Until they are older, and have children of their own, many people don’t think about their origins, their roots. As young children, my brothers and I enjoyed listening to our grandparents recounting stories of how they had met, their courtship and marriage. Soon after they married the second world war broke out, grandad went off to war. My nan and my mum who was only weeks old lives with family, but everyone muddled through. He was in France, North Africa and Sicily and she along with my mum lived in close proximity to their wider family in England. Tales of my grandad leaving a cuckoo clock on Dunkirk beach, of family members being ‘bombed out’ sounded rather amazing, exciting.
40 years ago, people were careful to recount only the less unpleasant stories of war. No one talked of fear or pain, of loss and poverty. The spirit of togetherness and making do came through, and the stories were embellished so that as children we found them exciting. The reality of course was different.
The same grandparents had their roots in mining communities of the north east of England. They were in fact related to each other, cousins of a different generation. He was 9 years older, and went to India in the early 30s to escape the dangerous work of the pits. She was one of 9 children, whose father died when she was 5. My great grandfather’s death was caused by an accident in the slag heaps associated with the mines. A few years later, the family travelled south in search of a better life and to be closer to grown children already there. They had work in factories or in domestic service, in reality we would consider them children now, as the school leaving age was 14 at the time. By 1937 grandad had left the army (briefly it turned out) and was lodging next door to my nan and by August 1939 they were married with a child.
I know this in some detail because my nan wrote it all down in what she called ‘her book’. It details her early childhood, the death of her father and moving south. Gives an insight to times spent with her brothers, the music of the times and to what it was like to be a child in the 1920’s and 30’s. It also tells me about the loneliness of being a mother whose husband was absent for the best part of 7 years. Of how people had to club together to afford decent food and the way in which death and destruction was just around the corner.
I feel privileged to have this memoir in my possession, along with the stories told to us and the family photos we can piece more of their lives together. Maybe it is time to put a little some of it online so their story can be preserved for future generations.