I would not have written this article had it not been for the effect of the Coronavirus Pandemic on our lives and livelihoods.
The idea to write this article started on the run up to the 75th anniversary of VE Day on the 8th May. I decided to look for war-time photographs of my father, who served with the Derbyshire Yeomanry from 1942 to 1946.
Following his death in 2014, I had put all of his old photographs and documents into a plastic storage crate. Originally, they had been in a fusty old leather briefcase, but this had been thrown away. Something which I regret, after watching the Repair Shop programme on TV, another consequence of the pandemic lockdown. The briefcase could have been repaired and restored to its former glory, just at the other items in the storage box.
Old family photographs are, by our standards today, very poor. Back then, we took less of them, and yet we still took them at odd times which were never explained. The quality of them varies immensely and they never seemed to be printed in a standard size. The most frustrating thing is when there is no clue as to what the photograph depicts.
My dilemma is the same for everyone else. What should we do with them all? Some probably ought to be disposed of, but that is a big decision to make. If our relatives chose to keep them for years and years, why should we decide to destroy them?
My father’s collection of photographs were all mixed up, but I did manage to find some of him in Italy in 1944 and 1945. One of them stood out, for its quality. It is of my father in Naples, together with what looks like a US soldier. They had arrived in Naples by boat from N Africa on Tuesday 14th March 1944. This was part of the Allies push to break the Gustav Line, as the Germans attempted to hold the area south of Rome.
In addition to the photographs were his Soldiers Service Book, some pocket diaries for 1944 and 1946. There was also a notepad that had a number of interesting diary entries which I related to military action in Tuscany Italy during October and November 1944.
Prior to sealing the storage crate up I flicked through the other items. Among these were lots of old postcards. Some had been posted and addressed to his mother and sister. Others were blank. It is these postcards that seem to tell a wider and more interesting story than the photographs on their own. My father’s story is one of having an urge to travel and explore foreign places. It is odd that the war helped him develop his interest, rather than discourage him..
My father, Dennis Dawson joined the Home Guard in 1940, at the age of 17. He enlisted properly in April 1942, at the age of 19. Whilst in the Home Guard, he appears to have spent some time hiking and camping in Wales. He continued to develop this interest, something which he returned to after the war. This was probably common among his generation. Their young lives were affected by war and it is only natural that they made up for their sacrifice, by making the most of the peace-time. He would spend several years in the 1950s travelling and building friendships. He married and settled down in the late 1950s at the age of 36.
Here is a selection of these postcards that tell his story.
It would appear that he hitchhiked around Wales in July of 1941, with his friend Stan Harne. He wrote postcards daily to his parents at 15 Melbourne Road, Trent Boulevard, West Bridgford, Nottingham.
Dennis enlisted at Catterick the following year at the age of 19. His date of enlistment is recorded on the Soldier’s Service Book as 23rd April 1942.
By March 1943 he is writing postcards from North Africa. His parents have now moved and are living at the Public Baths 242 St Anns Well Road, Nottingham (which his father is managing).
C Squadron arrived in Italy on 14th March 1944. They then worked their way north as part of the allied campaign in Italy. There were various engagements in 1944 before the allies settled around Tuscany where they prepared for the Spring Offensive of 1945.
With the fighting over, my father was then involved in the clearing up operations.
C Squadron moved into Austria and Yugoslavia. His service record shows he was back in Northern Italy in January 1946. This was at Villa Tachhi near Vincenza.
He then left Italy on 25th Jnauary 1946, travelling to the Middle East on the Princess Kathleen boat. THis time his deployment was in Eqypt and Somalia. He served until the end of 1946.
Remarkably, within 4 years he was travelling back to Italy, France and Spain, this time as a civilian and a tourist. Trips by motorcycle and a motor car were made each year between 1950 and 1956. His parents were now living at Manning Baths on Hawthorn Street, Meadows, Nottingham.
We came to this beautiful little fishing village on the Italian Riviera yesterday. We camped on the beach so that we could swim and laze all day.
I guess this collection of postcards helps to portray how rare it was then for this kind of tourism. The optimism of people like Dennis shows through, as they saw the back of two wars in Europe within twenty years of each other.