Recently I was invited to give the eulogy at the funeral of my brother in the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Leeds. Andrew Bebb
It was at times like this, I said, that memories come flooding back. Tony was my eldest brother by almost six years.
Of course I can recall those early days when he seemed an older, very capable figure whilst I was a young child. We lived in the rooms above the Catholic Club on Robert Street opposite the church, and also in the cellars beneath. Dad was the steward. Mam told me of the occasion when she heard me calling from the window of the second storey window above the street. She was horrified when she entered to see me standing at the window calling ‘Tony’. I was standing precariously on the open window cill, shouting at Tony in the street below. I must have been three or four years old at the time. She said she crept up quietly behind me and grabbed me before slamming down the large window. She remembered it well because the big heavy window dropped down on her fingers.
Throughout my childhood, Tony was someone I was bound to admire and to look to for some support.
But it was some years later that I discovered him as a close friend.
He had been demobbed from the RAF. Those years he had spent as the Flight Engineer in a Halifax Bomber flying 36 Raids over occupied Europe from the base at Elvington south of York were behind him, (incidentally Halifax bombers were constructed at Speke), as also was the time of his posting subsequently to India at the close of the Far Eastern War. It is only now that I realise how fortunate he had been to survive. I remember him visibly weeping as he described an occasion when he watched his friend in an accompanying plane being hit and destroyed. He had many other painful recollections of those days. The Canadians in the crew were deeply fond of him. During intervals between the raids they were often to be found sleeping overnight on the floor of our house at 19 Robert Street, Harrogate. (We had moved down the street by that time)
His log book is kept with care in the archives of the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington, south east of York. It is a very moving document, each flight described in his own careful handwriting.
However back to the occasion when we began to share a close and developing friendship.
I was on holiday from college and Tony suggested that we should make our way from Ripon up Wensleydale to the Lake District under our own steam. I suspect he needed to walk and camp and immerse himself in the greenness and gentleness of the countryside and so leave the terrors of war behind him. It was for both of us a memorable time which we never, ever forgot. Although there was an anxious look on Dympna, his wife’s face when she saw us off. We carried basic equipment from our memories of our time in the Scouts: tent, cooking stuff, etc. We had both in our time been King Scouts. The weather was good. We marked on the ordinance Survey map the location of the village pubs. We found the licensing hours were fairly flexible. A pint in one would usually see us through to the next.
On one occasion we pitched our tent in a kindly vicar’s front garden and were regaled with a hot breakfast in the morning. On another occasion, in a farmer’s field we were directed to a deep spot in the local beck to wash and bathe. On Tony’s suggestion I was the first to slip down the overhanging rock into water up to my neck. At that point Tony shouted; ‘Don’t move, there’s a snake!’ Somehow I leapt up the steep rock in a jiffy. I think I was dry by the time I reached the top. It turned out to be a peculiar white rock formation.
Reminding Tony of that always led to hilarious laughter- from him, of course. On another occasion we returned to the tent to find it covered in flying ants. It was a warm night for mating – for the ants, I mean.
We did reach our destination just above Windermere and spent a day or two by the side of Trout Beck.
I can’t remember how we got back but I suspect it was by bus!
Those few days were deeply significant for both of us. I cannot remember how often we talked about them. It was the welding of a very deep and enduring friendship for which I will always be grateful. I look forward to reminding him of them when we meet up in the land of eternal youth.
Then followed the years he spent in the City of Leeds Police Force. He worked his way up from constable to sergeant to inspector. Again he was very committed and happy in his work. I understand he was respected as a man of deep integrity and sensitivity. I recall him describing an occasion when he had seen a youth doing something he shouldn’t, and began to chase after him. Realising he had no hope of apprehending him; he jumped on a passing bus and passed him by. He knew where the lad lived. He told me it almost broke his heart to see the look on the lad’s face as he shut the door behind him with relief only to see me sitting in the armchair in the living room. I suspect Tony never forgot the things he himself got up to when he was a youngster. During his time in the Force he was also posted for a time to Cyprus as a Police Sergeant during the troubles there.
On leaving the Police, Tony worked for some time as the Security Officer at Elland Road, the Leeds United Football Ground.
The final thing I would like to mention and it is something that those of you who knew him well would need no reminding of and it is this: his deep love and fidelity to his wife, Dympna. She was the love of his life. How he loved to drive her up his beloved Dales and to Harrogate, whenever the weather allowed. Without her he was only half a person. Never a day passed without a visit to her grave in the cemetery off Wetherby Road in Harrogate, after her death, to be alongside her the best way he could. It is there that he will be interred today.
The other morning in my prayers, I read a fitting memorial from the Book of Isaiah: ‘As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.’