Tuesday, 11 November 2014

I am the lucky generation

Born after WWII I am the first generation of my family neither to have fled persecution nor to have said goodbye to a father, brother, son or male relative or friend going to war, not knowing whether I would ever see them again.

My paternal grandfather, with his wife and child, fled pogroms in Lithuania in the 1890s to go to South Africa.  As a new immigrant he joined the Boers in the war against the British, losing the use of one arm but going on to have a successful business and raise six children. 

My maternal grandfather fought in WWI as a bombardier in the Royal Flying Corps and I have a photograph of him standing next to his plane. He and my grandmother with my mother, then a baby, decided to move to South Africa for better opportunities (economic migrants!) and ex-servicemen were encouraged to do so. He had trained as a cabinet-maker at Maples and set up a successful furniture business.

My father and mother married in the week that France fell.  In fact my father’s call up papers arrived during the ceremony.  My grandfather took charge, did not tell them and contacted the War Office to grant a few days compassionate leave – “he has just married my daughter!” There was no conscription in South Africa, but my father had volunteered and served as a surgeon on a British hospital ship.

For many years I used to watch the ceremony at the Cenotaph on television and while I understood why apartheid South Africa was not part of this I felt angry that the sacrifice made by its citizens (black and white) none of whom had to fight, was not recognised. (It was never a given that South Africa would support the Allies.)

I have been to see the amazing display of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London twice and observed my own two minutes silence at home this morning. There is no end to war and hatred: people are dying now in the Ukraine, in Africa and in the Middle East. I have faced discrimination but never persecution, and my husband and son have never had to either face conscription or a decision to volunteer. The upsurge of anti-Semitism in the world, even in the UK, makes me fearful that future generations of my family may not be as lucky as I have been.

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