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War Baby

(28 Posts)
Seventimesfive Mon 21-Nov-11 20:51:34

My fathers recent death at the age of 93 has reawakened for me the difficulties that we had while I was growing up. I was born in 1943 and did not know my father until he returned home when I was three and I apparently said to my mother "Who is that man in bed with you?" He never spoke about the war and had had an all male upbringing, public school and then into the army. From an adult perspective I am sure that his early years and then war contributed to the difficulty he had in relating to a lively inquisitive and argumentative little girl. I have been unable to find any research or novels dealing with the return of fathers after the war. I recently saw Mike Leigh's new play "Grief" which is based in 1957 and it had all the tension and depression that I remember as a teenager.

Does anyone else have similar experiences which they would be able to share?


gracesmum Mon 21-Nov-11 22:52:34

Have you read Melvyn Bragg's book The Soldier's Return? Although it is more about a boy and his father after the Burma campaign, it is a fascinating insight into the complex issues of husbands/fathers fitting back into their family. It's one of a trilogy and rather better than some of his other stuff!

Seventimesfive Tue 22-Nov-11 09:38:28

Thanks gracesmum, I haven't read any of Melvyn Bragg's books but will go to the library today. Reading was always my refuge and learning ground and still is today!

Elegran Tue 22-Nov-11 10:17:33

There is also an older book by Rebecca West, called "Return of the Soldier" about a man returning from WW1 with amnesia. (free for Kindle on Gutenburg)

Greatnan Tue 22-Nov-11 10:44:14

I was born in 1940 and although my father was based in Lincolnshire and came home on leave occasionally, when he was demobbed in 1945 I hardly knew him. He immediately became the boss of the household and insisted that we all return to the back streets of Salford, although my mother and all four children were very happy in the little village in the country where we had gone to escape the bombing of Manchester docks. He was offered a job in the village, but wanted to be back near his brother and other drinking companions.
However, although he never showed me any affection or interest, he was just the same with the older children, so perhaps his absence was irrelevant. He certainly did not have a tough war - he was an unskilled LAC helping to repair aircraft, and 'never saw a shot fired in anger'.

gracesmum Tue 22-Nov-11 11:49:32

It must have been very hard for women who had taken on the responsibility for the family in their husband's absence, probably managing a full-time job as well as the deprivations of war time - bombing, food shortages, worry, shortage of money and all the rest of it, to then have to take a back seat and revert to the husband's pre-war "Head of the family" status and the loss of independence which that entailed. Also war must have massively changed men- many came home having experienced things they could not have imagined and, at best, with much-expanded horizons - all things they could not easily share with their families. I know my father was among the troops who "liberated" Belsen, a fact I was not aware of until after his death as he said once to a friend that he had seen things that he could and would never speak of again.
We do not know how "easy" some of us have it these days!

harrigran Tue 22-Nov-11 13:26:30

My father was not away from home during the war because he worked in the shipyards but he worked as an air raid and rescue warden.
My sister was born in 1940 and my mother went to stay with her mother in the country until after the birth, returning home after my sister's baptism at one wek old. My father had to leave as soon as the siren sounded so my mother had to carry the baby into the Anderson shelter and sit there alone for the duration. To her dying day she would jump or flinch at loud bangs. I think women were really strong, I am not sure I would cope. My mother risked her life, during a daylight raid, to get home because her younger sister was babysitting and would be frightened. The bomb that came down close to the house was actually a parachute mine and it got caught in a tree and did not explode. Had it detonated she would not have survived.

gow1 Tue 22-Nov-11 14:48:48

My father was already a regular soldier before the war started. My 3 elder siblings were born either during the war or very shortly after. I was born in 53 and my sister in 63. my mother always says he was the 3 eldest's father but a dad to me and my youngest sister and it's true to say we both had a much better and more relaxed relationship with him than they ever did.

FlicketyB Tue 22-Nov-11 15:48:30

Seventimesfive, Like you I was born in 1943. I saw my father intermittently until I was 18 months but then he went out to India for three years. My mother worked very hard at keeping my father in my life, - and introducing him to my sister who was born a few months after he went to India There were photos and also, very importantly, parcels that arrived regularly from India, wrapped with white cotton with the folds all sewn up. These contained food, fabric for dress making and a host of other items. My father was only meant to send one parcel home a month but got round it by sending parcels to each individual member of the household. As there were five of us, mother two chilldren and my aunt and grandmother, parcels from India were a frequent occurance.

