10 December 2017

My father, the boy soldier

My daughter wanted to see her now long-dead grandfather as a soldier, so my brother scoured the old photographs. There are only two. The first taken in his mother's house aged 18, I presume. The other looks like a professional image probably taken a few years later. He arrived in Normandy in June 1944 and ended up in Germany, via Amsterdam. I know that he killed, and I know that he saw friends killed; yet when I asked him as an elderly man what his time in the war was like he said, "They were the best years of my life." I found this a very strange reply. I am not very fond of looking through old photos, whether of relatives or of myself. Too many unwelcome thoughts arise.

Added later - Another picture unearthed:


  1. The second photo made me think of 'old' Japan.
    I too dislike photos. Vanity is probably part of it, but not all.
    My father couldn't/wouldn't talk about the war and I would be very, very surprised if he had considered them his 'best days'.

  2. I wonder if the comment 'the best years of my life' is an automatic response from someone who is suffering trauma from conflict and killing.

    Trying to suppress the horrors in their own heart and not wanting to discuss it with others for all sorts of reasons.

    I share a link below about my great uncle who served as a medic WWI and his past traumas led to a course of action on his part during WWII.


  3. Such a beautiful post with so much humanity in it. Thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  4. If you allow me...My brother on his way to war:(hope I'm doing this right)
    I was 15 years old when he returned from war. Five years of missing him dreadfully. The only news came on those small, blue airmail note. It said nothing! As a young girl I was so insensitive. I wanted to know everything he had done. I kept questioning him. Did he kill anybody, I asked? Yes, he did. I couldn't believe it. He was such a kind, gentle young man. Why would he kill anybody? Because if he didn't, he said, the other nice young man in front of him would have killed him. And Hitler would have won. We had to win that war, my brother said. It was not against Germany, he explained. He loved Germany and its culture. The war was against a madman, who wanted to conquer the world while destroying his country and Europe.

    Andrew, your father, my brother, and all the young men of that period, were the most courageous, determined generation that ever existed. The best of the best. That's what they are called in History. They were willing to sacrifice themselves to stop that madman. And they stopped him. That's why those years, in spite of the horrors, were the best in their life. They had accomplished their mission. Hopefully they would never be asked again to go to war. But, during the Cold War, they would have been ready to answer the call if need be. They were that type of people. Ready to fight for freedom. And it was very clear, in those days, where freedom was.

    I was learning piano at that time, often practising at home, Bach and Beethoven etc. One day, my brother came in the LR to listen. Then he said, "Always remember, Claude, this is Germany. This is what we fought for. Germany was never Hitler and his SS men. Germany is the music, the philosophy, the poets, the countryside, and the people who built the country. That's what we saved."

    Thank you to your father for serving May he rest in peace.

  5. My brother has just unearthed another photo of my soldier boy dad; just added here now as a digital keep-safe for myself.