Helen Mary Squire
Helen was born on 11th December 1929, and died on 2nd November 2021.
What follows is the text of a eulogy given by her nephew, Pip Squire, at St George's, Kencot on 4th December 2021.
(A shortened version appeared in Parish Pump Feb/Mar 2022)
Helen, or Hen as most of us knew her, was a role model to us all. She lived a life which embodied her values of happiness, generosity, selflessness, frugality and loyalty. She was the connection between far flung family and friends. Just look around you now. These connections are clearly visible today. I can just hear Hen saying: 'Thank you for coming, enjoy the bun fight', and 'bun fight' are the precise words she left in her instructions for today.
In Hen's spirit of connecting people, I emailed the family asking them for their thoughts and memories of her in one or two sentences. The response was huge, so many memories, so many thoughts. If I were to read them all out we would miss the bun fight and we can’t have that. So everything that follows is a compilation of these memories.
Hen's parents returned to England in 1928 from Costa Rica, where they had been missionaries for three years and where Hen’s elder brother Hugh and elder sister Lucy were born. I am sure that this missionary spirit played a huge part in moulding Hen into who she was to become.
On the 11th December 1929 Helen Mary was born to Patience Mary Trelawny, and Edward Arnold, Clerk in Holy Orders at St Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham (where, many decades later, Harry was Head Chorister).
They moved from Edgbaston to the Rectory in Eastleach when Hen was four months old. The story goes that her parents drove down to view the house in a Baby Austin with Hugh, Lucy, and Hen aged 3 months. Whilst they looked over the house Hen was left in a drawer in the kitchen dresser! They moved in a month later, in April 1930.
The Rectory was to be Hen's home for the next 33 years, barring the time she spent boarding at Cheltenham Ladies College, at St Hilda's College, Oxford and for the few years when she was a Scientific Officer at the Agricultural Research Station near Compton, Berkshire.
Hen’s father grew up in Southrop vicarage where his father was vicar for 25 years. During the first world war her father spent two years as a prisoner of war, consequently 'mend and make do' was very much his way of life.
The rectory stables and land were quickly put to use and it wasn't long before it became known as the 'Rectory Zoo', with goats, pigs, rabbits, hens, ducks and geese to provide food, horses and a donkey for transport and a variety of dogs, cats, partially tame partridges, jackdaws, pigeons, mice, etc. for company.
The animals, along with the vegetable garden and orchard, meant Hen was brought up in a largely self-sufficient environment. She knew how to milk a goat and make cheese from an early age and in school holidays there was always plenty to do with feeding the animals, milking, helping the gardener, and digging out the accumulated straw and muck from the stables. In Hen's words 'a very smelly job'.
So Hen's love of animals, gardening knowledge and ability to reuse or recycle just about everything was instilled into her in those early Eastleach years.
Life in the rectory was character building as evidenced by a quote from one of Hen's WI talks:
'The house was very cold in winter, the water froze by the beds and we took heated bricks, wrapped in newspaper and blankets to bed with us. My sister always remembers how she sat on top of the hot ring of the AGA to keep warm. Meals were eaten in the kitchen except on Christmas Day or when we had “posh” visitors to stay, when the dining room stove would be lit. As for the drawing room next door even with a roaring log fire you roasted on one side and froze on the other.'
Despite the cold, the rectory was full of life, love and spiritual warmth. Of course there was no television or internet in those days so evening entertainment was a family affair. Folk lore from Lucy s family has it that musical evenings were a regular occurrence with Hen playing the triangle. She would sit poised, watching her father for the nod so that she could strike the triangle at precisely the right time to make her contribution to the evening.
The drawing room was also home to the Roneo printing machine that came with the family from Birmingham, where it had been discarded as 'out of date in 1930. It was here that the parish magazine was prepared and printed with full support from all rectory residents for the next 33 years.
Printing the parish magazine was a labour of love. Each letter had to be set individually, including the spaces between words, onto flexible metal sheets one sheet per page, which were then attached to a roller for printing. Each page had to be set in mirror writing, which took concentration and attention to detail. Once printed the pages had to be collated into the correct order and stapled together, before being put into an envelope ready for delivery.
