Pete Gripton writes: “Tony died on 03.12.12. He had not been well for several weeks. In the end it was a massive heart attack and mercifully very quick.” That was the essence of an e-mail that I received around the middle of December 2012 – and it brought back many fond memories of the summer of 1956, when Tony and I found ourselves in the same barrack room at Arborfield, having just joined up as ‘boy soldiers’. After the initial six months, having left HQ Company and the inevitable splitting up of that barrack room’s members, our career paths deemed that it was to be many years before our paths crossed once again. That event happened in the Sergeants’ Mess of Princess Marina College in 1999, which was the 50th anniversary of our Div having its Passing-out Parade from the Army Apprentices’ School in 1959. Tony and his wife Heather attended several 56B reunions after that, despite the fact that in latter years Tony was confined to a wheelchair. He bore his invalidity with good heart and an innate sense of humour. The last time we all saw him was at Alvaston Hall up in Staffordshire back in 2009. Attached is a photograph of some Room F1 members taken in 1956, with names as far as memory serves:
Back row: Jock Massie (Room NCO), Tony Strong, Fritz Fry, unknown, George Fleetwood, Derek Coates and Roger Nixon.
Front: Bundock, Alan Dagless, Sid Urwin, Tex Bradley and Chris Huxford.
Johnny Stewart writes: Tony was a good mate of mine. We had much in common, having both been Gun Fitters and having also come from Portsmouth. I frequently carried him on my old Matchless 350 down to Pompey for weekends. This experience probably contributed to his early demise! I remember telling him about how, as a kid, I used to steal lemonade from the lemonade factory next to the Brunswick Laundry at Stamshaw, near my home, once a week through a broken window. Suddenly his expression changed from amiable to that of genuine shock horror. “That’s my granddad’s factory you tea leaf”, he said! (He actually used a more colourful adjective to describe his opinion of me) We often laughed about it afterwards. In later life we discovered we had something else in common, having both made a commitment to Christ along the way. He shared with me his disappointment that no-one suggested we said Grace at one of the reunion meals, so we bowed our heads and gave thanks together. I remember him with great affection and respect. I look forward to our reunion in eternity Tony, or should I say ‘Stonge’.
Dave Braithwaite also writes: If I remember correctly, I boxed against Tony in the final of the novices’ competition at Arborfield – and beat him, as he reminded me of at one of the 56B dinners. He was also a bit of an athlete (400 yards I think) and we were both in the College Team. He was a nice guy, rather modest I seem to recall. R.I.P
George Fleetwood adds: Firstly let me say how sad I am to hear of Tony Strong’s demise. He was not a very close acquaintance of mine during those thee years at Arborfield and, after our Passing-out parade, I never did see or hear anymore of him. I do have memories of him being a stocky blonde-haired chap, quiet and easy to get on with; I think he was an Armourer or perhaps Gun Fitter. We came into slight contact with each other through the School’s small-bore shooting team, of which we were both members. His character, to me, was always typified by his surname, and I’m sure that he bore all his problems in the same way.
Pete Gripton continues: I contacted Heather at home in Bracknell and she later kindly sent me the following potted history of Tony’s career:
Tony was born in the great naval seaport of Portsmouth in May 1940. He later attended Portsmouth Grammar School and spent some of his formative years as a Sea Cadet. During the Fifties, National Service was still a major part of adult life, but in August 1956 Tony chose to join the Army as an Apprentice Tradesman, and was stationed at Arborfield. After his three-year apprenticeship and qualifying as a Gun Fitter, he was posted to 45 Regiment, Royal Artillery.
He served in Germany (BAOR) and was involved in both the Malayan emergency and the Borneo confrontation. The Regiment returned to the UK in January 1963 and was stationed at Shoeburyness, just outside Southend-on-sea in Essex. It was there that he met and later married Heather, which was in March 1967. He then went on a course at Bordon to become an Artificer Weapons and, upon its completion, he and Heather were sent to Catterick , by which time they had a daughter, Nicky.
On a wet and muddy exercise in Germany, Tony applied for service with the Gurkhas and was posted to Hong Kong to join the 6th Queen Elizabeth’s Own Gurkha Regiment in June1970. He loved working with the men and taught them the technique of discus throwing. He had the distinction of having his picture on the front of the Gurkha ‘Parbate!’ magazine when the team was successful in the games. Tony and Heather’s son Eli was born in Hong Kong. The whole regiment was posted to Brunei in October 1971, where Tony played cricket with a mixed side of school teachers and VSOs (Voluntary Service Overseas), as well as a few Army personnel.
Their next posting was to Northern Ireland and, although it was during ‘the Troubles’, it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. The family then had five years in three different locations in Germany before Tony finally left the Army as a Warrant Officer Class 1 (ASM) in 1980.
In civilian life, Tony first went to work for ML Aviation, initially as a technical author, and subsequently for the air-crew equipment department. The company later became ML Lifeguard and eventually moved to Wales. Tony was then approached by Martin Baker Aircraft and he joined their AEA department – he always used to say that he dressed life-size dolls for a living! He finally retired in 2005, having had an operation for bowel cancer the previous year. Unfortunately, the treatment he had been given caused sensory nerve damage to both feet, which meant that Tony could no longer be as active as he would have liked.
Tony had become very weak in his later years and his death was not unexpected. He had a massive heart attack, which was very quick, and his family knows it was the best for him. His ashes were scattered in the sea at Portsmouth Point by the family on Sunday 13th January 2013.
Pete Gripton, 56B