Driving Society Forward.
A TRIBUTE TO MY FATHER
The Eulogy for Kurt RICHARDS (formerly Kurt RIKOWSKI)
In loving memory of
Kurt Heinz Richards
(Formerly Kurt Heinz Rikowski)
14th June 1927 – 15th February 2009
Widower of Macel Richards
Father of Glenn Rikowski and Marvin Richards
Grandfather to Alexander Rikowski, James Richards, Victor Rikowski, Michael Richards and Gregory Rikowski
Partner to Lydia Kwiatkowski
Funeral Service at St. Mary Magdalene Church,
Church Street, Stilton, Cambridgeshire
On Wednesday 25th February 2009, at 12.00pm
Followed by cremation at Peterborough Cemetery (1.00pm),
and a Reception at the family home (2.00pm),
60 North Street, Stilton
Kurt Rikowski Born in Lautens, East Prussia (now Poland), 14th June 1927
This is a tribute to our dear Dad, Kurt. Like many, probably the majority of people who lived through and survived the war years, he led an intense, action filled and sometimes dramatic life.
Born into a farming community in Lautens, East Prussia, Dad immersed himself in the lakes and forests of his homeland. He had fond memories of his childhood and would often speak to his children, Marvin and Glenn, about his boyhood capers: fishing, skating on the nearby lake, skiing and sledging, picking blueberries and much more. Dad had the capacity to create magic through the tales and stories of his childhood – especially when it came to the ‘monster’ in the lake: perhaps a wels (a kind of giant catfish), or maybe even something more terrifying! These stories he passed on to his grandchildren; Alexander, James, Victor, Michael and Gregory, who listened intently. It was also clear from his recollections that he was very close to his brothers and sisters – Max, Gertrude, Ernst and Erika. Indeed, although separated by hundreds of miles, Dad kept in regular contact with them by letter and telephone; they were a very important part of his life. Part of his heart always remained in Germany and with German culture (especially music).
One of the stories he would tell us was about his father cleaning the family clock, and it was clear to us that this was an important event in his life. For Dad, this was a moment of wonder and laid the foundation for his later vocation. Also for one birthday he was given a watch, which he took to pieces! When he visited the nearby town of Allenstein he would gaze into the shop window of the jewellers there, and he managed to get invited into the workshop and observe craftsmen at work repairing watches and clocks.
Dad went to the local village school, which was bilingual: all lessons were taught in Polish and German. This changed from 1933 with the rise of Hitler when German became the official public language. He enjoyed his school days, relishing the history lessons in particular, and an interest in history remained with him for the rest of his life.
On leaving school, he worked on the railway whilst living with an aunt in Allenstein and also visiting the jewellers as he had previously. Towards the end of the war he was called up and after only six weeks fighting was captured. His youth was spent in prison camps in Germany, Belgium and finally here in England. When he was released he made his way back to Germany, but after witnessing the conditions and prospects in post-war Germany he decided to come back to England, where work was plentiful. Staying at Orton Hall with other German ex-prisoners of war and then lodging with Mrs Jacques in Stilton, Dad did a number of jobs; working for the London Brick Company, working in a garage and labouring on farms in the fens. Meanwhile, he established contact with his brothers and sisters and parents: by the grace of God they all survived the war, though Erika, Ernst and his parents ended up in East Germany whilst Max and Gertrude were in the West. His parents were eventually allowed to emigrate to the West. The Cold War also played a part in his life.
How he met Macel, our mother, is a long story, involving a mystery Valentines Day card and a local dance. But Uncle Gerald, Macel’s brother, helped the process along! Dad was jubilant that he had captured the heart of the local Stilton beauty!
Whilst doing the various jobs noted above, Dad also continued learning about watch and clock repairs. He read handbooks about repairing timepieces and also bought himself some basic equipment and took in local people’s watches and clocks to work on – with varying success! He was largely self-taught as a watchmaker, reading technical books in English and building up his skills after work in the evenings and at weekends.
When he married my mother on 6th October 1951 they lived with Lizzie and Alf Colbert – our grandparents. They were kind and generous people who risked village gossip and worse by taking in a former German prisoner of war as a son-in-law. We shall always remember their kindness towards Dad and Mum. Unable to get a council house, perhaps in part due to anti-German sentiments, Dad realised that the only way they could get a place of their own in Stilton was to have one built. They saved hard and built the first new house in the village after the war; the bungalow at (then) 49a North Street. This was a significant achievement.
