A Family At War #armisticeday

During the First World War, I had several relatives directly involved in the conflict.

My maternal grandfather, Percy Francis had a fascinating war, joining the London Branch of the Seaforth Highlanders, having lost a bet that meant he had to belong to a regiment that wore kilts He was chosen as a model for a famous war artist who painted battle scenes involving the Seaforth before transferring to the nascent Royal Flying Corps to ferry planes from England to the front. He also carried out reconnaissance and photography, before crashing into the Dover cliffs, while returning to England on leave. He was badly injured, eventually ending up convalescing during 1918 and refusing to accept afterwards that he could only undertake a desk job.

My great uncles on my father’s side, Willie and Allen Dyson were medical orderlies who drove ambulances at the front, rescuing the injured under fire even as non-combatants. Willie was awarded a Military Medal for conspicuous bravery but died of his wounds. Alan survived, became a district surveyor but eventually committed suicide. Ah me, what a shitty thing is war.

I’ve written about Percy (as has my brother, the Archaeologist) and Willie, whose name was read out at the Tower of London in 2014 as one of the 900,000 Commonwealth fallen, during the extraordinary poppy display that year. You can click here and here if you’d like to know more.

Gordon, with his sweetheart Glady

It’s to my paternal grandfather I wanted to turn. Gordon Le Pard, after whom my brother is named, was born out of wedlock. This was held to be as much his fault as his parents, according to the morality back in those days and he carried that social scarring in an irascible temperament that led to countless clashes with my father. Until my father started dating my mother that is, on whom my grandfather doted. Rather unkindly, but I suspect meaning well he told my father as he approached his wedding that he was ‘bloody lucky’ to have found and wooed my mother.

Sadly, I didn’t get to know him as I was born in the months before he died of emphysema, almost certainly a direct and debilitating consequence of his war service.

Let’s rewind.

Gordon was born in 1884 in Cambridgeshire. His father was a tailor, who had an affair with a local married woman of some standing. His father never married, but lived with his sister, and brought up Gordon. It appears he was provided with a decent education and had his own horse, so one suspects some money was involved in ensuring discretion around the young Gordon backstory. He also had a gun and, in family lore a sword stick that my brother still has and which he once used to run through the calf of a blacksmith who’d insulted him. Odd times indeed.

Gordon became friends with a local family, the Dysons and the two brothers Allen and Willie. You see how this is going. Despite those apparent advantages, his birth meant he was shown little if any affection and, as a result was always seeking approval, always wanting to be needed and wanted. In turn he didn’t want anyone, his son especially to be like him.

He trained as tailor at Saville Row School – another sign of some backing – and joined his father’s tailoring business.  In 1914 he joined the cavalry regiment – the 7th Lancers – and trained in Ireland, before being depl0yed to the trenches in 1915/16. It was a terribly hard slog and he never really rode in combat. Later, as a foot soldier, he was badly gassed and repatriated to spend time in a sanatorium to recover, which he did. However, the ignominy of showing weakness in his invalidity did not help his self-worth or resentment at his lot.

Back from his recovery, and working in his father’s business, in Linton, he fell for his friend’s sister, Gladys.

Her family tried to prevent the marriage, in part due to his illegitimacy and in part due to fears he wouldn’t be able to support her – it was suggested that his injuries made him susceptible to TB. After his marriage, he and his father fell out and he left to set up his own business away from pressure. He found a job in Macclesfield, before he bought a tailoring business in the Northampton village of Brixworth. It’s main customer was the Pytchley Hunt.

Things were improving.

Their son, my father was born in 1926, though when Gordon’s father died the family disowned Gordon due to his birth and he inherited nothing. More cause for resentment. His wife, my grandmother wasn’t an easy women, lacking any real confidence. In one way her need for support and constant reassurance suited Gordon’s temperament. She found motherhood a challenge and, in the eyes of my grandfather spoilt my father. He wanted son not to be needy, to be self-sufficient but that wasn’t how he saw him. He internalized a lot of his worries and was a classic undemonstrative male, proud of his stiff upper lip and reserve. Indeed, my mother always said he found it easier being with women or men who looked up to him and automatically respected him. Anyone challenging his authority appalled him. As my father grew up, those clashes were inevitable.

He was constantly ill due to his war injuries, which didn’t help; his war pension was dependent on medicals and checks by a medical board for whom, he had little respect as he felt he was constantly trying to show he wasn’t a malingerer.

Eventually a combination of the neglect through illness, and in part the Great Depression when local buyers didn’t pay bills, his business collapsed. His detestation of the upper-class members of the hunt who let him down, fed his self-loathing.

Left with no alternative, he took a job as a paid for tailor in London. He hated the fall in status and that plus increased ill health meant he lost that job too. In a way, this was a blessing; as the Second World War started, he worked on a government programme for training unemployed people in the trade of tailoring. As more service personal returned with debilitating injuries, he helped them learn a skill that allowed them to work, too.

