In a little red box at my Uncle’s house is a small bronze oak leaf. It is the decoration awarded for a Mention in Dispatches and it belonged to my grandmother.
Long before she became my Grandma Frank, a 20 year old Kathleen Douglas joined the WAAF and was sent to RAF Driffield not far from the coast of East Yorkshire. I don’t know whether she was there on the calm and sunny Thursday in August 1940 when 50 Junkers Ju88 swooped in across the sea to pepper the aerodrome with 169 bombs, flattening all five hangers, a good number of ancillary buildings, and 12 Whitley bombers, but even the aftermath must have made an impression.
Kay worked as a mapping clerk, preparing the route maps for the bomber crews of 405 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force. Sat here in a nice warm house on a damp November day, I can’t imagine how it felt to prepare maps night after night, not knowing whether the map, or the men it belonged to would be bringing it back. Airmen flew out and never returned, including a Canadian that she’d taken a shine to, and a crew that crashed unsuccessfully on the runway. Noticing the maps that weren’t there to be cleaned up for the next night can only have been heartbreakingly sad.
Later in the war she was transferred to RAF headquarters at High Wycombe for the remainder of her service. Quite where she was based or what she was doing when she was Mentioned has been lost to the mists of time, we know simply that it was for her exemplary work.
There is a happy ending to Kay’s story. At RAF Driffield she had met the base dentist, my very patient grandfather. They were quarantined together when some sort of lurgy hit their airfield, and rumour has it he proposed while they made glitter wax flowers together to pass the time. They married during the war and my uncle was born in early 1945 followed by twin girls:
She died in 1984 when I was still rather small and so my memories are mostly that she had blue flowery curtains. We share our middle name, Mary, and perhaps a love of craft – glitter wax flowers anyone? But looking at photographs of Grandma, I know where I’ve seen her before; in posture and expression, she’s my mother to a tee.
(Grandma, Auntie J, Uncle M, Auntie P, and Grandfather)
My generation will probably be the last to personally known family who saw active service in even the Second World War, and there are no longer any Veterans of WW1. This year there seem to be fewer poppies, and fewer people out collecting for the poppy appeal. Without those first hand experiences, the majority of us choose to remember, it isn’t an inherent part of who we are. But that in my mind makes it even more important that we do remember, and not just two World Wars’ worth.
So this morning at 11, I’ll be stopping to remember and be thankful.