The Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month
Today is the day we wear poppies to commemorate all those who died in the two world wars. On Remembrance Sunday there will have been a parade to honour the armed forces and wreathes laid at the Cenotaph in Whitehall. At eleven o’clock there will be a minutes silence all over the country for the fallen. It’s a solemn moment that, in spite of the distance of time, people still observe. They stop what they are doing, whether it’s in a supermarket, an office or in a classroom and stand without speaking until the minute is over and everyone can go back to their daily lives.
For some of us that stand and think our thoughts will be on the horrors of war and the pointlessness of so much conflict, both throughout history and in the present day. Others will be remembering family members they have lost, or how war has impacted on their lives.
When my sister and I were little we used to say that if it hadn’t been for WW2 we wouldn’t be here. Our parents, who were Polish, met in Iraq when they were both in the British Army. They came from different parts of Poland and it was unlikely that their paths would have crossed. As it was they had to leave their country at the beginning of the war. Dad, who came from Warsaw was part of the unit that escorted the Polish Government as it fled the German army into exile, while Mum who was from Lvov was deported by the Soviets.
As children we knew the bare bones of their stories, but over the past three years I have been helping Mum write her memoir and so much more has come to the surface. The project began when a friend she used to work with told her that she had had such an interesting life and would Mum mind if Chris recorded some of her memories. Chris very kindly transcribed those recordings for me and that’s where I would have left it at that, if my sister-in-law had not wanted to know more. Louise borrowed an old-fashioned Dictaphone and spent hours talking to Mum, not only about what happened to her during the war, but also about what it was like growing up in pre-war, pre-Communist Poland.
When the interviews were over, I wrote down what had been said and then, trying to keep as close to Mum’s voice as possible, put it into some sort of order. This took much longer than I had imagined, as there were things on the tapes that weren’t clear and going back to Mum for clarification prompted more stories that had to be included.
We’d decided, as a family that for the sake of grandchildren and great-grandchildren the resulting ms should be published as a book, as any form of digital storage dates and becomes obsolete while books are much more likely to be accessible to future generations.
After rigorous editing, I was nowhere near as good as I thought on organising the material because so much of it I knew already while someone coming to it fresh had so many questions that had to be answered, “We Were Lucky” was published by Penkhull Press this year.
It’s a slim volume. With Mum being ninety-eight it seemed to me more important to write what she could remember rather than wait for more memories to surface, which undoubtedly the more we talked about her life, they would. Those conversations face to face and over the phone were for me one of the highlights of the whole enterprise. It gave me an insight in to my parent’s lives and what they had survived and left me with an undying respect for two people who had witnessed so many horrors and yet managed to come to a new country, learn a new language and bring up a family, without any outward signs of what they had suffered.
There was no shadow of trauma over our childhood home. Learning about Mum’s experiences I understand certain things about her like her relationship with food and need to feed her family and friends, but what I admire most of all is the mind-set that enabled my parents and many others like them to go on living happy productive lives after the war.
“We Were Lucky” the title that Mum chose for her memoir says it all.