The Reverend's younger sibling, George Edward Vere Awdry (1916-1994) made significant contributions to the 'Sudrian' Mythos. Over the decades since the 1950's, George and Wilbert defined (and refined) Sodor's geography, history and industry. This research culminated in 1987 with the publishing of their book (albeit abridged for affordability), 'The Island of Sodor, Its People, History and Railways'.
Aside from being an avid model railway and steam enthusiast, George's interests included being a member of the British_Interplanetary_Society, for which he authored a paper on the practicalities and challenges of colonizing the moon (you can read it here). George was also a prominent Ricardian which provides me with a perfect introduction to the following...
Recent correspondence with Wendy Moorehen, Research Officer with The_Richard_III_Society yielded this boon of information about George Awdry. This lovely article is from a recent issue of the Ricardian house magazine, written by member and author, John Saunders.
We wish to extend our genuine gratitude to The Richard III Society, article author John Saunders, and especially Wendy Moorhen - for permitting us to reproduce John's article here :)
|Ricardian Heroes: George Awdry
Over the past fifty years there have been a number of Ricardians who have played significant roles in the development of the Society. In recent issues of the Bulletin we have looked at the contributions of Joyce Melhuish and Isolde Wigram. In this issue we focus on George Awdry and in the Autumn Bulletin on Patrick Bacon. I am indebted to George’s niece, and fellow member of the Devon and Cornwall Branch, Veronica Chambers, for help in producing this article and for supplying the photographs.
George was born in 1916, the second son of the Reverend Vere Awdry, then vicar of Ampfield, near Romsey, and his wife Lucy. His brother, Wilbert, born five years earlier, grew up to become the Reverend W V Awdry, author of the Thomas the Tank Engine stories. George was educated at St Peter’s College, Oxford, and during his professional life worked as a librarian for the Institute of Mining and the National Liberal Club.
George was quite a striking person to meet, as his niece describes: ‘He was very tall, so slightly stooped. He became used to avoiding low lintels etc., and referred lightheartedly to other people as dwarves. I remember his shoes had to be specially made, and his shirts needed extra long sleeves.’ Of his character she recalls: ‘He always chose his words very carefully before speaking – so much so, that one might perhaps be forgiven for thinking that he had not heard the question – but his observations were always well informed and interesting, and he was a mine of information on all kinds of subjects.’ George was also a hoarder who rarely threw away anything that might one day be useful. His house in Clapham was full of books and ephemera, but he could always find whatever was needed at any given moment.
During the 1940s George made an important contribution to the war effort through his fluency in German. He was involved in debriefing activities, although he remained reticent throughout his life about the exact nature of this work.
In my article in the Spring Bulletin I outlined the events that led up to the refounding of the Fellowship of the White Boar in the first half of the 1950s. The formal launch took place in January 1956 and George’s involvement began shortly thereafter. On 21 April 1956 Gavin Brend wrote to the newly installed secretary of the refounded Fellowship, Isolde Wigram, ‘I have thought about the suggestion that I should be on the committee ... I do feel that Awdry would be a better choice ... he knows more about the subject and has gone more deeply into it than I ... So will you please try him first ... you can get him at the National Liberal Club of which he is the librarian.’ Isolde took up the suggestion and George served on the Committee from 1956 to 1989, with only one year’s break in between, thirty-two years of service.
How did George develop his interest in the life and times of Richard III? In his own words, ‘At the second General Meeting of the Fellowship, not that I can boast much initiative in that. My case of Ricardianism was normal enough ... French History, smattered in connection with language degree work, suggested that help given to the Tudor there was somewhat less than disinterested. Coronation year 1936 brought talk of Stuart legitimists, I had the curiosity to look back at earlier descent. Then, other busynesses gave an excuse of sorts for not following that line of thought too far. Till in 1947 I came across Historic Doubts, and bored a great many people with my revived interest in the matter. One who was not bored was Gavin Brend, a solicitor and dedicated Sherlockian. It was he who got wind of the Sun of York and made contact with the Fellowship. Who took me with him to the second General Meeting. Who, invited to serve on the Committee, had to plead other obligations, but suggested my name instead. Set down in black and white my joining seems a passive enough process.’ The process of his joining may well have been passive but his contribution over the years was very much the opposite.
George with his brother, Wilbert, the author of Thomas the Tank Engine children’s stories
George’s position at the National Liberal Club proved very fortuitous for the Society, which was able to take advantage of that institution as a place to hold meetings. Indeed the Annual General Meetings were held there before Fortress House became the venue. Isolde Wigram recalls: ‘He was until his retirement the Librarian of the National Liberal Club, and in the early years of The Ricardian we used to meet there to prepare the copies (perhaps in the region of 300 then) for post, George scorning sponges and resolutely licking all the stamps. We also had a dinner there in 1971, the year that Patrick Bacon moved from Chairman to President and Jeremy Potter became Chairman.’ A reminder of just how labour-intensive routine Society work was before the days of information technology and out-sourcing!
