Colin Ward obituary

Other lives: Herdsman on various farms in the south of England and at the Norfolk College of Agriculture

My father, Colin Ward, who has died aged 90, spent much of his working life as a herdsman on farms in the home counties and Norfolk, but also had a period as an unwitting ‘virgin soldier’ during a violent interlude in Singapore in the early 1950s.

Colin was born, and grew up in, the village of Kimpton in Hertfordshire. His father, Tom, was a tailor and his mother, Drusilla (nee Kirby), a housewife. Colin left St Mary’s secondary modern school in Welwyn at 14 and worked as a clerk in the accounts department of the plastics division of ICI at Kimpton Hoo, until, aged 18, he was called up to do his national service.

After basic training he embarked on a six-week journey to British Malaya, and then found himself based in Singapore in early 1950, from where he fought in the Malayan Emergency. Much later in life Colin told many stories of that time. He was on a bus one day which was attacked, and a woman sitting behind him was shot and killed. On another occasion his train was ambushed, and he recalled watching a line of dum-dum bullets making holes in the carriage above his head as he lay on the floor. The soldier sleeping in the bunk above him was hit and died instantly.

The author Leslie Thomas did his national service at the same time and in the same field of conflict as Colin, and Thomas’s novel, The Virgin Soldiers, had many echoes of Colin’s own experiences, although he claimed not to recognise the more salacious aspects of the book.

Colin was discharged in 1951, returning to the UK on the Empire Windrush. He briefly considered rejoining the army, for the camaraderie, but instead moved to his sister’s farm at Ashdon, Essex, where he worked as a herdsman. He met Anne Williamson, the daughter of the village shopkeeper, at his 21st birthday party, and they married in 1954.

Colin Ward at work in a milking yard during the 1950s
Colin Ward at work in a milking yard during the 1950s Photograph: from family/unknown

Thereafter Colin worked as a herdsman on various farms around the home counties until 1967, when he moved his young family to Norfolk to look after the cattle at Norfolk College of Agriculture (now Easton College) near Norwich and to give on-the-job training to a new generation of herdsmen and women.

Colin left farming in the mid-1970s, needing a higher wage to support his growing family. He worked first as a machine setter, then as a process worker at May & Baker in Norwich, and finally as a landscape gardener until his retirement.

Anne died in 2007. He is survived by their four children and five grandchildren.

David Ward

The GuardianTramp

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