After my Grandfather died my Mum and Uncle took the responsibility of dealing with the mass of paperwork and belongings that someone leaves behind when they’re gone. They spent a few weeks going through what was left and making decisions about what to dispose of and what to keep, trying to imagine what items might have sentimental value to different family members, as well as what items might simply have value as a record of his life.
Grandad had an amazing life. He trained as en engineer before moving to be a pilot. He spent time pre-WWII learning the flying ropes in Egypt, and Scotland before spending the first half of the war running bombing raids across Europe in both Hampdens and Lancasters as part of 83 Squadron. He reached the rank of Squadron Leader. He shifted to the Empire Test Pilots School as part of their first year of inductees in the second half of the war after receiving the Distinguished Service Medal for his role in the many, many bombing raids that he must have been grateful to survive.
He became a test pilot for AVRO before becoming air traffic controller at their airbase at Woodford, and then retiring.
I’m 37, near enough. He retired in the 70s, when I was 6 or 7. So for most of my life, for 30 years, his amazing history has not been a part of what made him him to me.
My mother and uncle’s work on his belongings resulted in a tattered red suitcase that is brimming with photos of his life, most of which are taken from the many years that were a mystery to me. I’ve got that bag at the moment, and am slowly scanning in many of these items. Envelopes are full of black and white photos of this young, fun man, with scratchings on the back in his hand-writing documenting what was going on, when and with whom.
This young, fun man became an old, fun man and I’m grateful that I still see a lot of the character of the man I knew in these old shots. I’m grateful, too, to have the chance to go through this amazing archive in my own time and make the half of Grandad that I knew into a whole.