OUR FEATURED MEMBER – BERT STAPLEY
This time our reporter Pat Graysmark has chosen Bert Stapley.
West Sussex Tourist have personalities from bright to enigmatic, skilful and of course amusing, so with the first line from a great book, “Just call me Bert Stapley” who meets all of the above mentioned.
Bert’s life has revolved around the passion to graft, very rarely sitting still. If there is something to crack on with then it should be done was evident on the day of this interview. Bert had started work on his garden at 7am and with a small break midday worked until 6.30pm.
Bert’s love of work started when he left school aged fourteen and got a job in a fishmongers. Not really
impressed with this “career” he stuck it out until he was aged seventeen when he joined up to fight for King and Country as did our previous members in the spotlight – the Armstrong’s and Harry Gosnell.
Bert joined the Marines in 1942 and started his training at Eastleigh using an assault course at Selsey before being transferred to Deal in Kent and then to Inverary, Scotland. He finished his training on an assault craft at Port Glasgow. After training he was transported to India where Bombay, Madras, Calcutta and Chittagong have lasting memories of great friendships that were made before fighting in Burma 1944 – 1946. Bert’s last campaign was going to be the capture of Rangoon. All ready to sail when a radio message came through that the Japanese had surrendered. As you would expect of Bert his time in the Marines was not of fear of war, but “I had a good time with my mates and it taught me to look after myself – didn’t do me any harm”.
Demobbed after six long years of war and the prospect of no work Bert was considering joining up as full time soldier but had a chance meeting with the Jarvis Brothers who were thatching a roof at the time and they started chatting – offering him a labourer’s job. Being just twenty three years old, strong and good looking he decided to start immediately.
Every Master has to start at the bottom and Bert worked for the brothers for seven years learning his trade.
After the seven years Bert branched out on his own and to do his first job he had to borrow money from his Dad in order to get the job and had a draw for materials on arrival (been there, done that says Big Pat).
Bert’s attitude to thatching is “it’s easy”, the true words of a Master in skill.
Bert’s knowledge, enthusiasm and love of thatching stood him well and he worked past the normal retirement age eventually packing it in aged sixty seven. Amazingly he only used six types main tools during his long career – a “legget” for dress, a hand bill, hazel needles, an over’s knife, a shave hook and a ridge knife.
Bert was born in Brixton, South London and moved to Littlehampton aged six or seven.
Bert’s father an ex Battle of Somme Soldier was strict but fair in Bert’s upbringing.
From age seven to eleven he attended Rustington C of E School in The Street and then was at Connaught Road, Littlehampton until he was fourteen. The Head Master’s comments were “no qualifications, you will be a builders labourer”. Master Thatcher beats that by a mile. Well Done Bert!!
After leaving the Marines and restarting work Bert rekindled old feelings for Phyllis, they were an item in their school days. Bert married Phyllis in 1948 and spent forty seven happy years together before Phyllis passed away suddenly from a kidney infection.
Phyllis and Bert had two children, Rodney born 1950 and Geraldine born 1948. Rodney has a boy (Martin) and a girl (Nicola) and Nicola has 2 children making Bert a Great Granddad. His daughter Geraldine is married to West Sussex Tourist member Derek Brockhurst.
After Phyllis passed away Peggy Page befriended Bert. Both bowling at Norfolk Bowling Club and living only four doors away they started to go everywhere together. Unfortunately Peggy died two years later but as Bert says “he has always had bowls and friendships to fall back on”.
He has been a member of the “Norfolk Club” for some seventeen years, most of them as Match Secretary. In 1991 joined Arun Indoor for eight years ago before moving to the Worthing Indoor Club.
Bert Stapley, one very laid back gent, nothing seems to faze him.
Thank you Bert, a great interview.