1916-2002: Amusing recollections about Cyril Pike

Updated: May 21


Cyril and Stuart Went - ushers at Jim Revell's wedding

The Address given by Stephen Cockburn at Cyril Pikes Funeral 17 January 2002


First an announcement!


We did expect that a large number of people would want to come to Cyril's funeral. After all, when you have lived 85 years in the same house a lot of people will have got to know you. And in the best traditions of a funeral which isn't exactly a tragic or too mournful an occasion, we wanted to put on a reception afterwards.


Now, unfortunately neither the Queens Hall nor the Old School is available which is excellent news for the Parish Council which owns and lets the Queen's Hall and for the Parochial Church Council which owns and lets the Old School, but its not such good news for all of you who were hoping to raise a glass to Cyril after the service. So there will be a Reception afterwards but it has to be at Picknells!!


No I'm joking but many of you may remember that in Maisie Wright's book the Vicar of Cuckfield tells the Bishop of Chichester that 'in 1807 there is among other schools in Cuckfield one for 48 pupils at Samuel Picknell's' which is presumably Cyril's house! Of course, as many of you will know Cyril disagreed with Maisie Wright about just about everything in her book, but the story is quoted from an extant document and is not her conjecture, so it's probably true.


Actually the reception will be at Marshalls to which all of you will be most welcome but if many more than 100 of you want to come you may have to stand on each other's heads and because there is only one downstairs loo, locals on their way up the High Street may like to visit the amenities in the Car Park on the way, a facility which Cyril was no doubt instrumental in obtaining for the Town. But you are most welcome!


The enigma that was Cyril

Over the years I've heard various stories about Cyril's origins. Everyone knows that he was adopted at a very early age by Annie or Becky White as she was usually called, one of four daughters of the village cobbler Mr White whose shop was where the cake shop is now.


The other three daughters all married and had children so Cyril, although adopted by a single parent, had acquired a mother, grandparents, three aunts, and subsequently several first cousins and later a number of more distant relations as a result of one aunt marrying for the second time and acquiring some step children. However it was with Miss White that he lived at Picknells for the rest of her long life and apart from the war, for the whole of his.


But where did Cyril come from? Was the excellent agency of Dr Barnardo involved as one story has it? Was he a foundling from the Cuckfield Union Workhouse that fine building later the Cuckfield Hospital and now flats? Was he the child of a servant at Cuckfield Park? I've been told all of those versions over the years. What I can tell you is that he was born in Hampshire on 17th October 1916 and a more likely reason for his adoption is that his father was killed in the Great War and his mother died of a broken heart.


He was not formally adopted until 15th August 1928. He attended the Brighton and Hove Grammar School and when the 1939-45 war broke out he joined up and was commissioned into the Royal Artillery.


He wrote a memoir of his experiences during the years he spent away from Cuckfield between March 1942 and the summer of 1945. He had sailed in the Athlone Castle, a Union Castle liner converted to a troopship, from the Mersey in April 1942 bound for the Cape.


Avoided Japanese warship

Heading out around the north of Ireland he wrote later that the grey cliffs through the morning mist was the last land he saw for weeks, sailing almost across to America to avoid German submarines before coming back east to Freetown in Sierre Leone, then passing St Helena in the moonlight, to Capetown. They went up the coast to Durban and had to run away from a Japanese surface raider warship eastwards across to Mauritius before the convey split and Cyril was en route for Bombay.


A cargo vessel into which he had supervised the storage of his regiment's guns was unable to unload in Bombay due to congestion. So Cyril was left behind for six weeks to organise landing the equipment and sending it off by rail south to Ceylon. He followed by ship, a facility for achieving which permeates much of his war memoir!


Eventually his regiment with its guns sailed up the Red Sea to the Suez Canal but Montgomery had already beaten Rommel in the North Africa Campaign so Cyril was too late to earn an Africa Star, with its spam sandwich ribbon as it is colloquially known. Cyril spent months in the desert around Tobruk and in Alexandria, Port Said and Suez, places which he described to his mother as the flesh pots of Egypt.


His regiment never got across to Italy, up which the war was now progressing and he remained in Syria and Palestine where he was at Gaza on the night of VE day. He wrote home on the 9th May 1945. "My quarters are quite comfortable; there is only a NAAFI manager and myself living here and last night (VE night) we sent out for a little celebration at a villa just down the lane with oddly enough, a German Jewess. The fact that we managed to get lost coming back the 3-400 yards will suffice to show you the party was quite successful.


But it's not too hot this morning and the wind is rustling in the leaves of the pepper trees out in the garden where the Arab gardener is hosing the flower beds for hours on end - and I think I may be home for next Christmas. I'm not too optimistic and life is really quite pleasant."


Cyril ended the war as a Captain but on his demobilization he was promoted to the retirement rank of Major of which rank he enjoyed the consequent pension rights and prestige. Cyril was only 30 when he comes home to Cuckfield after the war.


An elegant and eligible man about town

Some of you here today will know much more about the next 25 years than I do. We did not come to Cuckfield until 1970 but by all accounts Cyril was an elegant and eligible man about town. A succession of interesting cars, a seat reserved for him at the Rose and Crown; a regular contestant at the Swimming Galas at the old Cuckfield bathing place, a regular performer in the old Cuckfield Dramatic Society productions in the fifties.


