Parish of Leatherhead - Leslie Day, Organist at All Saints'

by his daughter Moura, courtesy of Sheila Sutherland

My Dad

My first memories of my Dad ... I was 3 years old on board a liner mid-Atlantic and I vaguely remember a drill for life stations. I remember being outside on deck holding hands with my mother and father and hearing horns and whistles and lots of feet on metal ladders rushing next to us as the sailors moved quickly between decks. I know from some of the stories, that was a very eventful trip, encountering Hurricane Hazel in mid-Atlantic on a Greek ship, my Dad being thrown from his bunk and injuring his shoulder, and apparently I was the only passenger who didn't develop sea sickness.My mother dragged herself to the restaurant with me to get a boiled egg for breakfast. All the staff were in their bunks ill, also! Mum always went green at the gills when she related the story.

I remember our family did a lot of travelling, so how did this happen? My father was born in Catford to a very religious couple, Florrie and Herbert. Dad was their only son. Herbert worked at the Sydenham Gas Works until retirement and Florrie had worked as a domestic in a big house in Croydon. As a boy Dad loved steam trains and did well at maths and music at St Dunstan's College, Catford.

The family church was Perry Rise Baptist Church and a young Les was in the Boys Brigade. After my Dad had been to the Crystal Palace with his parents and heard the lunchtime organ concerts, Dad approached the church organist who encouraged him to play the organ at Perry Rise. That was the start of my Dad's musical career - playing the organ for the youth services at 3pm on a Sunday afternoon.

One day, having been in a group of young friends in the Christian Endeavour for years, Dad noticed in that group a young lady by the name of Eileen Richards who was very lively and pretty and he decided he would like to care for her. He became a regular visitor to the Richards family home and participated in caring for Eileen who had diabetes. Selling his model train set he was able to afford to marry Eileen when he was 22 in 1943.

Meanwhile, Dad's interest in maths and numbers was developed further when he studied at night school to become a structural engineer. He was employed at Sydenham Gas Works and remembers climbing the gasometers. Then he was employed at Lewisham Council, designing and overseeing the construction of prefab council houses, (one such estate was only recently demolished, much to the sadness of some of the residents I heard). He worked secretly for the government during the war years to design airfields, whilst doing air warden duty. My mother and I were not privy to all that he did or saw during the war, as he took signing the Official Secrets Act very seriously. Also he was a shy, quiet man with strong principles.

But there was one war story that I do remember my parents sharing with me. My father's first car had the initials JJ in the licence and this car was affectionately known as JJ. JJ misbehaved in the middle of the night during a blackout, it chose to sound the horn and get stuck. Imagine my parents waking, recognising JJ, my father getting dressed and dashing out to the back alley to stop the offending noise before being caught by a passing bobby or warden.

Mum encouraged him to study his music further and he studied the organ under Dr Shinn, head of the London College of Music and Dad obtained Associateship of the LCM. After the war Dad became self-employed, but there was not as much rebuilding in England as there was in Europe or abroad. With a young babe now to care for, my father wanted to secure a good home for us and responded to an advert in the paper recruiting structural engineers for a major project in Canada designing hydroelectric pylons and bridges from coast to coast.

When I was eight months old in February 1952 we flew to Canada on an old Constellation aircraft from Heathrow, which in those days stopped to refuel in Prestwick Scotland, Reikjavik Iceland, Gander Newfoundland, before completing the journey at Montreal were we stayed with an aunt. The final leg of the journey to Windsor was completed by train.

It was a struggle to be in a foreign country initially, lodging for the first few years, renting and finally purchasing a house, but Dad enjoyed the work and his new office colleagues. On Sundays they found a church to go to and Dad got a church organist position quite easily. So now my Dad's interests included Christianity, music, pipe organs, maths, steam trains, engineering, architecture and cars.

He was in the right place for cars, being in Windsor just across from Detroit, the car capital of the world. The road system was such that you could travel nearly everywhere by car and Dad took the opportunity of using holidays to travel somewhere in this new land. I remember falling asleep a lot in the back of his various cars en route to Montreal, Ottawa, New York, Washington, Florida to name but a few long trips.

Of course there was the draw of the 'old country' and Dad saved up money and holiday to return to England and relatives every 3-5 years. I have fond memories of Dad sitting at the piano in my grandparent's front room - the lounge - playing the upright piano to accompany various members of the family singing their favourites songs.

Eventually he obtained a house on the shores of Lake Erie, which had to be done up and Dad did most of it himself. Holidays were not spent at home doing up the house - no that was for Saturdays and I remember the sound of a saw or hammer, and I was often his apprentice holding some material whilst he cut it or hammered it. My Dad enjoyed the lake, watching the boats with binoculars, and even purchasing a sailboat for us to enjoy.

