Brian Vincent Gallagher, Biography 21st July 1919 - 10th April 2002
Brian was born on 21st July 1919 at 6 Tyne Vale Terrace, Lemington on
Tyne in Northumberland, UK, the youngest of five surviving children, to
Thomas Edward Gallagher and Ethel Blanche Austen. His older siblings
were Paul, Alfred, Margaret and Liles.
In 1924 the family moved to Ryton on Tyne on the other side of the river
from Lemington and near to the Spencer’s Steel Works in Newburn on
Tyne, where his father, Thomas, worked. Thomas was a natural
sportsman and had been an acrobat before he married. He had met his
future wife, Ethel, who was from Faversham, Kent, while performing
acrobatics ‘on tour’. Thomas won a county cap for his rugby prowess
however, he was kicked in the neck while playing rugby and it was
thought this might have contributed to him developing cancer of the neck
and throat. In 1925 Ethel decided the family should move to the south
as the warmer climate might improve his chances of recovery, so the
family moved to Ash Farm, Ottery St Mary in Devon, but sadly, Brian’s
father died within months of the move.
Soon after Brian's mother arrived in Devon with her sick husband, young family and no source of income, they met the Lindsay family through the local church. The Lindsays, were relatively well off and on learning of Ethel's predicament, they very generously paid for Brian to go to the Convent School in Bridport, Dorset as a boarder, and for his sisters, Margaret and Liles, to attend boarding school also. Meanwhile, Brian's teenage brothers, Paul and Alfred went out to work to help support the family. On reaching the age of 9, Brian attended Exeter boys school.
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With the outbreak of war in 1939, Brian joined the Navy while his oldest brother, Paul, joined the RAF and his other brother, Alfred, joined the Army. His sister Margaret took up teaching and his other sister, Liles, became a nurse. In 1940, Brian met and fell in love with Marian Cannon, a Navy Pay Office Clerk in Exeter. They were married on the 17th March 1941. Tragically, while Brian was away at sea, Marian fell ill and died on the 23rd July 1941 along with their child that she was carrying. The sad news did not reach Brian until after Marian had been buried.
Whilst in the Navy Brian he earned his nickname “Hughie” and was eventually promoted to Petty Officer. In March 1947, whilst serving on HMS Vanguard at Devonport Naval base in Plymouth, Brian started courting Muriel June Trask. They were married on the 16th July 1949 at the Holy Cross Church, Plymouth, two weeks before Brian was de-mobbed at the end of July.
They lived in Plymouth for a few weeks after the wedding and then returned to Crewkerne, the home of both of their families at that time. Needing a job, Brian became a postman in Crewkerne. However, Gordon Leonard, who was best man at his wedding, realised that Brian was not cut out to be a postman. So Gordon pulled a few strings and got him a job back in Devon, working for Dartington Hall, artificially inseminating cows! Shortly thereafter, Brian started his own family with June, raising Louise, Paul, Duncan, Frances and Adrian.
The family lived in Totnes for the next few years whilst he worked for Dartington Hall. In 1953, he left and became a salesman, selling fire extinguishers! Unfortunately, this was a commission only job and didn’t provide enough to feed an ever-growing family so, in 1954, he moved to Newton Abbott and started work as an electrician for Watts, Blake and Bearne at the Clay Pitts.
In the late 1960’s he took his electrician skills to the Railways, working at the Newton Abbot depot on the latest technology of the time, Diesel-Electric engines. It was whilst working there, he got involved with the Union movement and Labour Party which became his life’s love and something he fought for, for years to come.
In 1961, the family moved to Oakland
Road, Newton Abbott and a year later, he
switched career again and moved to the
largest factory employer in the area,
Centrax, which was conveniently, within
walking distance of the new home.
Although, Brian joined as an electrician,
Centrax were soon to experience an
unexpected shock. Being a staunch
Labourite and Union activist, he became
one of the leaders of a strike that lasted
from November 1969 until March 1970,
fighting for better pay, terms and condition
for his colleagues. The Company could not
resist Brian's battery of current demands,
and so was transformed J
Brian and his family would sometimes
receive visits from his brothers’ families,
Alfred and Hazel in Bristol, and Paul and
Hilda in Crewkerne, and sometimes Brian’s
family would visit them. It was also a welcome opportunity for the young cousins to get to know each other.
Brian continued working at Centrax as a “Sparky” and union official until he was made redundant in 1982. However, almost before the Management had had a chance to swallow their celebratory Champagne toast, Brian was rehired again until his final retirement in 1984.
He found a part time job after retirement, if for nothing else than to give June some space. He worked in a petrol station serving fuel and taking care of any odd jobs that no-one else wanted to do, but he loved it.
Brian stood for election as Town Councillor twice but he never won a seat, and to add insult to injury, he even lost his deposit. However, it never dampened his spirit, and he continued to make his voice heard, at rallies, in newspaper articles and any way he could find, including shouting at the radio to let off steam.
Last of the Summer Wine!
Brian (right) with his brothers Paul (left) and Alfred, 1986
During his retirement, Brian made two expeditions to “the colonies”,
to visit his sister, Margaret, in Vancouver, Canada and his nephew,
David, in Portland, Oregon. He thoroughly enjoyed the change of
scene and pace in America and vowed to return yet again as soon
as he could.
Brian loved crosswords and I remember his sister-in-law, Hilda,
even telephoning him to discuss the answer to that Sunday’s
crossword. Brian enjoyed a laugh and making others laugh, which
he often did quite inadvertently by being in the wrong place at the
wrong time; from falling over a wall and sliding down the grassy
bank spread eagled, trying to run to get in the car, to being
knocked over by a bicycle in the middle of the road because he
failed to check to see if the road was clear, to coming home one
night absolutely legless with his son Paul, falling down yet another
grassy bank and not remembering why the next day they had so
many bruises, not to mention the sore heads. But he could always laugh at himself.
Brian’s other interests included old Triumph cars and, as everyone who knew him knows, real ale. Although, he enjoyed the taste and flavour of the real ales, he was always ready and willing to try new ones. His favourite was the one and only, Royal Oak. Also, he particularly enjoyed Pussers Navy Rum so, when his ashes were scattered on the River Tamar at Plymouth, we all drank a glass of Pussers in a fitting toast to him.
In 2001, he made what he hoped would be the first of many visits back to Namsos, Norway, where he met up with the veterans of the Russian Convoy from the 2nd world war days. He had always hoped to return again, but alas, that was not to be.
He fought and conquered bowel cancer, but in the end it was his heart that failed. However, Brian was a “people-person” who made the most of his 83 years and, most importantly, he had a lot of fun and gave a lot of fun along the way.