Saturday 13 July 2013

Eulogy for the funeral of John Frazier

Wow, how many people? Well, welcome to Rock church, I am sorry you couldn’t all find a seat.
That in itself, purely by the number of you here, it is a fantastic compliment to this man that I will be inevitably unable to surpass in words.
But – please – let me try.

John Frazier.
What a man.
Perhaps the last of his kind.

As the Pastor said, today is not a day of sadness, but a day of celebration. Celebration of the life of a man who made the most of his.
A man born and bred in the parish of Rock - The second biggest parish in England - he was always proud to say that. I am not sure if its true, but it sounds pretty good.

Nearly the last of the elders of this parish too - when it comes to farmers and custodians of the land anyway.
His compatriots, John Whiteman, Bernard Birch, Aubrey Booton, John Nott Bullockhurst ------ they’re all gone too.
Back in the days when Coningswick had yards full of cattle being fattened for market, we heard one morning that his school chum, John Whiteman, had died –
That day Bernard Birch commented, ‘Jack, it looks like they are pulling out of our pen, now!’
Well That pen is pretty much empty today, as the next generation fill it’s stalls..

John Waldron Frazier.
Born at Fernhalls farm in 1925, the youngest of 3 - known as Jack to a select few -  John’s life was set on course to be a farmer from the outset.
Schooled at Rock School – for those who don’t remember it, it stood next to Timberdine house, on the site of – bungalow now – and later at Far Forest.  He had a meagre education, although he often commended the way they taught him maths, something he was always particularly good at. His mother, my granny Kate, recalled with pride how he won the school prize for arithmetic and she was called in to be told of it.
By his teens, a war had started, and he did his bit for this in two ways.
Firstly, he was issued with a standard Fordson and a two furrow plough, which he then proceeded to drive for the next 4 years, ploughing up pastures, some of which had never been turned over in thousands of years, in order to feed the nation. There are not many acres around here that he didn’t pull a furrow through during that time. Perhaps there may have been a few high hedgerows from where a fair maiden might have applauded the excellence of his cops and reams.

And then there was Dad’s army – the Bewdley Home Guard. The tales he told about those days could fill a book in itself. As a young private, he would spend days and nights defending Bewdley from invasion by the hun who might, at any time, approach up the Severn. A platoon full of boys in uniform, too young to make real soldiers, but too old to ignore a world war.
And, of course, he fought - in the battle of Bewdley.
Maybe there are a few here who are unaware of this infamous event?
In 1941, whilst on the lookout for raids by air, one local spotted what he assumed were parchutists falling from the sky over Wyre hill, and sounded the alarm by ringing the church bells.
With bayonets affixed, John and his platoon were despatched to capture the dastardly German paratroopers – shoot to kill if they had to. It was at least half an hour later when it was discovered that what was falling from the sky was not in fact soldiers at all, but straw that had been collected by a small whirlwind and then deposited from a great height. Oh how the shame must have shown in their red faces!

Farming – he enjoyed farming.

As he moved more into the roll of farmer, John was always a man of vision. Events were progressing and consumer demands dictated new methods of production.
You must remember that this was a fast changing period in agriculture. A time that accelerated farming from being a simple way of life, through a family dependant livelihood, to becoming a business that required brains, discipline, rules – and profit.

Chicken farming at fernhalls gave way to fruit growing, as the steeper fields provided gooseberries, blackcurrants, damsons and plums to a starving nation. This in turn, especially during picking time, offered employment to many from the local area, when Dad would drive the cattle lorry each morning to pick up housewives in their dozens from Stourport and Bewdley to reap the harvest.
New Buildings sprung up to house ventures into pork and beef production, with the barley-beef unit at the newly acquired Coningswick farm being far ahead of its time. Innovative crops were grown too, such as peas, beans and even lupins - as he not only embraced, but experimented with new ideas – all the time recording the results, learning, and moving forward.

Tractors – he liked tractors.

I am sure he would have approved of his final journey behind that magnificent Massey Ferguson 135 – courtesy of Dave Bradley.

