Eric Milner: Birthday Remembrances at 101

dad in India

Eric Milner, center

My father traversed an interesting path, one of travel, adventure and creativity. Born in England on October 6th, 1915, today would have been his 101st birthday. Daddy studied botany and horticultural science at Wimbledon Technical College. He worked as a student gardener at the John Innes Horticultural Institution in London. Now you know where I got my love of gardening.

In a letter he saved dated October 1st, 1937, it says:

“Mr. E. Milner came to us on Sept. 16th 1935 as a Student Gardener. Since that time he has spent 4 months in the Fruit Department, 2 months in the Rock Garden, 8 months on general outdoor work and 10 months under glass. His experience with us has included the propagation and maintenance of stove, glasshouse and herbaceous plants, all of which we grow in considerable variety.”

So formal! After completing his courses, he moved to India to work on a tea plantation around 1937.  He remained in India during the second world war serving as a translator.

In a letter dated 7th May, 1946 from the India Office, Whitehall, it says:

Sir,

“Now that the time has come for your release from active military duty, I am to convey to you the thanks of the Secretary of State for India and of the Government of India for the valuable services which you have rendered to your country at a time of grave national emergency.

At the end of the emergency you will relinquish your commission, and at that time a notification will appear in the London Gazette (Supplement), granting you also the honorary rank of Captain.  Meanwhile, you have permission to use that rank with effect from the date of your release.”

He returned to England in 1946 and shortly thereafter immigrated to Canada where he met and married my mother.  Together they owned a pair of flower shops for a few years.  My father later managed a nursery in my hometown of London, Ontario.

Lucky for me his hobbies included photography and the careful assembly of albums, like the one pictured here.  I remain fascinated all these years later of his time in India and his work planting and propagating tea in the Darjeeling region. He died far too young. A smoker of pipes and unfiltered, hand-rolled cigarettes, he lost his life to cancer when I was just nine years old. He was 54.

Darjeeling album

Photos from Daddy’s time in India

planting tea in India

Planting young tea, photo by Eric Milner

tea growing in India

Tea Grows in India, 1939, photo by Eric Milner

There are so many things I would ask him if I could. What was it like to be a boy in England in the twenties?  Who were his friends?  What drew him to botany and landscaping?  Dad’s treasured albums leave subtle clues, but each photo poses more questions.  There are pictures of my namesake Aunt Alys and his parents, neither of whom I met, but pictures of others too. Who were they and why did their image make it into his photo albums? If Daddy had lived to a ripe old age, his own shared memories would be a part of our story, and perhaps most of them mundane.  Instead they’re a mystery that I can’t quite solve, special moments from a life interrupted.

I feel connected to dad when I’m tending my garden or digging in the soil. He lives in my heart and at the end of my proverbial green thumb. If he were here to celebrate this birthday, I would thank him for the gift of my life, for his compassion and care and for passing on his love of the earth. I would wrap my arms around his slender frame, give him a hug, and tell him all the things we missed together.

 

 

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50 thoughts on “Eric Milner: Birthday Remembrances at 101

  1. Wow what a great story on your Dad! Happy birthday on what would be his 101’st. It’s amazing you were only nine when he passed and yet you have in common a love of gardening, creativity and adventure. A part of him lives on beautifully through you. I love your writing. Thanks for sharing. Love to you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Maria, it’s so lovely to hear from you. It’s amazing what passes on, either through genes or our early impressions in life. I was young when dad died, but I do have fond memories of our time in the London garden. My mom liked to write so I got the writing gene from her and the gardening and creativity from dad…or perhaps both. You were so lucky to have your dad for the years that you did. I know you are a tight-knit family. He left quite a legacy through all of you.

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  2. Oh, Alys! What a wonderful birthday tribute to your beloved dad! I can see so many of his passions in you ~ especially your love of gardening, nature, creativity, travel, and adventure! He has given you so many gifts and would be so very proud of who you have become. Perhaps your special way of telling stories and documenting your life on your blog comes from his love of scrapbooking to document his life. I’m so happy that you shared your dear daddy with all of us today, Alys! I’m so happy to know that you had a special Aunt Alys! Sending big hugs today… and always! ♡

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    • Arms around you Dawn. Thank you for your lovely words. You know I never thought about this before today, but I bet Dad would have loved blogging. It is a wonderful avenue for sharing stories, experiences, ideas and photos, with the amazing bonus of connecting with people like you. Thank you for those hugs. Right back at you. xo

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  3. What a wonderful trove of photos and drawings you have. When my mother died and my father moved to Spain, he tipped out boxes of photos, letters and mementoes into a dumpster, and none of us had an opportunity to retrieve anything. It was such a shame. Treasure what you have, things like this are so ephemeral.

