On Tuesday Ron, Amy and I caught the train to Chichester with my parents to visit my Grandfather Peter’s wife, Gwen. Peter passed away last year and we miss him a lot, Gwen has missed seeing Amy so it was lovely to be able to make the trip down for the day to visit. As is usual when travelling with my extended family we all had an opinion about what time to leave/how long it would take us to get to the station/how we should get there. As is also usual, Mum and I won so we caught a black cab and we were there hours before the train left!
This left plenty of time to have a coffee and share an almond croissant with the pigeons which Amy thought was the best fun ever. Its also just enough time for Ron to disappear ten minutes before the train was due to leave without taking his ticket or telling us where he was going. Clearly this is a man who hasn’t travelled enough with my extended family. We were all hyperventilating by the time we boarded our train after checking 15 times whether we were on the correct carriage and we weren’t going to be unclipped halfway down the line.
Amy played happily most of the way, its very convenient having a Grandpa Packet to distract her plus my usual bag of tricks. We even pulled out the farm animals which she loved. Strangely she adores the piggies but can’t say “sheep” instead she just calls them “baaaaa’s”.
Peter was an imposing man in his youth, very tall, 6″4 or so I believe and he had a large dent behind one ear from where he was struck by a tabacco bale when he was still farming back in Rhodesia before he was removed from his farm during the war. He was a pilot during the Second World war and its a part of his life he never spoke of to me and I know he was reticent about talking about his experiences much at all. This is a photo of a portrait that was done during the last few months of his life by a local artist who was commissioned to make some drawings of people who had lived in Rhodesia all those years ago. Its a strong portrait which portrays Peter looking slightly grumpy which he might have been just a little. Mostly I remember him for being desperately in love with his first great grandchild, Amy.
It was lovely seeing Gwen again. Amy was her perfect precious self and she performed all her parlour tricks much to Gwen’s delight. Here is Amy showing Gwen and Mum her belly.
Here she is doing high-fives with Dad.
And here she is having hysterics as Dad pushes her round on Peter’s old office chair.
After a lovely lunch out at a local restaurant Gwen suggested they go through Peter’s old wooden chest which contained the drafts of his novel that he wrote and rewrote a few times. Mum is determined to edit it and prehaps publish it for the family. Also inside the chest were Peter’s old flight books from the war, filled with neat inked details of raids flown accompanied by aerial photos for surveillance.
These were some of the most fascinating things I have ever read. Its just quite incredible to imagine what kind of life Peter was leading and how much of an impact this must have had on the rest of his life.
Next to a photo of Peter receiving a medal or flight stripes is a typed document that was well creased. It says at the top in large capitals: SECRET – ESCAPE INFORMATION FOR JUGO-SLAVIA. PHRASES TO SAY IN SERVO-CROAT. (these are underlined for emphasis)
It goes on with the phrases in English and the translations, phonetically underneath:
I am an English pilot, please take me to the nearest English mission, please take me to the nearest partisan headquarters.
Part II details what to do when meeting Russians and advises carrying this item in the left breast pocket in an envelope with the information: “Please communicate my particulars to the Allies Military Liason in Belgrade”
It feels very humbling to be holding a piece of history, crumpled and well used in your hands. I think it was a very special moment for Mum to see into a part of her father’s life that he had kept so quiet for so many years.