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We couldn’t afford to buy a house, so we built one instead

By Staf Newsletter  |  Posted: January 31, 2013

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BEN Milner is passionate about sport which probably explains why he was still playing hockey until he was 70 and at 86 still finds it hard to sit still.

The Weeping Cross resident has worked hard to promote sport in Stafford for years - and will continue to do so for as long as he is able.

He has organised swimming galas, is a lifetime member of Stafford Cricket and Hockey Club and used to be on the County Hockey Committee.

And for more than 30 years he has been involved with Sport Stafford Borough and the Staffordshire Playing Fields Association. His work for the latter resulted in him being presented with a certificate by the Duke of Edinburgh at Buckingham Palace.

"I've always liked to be doing something," says the former teacher.

"I just can't understand those people who say they are bored. If you're bored, go out and find something to do. You'll find plenty of things if you look.

"I've always enjoyed sport and got a great deal of pleasure out of playing for many years so I'm keen to promote it as much as we can in Stafford."

Ben was born in Shallowford near Izaak Walton’s cottage, although fishing was one of the few sports he never took up.

His father was a railway signalman and the family, including his sister, moved to South Wales when Ben was four but later returned to Stafford. Ben went to St Leonard’s School and then the boys’ grammar school, shortly after which the Second World War began.

“We didn't get too many bombers in Stafford but I remember feeling the ground shake when a bomb dropped at English Electric.

“When I was in the sixth form I did fire watching. We would spend the night in a school in case of bombs to put fires out.

“I was fire-watching at St Paul’s School in Garden Street regularly but what I didn’t know then was that I would be going back 20 years later as headmaster.”

Indeed when he left school in 1944 Ben began teacher training in York. National service was looming, however, and after a mix-up over whether he would be exempt or not, he was called up in 1945.

His call-up papers arrived on VJ Day.

“The only thing I could see of use was being a mechanic, although I had no clue about cars and hadn’t passed my driving test,” he laughs.

Ben did three months’ training and was posted to India when the war had ended.

“There was me with no experience of cars and I couldn’t even drive,” he says. “I started driving the cars around when I’d fixed them and drove on the roads in Chittagong where we were based.

“When I told the sergeant I had no licence I was called up before the commanding officer, who said 'I hear you've "lost" your licence' and handed me a military one. I used it when we came back here and I was based at RAF 

Stafford for the remainder of my time in the forces. When I left though I had to take my civilian driving test.”

Ben returned to teacher training and got a job as a PE teacher at a Birmingham grammar school, in Edgbaston, before moving to the old Dartmouth Street Boys School, now the Kingston Centre.

“I had a cane in those days,” he recalls.

“I can remember wondering why so many came to secondary schools with poor reading or multiplication skills, so I transferred to primary school teaching.”

Ben started initially at Flash Ley in Stafford, then worked at Lane Green as deputy headteacher. He became headteacher at St Paul’s Primary, before moving to Berkswich Primary where he remained until he retired.

“I loved teaching and working with children,” he says. “The profession is a lot different now. I don’t regret not being in it these days. Everything is decided by Whitehall. But unless you have actually done the job how can you know what is best? Teachers know best what is needed.

“Every child is different. The Government often thinks rules can be made for everyone.”

In the meantime, Ben met wife Dilys in 1949 during a visit to his sister in Liverpool. Dilys was training as a nurse. 

They married in 1953 and have three children Jonathan, Timothy and Joanne and eight grandchildren.

As newlyweds they found it hard to get on the property ladder. Ben was earning £20 per month and houses were around the £3,000 mark, beyond their means.

The couple then spotted an advert asking for people interested in forming a self-build housing group. They joined and along with 39 other couples or individuals they built 40 bungalows on land at the end of Highfield Grove.

“We had a member who was an electrician, one a plumber, one a joiner, a bricklayer and so on. They would train us so we could do some of the work as well.

“It took four years and was hard work and long hours but it saved us 50 per cent of the cost of the house."

When they moved to Weeping Cross Ben's DIY skills stood him in good stead. Their current house was split into two flats so Ben did the work himself.

In his spare time Ben also trod the boards. He joined Stafford and District Operatic Society and performed in My Fair Lady and Trial By Jury.

Since retiring Ben and Dilys have spent time travelling. At one point they swapped houses for three months with an American couple they met on a cruise.

"I think we got the best deal," he laughs. "They lived on the edge of a pine forest in Idaho and one of their relatives had his own plane and took us out in it. It seemed a world away for them coming to our little home in the middle of Weeping Cross. But they enjoyed it because with Stafford being so central it meant they were well placed to go almost anywhere."

For now Ben is continuing to focus on promoting sport. He is currently busy helping organise the awards evening for the annual borough sports awards.

"I am lucky," he says. "I am 86 now and still fit enough to enjoy life." 

 

Ben Milner

AGE: 86

HOME: STAFFORD

OCCUPATION: FORMER TEACHER 

FAVOURITES

Car: Citroen C5

Music: Classical, 1940s and jazz.

Hobbies: DIY, gardening, travel and being involved with sports.

Paper: The Telegraph

 

Holiday destination: The area near the Rockies in the USA and Sidmouth.

Food & drink: Treacle sponge and wine

Book: Non-fiction books

Pin-up: I don’t have one

Love/hate: People who can see both sides of an argument/People with closed minds 

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