Lost on duty, a true friend of community
Exmoor is mourning one of its most dedicated servants, postman John Bircham, who collapsed and died while completing his rounds in thick snow.
Mr Bircham, aged 57, collapsed as he approached the end of his deliveries in and around Dulverton on Saturday. He was towed out of a drift by a farmer but collapsed soon afterwards. He had been a postman since the late 1980s.
Friends and family paid tribute yesterday to the "quiet, friendly" man, who had lived in Dulverton all his life and was a firm favourite with the people of the town.
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Dulverton sub-postmaster Chris Dubery said: "He was as hard-working a person as you'll ever meet, very dedicated to his collections and to the people of this town. He was a very quiet man, and the customers loved him. He was very considerate towards them, always helping them out. He will be missed."
Mr Bircham leaves a wife, Wendy, sons Wayne and Jamie, and two grandchildren, Lewis, five and Evelyn, three. Speaking from his father's home yesterday, Wayne, father of Lewis and Evelyn, said: "He just loved his family, especially his grandchildren. We have two children and one more on the way. His face would just light up when he saw them. It was as though he hadn't seen them for months, even though he saw them every day.
"It seems it was basically a heart attack. There was nothing in his history to suggest it, no chest pains or anything. He was fit. Even though he had the van you still have to walk a fair bit in his job. He was always happy to help anyone. He would take people their newspapers and every single person in the town and surrounding area knew him."
Ian Frankum, Royal Mail's delivery and collection manager, said: "It is with great sadness that staff at Dulverton Delivery Office learned of the death of postman John Bircham at the weekend. John was a postman for 25 years and a valued member of staff.
He will be sorely missed by his colleagues and our deepest sympathy goes to his family and friends at this sad time."
School friend John Atkins, secretary and treasurer at Dulverton Town Football Club, where Mr Bircham was a prolific striker during the 1970s, described him as a keen sportsman and a credit to his community.
He said: "As a footballer, John was as tough as nails – players used to bounce off him. But he was very gentle. There was never any nastiness in his play. If someone tried to tackle him, he'd just laugh. He was a very skilful player. I'm not being critical to our other former players, but John was one of the few who put something back into the club when he finished playing. He would turn up to watch and sell tickets for the club draw. He actually sold more tickets than anyone this year, so it was a very popular thing indeed when John's name was drawn first out of the hat to win the £100 first prize."
Mr Atkins said the club would plan its own tribute to Mr Bircham, whose sons both followed their father in playing for the local team.
Ian Fleming, vice-chairman of the town council, said Mr Bircham was "held in high regard" in Dulverton.
"He was well-known in the town, and people would often see him with his grandchildren, happy and smiling," said Mr Fleming. "He did a lot for the people of this town and the surrounding area. John really did go to great lengths for people, not just with his deliveries. He was a real family man."
Elsewhere in the West Country, the weather continued to take a toll. A motorist was critically injured after wintry weather conditions helped to trigger a 10-vehicle crash.
The cars involved collided with each other after skidding on ice on the A38 near Plymouth, Devon – at the same time as the area was also being battered by hail showers and lightning storms. Several vehicles are reported to have spun off the carriageway as they swerved to avoid the crash scene at around 5am.
Police say that a 42-year-old motorist was rushed to hospital in the aftermath of the incident and remains in a critical condition.
Fresh snow was due to hit parts of the UK late last night, with southern England among the worst affected regions.
South and east Wales, southern England and the Midlands were expected to see the worst of the flurries, falling on top of snow still frozen after several days of cold weather.
Temperatures dropped to as low as minus 12.2°C (10F) on Monday night in eastern and southern parts of England, according to the Met Office, which still has an amber weather warning in place for England.
The warmest place on Monday was St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly, which reached 4.7°C (40.4F), according to Met Office figures.
Large pockets of Cornwall experienced their first snow-based disruption of 2013 on Tuesday, as many awoke to a thin layer, which closed several schools in remote rural areas.