My arrival in the World coincided with the end of my Grandfather’s working life, meaning we got to spend some precious time together. He imparted a love of the outdoors, plants and trees, as well as spoiling me rotten despite the strict instructions of my mother.
I knew he had fought in the Second World War, in the Royal Artillery, but not much beyond that. I can recall a couple of brief conversations between us, very much driven by my childlike wonderment at what must have been an amazing adventure without any real concept of war, mortality or fear.
My grandfather passed away when I was ten and I was devastated, his passing was my first experience of bereavement. In the following decades, maturity and service in the Police made me evermore curious and, quite frankly, in awe of the generation who stood up to the horror of Nazi Germany and all that encompassed.
How I wish the adult me could have had the chance to find out more about his war time experiences. Of course, that assumes he would have been willing or able to talk about it, for he never talked about the war with his children. It seemed all that would be left were vague memories of long ago conversations with the ever present risk of misinterpretation.
However, that changed a few months ago when my curiosity gave way to action. Starting at my parents house, a sort through a tin containing Grandad’s medals and memorabilia yielded documents featuring his service number. I applied for his service record and received a fascinating package of photocopied documents, sources of further information and explanation.
Through this simple act, I now know he was attested on 1 February 1933, with the Royal Regiment of Artillery, before being transferred to the Army Reserve on 31 January 1936. Three years later, with war looming, he was called out for Army service in August and mobilized on 2 September 1939.
Some misunderstandings have fallen by the wayside. I recall my Grandmother telling me her husband deployed to France on D-Day plus fourteen. In fact he disembarked in ‘NWE’ (I presume North West Europe) over a month later on 10 July 1944.
Some family legends have been confirmed. The succession of crossed out ‘next of kin’ home addresses for my Grandmother, confirm (literally) every Plymouth house she lived in during the blitz was bombed.
Although the service record gives a fascinating oversight and starting point for more enquiries, it does not tell the full story of my Grandfather’s war. It shows he fought in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, but offers no more detail than that. To find out I shall need to ask the Royal Artillery Museum to ascertain the movements of his regiments and batteries from their extensive archives.
However, the service record gives me the information I need to do this and, as the 75th anniversary commemorating the end of WW2 nears, I am more determined than ever to find out more and follow his footsteps across Europe.
Whilst working through the service record, something quite special happened. A magnifying glass was on hand to decipher the formal handwriting of the 1940’s Officers, whereupon my eleven year old son couldn’t resist picking it up and scanning the document for himself.
Intrigued, he is now completely captivated by the Second World War and desperately keen to be involved in the next stages of research. I cannot put into words how thrilled I am about this and not just because we shall share an interest in family history.
As direct connections with those who fought in, or suffered because of, the two World Wars diminish through the passing of time, it becomes more important than ever to teach younger generations the importance of remembrance.
What better way than to make it personal and relevant through investigating their own family histories?
To find out more about ancestors who served in the military, start at home by gathering as much information as you can from family documents, photographs and relatives. Then visit the Gov.uk website page which will guide and direct you further.