Here’s what I know about my dad, and what I’ve thought.
Born: Glasgow, Scotland, 28th November, 1922 – jings, that’s nearly 100 years ago!
His dad? His dad (my grandad) married my grandmother after his first wife died. The local parish priest arranged it. This meant my dad had older half brothers and sisters. The most famous of these was Eugene (I know him as Uncle Eugene). His name is on the war memorial in Monte Cassino. He was killed in the tanks during the invasion of Sicilly in July 1943. I’ll write about him another time.
Back to my dad. He went to Holyrood Secondary in Glasgow – there’s a photo of him in the school fitba team (along with his extremely bright younger brother after whom I’m named). Anyway, these were well educated young men who were of the generation who had to go to war (another brother, John, served in the RAF). I’ve always wondered what it did to them, and what they thought about it. Much of what I’ve thought may be wrong but then again maybe not.
Dad served with the HLI (no, not Human Life International – although he’d support them to the hilt if he were still alive since, like Robin McNair, he knew what was the real battle that had to be fought[https://www.spuc.org.uk/news/press-releases/2000/september/war-hero-commemorated-in-pro-life-essay-prize] ). The The Highland Light Infantrywas Glasgow’s own regiment.
When did he join? I’m not sure. Before joining he was on fire duty when the bombs were falling. Himself and my name sake hid under the bed during the raids: he said he remembers seeing whole streets ‘gone’.
Do you remember the movie A Bridge Too Far, about the attempt to take the three bridges in Holland during the fateful Operation Market Garden? Anyway, me Dad said he was earmarked to fly one (or did he mean ‘fly in’) one of the dreaded glidders! Most of these smashed upon landing, killing the crew and everyone on board. He was pensive when he told me that story as we watched ‘the film’. Providentially he wasn’t on it – and I’m here to tell this story!!!
Somehow or another he ended up in Burma and India. What did he see? I don’t know, but I knew someone who knew him and was also in the Far East. Dr. Jimmy Boyle was our GP (who actually confirmed I was ‘him’ and not ‘her’ – before the days of official state sponsored transfattygenderism insanity, etc.) and he had a story or two about how it was having had one eye and fingers blown off his hand. That wasn’t from playing with fire-crackers!
Dad’s thoughts on Burma? Well, the old war movies were always something he watched and I remember watching with him The World At War series – an early 1970’s production that is about 24 episodes long…and the longer it goes on the more one begins to feel sick at the horror of it. Burma was a hole; if you got injured in the jungle you were left behind with a pistol or something. The jungle and a pistol. Bloody murder – terrifying. So what’s the point? Well, when dad was near the end of his life he was agitated about something. My mum simply asked him, “Are you scared about dying?” Dad’s reply? “I’m not scared about dying – I’m scared about being left behind!” Mercy! Did his mental illness stem from that? Possibly. There was no diagnosis of PTSS then – although most of the men subjected to the horrors of war had to deal with more than you or I could ever imagine. It’s still the same today. Maybe that’s what I’ve always pondered their lives: how did they survive?
Here’s my conclusion – it may be bunkum, or it may be close to the truth – take it for what it is (an attempt to understand what happened to many young men and how so few men stand up for the most defenseless today). My conclusion is that many of them went to war and never returned, even although they came back on boats; were cheered for a while (if they were lucky); and are still held up as heroes – as long as they don’t mention how much of a disaster it was.
This is anecdotal but here’s one to ponder. Harry Secombe was one of Britain’s great comedians – one of the famous Goons (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/1315822/Sir-Harry-Secombe.html). Those men were all a bit mad, but that’s understandable. Harry Secombe, however, wasn’t a nihilst – and neither was Spike Milligan. Sir Harry, as he later became known, returned from the WWII to find a family that didn’t know what he’d been through, and to whom he couldn’t tell what he had seen. The pain of carrying that was something not easy to talk about. Someone once said to him, “You think it was difficult – we had bread rations!” No wonder he couldn’t speak about it; and maybe that’s why the ex-service men’s clubs were the only place of solace for many of them. It wasn’t really something to be proud of – but they had each other.