The family name was changed from ‘Rikowski’ to ‘Richards’ in 1955 by Deed Poll, partly to protect their children from discrimination and also to aid Dad’s efforts to assimilate with English culture. But there are few secrets in a rural community!
A few years after marrying Macel, Dad launched his career as a watchmaker. He persuaded D’Arcy, a jewellers shop in Peterborough, to employ him, romancing a little about his experience in the trade! In the kind of work environment that he had dreamed of since childhood Dad thrived! So did D’Arcy’s! With his own money Dad built himself a watchmaker’s bench to work in the D’Arcy shop. He also persuaded the shop owner to invest in some new tools and equipment. The results were dramatic; with D’Arcy’s becoming one of the leading centres for watch and clock repairs in the region.
After a while, and with his skills now at a high level, Dad decided to set up his own business in Stilton. With two young children, Marvin and Glenn, and a mortgage, it might have seemed a risk; but looking back the risk was minimal. With tremendous effort, determination and entrepreneurial flair Dad gradually built up one of the finest watch and clock repair businesses in East Anglia and the east Midlands. He worked extremely long hours for many years to build up the business, focusing initially on trade work but gradually replacing this with private work and also selling watches, clocks and antique clocks. He became involved with the British Horological Institute (BHI) as a member, but also gave some guest lectures on various horological topics at the BHI headquarters at Upton Hall. He ran some lessons for American school kids at the USAF base at Alconbury involving taking clock to pieces, which were a great success. This was organised by his friend George Bohm. He taught both his sons how to repair watches and clocks and eventually Marvin took over the business. The business survived two burglaries and a devastating fire but Dad’s hard work and will power drove it on.
Dad’s ultimate dream was to make his own clocks and he did this in the last fifteen years of his life. As a master craftsman he designed and built grandfather clocks and wall clocks to an amazingly high standard, and in some cases with original design features. He made the cases as well as the works. They were beautiful creations; works of art as well as timepieces. His time spent in the workshop with Marvin were the ‘best moments’ of his life, he would tell us.
In 1999, Dad discovered that he had cancer and Mum’s death on 23rd December 1999 was a tremendous blow to him. His brother Max was a great comfort to him at this time.
The last seven years of his life were joyful and eventful. He found a soul mate: Lydia Kwiatkowski, who originally came from a village a few miles from Lautens where Dad was brought up. They had first met at the Anglo-German Club dances that Mum and he had gone to many years earlier. Together they relived their childhood days and sang songs they had learnt at school. Lydia cooked Dad traditional East Prussian dishes; a little of East Prussia came to Stilton! They travelled together in Germany and also could be found frequenting various local restaurants. They were great supporters of Lidl and Aldi. Through Lydia’s son John, Dad became an Arsenal supporter as well as continuing to follow the fortunes of the Posh. Lydia brought love and comfort to his life in his final years and looked after him when his health deteriorated. Her love for Dad and kindness to us boys will always be remembered.
Dad was not just a master craftsman, horologist, a Time Lord. He was also a musician. Dad played the piano accordion and in later years an electric organ, composing as well as playing a variety of music. He was very knowledgeable about politics and current affairs. Dad loved science fiction and talking about space and time.
With Eddy Berna and Kurt Voss (and occasionally other German friends), Dad played Skat, a complex German card game. The children (Peter Berna, Paul Voss, Marvin and Glenn) also learnt how to play Skat. There were regular meetings to play the game during the 1960s and 1970s, and the wives – Alma Voss, Joan Berna and my mother, along with Susan Berna (Eddy’s daughter) – became friends and also enjoyed the “Skat evenings”. Those times are unforgettable for us.
Dad became an established figure in Stilton and this included becoming a parish councillor (in an attempt to get a kids playground built). His horological work was widely known, and he was one of the nation’s leading clock makers in the traditional style.
Time flowed through his hands.
Kurt Rikowski was an inspiration to us and for many who knew him. Dad brought magic into the lives of his grandchildren, where a bike ride to Denton or fossil hunting in the clay pits at Norman Cross became an epic adventure. He gave advice and guidance to many in the horological field. He will remain in our hearts, and his work, especially the clocks that he made, will ensure that his name lives on for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years to come. He is now at rest – until the end of time.
With additional material from Lydia Kwiatkowski and Eddy Berna
21st February 2009
Inserted on ‘Flow of Ideas’ website on 8th November 2010
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