Thursday, September 25, 2014

Positives shining through

When clearing out my Mama's house we found a great example of staying positive and carrying on even in the face of adversity.

Mama was in the Civil Defence in Sheffield during WWII and she wrote a piece about going to meet injured service men and transporting them to hospital.  None of us had seen the piece of writing before although we had heard many stories about her driving ambulances, she never expressed her true feelings about it.

Some may not be able to read this very well so I have transcribed it:

"The hands of the clock stood at 3am, an air of hushed expectancy hung over the silent, darkened platforms, faint light came from shaded lamps, and above, the stars glowed with a light never noticed in the city in a time of peace.  For this was wartime and blackout, and I, with many other Civil defence workers was awaiting the hospital train which would bring wounded Service Men to Sheffield.

Outside the station, a long line of ambulances stood ready to receive their load of weary men, who had travelled from a distant port.  We spoke to one another in hushed voices, or were silent altogether.  I thought about the men who were coming nearer and nearer.  Would I by chance know any of them, and would I perhaps find my husband or my brother among the many wounded who were to be sent to the various hospitals in the city.  I pushed such thoughts from my mind, and mentally checked my ambulance equipment.

In the distance, the sound of an approaching train, brought us all to our posts on the platform, ready to receive walking and stretcher cases.  I hardly knew what to expect, but had I had the time, I think I would have wept at the sight of such bravery and fortitude.  Badly wounded or only slightly, the men had a joke and a smile for us.  So many accents and dialects, but all of them glad to be cared for.
The work of getting them to the hospital went forward in the ordinary way which we had been trained, and sometime later when the ambulances had all returned to their various depots, I walked home in the dawn.  The sky was paling, and the stars were less bright.

And so I had done my first ‘convoy duty’, the first of several more, but none of them so memorable as this.  For I realised that in the midst of pain and suffering, a kind word and a smile (and a silent prayer) help to make a seemingly sad situation somewhat brighter."

I showed this to my friend Pat who said that ties in with our topic at church about light and bringing light into dark situations.  We went on Sunday to listen to her take on it, she said there were six mentions of light 3 literal and 3 about shining through, (or at least I think that's what she said, sorry Pat if I have that wrong!)

Listening to Pat also reminded me of the Eulogy that we had for Mama's funeral, this was mainly written by my Mum and read out by my Uncle, still can't look at it without crying, which given that there is a man outside the window cutting the grass makes me look rather stupid!

"How do you condense a life spanning 10 decades into a few words?  Mum’s life was a living history.

Mum was born in January 1920, the youngest of 6 children, to Jane and David Ward.   Her father died when she was two which made life very difficult for the family.  She saw many changes, some for the better and others not.  Life was very tough for her growing up in the 1920s and 30s.  Mum had a very stressful childhood; she often talked about spending lots of time on her own as her siblings were older and her Mother had to go out to work. In later life she never minded being on her own and lived by herself for 9 years.   Visitors were always welcomed with a smile, tea and biscuits.  She also enjoyed chatting on the phone to family and friends.

Mum loved school and learning.  She was very bright and this reflected all through her life.  It became a family joke that if any of us needed to know anything it was ask Mum and to her grandchildren, ask Mama she will know and she usually did. She left school at the age of 14 and went to work in a basket making factory.

Mum and Dad met in their late teens.  They married in 1939, and had 65 happy years together.  The only time they ever fell out was when they were hanging wallpaper. During the war Dad was conscripted into the Royal Navy and served for 6 years.  Mum was left at home with her Mother and Christine.   In March 1942, Mum heard on the radio that Dad’s ship had been sunk. She did not know for at least 2 weeks if he had survived; but life went on.   Dad came home on leave for the first time in 3 years in 1944.  Mum contributed to the war effort by joining the Civil Defence.  She drove the ambulances to meet the hospital trains and escorted the wounded servicemen to Lodge Moor.  It was very harrowing job but she knew she had to offer some comfort and support to those poor men.  Mum was a very caring person who always put other people’s need before her own, and she worried about everybody.  But her stoicism and fortitude always shone through in any adversity.  Here is a quotation from a note we have found diarising her first assignment to the station “For I realised that in the midst of pain and suffering a kind word and a smile (and a silent prayer) help to make a seemingly sad situation somewhat brighter”.  In her own words Mum summed up her own caring personality and strengths.

Chris and I had a happy family life with lots of fun and laughter. Mum was our rock and supported us through the ups and downs in our lives.  One of my earliest memories is being taken to school and not wanting to be left there without her.  We fondly remember our summer holidays particularly the ones to Bridlington.  We spent many happy hours watching the fishing fleet and pleasure boats going in and out of the harbour, and crossing the harbour on the ferryboat.  The fare was two old pennies.

In the 1950's Mum went out to work.  Our Grandma Jane lived with us so she was always there when we got home from school.  Mum always talked fondly of working in the local Post Office, a job she loved.  In that role she always helped the customers fill in their pension books and any other official forms and she welcomed everyone with a smile.

Mum worshipped at St Silas Church until its closure in 2000.  She was baptised and married there.  She served on the Parochial Church Council as Secretary and was a Governor at the Church School. 
Mum loved babies she was delighted when her 3 grandchildren, Jane, Simon and Philip were born.  She loved to knit things for them and babysat whenever she was needed.  She was even more delighted when her 2 great grandchildren Benjamin and Emily were born.  She said to me the day before she died that it had been a pleasure watching those little ones growing up.

Mum nursed Dad through ill-health and after he died in 2005 her own health began to suffer, again she showed her strength and lived by herself with very little help despite having hip, knee and shoulder replacements.  Mum found it difficult to come to terms with her failing eyesight and poor mobility.  She was then unable to keep herself occupied and for the first time in her life confessed to being bored.  Her passion was knitting and she knitted some amazing things.  Mum would knit anything and everything for anybody, including little jumpers for the under privileged children in Africa.  Dad used to say she was knitting shirts for Fred. Reading and housework were other passions she enjoyed.

Mum had a tough life but also a loving fulfilled life. All of you will have your own memories to cherish and we have memories in abundance.

We will all miss her strength of character.   We have been told many times over the last few weeks she was a lovely lady who was loved and respected by all who knew her.

We thank God for giving us such an amazing well respected loved lady who was a Daughter, Wife, Mum, Mum-in-law, Mama, Great Mama ,Sister and Auntie.  She will leave an enormous gap in our lives."

What more can I say, if ever there was an inspiration to see positives and get through tough situations it is right here.

Bless you Mama, miss you loads.

Emily asked me this morning what was important about the war, their topic this term is WWII.  I wasn't able to answer her question, there are so many things both good and bad I suppose.  I think one thing is how everyone pulled together and supported each other, men laid their lives on the line, people carried on through very difficult times and did not complain, it is difficult to imagine those things happening now.  The war also shaped the way we live now and still has a big impact in ways that I cannot begin to understand let alone explain to a 7 year old.  

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