Our Dad, George Robert Julian was born on the 13th of September 1947. The third of seven children born to Winifred and Stanley Julian, he grew up in Boston, Lincolnshire.
When Dad became ill we asked him to record some memories of his life before he met Mum. He had very fond memories of every aspect of his childhood, except perhaps his education. Highlights of this time included:
- playing in the back yard in Fydell Street,
- having the honour of turning on the first electricity supply in their home
- chatting with his Mum and helping with the washing up
- spending time with his beloved Aunt Rose
- and failing to be rewarded with sweets from Aunt Con for sitting still; Jiffle Bum, as she called him, had far too much to achieve in life to want to sit still.
Educated at Park Board Junior School and Kitwood Boys Secondary Modern, Dad was left handed (and we now know) dyslexic, so alongside the basics of an education that he gained, he also developed a determined attitude and a belief that it was possible to achieve if you put your mind to it; alongside a keen sense of fairness. Dad would not tolerate people being judged by their academic ability; he believed life is about far more than the skills of pen and paper, and that the important thing was ‘to do your best’, as he went on to show us all.
He also spent lots of time at the Centenary Methodist Church, in the Sunday School and later on the Youth Club; keeping in touch with Ma Redfern for many years.
His first job, while still at school, was delivering groceries for Aunt Rose’s son-in-law, Terry. When he left school he joined the family business working as an apprentice to his father as a bricklayer. Grandad was known for his exceptional workmanship, once knocking down an entire wall and insisting Dad started it again from scratch. The practical skills Dad learnt in this period would come in handy many times over as he improved our family home, but also in later years as he passed on his DIY skills to Jonathan.
In addition, working alongside Grandad, with his attention to detail and exacting standards, stood Dad in good stead for when he left Boston to join the Navy. His first trip to the Westcountry saw him completing his basic training at HMS Raleigh in Spring 1970 and the Naval values instilled in him at that time, of Commitment, Courage, Discipline, Respect, Integrity and Loyalty were values that stayed with him throughout his life; alongside some other handy skills such as ironing, dusting, sewing, and polishing shoes so you could see your face in them.
Dad first posting was on HMS Jaguar and he flew to Australia to join her world cruise, arriving in Sydney on 30 July 1971, returning to the UK via Singapore. The following November, while preparing for a trip to Icelandic waters for the Cod War, Dad was home on leave when he popped to The Barge to meet up with his friend Brian, the local butcher, for a few jars.
As luck would have it Mum was staying in The Barge that weekend and as good as Brian’s company was, Sylv passed up the opportunity of a lifetime’s supply of Boston bangers, in favour of a drink with Dad. We know ‘All the nice girls love a sailor’ and the rest is history. Mum and Dad had been together for just over forty years when he died.
Dad returned to Chatham to continue preparations for his trip to the Ice, making a repeat visit to Boston the following weekend for a second date. Duty called and he left for Iceland, squeezing in a phonecall en-route to ask Mum to marry him; yes that’s right, after a grand total of four days.
Mum and Dad were officially engaged on Christmas Eve that year and were married the following summer at Centenary Church in Boston. They held their reception at The Barge where they’d first met, before Dad returned to the ice after a week’s honeymoon. In total Dad served five and a half years in the Navy. During that time he worked mostly as a Sonar Operator, but also as a Ship’s Diver, and had a short stint as a gardener, which no doubt is where his approach to cutting everything down and concreting over, came from!
Mum and Dad decided that they wanted a family together, and if they were to do so, Dad would leave the Navy. So, soon after they were married they purchased 74 Main Avenue, our family home ever since. Dad left the Navy in November 1975, a few months before Jonathan was born, and started work in the Post Office as a telephone box cleaner, cycling all around Torbay. Eighteen months later, just after I was born he secured a job as a postman, and he was working night shift by the time Abigayle arrived two years later, rushing to Torbay Hospital having put the post on the night train at Newton Abbot.
Dad spent almost thirty years as a Torquay postman taking early retirement in 2004. He had numerous different rounds, spent some time driving and also took occasional opportunities for overtime, running an unofficial child labour ring where we were paid about 10 pence an hour pocket-money to sort together leaflets and promotions for household deliveries.
One of the big advantages of having a Dad who was a postman, was the fact that he worked shifts, which meant he was around after school and was a very hands-on Dad. As much as we might have complained about the routine – school uniform off as soon as we got home, homework done before the TV went on, ironing and shoe polishing on a Sunday evening; it was actually good fun having a Dad who was around when we were little. Not satisfied with walking ten miles every day, most weekends would also be spent letterboxing on Dartmoor as a family.
In later years I would often share a cup of tea with Dad as he got up for work at 4am and I finished off some assignment or project before heading to bed! Dad never once complained about the early starts, instead relishing being out and about while most people were in bed.
