(Address given at his funeral on 8 July 1999).
It took me as a recruit, as I suspect it did many of you here, exactly 20 seconds to learn to obey instantly every order- indeed every wish of the nearest Sergeant.
Today I pass on the wish – the order of No 316385 Sgt Knight WA. that this should be a cheerful occasion, in which we rejoice in the full and long life of our very special friend, Bill Knight. I can just hear the sergeant’s voice… ‘Sadness will cease with immediate effect – is that clearly understood?’
He did indeed lead a full life and like a magnet attracted a multitude of friends. Joining the Army in Aldershot in 1928 – has made a slight adjustment to his age – he spent 30 years, with a short break, as a soldier; 20 years driving local buses and 20 years in retirement.
I shall not attempt to speak of his childhood days, but I am sure some of you could. The oldest of six children – his brothers Harry and Bert are here today – they were…they are…a remarkable family. Not to be outdone by his parents, Bill, with the help of his first wife, Ethel, herself from a well-known local family – the Benwells-added six more to the ever-spreading family tree, which now stretches from Canada to Australia and there are innumerable grandchildren, and even great just not big enough for all the Knights of Odiham, so we are particularly happy that Joyce and Margaret from far-flung Yorkshire and Ray and Sylvia are with us today.
This reminds me to say that they would be pleased to offer you refreshments after the service, at No 1 Coronation Close; the immediate family will be going briefly to the crematorium but there will be someone to welcome you until they get back.
As a soldier, Bill served for seven years on horseback with the 17th/21st Lancers in Egypt and India and then, after two years back in civilian life, re-enlisted in 1937 joining the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars, the regiment he was to regard as his second to operate tanks – the lightly armoured, and therefore highly vulnerable, Vickers Mark VIb.
It was with these tanks that they saw action in the North African desert culminating in the sweep through Libya under Gen Wavell.
At the height of this historic victory, a significant proportion of the troops involved – including the 4th Hussars – were withdrawn from the desert to assist the defence of Greece, which was by then in a perilous state.
To no one’s surprise, they were outgunned and outnumbered and forced to evacuate by sea. Many escaped and owed their lives and freedom to the valiant rearguard, who paid the price of all rearguards; many 4th Hussars remain prisoners of war until the end of hostilities, nearly four years later.
Bill never spoke of that time, but the emaciated state in which he returned to Odiham bore ample witness to his experiences.
After medical rehabilitation, Bill insisted on returning to his Regiment and served with them in Ipoh, Malaya from 1948 at the outset of the Communist Terrorist Campaign.
After two years the Regiment returned to England and then on to Germany, during which time he was primarily working with his beloved horses.
Yesterday I spoke to three of Bill’s Commanding Officers who described him as a particularly charming man, a fine soldier and – the ultimate accolade from a cavalryman – a fine horseman. They sent their condolences and best wishes to Bill’s family as does his Regiment whose flowers lie on Bill’s coffin today.
Bill last appeared in full dress and mounted on horseback at the Queen’s Coronation in 1953. Winston Churchill, then Prime Minister, asked his old Regiment to provide him with a mounted escort for his carriage in the procession.
Bill played a leading role and shortly afterwards the members of the escort were invited to No 10 to receive the great man’s thanks and a cigar. That cigar has survived – but only just and was one of Bill’s most treasured possessions.
Bill left the Army in 1958 and returned with his family to Odiham. With his natural smartness in bearing and turnout, he was inevitably invited to become our Legion Standard Bearer, a post he held with distinction until his legs said ‘no more’.
On many public occasions, Bill and his wife Ethel, who was herself the Standard Bearer of our women’s section, paraded proudly together. Sadly she died in 1964.
Bill had found a job as the driver of what was known as the ‘Nancy Bus’ run by Odiham Motor Services, and later by their successor the Aldershot and District Company. In this, for nearly 20 years he plied the roads and villages around Odiham, where his considerate manner, gentle humour and efficiency gained him a host of appreciative customers, fans and friends.
I know this for sure, having read more than 35 cards sent to him on his retirement at the age of 68, some with as many as 20 signatures. Typical of these was the message enclosed, ‘Many thanks from the people of Greywell for never letting us down’ Bill never did let anyone down.
Sadly Bill’s second wife Yvonne died in 1986. They had lived very happily in No 10 Castle Rise, North Warnborough, where he remained on his own until his death. At his request, his ashes are to be placed beside hers in the Aldershot Crematorium after this service and the flowers from his Regiment will be placed on the grave of Ethel, his first wife, who was with Bill in Malaya.
Bill had many friends who were concerned to ensure that he did not feel lonely. Sheila, on behalf of all his family, has asked me to thank all those who, in his latter years, used to call in often and particularly to mention four families who made regular daily visits: Geoff and Joyce Cox, John and June Tinsley, Johnny and Jean Mussles, and Michael and Linda Vicary.
After a long, long time bravely facing up to the effects of cancer and its treatment, Bill died with members of his family around him and a photograph of the latest of his grandchildren, born a few weeks ago and christened appropriately Skye Billy,
Bill left his life as he had lived it, cheerful and thoughtful of others; immaculate even in the hospital and happy that at long last his troubles and those of the people who loved and cared for him were at an end.
All this, although he was unable to speak, he expressed with a final carefree wave of his hand. I like to think that this cheery wave, so typical of Bill, was addressed as much to his family around him, as to his much-loved Regiment and to you his old friends gathered here today to bid him what I know he hoped would be an equally cheery farewell.