In 1999 Judy and I went to the Antarctic to see the penguins. There were only 100 passengers on our ship but one of them who now lives at Preston in Lancashire told us that his parents had lived in Cuckfield for a couple of years in the 1950s at Farthings in Broad Street. Because our fellow voyager had been doing his National Service at that time he had himself spent comparatively few weekends in Cuckfield but there was one resident he could remember who lived in the High Street who stuck in his memory - it was of course Cyril Pike.


By the 1970s Cyril seemed to have retired from the commercial representative business occupation which he apparently persued for many years and now lived quietly at Picknells looking after the elderly lady who had looked after him there half a century before. Whenever there was a traffic survey Cyril was available to supervise the census.


He was a familiar figure in the High Street. Sharp at 4pm he would go down to buy the Argus. At 6 with dog - he had a succession of Labradors - stick and binoculars he would set off through the churchyard for a regular chat to Gordon Stuart and on to the old golf course or down past the sewage works to the woods.


Secret mushrooms

More often than not he would bring back field mushrooms in season. In later years he would offer surplus ones to us - more often than not they would be infested with maggots but once they were fried they tasted fine if you were not too squeamish. Alas we shall never know now where they grow because he always kept it a secret.


With his military interests Cyril had been a keen member of the Sealed Knot, the organisation which re-enacted in costume the Battles and Skirmishes of the Civil War. At the peak of its popularity Cyril went all over the country dressed up as a Cavalier of Charles l's army. The skirmish of Cuckfield was re-enacted complete with cavalry in the field where the organic vegetables now grow opposite the cricket ground. In early Cuckfield Society shows he regularly appeared and in later ones when he was either impersonated or referred to there was always an affectionate cheer or applause.


With the local government reorganisation which resulted in Cuckfield moving from East to West Sussex in 1974 and the merger of the old Cuckfield Urban District Council into the Mid Sussex District Council with only one instead of three representatives elected from the ward of Cuckfield, the Cuckfield Neighbourhood Council was formed and Cyril was elected a founder member.


A few years later this Council metamorphosed into a full blown Parish Council and Cyril was elected to that, serving as Deputy Chairman and Chairman of the Planning and Development committee. However Cyril took offence at a decision made in his absence to open meetings of his committee to the public (or so he said in explanation) and resigned from the Council.


Something not dissimilar happened at the Museum. A founder trustee in 1979 when the Museum Trust was set up to recover from West Sussex County Council the collection of ceramics and the other artefacts which Mr. R.A. Bevan had given to furnish the Reading Room of the Queens Hall in the first few years of the last century, Cyril became Chairman in the 1990's but took offence when the nominating authorities the Parish Council and the Cuckfield Society sought to exercise their right to appoint different Trustees, an interference to which they were perfectly entitled but to which Cyril reacted with hostility.


Lifelong bachelor

With his drinking companion at the White Harte, Bill Baker, Cyril schemed to thwart these changes and despite my extending more oil than the Torrey Canyon on the matter he resigned in a huff. When things went against him, in fact when it came to sulking, Cyril rivalled Edward Heath for the Guinness Book of Records! Both lifelong bachelors, they never had the common sense of a wife telling them not to be so silly. Not even the blandishments of Phyl Bowring (and she could charm the birds off the trees) was able to persuade Cyril to accept a presentation in his honour from the Parish Council and Nicola Smith got the same reaction when the Museum had a similar intent.


After Miss White died Cyril had always joined us at Marshalls for lunch on Christmas Day. When he saw that I had left him in a minority of one on the Museum Trust he never forgave me and refused to come again.



As Adjutant in the Cuckfield Sealed Knot c1972

When the New England Wood Trust was formed to own and manage the wood, purchased by public subscription for £15,000 in 1981 working parties worked weekly to maintain footpaths, remove alien Rhododendron's bushes and, especially after the Great Storm of 1987, clear fallen trees. Although by now over 70 Cyril was a regular on the parties until one day he took offence that instead of waiting to meet at the agreed place, the early comers had already set too some 20 yards away. He turned back never to work in the wood again! Cyril's public service continued with his role as local Neighbourhood Watch coordinator.


In his youth he had known Edith Payne and in the early 1980s Cyril was instrumental in recovering the important collection of local history books which now forms the reference section of the library which is kept in the museum; then in reopening a free lending library at the Queens Hall for which Miss Payne had left provision in her will when she died in 1933. This had been subsumed into the County Library Service which was then reduced in the 1970s to a mobile service under WSCC cost cutting. Cyril helped to lead an Appeal for donations of books and then with a very small team of librarians helpers opened the library again two or three mornings a week.


Lifelong lover of Cuckfield

Alas, as those of you who have read my appeal in the Church Magazine before Christmas will be aware, the Edith Payne library is on the brink of closure. Only a handful of books now go out each week and nobody has come forward to help our wonderfully faithful last surviving librarians. I fear that when the Trustees meet on Saturday unless somebody here today comes forward in the next 48 hours the Library will have died with Cyril.


Cyril loved Cuckfield and I think it's fair to say Cuckfield loved Cyril. For three quarters of a century he had watched the Cuckfield world go by and could remember most of it. What a span of contribution to Cuckfield Cyril had! We shall all have lost something with his passing. Goodbye, old friend - Cuckfield will not be quite the same without you.


With thanks to Malcolm Simmonds for copying us in with this wonderful tribute.


Contributed by Malcolm Davison, photographs supplied by Andy Revell.