4 Jan 1928 - 28 Dec 2014
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Date added: 22 Jul 2015
On behalf of Squadron Leader James Raymond Mason, grandson and Mrs Helen Mason, daughter.
Raymond James Smith was born to Jim and Elsie Smith on the 4th January 1928, in the Duke of York Pub, on the corner of Pritchett Street in Aston, Birmingham, where his grandmother, Ellen Biddulph, was the landlady.
Ray was the second eldest and only son of a large family of 6 children: Eileen, Joan, Doreen, Lois and Jennifer. He longed for a brother, and when Jennifer came along (15 years his junior) he proclaimed… (slightly out of character)… “Not another wench!”… but joking aside, he was very close to his sisters and with all of those girls to keep him in check, it certainly prepared him well for future life with Bessie!
When Ray’s grandma, Ellen (known as Nelly), retired from pub life, the family moved to Upper Thomas Street in Aston and then on to 638 Tyburn Road, Erdington, (known affectionately as just 638 amongst the family). In fact, I have fond memories of childhood visits to ‘638’ to see Ray’s mum, who I knew as ‘Little Nan’. ‘638’ always had a family buzz about the place, complete with its own Anderson shelter, chicken coup and piano straight from the Duke of York. Grandpa would call it ‘the old Joanna’ and would often tinkle the ivories to an old war time ‘morale raising’ tune. ‘Roll out the Barrel’ or ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’ could often be heard emanating from ‘638’!
In 1942, (mid-Second World War), and at only 14 years of age, Ray began his apprenticeship at the engineering company, Arthur Scriveners, only a stone’s throw along the Tyburn Road from his home at ‘638’. He completed his apprenticeship 4 years later at the age of 18, and was then shipped off to undergo training for National Service in the Royal Air Force, whilst Scriveners kept his job open for him to return to in 1948.
During his short time in the Royal Air Force, he served at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, as an aircraft technician and his experiences gained as an airman in the RAF never left him. He always spoke very fondly of his time in the service, of the great pals he made during this period and of the mischief they all got up to.
It also gave him a change to put his innate engineering ability to good practice, fixing and maintaining aircraft and equipment, which he loved. He was after all, an engineer at heart and a very skilled one at that. During his time at Scriveners, post war, he designed and built the innovative centre-less grinding machines that were shipped worldwide to enable the technological advancement of the global car industry. Those essential motoring components, manufactured from the very machines that Ray designed and built, are still produced today, and can most likely be found in your own family vehicles. So his talented legacy as an engineer will live on in all our lives, long after his passing. Have a think about that as you’re driving home today.
His love of technical equipment, machinery, cars, motor-bikes and in particular, the 2nd WW aircraft that defined his adolescence, was apparent to me even as a young boy, and, if I’m honest, I think Grandpa Ray is largely responsible for me wearing this uniform today. It must have been all those tales of daring-do from his days in the Service, along with the sheer amount of times we’d watched “The Dam Busters”, “The Great Escape” and “633 Squadron” whilst he was patiently making model aeroplanes with me as a boy. So, it was a proud moment for me, when in 1998, I took him back to RAF Benson to visit his old parade square, see his old barrack block, and dine for lunch, not in the airman’s canteen like in 1946, but this time in the Officers Mess, for which he was very appreciative and quietly humbled, as ever.
So, after refining his dancing skills in the “NAFI-bop”, on the 6th of November 1948, ray met the love of his life, Bessie at a dance hall in Beak Street, Birmingham where he impressed her with his American Smooth and Lindy Hop! They were engaged on St Valentine’s Day 1950 and then married on 29th March 1952. Having known each other for 66 years last November and been married for more than 62 of those years, this was a couple who were truly in love and wholly dedicated to each other for an entire lifetime. They were, and still are, a solid example of family unity to us all and, they formed the bed-rock and foundations from which their (now extended) family grew.
Bessie and Ray started their modest married life living with Ray’s Aunty Nel in Humberstone Road, Pype Hayes, and this is where they had their first child, Helen, on 23rd Dec 1952. 2 years later they were able to afford their first home and moved into Templeton Road, Great Barr in 1954. Bessie and Ray settled into family life and Ray spent a good few years landscaping the back garden and lovingly re-building and restoring an old Austin 7 car which was, believe it or not, excavated from their neighbour's front garden! So think of the condition that must have been in to start with…! This Austin 7 was Ray’s first car and holds many happy memories for Bessie and Helen, seeing Ray patiently restoring the old motor, and then using it on weekend adventures, or to visit his much loved family.
In 1960, Ray finally got the male addition to the family that he’d been after all this time when Philip was born, and with his young family now complete, they all moved to Alendale Road, Walmley.
Along with his various engineering projects, Ray loved radio building and photography, and always had a good eye for a photo opportunity. This became a bit of a family joke, as Grandpa always had the camera out, but we are all eternally grateful to him for this, because over the years, he’s captured very many happy family get-togethers and special occasions, which may have otherwise gone unrecorded. As a boy, I used to love to sit and watch his cine-film, black and white, silent movies of various family scenes, and he would always indulge me with one his slide-show projection sessions of family stills if requested. This journalistic tendency has definitely transferred to Matt and I, who can also now be seen snapping away at any given opportunity!
Along with these hobbies, Ray also had a passion for natural wildlife and the great outdoors; which is maybe where his love of camping came from. He enjoyed many a camping and caravanning trip over the years with his young family and dog Jenny, the family Beagle. These vacations evolved from family tents, to the much loved blue VW camper van (with awning) and then later onto the Bambi min-motor home. Bessie, Helen and Phil, remember countless happy holidays exploring Devon and Cornwall during the summer months and Ray also enjoyed several Scottish adventures up to the Highlands and Islands with Bessie and his friends.
Matt, Christopher and I also cherished many a fishing trip, cycling escape and camping exploration with Nan and Grandpa. I always looked forward to these great adventures; Grandpa consistently made them fun and went out of his way to engineer special and lasting memories for all of us.
The main theme that underlines Ray’s life, was his love for his family unit. This love was permanent, enduring and fundamentally underwrote everything he stood for. Bessie, Helen and Philip were his world, his very reason for being and they always came first, in all that he thought and did. Ray was extremely proud of Philip for his lifelong dedication to the West Midlands Fire Service and to the achievements of all 3 of his grandsons, Matt, Christopher and I.
He simply adored his 3 great grand-daughters; Scarlett, Ava and Grace. Referring to them as his 3 little angels; he was a very proud Great Grandpa.
Whilst it is impossible to sum up one person’s life in the space of a few paragraphs, if I were to attempt to summarise Grandpa Ray, it would be as a very loving, patient, kind, generous and truly humble gentleman who had clearly figured out what mattered in life. He had little concern for life’s trivialities; he lived to a simple, traditional moralist code and prioritised his family and friends above all. He was a genuinely good person to his core and I think we can all take something positive from the way he lived his life; his passing has certainly had a profound effect on me.
Raymond James Smith. Son, brother, nephew, cousin, husband, father, uncle, grandfather, great grandfather, RAF airman and engineer extraordinaire, we all love you very dearly, and you will be sadly missed by all of us. Rest in Peace Grandpa.