Another instalment of my father’s letters to my mother and what a rollercoaster three months this period covers. First up there’s some hard training in Derbyshire, then the excitement of the first jump and the trepidation of a posting to the Far East to join in the attack on Japan; and then the post VJ Day anti-climax , spent in Beverley in Yorkshire and apparently hated by all. The letters cover the VE Day period too and more fretting over combing leave – already Dad is showing his overprotective side (which everyone who knew him both benefited from and was irritated by) when Mum talks about seeking a posting to post-War Europe.
The first jump, though, is the highlight. He makes light of it and says he hasn’t had time to write any poems but in fact he did; he wrote one to his mother which, later, he wanted her to destroy. She gave it to Mum on the promise she wouldn’t let Dad know she had it. Written when he was 18, on the fear he felt on his first jump, I read it for the first time three days after he died. I read it out at his funeral. I type it now with a lump in my throat.
A Paratrooper’s Prayer
When I’m flying at seven hundred
And the red light flickers on
I know I’ll tremble and start to sweat
But, God, let me be strong.
When I look down through the hole, God
It’s like I’m standing by a grave
And my knees go weak and I can’t speak
Then, God, please make me brave.
And if it be Thy will, God
Part of Thine own Great Plan
That my life should stop, then on that last long drop
Oh God, let me die a man!
While I’m waiting to emplane, God
And checking my jumping kit
Though I laugh and jeer I’m full of fear
But, God, don’t let me quit.
When the kite begins to move, God
And take off time is near
Then my heart grows cold – God, make me bold
And drive away my fear.
He never thought himself other than a lucky man to be in the Paras and the people he met there were major influences in his life for sure, but the core sentiment he expresses here – not showing how weak he feels inside – dominated his life until late on when he realised that showing emotion wasn’t a bad or weak thing. He was a lovely man but, oh, I wish he hadn’t been quite so buttoned up until it was almost too late.