If you have been following my blog for the last month you will be aware that I’ve started blogging my grandfather’s war diary. He never spoke of the war and he passed away nearly 20 years ago, long before we knew the diary even existed.
I’m pretty much posting the pages as I “translate” them from his hard to read handwriting into arial 10.
There are a few things I have learnt from the first 50 or so days of his experiences –
Firstly that I would have hated the whole experience, not so much the combat but the sand. Since he arrived in Egypt, the entries seem to constantly talk about the sand getting in everywhere. I can’t even stand beaches, the idea of a tropical island holiday fills me with horror. I would have been requesting a transfer to a nice leech and malaria filled jungle…
Secondly, they are at war – entries like “morning tea” and going to the “pictures” and the “swimming baths” surprise me. I guess I expected him to be out shooting the enemy, manning enemy lines, driving tanks and relaying radio messages – not sipping tea, watching movies and going for a swim. For this, I blame watching too many Hollywood retellings of war. (As an aside, I also expect all crime to be solved in less than an hour – thank you CSI).
Thirdly, I can feel his sense of adventure in the early entries, there was only one comment about “not knowing when they will see New Zealand again” but for the most part he seems to have enjoyed visiting the strange and exotic places along the way. For the average New Zealander at this time, travel would have been out of the question. To see the world, even when heading to war, must have been an incredible experience – seeing sky scrapers in Sydney, visiting exotic Colombo and now seeing the pyramids near Cairo. These are things he could have only have dreamed about.
Fourthly and more poignantly, in the recent entries I’ve posted, he has mentioned meeting up with his brother Keith in Cairo. Currently the entries I’m posting are for June of 1941. I know that Keith doesn’t survive the war, he is killed in action in November. I’m not sure at what point my grandfather will find this out and what impact it will have on him. I suspect it will be fairly short and to the point, he’s not into long, flowing narratives. The entries tend to be short and factual.
I’m keen to read and post more entries but its slow going. The entries are at times very hard to read both due to the handwriting and some deterioration to the entries, but then it was a long drawn out war so it will take as long as it takes to complete the mission.