there in 1932. John would probably not class himself as an academic despite a tremendous study of the bible later in his life. As such it is probably the school Scout Troop which he loved most at that time. One of the later scout leaders who dad new as a friend, was a gentlemen known as Eggie Lay. He was to be loved by generations of LSS boys as well as becoming a familiar figure in Bilton. John left LSS in 1936 and signed indentures to begin his working life as a Carpentry and Joinery apprentice with the established Rugby firm of Foster and Dicksee.
Then war intervened and John volunteered ahead of conscription. He and his brother joined a local TA field artillery unit that originally operated from the Drill Hall in Leamington. His military service saw him in France with the BEF. (He missed Dunkirk as a result of being returned home injured having broken his arm trying to start a gun tower!). Then after a period of retraining a circuitous journey saw him visit South Africa, India, Mesopotamia, Palestine and finally Italy. He had become a driver/mechanic and always felt blessed in this role as he was protected, to some degree, from the horrors of front line fighting. The friends he made during the war became a tightly knit mini community who met regularly as the Q Club (They were members of the Queens Battery) every Remembrance Sunday eve for a dinner and then a service on the Sunday morning. John was honoured in the early 60's when the club commissioned him to manufacture the 'field' cross to be used on the altar at these services. This is a beautiful two piece construction hand made in oak and reflects both Johns approach to work and dedication to a cause. Possibly one of the reasons that his comrades also saw fit to qualify John for this work was his lifelong commitment to his Christian beliefs. It seemed only appropriate that a man of faith and practical skill should carry-out this commission.
John returned to Foster and Dicksee and stayed with them until they were taken over by Higgs and Hill in the 60s. This period of employment saw him work on the Egyptian room at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford as well as re-roofing Stamford Hall in the mid 50s. He had become a manager of small works but retained a very high level of understanding of the practical aspects of many fields of building work, most notably, ecclesiastical work. The post offered by H&H did not suit John and contacts at an architectural practice in Coventry led to him joining them as a 'surveyor'. This title did not do justice to his varied activity on their behalf. His skill set led to him doing a lot of work for the Diosese of Coventry, King Henry VIII school, Jaguar and Coventry Post office. John took redundancy at the age of 63.5.
In 1953 John had met Elsie and they were to be married in 1955. She really was his only true love. They were together for just over 40 years and John missed her greatly during the later years of his life. A son and daughter, Bill(y) and Frances (Fran) were born in 1957 and 1959 respectively. John was a loving and considerate father but not a 'gushy' type. He ensured that the children gained a love and understanding of the natural world as well as a familiarity with all the footpaths around Rugby. Walking was a great passion and in his later years he was to lead and take part in several walking groups. When he led, the walk would be full of interest and local knowledge. This was usually because he had had some contact in the area being walked but mostly because he had done the whole walk on his own to make sure it was suitable ( ~15miles). The children enjoyed lovely UK holidays which meant lots of walking, swimming, playing on beaches and visits to local castles etc. His forte when on holiday was the construction of beautiful sand carvings. Churches, houses and even a teddy bear were among his portfolio. As a father he, and indeed Elsie's, abiding wish for the children was that they should get to know Jesus Christ as their saviour. This meant that the scriptures were never far away and that Sunday was dedicated to worship. In this sense John's heavenly father can say 'Well done, good and faithful servant'.
John's Christian beliefs were truly the focus for his life's work. Whilst he never wished to be a leader his faithful service meant that many over the years have looked to him for guidance and example. For many years he was known as 'Uncle John' by a succession of children who attended the Happy Hour at the Bretheren Assembly in Chester Street. He was not just a building-bound Christian but would go out of his way to meet the families that the children came from. His truly believed that it was his duty was to bring as many youngsters under the sound of the Gospel and he work tirelessly in this pursuit. In all facets of his long life John's faith made its presence felt. He was humble, gentle, kind and very generous. In later years many charities have benefited from his giving however it is one in Rugby that saw his most practical giving. He become a worker at the HOPE4 charity in Rugby and well into his 90's would be washing-up or just chatting to the beneficiaries of the food. He supplemented this particular work by also doing stints on the soup kitchen run out of the Parish Church.
It may sound as if he was over-serious. Far from it! Family, friends and work colleagues can testify to an excellent sense of humour often dispensed with a 'mischievous' twinkle in his eye.
Many will have crossed paths with John during his long life whether that was a meeting in the street when he would doff his hat, seeing him about town riding his bike until he was 96 or being the beneficiary of a cake when you arrived as a new neighbour in the top of Cromwell Road where he lived.
Perhaps one of the greatest things said about him was by a neighbour from Benn Street. 'John was the last true gentleman in Rugby'.