Oxford Welsh Male Voice Choir

Founded in 1928...

 

Haydn Cooper: his sons' memories

12th January 1918 - 9th June 2014

At his funeral, one of his sons, David, read the following. It is not a complete biography. However, it offers some interesting and amusing insights into the early days of the choir and the hardships and good times which were experienced by our President.

 

No one was more surprised than Haydn to live to the age of ninety six. When we sat down to breakfast he would say to me, “Well I’m still here,” Often we would sit and talk for over an hour and he would reminisce over the full life he had led which was busy and sometimes full of drama. So today I will re-tell some of those events he talked about which is what he would have liked.


Haydn was born in Wattstown in the Rhondda and things did not get off to a good start as the mid wife had to massage his heart to get it going. He grew up in a close family with three brothers and three sisters. The mountains were his playground and when he wasn’t there he was organising either the school football team or taking part in the local gym club.


At an early age he showed musical promise as he used to enter singing competitions with his sister Dilys. Trained by their father John the pair could harmonise extremely well and came first in many events. Even much later in life Dilys and Haydn would get together with their younger sister Eira and enjoying singing.


Haydn could also be a scamp and one day talked his younger cousin Kenny into looking for skylarks nests on the mountain instead of going to Sunday School. Haydn arrived back home at the appropriate time but when his older sister, Morfydd came in she said, “Why wasn’t Haydn at Sunday School?”
His mother Jane Hannah said, “Didn’t you go to Sunday School, Haydn.”
“No Mam,” he replied.”
“Bed for you and no tea,” said his father John.
Upstairs in his bedroom Haydn contemplated his misdemeanour until he saw his younger cousin Kenny come out and start to play football in the street. This was unfair, Kenny had got away with it! So Haydn went into his parents' bedroom, got his father’s best dress shirt and cut off all the buttons! His crime was never discovered by his father as I think his mother sewed the buttons back.   
They never did find any skylarks nests!


For Christmas one year he was given an air rifle and before he could use it an Uncle arrived, pointed the gun at Haydn and thinking it was not loaded, pulled the trigger hitting him near his eye. Luckily he survived but the gun was broken in half by his father. Little did he know that guns would return later in his life.


At the age of fifteen, Haydn got a job delivering milk which started early in the morning and continued till late in the evening. As unemployment was running at over 70% he considered himself lucky. Often his younger brother Gwyn would go to the dairy at 9.00 at night to say his mother wanted Haydn to come home! This job lasted until he was sixteen when his employer had to pay national insurance for him and as there were lots of other younger boys, Haydn was sacked. He told me that Wales gave him nothing and yet he was proud to be Welsh and there were no better people in the World.


In 1934 with money he saved he bought a bus ticket to Oxford where he was going to stay with his Aunt Mary. His sister Morfydd met him at Gloucester Green bus station and paid his fare to Cowley. Haydn wore a flat cap, jacket, muffler and boots and using his words he said, “I must have looked a right shunny oi.” I think it meant a scruffy Herbert.


Haydn had joined the ranks of numerous Welsh people who came to Cowley to find work in the car plant and by the following day he was at work. At first he was poorly paid and only earned enough to pay for his food and lodgings but he was never afraid of hard work. Wales was still home and he returned for Christmas. He had a day for travelling before Christmas Day and a day after Boxing Day. Haydn decided to take an extra day and because of that when he returned to work he discovered he had been laid off for the rest of the week. Without work he could not pay for his lodgings and not wanting to into debt, he decided to cycle back to his parents, a distance of 120 miles. Setting off with John Davies, a friend, at 11.00 in the morning on a single speed bike, he arrived home in the morning at 4.00am. He woke his father by throwing stones at the window. It wasn’t even his bike but borrowed from his cousin!
His older brother, Irvin took Haydn on the return journey on his motor bike whilst the cycle went on the train.
Life got a little easier as he bought a BSA 250 motor bike which was he pride and joy. His brother Gwyn said if there was a mark on it, out would come Haydn’s hanky and the offending spot would be removed. This was the time when he joined the Oxford Welsh Glee Singers and the Welsh society.


