Elwood 5566

‘Taff Coleman’ 5th Royal Inniskiilling Dragoon Guards – Epitaph

Posted in Diary notes by 노강호 on December 5, 2010

Please note: I have re-posted this on a blog suitable for adding lengthy and substantive accounts of ‘skins’ and life in the Inniskillings. It is intended to compliment Facebook which has a specific function and is not suited to recording greater detail. I would ask any ‘skin’ or friend thereof, to leave messages at this site rather than here. Thanks! (Philip ‘Taff’ Coleman – Epitaph)

I do not usually use this blog for anything but posts relevant to my life in Korea but made this an exception. I was devastated to receive news of the death of one of my old army friends, Phillip (‘Taff’) Coleman, who would have been 53 on the 15th of December (2010). He was killed, instantly, early in the morning of December 1st, on his way to Gatwick Airport, where he worked. I was unable to leave these comments on the Facebook site for the 5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards Band Members Past and Present, they don’t allow for a post of longer than a 1000 characters. ‘Taff’ deserves more!  I decided to host them here. Excuse the euphemisms introduced in this edited version – decorum necessitates…

and his lovely smile

I have special memories of Taff and he has a very close place in my heart which a few band members serving from that period, will understand. On the day I left the band, during which we’d been friends for 12 years, he gave me a final hug as I stood waiting to board the bus back to the UK. As he kissed my cheek he whispered, that if ever one of his children were ‘that way inclined’, he’d simply remember me and it would never be a problem. They were his exact words and he was crying as he spoke them. I had some excellent army friends and ‘Taff’ was one of the best!

5th Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards Band. Paderborn, Germany c 1987. ‘Taff’ is at the very back

I left the band in 1988 and in the period since then, 22 years, we only met the once. It was a fleeting reunion, probably only of minutes, in 1989, during a break in the Colchester Tattoo rehearsals. Despite our close friendship, we never talked on the phone, never once e-mailed each other and never once connected via Facebook.  I always thought I’d see him again – sometime…somewhere… I think we both did!

‘Taff’ left the band not too long after I did and for a long time he seemed to disappear but every now and then, as if coming up for air, I’d hear rumours about him: one time I heard he was working in Wigan, then I heard he worked for Twinnings tea company. Another time I heard he was appearing on the TV show Gladiators. I’ve no idea how true any of them were.

In 1976, when stationed in Cambrai Barracks, Caterick,  Pete Middleton, Adrian Dawson, Taff,  John Adye and myself were all part of a little group and every Friday we held a meeting to ‘front-stab’ each other (because band life was  incredibly bitchy).  One of us recorded and wrote the minutes and we each paid a weekly subscription, kept in a jar, which we used to pay for curry evenings in Darlington. After the meeting we’d often make mashed potatoes and cook a fray Bentos steak and kidney pie and then watch the Friday night horror movie. The group probably didn’t survive very long, but I remember it well.

If not for Facebook, this would be the only photo I have of him, taken in 1976 in Cambrai Barracks, Caterick. You can see the start of the moors through the window

Caterick is where I have my deepest memories of him. On Wednesdays, sports afternoon,  the ‘club,’ along with Chris Woolnough, who was sort of an associate member, would go into  Richmond and have pate and toast, or buttered scones, at the King’s Head, or we’d have lunch at the Belle Nook. Later, we’d go to the auction house and maybe buy some stuff. The old lady who used to work in those dusty, ancient rooms would refer to us as ‘my boys.’ I can still hear her cracked old voice with its comforting broad northern accent. She would have died years and years ago but she used to mother us, dearly! I once bought a second hand piano at the Richmond Auction house as well as the Baby Belling cooker in which we cooked our tinned pies.

The King’s head Hotel, Richmond. ‘Taff ‘would remember this well

Our friendship could easily have survived a long and longer chasm because we knew each other so well and unwittingly, knew this.  We ‘grew-up’ together and he was the third person I came out to. First was Adrian Dawson, then Pete Middleton, and then ‘Taff ‘- basically, the Front Stabbing Club. I ‘came out’ to him as we sat taking a ‘breather’ on a small bridge on the moor, out on the tank tracks, during a run. He didn’t talk to me for a few days. He wasn’t happy about my sexuality and even less into the idea I had a crush on him. But ‘Taff’ was always his own man, confident and strong, characteristics that came out when he played the euphonium,  and after a few days pondering the issue, he apologized for being ‘stand offish’ and for the next thirteen years, never once let me down.

