Originally published: 10.11.14
This blog post won’t reveal anything new or revolutionary. We all know how vital our stories are. But this fact was brought into sharper focus for me just this weekend.
Visiting my parents, we got talking about the research they’re currently doing into my dad’s family’s experiences in the Second World War. I’ve always known that my dad’s dad was captured and kept as a Japanese prisoner of war for a number of years. And also that the treatment he underwent there was so brutal he was unable to talk about it for the rest of his life.
What I didn’t know though, was that my dad’s mum’s brother, Sydney, was shot down flying a Lancaster over France in 1944. He and his comrades landed in the garden of a French family, who risked their lives to dig graves and bury the bodies. They then took pictures of the graves and of themselves as a family, and eventually found a way to send the pictures to the mother of one of the men Syd was killed alongside. This photograph was then sent to Syd’s (or our) family with a message on the back saying “these are the kind people who buried our sons”.
My mum also told me about having seen Syd’s regiment’s flight book which detailed all of the missions his division had undertaken, including bombings and food drops. On the day Syd was shot down the flight book simply reads ‘plane didn’t return’. And that’s it.
We all have these stories in our families, they’re not unusual, but I found myself deeply moved by the richness of the story that was being painted for me about someone I’d never met, but who also seems incredibly close to me.
I then started to think about those left behind, at home during the war. I can barely imagine what it must have been like to be my grandmother. Her brother’s death couldn’t actually be confirmed until after the war but he was declared “missing”, and her husband was interred at what was essentially a death camp. His return was by no means guaranteed.
The loss, fear, and hope in the face of all of this that I cannot even imagine, has brought ever clearer in my mind the fact that the stories of our lives are the only things we have; they’re the only things that truly inhere to us. We must do our best to preserve them, and to keep telling them.
And in my opinion, they’re the only things that will drive us to want to help make other people’s lives better. The strength of our empathy is truly reliant on our ability to bring other people’s stories to life.
Abbi Davies: I blog about all sorts of things that interest me, including charity marketing, feminism, veganism, running, international politics and mental health. I’ve also recently started a Tumblr with the aim of curating information, and raising awareness, about the practice of ‘corrective’ rape: fightingcorrectiverape.tumblr.com @not_alone_uk or @Abbi_Davies