My father's return home was not a shock, we were well prepared but, although he had had no intention of making the army his career, his father was a professional soldier and he became one after the war so he was a bit of a disciplinarian of the 'if I say jump, you jump IMMEDIATELY' variety. This did cause problems because from toddlerhood I would do as I was told if asked but rebelled at being ordered about and that caused a lot of friction. The result was that as a child I never really realised just how much my father loved me. I knew that he and my mother could be absolutely relied on to help and support me no matter what I did but I saw that as them doing it out of duty rather than love.

My youngest sister was born after my return. My father was a man at his happiest with very small children. When my mother was pregnant with my sister and me he was away and hardly saw either of us until we were 3 and 5 respectively. With my youngest sister he was present throughout the pregnancy and was a real hands on 'new man' Dad afterwards. He changed nappies, pushed prams and did washing, there was nothing my mother did that he did not do as well. The relationship between him and my youngest sister was much, much closer than with my younger sister and myself.

It was only when I was in my late 40s and my younger sister was killed in a road accident when my father wept and openly shared in the family grief that I realised what a kind and loving father I had. It completely changed my relationship with him for the last 16 years of his life.

Sorry this is so long

gracesmum Tue 22-Nov-11 17:16:17

Not long - very moving At least the last 16 yearswere a chance to share a wonderful relationship. thanks

Butternut Tue 22-Nov-11 17:34:02

So poignant and how lovely to have had the last 16 years with your Dad in such a way.

Faye Tue 22-Nov-11 22:15:10

These are really interesting stories. I am glad for you Flickety that you got to know your father towards the end of his life.

Granny23 Wed 23-Nov-11 00:30:00

DH was born in 1939. His father, conscripted in 1942 and sent to India, was one of those left stranded for lack of transport at the end of the war and did not get home until 1946 when DH was 6. His was not a horrific war, although he was in the artillery he never fired a gun in anger and spent most of the time being Quartermaster (because he was the only teetotal soldier in the group!) and supervising local labour building barracks, etc. (because he was a joiner and carpenter) but nevertheless he contracted Malaria which kept recurring even after the war and also became very deaf, whether from the guns or the Maleria we don't know.

So when my DH was wakened at midnight to come downstairs and meet his father he did not recognise him at all. He was not only stone deaf but very thin and biggest surprise of all - his memory having been kept alive with black and white photographs - he was red haired. He had brought a football and far too small boots, for his young son and was very disappointed to discover that the little lad had no interest in football whatsoever having been raised in father's absence by his mother, maiden aunt and Granny.

DH's mother continued throughout her life as 'head of the household' very strict with her husband and only son. Father and son soon established a good relationship and eventually spent many years working together in the family joinery business, but were always more like 'pals' or brothers than father and son, conspiring together to either keep the peace or to 'get one up' on mother/boss. Lovely, sweet man my FIL was (--shame about his wife--.)

Mamie Wed 23-Nov-11 07:15:57

This is a good book on the subject; it is available from Amazon.
"When Daddy Came Home: How Family Life Changed for Ever in 1945" by Barry Turner and Tony Rennell.

Seventimesfive Wed 23-Nov-11 10:22:48

Thanks to all who have responded to this topic and suggestions of books. I am finding it helpful to hear of others experiences as I have thought for many years that there is little heard about my generation from the children themselves. As I said originally I have been prompted by my fathers death to explore this further. As some of you have said some of these men were distant from their children, partly perhaps because of their war experiences, partly because of their upbringings and partly because, in my case, fixed ideas of what a daughter should be.

In addition to an all male upbringing my father was the eldest of three brothers, all of whom served in WW11. The middle brother was killed shortly before my first birthday and I have always felt that I grew up in the shadow of his death. My mother spoke fondly of him and my memories of Remembrance Day are of standing between Mum and Dad with Mum weeping and Dad ashen faced.

My father was very conservative in all senses of the word. One of the phrases I was brought up with was "be good sweet maid and let who will be clever" which was an injunction to be obedient, conform and not question, all of which I found impossible to do! We had many clashes as I became a teenager in the early sixties. Such an exciting time for an inquisitive outgoing personality who has always been guided by the word "Why?"!

My brother was born when I was six and his experience was very different. They had made the adjustment after the war and he was a boy. Boys were always more important than girls in my family.