Newsletters were distributed around the village and parish farms, first by pony, later by tandem and bicycle. Again distribution was a rectory residents’ job and one that by all accounts Hen enjoyed, particularly visiting certain houses where she would be rewarded with a sweet or similar goody.
There is a wonderful story about delivering newsletters. Imagine a young Hen with long plaited hair. She is on the front of a tandem, with little brother Martin sitting on the back (too small to reach the pedals). Lucy and Hugh are on bikes either side holding onto her plaits and Hen is doing all the hard work pulling them along!
With this background it is easy to see where Hen got her community spirit from and also learnt the importance of detail.
During the war the rectory was home to not just Hen and her siblings, but also to cousins whose parents were abroad, along with assorted refugees and evacuees, all of whom would have stories to tell if they were with us today. One such story is from a visiting cousin who put her shoes into the AGA to warm them up, one in the bottom oven and the other in the top. The one in the bottom oven was fine, the one in the top oven came out as a little shrivelled unusable boot.
During those years and the years that followed, the Rectory was open house to family and friends, a practice that Hen kept up for the rest of her life.
I don't have any stories of Hen's school days. The only snippet is that Hen and Lucy fought like cat and dog at Cheltenham Ladies College. As for life at Oxford we know she got a Distinction in Biochemistry and completed a PhD with a thesis on 'The uptake and translocation of cations by intact plants'.
Like school and university I have no stories of her life at Compton. I do know she founded and ran a Girl Guide Company whilst there because I remember going with her to a Guide Camp on the Far Banks at Macaroni Downs Farm, in 1961.
So we come to 1962 the year of the big move and this is a tribute to Hen's organisational skills and can-do attitude. Her big brother Hugh and his family are in Trinidad, her big sister Lucy and her family are in Rhodesia, her younger brother Martin and his new wife are in America on their 'extended honeymoon'; so she is left with her elderly parents to pack up 33 years of family life in the Rectory and move to North Lodge, with two dogs, a cat, at least two goats and the Roneo printing machine, which, incidentally, is now in the Filkins Museum. At the same time she was running Macaroni Downs Farm (for Martin) and still doing her day job as Scientific Officer at Compton. Her first night in North Lodge was 29th December 1962 and she woke up to a white world at the start of the big freeze of 1963.
Her can-do attitude meant that the move, which required distributing family heirlooms between the Rectory, Macaroni Downs and Kencot, during the freeze, went without any major disasters. Apparently the only story of note during the move was losing Martin’s Fordson Major in a snow drift for over a week!
North Lodge was to be Hen’s home for the next 54 years and like the Rectory it was open house to family and friends. One of her neighbours once said to me 'The lovely thing about Helen and North Lodge was that it was like a Travelodge for Squire’s. When you knocked on the door, you never really knew which member of the family would open it!'
Hen continued to work at Compton until 1965, when she decided to take up teaching at Faringdon Grammar School for girls.
It was from about this time that Hen began to play an increasingly important role keeping the widely flung families connected, something that we the younger generation are not so good at.
In 1977 she resigned from Faringdon School and moved to the Godolphin in Salisbury where she was to teach until 1989 driving down on a Sunday evening or Monday morning and returning on a Friday evening, with Pip her first beloved Jack Russell.
In her teaching days stories have it that she had a ball of blu-tak in her lab coat pocket which she surreptitiously fiddled with. This was so that no-one could see how nervous she really was at any time. Given the signatures on her leaving card which you will see in the village hall, she was clearly a well loved and respected teacher.
Throughout the years North Lodge was a happy holiday refuge for all. A place for adventure be it in the garden, in the attic, on the river (Leach or Thames) or at Macaroni Downs. Hen would also take us on holidays. I remember that when driving she would eat a cherry and then suck the cherry stone for hours; she could hide it under her tongue and talk to you as though it wasn’t there!
I remember one holiday, with the Lowes to Devon, for all the wrong reasons. It is the only time I have seen Hen really lose her rag. It resulted in 'Bertie, go boil your head', I have no idea what the cause was, but I will never forget the words or the ensuing stunned silence from everyone in the room!
Hen enjoyed numerous adventurous holidays with family and friends including to many parts of Africa, Canada, Iceland, Europe, the Holy Land and Sri Lanka. Each trip has its own diary that is a book in itself.
