Wednesday, 25 July 2012

my Grandad: an unknown great Briton

read about Gallipoli at History Learning Site
Amid the rollcalls of great Britons, I’d like to tell you about my grandfather. He was born in 1890s Glasgow and was working in the Parkhead Forge at 12; the school leaving age was 14 but nobody investigated. While there he witnessed a man burn to death and was probably ahead of the game in terms of what psychiatry now calls post-traumatic stress disorder by the time he landed at Gallipoli (right).

He’d lied about his age to get escape a heavy-handed father and was a Sergeant by the time WWI started. His Lieutenant had noticed that he was what we’d call functionally illiterate and had arranged training; Grandad would go on to prevent him from messing up during the war.

read about the Independent Labour Party at Glasgow Digital Library
He married after the war and, moving from Townhead to Garngad, borrowed a horse-and-cart from an associate in the Independent Labour Party (ILP): a coalman who had conditioned the horse to move only when it heard The Red Flag sung. (Grandma’s first vote under universal suffrage went to the Conservatives!)

Conscripted for WWII for his training skills, the heavy drinking common in Glasgow had taken root so He oscillated between Private to Sergeant like a yo-yo.

He died at 66, having been unable to claim his pension because of the lie about his age; already the golden thread of patriotism that had bound together socialists, capitalists and everybody in between was inconvenient to unelected officialdom. His officer, whom he hadn’t seen since WWI, attended the funeral.

He'd lost his birth certificate and Mum also suspected it only surfaced after his death because the ILP – rooted in working-class activism – was seen as "extremist" by cadres who were sharpening elbows for social ascent. But on such as my Grandad are founded the precarious freedoms of modern Britain.

Tony Urquhart
300 words

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