Do any of us ever ask our parents enough about their pasts? I remember glazing over whenever my father spoke about his time in Italy and North Africa during WW2 – not that he banged on about it, but it was like ancient history to me growing up.
I do know he was just four years old when his father was killed near Carnoy in France on 8th June 1916, and he always said he felt the loss that he'd grown up not knowing his father. I visited my grandfather's grave about twenty-five years ago, and I remember standing in front of it, some flowers a French friend had given me in my hand, and felt my father's loss. It was mine, too, because I grew up without either of my grandfathers. But my dad's dad had died a hero, fighting for king and country, and there were tears of pride that day, too.
I was placing flowers at my grandfather's grave in the mid eighties
I was a mother myself by then and I remember thinking how dreadful it must have been for my grandmother, being left with three small boys – my father (born in 1912) was the middle one of the three – at a time when there was little poor relief. I only ever met my grandmother four times before she died when I was in my late teens. I remember her as rather dumpy and very grumpy. And I remember she never sent me a single birthday card or Christmas card, and she never gave me a present either. A warm and snugly grandmother she was not. And a little part of me has always been very sad about that.
I know now (thanks to my brother's dogged family history research) that both my grandparents went to their graves little knowing that one day their secret would surface.
Great Bardfield Petty Sessions Jan 14th 1908
Alfred Elijah Underwood of Howe St, Finchingfield, was charged with disobeying a bastardy order and owing arrears and costs of £3 15s – One month's imprisonment.
In January of the following year, my grandfather was again summoned by Annie Harrington, a single woman, to show just cause etc.......and in his absence was ordered to pay 2s a week until the child is 14 years of age, £11s. doctor's fee, and court costs of 4s. In January 1910 my grandfather was given another month in prison for disobeying a bastardy order.
My grandmother, unsure of the date
Alfred Elijah and Annie married on 15th April 1911, so he did good by her in the end. But what a time she must have had of it. These days – in the main – it is a case of form filling (in private) to bring a case against a man (or a woman) for maintenance. But my granny would have had to do her pleading in public and been named and shamed and I look up to her for that. I appreciate she was hardly the innocent here....or was she? I have few photographs of her and she isn't smiling in any of them. I can only guess, now, at the sadness behind her dark eyes.
Cockington rose garden in 1959 and is of me with my granny, my mother and my brother.
I'm left wondering if my father knew any of this. It is hardly the sort of thing he would have told me if he had. But thinking about it, my father was by far the more liberal of my parents, the more understanding of others' indiscretions, falls from grace, and bad life choices. Nothing much ever bothered him. His stock phrase was 'They can't shoot you for it, love.', if ever I was riddled with angst over something. So, perhaps he did know. I'll never know now.