Young James has been studying the Second World War at school. I did know this because, a few months back, I received a request to knit a typical 1940s pullover for the Middle of the (Not So Very Little) Welsh Boys. I was
secretly more than a tad relieved when, a day or two later, I was told my services as Ace Nanna Knitter were no longer required, as appropriate Woollen Wear had been sourced locally.
Nevertheless, I had something precious to show my James during his recent stay with his Grandad (aka Mr B) and me - his great grandfather’s war medals. They are still in the small brown cardboard box in which they were despatched to their worthy
recipient all those years ago, which James’s Dad, My Boy, thinks adds immeasurably to their fascination.
I unearth a copy of the book my mother, Dolly, wrote
- “War and Me” - which includes paragraphs in his own words about my father’s experience out in the North African desert. There’s a photo of him, in his desert uniform, standing in front of a palm tree in Tel Aviv. I am reminded that
in the Military Voices book, which I helped to research, there is a photograph of another soldier from the Eighth Army. He looks as if he is standing in front of the very same palm tree as my Dad. Maybe he was. Some local photographer may well have made his
fortune out of photographing soldiers keen to send a reassuring picture home to their loved ones. I read aloud:
“We were rationed to one pint of water for
each man, which meant tea, washing, shaving, very hard. One of the officers came to inspect our site and you can imagine our feelings when he jumped out of the car, striking his leg with his stick, and gave us a lecture on keeping ourselves clean and smart.
He had had his bath and his shave and his kit was in perfect shining order! We felt, and looked, a bedraggled bunch, up there in the mountains with sand and sand and sand. The searchlight must be manned and we were there to do it.”
As the self-appointed family historian, I never miss an opportunity to tell my grandchildren snippets of information about their ancestors. Who knows whether they will remember a
word of it - but I like to think they might. Will James and his brothers ever think, as they splash in the shower or clean their teeth, about their great granddad and his precious daily pint of water?
My Boy is fascinated by his grandfather’s medals which he claims never to have seen before. He takes lots of photographs on his mobile phone. I show him the tiny scrap of ribbon with the Africa Cross - the other three
medals all have a full length ribbon. It must have come like that, mustn't it? we agree.
There is so much to treasure about the family staying for a few
days after the Annual Family Beach Day - and it's not just about picnics on the beach, barbecues, outings, shared meals and “film nights”. It's also about taking the opportunity to really talk, to explain, to tell stories about the recent and the
distant past. One day, I hope, the boys will remember and want to know more.
On Wednesday, they leave for the second part of what I call their “Twin Centre
Holiday”. They are staying with my Little Sister Maggie and her fella who are definitely the Most Excellent of Hosts. They will be royally looked after for the next few days.
As My Boy is reversing his car out of our drive, the postman arrives and hands over that day’s letters. We have our usual daily conversation about how much rubbish is included in our mail, in particular - my personal “hate” - brochures
about luxury cruises we will never now be able to enjoy. Then I forget about the small batch of letters in my hand because I am too busy blowing kisses and waving goodbye..
Some time later, I remember the post. Yes, indeed, there is the inevitable holiday brochure - but also a letter addressed to me, in handwriting I don't recognise. Inside a folded sheet of white paper, with the warning “Open with Care.” I
am, as regular readers know, the Obedient Type so despite my curiosity I do, indeed, open with care.
Inside, a brand new ribbon for my father’s Africa Star.
My Boy has ordered it on-line for me and it has arrived at the exact same moment he left.
Such a very special Parting Gift.