100 Years

1918 - 2018

Marking the end of World War I

Her Laugh broke the Silence

By Sue Hardiman

Her laugh broke the silence. Sitting around the family room on a long and sad day and suddenly my grandmother’s laugh broke the silence and she left the room to look for one of those manuscripts that sit better in the bottom drawer than in a bookshop.

Nana returned with a beautifully bound handwritten manuscript by her late husband, Poppa, and with encouragement from her children and grandchildren, she read some passages.

Poppa was a marvellous storyteller and a small child believes every word coming from a loved Poppa’s lips. However, many of the stories were just that - stories. But the stories Nana read to us on the day of Poppa’s funeral revealed the real man – the man whom most of his family did not know; some of his stories were unknown even to Nana.

German prisoners lined up before British Intelligence Officer, Bazentin, France, 1917We learnt that Poppa was an intelligence officer for the British army during the first World War and we learnt of the very real and dangerous risks he took to do his job properly. We heard of his loneliness. As an Intelligence Officer he could not confide in anyone – not even his much-loved English girlfriend. He had told us stories about his wounds and made the getting of these wounds sound very exciting and not at all dangerous. He told us how his arm was shot off and his long stay in hospital and being looked after by the pretty nurses, and what fun the soldiers had in hospital – pretty nurses everywhere. How wrong these stories were, but how right they were for his young grandkids. He wrote about his mates in the Intelligence Unit but never gave them names. His manuscript contained a copy of a letter from one of these mates and it must surely have brought tears to Poppa’s eyes – it did to ours when Nana read it out to us. This letter was addressed to Pop at his local Post Office and fortunately the staff managed to deliver the envelope containing this precious letter and two photographs – photographs he did not put in the family album.

Nana knew some of the story but Poppa had always told her the glamorous side of his life in the services. He had indeed played a real part in ensuring that Britain was not defeated. Badly wounded but not defeated (he was shot in his left arm and gangrene set in resulting in the arm being amputated at the shoulder). He wrote about the sadness war brings – sadness to all sides – and how in later life he felt that there were no winners in war. He wrote about the devastation and destruction of beautiful buildings and homes that bombs destroyed, the heartache that went with this, the breaking up of families

Nana was born in Australia to Australian parents and her family did not take an active role in the war. However, she understood Poppa enough to respect his silence about his war and she had never looked at his manuscript until the day of his funeral. Although his story brought lots of tears it also gave us lots of laughs. The family decided that day never to seek publication of this wonderful account but made a copy it for each member of the family, and returned the original to its rightful place, the bottom drawer.

© Sue Hardiman, June 2017

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