Remembrance Sunday – My Grandpa’s War Diary

It was last year that my aunt emailed my whole family her transcription of my Grandad’s diary about his experiences in the Second World War. Reading this has brought me much closer to my grandpa, whom I loved dearly, but who sadly passed away when I was very young. These extracts from his diary shaped my view of the war massively; I now know the extreme horrors that these servicemen faced and how important it is to remember their war efforts and their sacrifice this Remembrance Sunday.

Before we found his diary, my knowledge of my Grandad’s time in the war was very limited – I knew very little apart from the fact that he was in the Royal Navy. My mum did, however, often tell me a funny, and humbling story he had told her of his experiences. He described how as a very young recruit he first boarded an American merchant ship on a North Atlantic Convoy, where he was to be their radio operator, and how shocked he was at the abundance of food they had aboard the ship. During the war, Britain had very little imports of food and so everyone had to ration. America, however, did not rely on imports for most of their food so they had plentiful amounts compared with the British. When my grandpa came down for breakfast and the chef told him he could have fried, poached, or scrambled eggs and then asked how many he wanted, he figured the guy was joking. At that time of rationing, you were only allowed one egg per family, per week back in the UK. He asked the chef “How many can I have?” and the reply was: “2,4,6, 8…you choose” and so my grandpa continued what he assumed was a joke and asked for 8 fried eggs. Inevitably, the chef came back with 8 eggs for him and my Grandpa was not only extremely surprised but also guilty over this incident. At first, he couldn’t bring himself to eat any of them, but soon – being not only a practical but also a hungry young man – he reasoned that it would be a pity to waste them and then ate the lot! Hearing this as a child, I was shocked that families during the war couldn’t just simply go to the store and buy as many eggs as they pleased.

My Grandpa left his home on Lanarkshire for the war on Sunday 13th February 1944. He enlisted in the Royal Navy as a radio operator. His diary was much longer than the details my family could decipher, but sadly due to the diary being in poor condition, we could only salvage 18 pages. His handwriting also was awful! Nevertheless, those few pages greatly detailed his journey over the couple of years that he was a radio officer in the Royal Navy and the suffering that he endured.

The first few sentences of his journal introduce me to my grandpa, at the age of 18, about to set off on his journey. Anyone who knows my Grandpa knows that he was never on time for anything (I now know where I get it from), he even wrote, “I arrived at Petersfield, Hants. at 9am Monday morning, instead of 10pm Sunday evening as would be expected by those knowing my flair for punctuality, but it would appear that the powers-that-be were so delighted to see me at all that they decided to overlook my tardiness this once anyways.”

To add some context, my grandpa, like most men at this time, had no knowledge of when they would return home or even where they would be going. My grandpa said that despite this worrying situation, he “had decided to make the best of it and, taking cheery farewells of those at home, set off on the first stage of what promised to be no short trip.” It amazes me that millions of men were put into this nerve-racking situation, many of whom (like my grandpa) had rarely left their hometown before the war. This, for me, was when I started to realise how important it is to remember these people who put their lives on the line for their country, regardless of how politics has changed in contemporary times. It is extremely important to remember this part of history and listen to veteran’s stories.

 

My grandpa continued to write about his travels as a radio operator. In the diary, he writes about the different and new cultures he comes across in the Mediterranean. He talks about Malta, Pompeii and Naples. It seems as if he is enjoying Italy, despite the war going on around him. However, his writing stops right before he arrived at Anzio Beach, in Italy in 1944. The last line of this part of his journal is: “It was again a lovely, clear, calm morning with the distant town adding beauty to the scene as it lay there at the foot of a frame of small hills, between the blue sea and the equally blue sky.  From that distance, it appeared practically undamaged.” Clearly, what my grandpa found when he got closer to Anzio disheartened him from writing about it. My grandpa’s job in the Navy was to sail as close to the beach as they could get and then the soldiers would jump into the water to try and get to the beach. He used to say that as he watched, half of the soldiers were shot before they got to the beach – and yet he had to go back time after time and take more men to their deaths. This battle is historically well-known for having some “of the fiercest, most prolonged fighting in World War II” as described by Time. This battle clearly had a massive impact on my grandpa, as he did not write much more in the following two years.

http://time.com/3878735/anzio-unpublished-photos-italian-campaign-world-war-ii/

My grandpa continued to write little bits here and there about his travels for the next few years. He returned home shortly after the end of the war on the 8th of May, 1945. However, my grandpa wasn’t alone in experiencing the horrors of fighting in the Second World War, and the tolls that these events had on these people do not simply go away with time. That is why it is important to remember the sacrifices made, in not just the Second World War, but in all wars.

Remembrance Day is an extremely important day each year, as it reminds us not to forget how lucky we, as a society, are to not have to endure the horrors of wars such as World War One and World War Two. It reminds us of why it is important to continue to care for all soldiers that fall victim to war, whether that be in death or other ways. Remembrance is key for moving forward, as we need to learn from our past mistakes in order to create a better future for all. Moreover, it’s important to care for those who – despite maybe having different beliefs – have experienced the hardships of war. As a society, we should be more compassionate towards victims of such incidents and come together to remember those we have lost.

This year’s Remembrance Day (Sunday the 11th of November 2018) is also the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, and I implore people on this day to put down their pitchforks (stop judging people who wear poppies or don’t) and just remember the sacrifices so many people made to grant us the lives we have today. This is what Remembrance Day is all about.

 

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