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    • Oh Kate, that makes me so sad on your behalf. What a shame. Some people deal with grief by ridding themselves of all reminders, and others simply don’t see the value in the ephemera of life. Were you also a young girl when your mother passed? My heart goes out to you.

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      • I was 22, an adult, but still too young, and it was hard to realise those resources of memory and history were gone. I can still remember photos which are now rotting in some landfill somewhere, never to be seen again. Once reason why blogging appeals to me; I don’t want my life to be as ephemeral and unrecorded.

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        • Your life and your work will live on via the internet. That is a comforting thought. I wonder if your mother had any friends that might have photos from her youth or photos of you at a party or other occasion. Is that a possibility?

          I look back at how young we we were at 22. Losing your mother was a great loss.

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          • All the siblings have shared what photos they have, but my mother’s friends are all gone too; she would be in her 90s now. I wasn’t ready to lose her, and in the event I virtually lost my father too; he moved to another country! A time to grow up quickly…

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  4. You know Alys, I am always so touched when you write and speak about your dear father. This is a wonderful remembrance for him on his 101st birthday. My friends dad passed last year having just celebrated his 101st birthday – he wanted to have one more year after the big one he said – and he did! Isn’t that amazing! You are blessed to have these mementos of your dad’s life too – they build a picture of the years before you were in his life and of course they add to the ways in which you can know him more deeply and see how his talents live on in you. He would be so proud I think.

    PS I very much like the banner photo at the top of this post – you are so clever!! May I have a copy please? 🙂 xo

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    • Thank you, Pauline, for your kind thoughts and words. I am blessed to have these treasures. I will cherish them always. Last year I had all of his albums copied digitally so I have a record should anything happen to the originals.

      How nice to hear that your friend’s father could live to such an impressive age. Imagine what he experienced in those years.

      As for the beautiful banner up top, that is the subject for today’s post. As you know, these beauties are tricking to photograph. I’ve made three attempts, inside and out, front yard and back, and managed at least one. I will send all the pics to you, with gratitude for all the light bouncing through my life because of you. xo

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  5. How special to have all these mementos of your father, and that you still feel close to him in the garden. Was gardening an activity you did together, or did you just observe from a distance? Happy Birthday Eric Milner. Alys, your new gravatar suggests you are ready to celebrate. 🙂 There’s something beautiful going on in your header photo, too.!

    Liked by 1 person

    • My dad’s things have always felt like treasures, small connections to his distant past. I remember spending time in the garden with my dad. He built a garden from a pile of dirt on the weekends. My sister and I would go with him to get rocks in the wheelbarrow. We got to have a ride there, then walked back with him and the heavy rocks. I remember running through the garden and pinching open the snapdragons and I also remember our mom sending us outside at lunch to collect tomatoes from his vegetable garden. I remember capturing bees in a jar to show him and him telling me that it was important to let them go as they were good for the garden. I was probably five or six at the time. I’m sure I learned a lot through observation. Thank you for letting me share more of these memories.

      And yes, something exciting going on in the header. More of that today, but I’m sure you’ve guessed. It’s the handy work of the talented Pauline King.

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  6. What wonderful photos to remember your Dad by; thanks so much for sharing those with us! He sure does live on through you! I lost my own Dad a few years ago and always wish I had pried more into his past while he was still alive. My Dad lost his Mom in childbirth and was raised by an Aunt so had very few pictures and talked very little about family. It’s only after people are gone that these mysteries tug at us. I wish I could turn back the clock and find out more!

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    • Sara, had sad for your dad to lose his mother before he ever met her. It’s wonderful, though, that his aunt stepped in to raise him. Was he an only child or did he have siblings? It was such a different time then. I was just commenting, above, that our parents and grandparents generation talked very little about the past. Yet in other cultures, family histories are passed down to each generation.

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      • My Dad was technically an only child but his father remarried and had another son. My Dad never lived with the new family; we never knew if it was because the new wife didn’t want to raise my Dad or if his Aunt insisted on keeping him (she never had kids of her own). As you said, no one of that generation ever discussed it and now there’s no one around left to ask.

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        • Times were so different then. Children were shuttled around, especially during war time, and often abandoned completely. I hope he had a happy childhood with his aunt. It seems sad, though, knowing you have another parent that never made an effort to be in your life. I feel the same way you do: no one left to ask. 😦

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    • Thank you, Barbara. I think our dad’s probably had quite a bit in common. My dad was a painter, gardener, photographer, lover of animals and children, kind and warm. I think you would say the same about yours. Keeping history to themselves seems like a generational thing, don’t you think? Now, we’ve gone in the other direction, with cameras at ever light, airport and train station and social media knowing what you read, who you like, and often what you had for breakfast. We need some balance.

