Sharing stories is an important part of contextualising the barriers and enablers to sharing information. As today is Armistice Day, I thought I’d share part of my story with you and explain why I wear a poppy.
When I was seven years old it became the custom for me to spend Friday nights at my grandparent’s house, where I would be entertained and cared for whilst my parents took the opportunity to be human again. I loved Friday nights and they form some of the happiest memories of childhood for me.
On Saturday mornings I would get up with my Grandad at 6am and have a cup of tea with him. He would leave the house at 6.30am and I’d watch him cycle to work. I would then wait for him to return at lunch time, where he would cycle back up the drive promptly at 12pm, walk into the house, have a wash and a shave, put on his blazer and his tie with wings on it, and at 12.25pm he would wait on the drive for his friend with the Vauxhall Viva to pull up with a car load of other men.
My Grandad would take his position in the front seat and they would drive away to I knew not where. He would promptly return at 2.10pm and we would have a sandwich, watch sport on the television and wait for the football results. This Saturday routine was fantastic to me as a boy, but I really wondered where he went for that hour and a half at lunch time.
One such Saturday over a mixing bowl, whilst adding currants to pastry, I remember asking my Grandma where he went to and she told me he went to the Grandad Club, which intrigued me. On his return I asked if I could go with him to the Grandad Club – in my mind he just laughed but I know that this joke continued for many months “Where are you going Grandad? Oh just to Grandad Club, I’ll be back soon.”
One Saturday morning I plucked up the courage to ask him again if I could go with him and he said I couldn’t go today, but if I was dressed smartly the following week then I could. When he walked through the door the following Saturday I stood with my hair tamed, my shirt tucked in and my Grandma had taught me how to polish my shoes. The Vauxhall Viva arrived and I was loaded on to the knee of a man who smelled of pipe tobacco. I sat at the Grandad Club with my bottle of lemonade and a straw in a room full of Grandads and I listened. I did this in silence until 2pm and then we drove home.
At 2.15pm on this particular Saturday we didn’t watch sport because I began reeling off questions to my Grandad about what had just occurred. I had sat in a room full of ex-servicemen who talked about friends, experiences, places and jobs I had only ever seen in films. I learnt that my Grandfather was a tail gunner in a Lancaster Bomber during the Second World War, that he was a sergeant and was retired from flying missions in 1944 and became an instructor. His friends had done other things of which I learned more about on later visits. I was allowed to accompany him once a month until his death in 1991.
I realise now that he hardly told me anything really, there were no stories of bravery, daring or escapades from him or any of the men that went to the Grandad Club. Those Saturdays were in fact my earliest experience of a group counselling session. They went to support each other; my Grandad was an intensely strong and private man who every Saturday shared a drink and a chat with others, who in their twenties did something and lived through something that I can scarcely imagine. He later told me that those Saturdays helped him share his stories in the early days after the war and gave it perspective. He said that they were his way of coping with things, and I suspect he wasn’t the only one.
When I look back at these childhood memories I like to think that my Grandfather was able to be the Grandfather he was because that place and that routine supported his mental health and allowed him to talk and share information with people who understood. My Grandad and his friends created a culture of listening and trust so that when one of them couldn’t make it or ran into hard times they communicated with each other and a network was built that supported one another. In my eyes they were an elite information sharing partnership.
As a boy I loved hearing those men talk me through their stories and answering my many questions, refraining from the gory stuff (though I did get to see a shrapnel wound to a leg once). The place that my Grandad went to of course was the Royal British Legion Club and for the space and time that it gave, and still gives, to ex-service men and women, and for what our service men and women gave and continue to give, I will wear a poppy.