Conversations with my Grandfather

My grandfather, James Cannon, passed away nearly 20 years ago.

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I often think of him, his experiences in life, and regret not having taken the time to ask him more about his life. You always think there will be time to have those chats when you’re younger, don’t you?

I wonder what he would think, and what he would say, were he here to talk to today.

Born in 1920, he was a man of that time in all senses – masculine, determined, definately not one to bemoan his lot, nor someone who would broadcast when things were not going well. He was a working man, and a very private, proud man.

When he passed away, I was away from home with work, and therefore had a lot of time alone to think about him, something I have continued to do through the years since his death.

What would we talk about, given the chance? Given a few more hours, what would I ask?

I would talk of my life, my journey from small child to husband and father. What would he think of the choices I made, of the path my life has taken? I would expect honest, loving, blunt truth from him. I would know when I had screwed up, and when I did the right thing. I know he loved Rebecca and would have adored the girls, and that there would be no small amount of pride in how his grandson turned out.

I would have asked him about his parents and grandparents, wondering what they were like, and how much of their character and values formed his. I know names, and I have seen a photograph of his father as an elderly man, but I would really want to know what they were like: what they did, where they lived, how they went about their lives, and whether his childhood was a happy one.

Most of all, I would want to ask him about his time in the RAF during World War 2. As a child growing up with comics such as Battle and Commando, war was sold as a glorified adventure story to an entire generation of boys. We read of gung-ho, jolly types who set out to give Jerry a bloody nose, before returning to have a quick game of cricket in the evening. We made colourful models of tanks, ships and aircraft, with barely a thought that we were
constructing minature tributes to instruments of death and destruction. I never knew, and Grandad certainly never told, that he had served throughout the war in Bomber Command as a rear gunner, probably the most isolated and fear-filled position on the aircraft. Sat in the perspex bubble looking away from the plane, it must have seemed that the only thing around you were the bursts of anti-aircraft fire, the searchlights picking your crate out of the night sky, and the enemy fighters seeking to send you to an early, flame-filled death on the ground fifteen thousand feet below. He served his time, and his country, in this very position, knowing all the time that the fate I just described had taken his brother, Cornelius, in 1943.

He would most likely have changed the subject, as it was clearly one he was not happy to discuss. But maybe, he would not have. maybe, he would have sat me down and told me of the terror, the stress, the physical and emotional fatigue, the feeling of despair that things would ever change, and also of the hope, the heroism, the camaraderie, the belief that, when the end of the war finally did arrive, they would be able to stand together knowing that, when they were called, they answered and did their duty.

I understand all of this now, far more that when I was younger. I still make models, but it’s a time to consider the whole truth, and not just the Boys Own stuff we were fed as children.

These are the things I would love to say, the things I would love to ask my Granddad, were I to have one more afternoon with him, a cup of tea, and a couple of armchairs by the fire.

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