Date added: 13 Sep 2017
At the age of 14, Don joined the Campfield Press in St Albans as an apprentice bookbinder, on a 7 year apprenticeship. At 18 his apprenticeship was interrupted when he was called up for war duties, and joined the Royal Corps of Signals as a driver (having been taught to drive by his father Frank in the family car, an Austin 7). He travelled to Northern Ireland for training, and was then shipped out to North Africa and later Italy, Holland and Berlin as part of the War effort.
After his discharge from the war in 1946 he continued his apprenticeship, and helped his father build a brick garage at the family house in Salisbury Avenue.
Following this, Don built himself a sports car which he called the DC Special and which apparently “went like the wind”.
Don worked hard to keep fit all his life (as his father Frank had done), and was a keen walker and cyclist. Even after losing his leg and his eye due to ill health and vascular disease in his 80s, he continued to drive himself to the local gym 3 times a week to work out, and only gave up driving when he turned 90.
Don’s life changed dramatically in early 1954 when he met Marjorie Catlin who was just starting out as a primary school teacher at Fleetville School in St Albans. They were married 6 months later, and began building their own house on a plot of land which Dad already owned. A son, Paul, was born in 1960 and a daughter, Susie, followed in 1962.
Don’s first Grandson, Felix, was born in 1990, followed by a sister (Sophie) in 1992. Both Don & Marjorie were doting and delighted Grandparents.
Don’s mother (Eva Gwendoline - "Gwennie") lived to the ripe old age of 102, living independently until the last couple of years.
In the Spring of 1999 Marjorie was diagnosed with Cancer, and tragically died in June that year. Don was heartbroken, and felt that without her he was useless. Despite his grief, he carried on with life, didn’t wallow in self-pity, and continued being active and independent. He was quite clear though that his reason for living had gone, and that he was quite ready to go himself when his time was right.
In 2015 Dad’s newest Grandson (Jack) arrived, with Paul and Yi his doting parents. And Don took on a new lease of life, and adored this new bundle of energy, looking forward to his regular visits, and listening with interest to the stories about his new-found skills. It was only really in the past year that Don’s health had really begun to decline, after he developed an ulcer on his remaining leg, which ultimately could not be healed. He undoubtedly suffered a great deal of pain during this time, but in typical self-effacing style, he would never admit to the full extent of the pain, and was always far more concerned that he was putting people out or causing a nuisance. He continued a very independent lifestyle right up until the last few months, taking himself into town in his wheelchair, doing his own shopping, and popping into the local Lunch Club for his midday meal.
Don's Army testimonial from the Royal Signals dated 17th April 1946 seems a pretty accurate reflection of his lifelong attitude, rather than simply a snapshot of a 22 year old soldier preparing to return to civilian life:
2381374 Lance Corporal Christmas D:
"This NCO has proved a very capable and reliable driver, conscientious and careful with the maintenance of vehicles in his charge. He is a very willing worker and uses his own initiative. He has always been exceptionally smart and well turned-out. He is straightforward and trustworthy and very popular among the men. He neither drinks nor smokes, and is clean in all his habits. He is not an outstanding sportsman but is quite fit, and looks after his health. Although he has had no opportunity of proving his mettle as an NCO, I thoroughly recommend this man for any position of trust".
Signed, R D Smith. Lieutenant, Royal Signals. 61 Construction Section.
“Straightforward, trustworthy and popular” describe just 3 of his many qualities, but there are so many more that Don's family and friends will miss: His sense of humour, rich vocabulary of colourful language, and above all his generosity of heart.