A lost generation of survivors, that suffered in silence
Just like many English families growing up in post war England, we all had that “weird” great aunt/uncle…grandparent even… they maybe were a little eccentric.
Both my grandads and their brothers fought in WWII, and among them there were POW’s, wounded and also those killed in action.
I have many fond memories of visiting my great uncles and aunts, hard to have a favourite, but I really did love my uncle Harry. He was always a bit quieter than the rest of the Howard family, but nonetheless I loved sitting in great grans kitchen in Kilburn lane paying him a visit.
He was a little “odd” and of course the family would tell me about his suffering in WWII. He was captured in Italy/Sicily (if I recall correctly), without even getting a “round off”, and that affected him for the rest of his life..he lived everyday with the guilt/shame, and so many other just sad awful things, which today I’m sure would be considered PTSD, and that resulted in years of awful depression and even possibly agoraphobia.
Uncle Harry never married, he stayed in Kilburn Lane (great grans house), all his life.
Uncle Harry doted on great gran.
If I recall correctly a conversation with my Nan, uncle Harry was the 3rd child of a total of 8, 5 boys and 3 girls…most stayed in much the same area (North West London) after the war, although Nan and grandad moved to the Wimbledon area in the early 1950’s. I used to love going to visit them all…sadly I feel I was too young to truly appreciate them, and what they all went through, either in battle, POW camp or back in London living through the blitz.
But overall they all got on with life as best they could.
One of Uncle Harry’s oddities that came to light after he died, was his aversion to banks…we found a suitcase full of “old” money (pre decimalization).
When we would visit, Nan would make a bit of a fuss of him, which he didn’t care for much, but nan wanted to make sure the house was clean and that he had food in the cupboard, you see he didn’t like going out, it may have been agoraphobia, but he always had a fear of being captured again. And so he had meals on wheels deliver his lunch and dinners.
He would sometimes just sit in the bedroom and not come out when we visited, but most of the time, he would eventually come into the kitchen. As a kid, I just thought he was a little odd/eccentric, it wasn’t until I was much older that I better understood his pain, and even then not fully (how could I).
I do remember uncle Harry trying to end his own life on at least one occasion…and he eventually succeeded in 1980… it was just horrible. But after great gran died, he really did have trouble coping. Of course the family tried to help as best they can, but they too were dealing with the effects of war, plus trying to get back to post war normality.
Uncle Harry’s death happened when I was 14 and I think that was an age where I started to understand (having studied history in more depth) what the effects of war had done to people.
My Nan is the last one left from both sides of the family (Nan was married to uncle Harry’s brother) …8 on grandads side and 9 on nans side, but she too doesn’t much like to talk about “those days”. Although having survived the Blitz and the doodlebugs, can’t say as I blame her. Nan is a staunch socialist, and detested Churchill, I will never ever forget her saying (in response to someone), that he was no braver or better than anyone else.
I feel that my nans generation is a lost generation – they never much talked about the horrors they went through in the war, instead they got on with their lives and brought up their children with the hope of a better life.
My background is humble and working class – and I am forever grateful to my family that fought for our freedom, so that I could have a better life.