I was about 11 and we were on holiday in Madeira, having dinner – my dad, my mum, my sister and me. I don’t know what led up to it but I must have asked my dad what he’d done when he was in the army – although he worked for an oil company, he had told us he’d been in the army when he was a young man. And he replied, in hushed tones: ‘I was a spy.’
Of course my sister and I laughed, especially when my mum said she’d been a spy too. Over the years I didn’t really think too much about it; it was just one of those things dads say to their kids, right? And then a few years ago when I was researching our family tree I discovered I could get hold of my dad’s army records.
(Doing your family tree is a brilliant way to get to the truth of family stories by the way – should you want to, of course; for example, I discovered that my grandfather was definitely not born on a Slow Boat To China as family legend had it; but one of his cousins did die on the Lusitania.)
Anyway, I sent off for my dad’s papers and they revealed all kinds of fascinating stuff; like the fact he’d joined up when he was 14 (in 1944, what were they thinking of?!) and that he’d spent quite a lot of his service in the Middle East Forces.
And there it was, in black and white. My dad was in the signals regiment. And yes, he did codebreaking.
OK, he wasn’t James Bond or anything, but he was and still is a hero to me.
(By the way this photo only came into my possession last year. My dad had grey hair from the age of 18, something I’ve inherited. I love this photo.)
*This is my entry for this week’s Gallery – the theme is family stories.