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  7. I’m a little late for the party but you really had a dad to celebrate. The collection of landscape drawings are quite reminiscent of those the landscape architect I worked for did. Loved them. Your dad had quite an interesting life for as short as it was. His most important legacy though, was the passion he inspired in you. The collection of photos and drawings are treasures indeed. People never really leave when they are still in our hearts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Marlene, you are never late to the party!

      I didn’t know you worked for a landscape architect. That must have been fascinating. Did you work there for long? I love the beauty of a well-designed landscape or garden. Just last week I walked by a beautiful new garden in the Willow Glen neighborhood where I often walk with a friend. The house is on a busy corner, but instead of erecting a fence or a wall, they planted a beautiful berm. The rock wall that supports it is made form slate as well as recycled chunks of concrete. It all blends beautifully together. The plants were native or drought tolerant, and right next to this house, a neighbor had planted more of the same. It makes my heart sing.

      Dad did live an interesting life, and left a wonderful legacy. Big hugs, MH

      Liked by 1 person

      • I worked for him for6 years and that is a long story in itself. I love a well landscaped yard and he helped me do the yard the last husband owned. It was a phenomenal transformation. I’ve never looked at yard space the same since. Wish I could do it here but it can be rather costly unless you have an in with someone. That’s where I learned about xeriscaping. Hugs back to you. Now I really need to get out of this chair and get some work done. 😦

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        • I hope you’ll tell that story one day, Marlene. Six years is a long time. I know you learned a lot. We worked with an extraordinary landscape designer who crafted our front yard, deck and the ramp my sister uses. It’s all seamless. Most people don’t even realize we have a ramp, due to his wonderful design. Design meets function and vice versa.

          It was 90 here yesterday, but we are finally cooling down over the week. I hope you’re enjoying cooler temps as well. xo

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          • 90 degrees!!! Shoot me now! Our high was 61 and it’s 49 at 8:45 pm. Dry the next 2 days then 4 more of rain. Yay! Nothing beats a good landscape design. I did learn a lot. I would have stayed longer but… sigh.

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  8. What a fantastic tribute to your father which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. The photographs and design sketches are wonderful keepsakes, even if you can’t quite unravel the story behind all of them.

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  9. Hello dearest and happy birthday to your dad. Hard to imagine 101 years ago. It’s seems like a big number but not when you think of your relationship to it. Life seemed very adventurous for your dad. Born on one continent, working on another, then marrying on a third. My dad had never been outside of Canada until they took a trip to Hawaii, I think he was probably around 50 at the time. India of the 1930’s was probably very colonial and who knows more about tea than the English? When you think about it all, it’s very unlikely that we could ever meet. Isn’t that so amazing. I mean, what if your dad stayed in England or India? What if he’d never come to Canada? So many what if’s. I’m really happy for you to have the albums and drawings. Of course these ephemera’s can’t replace the lost years but I’m sure they give you comfort and a bond, a connection. You’ve made him super proud, this I am sure of. xox Love K

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    • Good morning, Boomdeelicious! 101 years ago does seem like several lifetimes. So much change in the world since then. Much has been written about the second world war, stories told, movies, documentaries, etc. I like the way you describe Dad’s continental adventures. That was a lot of travel for the day. I wish I knew what brought him to Canada. There was someone we called Aunt Ruth, though not related and she appears with her husband in some home movies. I believe he lived with them when he first came to Canada. So many questions.

      Did your dad enjoy Hawaii? I’ll bet he basked in the warmth and tropical flora, such a change from his life in Edmonton.

      I’m so grateful for *our* connection, Kelly. I have much to be thankful for. xo

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      • I think dad really enjoyed Hawaii and it would have been so nice if he could’ve got there again. They went to a Luau and they brought him on stage. I remember the photo of him laughing because a hula girl was teaching him to hula, LOL. It would be like dad to be picked out of a crowd. His happy personality just naturally drew people in. You mentioned home movies! Have you watched them lately or do you need some old equipment? That’s so awesome! xo K

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        • Your dad was the bomb. No wonder you too are so outgoing and fun; you got that from him. I suppose your mum has the photos, darn it. We need to enlist Auntie K for some covert photo operation when she returns.

