Wednesday, March 29, 2006

If a man hasn't found anything worth dying for, he hasn't anything worth living for.
- Dr. Martin Luther King ( My father in law was a hero like no other)

Little moments make a day
Days turn into years
You've watched me grow up
As I watched you grow old
But now it seems like I'm looking on
and you're the one moving on,
I'm the young one, watching your go free.

So go free to your first love, free to your dreams,
Where the clouds are lined with gold and joy is always there.
So go free to perfection,
Free to eternity.
Where today never becomes tomorrow.

So be free with your first love, free in your dreams.
Where the clouds are lined with gold and joy is always there.
So be free in perfection,
Free in eternity.
Where today’s peace lasts forever.
-Sarah Rossiter (30/7/1999)

Leslie Rossiter – 12 May 1919 to 23 March 2006 A Summary of His Story told by Michael Rossiter and on Behalf of Anita and Lauren

Mum & Dad met at a local dance in Sutton Coldfield, a suburb of Birmingham, during WW2 and Sinatra was the hottest singer around at that time – and one of Mum’s early favourites…..but Dad was more a Bing Crosby man

Leslie Rossiter was one of 8 children born to John & Laura Rossiter in Birmingham, England. The family home was in an inner suburb of Birmingham and Dad was born at home on 12 May 1919, six months and one day after the official end of WW1.

John Rossiter was Royal Navy veteran and served as a “stoker” – i.e. he shovelled coal into the boilers of navy ships, during WW1. He later became a maintenance engineer and lost an eye in a work accident. There is no record I can find of his mother’s occupation prior to marriage and she became a full-time mother with 8 children to feed.

Dad had 3 sisters (Grace, Margaret &…) and he was one of 5 boys – the second youngest. Bill was a businessman and moved to South Africa and raised his family in Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe. John became a jeweller, had his own manufacturing jewellery business in the centre of Birmingham and his son Greville still operates that business in suburban Birmingham. Albert was 3 years older than Dad – worked in a factory all his life. Dad was particularly close to his younger brother Arthur, who was very musical and was a professional musician all his working life.

When Dad was about 9 years old the family moved a few miles north to an area called Sutton Coldfield. They lived in public housing in Gunter Road, Pype Hayes and Dad attended the Pagett Road School, where he was keener on sport than lessons. He represented his school in soccer and was vice captain of the cricket team.

He left school in July 1933 and at the age of 14 went to work in a bakelite factory – hard black plastic for electrical insulators and other goods, like the old-style black telephones you see in early movies.

Dad was not happy with this job and eventually obtained an apprenticeship as a Silversmith with the jewellery company called Joseph Smith & Sons, Birmingham, the centre of the jewellery trade in Britain.

By 1939 Dad was a qualified tradesman and 20 years of age. But in September that year Hitler’s forces invaded Poland and Dad, like millions of other young men and all his brothers, volunteered for military service. Like his brothers he enlisted in the Royal Air Force and when he said he was silversmith the Air Force people decided he would make a good aircraft mechanic. So Dad was shipped off to the RAF base at Toxteth, about 40 miles north of Birmingham, to be trained to repair aircraft engines. When Dad & I visited England in Ocotber 1996 I took him to the Royal Air Force museum north of Birmingham and when we stopped in the carpark he said, “This is the first place I was stationed after joining the RAF.”

He was ultimately assigned to various light and medium bomber squadrons, working on mainly on Mosquito & Beaufighter fighter/bombers, then Blenheim and Boston mid-range bombers. He served in England, Ireland and France from 1940 to 1946. He achieved the rank of Leading Airman (2 stripes), was in charge of a bomber maintenance team and was awarded various medals for his military service. (On coffin)

The war had a number of long term consequences for Dad. He had always been a hard, conscientious worker. He was also a worrier and was always concerned that he and his ground crew had done everything they could for the flight crews. Ultimately he developed stomach ulcers and lost weight a fair bit of weight – dropping from his “fighting weight” of 10 stone (about 70 kilos) in 1939 to about 9 stone (about 50 kilos) by the end of the war. In 1946 he was pensioned out of the RAF with a 30% disability pension.

Probably the greatest thing to happen to Dad during the war occurred when he was home on leave one time in 1944/45. Back then Dad was a keen dancer and regularly attended community dances that were popular back then. One evening he went to a dance in Sutton Coldfield and for one of the dances the ladies were asked to choose their partners. An 18 year old local girl called Ruth Read asked Dad for a dance. At some stage he was smitten for life and she must have been very keen on him too as they were married at St Mary’s Methodist Church, Pype Hayes, in 1946.

Some friends and family members said Mum was mad for marrying Dad – they claimed he was already half dead, had one foot in the grave and wasn’t a great prospect. Dad has obviously outlived most of those doom-day merchants. Over the years the family has sometimes joked with Dad and said he may have had one foot in the grave in 1946 but it was always going to be a battle to get the other foot into the grave. Dad was the last surviving member of the 8 children in his family.

