Tuesday, September 16, 2008

My Grandathers and the Great War

We had a small party at work last Friday afternoon to welcome our boss' substitute whilst he goes on annual leave and somehow me and the boss got onto the subject of a BBC article about the last survivor of the Great War (now more commonly known as World War I).

Memories and reminisences of both my grandfathers, who served in the military during the Great War, returned ...

My paternal grandfather served in the Royal Flying Corp, then part of the Army, and not an independent military service as the Royal Air Force is today. He served as a Navigator/Gunner, and after the war a couple of years as a trainer. I remember an album of postcards of French scenes he sent to his fiancee and then wife. His unit turned up for the wedding and presented them with an engraved wooden propeller-tip in which a wedding photo had been mounted.

He died in the late 1920s from non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

My maternal grandfather served as an officer in the trenches before he “got a Blighty” i.e. a wound sufficiently serious to be evacuated back to the UK after c. six weeks. The long-term effect of the injury caused him to become virtually blind. However, he became the Headmaster of a very prestigious Yorkshire boys' grammar school. He could identify the students by their voice, by the vibrations of their footfall, their smell etc. All necessary school documents went into Braille. During World War II, although blind, he led the local Home Guard unit. After his retirement in the early 1960s they moved to Exeter in the southwest of England.

At some point in the late '60s Mum had to have a hysterectomy and Grandpa and Grandma looked after us for a week. I was amazed at his ability to navigate with just a white-stick (no guide-dog). Everyday he would go to the local indoor swimming baths and do twenty-four lengths of the pool followed by a stiff warmed rum. He would take me and my brother to the local park to play on the swings and round-abouts. There was a small blackboard in the front-room with coloured chalks where I and my brother would draw “romantic” scenes of the Great War. However, he would never talk to us about it.

Perhaps the most lasting gift from my maternal grandfather, was a love for the music of the
Russian composer Igor Stravinsky ... I have a very vivid memory of Grandpa putting 78 rpm vinyl (and often changing it!) of Stravinsky's Firebird Suite on the gramophone and making us sit to listen to it.

I was enthralled and started gesticulating wildly conducting the orchestra ... Grandpa's very limited vision could sense my arm movements and he asked what was up so I explained. I think he was pleased.

And from that experience of Stravinsky, I much later learned about the Ballet Russes, Diaghilev, Nijinsky, Pavlova, Massine, Bakst, Erik Satie, Debussy and many others.

For that I am grateful to my Grandfather ...

Of course, my mother's story is different ..

1 comment:

Cindy said...


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