He began courting our mother and the pair travelled about on his Norton 500cc motor bike. At work Haydn was involved in making prototype wings for the Spitfire which was a skilled job. As it was classified work, when Haydn was called up to join the Army he did not tell them and so he was to spend six years in khaki. Haydn did not talk about his war time experiences for many years and it was only latterly that he did. For him instead of those memories fading they became more vivid giving him nightmares. However, he always felt he had a guardian angel looking after him and giving him advice during his time as an army despatch rider.


On D Day he arrived early in the morning on Sword beach as part of a pilot group with his Colonel, driver and batman. Disembarking from the landing craft he sank in to a shell hole and prepared to drown, as many men did, but was swept up in a wave and carried to the beach.

      
As the Colonel’s despatch rider he had to find his own way to deliver messages sometimes finding himself in front of Allied lines. Riding on tank tracks was the best way through mine fields. Haydn was strafed by German aircraft and survived a parachute bomb dropped in a field, only because he was in a shallow trench. He felt the bomb blast pass over him and in the morning the trees were black and bare.


At times the Allied forces were no better. Their artillery was behind his regiment and they were firing at V2 rockets to prevent them hitting London. The artillery were very accurate but the shrapnel from the V2 came down on Haydn and his companions. He said he went to sleep with his helmet over his face in the foxhole and did not expect to wake in the morning!


Haydn went into Brussels as it was liberated and amongst the cheering crowds a lady took him in and suggested he shaved and had a bath. When he looked in the mirror his face was black. On another occasion he did not take his boots off for six weeks in case the Germans counter attacked.


After the war, Haydn was in Germany for a year helping relocate displaced people. He liked the German people and saw what they had had to endure. A German pilot acted as his guide and his food was so awful, Haydn shared his with him. He defended a German female worker who had stolen some clothes to buy extra food for her family and got her reinstated.


Haydn heard about a farm which had fresh eggs and so he took a blanket along to trade. On the return journey he saw a woman climbing out of a ditch with a baby so he gave her an egg. By the time he got back to the barracks he had given all the eggs away.


Life after the war was busy with a family of five children and work at Pressed Steel. He liked to escape from us all by spending time in his garden growing flowers and vegetables. As a child I do not remember him sitting down for long, but decorating either for us or for neighbours –and always out of goodwill. I remember him at this time as being quiet but later in life he loved to talk and be in company. He was always nimble and active. When he was in his eighties, I was up on his single storey roof repairing some flashing only to find he had climbed the ladder to see if I needed any help!


He re-joined the choir after the war and it was to play an important part in his life. In 1959 he sang on the chancel steps here with Haydn and John Evans, and Harold Bull as part of a school Christmas Service. In the 1990’s he was here performing Zadoc the Priest with the choir. To him there was no better music than a Male Voice choir and he particularly enjoyed being part of a thousand voices at Cardiff Arms Park singing with his younger brother Glyn. Eventually, he was to be the last surviving member of the pre-war choir and became its President, something he was so proud of.


After he was widowed he became close to Millie, a family friend of many years. They gave each other a new lease of life and continued dancing for some time. When Millie had a series of strokes he went every afternoon to be with her at the Isis care home where he was eventually to be a volunteer until the last couple of years. Looking after the elderly he said!


I would like to conclude with my favourite story. Based near the Mohne dam which had been bombed, his Colonel had seen a bungalow on its shore complete with a speed boat. Haydn was sent to requisition the keys so it could be used by the Colonel. The locals were not friendly due to the devastation caused by the bombing. Haydn went to collect the keys from the Burgher Master. So he went to the town hall, up the stairs to the office to find a bear of a man complete with bushy beard and curled moustache. In his best German he asked for the keys and kept his hand on his revolver at the same time. The man stood up and said,” What part of Wales do you come from?
He was also Welsh and had been interned during the war. Obviously Haydn was given the keys!


There is much more to say about Haydn life but one thing is certain he will be very much missed by his family and friends.