World War II was long ended when I was born. Despite this, much of it resonated with me throughout childhood. My mother was in the ATS; my father was in the Royal Tank Corps; uncles were in the Lancashire Fusiliers and my grandfather, a Chief Engineer with Canadian Pacific was awarded the CBE for his courage in the Atlantic. My father spoke little of his wartime experiences, but would tell my brother tales of how tanks operated. My mother did tell us stories of manning heavy ack-ack (anti-aircraft) guns in the Thames estuary. She would talk about life under canvas. My brother and I found it completely mystifying that this gentle peace-loving lady, our mother, could have been involved in such activities.
The reality of war became more painful for us when I was 11 years old. My father was invalided out of the army in 1942 when he was in an accident in a tank he was driving. As a result he contracted bone TB. Our origins lie in this event. Our father was hospitalised and who should nurse him, but our mother. It seems to have been a case of handsome lieutenant meets pretty nurse although they were not to formalise their relationship for some years. Sadly, that marriage was not to last long. When I was 11 our father died after a very short illness. He was 44 and his death was due to the TB that he had contracted in the tank accident.
The loss of our father was devastating, but a strange consequence of his demise was that my mother, brother and I acquired a new title. My mother was now classed as a war widow and my brother and I were war orphans. I struggled with this moniker. My understanding of orphans arose largely from books I had read at that age. An orphan did not have any parents, but we still had a mother. Orphans, in books, often had dire lives, lives of poverty, sometimes of living with cruel step-parents or wardens of orphanages. We did know the pain of reduced finances, but my mother showed us nothing but love and an adherence to the best of values.
Each year on Remembrance Day I recall, and am grateful for, the sacrifices made by those who died in conflicts. I also recall all those left behind when a loved one is killed. Devastated spouses, bereft children, parents who may not feel able to display their grief. Death in war is like a stone thrown in a pond – the death of one can lead to the emotional death of others. The family stories of war experiences have imbued me with a strong desire to work for peace. On the 11th November I always look at my grandfather’s war diary and note the entry for the 11th November 1918: Armistice signed: nearly a riot. A simple entry, but it says so much.