Home » JOHN (RICHARD LIONEL) CARPENTER 1921 – 2013

JOHN (RICHARD LIONEL) CARPENTER 1921 – 2013

John was born at Dormansland, Surrey on the 11th April 1921. His parents were Douglas Ellis Carpenter, a civil engineer, and Ellinor Carpenter (nee Howe). Dad was the younger of their two children, his sister, Dorothea, was eleven years his senior.  When Dad was still young the family returned to the more familiar territory of the South East London / Kent borderlands, moving to a three-storey late Victorian villa in Mottingham. Here dad was to enjoy an idyllic childhood.

Because he was considered frail, (he was to remain noticeably skinny throughout his long life) dad didn’t start school until he was seven years old. Eventually he progressed to Eltham College. Dad always regarded Eltham as an excellent school. Although his time there was academically undistinguished, he absorbed the traditions of the school and, like all his school fellows, greatly admired the accomplishments of former pupil Eric Liddell. The school provided a firm moral compass, a sense of decency and fair play, which was to remain with dad throughout his life. The school also offered a wide range of extra mural and artistic activities from which dad undoubtedly benefited. He particularly enjoyed the art lessons of Mr McIver.

Dad left school in 1939, volunteering for wartime service in the Royal Air Force. Like so many young men of his generation, he was fascinated by the possibilities of civil and military aviation.  Dad was unsuccessful in his chief ambition – he wanted to be a pilot – though anyone who ever had the misfortune to travel in a car with him would understand why the Air Ministry decided otherwise. Instead he endured several years of wartime tedium as a leading aircraftman stationed in the UK before being sent overseas in 1944. The Tactical Air Force provided close ground support for troops pursuing the retreating Japanese. He served in India, Burma and, latterly, Hong Kong. Life, even as ground crew, in forward jungle positions, was tough; steamy, muddy, basic and snake infested, and dad succumbed to malaria and tropical diseases which necessitated several months in hospital. Only once did he come under direct attack. The perimeter of their airstrip was breached by elements of the retreating Japanese who, after a mortar and small arms attack had caused significant casualties, were eventually repulsed by a relieving force of soldiers from the Indian Army. It’s heartening to note that thirty years after this incident, mum and dad were to enjoy excellent relations with their Japanese neighbours in Greater London.

After the war and demobilization, dad took up an ex-servicemen’s scholarship at Camberwell School of Art (now part of the University of the Arts, London) in order to train as a commercial artist/ typographer. Here he was tutored by some of the leading artists of the time including John Minton and Sir William Coldstream. It was during his time as a student, that dad travelled through France and Italy to Yugoslavia and worked with young Communist pioneers on re-building the railway network for Marshall Tito. Whilst the left-wing, revolutionary fervour of his student days was to fade, memories of Milan, Venice and Dubrovnik and a love of travel were to remain with him for the rest of his life.

It was through George Helmer, an old school friend , also ex-RAF, that dad, first got to know the Jackson family and in particular their eldest daughter, Gwen, a young legal secretary and former Prendergast, Lewisham student and Wren (Women`s Royal Naval Service).  The two were married at St. Augustine’s Church, Grove Park on the 10th June 1950.  Gwen, as was the custom in those days, stayed at home – firstly in a rented flat in Mottingham, then on a new estate in Orpington – whilst dad embarked on his long career as a commercial artist in the advertising agencies of the West End.

A son, Peter, was born in 1952, followed by a daughter, Katy, in 1959.

Dad worked in the advertising industry for well over thirty years and worked for some of the top agencies including McCann Erickson and Greys. This was a time when advertising was viewed with some misgivings – it was the time of the hidden persuaders, of Madison Avenue and Mad Men – it was cutthroat and glamorous, hire and fire. Dad survived, working long hours in a pressurised environment on campaigns, many of which were to become famous. Indeed, his design and typographic skills were recognized in a number of national awards.

In retirement, John had time to concentrate on three interests that had long absorbed him – classical opera, stage design and military modelling (toy soldiers). Finally, life was good. Long – harboured ambitions to recreate all the major operas of the classical repertoire in paper and card, character by character and act by act and to construct dioramas of the major conflicts of the nineteenth century using lead figures were realized. Dad was revitalized by the company of his five grandchildren. He had boundless energy for sports on the back lawn, playing football, rugby and cricket with the children well into his eighties.

Sadly, in more recent times mum and dad both had to confront serious illness. Dad was deeply affected by mum’s illness and was touchingly devoted to her. But it was mum who arranged hospital appointments and managed the household budget and when she could no longer cope they found themselves sharing a room in the same Beckenham nursing home.

After Gwen’s death in January 2012, we decided to move John, at his request, one last time. At the age of 91 we drove him through the Dartford tunnel and into Essex, en route to his new home at the Cedars in Halstead. The move was a success. John`s last eleven months were happy ones. He had a bright new ground floor room where we were able as a family to visit him regularly and from which we were even able to take him out to the pub, most notably on his 92nd birthday. 

Peter Carpenter

 3/07/13