My Grandad was a pretty amazing man. Like most things when growing up, you don’t tend to appreciate or even acknowledge such things. It’s not until years later when you truly understand what life was like for them that the feeling and acknowledgement of awe germinates and grows.
My Grandad was like that. Always a quiet man. Small in stature, quick to joke around and always, and I mean always “projecting”. A highly intelligent man, he worked for IBM for many years and had a home computer many years before most. The time when DOS was the only form of computer language. There wasn’t Windows or Apple back then. He’d write his own video games and was always tinkering with televisions and radios.
He was adventurous and had a strong case of wanderlust. He was always travelling. Whether it was driving through southern Europe on family vacations, sailing along the South of France, jetting back and forth between Canada and England…he was always going and doing.
Being born in England in 1920, he was raised in a country that was still in recovery from WWI. The war had only just ended in 1918 so there was plenty of evidence of a war-torn country.
I honestly don’t know much of his childhood as he never really spoke of it much to anyone. It wasn’t that we never asked, he just brushed us off. For reasons that are his own, he simply wished to not speak of it.
What I do know is that during WWII, he was just a young man, still in his teens when he signed up and joined the Navy. I’m not sure of the timeline, but I do know he had a guardian angel with him for which I am forever grateful for. More than one ship he was supposed to be on and wasn’t for various reasons had gone down with no survivors. The ship that ended in naval career was hit hard and shrapnel tore through the compartment he and his friend were in. It wasn’t until he leaned down to help his friend that had been badly injured did my Grandad realize he’d been injured himself.
I say injured. If you’d ever seen my Grandad’s abdomen you’d realize that “injured” really doesn’t cover what he was. He had a huge zigzagged scar across his abdomen that for years he told us kids he was knifed. The war simply wasn’t something he spoke about. In this case I knew why and really couldn’t blame him. His whole life changed during that war. He lost his entire family with the death of his mother.
My great-grandmother used to work as a part of communications. The building she worked in was constructed so that should they be bombed close by, it would survive and they’d still be able to communicate with incoming planes, ships and the like. It was a concrete building with a flat roof. The entire structure was concrete from my understanding. The theory was it was strong enough to withstand the initial blast during a raid. What they hadn’t counted on was a direct hit. The building collapsed in on itself and there were no survivors. My Grandad had only been out of the hospital a short time after his injury when this particular raid hit.
He had been to see his Mum just minutes before the bomb hit. Just minutes. He said he heard the plane coming. It was flying low and he couldn’t understand why the siren hadn’t gone off yet. The moment the bomb hit, he said he knew it was his Mum. He cycled as fast as he could to her. It was too late. People started moving the rubble to get to possible survivors. I’m sure many really aren’t going to truly understand this, but there wasn’t much left of those that were in the building to recognize. He was only about 19 and had to wade through what was left of people he knew in hopes that he’d be able (all the while hoping not at the same time) to find his Mum. He said he walked passed her several times. It wasn’t until he recognized either the shoes or some other piece of clothing that he realized it was her. There was nothing else to identify her with. I can’t imagine having to do that at any age, let alone while still so young.
But he continued on saying that they knew something was up as Southampton (largest port in England) was absolutely stuffed full of battleships etc. one day and overnight, completely empty. The preempt to D-Day.
My grandparents were married June 5, 1944. The day before D-Day. On a side note, my daughter was born on D-Day exactly 50 years later.
And on that note we have sped up 50+ years. As I said, we had always, until my lovely outspoken daughter came along, stayed away from asking Grandad about the war. The moment she asked about it, he seemed to open up. He spoke with her often about it. Then he started speaking to all of us about it. It was fascinating to hear about the war from one that was there and had lived it. There was even a retired battleship that came into port here a few years ago. Granny and Grandad took my daughter with them to go and see it. While on the tour, she started asking him about what this or that was for and it turned out he knew more about the ship than the young man that was the tour guide. Grandad taught everyone a thing or two that day.
Hell, growing up I was the figure skater in the family. I did it for years and even taught lessons for a while. My
Grandad loved the couples dance. So he too took lessons. He was in his sixties and he did very well I must say. We spent every
Sunday at the local public rink and practiced the various dances. Just me and him. It was the only thing that he and I every had just between us two. The rink rats grew to know us by name and as he got better with the steps, we could fly across that ice at quite the speed. I thoroughly enjoyed our time together, gliding across that ice moving in sync, as smooth as glass.
His brain as well as his body was always on the go. He was the patriarch of the family. He was never one to give his opinion on much. You knew if he gave it to you, you’d best listen. He wasn’t perfect by a long shot but he was a great Grandad to all of us and an even better great-Grandad to our children. The calm voice of reason in a storm.
Grandad, I hope your skates are forever sharp, your ice never-ending and your skating partners flow seamlessly.
I love you and miss you. Rest in Peace.
September 19, 1920 ~ December 24, 2014
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