Fate decreed that when a retired local primary school headteacher popped into a Bexhill charity shop to get out of the rain her eye should be taken by a watercolour of the De La Warr Pavilion by John Hannaford.
Pat Strickson says that moment changed her life. It has made her an author.
Fate again decreed that when Pat took the painting to be framed and showed interest in the artist the framer was able to tell her a little about him, having framed some of his works for him.
But if fate had not been extraordinarily kind to the artist more than 70 years before none of this would have happened – and Pat Strickson would never have written her first book.
The last of a series of Bexhill Observer interviews with Captain John Hannaford was published in October 2015. Shockingly, of around 300 officers who led Britain’s war-time bomb disposal units half were killed. At nearly 99, John Hannaford believed (wrongly as it turned out) that he was by then the sole survivor.
John’s parting words after that Observer interview were: “I’m the only man left standing now. I’ve had a wonderful life and I have a wonderful wife. I’m just a lucky man…”
Even more sadly, within a month John had died days after his beloved wife. Fittingly, the couple’s lives were celebrated at a joint service.
Pat Strickson’s charity shop purchase came a couple of months later. She was so touched by the John Hannaford story that, with the blessing of his family, she embarked on the painstaking research that has led to her writing his biography.
Bomb disposal was in its infancy when at 24 John Hannaford was thrown into the fray. Life expectancy was just ten weeks. Lessons were learned in the hardest possible way as squads of men like the one he led combatted unexploded bombs. Some were fitted fiendish anti-handling devices
In his closest encounter with death in two years of incredibly dangerous work a fuse went off in John’s hand moments after he had removed it from a bomb at the bottom of the shaft his men had dug.
Having had the privilege of interviewing John Hannaford on several occasions – including that final one – the writer can attest that this is a book of which John Hannaford would have approved. He campaigned vigorously for the bomb disposal service to be accorded the place in history it so richly deserved. Pat Strickson has kept faith with this standpoint.
“Time Stood Still in a Muddy Hole” is published by Brown Dogs books and is available at Waterstones, Bexhill Museum, Egerton Road, price £9.99. It is also available from Amazon and on Kindle as an e-book.
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