Jim Hester – a real Appletonian villager! And "A Trbute to Jim"
On Monday 4th June 2013 Appleton lost Jim Hester. Aptly named “The Sheriff”, for his rounding up of youngsters and sending them on their way! Another reason was his reputation, in the early 1950s, for wandering around the village with his shotgun. Indeed: there was one much talked about moment when an old Appleton lady visited the wood yard and asked Jim if he could rescue her cat which was perched high on a branch of a large elm tree near the Manor entrance. “Don’t worry, my dear”, responded Jim, “I’ll be along shortly”. The old lady left the yard and returned to the Manor entrance where a small group of people had now gathered. Shortly afterwards someone remarked: “Here comes Jim…but he has got his gun”. The old lady looked in horror and pleaded with him not shoot her cat. But Jim took aim and let off the two barrels of the 12 bore, aiming high and above the cat! The cat was startled, leapt from the branch and landed safely in the undergrowth! After the gun smoke had cleared up, Jim calmly said: "the blighter won't be going up that tree again!"
A man born in Appleton and, apart from three years when he was conscripted and joined the Royal Engineers, lived and worked in the village for his 85 years. Poignantly he actually died in his wood yard. One moment son Nick, who now runs the business from the same location, was chatting with his father when suddenly he collapsed and within minutes had died of a heart attack.
Born on 1st April 1928, Jim’s early childhood was spent at Appleton School and he enjoyed the freedom youngsters had in those days of playing around the village. His mother was Louise-May White (of farming connections rather than his cousins, the “bellhangers”) and his father, Sidney, a woodman. He was born in the house next to The Thatched Tavern, owned by his uncle George, who also had a blacksmiths shop attached to the pub.
At the age of 2, whilst his mother was hanging out the washing one day, the young inquisitive Jim toddled up the garden to explore. On turning around his mother wondered where he had gone but heard some splashing. She ran to the source of the noise and found little Jim floating in the well. Luckily two local men, who happened to be working opposite, were quickly called and they managed to haul him out of the well. Needless-to-say: Jim was not fazed by this experience.
Jim would say: “My aunts and uncles never borrowed money from anyone outside the family and they would barter from each other for labour and the use of horses and equipment”. No need for either banks or loan sharks in those days!
On leaving school at the age of 14 in the year 1942 he began working with his father and uncle in the wood yard business. “By now”, wrote Jim in his notes, “we had three horses which I handled from the age of 12 or so. They would plough, till and harvest and were also used for hauling timber. So I was very well acquainted with my horses and farm work. We had no motor vehicles apart from an Austin 10 van but because of fuel rationing we relied on the horses to do most of the work.” Jim would spend many happy hours working in the surrounding woods, often shooting a rabbit with his trusty Martini-action rifle. The rabbit would be carefully concealed in the nosebag for the trip home - the bag still fitted to the horse's nose!
In 1944 Jim had registered for an “essential works order”. One official said to Jim: “I see you have registered as a lumberjack?” “Yes”, responded Jim: “I was just showing off.” The official smiled and said: “I thought lumberjacks were Canadians!” “No sir”, Jim retorted: “I work in my father’s business.”
Called up and joining the Royal Engineers, Jim spent a very happy three years mainly in Greece. Firstly billeted in Athens, he and a troop were then sent to Pireus on the coast where they were to help manage the stone quarries and assist in the rebuilding of that country after the Second World War.
Jim in Greece
He describes this period as one of the “best holidays of my life”! The engineers would arise early, do their duties and then spend the afternoons on the beach! In the evenings they would frequent the local taverns and it was here he was to meet Anna. Indeed: she would be seen riding side-saddle on the back of his WD Arial 350 motorcycle: there’s romance for you!
On returning to Appleton he kept in touch with his “lovely Annastasia” and eventually, in 1949, she came to England as an “alien” – meaning they had to marry for her to become a British national. They were married in September 1949.
Anna is well remembered by Appletonians as a person with a lovely smile and who was always very kind to children. Sadly Anna died in 2006 after a long illness that saw her in and out of hospital with Jim caring for her in her latter years. They had three children: Phyllis, Judy and Nick.
