Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote in his play Richelieu; Or the Conspiracy that ‘the pen is mightier than the sword’. Letters to me are like diaries, an extension of the author’s very being, a way to connect on a very personal and intimate level.
So imagine my pleasure when my great-uncle, very kindly leant to me some photos and a scrap book. In amongst the photos and electricity board magazines was a letter written on a series of postcards dated the 18 January 1942 by a 20 year old Jack; the letter was written fifteen days after his marriage to Mary Ellen Densham, my gran from his RAF posting in Edinburgh.
You might say well what’s all the fuss about, its only a letter, surely there are many more letters and cards in the family archives. He must have returned home and spent many happy years with his wife and family. Unfortunately, the answer is that he did not.
Jack spent the war years as an electrician in the RAF and was fortunate enough to be posted close enough to his family to visit most weekends. He survived the war and came out of the RAF in 1946, but just 5 years later he was dead, Jack was 30.
I’ve wanted to know this man, my grandad for so many years – what was he like; how did he speak; was he funny and enjoy a joke? Was he thoughtful and kind, would he have loved me as much as I loved him?
Although Jack’s youngest siblings are still with us, the age gap is quite large – Jack was 12 when his brother Tom was born, 18 when Bob arrived and 20 when Edward appeared, they remember very little of him. My father remembers even less, he was nine when his father passed away and because of Jack’s illness, my Dad only really remembers him sitting in a chair in the corner with a patch over his eye and them both listening to Dick Barton.
There are only three photos of Jack with his family – my Gran showed me them just months before she died and for the first time in my life, I saw how much she still loved and missed him.
My Gran had an inner strength, a lady who was not an ‘over the top’ sort of person. But she was fun – she let me sleep in her lovely big bed when I’d insisted on staying the night; she made me cheese sandwiches and let me stay up later than I should; and her Saturday dinners were the best I’ve ever tasted in my life and I knew, without a doubt she loved me.
I imagine that the man she married must have had complementary qualities. I know he was a sporting man, regularly winning table tennis trophies; he played cricket and in his younger days was good at athletics.
Jack’s letter tells me more – it tells me that he was thoughtful and interested in his family. He is confident and comfortable in his own skin. He talks of a film he watched that was “an unusual sort of a film but very interesting”. He talks of intending to watch “Hibernians and Motherwell play”. He looks forward to “having a little chat” with his mother next time he’s over, because it was “such a rush last time”.
Through reading Jack’s letter I have a more rounded picture of the man he was, a family man just starting his life, albeit during the second world war, he had a new wife and his life stretched out before him. A man who loved his mother, father and his siblings – the apple of his mother’s eye.
Jack was buried alongside his grandfather Sydney Wallace Dillon in October 1951, my Gran did not remarry.
I look forward, one day, to meeting him.