November 11, 2010

Remembrance Day 2010: Great-Uncle Alistair

We were lucky enough to spend some time with Keith's great-uncle Alistair recently. We pressed him for stories of what he did during World War Two and he was very generous to us, answering our endless questions directly and giving us a real understanding of what it must have been like to be young and swept off into a world gone quite mad.

Alistair very kindly scanned and sent us some photos taken during his years in the Armed Services. We have included his own explanatory text, which says it all far better than we could.

Great-uncle Alistair, with his niece Morag and great-niece by marriage, Aya.
October, 2010

It is still hard to grasp the immense magnitude of the war, and the innumerable lives that it affected. Our modern world is the direct result of those years, and yet where is our sense of connection to those events? Aya's and Keith's grandparents were literally each others' "Enemy" but only two generations later this Canadian boy and Japanese girl got married with only the warmest welcomes from both families.

This pic is In Takoradi, West Africa also historically known as the Gold Coast, and now Ghana. Date was early 1942.

Each family has its own stories of how they were affected: Aya's father remembers running from American fighter planes that strafed his town with gunfire, and he saw the mushroom cloud rise over Nagasaki; Keith's grandfather Barry was a leader in the Local Defense Force in neutral Dublin and his grandfather Wem was a Major stationed in Singapore, India and Kenya, managing supply lines.

This is Palestine 1947 with friend Jack on the right, at RAF Station Aquir.  For 10 months of the year Palestine weather is exceedingly hot, and tropical kit is worn. November and December however have a UK type of chilly and cold weather which is why we're wearing UK dress.
We found this little waif and stray puppy dog nearly starving to death, on the road from Jerusalem.We fed him well and christened him Bruce - he stuck to us like glue and became a great companion. His tail had not been docked as is usual for new-born pups, and quite soon it had grown just short of 2ft, and if he got into too long spells of happy tail wagging, his tail swing momentum would roll him over!

Grandfather Wem's youngest brother, Keith's great-uncle Alistair, spent a total of 14 years in the Armed Services. Home in Scotland on a two-week leave, he managed to track down his grade-school sweetheart, Margaret. They were married and had two children and seven grand-children.

After the handover of Palestine to the Jewish settlers in 1947, British forces moved back to the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt, minus dear Bruce who had to be left behind. This pic was taken in Ismailia, Egypt aro September 1947 - still had another year to serve before returning to UK, and when I did, within a month I was in Germany on the Berlin Air Lift. No rest for the wicked, my old grandmother used to say.

We see these photos of a young man, doing what he was compelled to do and making of it what he could, and we ask ourselves which fourteen-year stretch of our lives could we imagine giving up to such toil and turmoil. It is a completely foreign concept to us, but only because it was reality for great-uncle Alistair, and so many men and women of that generation.

Thank you, Alistair.

Outside my tent (sandbags in background) at Gabel Hamzi, Egypt, 40kms. west of Cairo. Bit of a khamsin (hot sand and fly-laden wind) blowing.

Looks like I needed a barber.
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