She was Churchwarden here for 36 years from 1976 to 2012. During the early years her forthright attitude got her into trouble and she and Bill Gasson were hauled up in front of the Bishop for doing repair works to the church, without a faculty! Later she and Richard Fyson would hold services and between them they ran the church during the interregnum before Harry MacInnes arrived. There is a book in the back recording all the hymns sung here since she started, along with directions advising how many people can fit in here and where.
Hen on a tricycle with a Jack Russell running by her side or on a lead was to become a familiar site in Kencot. Pip was followed by Kali and later by Pickles an escape artist, a tail chaser and a vertical jumper. In the later years Pickles would sit on Hen’s lap watching the TV and bark at her favourite programmes. Today Pickles continues to give companionship and love to an elderly gentleman who has come to love her in the same way that Hen did.
She had green fingers and her front garden brought joy to many. In the early Spring it was covered in a mass of snowdrops, including a new variety Galanthus nivalis Kencotii, identified by a group of excited snowdrop specialists, who wanted to call it Helennii, but she would have none of it. Later in spring the orchard would be a mass of wild primroses, a delight for all passers-by.
There were no green deserts in Hen’s garden!
In her retirement Hen made daily trips up the airfield road collecting rubbish and sticks on her tricycle with a dog on an extended lead pulling her along or getting tangled in the wheels or chain. We will never know how many people rescued her from the ditch or the entanglements; all we can say to them and to her wonderful neighbours who were always there to lend a hand, is - thank you.
Hen spent the last four years of her life being cared for by the fantastic staff in the Rosebank in Bampton. She joined in with all their activities with enthusiasm for as long as she could. Thank you to everyone at the Rosebank who cared for her there.
Hen was always there if you needed her. She was there for long weekends from school. She was there for emergency hospital support or transport to/from school when parents were far away. In later years she was always ready for babysitting duty, for fun days out, to show us round Eastleach and to point out the pig feeding hole. She was there at Birthdays, Weddings, Christenings, Christmases with handbells and Easters, where she was chief scorer for the egg rolling competition. She offered lodging to those who needed it. She did the farm accounts. She was our second mum and another grandmother to our children. Bottom line, she stepped up when needed, but she also knew when to take a back seat.
She had an amazing ability to laugh with you and also at her own eccentricities whether it be leaving sticks to dry in the bottom oven or 'ironing' clothes on the Rayburn both of which resulted in charred remnants, not to mention the fire hazard. Then there was the time she came back from a trip away to find the garage door half shut, it was usually open. After struggling to open it she found a heavy metal disk on the floor and a hole in the garage roof. A call to the duty officer at Brize Norton resulted in a visit by the RAF. The disk was the counterweight of a Tristar loading bay door! The RAF agreed to re-roof the garage. Her comment at the end was: 'Pity the car wasn't in there I could have got a new car too.'
Hen took great pleasure from the simple things in life: collecting wood, splitting and stacking logs, gathering sticks - there were bags and bags of them in the garage - picking beans, digging potatoes, weeding the church path, straightening the aisle carpet, opening and locking up the church, decorating the it, the tree and the crib at Christmas. The list is endless. Her Christmas baubles for the tree are still here and I will be back to help put them up in a couple of weeks.
One of Hen’s nieces once asked her 'What do you like most about Kencot?' Her response without hesitation was 'That they have put up with the Squires for so long!'
Hen was an eco-warrior long before it was 'cool'. She lived by the belief that you should 'never overfill the kettle, only get what you need, then reuse it, finally recycle it and waste nothing.' She reused cling film and tin foil; she reused yogurt pots for children's building blocks; she reused twine and string; she unravelled knots (her father said every knot you don't undo in this life, you will sit undoing in the next); she recycled clothes; she even ‘freshened’ up old food by putting into the freezer, or the microwave, or both. She threw very little away and her waste bin was usually empty. With the current climate emergency this is something we should all aspire to. If everyone was more like Hen, the world would be a far, far happier, cleaner and healthier place.
For all of us, Hen has always been there. A solid, loving, caring, clever, kind and wise lady, who lived out her values and set an example for us all to follow.
Dear Helen, on behalf of everyone here and those who cannot be with us today, thank you for sharing your long life with us. It has been a privilege to be a part of it . We all love you.