I do not doubt that our personalities changed in the years since we left the band, I do not doubt there developed some big differences, that’s natural, but we had enough history and experience between us to temper significant changes. But it is a shame that the envisioned reunion, I, we,  thought might one day occur, will never take place and it is a greater travesty he has gone at such an important point in his life and those closest to him.

The ‘display photo’ from his Facebook site

Only a few days ago, I was looking at photos from his recent marriage and saw the display photo of of a motorbike. I had this fleeting image of ”Taff’ on a high-powered bike and could imagine him enjoying the thrill of biking – that was part of his character. ‘Taff’ was a proper ‘man’ and into ‘man’ things: cars, bikes, the tattoo on his arm, tinted sun-glasses,  often pushed up on his head, a sweat band around  his forehead, chewing chewing gum – I can see  him ‘sporting’ them all at different times of the life during which I knew him and always with a big smile, the same smile seen in his wedding photographs and the same smile that had enamored me as an adolescent coming to terms with my sexuality. And I can just as easily see him on a monster of a bike with leathers and a snazzy helmet. ‘Taff’ wasn’t reckless or a ‘tearaway,’ far from it, but on this occasion was tragically unlucky.

‘Taff’ was married to Janette(nee Martin) on October 23rd 2010.

And I now realise, as a chasm begins to stretch between us and from which I can no longer rescue or resolve anything, that I know nothing about him. Did he have brothers or sisters? Does he still have a mother or father? What happened to his children and did he have more? Where did he spend his childhood and what was it like?  Today, I searched his Facebook, searching all its nooks and crannies with more gusto than I ever do on such sites, looking for answers, looking  for his embodiment in text, for a fading reminder of his being; but the only comment, other than his e-mail address which either I’d never noticed or always planned write to, sometime, was promising to provide the website link for his wedding photos. His final words, ‘but don’t hold your breath!’ Unfortunately, ‘Taff,’ time’s hooded harbinger, beat us to it. I neither considered such questions nor sought such answers before but as usual, it is when we no longer have something that its value becomes all the more apparent; all the more desired.

in his face, the boy and man  I remember

What farewell does one mutter to a friend on the precipice of that cataclysmic departure? What words finalise the epitaph with enough respect, and grandeur and at the same time encapsulate the intensity of emotion generated? Three words, virginal, emerge renewed and are forever mutated. Three words suddenly imbued with meaning beyond meaning, and which stir an accompanying melody, a lament. Three words detailed to encompass so much and sentinel the point beyond which a new chasm separates us and in which the tangibility of ’sometime’, and ‘somewhere’ evaporate. Three words to emblazon the entrance to departure: ‘Fare Thee Well…’


Fare Thee Well

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© 林東哲 2010 Creative Commons Licence.

17 Responses

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  1. Michael Dawson said, on December 5, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Fare thee Well, I enjoyed Reading that, thanks Lofty, I remember Taffs first words to me when I got to the band, “if you call me staff again, I’m gonna hit you”, He looked after me with the help of Phil Watson, sad loss.

    • Nick said, on December 5, 2010 at 1:02 pm

      Michael, thanks for you comments. It’s been a sad day. Take care!

      • Gunter said, on December 5, 2010 at 3:02 pm

        You’ve managed to accomplish something I’ve struggled to do for the last few days. I’ve attempted to write a letter to Janette on numerous occasions, but seem devoid of word to express how I feel about Taff’s passing and simply settled for a card; it just didn’t feel right. My sentiment is exactly as yours Nick, I assumed that one day I would see Taff again, and think I expressed this when I spoke to Dave. Absolutely tragic.

  2. Adrian Dawson said, on December 5, 2010 at 2:57 pm

    Hi Nick.
    Your epitaph is the first news I have received of Taffs sudden death.
    What sad and upsetting news it is, it seems quite unreal.
    Your excellent words bring back may happy memories of our days in Caterick and Osnabrook and all our friendships will never be forgotten. Taff will be sadly missed.

  3. Fiona said, on December 5, 2010 at 4:34 pm

    Hi Nick

    I have found this incredibly sad. I remember Taff vividly from my visit to Osnabruck in 1979 and from Mum and Dad’s photos after their visit in the early 80s. I can’t bring myself to listen to the audio clips but will do so another day! Tried ringing you twice today but will catch up with you tomorrow.

    Much love Fiona x

  4. Rico Hatfield said, on December 5, 2010 at 5:49 pm

    Fond memories of this fine man, a true Skin and a good mate who always made sure I had a right royal time in the Brahms & List band bar Osnatrasse! Fare Thee Well, God bless ya. My thoughts and prayers to his family.

