Stories from a century

ElderLink member, Stanley Butler was born in 1920 into a Birmingham that looked very different from our city today. Hear his stories that span more than a century.

It was a joy to visit Stanley, along with Catherine Tresham, BCM's ElderLink Manager, and hear his stories from a very long life.

Stanley's first home was in 1920s Small Heath, now famous as being the home of the Peaky Blinders. Stanley described a big old Edwardian house with a back room and an outdoor toilet. 'You couldn't imagine now how bad it was,' he said. 'My father had a good job in Coventry and when I was 8 years old we moved to this house in Stechford. It was a new house then. We moved in October but in the January my father was sacked - it was the depression. We had just enough to cover the rent, and only 15 shillings for meals. My mother would buy meat from the butcher on a Friday when he was selling it off cheap, cut it up and kept it wrapped in muslin in a big bowl of salt water and the water would slowly evaporate. There were no fridges.'

Stanley left school aged 14 and at 16 became an apprentice in the RAF. War was coming and it was the start of a career that took him around the world as a mechanical engineer. He told stories of life working on carrier ships, cruisers and sea planes. One time Stanley was ordered - via an officer ("Tell that rating, he'll go with me!") - by the Commander of a ship in southern India to accompany him on a test flight. Stanley took his tool box into the plane with him and, when the Commander did a loop-the-loop, he grabbed hold of it so it would stay on the ground by his feet. 'But, of course, it wouldn't have fallen anyway, because of centrifugal force,' said Stanley. 'Sometimes the pilots didn't know when they were flying upside down because of centrifugal force.'

Stanley told stories of having measles on a ship, full of women and children being taken to Australia, when he was sailing to Egypt in 1940. He remembered their two best pilots lost there as they landed in a sandstorm and the plane went up in flames. His years in the military also took him to Malta, Singapore and Japan, as well as around the UK.

Later in his career Stanley worked on a weighing machine for Cadbury's and a special polythene with tiny holes in it to make gowns for surgeons who sweat a lot during operations! At age 65 he retired and joined a dancing group which met to eat a meal and waltz together.

Stanley never married. 'I didn't meet anyone as I didn't go to the clubs and parties. And my mother and sister were such good cooks!' he said. His cousins live away from Birmingham, but he chats to them on the phone and his wonderful neighbour, who has lived next door since Stanley was in his 70s and she in her 20s, comes by every day to make sure he is very well looked after. With his eyesight failing he cannot read or do Sudoku anymore, but loves to listen to the radio, especially classical music and Radio 4.

Stanley first came to the Mission  for company when he was in his 80s. The numbers in his dance group had become too low to carry on and so he started to attend ElderLink's lunch clubs. He now receives visits in his home by Catherine and other members of the ElderLink staff and volunteer team. At 103 he is currently the oldest of 31 visiting scheme members!

As well as home and hospital visiting the team is going into 10 care homes to lead Christian services, sometimes in partnership with local churches. Catherine reported, 'In May we continued our parables theme with the Parable of the Lost Coin. Just as the woman felt delight when she found her lost coin, we wanted to convey, through Bible readings, prayer and drama, the delight that Jesus has over one sinner who comes back to God. Care home residents looked at old coins and reminisced about their childhood pocket money and first wage packets. At the end of the service they took part in a coin rubbing craft. We find that, no matter what the craft is, it can be a form of therapy and stimulation as well as a chance for us to speak with people individually.'

Hannah Noble, Publicity & Fundraising Officer