Jim in Appleton
In his early life and through to his 50s, Jim would expertly scale up and down trees to breathtaking heights where he would remove the tops with an axe. His skill and craftsmanship working with wood has, luckily, been passed on to his son Nick. Indeed: Jim would watch Nick at work and give him hints and advice!
Through to his dying day Jim would always be seen at the workshop always doing “something”.
What is so compelling about Jim’s life is that he never worked for anyone other than himself and remained living close to where he was born.
He was a great story teller and had a vast amount of knowledge about Appleton, its people and history.
A recent photograph of Jim (with his customary cap) visiting a museum
There are lots of things many of us would want to say to Jim and did not get time as he died so suddenly with no apparent illness – but at least he died where he would have wanted to have died … in his beloved wood yard.
He was a great character and will be missed by his children Phyllis, Judy and Nick, his 5 grand children and his great grand daughter and by the Appleton community.
Jim's Funeral Service will be held in St Laurence Church, Appleton, on Tuesday 18th June 2013 at 11:30am.
See link to Oxford Mail Obituary Jim Hester Oxford Mail 13 June2013
The Hester Family
10th June 2013
Graham Rose: A Tribute to Jim - delivered at his funeral and with thanks to the family
Walter James Hester was born on 1st April 1928 in Appleton. His father, Sidney James Hester married Louisa May who was a member of the White family – the farmer side of Whites rather than his cousins the bell hangers.
I was very privileged to know Jim and one of the reasons I knew him so well was that on one occasion about ten years ago, and after we had enjoyed a drink or two in the Plough, he remarked “I think I have a book in me”! He then brought me his notes which he had made over several years and I transcribed them. This has been a marvellous source for telling his story.
Thus referring to his own notes Jim wrote: -
“My story largely derives from conversations I have held with my forebears over the years. My forebears were quite numerous and members of the notorious White family of Appleton (Jim’s words NOT mine!). They owned, or were tenants, of most of the farms in this locality. Their cousins were bell hangers.”
His early life, whilst living through the tough times of the 1920s and 1930s, was spent in the relative comfort and security of a loving home with his parents and sister Peggy. As a young boy his days were filled with playing in the fields and woods surrounding Netherton Road, or spending time in the camp he had built with his cousins Perce and Arthur. He attended Appleton School.
He was, by his own admission, no angel! He was up to all sorts of pranks! Indeed there are one or two in this parish who smile at what went on in those days! I will name no-one, relax!
One Sunday morning in 1939 our neighbour, Joe, came to the door, wrote Jim: “Wars bin declared on Germany,” he said. I remember mother say: “Oh lor: we ‘ad enough ‘o’ that last time in 1914-18”, no doubt reflecting on her wartime experiences as a nursing orderly and also the devastating effect on her family life after her brother Charlie was killed at Amiens. Jim, in 1939, was 11 years old.
He wrote: “Within a few weeks evacuees began to arrive from London to be billeted with whoever could take them in. We took two. Many of them were bewildered by the way of life we country folk lived such as the pig in the sty up the garden and the chickens in their pens. I now leave school at 14 years and begin work with Dad in 1942.”
One of his other memories was his relationship with his Aunty Nell who lived with his family. He wrote: -
“I would sit with Aunty Nell in her room during an evening. She evidently enjoyed my company. She would sometimes tap on the floor with her stick to call me in. I don’t suppose she ever went to school but she was always reading with the aid of a small oil lamp – there was no electricity available in those days – and with her pinch-nosed spectacles. If I paid attention she would chat on and on until she wearied and her bedtime beckoned.”
Life was tough, busy but happy. He quickly learnt the art of the wood man and how to handle horses. In his words again: “Due to so many younger men being called into our armies forces we big boys were sometimes called upon to join the corn threshing teams – where one could enjoy the company of land army girls – no chance boys!” Jim quipped.
In 1946 Jim received orders to report for a medical examination for conscription to the army and, needless to say, he passed fit A1 and joined the Royal Engineers where he became a driving instructor.
