When I was young I had very little interest in my family. Like so many young people I was more concerned with the here and now. When my parents did talk about their family I never asked questions.
It wasn't until those people most dear to me had passed away that I began to think about who I am and where I came from.
I only ever knew one grandparent, my nanny, Kathleen, who lived to the ripe old age of 92. The strange thing was, no one ever spoke about Cyril, my grandfather.
On the one occasion my brother did broach the question with my father, he received a curt and rather strange reply.
All I knew was that my grandparents did not stay together. There are only a few rather grainy photographs of Cyril and he doesn't really smile in any of them. Therefore, from all these little snippets of information I gleaned that he must have been quite a disagreeable character who had abandoned my grandmother and her two young sons.
The one thing you must do when embarking on family research is to talk to the older family members. If you are lucky you will find out all sorts of information which could never be found in a records office. Okay, this information may not always be completely accurate and it always seems to involve some lost wealth along the way, but usually it will have at least a grain of truth. If, like me, you leave it rather late, you may have trouble finding people to talk to. However, I did have a lovely chat with my father's elderly cousin recently and I couldn't resist asking her about my grandfather...
Cyril was a very quiet and kindly man who worked as the head gardener for the Duke of Grafton. Like so many men from his era he went to fight in the First World War, and, like so many young men of that time, his life would never be the same again.
Cyril had been severely shell-shocked and although he returned to a normal life and married Kathleen in 1923, he never recovered from the horrors of the trenches.
Finally his own mother had him committed and my grandmother's marriage ended there and then. When Cyril did leave the hospital, the world had moved on without him, so he returned there.
He died in 1966 having never attended his sons' weddings or seen his two young grandchildren.
Even though this all happened many years ago, before I was born, I feel a great sense of sadness and guilt. Sad because he was written out of our lives. Unfortunately such things just weren't talked about in those days, no matter what caused it. And guilt because I had thought so badly of him. Now when I look at those grainy old photographs I don't see a bitter selfish man, but instead I see a gentle and sad soul who gave up his life for his King and country.
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