This holiday period I was catching up with my copies of Your Family Tree Magazine (January 2014 Issue 137). On page 44 I began reading an article all about how one of their readers found the troop ship that took her father to war by doing a bit of detective work with the few pieces of the puzzle that she had.
The reader, Jackie Dinnis who blogs about her family history at www.jackiedinnis.wordpress.com, had a few photographs and his medals to go on and, crucially, a letter written by her father from the unnamed troopship.
In the note, to his mother, he tells of being entertained by an orchestra conducted by a popular British dance band-leader called Geraldo. By doing some research online Jackie found that Geraldo and his Orchestra had been going to the Middle East and North Africa in 1943 to entertain the troops. It required several other bits of information to name the troopship. Facts, that tied the dates of departure up with the detail that this band were on board, eventually named the troopship as the Dominion Monarch.
Now this is where her father’s story overlaps with my father’s story.
As I have written elsewhere in this blog about obtaining my dad’s merchant navy records he was a young purser’s clerk on board the former liner and wartime troopship the Dominion Monarch.
As I read this at Christmas, while staying with him, I asked if he remembered the concert by Geraldo. Sadly he didn’t, though I can confirm that he was on board for that voyage from a look at his MN papers, but he had other story’s to tell of life on board the ship and its convoy passages across the oceans.
Then we fast-forward to Christmas day and one of those games that get played at the dinner table when the family are gathered together. My sister’s mother-in-law picked a card that asked “What is the most surprising thing that has happened in your life?” In turn we all gave our answers and then it was my father’s turn.
“To have survived,” was his answer. And when asked what he meant, he elaborated a little: “being at sea in the war.”
Then, this week, I was able to watch with him the programme on PQ17 the disastrous Arctic convoy. It was not a route that he sailed, though he was empathising with the crews that were so sorely deserted by the Admiralty’s decision to withdraw Naval protection and issue the Scatter signal.
And finally, this week, I was checking in at Facebook to find that some of my younger first-cousins-once-removed, had been looking at their grandfather’s Merchant Navy ID card and receiving a history lesson from their parents over the New Year. The awe with which they were learning about young men (both my Uncle and Father served in the Shaw Savill Line) who had gone to sea at a time when a torpedo from a U-boat may have prematurely ended their lives, was fitting.
So this Christmas and New Year has, unintentionally, taken on a Merchant Navy theme for me. Family history is great!