My dad’s birthday was 11th November. He always teased me as a child that all the celebrations on Remembrance Day were for him. I believed him at first. Then as I grew older I realised I was having my leg pulled.
But after my mum was recently moved into long-term residential care and I cleared her house I found all the cards, letters, b&w negatives, and envelopes and boxes full of stuff my dad had hoarded over his lifetime, that she had ensured were retained safely after his death. In amongst them I found a treasure trove of wartime letters sent by him to his mum, which she had kept safe, and which in turn he had also, and that record in great detail his experiences during training and eventually serving in the Libyan desert.
My dad not only had nice handwriting, he was an eloquent writer too, and his letters chart the process of his transformation from being an ordinary young man, into a soldier.
A Christmas card to his mother describes the process they went through:
Finally dad is in the Libyan desert.
One letter he sent home, out of dozens, contained the following:
This time I have decided to write you a letter for a change, after all you are so good at writing long letter cards you put me shame with my feeble air-graphs. News in the sense of being something up to date is sadly lacking in my mail but this is no fault of mine. Plenty happens around here but for security reasons naturally I can’t write about them until months later and perhaps some of it not even then.
So to endeavour to make this sort of interesting I shall tell you a little of what I’ve been doing these last few weeks……
…Another job I had whilst at company was to drive a truck for water every second day. One day whilst at the well hauling up water I saw a Hurricane crash about a mile from me. Being nowhere near the main road I was the only one that saw him and I dashed up in my truck to see what I could do. The pilot had escaped, miraculously, and was staggering around but oh! in a terrible mess whilst cannon shells in the blazing aircraft exploded all around. I did what I could for him – it wasn’t much – and after twenty mins or so an ambulance came down. It’s a long story though, so until some day –
Otherwise mum dearest things go on just as usual. I’ve just had two bundles of bulletins today but no other mail. We are all well, but not a bit enthusiastic about Mr Churchill’s statements about another four or five years of war & that every man that can be spared to go to the Far East. Anyhow – we’ll wait and see.
Shall close now.
Tons of love.
Ps Still haven’t had leave yet!!! PPS I don’t even know the date, I’ve just guessed its about 3/July.
He never mentioned any of this subsequently, and when as a child I asked about the war he talked gaily of riding a motorbike through the desert with the wind in his hair, and a suntan. “It was good fun” I remember him saying to me one day, as he described charging across the pistes on his bike, but eventually falling off.
I have no idea what other exploits he was involved in, what he saw or did, although his letters may reveal more. But what I have come to realise is that although he teased me mercilessly about the 11th November celebrations and wearing a poppy being for him, he was right, the celebrations are for him.
They are for him and all the others who served with him in WW2 and for his own father who died prematurely at home, of gangrene contracted following injury in WW1. And it is for all those men and women who never returned home, and who still today in 2012 leave empty spaces where once they stood.
Lest we forget. They stood for us.