John Philip Milner 17 Dec 1922 – 14 Jan 2020
Born in Darlington to Edith and Philip Milner, he was the youngest of four children. John was only five when his father died unexpectedly, leaving his mother to bring up four children on her own. With quiet determination and some help from the wider family she kept food on the table and even managed to send John to Ackworth boarding school. Although John was modest about his school achievements he was intelligent and musical. And with some intensive coaching from his music teacher, he managed to learn French horn well enough in 6 weeks to play the opening section of a Mozart horn concerto for the school concert. He later played double bass in a jazz band, often using the bus to get himself and his bass to gigs.
The war interrupted his education, and as a conscientious objector he spent much of the war helping with the evacuation of children from the cities. As soon as the war was over he studied geography and geology at Leeds University. Now he started travelling; Yugoslavia to help build a railway, Florence to give talks to a communist group, and France to help with rolling out the Youth Hostel movement. Then there was a spell working in Switzerland in a Muesli factory where he nearly married the boss’s daughter. He stumbled across some very large sums of money and concluded this factory might be making more than just health food. It was time to check out.
He went to Stockholm where he taught English, made friends with Ingmar Bergmann and met his wife to be, Margret. Soon John and Margret were married in a church above the lake, in a remote village in Varmland, where she had grown up.
Now they had to make a choice; they could live in Sweden amongst the forests and the lakes, or live in Leeds with all the joys of the early 1950’s, endless rationing and pea-souper smogs. They chose Leeds.
John took a job with C&A department stores, managing branches in Leeds, Newcastle and London and he opened the new branch in Newport. But he resigned after a disagreement with senior management. They demanded that he sack two window dressers for ’improper behaviour’, but he refused, so now John was looking for alternative employment.
He got a job in a tannery in Hitchin. But within 6 weeks of moving to Hitchin, the company was bought out. John was out of a job again. The management were very apologetic and offered to let him take over the gloving part of the business if he wanted. They offered to help him in every way they could and so ‘John P Milner Ltd’ was born.
John and Margret ran the leather business together in a large house that also acted as a reception centre for refugees from Eastern Europe. John helped them settle in to their new home, even helping them to find jobs. And he helped start an ‘International Club’ which was basically a night club in a scout hut. But it was a fantastic way of getting these people, who had lost everything, right into the community. They made new friends and new careers. They never forgot the help John gave them when they needed it most, and many of them have remained friends ever since.
Then John saw an opportunity to start organising up-market package holidays to Greece. This venture was nearly a success, but it didn’t take many half full aeroplanes to get into serious financial trouble. John and Margret had to buckle down for 10 hard years to get themselves out of that one. Margret ran the business single handed during the day. John joined her in the evening after doing his other job which was as a geography teacher. They would both work until 10 pm every evening. Eventually things got a little easier and it was time to open a new chapter.
They found the old Smithy in Cilycwm, and they fell in love with it at first sight. No one had ever lived in it except for some cows and a few pigs and chickens. Dori Theophilus kept animals there, after it ceased to be a blacksmith’s workshop. It was full of well rotted manure, which John happily used to improve the fertility of the rather stony, impoverished soil. John soon populated the garden with exotic and unusual plants, many of them given to him by keen gardening friends.
With much help from local builder Dai Jones they made the place inhabitable, and somewhere they would enjoy spending weekends, until, eventually they decided to move in permanently. That meant moving their leather business to Cilycwm. Now they could enjoy village life properly. It was around this time that Blaenau Tywi was born. And a conversation between Rev Alan Kettle and John Milner gave rise to the Blaenau Tywi Newsletter. Not a newsletter for the church but for all the people in the district. It would last 23 years (1989 – 2012).
John has been shown so much kindness by friends, carers and medics to help make his final years as happy and comfortable as they could be. And maybe it is divine justice, for he spent so much of his life looking out for others.