All his days, right up until recently, he would be out at daylight on his tractor, tilling the soil with tender care. As machines progressed from simplicity to highly complicated, so he would evolve, adapt and learn.
Nick would like it known, that he is missing his tractor driver now – and a lot more advice besides.

John married Val, a vibrant but tolerant person, in 1954, and they remained happily married for some 59 years. A life sentence, some may say. But she never complained, when sometimes farmlife didn’t go according to plan.

Not just a man of vision, John will always be remembered for his eye for quality, in everything that he produced. Pigs and cattle were the mainstay of the farm for many years, every one of them of the highest quality and confirmation - regularly recording the top price of the day at Kidderminster Market. Up to 10 steers per week and a hundred pigs - all bore the Frazier calibre of excellence that had butchers clambering to sell them in their stores.
In order to extend the reputation of quality - steers were exhibited at local shows – something which soon became a passion. During the 70s & 80s, the name of HS Frazier & Son was engraved on dozens of trophies, which annually adorned the mantelpiece at Coningswick. I believe he won the coveted champion of Kidderminster Fatstock show, a commendable  9 times in 10 years.

Sheep – he loved sheep

In fact, It is probably with sheep that many of you will associate John Frazier.
Again, among this species, he was a pioneer. Initially experimenting with breeding Welsh Mules, a cross between a Beulah ewe from the welsh mountains, and an often short-lived Blue Faced Leicester, he would supply breeding stock to many other farmers throughout the Midlands.
Incidentally, For those of you unaware of a Blue Faced Leicester, they are a rather gangly looking creature, with a penchant for dropping dead for no apparent reason. On buying these rams from Builth ram sale, when asked if the vendor would be offering a luck-penny with the sale, one breeder replied, ‘yes, we give a spade away, with every one!’
And so it was, he turned to the Blue du maine, a new breed which was just imported from France. Within a short time, John soon became an expert breeder of these, exhibiting sheep at shows far and wide and retrieving a haul of cups, rosettes and championships.
As you may be aware, the welsh nation is very fond of its sheep, so it will be of no surprise that the Royal welsh show is the biggest sheep show in the world. To win a breed championship there is the pinnacle of any breeder’s career. John Frazier did that, on no less than 5 occasions.
In order to find the very best, the ultimate top sheep, -– a finale is held on the last day of this event, where all the champions get to fight it out for one trophy – the best in show, if you will. The holy grail of sheep breeding.
In 1992, John was a very proud man when the name of HS Frazier & Son was immortalised on that very trophy – a feat that only a few have ever achieved.
His prowess with this breed brought him invitations to judge shows, far and wide, from Bristol to Belfast - Carlisle to CardiffEdinburgh to Essex. In fact he has judged at shows in just about every county in England, again an accolade that few can boast. He was also the first - and I believe ONLY - breeder to ever sell a blue du maine sheep back to France. A deal that was done – bizarrely - in a Parisian nightclub. That is to say, he was in the nightclub, not the sheep.

Still on the lookout for yet more quality, the arrival of a new breed took his eye, that of the Beltex - a hybrid sheep from Belgian. Instantly taken with the carcase capabilities of this breed, a nucleus flock was set up at Coningswick - which was soon to set the breed alight. Yet more trophies poured in, as well as top priced animals being sold to breeders far and wide. To this very day, the name of Coningswick lives on in hundreds of pedigrees throughout the land. A testament to a man with a clear vision for quality.
He was once interviewed about his sheep breeding success, and asked what he looked for in an animal.
His reply was simply this: ‘If I can breed a sheep with an arse as big as my missus, that will do for me!’
I think Val might have been out of earshot on that occasion!

Whisky. He liked whisky.

To all of you here, that is no secret. Many of you will have shared a dram with him over the years, be it at livestock shows or in the Bliss Gate or Rock Cross, listening to his stories.
Macallan, that was his tipple.
He was also an avid collector of things. Guns, tractors, walking sticks and books, but primarily whiskies. In fact his unique collection runs into literally hundreds of miniature bottles from extreme areas and unobtainable eras.

That is why, directly after this service, you are all invited back to the Rock Cross, for some light refreshments and to raise a glass to the old bugger.
This was a man who, after all, coined the phrase.


Thank you