Our house always had a grand piano in the living room and later a huge 2 manual and pedal electronic organ. We always had a lot of visitors to the lake from Christian organisations, the local operatic group, or local chapter of the Royal Canadian College of Organists, of which he was chairman and on the committee for a number of years. Many a night I went to bed with music, singing and laughter carrying on below. I wouldn't know how many churches I have sat in to hear organ music played for services, weddings, funerals and recitals, so you can easily treble that for my Dad.

Dad was employed as church organist by different denominations in Canada, but it was at St George's Church Windsor that the family became confirmed and joined the Anglican Church. Dad has always considered it a privilege to play the organ for God and has always found God in any church where he played and worshipped.

During my school years I was encouraged to study music and to apply myself academically. My Dad felt it was his duty to give me a good start in life, so that I could look after myself and always encouraged me in my studies and I shall always be indebted to him for that.

How did we get back to England? I'm not that sure myself. I know that there was a recession in Canada and a lot of layoffs. Dad was concerned about getting another job if he was made redundant. He took his superannuation and bought a business in England and returned with his family. Mum's health was deteriorating and he felt happier getting her back to Kings College hospital, London, with their wealth of experience in diabetes. Two businesses later and he and Mum were on the staff at the Royal School for the Blind, Leatherhead.

Dad was now a houseparent and Musical Director. Despite getting older, life went up a gear. Coming to terms with new tools for communicating with sign language for the deaf-blind and Braille, my Dad threw himself into new challenges. Houseparent, driver, choirmaster, organist, trips to theatres, working with other associated clubs such as Jane Ross and Torch, transcribing new music, having a new vision and getting the support from other staff and the governors... and together they achieved a lot. Singing concerts, carols on Euston station, Revues, several Gilbert and Sullivan successes Trial by Jury, The Mikado and Pirates of Penzance' singing choral evensong at Guildford Cathedral.

But a highlight for the School was being invited to sing in the Metropolitan Police Concert in the presence of the late Princess Diana ... there is so much more to tell and no time today. Dad could surprise people and I shall never forget the concert when unbeknown to anyone else he came on stage dressed as a hill-billy, complete with straw hat and a grass in his mouth singing Old Judd is dead from the stage show Oklahoma. The laughter and applause brought the house down.

Well with the experience of producing Gilbert and Sullivan, with Mum's enthusiasm and the support of Cath Bailey and other like-minded people, the newly organised charity NADVH - National Association of Drama for the Visually Handicapped, now known as Scene Unseen was born. Dad was on the initial committee and remained there for several years. At Littlehampton he was on another committee and came up with imaginative ways of raising money for a much needed customised transport for the local physically disabled, and saw that achieved.

Every year Dad would still travel somewhere new - a cruise to the Mediterannean, a visit to Rome, Holland, Belgium, Canada ... he always said that travel was a great educator. Dad and Mum retired as houseparents but Dad continued as Musical Director for a few years longer before finally retiring in Reigate.

Mum was no longer able to accompany Dad on his travels but he managed to go on two pilgrimages to the Holy Land and to celebrate JS Bach's third centenary in Austria & Germany, a once in a lifetime experience to visit the organs that Johann had played.

Mum and Dad liked the Reigate flat and Dad stayed on when Mum passed away in 1996. I know that he missed her, but he was comforted by remaining at the flat. By this time he had learned a few domestic requirements, although not always successfully He was enchanted by exotic plants and if he saw it in a catalogue he had to have it. He never seemed to grasp the fact that plants needed regular watering and feeding. My father has been responsible for the demise of numerous bird of paradise plants, African violets, passionflowers, orchids to name but a few.

Dad's thirst for knowledge was never satisfied, and his interests expanded further, not including gardening, but cooking and nutrition, health, other types of music, reading, watching snooker, Formula 1 and cricket on the TV. Besides holidays in the UK he continued to visit Canada, & also travelled to France and Malta. His last complete architectural project was to design and draw up the specs for our kitchen extension, and this year Jason and I shall never forget the most delicious Christmas dinner he cooked for us. See ... he could still surprise me.

My father was a shy, kind man, who loved his family, and didn't say much unless he felt he had something important to say. He often had a tune rolling around in his head, which would occasionally escape as a soft whistle accompanied by the tapping of his fingers whilst he relaxed in a chair.

He was a tower of strength to both my mother and me and I am grateful for the life he has given me, for the wealth of interests he shared with us as a family and for leading by his example.

Dedicated to my father Leslie Herbert Day
April 9th 1920 - April 15th 2004

Moura, April 26th 2004