Holy Trinity, Penn, Burials and Memorials


Herbert Druce 1915 – 2024

Herbie Druce was born and lived in Penn and died 7th May 2024 aged 109, the fifth oldest man in England. His funeral was held at Holy Trinity, Penn 3rd June 2024, followed by burial in the churchyard with his late wife Gwen.

His grandson, Jonathan Farnsworth and his nephews, Miles Collinge and Paul, spoke at his funeral, and their tributes are printed below.

Tribute by grandson, Jonathan Farnsworth

Family and friends, We gather today, not only to say farewell to a remarkable man, but also to celebrate a life of love, laughter and generosity. Today, we remember and honour my Grandad, Herbert, or Drum, as he was known to many.

He was born at Meadowcroft Cottage, Beacon Hill, Penn, not very far from here, on January the 6th 1915. He passed away on May the 7th this year at 109 and 122 days. This not only made him the oldest person in Leicestershire but the fifth oldest man in the UK. He was getting quite tired of all the birthday cards from the Royal Family!

Growing up, Grandad had a younger brother, Ernie, along with two half-brothers, Harry and Albert Greaves. His father, a general carrier, rented the 2 ½ acre meadow behind their cottage where he grew all kinds of fruit for Covent Garden Market.

Shortly after his fifth birthday, he started his education at Penn School across the road. At the time the only heating they had was a coal fire in each room; it was still the same when he left. For years, there was no connection to the water mains, and the toilets were outside. Hot dinners could be had for tuppence-halfpenny a day.

When he was about 7 he was moved up to spend the rest of his school days with the headteacher, a very strict but very fair teacher, who he liked very much. He was always happy to go to school. Reverend Mumford, his scripture examiner, later became the Vicar of Penn.

Apart from the three Rs, Grandad also studied history, geography, nature, hygiene, art, leatherwork, country dancing and poetry. He could still recite Longfellow from memory one hundred years after he first learned it. All in all, it was a varied education and happy years spent at Penn Church of England School.

As a youngster, Grandad did errands for the villagers, going to High Wycombe, shopping for them and going on his father’s horse and cart to Beaconsfield to collect packages from the station. He would often sit on the wall of the Crown Inn (right across the street from where we are now) looking after the horses while the carrier was inside. His father died when he was 11, and although two of the local gentry offered to pay his fees to the grammar school, his mother needed him to go to work, and so he left school at age 14.

He started work at the blacksmith’s forge opposite his home in Beacon Hill before the introduction of the motor car. He looked after the horses and mended saucepans and kettles, put tyres on prams, charged radio batteries, replaced oil lamp wicks and even stood in on the milk round on several occasions. At one time he used to know everybody in Penn and Tylers Green.

After a few years the forge became Slade’s Garage. He spent time in the garage side of the building, eventually working on cars, vans and motorcycles. At that time, George Slade, the owner, took part in long distance trials, riding a motorcycle and sidecar. On one occasion he rode from Slough to Land’s End with his 15-year-old apprentice. That apprentice was Grandad.

He worked in the garage until 1940 when the government appealed for men for the aircraft industry to help the war effort. He volunteered for the RAF but was turned down. So, as a mechanic, he went to work at Heston Aircraft factory in Slough. After 2 years he was transferred to their High Wycombe disposal factory, where he remained until the Wellington bomber was phased out. The government then directed him into transport at one of the major operators in High Wycombe eventually taking charge of the workshop. He stayed there for some years until one day he received a letter from Mr Slade asking if he would consider going back to the garage. He accepted the offer and stayed at Slade’s as head mechanic; serving residents with petrol and repairing their cars until his retirement.

Grandad was caring and thoughtful. Rosemary remembers once when they had a heavy snowfall, and without hesitation or prompting, he went straight to the houses of the local doctors and fitted snow chains on their tyres so that they were able to get to their patients.

He met his wife Gwen at the local Saturday dance in Tylers Green. They were married here at Penn Church in 1945 and were the first couple to be married by the vicar – Reverend Muspratt. After marrying Gwen, he moved from Beacon Hill to Coppice Farm to live with Gwen’s parents. There, they had two daughters, Rosemary in 1948 and Sue in 1950. Then in 1952 they bought their own house, Thanet, on Penn Road, where he stayed for 70 years.

His daughter Rosemary has many happy memories of him when she was growing up. She cherishes memories of the happy Sunday afternoons where the family would go on picnics at Christmas Common with her cousins Miles, Paul and Gina. She remembers how her Dad would come home from work and say he’d had “a good day”. That meant he’d had some good tips from very appreciative customers.

He loved his garden, growing flowers and lots of vegetables. He was particularly fond of his sweet-peas and whenever we visited during school holidays there were always fresh vegetables. I’ve eaten enough of his home grown carrots that I’ve still got 20/20 vision in my 40s. He continued with a bit of gardening into his hundreds; I was still receiving my tomato saplings from him at 107. In his later years he took up darning, made pastry for his mince pies, and got his chicken casserole down to a tee.

