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TONY SMITH

We are sad to announce the death of our former member Tony Smith. Tony’s funeral took place at Croydon Crematorium on Tuesday, 6 November 2012. Some members of the choir attended, resplendent in their choir uniforms, and a recording of the choir singing The Rose was played during the service.

Tony Smith proudly wearing his service medals

Tony, or to give him his full name, Anthony Lionel Frederick John Smith, was born on 9 May 1931 in Lambeth. He was brought up near the Old Kent Road. In 1940, when he was nine,  the house where he lived with his mother and father was bombed and destroyed. The incident had a profound impact on Tony’s life.  His father died in the bombing and his mother lost an arm.  He also lost his home and he was evacuated, although he frequently returned to the Old Kent Road area during the war to be with his mother.

Towards the end of the war Tony moved south to enjoy the warmer climate of Norwood where he became an apprentice in the building trade.  After his apprenticeship Tony applied to a number of builders for a job, without success. He  was frequently told:  “What is the point in employing you if you are soon going to be called up for National Service ?” So Tony decided that, rather than wait to be invited to join the armed forces, he would volunteer. He joined the Royal Regiment of Artillery in 1948 and served his country until 1971. Tony saw service in Borneo, Malaya, Northern Ireland and Germany – ultimately as a Staff Sergeant/acting Warrant Officer.

Doubtless, there was a dearth of jobs available in civvy street in 1971 where Tony would have been able to make use of the skills he had acquired during his twenty-two years service with the artillery. However, Tony found his way into the Civil Service where he became a counter clerk in various post offices in central London (including the House of Commons, which has its own post office). In the late seventies Tony was promoted to Executive Officer and held a teaching post in the Civil Service until he retired in 1991. However, not being one to sit around all day, Tony joined the Corps of Commissionaires and I recall him wearing his uniform with pride until he finally hung up his “stripes” in 1995. Shortly before this time Tony had a serious car accident – it happened when he was on his way to a choir rehearsal –  quickly followed by an operation to remove a brain tumour  which was found to be benign.

During this time Tony, once more showing a liking for warmer climes that must have been strengthened during his service in Asia, had moved his family further south  – all the way from Norwood to Riddlesdown!  In 1982 he joined the Coulsdon & Purley branch of the Royal British Legion. Tony was very proud of his association with the Royal Artillery Regiment and the Royal British Legion – until last year he could be seen every November rattling his collection box and encouraging the Coulsdon residents to donate money towards the Poppy Appeal.

He always wore his beret, regimental blazer and badges – if ever there was somebody who was the epitome of military bearing it would be Staff Sergeant Smith. Tony also found time to give guided tours around the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey to tourists but had to give this up when his hearing started to fail him.

Tony was also well known to the residents of Riddlesdown.  He took it upon himself to Keep Riddlesdown Clean!  His wife Yvonne bought him a litter picker some years ago, and, armed with this and plastic sacks, Tony would scour the pathways, roads and even Riddlesdown Common and remove any offending items. His contribution to the local area was certainly recognised. In the winter edition of the Resident’s Association newsletter, the editor wrote that Tony was out in all weathers collecting rubbish.  “Undoubtedly he would have cleared up the December snow-fall by himself given a big enough bag.”  Tony’s selfless contribution to improving the local environment and raising funds for the forces was officially recognised when he was invited to attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace.

Tony joined the choir in 1983 at a time when our rehearsals were held in the now defunct Co-op Department store. (I remember those times well, as I joined on the very same day as Tony.) Unfortunately there was no bar at the Co-op, so rather than being able to sip his favourite tipple, Guinness, during the rehearsal, he had to choose between hot chocolate and soup from the canteen vending machine (how times have changed!)  Perhaps that was a major reason why there were only a dozen or so members in the choir at that time.

In his younger days Tony was quite outgoing and outspoken. As the years passed Tony’s hearing became an increasing issue, no doubt a legacy from the years he had served with the Royal Artillery. Naturally, this would have led to increasing frustration for him, even to point where he could become relatively aggressive. However, this led to lighter moments such as when, on one classic occasion, the choir members were in rehearsal at the Albert Hall for Remembrance Day, and he threatened to punch the lights out of another senior member with whom he was having an altercation.  On another, after his hearing had deteriorated further, he had an argument with a fellow bass over whose hearing aid was emitting the high-pitched whistle that was distracting the rest of the section.

Then there was the choir Christmas social when Tony went missing for an hour before it was his time to do a turn.  He reappeared wearing a bright red ra ra skirt, bright red lipstick and very large gold ear-rings – something which got the rest of the choir talking and has left members puzzled even now.  He promptly got into an argument with a senior choir member (the same member he had threatened to punch at the Albert Hall) who had the temerity to help Tony with the words of the song he was attempting to sing.

Tony remained a stalwart of the bass section until 2007, when sadly his hearing had worsened to the  point where he could not continue singing Earlier this year Tony was diagnosed with another brain tumour that proved to be malignant,and he passed away on 23 October. The choir extends its sympathy toward his wife Yvonne and their children.

By Gerry Upjohn

 

 
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