A JOURNEY OF REMEMBRANCE.

By Dave Hughes.Airframes.


I don't know about you but I'm not really one of those that are reliant on the hangar doors still being open. Yes, I like attending the reunions as they occasionally take place but if I'm honest, when I eventually departed the RAF after my second spell of ten years, I closed those doors and sought a different life, one with other challenges I could aspire to, even meet at times. Life since has allowed me a fairly comfortable passage though as in all our lives there have been difficulties en-route.

So may I first offer the view that it is good to hear from Brian that we, the 81st, have supported him in his efforts to continue our Journal, and may I emphasize the word "our" because I feel even though Brian looks after and manages it, we each benefit from its content, the stories we have previously told and, I hope, will continue to tell for the enjoyment of all. That said, I feel it incumbent upon me to put finger to keyboard.

I thus propose to write, in this and in a subsequent offering, what in essence could be considered a war story, a story that surrounds a young Worcestershire lad who went to war; a young lad, little older than you and I were when we joined up. However, though I have carried out the research into it, it's not really his story that I wish to relate. Rather, it's more my journey of remembrance, this shortly to happen, where I follow his footsteps through Northern France and to some of the other European conflict areas in which he served. That part, my journey, is for telling in a later input to the journal and will no doubt closely intertwine with his story? But for now, what I wish to achieve is to set the scene.

A short while ago I researched my family history, this in conjunction with my darling wife. There are those that do this; there are also those that seem not the least bit interested and until about three to four years ago, we fell into this latter category. Then, a chance introduction to life's history suddenly changed that and I then came across a side of my family I knew absolutely nothing about. That in itself beggars questions; why were we three kids (my sisters and I) never told about four aunts and our paternal grandmother? True, with one exception these had all died, the aunts quite young and before we were born. But to know nothing about them I found that quite difficult.

By way of short explanation, by the mid 1920s, all four had died. In relatively quick succession the eldest sister succumbed in 1919 to influenzal pneumonia, aged twenty-three. There had been suggestions by an aged cousin that this sister had even died in a lunatic asylum though the death certificate I now hold seems to negate that idea (so where did the idea come from in the first place?). The mother, my grandmother, a seemingly sickly person, died of heart failure in 1922, aged forty-seven. Then followed the second sister to die four years later in 1926, aged twenty-one, again from influenzal pneumonia. Lastly, the third sister to die did so when she took her own life by drowning in the millpond outside the family house in early 1927, aged twenty-eight.

For a moment, this last sister becomes the focus of the story because, prior to her death, she had given birth to three children. The first of these was born "out of wedlock", not uncommon it would seem even in those days though such an event was, of course, very much frowned upon. She apparently married in 1921, soon after this giving birth to a son, around whose military life my story will eventually circle. Almost immediately, her husband left her. Nevertheless, at some point he must have returned (or did he?) for in early 1926 she found herself pregnant once again. She gave birth to the third child, a daughter who was to be registered as having the husband's surname, in December 1926. Finally, her story is concluded by that suicide in January 1927 when her third child was less than two months old. I can only but imagine the agonies that must have brought her to this.

Oh, by the way, it came to pass that the third child was apparently "given away" shortly after her mother's death to a "rich family" locally. Can you imagine that? All the foregoing has troubled me, but a child being given away? I find that so very hard to comprehend. But was this one of the reasons my sisters and I were not told these stories?

As you might imagine, I wished to find out more about these sisters and their mother. But that story is for another day. I now wish this story to concentrate on that second child, the only son, my cousin, suddenly without either parent, who was then brought up by one of his mother's brothers at the farm they managed.

Born in May 1922, my cousin was apparently a bit of an unruly character in his early teenage years. Having said that, within twelve days of his becoming eighteen years of age, he had volunteered and signed that dotted line you and I later signed and had joined the Army. OK, being ex blue jobs, we should forgive him for the latter decision perhaps. But the point is he had taken control of his own life, most likely made his own decisions and, as I, and I suspect many of you did, he volunteered.

As I might already have mentioned in an earlier submission to the Journal, he also made himself difficult to find, taking a name which later misidentified him, not only in his personal life but also on such items as War Memorials. That name change, initially at least, made him quite difficult to identify though once we had done this, information began to fall into place.

Even now Army records from those far off days are accessible. I suppose, were I interested, I should obtain my RAF records, if for no other reason than simply to see whether they place me where I actually was. For the present I must assume that they would and so I have assumed that, in general at least, my cousin's records indicate accurately his military history and the units with which he, and yes, the word is fought!

I didn't know him, I'm honestly not sure whether I ever met him though our lives coincided for approximately five years. It is possible he was present at my baptism when a family athering might have taken place; it is possible I met him while I was still a very young child when he was home on leave at the farm.

But then came "D"-day and he began a journey from the white cliffs of England to those beaches in France, through France to Belgium and to those well-known named locations in Holland we all remember. He saw . . . I will never know quite what he saw though I am aware he was involved in considerable greater or lesser conflict along the way. He did see happier times too; a dance laid on at one point by grateful French townspeople following relief from an earlier occupation, leave in the Belgian capital. Then he saw an unfortunate death; shrapnel filling the air as he drove his recovered jeep towards his Battalion HQ in the heat of battle. Finally, he saw a grave in a far-off land that to my knowledge, in almost seventy-five years, has only been visited once.

I hope to rectify that shortly. My Journey of Remembrance will follow.