My parents were robbed of their youth by the war and I think all they wanted to do once it was over was get back to how things were before they were separated. My father was a chartered accountant and I found the late 50's a stultifying time and longed to be free and explore. I got married at 21 to an artist, had my darling first daughter nine months later and we went to Africa where he taught art. I had my first son in Zambia but the marriage did not last and I remarried to a man who at that time was a member of the ANC and
had another daughter. Due to the political situation at that time we had to leave Zambia in a hurry as his life was under threat and we all came to the UK where I had two more children. My parents helped me financially at this time as we returned only in the clothes we stood up in and I have always been very grateful for the help which they provided then.

However, in my fathers will he has left nearly everything to my brother and his wife on the grounds that he helped me nearly 40 years ago. He made my brother and sister in law executors of the will and told them not to tell me the contents. They have been keeping it a secret for 14 years. They told him that they strongly disagreed with what he had done as they understood my needs at that time but he would not discuss it. They have said that they will make sure that everything is divided equitably, (it is a sizeable estate) and it has brought us closer together, but I have been very shocked and distressed. It is not about the money, although of course it will be welcome, but more about how my father felt about me. I have always known that we were very different but I had thought that we had reached some sort of peace over the years. It now appears that he never did. He told me years ago that I had always been a disappointment to him and it feels that this is his way of showing his disapproval.

I don't feel angry with my father, I think those feelings went years ago, I just feel that it is a terrible tragedy for us both. How I longed to be appreciated for who I was and to be encouraged to explore and develop. I felt very lonely at home as a child. It's complicated because I am grieving for the father I had but at the same time grieving for the father I never had.

I have good friends who I can share this with, but I am struggling to make sense of it without completely losing my sense of self worth. I haven't been on this forum for long but have been so impressed by the care shown to one another. Sorry for the length but can't write any more now as I can't see the keys through the tears.

bagitha Wed 23-Nov-11 12:10:30

seventimesfive, I can see through my tears to write this, but only just. Please accept my sympathy for your sadness and <hugs>. xx

supernana Wed 23-Nov-11 12:14:49

seventimesfive Your eloquence has moved me to tears. x

Seventimesfive Wed 23-Nov-11 12:25:40

Thanks bagitha. It helps to know there are people out there who I will probably never meet but who have sympathy and understanding for the painful process I am going through. I have five wonderful children and seven grandchildren who I love dearly but it doesn't feel right to share this with them at the moment, so friends and gransnet are invaluable.

Butternut Wed 23-Nov-11 12:37:09

seventimesfive - I found your post very moving, and I understand so well your grieving for the father you had but at the same time, never had. It is a deep sadness to hold.


supernana Wed 23-Nov-11 12:45:35

Seventimesfive I have committed the highs and lows of my life story to paper. I was born in 1941, so the book took me some considerable time to write. I've also included images of family members that my grandchildren never got to know. In time, I hope that my memories may be of interest to family members that haven't yet been born.

Seventimesfive Wed 23-Nov-11 13:02:53

Thanks butternut and supernana for your sensitive comments. It means a lot to me as although I have good friends some of them are younger than me and it is good to have shared experiences from my own age group.

I have started a life story before but found it very painful. However, I think that it is something that is on my mind to do again, both for my family and my own sake, so thanks for the nudge!

Best wishes for your hospital trips Supernana. It has taken me a while to pluck up the courage to share my life here and I have been so touched by the way in which you have such a positive attitude. An inspiration!

Now to stop crying and go and defrost the fridge!

supernana Wed 23-Nov-11 13:34:12

Seventimesfive When I can tear myself away from the pleasures of GN, I also have a fridge that needs attention...and a washing machine that needs unloading...and a mountain of laundry to iron...and a bathroom to make spotless. Ah well, perhaps a little later smile

gow1 Wed 23-Nov-11 14:33:29

what an inspiring thread! It's made me think about how little I know about my parents I shall try to address that.

Gally Wed 23-Nov-11 15:38:01

7 x 5 I too have been reduced to tears by your moving post. So, so sad. I was an adored only child and hearing this makes me so grateful for my parents and the love they gave me - both now long since gone. thanks

nanachrissy Wed 23-Nov-11 17:09:29

Seventimesfive, how distressing for you and thank goodness your family are so caring in the circumstances.
I am lucky to have had loving parents, so I feel for you thanks