Over the years George assumed the role of the Society’s constitutional expert, and involved himself with various re–writings of the constitution which took place over the years. A significant role was in the major revision of the constitution that took place in 1970, the first revision since 1956. Another role that he was temperamentally well suited to was that of peacemaker – he was always a natural conciliator – often behind the scenes he acted as a mediator between conflicting issues and personalities within the Society. In the words of Winston Churchill he preferred ‘jaw–jaw to war-war’.
It was also George who suggested the wording that appears on the Society’s memorial in Sutton Cheney to the fallen of Bosworth which was unveiled in 1967. Similar wording of course also appears in the Society’s In Memoriam notices.
A singular service that George rendered the Society was his published history of its first fifty years from 1924, written in his own inimitable style. And here I write with a degree of vested interest: it has been a great help to have a precursor to clear a path through the plethora of Society archives. I only hope that my long awaited, and much overdue, first continuation of the Awdry Chronicle does justice to George’s work.
Longer-standing members, particularly those in London, will remember George’s hat. Over many years the hat was the repository for money collected at meetings to pay for room hire and refreshments. George’s hat became a London Branch institution, as Isolde Wigram recalls: ‘almost from the first it was always his hat which got passed around at meetings to cover expenses’.
One of George’s other great passions, besides the Society, was railways (both steam and model). And this brings us back to Thomas the Tank Engine and an unlikely alliance with the Rev. Teddy Boston, for many years until his death in 1986 the vicar of Sutton Cheney. Teddy also acted as the Society’s honorary chaplain and host of the annual Bosworth Day service, which he organized with George. They had in fact first met in 1948 and developed a friendship through their mutual interest in steam engines. Teddy was also a close friend of Wilbert Awdry and in later years moved to Leicestershire. That, together with George’s involvement in the Ricardian cause, brought them onto more common ground.
George’s library work was a great help in the evolution of the Thomas stories. He was able to pass onto his brother unwanted copies of the Railway Gazette. In these publications there was always a page called ‘The Scrap Heap’, which recorded off–beat incidents that had happened to railway engines, many of which formed the basis for Wilbert’s stories. He was also able to provide geographical, economic, political and social history for his brother’s fictional Isle of Sodor, by calling upon the knowledge he gained through his many years working in both the Institute of Mining and the National Liberal Club. He helped with the 1989 publication ‘The Island of Sodor’, an encyclopaedia on everything to do with the Thomas series with its history, geography and people. George was immortalised by his brother in the book as ‘Albert Regaby’ (6th Baron and 1st Viscount Harwick). George had his own model railway layout as well as helping Wilbert with his.
Teddy Boston himself was a fascinating character in the history of the Society. To have such a friendly vicar at Sutton Cheney was a great advantage; to have an enthusiastic one too was even better. In his Bulletin obituary of his friend, George wrote the following ‘To his friends – and no-one who knew him could be anything else – our Chaplain will always be ‘Teddy’. Musician, Ricardian, modeller, steam enthusiast, these were aspects of him added to his calling, not mere hobbies.’ As a vicar in rural Leicestershire, he acquired all sorts of railwayana which accumulated at his rectory in Cadeby. He eventually built a complete railway around the rectory, a very large shed for the model railway and found homes for over 20 diesels, steam engines and a traction engines. After his death, his widow kept Cadeby going for many years with open days to pay for the costs.
George’s long years of service were rewarded in 1989 when he was made a Vice-President of the Society. During his last years he was considerably handicapped by breaks in both his legs, which created particular problems in someone as tall as he. His restricted mobility inevitably limited his involvement, but for as long as he could he bravely continued to attend meetings and never lost his enthusiasm for the cause. He died on 27 October 1994, following a severe deterioration in his health, at the age of 78.
In his Bulletin obituary Isolde Wigram noted that: ‘Always very self effacing and diffident, it was some time before George made his mark, and it was only his constant support which gradually caused his worth to appreciated.’
I only knew George for the latter part of his time on the Committee. My abiding recollection is of him sitting quietly at the far end of the table, invariably smoking his pipe. He didn’t say much – which is no bad thing on a committee – but what he did say was always listened to, and that’s what matters. George was a unique character, a true gentleman who contributed much to the interests he pursued in life. As a Ricardian he was a stalwart of the Committee for over thirty years, and as our first historian and constitutional expert we all owe him a debt.
Veronica Chambers has a postcard of the National Portrait Gallery’s painting of Richard III sent to her by her grandmother, and on the back is written ‘For Veronica, because Uncle George admires him so much’. And George himself was equally admired by all who knew him.
Many interesting revelations in this article!
One last footnote - George briefly describes his participation in a Bosworth_Steam_Rally event hosted by the Rev. Boston in 1971, in his book The Richard III Society, a History (1974). Another demonstration of his many interests.
That may have been the case, but had we been there, I know whose team we'd be cheering on ;-)