Mal Pope column: He'll always be a hero to me
COMPARED with the tumultuous events of the previous decade 1923 seemed to be a relatively uneventful year.
Five years after the end of the First World War, there was still a hope that a "Land fit for heroes" was under construction.
The Wall Street Crash, which would lead to the Great Depression of the 1930s, was still six years away and the world was starting to settle down a little.
In the previous year 1922, news came light that the Liberal Prime Minister had been selling knighthoods and peerages. That led to the end of the Tory/Liberal coalition government and the resignation of Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Parliament had made a clear statement that it would not tolerate financial malpractice.
By 1923 the Conservatives were in power, the Liberals were struggling to regain the confidence of the electorate and the Labour Party was standing in the wings waiting for its chance.
The year started with the all of the smaller railway companies being grouped into four main companies including GWR, the Great Western Railways, so at least people knew the railways were in good hands.
There were hopes that the problems in Ireland were finally going to be settled with the end of the Irish Civil War in May of that year whilst Germany was struggling to cope with paying reparations imposed on it after the First World War. In September 1923 there was a failed attempt by Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party to take control of the country. This ended in Hitler being sentenced to five years in prison. As I said, a relatively uneventful year.
Whilst all this was going on, in September 1923, in the little town of Briton Ferry in South Wales a most unlikely hero was born.
I'm told that he was such a small and sickly child his parents were told that the chances of Stanley Pope making it to adulthood were not that great.
In an attempt to find clean air and a new life Stan and his family moved further up the valley to Pontrhydyfen where they opened a small grocery shop that served the community for the next 20 years. Stan took his place behind the counter, measuring out the butter and cheese, bagging up tea and providing all the essentials for the close knit mining community.
In his spare time he become quite a preacher at the local tin shed Gospel Hall his father had helped pay for and build.
The war set the world alight and Stan finally got his chance to do his bit by joining the Navy, aged 19. The sickly child had grown a little, but not much. This was most marked for me when in 2005, on the 60th Anniversary of the VE celebrations, my eight-year-old son borrowed his granddad's Navy uniform for a school production. It did fit him, but only just. The war opened up the world to young Stan introducing him to all sorts of people from all around the UK. It took him across the Atlantic to Newfoundland and there followed endless nights at sea hunting the submarines that were attacking the allied convoys.
It was a time of life and death. One of the ships he had previously sailed on was torpedoed and sank to the bottom of the Atlantic. All of his young friends were lost. Once the ship he sailed on saw action leading to the destruction of a U-Boat. Seventy years later that memory still brings tears to his eyes even though he has written to the German U-Boat association asking for, and being granted, forgiveness for his actions in doing his duty.
Stan's mother had passed away at a young age and while he was at sea his father also lost a battle with cancer. After the war, like so many young men being demobbed, Stan was offered a place at one of the top universities. Instead he continued to do his duty and returned to Pontrhydyfen to look after the family business and give some stability to his young orphaned brother.
He carried on preaching, met my mum, had a family and became a teacher, and boy could he talk. Stan Pope talked to everybody about everything. I often say one of my fondest memories is when I first met Elton John. I was a tongue tied teenager meeting my hero, my dad dressed in his Sunday school superintendent black suit talked to the pink-haired Elton John … about gardening!
This week Stanley Pope proved those doctors wrong as he celebrated his 90th birthday. The world has changed so much in his lifetime. You probably won't find his name written in any book chronicling heroic acts but for me, the man who never missed a game of football that I played in throughout all of my schoolboy years, is a hero and he always will be.