There was a severe housing shortage in England after the war. M&D had no choice but to live, first with Dad’s family and later to Mum’s mother’s house in South Road, Erdington, where Anita was born in March 1947. Mum had a difficult pregnancy and birth so it was a while before they tried for any more children.

Dad had returned to work as a Silversmith with Joseph Smith & Sons and in 1950 they managed to get their own place to live.

By the end of the war, Mum had had enough of cold, rainy days and post-war shortages in England. She talked to Dad about moving to Australia and in 1951 set sail for the Promised Land “Australia”. The only other member of Dad’s family to leave England was his brother Bill. He and his family moved to Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe, in 1950.

M&D had to pay the full cost of their journey to Australia. At the time British people could pay 10 pounds ($20) for passage by boat to Australia….thousands of “Ten Pound Poms” came to Australia during the 50’s. Mass movement of people by aircraft was not available back then.

Dad had earnt too much as a silversmith so they had to pay their full fare – about 60 pounds per adult and half fare for Anita….about $300 at the time – a huge amount of money. In May 1952 they boarded the S.S. Orion to head to Melbourne. Mum & Anita (aged 5) was chronically sea sick the whole time and it took 6 weeks on the boat just to reach Perth, WA.

Mum could not face anymore boat travel so they ended their journey at Perth. There was an economic depression in Australia at the time and jobs were hard to find. Nothing was available in jewellery trade so Dad took whatever job he could find to feed and shelter his family. Amongst some of the jobs he tried was farm hand, orchardist (strange jobs for an inner city kid). He also worked as a Forest Warden in southwest WA – he’d have to live by himself for days at a time up a huge tower in the jarrah forests ready to report any bush fires.

They lived in Perth a few months before catching the train to Melbourne. More odd jobs for Dad but Mum found the grey skies and wet Melbourne weather too much like England so they headed to Sydney. The three of them arrived at Central Railway in Sydney, did not know anyone or anything about the city. They ended up living in a caravan for 6 months in the northern beachside suburb of Narrabeen and Dad worked as a cook in a fish and chip shop while he tried to find other work but jobs were still tough to find.

They moved back to Melbourne and Dad got a job back in the jewellery trade. The rented a small terrace house in Caulfield. This house had been owned by a carpenter and had a workshop at the rear which was ideal for Dad to use as a jewellery workshop. Dad asked his employed if he could make some extra jewellery at home at night and weekends. Soon he arranged for Mum to get paid as his assistant. Over the next 9 months they saved up the full deposit for a brand new house in Moorabbin, a new suburb on the west side of Melbourne.

As they settled in Melbourne they met some friends from England, joined a local Methodist church and became life-long friends with Bill & Edna Hider, an older Australian couple, who later became god-parents to Michael & Lauren.

In early 1954 Mum was pregnant again. She carried the child full term but had problems during her pregnancy. The baby girl was born in mid-September but died within 24 hours. A couple of weeks later their minister and family doctor, who also attended their church, came to see M&D at home. They asked M&D if they would be interested in adopting a newborn boy who had been put up for adoption. Things worked a lot different back in the 50’s …and could sometimes happen very fast compared to these days. I was born on Sept 24 and 2 weeks later became the newest member of the Rossiter family.

Dad had worked terribly long hours in saving up for the home and his eye sight was shot to pieces. He could not longer work in the jewellery trade so they sold the house and bought the general store at Tremont, a small community up the Dandenong Mountains north of Melbourne. The shop sold all sorts of food but was also the area Post Office and petrol station. Mum often ran the shop while Dad was out delivering the mail or travelling down to Melbourne to buy fresh fruit and vegies.

This line of work required Dad to have a car so in 1955 he bought his first car – a little 2 door Thames panel van – about the size of a Holden Barina or Toyota Echo. He has an accident a few months later and wrote it off when he managed to roll off one of the narrow roads while delivering the mail. He bought a new Prefect van – same size and shape as the Thames van. We lived in Tremont for about 3 years before moving to Sydney again. The shop still stands in Tremont but a large self-serve petrol station has been built & attached in the backyard.

In 1957 they sold the general store and bought a fruit and veggie shop in Sefton, a suburb in south-western Sydney, near Bankstown. We lived in a new brick house at 18 Marks St, Chester Hill. We all attended the Sefton Methodist church, just up from Dad’s shop. It was around this time that Anita first met a young blonde-haired man called John, from nearby Yagoona. He obviously caught her eye…but that is another story.

In 1959 Dad sold the shop and tried his hand as a Real Estate Agent. He worked for a number of companies in the Sydney suburbs of Guildford, Bankstown, Auburn and Lakemba. In the late 60’s he worked for a company based in the up market area called St Ives, on the north shore of Sydney.