During his time at the Post Office Dad got to know a number of postmen who were volunteers with local cadet forces. After a brief stint with the Sea Cadets, Ted Molloy and Mike Paul persuaded Dad to join Devon Army Cadet Force. He spent the following 25 years serving with the cadets. This involved at least two evenings a week, occasional weekends away and the highlight each year, summer camp.
He held a number of different roles, including:
- General dogsbody
- Detachment commander
- Training officer
- Company 2nd in command, and
- County Adventure Training Officer.
Dad climbed the ranks in the Cadets and was delighted to receive his first commission and join the lofty ranks of Officers as a Second Lieutenant in 1995. He was further promoted to Lieutenant in ‘98, and finally twenty years after joining the ACF, Dad became Captain Julian in July 2006. He served under six company commanders: Majors Embury, Salway, Molloy, Lillicrap, Black and Buller and alongside a number of other people here today.
For many years Dad was never found far from his partner in crime, Pete Byrne. Whether it was running Torquay Detachment, arranging weekends away, converting our attic or shorting the lights at camp – Dad and Pete could often be found together. Over the past few years Pete’s workshop was a bit of a sanctuary for Dad, allowing him somewhere to escape to, to drink tea, reminisce and I’m sure do the odd bit of work.
One of the more unusual tasks that Dad and Pete tackled together was to help out with cleaning the Church Bell Tower here, volunteering a group of cadets from Torquay Detachment to help. Dad was confirmed in this Church in 1988 and had what I’d describe as a practical faith. In the early 90s he was ringleader, along with Dave Finch, in repainting this very ceiling we’re sitting underneath. That was Dad all over, he would readily volunteer to support anyone or anything. He was also exceptionally calm in a crisis. On one occasion a house I was sharing in Dublin was flooded in the middle of the night, it was of course my Dad that we rang for advice, not anyone else’s.
As a father Bobby was unique. He made us toys, a rocking horse, garden swing and toboggan for use down our hill in the snow. He was a great teacher with the patience of a saint; hours were spent encouraging us to practice a recorder or a bugle, or do our homework. He was also a world-class taxi driver, running us all around to various activities and helping us move houses. One of his favourite routes had to be Torquay to Liverton, running Abi and his honorary daughter Charlotte to each other’s houses.
He was generous and strict in equal measure, with a strong sense of fairness and a belief in people’s ability. His positive approach to life meant he gained people’s respect and we’ve been inundated with letters, texts, messages on Facebook and wishes from people who are sharing in our loss.
Whenever he was asked what he wanted for a birthday or Christmas he’d reply ‘three well behaved children’, I like to think we did OK with that in the end, but it was a measure of the man that Dad never really wanted for much, he was content with whatever hand life dealt him.
This was very much the approach that Dad took to his life, and his death. When he was diagnosed with bile duct cancer five years ago, days after his 60th birthday, he never once asked ‘Why me?’, instead treating his illness as another big adventure and learning opportunity.
He also found the humour in his situation and the picture on the back of your service sheet was taken during Dad’s second course of chemotherapy. He was given drugs to take with a list of side effects as long as your arm, including a warning that it could alter your mood. Dad decided it would alter his mood in a positive way and the hat is improvised from an NHS sick bowl!
Dad took every treatment that was available, refusing to let Cancer dictate to him. He defied the odds on numerous occasions, survived massive surgery, finished chemotherapy early so that he could walk Abi down the aisle, beat MRSA and lived to become a Grandad, not once, but twice over.
Dad’s only real regret was that he wouldn’t get to be the Grandad that he wanted to be. We are all determined though that his presence will live on, that Libbie and Phoebe will know of their Grandad and what a great impact he had on so many people. To that end we’d be grateful if you could fill out the memory postcard as you leave today.
Just to shatter any illusion that Dad was some sort of Saint, he was as mortal as the rest of us and would always grab an unnecessarily large handful of Ikea pencils when he visited. He loved a bargain and I’m sure he’d love the idea that we have a pencil for each and every one of you to complete your postcards and take away with you!
Dad had other characteristics that some considered less than perfect, he called a spade a spade, was scared of spiders and completely tone deaf – not that that would stop him from singing at the top of his voice, as anyone who has ever attended the Cadet Carol Service could tell you.
Dad received his terminal diagnosis over two years ago and we knew that he had limited time left. I think he finally accepted that he would not beat his illness about six weeks before he died. Mum has described those six weeks as amongst the best six weeks of their married life. There was lots of time to reminisce, to remember, to give thanks and to spend time together.
Dad didn’t lose his battle, or succumb to cancer; he stoically, bravely and steadfastly lived his death as he lived his life, with courage, dignity and a concern for others.
It is our job to make sure that his memory lives on, but also to approach life without Bobby as he would want us to – with a positive mental attitude and celebrating the fact that our lives are better for having had him in them.
In the words of Bobby J, it’s time to Let it Go.