I found this picture of my Mum's cousin Tom in a box of photos that Mum gave to me. I called him Uncle Tom by virtue of his age and I had kept in touch with him and his wife, Auntie Edna, for many years. Unfortunately, Mum and Auntie Edna had a bit of a falling out a number of years ago that seemed to trickle down to me and we lost touch. Little did I know that Auntie Edna was in the beginning stages of dementia about that time and that was the reason that her letters to me stopped. She passed away in December of 2008. Uncle Tom and I reconnected after her death and when I found the picture, I made a copy and dispatched it to him with a request for more details and a bit of family history. Imagine how delighted I was to receive a four-page letter from him saying, "I shall now try and give answers to your queries".
This photo was taken in the spring of 1938. Uncle Tom even remembered the location of the photographer's studio. Not bad for someone who would be 90 that summer! It shows Uncle Tom in a uniform great coat with the badge of the First Battalion, Royal Engineers. He began his active service on September 3, 1938 and was discharged in September 1944 due to a leg wound.
The photo is inscribed "To Da, With Love and Best Wishes, Tom". It was given to my Mum's sister Grace (who we called Dado, pronounced Day-doe, and shortened to Da). I always thought we called her Dado so as not to confuse her with Auntie Grace, who was Mum's and Grace's aunt. However, Uncle Tom explained that Dado was not just a term in our family, it was a term used by many small children for their aunts and uncles but he wasn't sure of the origin. Amazing what you learn when you ask. He also said that he and Grace were very close because of their closeness in age (Uncle Tom was born in July 1921 and Grace in September 1921). Tom was closer to Grace because she married and continued to live locally, whereas Mum went off to Egypt and then Paris with the NAAFI (a bit like the US military exchange and commissary systems) and then after she met Dad, to the States. Sadly, Grace died in 2002. It was so hard for my sister and I and for our two cousins, Grace's daughters, to lose Dado in 2002 and Mum in 2003.
Uncle Tom went on to give me the names and birth dates of his mother and brothers. His mother was my Mum's Auntie Dorothy (Dolly) but she died in 1937 aged 38, three months after the birth of her son, Geoffrey. Mum would have been 11 and she often mentioned Auntie Dolly's early death. Tom would have been 16 but I'm assuming that the other aunts stepped in to take care of Dolly's boys. There's no mention of Uncle Tom's father, not sure why, and not quite sure how to ask the question in case it's a sore subject.
Flash forward to 2012 and Uncle Tom's brother, Geoffrey, contacted me by email (our email address was on our annual Christmas newsletter) to say that Uncle Tom was also suffering from dementia and had been moved to and was being cared for at a care home near Geoffrey. In June of this year, Uncle Tom died and Geoffrey sent me the order of service and details from the eulogy. It added a few more details to the picture above. Uncle Tom spent two years as an army engineer in support of the Royal Marines in Scotland. In 1942, he went overseas with the British Army under Montgomery and served throughout the North Africa Campaign. Following victory in North Africa, Uncle Tom's next stop was the island of Sicily. Following the Sicily Campaign, it was on to the Allied invasion of Italy where Uncle Tom was badly wounded at the battle of Monte Cassino to the extent that he was evacuated via a hospital ship back to the UK. I wish I had been able to talk more with him, if he was willing, about his time during World War II.
It brought a tear to my eye to read in the order of service that the congregation sang what we call our family hymn, Jerusalem by William Blake (1757-1827).
I am looking forward to going through the old photos and I hope I can decipher the handwriting on some of them, or enlist the help of my cousins in England to identify the who, what, where, when and why.