‘You want to be careful with all this family history,’ Jack mumbled. ‘You never know what you might find out.’ It was only much later that it occurred to me that that was precisely the point, the very purpose of research, to lay bare what had been hidden. What on earth could I uncover that mattered so much? Moreover, his dismissive resistance was guaranteed to have exactly the opposite effect from the one he wanted. Was there some family secret that he was set on erasing from sight? What if his taciturn defensiveness about the war was the result not of those miserable wartime postings, but because of something closer to home, a painful memory of what had happened in his absence? My brother was sure he could recall a uniformed man about the house, someone who was decidedly not our father. Was he Canadian? Or American? ‘I was too young to realise any deep significance,’ Peter said, ‘and in any case it may have been entirely innocent.’ He remembered an idyllic day on the river, mother laughing and a stranger rowing with studied elegance. There was a photograph he had seen – since lost – of our mother, smiling and carefree, under a spreading tree in the garden, with a man in air-force blue – a stranger to us both, but evidently not to her. He even remembered the man’s name – Ron. I joked about changing my name to Ronson and we laughed, uneasily, wondering whether this was a bit too close to the truth – and what else we didn’t know about our parents.
Another extract from ‘Posted in Wartime’, published this month in the UK by Pen & Sword.