  5. Walter Browne said, on December 5, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    Nick, What a shock to discover that Taff has died having just met up with him again 2 years ago at Blackpool. It is very had to take it in and he will be surely missed by all. I still see him at the band reunion and especially after he stuck his head in front of my camcorder and siad his favourite word “B*******”. That is a lovely writeup that you have done and will bring back many but sad memories to everyone. Even after leaving the band and transferring bach into the regiment, he always made me feel welcomed at slipping into the band bar.
    What a sad end to a bright future. many condolences goes out to his wife and family as well as to all the band lads.

  6. MALCOLM INGRAM said, on December 7, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    hello im ex 13/18h band ,im creating a album of cavalry reg bands past and present i was wondering if you had contact with former band members who might still have pics of band on parade or in concert they can contact me on fb not hard to find im in 13/18h band uniform thanks hope to here from you bye.

    • Nick said, on December 8, 2010 at 1:18 am

      I will pass info on. Thanks for the visit.

  7. Steve Tighe said, on December 8, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    Well said Lofty! My favourite moment was “Mr Vice”!!! Those who were there know what I mean!

    Steve Tighe

    • Nick said, on December 8, 2010 at 2:57 pm

      Yes, that always stirred things for me – those ‘who were there, Know what I mean.’ Hope you are well.

  8. Tom Blakeborough said, on February 22, 2012 at 4:08 am

    Lofty, a very stirring Epitaph to a friend, always smiling, I will never forget that. I was deeply saddened to hear the news of this great loss to a Regimental Family member and my condolences go out to his close friends and family. FTW mate, gone but not forgotten.

    • 努江虎-노강호 said, on February 22, 2012 at 9:30 pm

      Tom Blakeborough – I remember you so clearly! Indeed, I think you were one of the first regimental personalities I met and whenever I think about Munster, and ‘S’ Squadron, where the band were barracked, I remember you. Of course, I might have got my memories muddled. Thanks for your comments. I hope all is well with you?

  9. Ian (Spike) Smith said, on February 22, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Nick, I won’t pretend that I was a close friend of Taff, but I have to say that I feel a little ashamed to admit that I have only just stumbled across your eulogy for him. As you know, we served together in the Skins, and I knew him. (Such was his popularity, who wouldn’t have?) I remember that ready smile and friendly personality. Even though I left in 1986, Taff was instantly recognisable in his recent photographs because of that infectious smile. I was truly saddened to learn of his passing at a time that his life seemed to have taken on a new dimension. So tragic. A wave of sadness hit me this morning and I daresay it will last for a good while yet. The tribute that you have left for Taff is very fitting and despite the sadness, it brought a smile to my face reading about the high life you blokes lived in Catterick. Your words make it very clear how close you both were Nick, and sometimes an enduringly close bond will survive time and distance without having lived in each other’s pockets over the years. Clearly yours was of that kind – a great friendship. Good men like Taff will never be forgotten while there are people like you continue to remember him and mention his name. My belated condolences to Taff’s family and FTW Taff. RIP.

    • 努江虎-노강호 said, on February 22, 2012 at 9:25 pm

      Ian, thanks for your moving response. Yes, Taff and I were close but probably not a lot closer than I was with many other people in the band. As a whole, the band led a very sheltered life both in terms of our job and often where we were barracked – out on a limb. And yes, he always had a friendly smile. The band was a terribly ‘bitchy’ place and we could be quite malicious at times, but I really don’t recall Taff ever saying ‘nasty’ things about anybody. Once again Spike, thanks for your comments. I intend to move them from my Bathhouse Blog to my Blog on the Band.

  10. Ian Spike Smith said, on March 13, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    Dave Smith drew attention to this Nick, you may already have seen it but if not I know that you will appreciate it. It is a link to Kyle Coleman, Taff’s son who has severe autism and hasn’t spoken a complete sentence in his 25 years. Notwithstanding his shared love of music and his remarkable singing voice, he is the image of his Dad. I am sure that Taff will be puffing his chest out and that there will be a tear in his eyes, talking of which, Kyle has definitely got Taff’s eyes. Hope you enjoy mate. FTW -Spike. (Sorry about The Sun, there are other links, but this was most accessible).

    • 努江虎-노강호 said, on March 13, 2012 at 11:40 pm

      Ian, thanks for this. Quite an impressive voice, he certainly has Taff’s eyes. Thanks for the link.

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