Why the 1968 cultural revolution and the rejection of all authority? Why the wasted generations that followed on from that? Why the refusal of men to treat women with respect and to defend their own flesh and blood in their own homes? Was it because the ‘heroes’ knew the truth, and the truth was too bloody painful to talk about? Didn’t they die in their souls and then, some quietly and politely, others more violently and painfully, disengage from the task of rearing their children? And did their children ever really see the pain of their fathers and help them to bear it? Think of that scene from Saving Private Ryan – where the soldiers awkwardly discuss life before the war. Then comes the admission of the truth about the annihilation of self when Captain Miller, played by Tom Hanks, says:
So, I guess I’ve changed some. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve changed so much my wife is even going to recognize me, whenever it is that I get back to her. And how I’ll ever be able to tell her about days like today. Ah, Ryan. I don’t know anything about Ryan. I don’t care. The man means nothing to me. It’s just a name…I just know that every man I kill the farther away from home I feel.
I’ve wonder how many dads never were the dads they could have been because they got caught up in things that led to their self-annihilation? How many soldiers today – be they for or against us – are destroying themselves at the behest of forces they do not understand? And what about the poor Germans – told by the victors that they were responsibe for the horror of it all simply by being who they were? No wonder the so many who grew up after WWII were confused. How awful to be told that all of your father’s generation were evil. How awful to have no role models, no heroes, to imitate. If that wouldn’t drive children – all of whom were educated/programmed by the ideas of foreign powers – to reject the authority of their mums and dads then what would?
One more thing while I’m on my “let’s think about the effects on this on the subsequent generations” soap-box. How did this effect children whose dads never returned? One of the saddest storiesnI ever heard came from a dear friend who used to teach alongside me. One year, in the preparations for Christmas, I asked him what he did with his family. He simply said that he “didn’t do Christmas”. He was an elderly man, still fit and active, and I was surprised. Maybe he was an 1968er? “Oh, why not?” I ventured to ask. Here’s what he told me.
His father had been with many others on the Russian front, and like many others he’d been taken prisoner or went missing when Stalin launched his counter attack on Hitler’s forces. Those who escaped were few in comparison to those who didn’t return. When the War ended P.O.W.s began to return – although not all at once. Christmas, somehow or another in strangeness of it, was when the trains brought home a certain amount who were released. My dear friend used to wait, with his mother, at the local railway station each Christmas Eve – hoping that his dad would be there. He never came. Each year fewer and fewer returned, yet his mother always took him to see if his dad (her husband) would be there. Eventually, the trains stopped coming. He was 10 years old the last time they went. Christmas was ripped from his soul. C.S. Lewis wrote:
Always winter, and never Christmas; think of that!
Dads naturally want to provide and protect their own – when they reject this innate desire their lives begin to unravel. Why did my dad became mentally ill I couldn’t say for sure. A predisposition to toward mental instability? Something genetic? Or the sight and sound of men being blown apart? Only God knows but he returned and eventually married my mother – I was the fifth of seven children they raised together. He tried various jobs, and eventually went into teaching – ironically like his half-brother Eugene – but eventually had to retire due to ill health. For years my dear mother nursed him as best she could, and tried to give us all we needed. She couldn’t, however, give us a father’s love but I now realise that she did mediate that love towards us by her fidelity to him. She was never a career woman – being forced to work outside the home so as to make up for what my dad couldn’t do was something she always riled against (she could also see through the myth of liberated woman). Instead, she was a hard, hard worker, who only wanted one thing for her children: that they remain faithful to the Faith God gave them. In this she marched cheek-to-cheek with my dad, and so she communicated to us – indirectly – all that he ever wanted for us too.
As I grew older, and hopefully more mature (yes, that took a good many years!), my dad’s absence – even although he was present physically – became to be something I realised had formed me with a sense of presence. He was always there, and my mother knew this and loved him even when the madness was painful to be around. Indeed, for children many things are frightening and painful (raised voices, heated disagreements, unkind words,…to name but a few); family life is not what the BBC would like it to be, and never will be according to its ideas. Yet, even in the midst of it fidelity to the original promise of ‘for better or for worse…until death do us part’ can be found. To live around fidelity is good for the soul. My friend, waiting for his dad on Christmas Eve each year was a lovely, gentle, faithful man – he was still waiting in his heart for his dad. My mother never walked away from her husband’s suffering – he was still who he was in the midst of it. And my dad remained faithful to the men he had marched with – the old war movies took him back to them, and in his little prayers he lifted them up to God. He carried a Bren Gun on 30 mile marches when he was a fit young man, but he carried more love in his heart than most fit and able folk today since he loved especially every child in the womb. Thank you, Dad!