Friday, May 25, 2007

Memorial Day...

As the United States winds up to remember and celebrate its soldiers, sailors, and airmen, past and present, I thought it fitting to remember two wartime heroes in my own family... my mother's father and mother.

My grandfather served in the Royal Navy in WW2 as a medical petty officer. He served in the Pacific and in the North Atlantic, was sunk once by a Japanese submarine and survived several days in the shark-infested Java Sea. While his behavior was commended in dispatches on a couple of occasions, the only medals he received were his regular Navy service medals. I know enough about the North Atlantic convoys, even those later in the war, to know that these were no cake-walk, that rough weather was a blessing, and that the few moments of levity were absorbed to the full. (One of few stories he told was of the accidental slaughter of a surfaced whale by an escort plane thinking that it was a submarine ready for attack.) The first picture is of his aircraft carrier in heavy weather; the second picture is of the sickberth staff. He is seated on the right with the full beard.

The other hero was his wife, who was a nurse during the war. Arguably, the greatest task she took on was being a newly-wed wife and mother, getting pregnant during one of his infrequent times at home, and giving birth and raising my mother while he sailed in some of the most dangerous places on Earth. (The third picture is of her with my mother as a newborn.) This was a time of telegraphs and letters... where somehow partners tried to convey their commitment and love through short phrases and sentences, knowing that every intimate word would most likely be read by a censor. My grandmother celebrated her 75th by crewing on a tall-ship across the Atlantic... maybe raising a child during wartime wasn't so hard, after all.

My father's mother, my gran, certainly also deserves a mention for raising my father in wartime Glasgow, and managing a family after they were evacuated from the city to the Isle of Arran to avoid the heavy bombing over Clydeside. I think there maybe some pictures of them from Arran somewhere in the family, when I find them, I'll post them. And without diminishing my gran's strength of character, he was born before the war broke out, where my mother was born shortly after D-Day. Nevertheless I'm lucky to have been surrounded by strong women in my life.

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