My Grandad, My Hero

Local parish councilor Andy Devanney recalls tales of his inspirational grandad Tom Smith, from his time a minesweeper in World War Two to playing football against Stanley Matthews.

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Tom Smith

Local Parish Councilor Andy Devanney recalls tales of his inspirational grandad Tom Smith, from his time a minesweeper in World War Two to playing football against Stanley Matthews.

If there’s one man Andy Devanney has always looked up to, it’s his Grandad, Tom Smith. Born in 1916, Tom was a well-known figure around Hapton, Huncoat, Accrington, Padiham and Burnley. A keen sportsman in his younger days, a Royal Navy minesweeper during World War Two and later a popular member of the community taking on roles with Hapton Parish Council and the Bolton branch of the Royal Naval Patrol Service Association, he had a huge impact on the lives of many up until his passing in 2002. Now, after discovering an interview Tom did with the North West Sound Archives, Andy is sharing his memories…

Born in Huncoat as one of five children, Tom met his wife Molly, at ‘The Lodge’ in Hapton. His father was the first ‘normal miner’ to sit on the coal board but as Andy remembers, this caused some problems when a young Tom went for a job.

“He went to get a job at EJ Riley’s, the snooker place in Clayton-Le-Moors, and they told him there wasn’t a job for him at 14 as they had discovered his dad was a union man. He didn’t want to go home until he had a job, so he went and got a job at what
became Nori Brickworks.”

It’s something Tom himself discussed in an interview with the North West Sound Archives. Tom said: “I daren’t go home, I’d lost my job so I called around.” He continues to explain he got the job at the brickyard. “In winter they didn’t start until half eight, six weeks before Christmas and six weeks after they were on short time. My first wage packet was seven and sevenpence!”

“He also had the chance to play against the legendary Stanley Matthews”

Tom started at the brickworks in 1931 and worked there for 30 years before moving to the glassworks, Mullards, in Simonstone, near Burnley until his retirement. The only time he had off in those 30 years at the brickyard was to serve in the Royal Navy after he was called up in the second draft conscription in 1941 to fight in World War Two.

“He got told when he was conscripted the only thing he had a choice in was where he was going to go. He was told to go in the Navy as he’d always have a bed and a hot meal once a day whereas in the RAF or Army you could be in a ditch or shot down.” Andy recalls, “Some people when they talk about the Navy, they look down on these little ships but wherever big ships went, the little ships had already been as they can’t
go anywhere without them minesweeping. It’s a precarious job that is not well known.”

Tom’s life in the Royal Navy took him to places as far away as India and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and he continued to minesweep even after the war had ended for Britain.

“When the war had finished all the mines were still there, so you still had to continue to minesweep, it was 1946 when he returned,” Andy smiles, “he came back on a ship named the Île De France with a full bunch of bananas after passing the bottom of Africa. On the way home everyone was nicking bananas off him, but he still had a few by the time he got home, and my Mum had never seen one. He imported the first
bananas into Hapton… perhaps…”

Prior to joining the forces, Tom has been a local amateur footballer and played for Accrington Stanley and Norwich during the war. One of the stories Andy remembers his Grandad telling him is about a game where Tom was the referee.

“He went to send somebody off and this guy refused to go off so [Tom] abandoned the match. The guy he sent off was the Navy Officer – his boss! My Grandad was like, ‘oh bloody hell!’ but luckily for him he said, ‘what happens on the football pitch, stays on the football pitch!’”

As well as playing for Accrington Stanley, including against Burnley on Christmas day in 1940 when they beat the hosts, he also played for Hapton and for the Nori Brickwork team. While playing at Norwich he had the chance to play against the
legendary Stanley Matthews.

“He played full back and said he’d never seen the back of someone’s shorts so much in his life!” Andy laughs.

But possibly more impressive was when Tom played for three teams in one day!

“He played for three local teams all in the same day,” laughs Andy, “one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one at tea time. My Mum always brings that up if anyone moans about playing two games in a week!”

Andy has fond memories of going with his Grandad to watch Padiham play cricket but he also had fond memories of holidays in caravans and walking up Hambledon Hill.

“When I was a kid we’d go walking over Hambledon a lot. He always went out walking. I still do a lot of walking now and every time I go up I always think of my Grandad – he’s probably one of the few men in my life I look up to really.” Andy also remembers trips to ‘Accy Market’ with his grandfather:

“You’d go shopping with him and every corner you’d turn he knew someone. There’d always be someone shouting Tom Smith!

Andy Devanney

“My Grandad had just had his 86th birthday when he finally passed away but I think he died of a broken heart.”

“He knew a lot of people, and you either liked him or you didn’t. He told it straight and was very honest, outspoken and always said what he thought. He was a genuinely nice bloke. I told him before he died that I loved him and he just looked at me. I said, ‘you’re the greatest man I’ve ever met,’ and he just looked at me and
said, ‘how do you work that out then?’

“It’s not easy for men to tell ‘fellas’ you love them, but you should do as one day they won’t be there.”

Andy’s Grandad was 86 when he died in 2002. His Grandma, Molly had died in August that year at the age of 85. Both were born eight days apart, their birth certificates were just two numbers different. They were married for 61 years and both had heart attacks on the same day in ‘81 or ‘82.” Andy recalls, “My Grandad had just had his 86th birthday when he finally passed away but I think he died of a broken heart.”

Prior to his death, Tom was on the Hapton Parish Council and was a member of the GMB Union for 70 years. This is no doubt due to his Dad telling him to get himself signed up to a union, Tom himself recalled it in his interview with the North West Sound Archive prior to his death.

“My dad said ‘before you come home, you join the union!’”

He was also an active member of the Bolton branch of the Royal Naval Patrol Service Association. At his funeral, the White Ensign was draped over his coffin as well as the National Standard and Bolton Standard. Speaking of his Grandad’s involvement in the unions and council, Andy smiles:

“He was really fair, he didn’t tolerate people that weren’t. He worked hard since he was 14-years-old and retired at 63. He was a completely different generation.

Tom’s own father and grandfather were active political members and his dad even ran for Accrington borough council representing Labour in the 1930s. Politics that have trickled down the generations as Andy has also stood as a Labour councillor.

“I have copies of his dad’s leaflet when he stood for Accrington in the 1930 election and they are talking about housing, employment and all the same issues we are talking about 90 years later – quite worrying really!

“When I first stood for councillor I quoted him in my speech. It did influence me, I thought if he can do it, I can.”

Andy himself nearly died five years ago and ended up losing a kidney. It was at that point that he decided to change his life and stand for election.

“Knowing my Great Grandad stood was motivating and knowing my Grandad would
be proud of me definitely was.

“Grandad was my hero. He still is.”

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