My grand­par­ents’ wartime wed­ding

The Guardian - Family - - Family | Family life -

I love this pho­to­graph of my grand­par­ents’ wed­ding, c1941. I loved them both – my nana, with her wicked sense of hu­mour, al­ways pleased to see me, and my gran­dad, solid, de­pend­able and to­tally un­der my tod­dler-sized thumb. In this photo, Char­lie is wear­ing his Royal Ar­tillery uni­form, hav­ing taken two days leave of duty to marry his sweet­heart, Hilda.

I can’t re­mem­ber how old I was when I learned that Gran­dad was a sol­dier dur­ing the sec­ond world war. It is like two dif­fer­ent peo­ple: the young man called up and sent to France as part of the Bri­tish Ex­pe­di­tionary Force and the man I knew, swing­ing his leg over his bike and call­ing “chee­rio” on his way back to work, or sink­ing his top lip into his pint of beer at the work­ing men’s club on a Satur­day night.

Nana worked at Wool­worths, and for the du­ra­tion of the war, spent her evenings on a rota as a fire watcher on the roof of the Bed­ford store. She may have been old enough to watch for in­cen­di­ary bombs and to marry her Char­lie, but she still wasn’t al­lowed to see Glenn Miller’s band play at Bed­ford Corn Ex­change. She re­mained with her par­ents un­til Gran­dad re­turned, af­ter six years at war, his dis­charge pa­pers not­ing “ex­em­plary ser­vice”.

By the time this pho­to­graph was taken, Gran­dad had made it back from Dunkirk, un­like many of his com­rades. Out­gunned and forced to re­treat, he had spent sev­eral days on the beach, wait­ing to be re­turned to Britain. He was in the wa­ter for hours with his fel­low sol­diers, en­emy planes over­head, wait­ing for the boat that would take his unit to a frigate. He would have boarded, had an­other unit not taken pri­or­ity. A Ger­man Stuka dropped its bomb straight down that boat’s fun­nel, oblit­er­at­ing all on board. Gran­dad had many near misses dur­ing his ac­tive ser­vice – but al­ways be­lieved that he would re­turn home. I’m glad he did, or I wouldn’t be here – and I wouldn’t have known such a lovely man. I re­mem­ber pad­dling in the sea with him when I was small, hav­ing been bribed with a £1 note by Nana. I was afraid, al­though I had no idea of the sorts of things that might have hap­pened on beaches. We were both non-swim­mers, but Gran­dad’s was the only hand I felt safe hold­ing.

When I look at this pho­to­graph, I am so proud of them – of their re­silience and de­ter­mi­na­tion. I am par­tic­u­larly amazed at the ex­pe­ri­ences ap­par­ently filed away in the mind of this quiet man, and grate­ful for the happy mem­o­ries he gave me. I wish they were still here, so I could tell them how much I ap­pre­ci­ated them, and dis­cover more about their lives to­gether. Tracey Kitchen

Snap­shot ... Tracey Kitchen’s grand­par­ents’ wed­ding, c1941

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