Finally, when his son joined the Army and then the Parachute regiment, he could be proud, even if saying so was hard. He said it to my mother, though, and when he died in 1957 with his son happily wed with two children, he was content.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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37 Responses to A Family At War #armisticeday

  1. joylennick says:

    Fascinating stuff – I love stories about families. Thanks Geoff. My maternal, Welsh grandfather, was quite a character and I recall an intriguing photograph of him seated in the desert when a soldier in World War 1. In one corner was a small cameo image of his wife – my grandma Sarah, and he said he loved her
    with such a passion, she appeared when the photograph was developed. We children believed that for years! He survived the war and became an Air Raid Warden in WW2. I will always remember his gentle way of talking and his smile. He was a real ‘ladies man ‘- being quite handsome and a good dancer…My gran used to tell him to: ‘Go to the Working Men’s club. ‘Ave a pint and a waltz with one of those fancy women, while I cook the roast…’ for she didn ‘t like dancing. They were a devoted couple and completely content with their simple lot. Grandad ‘made it’ to his mid seventies but Gran went on to nearly ninety, bless ’em. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      My grandmothers were such contrasting characters; not so much chalk and cheese as a rock and a hard place. And mum looked after them both at home for the best part of five years.

      Like

      • joylennick says:

        It is so interesting contemplating the make-up of our various family members. Your two grandmothers sounded a tad formidable, Geoff! My paternal grandad was a Freemason and ‘well-heeled’ compared with my Welsh twosome. Grandad Charles was one of the benefactors of the aforementioned Working Men’s club, and there was a portrait of him on one wall, under which Grandad Sam drank his pint! Hey ho.

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        Yes, it’s interesting how family strands mix together

        Like

  2. Tough lives, Geoff

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Born out of wedlock? Tut tut. How dare the child do that!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Erika says:

    There are really a lot of connections between your family and the wars. Very poignant stories. I that some of my older relatives had to serve in WWII but only my maternal grandfather told me his stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I imagine further back you had relatives affected by the Great War too, Erika. Pardon my ignorance but where did Luxembourg sit in 1914?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Erika says:

        I have no idea about Luxembourg. I only know where it is located and when I was 9 years old, my father took me along to for a short two day trip. But that was it more ore less.
        If you wanted to meant Liechtenstein. That was a pour farmer state at that time. Their princes did not live in the coutry at that time but in Austria. There is a saying that the liechtensteinian armee (81 soldiers) went to war and when they came back, they were 82. An Italian joined them … lol

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        Doh, of course I meant Liechtenstein! Please accept the heartfelt apologies of an ignorant Englander. With that sort of faux pas the only strange thing about Brexit is you didn’t throw us out 20 years ago! Love the joke btw! My father would have approved heartily.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Erika says:

        No problem, the country is so small and therefore easy to overlook… haha. You know, we cannot even throw you out since we have never been part of the EU. So, we are almost sitting in the same boat except that we always had to paddle on our own (together with Switzerland, of course… lol)

        Like

  5. noelleg44 says:

    I can’t imagine the scorn he must have endured for being born out of wedlock – and such a societal farce. Anyway, I loved these stories and they are a great tribute.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Well done, Geoff. Hugs on the wing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. trifflepudling says:

    Food for thought 😐…
    One of my grandfathers was in the Royal Artillery in WWI and Home Guard in the next war. I don’t know any of his stories except it was dreadful when they had horses, but fortunately I think these were phased out. My father never spoke about WWII at all really except that his pal had his head more or less blown off next to him, and once he and some off-duty comrades but in the war zone bumped into a group of enemy soldiers doing the same thing (having a smoke, I think) and each group stared at each other for a few long seconds then scarpered!
    Is the baby in the last photo you? Lovely photo.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pam Lazos says:

    The evolution of societal mores over time and how they impact the nuclear family is fascinating to me, Geoff.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. JT Twissel says:

    Your father was born in the same year as my mother. I’m glad your grandfather died content. In my family those members who served WWI had many more problems than those who served either during II or Vietnam.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great stories, Geoff. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Jennie says:

    These are terrific stories, Geoff. Many thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Chel Owens says:

    I love the realism of your stories.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Rowena says:

    Love the latest instalment of your war stories, Geoff as well as those shared in the comments. A word of encouragement for those of you who have family members who served but have no details, see if their unit put out a history. Here in Australia some of the ones I’ve read have had some great stories, while others are a bit dry. Excerpts of letters sent home were often sent into the newspapers and even if your family member didn’t contribute, there might be something from someone in their unit. Not everything I’ve found out has been good and rather sad but I’d rather know and pay my respects.
    Best wishes,
    Ro

    Liked by 1 person

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