'A fine journalist' - Tributes to former Evening Star editor and war hero Tony Pyatt
- Credit: Archant
Professionally, he is remembered as the man at the helm of the Evening Star (now Ipswich Star) for more than a decade.
For others, he is a decorated war hero who helped to oust the Nazis from France on D-Day.
But by his family, Tony Pyatt is remembered as a “very good father” who treated everybody the same and always had time for his children.
“The thing about dad was, he would mix with all our friends,” remembers Tony’s son, Andrew. “That is something I always remember. Any of our friends could come into our house at any time, whereas the friends I had, I never saw their parents. But Dad always mixed with us, that was just what he did.”
Tony’s life spanned an incredible 105 years, of which, Andrew says, “he never wasted a minute”.
Tony was born in Faversham, Kent in 1916 as the First World War continued to rage.
“Dad never knew his real mother,” explains Andrew, “because she died from sepsis.” Tony was only three years old. His father, a commercial traveller, remarried three years later, and Tony was raised by his stepmother.
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His lifelong love affair with newspapers began as a teenager, when he worked as an apprentice on the local paper, the Wisbech Standard, before moving to the Surrey Weekly Press and then the Surrey County Herald.
It was an exciting time to be a journalist, and Tony was working as a reporter at the time of the abdication crisis, when Britain was rocked by the news that Edward VIII was leaving the throne to marry the American divorcee, Wallis Simpson.
With the Second World War on the horizon, Tony joined the Territorial Army in 1939, and was called up two weeks later to serve in the 48th Royal Tank Regiment.
Years later, Tony told his family that he was struck by just how young many of his colleagues were.
“He told me a lot of the people who joined up were only 15 or 16,” says Andrew. “They lied about their ages so they could go and fight the Germans. He thought they were brave boys, because they just wanted to help out.”
Tony’s war service took him to Suffolk, where he stayed in billets at Glevering Hall near Woodbridge and Orwell Park in Nacton, where tanks were being waterproofed before being loaded onto ships at Felixstowe.
In 1944, D-Day arrived and Tony landed with thousands of other British soldiers to secure the beachhead on Gold Beach. He was a signals officer in charge of communications for his regiment.
On his 100th birthday, Tony remembered the day to this newspaper.
He said: “We had some hairy battles in the landing area, Arromanches, Caen and Bayeux. I was with the regiment all the time as we moved through Europe and Germany to Berlin, where I spent my last six months in the Army before being demobbed.
“I was so thankful that I came through it all and I was never wounded.”
Tony was made a Chevalier of the Order of Légion d’Honneur for the role he played in liberating France from Nazi tyranny.
On the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Tony returned to France with his sons and son-in-law.
“We went to the Normandy beaches with Dad for D-Day, when the Queen was there,” remembers Andrew. “He enjoyed it, but he was very sad. He wanted to go there, but it was hard. We looked after him.
“He was feted wherever he went. Because he had his regalia on, everyone wanted to speak to him and take photographs. He was very well appreciated. They said, thank you for what you did in the war. You saved us.”
After the horrors of war, Tony threw himself into his career and family life. During his time in Suffolk, he met Audrey, and the couple married and had four children, first Stephen, and then Andrew, Elizabeth and Vivienne.
He was, Andrew says, “a very good father.”
Andrew remembers emigrating to Canada in his youth.
“Dad all the paperwork for me, and I was 19, so I was old enough to do it myself. But he did it all for me, I had to do nothing at all. That was just what he did.”
The family moved around to follow Tony’s flourishing career.
“He liked to move about,” recalls Andrew. “I was born in Ipswich, and then he went to work for the Birmingham Post, which was night work as the paper came out in the morning.
“Then he got a job with the Standard Triumph Motor Co, where he edited their paper. But then he realised that wasn’t journalism for him, it wasn’t enough.”
It was at this time that Ralph Wilson, the managing editor of the EADT, wrote to Tony, asking him to return to the Evening Star as deputy editor.
“Dad jumped at the chance, and that’s when we all moved back from Birmingham to Ipswich.” One year later, in 1965, Tony became the editor, and held this position until he retired in 1978.
“He was a very fine journalist,” says Andrew. “He would never be compromised.”
Tony saw many big-news stories over his years as editor, from gruesome murders to Ipswich Town’s FA Cup win in 1978.
“One of the biggest things I can remember him doing was, before the Orwell Bridge was built, Dad had to go down to London and talk on behalf of the Evening Star newspaper to talk about what was being planned,” says Andrew.
“Dad pushed for a tunnel, but they said no, we’re going to build a bridge. Dad did say afterwards that he’d probably been wrong, because he thought the Orwell Bridge was absolutely marvellous.”
Tony remained a journalist well after he had retired.
“He’d come and stay with us, and the first thing he’d do was watch the news. We'd say, OK, Dad, we’ll watch the 6 o’clock news. But then at 7 o’clock he’d want to watch it again.
“I’d say, Dad, we’ve just seen the news! But I’m a newspaper man, he’d say, that’s my job!"
“You learned not to give him your newspaper, because you couldn’t read it afterwards. The pages would be all over the place! It was like he was eating it, really.
“He lived and breathed newspapers.”
Audrey passed away aged 77 and, Andrew says, this was harder for Tony than his time in the war.
In his later years, Tony travelled and worked with young journalists studying for the NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) diploma.
He also enjoyed attending Kesgrave Community Centre’s Active Adult sessions to improve health and wellbeing. The group brought in a special cake for Tony’s 100th birthday.
When he turned 103, Tony was surprised by a visit from members of his old regiment, the Royal Tank Regiment.
Retired Captain Dean Hutton said at the time: "We are family and Tony is part of that."
Last September, Tony celebrated his 105th birthday, surrounded by his family at Grove Court Care Home in Woodbridge after a long separation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The day coincided with the happy news that Tony’s youngest great-grandchild had been born in the early hours of the morning.
Tony passed away aged 105 on January 23, 2022. He leaves behind thirteen grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.