He spent many holidays with his family at Weymouth enjoying the beach and walks along the front and sometimes a game of pitch and putt with the girls after their evening meal. He and Gwen loved to walk along the Thames at Marlow on a Sunday afternoon meeting up with family.
The only time he went abroad was to go to Keukonhof Gardens in Amsterdam to see the tulip fields. They both enjoyed holidays with mountains and scenery and as they aged would join us on our holidays to the Lake District and Snowdonia. Squeezing 6 of us in the same car with all the luggage was quite a feat. He always enjoyed a good laugh, good food, being with family and friends and to reminisce about Penn and its villagers.

This church, where we are all gathered today, was an essential piece of Grandad’s life. He was a member of the choir here for 60 years, from the time he was 7 years old. Besides being a chorister, he started as a candle boy and later became a crucifer carrying the cross at the head of the procession. At 14 he started bell ringing, becoming a life member of the Oxford Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers and tower captain.

One day in 1965 he came back from bell ringing and told his daughter Rosemary that a nice young man had started bell ringing at the tower. In 1974 that nice young man became his son-in-law, and someone whose Mini van would provide endless hours of mechanical tinkering opportunities.

After 50 years of bell-ringing he had to retire due to arthritis in his hands. In honour of his 100th birthday the bell ringers rang a special quarter-peal. After the quarter peal, he tolled the treble (his bell) with Alison Bailey.

At 107, it was unfortunately time for him to leave Penn and move to a care home near his family in Leicestershire. This enabled me to spend many a Sunday afternoon with him. My last visit with him was a typical one; we finished the nature documentary he was watching and then I showed him pictures of a walk I’d just been on through some bluebell woods. We got into talking about food and then he came out with his usual catchphrase “you’d better get the board down so we can have a game”. We both enjoyed a game of Scrabble and at 109 he was still as sharp as anything.

Over the course of such a remarkably long life, there have been many people who have had an impact on Grandad’s life and deserve a mention in his eulogy. I am unfortunately unable to name everyone who meant a great deal to him. Most notably, Grandad was predeceased by his beloved daughter Sue who was killed in 1989 in a school coach crash and by his cherished
wife Gwen, who passed away in 2005 just before her 90th birthday and their diamond wedding anniversary.

He is survived by his daughter Rosemary, his son-in-law Martin, his grandsons Daniel and me and his two great-grandsons. He was 95 years old when he became a great-grandfather when Issac was born, with Eli following shortly after. A boy whose great-grandfather is 95 at the time of his birth usually doesn’t expect to have a full 14 years with him, but Grandad delivered.

Grandad also leaves behind many loved ones like his nephews Miles and Paul and their families as well as his much-loved neighbour Julie, whose friendship and support allowed him to stay in his own home for so long.

He was loved by many and we will all miss him and his comforting presence. He will forever be in our hearts and minds. I will have fond memories every time I eat a carrot, attempt to grow a tomato plant, play a game of Scrabble, sneak a cheeky jam sandwich, enjoy lamb shanks or take a walk through the woods. And as we say goodbye, with heavy hearts, we remember the  humour and happiness he brought into our lives. And if you were wondering how that final game of Scrabble played out… He won!

Jonathan Farnsworth, 3rd June 2024

Tribute to Herbert Ephraim Druce by nephew Miles Collinge

My name is Miles Collinge and I am Herbert’s eldest nephew. But I will refer to him as Uncle Drum, as many of us knew him. He was my favourite uncle, confidant and friend. None of us really knew where Uncle Drum’s name came from, but we think that his girlfriend, and later his wife Aunty Gwen, referred to him as her little drummer boy, possibly because he looked, listened, danced and played to her tune!

Uncle Drum was born on January 6th, 1915. He had two half-brothers and a younger brother Ernie. He married my mother’s sister, Aunty Gwen in 1945. I was a page boy, just 3 years old, and I still remember it well.

Drum was born close by in Beacon Hill. He worked at Slades Garage all his working life. He was a regular of this church for more than 70 years. He loved to sing and was a member of the choir and a bell ringer and attended the local church school opposite. He told me it had very few pupils but despite its elementary education, he was successful at passing the entrance exam to the local grammar school. He had a lady sponsor, but unfortunately his mother said she could not afford the cost, and therefore he left school at the age of 14. He started as an apprentice at the local blacksmiths, ‘Slades’. As cars became more popular in the 1920s and 1930s, Slades converted into a garage and Uncle Drum trained as one of its first motor mechanics.

Uncle Drum was a country man at heart who loved to live out of this garden (this no doubt contributed to his long and healthy life). As well as his garden, church, and singing, he also loved cars and this is probably the reason for his love of Buckinghamshire’s countryside. Amazingly he stayed at Slades Garage as the senior mechanic and foreman for over 40 years, although during the war he also worked at Heston Aerodrome which included critical work on the Spitfires. He later moved to a factory in High Wycombe.

