Story: John Mellor
Bill Stead, of Rock Street, celebrated his 90th birthday with his family and friends at the ‘Normanton public house’ recently. Born in Mirfield, West Yorkshire, he looks much younger than his 90 years and is both alert and sprightly, no doubt largely due to his early prowess as a prize-winning ballroom dancer. Although he has spent much of his life in Yorkshire he served in both India and Egypt during the war.
Bill remembers three times during his long life when he says that ‘lady luck’ was on his side.
On leaving school at 14 he trained as an apprentice motor mechanic at a garage in Huddersfield. At the age of 19 he was called up and and was advised by a friend to volunteer to join the RAF. After basic training he was transferred to Bomber Command at Poklington for driver training on various RAF vehicles. By 1942 he was sent to India. The journey via Cape Town look 6 weeks. In India he was attached to a radar unit where his main duties were as a driver. Whilst there, his first son Barry was born. Bill told me:
“ I wasn't able to get home to see him until 1945 when the war had ended. But things were very quiet in Bombay, I never saw a bullet. Most of the fighting was in the east on the border with Burma.Towards the end of the war I was transferred to Cairo where my main duty was as a driver to Air Marshall Sir Charles Meadows, who was in command of Middle East forces.”
On returning to Mirfield after the war, Bill discovered that he was the sole survivor of his group of friends from school who had been called up at the same time as him.
His first jobs on returning home were as a salesman, selling for a wholesale potato merchant and greengrocer, then with two vacuum cleaner companies. In 1954 he survived what could have been a fatal accident.
“I must have been sleep walking one night and somehow managed to fall through a first floor window. Fortunately, although my right arm was badly cut, I landed on soft soil which I had just turned over the previous day.”
Bill then became the landlord of a number of public houses. The first, in 1965, was the ‘Butcher's Arms’ at Berry Brow in Huddersfield, followed by the ‘George’ at Parkgate, Rotherham, the ‘Fox’ (Stainforth), ‘Dog & Partridge’ (Attercliffe), and the ‘Ferry Boat’ (Mexborough).
Then, in 1977, Bill moved south to Torquay where he took over the running of a taxi firm. This was a hectic period of his life, working seven days a week, with a regular contract for Newton Abbot prison as well as the busy tourist trade.
“On one occasion when driving my taxi in Torquay I was hit by a speeding stolen car. Although the taxi was badly damaged I was not seriously injured”.