          So here is the “If I knew then what I know now story.” About 18 years ago, I arranged to have all the super 8 film we inherited from my family and Mike’s converted to state of the art….video. We gave copies as gifts that year to his family and mine. They set the movies to some corny music, but we were grateful to have them. When DVD technology became the norm I had them copied again and the quality is awful. How I wish I had saved the originals. I looked into different options, but at this time, there is no way to edit or remove the music. Boo hoo!

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          • Dad was the bomb indeed, thanks for that Alys! I’m not sure my mom would give anyone photos for any length of time, it would be fun to have them but I wouldn’t ask Aunty to put herself out. It would be 1001 questions for her…omgosh nope, it’d be awful.
            Bummer with the movies! State of the art changes so quickly, how would you ever know. VHS – DVD – Blueray – it’s mind boggling how fast it changes. I guess Mike would be in the know if anything could be possible. Well, enjoy them for what they are I guess and maybe someday soon they’ll come up with a technique to help. xo. I know my mom also has video of dad. They got a cam-corder when Ken’s boys were little. But I feel blessed I have such wonderful memories from my adult years. My heart hurts for you that you missed this with your dad. Gentle hugs xo

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            • I’m just sad that your mom doesn’t realize what an amazing woman you are. She’s missing out on so much. Perhaps in her heart she does know, but her mental capacity prevents her from acting on it, both for you and our brothers. Sending an extra helping of love today. I’ve just re-read my painting and feel loved by you in great measure. Thank you, dear one. Hugs back your way.

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              • Honestly hon, if my mother was in my life, there’d be so much kaos. It’s not how families normally are or perhaps even should be, but it’s way more healthier for us. For years, we all tried to appease her. The selfishness and shear adacedy of things that have been done or said (completely out of spite) would probably surprise you. Most moms can’t even imagine it because they have so much love for their family. Unfortunately, it’s not like that for us.
                You on the other hand are loved immensely and I’m glad that you feel t he love. I never want to take it for granted. Hugs back your way too xo K

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                • It is healthier and since I’m estranged from an older sister, I fully and completely understand. Healthy people make their own family. I know so many people who continue to suffer at the mean-spirited ways of family members: mothers, fathers, siblings, etc. It’s heat-breaking. I’m happy that you had the wonderful father that you did, and wish I could have lived so much longer. Love and hugs and understanding to you. xoxox

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  10. Alys, this post is a gift for all of us, and it will be a gift to you as life continues on. Thank you for sharing what you do know about your father thanks to his careful documentation and the saving of letters.
    What a guy he was! Clearly a caregiver of people, and of plants, and you have inherited those qualities.
    Love to you, Alys

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    • Love to you, Laurie. Your comments always lift my spirits. Here’s another story about my dad that makes me smile. My Aunt told me that their mother was always rummaging through his coat pockets until the day she reached in and found a live mouse! It turns out that my dad came upon some boys mistreating the poor creature, so he rescued it by putting into the bottom of his warm pocket. That was my dad.

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  11. This is a great family story Alys – how lucky you are to have so many photos of his life and adventures! My grandfather worked as a gardener and then studied agriculture/horticulture too. But he stayed in his home vilage and became a market gardener during the war, providing local shops and the market with fresh veg and eggs. He was also a keen photographer! A lovely post and a great tribute to your Dad. 🙂

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    • Thank you, Cathy! I treasure these albums and his drawings. Even the smell when I open the thick, black pages evokes memories and carries me back in time. I loved reading about your grandfather. He and my dad would have had much to discuss. Did your love of gardening come from your grandfather? My dad lived in Oldham. What area are you from?

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      • My grandad lived in my home county Northamptonshire and went to college locally too. My Mum inherited his green fingers, so I am sure that is where I got it from! 🙂

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        • I just looked it up on the map. I love seeing where things are in relation to what I know. I spent a bit of time in London, Stratford-upon-Avon and a few towns in the Lake District back in 1989. My aunt was still alive then. I went back to London briefly for her funeral in 2008.

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  12. I know it is a while since you posted this, Alys, but I saved it to be able to read when I got home ~ and I am so glad I did. Your love and respect for your father comes through so strongly, and how you miss him still. Those photos are a treasure, and an intriguing mystery. I feel so blessed that my Mum is still alive and that I am able to talk to her about all sorts of things that have happened in her life. Big hugs to you, Alys x x

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    • Anne, I’m touched that you saved this to read when you had more time. Thank you for that. What a gift.

      You’ve described my feelings perfectly. I have love, respect and always an air of sadness around my dad. He was a remarkable man.

      I’m so happy you still have your Mum in your life and that she continues to do well. What fabulous news. Thank you for those hugs. Right back your way. xo

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