After his first 18 months in England, he was called by his colonel who suggested Jim would make a good draft corporal that he and a troop of 200 men were to be sent to Greece. Jim wrote: “I had no more heard of the country, so I looked it up on the map”. He went to the Royal Engineers Establishment for Middle East Land Forces near Athens. Spending a while in Athens he, and a small troop, were then billeted near the coastal town of Piraeus. Here mornings were taken up with quarry work and the construction of the runway which later formed part of Athens International Airport until its closure in 2002. The hot afternoons were spent on the beaches close by and evenings were spent in the local taverns.
Then Jim met Annastasia Theodoridou. She came to work in Jim’s camp and, as the old romantic would say: they fell in love. Nick tells me there was many an evening when Jim would be on his army motorcycle with Anna side-saddle as his passenger!
He often visited her simple home on the outskirts of Piraeus and became very fond of her widowed mother Phillipedia who had managed to keep her remaining three children together through the fraught years of Greek’s occupation and the ensuing civil war which was still raging when Jim was stationed there. Being the compassionate person he was, he would take Phillipedia simple gifts of whatever he could lay his hands on – food, coconut matting, lamp oil and so on. She, in turn, was very fond of him.
In Jim’s words: “Anna and I spent much of our spare time together and we were very happy. “I shall be getting demobbed soon and going back to England,” I said one day. “Oh dear, said Anna. What shall I do without you? Write to me darling, won’t you?”
Again Jim wrote: “I did three years in the Royal Engineers and thoroughly enjoyed it.” Secretly Jim yearned for a career in the army – he was already a corporal – but, being the dutiful son that he was, he succumbed to his dad’s persuasion and returned home to work in the family business – Watkins Brothers, Timber Merchants of Appleton.
By now his beloved horses and trailer which had for years been used for their tree felling and logging purposes had been replaced by an ex-army Dodge truck and the huge tree trunks were sawn into boards using an old traction engine as a source of power. Jim was always fascinated by machinery and if ever a traction engine rally took place in the county, you can bet he would be there.
Where Anna was concerned, Jim wrote, “We kept in touch for a year. She then came here to England as an alien in those days. So we had to get married within six months when she would become a naturalised Briton by marriage.” They were married on 19th August 1949, and settled down to family life. Phyllis was born in 1950, Judy in 1954 and Nick in 1959. Anna never lost the charm of Greece with her wonderful interpretation of the English language. Not only was she a marvellous mother but she was kind to all the children in the village, giving them her wonderful smile and words of encouragement – in her Greek accent! Sadly Anna died in 2006 after a period of illness through which Jim cared for her.
Jim built up the business and taught Nick the art of crafting wood. Jim was always very proud of Phyllis, Judy and Nick and their families.
Jim did not take to travelling much but the only travel he did enjoy were the holidays in Greece and particularly the celebration of his 50th wedding anniversary married to Anna: this was a very special trip.
It is truly remarkable that, other than the time with the Royal Engineers, he always found work for himself in and around Appleton. I suggest this is unlikely to happen again.
Jim enjoyed telling his tales and he would spend hours regaling them to whoever was in hearing. He knew so much about Appleton and its history. Roger Mitty reminded me of Jim in the Plough about to start a story. He would get his tobacco pouch out and start rolling a cigarette: the paper would be rolled and he would start to put the paper to his lips, withdraw and remember a bit more of a tale. This would be repeated several times – but you knew he was at an end when the paper was finally licked!
On hearing of his sudden death I reflected, as I am sure did many others: I had seen Jim the previous week – I was in my car and he was walking from the yard to his house the other side of the road. I thought “I should stop and have a chat” as I often did. But then … too busy. I should have stopped and now he is gone.
Oh I’ve a lovely one about Aunt Polly, Rusty Jack, Grandfer, Grandfer Reg, Uncle Bert, Aunt Doll, Frankie, Dulcie Clack, Granna White, Chutney White & Cocker & Soppy Westcot – oh yes and don’t forget Banger …! But time’s short.
Dear Jim was a real country man and I’m sure that is how many of us will remember him.
I will finish on another quote from his notes: -
“Although I have been an OAP for several years I still take an interest in the yard and furnish Nick with a little sound advice occasionally. Folk sometimes say: “You’re not that age, Jim. You don’t look it”. “So”, he wrote, “allow me to quote Thora Hird: “You don’t stop doing things because you are getting old. You get old because you stop doing things”.