St Ives is well away from the industrial areas of southern Sydney and this move seemed to fix the chronic sinus condition that Dad suffered from for many years. This is probably about the only health issue I recall that effected Dad. He use to complain all the time about his back, neck, knees and a stomach but none of us remember him having a day off work with illness. It was a family joke that Dad was a chronic hypochondriac – only happy when he had a health condition to whinge about. Dad had finally managed to give up smoking in the late 50’s and this no doubt improved his health.

In 1960 Mum became pregnant again and this time spent about 6 weeks in hospital during her last trimester. Anita and I stayed with a couple of family friends for this period and on 6th September, Lauren safely arrived on the scene.

In 1962 we moved to Winston Hills, north of Parramatta, and Dad became actively involved in the local Methodist church at Northmead. He had also been introduced to the work of various overseas mission groups but World Vision seemed to really take hold of his heart.

In 1970 he had opened his own Real Estate business in Westmead, in partnership with a former colleague. Dad approached World Vision with his work partner and they asked how they could help the organisation. They purchased a 16 mm movie projector and for the next 5 or 6 years Dad spent lots of week nights and weekends away at various churches and community groups showing World Vision films, talking about their work and promoting the World Vision child sponsorship program.

Also in the early 70’s M&D decided to move from the Methodist church to the Baptist church. They had both been involved in various aspects of church work and this continued at the Baptist church. M&D also bought a small caravan in the mid-70’s and apart from touring holidays, had the van located at a beachside caravan park in Bateau Bay on the NSW Central Coast for a few years.

In 1972 Mum took Lauren for a trip back to England to meet family members and tour the country side. Dad could never stand being away from Mum for any length of time so this was a great test for him. He did not plan to go as he was running a new small business and couldn’t really afford the money or time to be away. Within days Dad was pining for Mum. Anita, John and I did our best to keep him on track with business and other commitments but we were fighting a losing battle.

After Mum had been away about a month or so Dad came home with an airline ticket and announced he was flying out the next day to England. He had a miserable trip over stuck behind someone smoking a cigar from Hong Kong to London (smoking was permitted in all areas of aircraft back then). He had a miserable time back in England, opened up old wounds with a couple of family members, found the whole place different to his memories and couldn’t get back here soon enough. When they got back we explained to Mum that we had all been battling every day to keep him here once she flew away – we had tried hard but Dad’s passion for Mum knew few boundaries.

As Dad approached his 60th birthday in 1979 he started talking about retiring. Due to his War Service disability he qualified for a full pension from the age of 60. Unfortunately for Dad he found that this pension was means tested and his income over the previous year had been too high to permit him to take the full pension. So he sold his business, took 12 months off from paid work and formally retired 12 months later.

In 1980 M&D drove to Melbourne for a holiday and to catch up with old friends. They drove home from Melbourne via the coastal highway and stopped in Batemans Bay for a few days. They fell in love with a newly-built house in nearby Batehaven and when they got home promptly announced they were selling up and moving down the coast.

In August 1980 they settled into Batehaven. They became foundation members of the newly formed Batemans Bay Baptist church. They enjoyed bushwalking, joined a community choir and made good use of their caravan. Mum joined various craft groups. Dad played golf and bowls, worked in the garden but also got under Mum’s feet.

After 12 months or so Mum sent Dad out to get a part-time job in Real Estate so she could have some time to herself. Over the next few years Dad worked a couple of days per week, made an occasional sale and earnt some extra cash. They really seemed to enjoy these sunset years – going for daily walks, picnics up and down the coast, little trips away and their various other interests.

On 8 November 1993 Dad’s world suffered an irreversible blow. On a clear, sunny M&D went for their morning walk – Mum collapsed into Dad’s arms and we were all shocked by her sudden, unexpected passing. Mum had always said she expected Dad to survive her – she said it was in the genes. Members of her family lasted into their 60’s and 70’s and had heart attacks. Members of Dad’s family lasted into their 80’s and 90’s.

In 1996 Dad said he wanted to go back to England for a holiday and see members of his and Mum’s family. The family knew we could not let him go alone. I had loads of long-service leave so I took 6 weeks off work. We spent almost a month in England and 2 weeks in Zimbabwe visiting Bill’s son Terry and his family. We stopped for a couple of days in Perth to visit his sister’s son, David Cutler and family.
(David's daughter Laura - named after Dad's mother, is in the photo used on the Order of Service for Dad's funeral)

The rest of the story most of us know. It became obvious that Dad was sliding into dementia after Mum passed away. In 1999 we sold the house and tried to settle Dad in a retirement facility in Batemans Bay. He used to walk many miles every day and did not settle well. He was badly injured in a fall and came to my home to recover. Dad’s short-term memory and vocal skills were crumbling as his dementia got worse.

In early 2000, when Dad was staying at my place before he suddenly moved to Queensland my daughter Sarah was struck by the passion Dad obviously possessed for Mum and the loneliness he expressed concerning their separation. Sarah wrote some words reflecting on her Grandfather and I’d like to invite Sarah to read those words to you now … Little moments make a day ...