I HAVE been discovering details of my father’s life over the last few days. His hearing has improved since the care home staff gave him a course of oil drops to soften wax in his ears, and he has become more like his old chatty self.
His mother died giving birth to him (in 1914) and I knew that he had been raised by a spinster aunt. What I didn’t know (or had forgotten) was that his father also had a brother, Tom, who was killed as a young man in a coal mining accident, and three more sisters in addition to the one who raised him.
All three married, and two of them subsequently became mothers of daughters, each of whom married in turn. It seems very likely, therefore, that I will have many cousins that I know nothing about.
I had been thinking that I should attempt to research mine and my father’s Irish ancestry (his grandfather had emigrated to Pembrokeshire from southern Ireland and married a woman from Tenby before moving to Swansea to work in one of the many steel mills in the town.)
But now I realise that I also have a large Welsh family on both my father’s and my mother’s side. I have made tentative enquiries with the Swansea U3A’s Family History group about starting some research.
Today, my father was telling me about his time in the British Army. As a tinplate ‘finisher’ he was classified as being in a reserved occupation when World War Two started. It was agreed that the level of manual labour involved was too arduous for women.
But in 1944 he received his call-up papers, and reported for duty at Brecon Barracks – despite the protests of his bosses at the Fairwood Tinplate Works in Gowerton, a village near Swansea.
When he was finally demobbed in ’47 (two years after the war had ended in Europe) the Fairwood had closed. An uncle of my mother’s, who worked at another tinplate mill, told him that he had heard that ex-Fairwood workers who had been called up to the armed forces during the conflict would not qualify for redundancy payments.
“So I went to see the union rep” my father told me “and asked him if that was true. He said ‘Yes that’s right’. I said ‘Why did you agree to that?’ And he said ‘Because we didn’t know how many of you would be coming back.’ ”
I think that was shameful.
Sadly, while my father has been restored to his love of conversation, my mother slips ever further into the dementia patient’s land of lost communication. Her few, muttered, sentences now are nearly always addressed to her long-dead sister.
And so the wheel keeps turning, and I struggle to find any sign of God’s grace as I sit at my mother’s bedside.