The winding road from Shoreditch to Stratford

The winding road from Shoreditch to Stratford

Charles James Pickersgill was born 04 May 1919 in London, England and died in Stratford, Ontario on 24 July 2009.

(04 May 2018) – My father was born 99 years ago today and died ninety years later on July 24 2009. He was away from us a lot when I was growing up. Then I was away from him a lot. We became closer when we both got old.

Seajay was born and grew up in the London Borough of Shoreditch. When he was 13 he was awarded a trade scholarship to the Westminster Technical Institute School of Cookery. He did well. School lasted for two years and he worked in the trade for another four. Most of this was spent on Cunard Line cruise ships to America, South Africa or Australia. Then the war started and everyone’s life changed.

He joined the navy and trained as a telegraphist, serving on three ships. The first was HMS Hood, the largest battle cruiser in the British Royal Navy and flagship of the fleet. It carried a crew of almost 1500 men.

He started as a junior telegraphist in 1939 and advanced to the next pay grade by December 1940. The Hood already had enough telegraphists so he was transferred off to La Capricieuse, a mine sweeper seized after France capitulated to the Nazis. On 24 May 1941 the Hood was sunk by a German battleship with three survivors and 1415 killed.

His final posting was on Mermaid, an escort ship on supply convoys to Murmansk in the northern Soviet Union.

After the war ended, he worked for the Ministry of Civil Aviation and trained as a radio mechanic and radar technician. As one war ended, a cold one began. His post-war work concentrated on keeping Britain and North America safe from invasion by low-flying Soviet bombers.

Either he was so effective that they didn’t try penetrating our airspace, or they didn’t intend to do it in the first place. In either event, the Soviets stayed away. Governments discovered all over again that they can gain a lot of power by keeping people frightened. In those days it was the red menace. Now it’s Islamic fundamentalists on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Russian mafia on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. The names change, but the plot stays the same.

In 1958 Seajay started working for ITT. He was sent to the DEW line, a distant early warning network of radar bases in the far north of Canada. He was up there for six months a year in two three-month tours. When he wasn’t up north, he was on military bases in Canada, America and Europe and for a time in the NORAD bunker in North Bay. He eventually settled into an office job at ITT headquarters in Montreal and moved to Guelph with the company in 1968. The threat of Quebec separation made American corporations nervous.

In 1974 my mum took early retirement from teaching high school to work for Jean Vanier’s L’Arche Foundation in Stratford. At 55, Seajay qualified for an early pension. He grabbed it and went with her.

He still had another 35 years left in him to tend his garden, support co-operative housing and the NDP, care for my mother and generally do all the rewarding things that working leaves you no time for.

5 Comments

  1. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Alan. A lovely memoir. A poignant picture.

  2. Lovely tribute to Seajay, Alan. And can I add he was a warm and kind father in law. He and I shared lots of engaging phone chats during the last 9 or so years of his life. He was very smart, well-read, and kept current on issues. They were delightful conversations we shared.

  3. A good, decent man with a strong work ethic and social conscience. A phenomenal cook, gardener and ballroom dancer among other things. Stuck with his sons through our thick and thin and did his best to keep track of the daughters-in-law and various threads of grand children.
    … Seajay had three employers here in Canada (Aircraft Industries then Marconi and finally ITT). He took pride in seizing the opportunity to take early retirement when it became known ITT had a major role in the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile.
    …You’re doing him proud youngster. You and Seajay always put me in mind of Neil Young’s Old Man… it could be the anthem for your relationship.

  4. Hey there once again Big Al… another special Seajay thing for you. I went looking for more Rambler photos and found a couple of deeply yellowed manuscript pages from him. This one is a poem written and signed by Seajay with you in mind. As always Seajay typed in the date (November 30, 1967) and a dedication: “dedicated in all humility to Capt. Al and his mission”. I recall at that time you were spending a year or more over in Scotland, land of our births.
    ****

    Contemplate

    The ultimate freedom
    of a sound like light
    sounding
    resounding
    lighter than sound
    sounding inside
    forever
    infinitely
    sounding like light.

    Seajay, November 30, 1967

    1. Author

      Interesting. I haven’t seen this before. The timing is a bit off. I went to Glasgow in September 1966 and came back to Dorval in June 1967. You and Ron met me at the Montreal pier where I walked off the Canadian Pacific steamer Empress of Canada. Got home in time to tear it up at Expo.

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