I don’t remember when I first learned that my boring parents weren’t so boring after all.
I do remember when I was about 10 or 11, I bragged to a school friend that my dad had been in the Second World War and had fought in Dunkirk, Normandy, Italy, Africa, etc.
She responded: “My dad was in a prisoner of war camp.”
I replied: “Well, my dad didn’t get caught!”
Kids can be so insensitive and I felt badly almost immediately, about being so mean. Out of the mouths of babes.
I didn’t know it at the time, but her dad had a serious drinking problem. Due, no doubt to the fact he was traumatized by being in a prisoner of war camp.
Trauma impacts us in a big way. My father had a lot of trauma, not just in the war, but growing up in England.
His father died young, due to alcoholism and he was raised by a mother who could only be described as well – unique. I suspect that contributed to the fact that dad joined the British Army Artillery when he was only 17 in 1937, two years before the start of the Second World War. His army experiences took him to Italy and France where he served with the British Expeditionary Force and was evacuated at Dunkirk. Yes, that Dunkirk.
When he was on the beaches at Dunkirk, he was in a tank with two of his buddies he grew up with. He got out of the tank to have a cigarette (they used to be provided free to soldiers).
Within minutes of him leaving the tank, it took a direct hit, blowing up his two buddies and wounding him.
Ironically, that cigarette saved his life, although continued smoking shortened his life at age 69.
I’m certain the trauma from the whole war experience contributed to that shortened life as well.
He also served in the Middle East with General Montgomery’s 8th Army, Long Range Desert Group.
Near the end of the war, he was transferred to the intelligence branch of the British Foreign Office. After the war he continued on, becoming a major with British Intelligence in Oldenburg, Germany. There, he met my mom, who was also working for British Intelligence and they became the first married intelligence team in the area.
Their particular mandate was to help stop the development of the Communist Party in an area of post-war Germany.
As dad himself said, they had some hair-raising experiences working for British Intelligence.
Part of their work involved him going out at night, attending Communist meetings pretending to be a member of the party, while his agents were breaking into Communist Party offices.
The agents would steal documents, then sneak into the house my parents lived in, almost sliding along the interior walls – in the dark – to take them to my mom who would then type up the information (in German) that was stolen and send it by courier the next day to England.
The agent would then return the material to the office it was stolen from.
It was dangerous work and mom had to carry her own gun in case the agent was followed.
As a result of their involvement, I have the utmost respect for anyone who has been or is a member of armed forces.
While this column will be a bit late for Remembrance Day, I want to assure you there are many people who will not ever forget the sacrifices anyone in the armed forces currently makes, or who have ever made on behalf of our wonderful country. Heartfelt thanks for your service.