I learnt a great deal when growing up from Uncle Drum. Undoubtedly, he was a graduate of the University of Life. A lot of this was due to his upbringing, his intelligence, communication and engineering skills. He helped my grandfather when as an extended family, we lived at Coppice Farm. He was always there for haymaking, fruit picking and the rearing of the livestock including cows, pigs, goats, chickens and rabbits. In those days we all mucked in, as we lived out and off this very small family farm. Sadly my mother’s parents, my grandparents were made homeless when the Council forced through a compulsory purchase of the farm, later to be built for housing, and as a consequence they moved in for a time with Uncle Drum and Aunty Gwen at their house ‘Thanet’ on Penn Road. By then my parents had bought Kenley Kot close by on Hazlemere Road and were able to share the housing of my grandparents. The loss of my grandparents’ farm was a sad chapter, but our two families were very close and Uncle Drum played a leading role in caring for our extended family. These were happy times – lots of fun and laughter, big family parties, fruit picking, games playing. Every now and again however, Uncle Drum had to show his strength of character, keeping an eye on two robust boys. My brother Paul and I were more than capable of causing …. One word for it might be ….. disruption …….. but his two daughters Rosemary and Sue, although perfect by comparison would stop off on a Sunday morning, often full of mischief and laughter, interrupting our Sunday morning lie-ins on their way to church. Uncle Drum would always take charge on bonfire nights, and there were many events where he took a fatherly and leading role.

His love of cars stayed with him throughout his life. Slades Garage was at the centre of the village and because of his willing and helpful nature, not to mention his skills under an open bonnet, Uncle Drum was popular with everyone. ‘Bluebell’ Slade and her husband Len Gibbs were popular racing drivers at Silverstone, and Uncle Drum’s skills were invaluable, not only to them, but to everyone in the village. For me, in his spare time, he would arrive in navy blue dungarees every evening one summer to rebuild my first car (a pre-war Morris eight). He had bought it for me for £30 and no doubt it would be worth a lot more today, but I sadly redesigned it at the crossroads in Penn Bottom.

I know that one of his proudest moments was when the new owners of Slades Garage collected him on his 100th birthday in one of their Bentleys to visit their new showroom and garage. That was a very big deal for my Uncle who had played a key role in the life and evolution of this garage.

As a people person, Uncle Drum was always popular. Those who knew him well will always remember the twinkle in his eye. He was friends with some of the most influential people in the village. One of the most amazing and amusing memories I have was on his 100th birthday. The Church bells were rung for him and a birthday tea held in the parish hall opposite. When I arrived to collect him, he was to be seen proudly striding high, escorted across the road by Dame Mary Berry.

There are so many stories, but Uncle Drum and the entire family had to face tragedy too. The loss of their second daughter Sue in 1989 was traumatic. Sue was a talented artist and teacher. She was leading a school party to the coast and was sitting upfront in the coach when the driver lost control. Sue’s death hit my aunt and uncle very hard. Uncle Drum bore the strain of the inquest with quiet fortitude. Undoubtedly, Sue’s untimely passing brought a deep sadness to Aunty Gwen and Uncle Drum. My Aunt made a good age herself, passing away in hospital at 90 in 2005. My uncle would visit every day. He read his Bible every day, and this seemed to boost his inner strength. He was always a good man who lacked any malice.

As a father, grandfather and uncle he was much respected and loved within the family. His years living alone were long, but he read every day and he thought a lot. He was very lucky in having a lovely lady who lived next door Julie, who would visit him throughout the day providing care and support. Julie’s husband John too was always there in times of need to help. Uncle Drum loved seeing their daughters grow up, get married and he nursed their babies with gentle tenderness.

Rosemary would phone him every day and her support and love was always there. He still managed to see her family frequently, including his grandsons Jonathan and Daniel and their families, during visits to Leicester. Eventually, he decided he needed to move closer and relocated to a local care home near Rosemary and Martin. The staff were kind and very supportive, but I know that he missed his home and the village of Penn. Rosemary visited him frequently and Jonathan his Grandson came to see him most Sundays to play Uncle Drum’s favourite game of Scrabble. Extraordinarily, just over a week before he died he managed to beat Jonathan (no mean feat).

I have tried to give you a glimpse into Uncle Drum’s life. To his family and friends he projected a positive enthusiasm for life. Even my wife Jean, my son and daughter Graeme and Nicola say he never changed and remarkably always seemed to look the same. Even his hair stayed a lighter shade of brown and his face showed little sign of his advanced years. Remarkably, when being interviewed on his 108th birthday, he was asked to provide one word to describe his long life and great age – and he replied ‘Contentment’, with a wink and a twinkle in his eye.

Uncle Drum, as in the days of old, lived a country life, and I tip my hat to him. He made the amazing age of 109, by the time he passed, I believe the 5th oldest in the country, but more than that, he was an extraordinary man of Penn.

Miles Collinge, 3rd June 2024

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