Tuesday, August 19, 2008

New Home for Old Medals

With time on my hands, I turned to something that I really don't enjoy - clearing out and tidying. A place that I'd always left untouched, perhaps because I still look upon it as 'sacred' to my father, is the chest in which he kept all his private papers. The chest, complete with father's papers, came with my mother when she joined me in London. It's been in my bedroom, securely locked and undisturbed, ever since.

But what, I wondered, if something happened to me? What was in there that father might like me to give elsewhere? Last week I went in search of the keys to the chest (it was a near miracle that I finally located them) and opened it up. Amongst a welter of other things (my first letters home from boarding school amongst them), I discovered my father's war medals. Not only that, there was the document testifying to the fact that he had been Mentioned in Despatches. There were his regimental books, his training manual, his notebooks from the field. What on earth should I do with them?

I phoned the Imperial War Museum. Needless to say, they had quite a bit of wartime memorabilia. But they did have a good suggestion to make. Had my father anold school, they wanted too know, perhaps his old school would treasure them for their historical value? They could be helpful to bring history lessons to life.

My father went to King's School in Rochester. Did it still exist? I put it into Google and found that it not only existed, but it was clearly flourishing. I wrote to the Headmaster, a Dr. Ian Walker, who, it seems, is a Lay Canon at Rochester Cathedral. He has now replied telling me (and, wait for it, this is the good news) that they would be proud to have my father's medals.

Dr. Walker has invited me to visit the school and bring the medals. I have deferred this kind invitation (perhaps I'll go next year) and am arranging for the medals to be sent to him direct.
Wouldn't my father be thrilled! He was so proud of his old school. So think of me later in the week packaging up the medals - together with a photo of father in his youth so that they'll be able to picture their proud ex-pupil!

A war-time story about my father. When peace was declared my father was in France. He was the Captain of his regiment, and, in this role, it was his job to make sure that all the soldiers received their pay. Father, an overly-conscientious individual, was hard at work on the pay packets when his batman burst into the room. "It's over, Sir!" he cried in high excitement, "The war . . . it's over! They're all out on the streets, Sir. Come and celebrate!" My father, after expressing his pleasure at the end of the war, told his batman that he couldn't possibly do anything as frivolous as celebrate until he'd worked out the pay packets. His batman scratched his head in exasperation, before finally giving voice to his feelings, "You're a damned fool," he burst out, "but you're a gentleman!" My father who told that story with the greatest pride, looked upon it as his finest compliment!

(ten days later)
On Wednesday I posted father’s war memorabilia to his old school. It was quite a parcel. Not only were there the medals, but I also found fragile, but perfectly legible, programmes of concerts that his regiment put on in the trenches. There were wonderfully evocative photographs taken on the front line - father, looking about thirteen, sitting triumphantly on the bonnet of his lorry; a group of absurdly young and vulnerable lads, arms around each other, beaming at the camera. There were letters from the front, dailiy journals, even buttons from his regimental jacket. All this went off to Rochester. Today I had a phone call. The parcel has arrived safely and they are absolutely delighted with the contents. The History Master says that it will bring his lessons to life, the medals are going in a trophy cabinet. How Father must be pleased!