Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Dad's Army, Clive Dunn and Grandads

As a child in the UK, I grew up watching Dad's Army. I loved it and more than 30 years since the series stopped, it is still being shown on TV! That is testament to its enduring legacy of wonderful writing, wonderful acting and wonderful humour. I was watching one of the reruns at the weekend and, as ever, was thoroughly enjoying it.

One of my favourite characters is Lance Corporal Jones, played by Clive Dunn (seen here on the far left of the picture), whose stock phrase of "Don't panic, don't panic!" always brings a smile to my face. You can't help but like the elderly soldier - kind, gentle, loyal, bumbling but always well-intentioned. So successful was he as an 'old man' that he actually had a number one hit single "Grandad" in 1971, where he sang with a children's choir. They couldn't have chosen a better person for the song - he looked every inch a loveable, wise, gentle grandpa! 

Many of us, perhaps, have not been fortunate enough to grow up with a grandfather around (both of mine died long before I was born), but we can still learn from them and be inspired by them as we look at old photos and listen to our parents. I have grown up listening to my mother talk of her father, whom she adored. I would have loved to have met him - he was hardworking, intelligent, generous, kind and loving to his family (though stern when he needed to be), a great sailor and swimmer, had a wonderful singing voice and was very gifted with his hands. 

He was every inch the family man, so when he was called up at the end of the Second World War by Hitler (he was German and lived in East Prussia), it must have been heartbreaking for him to leave his family. He was too old for active service, of course, but what could he do? It was his duty. He was sent off to Leningrad, where he knew immediately that the situation was hopeless. He wrote a letter to his wife and children in which he explained that there was really no hope - the Russians were due to attack the next day and defeat was certain to happen quickly - and, indeed, soon afterwards my grandmother received the fateful telegram. And with the Russians on the advance, she decided that the family had to flee to West Germany. 

There are times, perhaps, in life where we have to put personal interests and wishes second to some greater cause or purpose. Whilst I abhor the way my grandfather lost his life - it was so futile, because whether he had fought or not fought, the outcome of the war would have remained unchanged - I admire him for his sense of duty and, as a loving partner and parent, he set a wonderfully positive example to others. 

One thing, of course, that grandparents can contribute to our lives is a wealth of knowledge and experience. I wasn't able to get that from my grandparents, but I did get that from my father, who was 50 when I was born, so he had a lot of great advice and knowledge to give me as I grew up into my teens and early twenties. My maternal grandfather and father have had a great influence on me, even though one of them was long since gone when I was born, and I have paid my own tribute to them in my book Family & More - Enemies or Friends? It is important, I think, that their stories are told so that others can learn from them. 

What about your family stories? What have you learnt from your grandparents? Why don't you write down what you know? The written word will help their stories live again and educate others. Perhaps leaving a comment on this post would be a start or sharing something on my Family & More facebook page. Don't let the stories of your grandparents disappear into the mists of time - they are too precious...