Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Conversations with Da.

Last March my grandfather, Da, turned 90 and he looked well. This is a photo of him in 1953.

My mother's parents have always been known to us and Nandy and Da. I don't know why this is, although I think like most nicknames it came from a mispronunciation by a young child, probably my eldest cousin.

He had been sick a few months previously and my sister told me Da had cried when she last saw him, afraid that this was their last meeting. I am leaving the country shortly before his 91st birthday and returning I don't know when. For these, and other reasons which I may go into later, I decided to see if I could record some of his life stories.

Da seemed reluctant when I first put the idea to him, but two minutes later he started talking light-heartedly about his years at the bank, which was annoying as I hadn't bought the recorder yet. However, the next morning he rang Mum. He was worried, apprehensive, especially about 'the war'- World War Two- he just wanted to put it behind him, he said. But he would be alright to talk about some other things.

So, nervously, I turned up for our first recording. We started on the lighter stuff- amusing stories about butter, dogs and revolvers at the Bank of New South Wales, and about going to the 1938 national swimming championships and just missing out on going to the Empire Games. I like the way he chuckles as he approaches the punchlines of these stories, the way he tells all the important details.

Then, he just started talking about the war, just like that. Before I knew it he was onto the Battle of El Alamein, and telling me both the funny stories and the quite serious stuff. Two stories really reverberated for me, and I have thought about them often since. I hope to tell them later, as this post is getting long enough already.

Without noticing it, over an hour had passed, and when I stopped Da, he said, "But I haven't talked about Greece yet."

Two days later, at Christmas lunch, without any prompting, he looked up Greece in the atlas and started talking about the battles again, and I got another hour's recording.

Nandy told me that he'd slept all the following day, exhausted from the telling and the talking. Yet, he appeared to have found a purpose in doing it, he became determined to cover all the parts of his history and was annoyed when he couldn't remember the name of a person or detail.

He seemed grateful to me, and I certainly felt grateful to him.


  1. I think that it is great that you are going to record his stories. So much of this stuff gets lost. My father also fought at El Alamein, in Greece and Crete and in Italy. He didn't talk much at all about the war until many years later.
    We didn't record his recollections unfortunately and can only remember the major events. The all important minutiae is lost.

  2. Thanks. Another reason that I wanted to do it was that I can remember so little of what my other grandfather told me about his life, and he died seven years ago.

  3. Funnily enough, I got talking to Uncle Ian, on Christmas day, about going to war. I look forward to Da's story.

  4. That is really sweet, I miss my grandparents a lot, they have so many lovely stories to tell and such a different voice in telling them. It is such a nice idea to record it. My grandfather never spoke to anyone about his time in the war, he just refused to. I guess the silence speaks volumes too.

  5. Shelley said to say that she really liked this post, and you.
    Mind you, she'd had a few wines when she said that.

  6. I have always found that people are more honest after 'a few wines'.

    Thanks Shelley, I think you are wonderful.