My parents, John and Nellie, both had periods in their lives when they travelled to the four corners of the world, though never together! The biggest journeys they made during their marriage were two trips to Ireland, to Mum’s home in County Mayo. I’ve already shared accounts of these trips, as well as the many car and camping excursions we took as a family, mainly to Dad’s old stomping grounds in the Highlands of Scotland. Here are some pictures of a cycling holiday he took with some mates in the late 1930’s when they were 17 or 18. This may possibly have been to mark the end of their school days.
But it was World War II, perhaps only two or three years later, that first took John rather further afield. His time as a radio officer in the RAF saw him in Italy and Africa, and then later, service in the Merchant Navy meant voyages to all points of the compass. As ever, the faithful box brownie recorded these travels and we have two meticulously organised leather bound albums to tell the tale. The first one, the wartime one, begins with this spectacular shot of a high tension lightning strike over the city of Queenstown in Cape Province, South Africa. It must surely have been an event like this that inspired the poem John wrote that I featured in a previous blog (“A Poem from Wartime”, 16 Mar 2017).
Leafing through John’s albums gives me a compelling impression of the young man who would become my Dad. I find it interesting to realise that he did in fact spend most of his life in uniform – his 20’s in the RAF, his 30’s in the Merchant Navy and the remainder of his life in the service of the Corporation of Glasgow Transport Department. I can’t help feeling that perhaps something in John responded to the structure these institutions gave him, helped him cope with the eternal feeling of loss that never quite left him after his mother died when he was 11.
Whatever the truth of the matter, the John who emerges from the pages of his wartime African adventures is a very handsome young man in his early twenties, at ease with himself and his companions. The album is an intriguing mix of snaps of him and his buddies; of the various camps where they stayed; of the places – and people – where they were stationed. It’s almost as if, just for those few years, they were living in a slightly surreal bubble, clearly engaged in the all-engulfing reality of war, and yet also taking advantage of every second of free time to explore the sights and sounds of the surrounding towns, villages and countryside. As they say nowadays, living life to the full. In these pages the story really tells itself…
Next time, we’ll have a look at my Dad’s sea voyages, but for now, I’ll leave you with some more images from his days serving in Africa (the captions are – mostly – Dad’s). For me these are beguiling glimpses of John as he was just before he came back home at the end of the war and met Nellie. And both their lives changed forever.