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Monday, 11 February 2013

The Sins of the Fathers ...

In studying my father and grandfathers' histories I may have stumbled on something which explains a lot about my childhood relationships with all three and may, in fact, suggest a line of research into the  diverse responses in many western societies of the post-War generations. If someone reading this would like to give me loads of research funding and some research assistants, I'm sure I could develop a credible doctoral thesis on this theme.

Looking back at my father's problems health-wise, in relationships and in his dealings with people generally, I realised that quite a lot of these were directly related to his own childhood and then compounded by his experiences in World War 2 - three years of which were spent fighting the Japanese in Burma, the East Indies and the Indian Ocean. He saw all manner of horrors, starting right at the outset in his basic training when HMS Hecla, a submarine 'mother' ship, arrived in Simonstown after being mined. The Trainees, many of them barely 18, were sent into the flooded compartments to retrieve the bodies that had been in them for almost ten days.

Posted to the battleship HMS Barham, the experience on HMS Hecla was to be repeated when the battleship was torpedoed at Diego Saurez by a Japanese mini-sub and one of Barham's main magazines  caught fire and had to be flooded to save the ship. As she was 'closed up' to action stations at the time, the magazine was manned. The men in it drowned or were burned or both. It was two weeks before the ship could be brought into the floating dock in Durban and, once again, the junior rates got the job ...

My maternal grandfather had a very bad time in WW1, having run away from home to join up aged 15 (his father was Colour Sergeant of the Royal Irish Rifles), he was nearly killed on the first day of the Somme. He survived three days in a shell hole only because his wounds had become infested with maggots. When he and his lifelong best friend were eventually retrieved - having been found by chance by a burial party - they were not considered likely to survive and so did not lose any limbs, which the wounds they had would normally have been treated by amputation. They survived that to be judged 'unfit' for the infantry, but 'fit' to become Gunners. The slaughter of "Flander's Fields," followed by the Irish Civil War, left a deep and lasting mark on "Ada's" psyche, which impacted on his relationship with his daughter (my mother) and later on my brother and I.

The little I know of my paternal grandfather's history suggests that he also suffered a traumatic childhood. His father, an Army officer, was killed in Barbeton when grandfather was barely four years old. His mother's relatives descended on her and their farm like vultures and she, his sisters and himself endured a very difficult time thereafter. His relationship with his children is probably best described as volatile, his childhood compounded by the Anglo-Boer War and his service with one of the regiments sent out to deal with it, certainly didn't sit well with him either.

Based on my own relationships, and knowing my own reaction to many things as a result, I find myself convinced that their experiences have coloured my view of a wide range of matters, from politics, to war, to relationships. It is a matter of fact that I suffer from a degree of insecurity in myself, lack confidence in a number of areas and was a'late developer.' Some of this I have, by sheer 'bloody-mindedness' and at some cost to myself and some of those closest to me, been able to compensate for if not overcome. I know I'm not alone at this, and a great deal I've read recently about the experiences of some of my contemporaries and some of the children of men who fought in the US Forces in Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia, suggests that many of the social problems and inabilities among many younger folk today to accept discipline, or to accept a different point of view to their own, stem from the traumas their fathers suffered and the damage this did to the relationship with their children.

As I said at the outset, I think there's at least one PhD in this study, possibly several. Now, if someone wants to put up the money, I know several people who'd be interested ...

1 comment:

  1. I agree Pat. My father suffered a mentak breakdown not long after I joined the RN. It had been confirmed that it was a destroyer he was serving on, sank a ship that had run up the "Rising Sun". Turns out it was full of UK & Dutch prisoners of war. The crew had all abandoned ship leaving the prisoners to their fate. Even worse for my father was the confirmation that his younger brother (a spitfire pilot) was one of the prisoners. He was never the same man after that.