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Service for well known villager

PUBLISHED: 02:24 08 January 2002 | UPDATED: 11:08 03 March 2010

A THANKSGIVING service will pay tribute to a 92-year-old man whose memories of 20th Century life in his home village have been committed to posterity on radio recordings.

A THANKSGIVING service will pay tribute to a 92-year-old man whose memories of 20th Century life in his home village have been committed to posterity on radio recordings.

Fred Willson-Hamilton made a major contribution to the life of Lavenham, and was due to attend a choir practice the day he died, having sung in his local church for 66 years.

He also held the British Empire Medal, which he was awarded in 1970 for services to the British Red Cross.

A noted Suffolk athlete in his younger days when he won many race walking events, he spent more than half a century working in the gas industry, starting in the era when he used to tour the village putting on street lights at night.

In later years, his memories of village life going back to pre-First World War times had reached national audiences, with his life-long friend and Suffolk broadcaster Ivan Howlett having featured Mr Willson-Hamilton on both BBC regional and Radio Four archive programmes.

Speaking of his former friend, Mr Howlett said: "Fred was a very kindly man and a key figure in the village for virtually all his life. If you couldn't get the vicar or the doctor, the next person to go to for help would normally be Fred.

"He had vivid memories of earlier days, including events such as the first aeroplane to crash in the village about 80 years ago, the part that horse transport played in the community and, of course, the history of the local gas works. He seemed to have perfect, accurate recall, and I am pleased to have had the chance to make sure at least some of his oral recollections are archived."

Leaving school at 14, Mr Willson-Hamilton joined the town gas works as an office boy, and later became manager, although the site ceased producing gas in 1938, when supplies were piped from Long Melford until the arrival of natural gas in 1960. After the closure of the Lavenham works, he transferred with the Gas Board to its site in Sudbury.

However, one of the village's former twin gas holders, which dates from 1862, and is immediately across the road from Mr Willison-Hamilton's life-long, former Water Street home, is now an ancient monument.

He was awarded the British Empire Medal when commandant of the local detachment of the British Red Cross, and later left the movement to form the Lavenham Care and Rescue Unit, which supported the elderly and infirm in the village for many years. In 1993 he was awarded a Babergh council community achievement award for his work.

A widower, he died while being transported home by car following a hospital appointment on December 21. A thanksgiving service will be held in Lavenham parish church at 2.30 pm tomorrow.

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