Always Remembered

Frank Nash RAF, Observer Corps (for Joan Nash), Eileen Nash ATS, Nelson Bruce RCN
Note: Thank you to my cousin Hilary for the photo of her mum. Now I just need a photo of my mum in uniform

I come from a family of great story tellers. I grew up hearing stories about my Nana's childhood, her talent at the piano, her prowess on the tennis court and how she was courted by one of her older brothers' best friends, Frank Nash. He later served in Africa, where he contracted malaria, a disease that eventually led to his death soon after the war.

These stories were usually told at her kitchen table over breakfast. My sister and I visited Nana most Saturday and Sunday mornings when we were growing up. I continued the custom, long after my sister stopped, just for the stories. Nana was evacuated from London with her two daughters to the village of Clophill and Silsow. She was a civilian telephone operator at an unnamed military base, a job that sounded much more mysterious than it probably was.

At the dinner table, at family gatherings, I heard stories from my mother and aunt about being evacuees. My mother would also share her misadventures in the Observer Corps. I've seen photos of the women's uniform with it's A-line, calf length skirt. I only wish I had a photo of my mother in the uniform she modified to have a knee-length pencil-line skirt, despite it being one of the duties of the Observer Corps to rescue airmen from burning cockpits...well maybe not burning at the time.

After dinner, on the second or third cup of tea, my aunt might open up about her experiences in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service). She served as a driver/mechanic, just like Princess Elizabeth. In fact, she looked so much like the future queen that I wondered why Nana had a photo of Elizabeth, in uniform, on her sideboard.

My aunt's stories inspired me to research women in the military during World War I and II for my undergraduate history thesis. My aunt helped me with that research, putting my in contact with those of her former sisters in uniform, that she maintained contact with. Their stories ranged from funny to tragic, but none were as chilling as my aunt's description of being an ambulance driver after the invasion.

My father was more of a joke teller than a story teller. His stories about his experience in the Royal Canadian Navy were mostly relating how he was sick every day at sea. It wasn't until my mother was gone, my father lost his license and I became his wheel-man, that he opened up on those long drives. Even then, he mostly told stories about his childhood. I learned about his experiences in the Navy from his best friend since that time.

"Uncle" Reg loaned my dad a book on the Battle of the Atlantic, which he said was a pretty accurate description of what they went through. It sat on my father's night stand unread because, my father said, the print was too small. I offered to read it to him but never got past the introduction. He didn't want to go there. I read it on my own instead. Before giving the book back, I was able to talk to Uncle Reg and learn more about my father through his memories.

The stories I was told and what I read about the service of the RCN that inspired me to make the crew of the HMCS Nagasawaga supporting characters in Ghost Writer. I gave his sea sickness, however, to my main character, Jen Kirby. The experiences of my British family members has been percolating in my mind for some time and is the inspiration for my latest work in progress.

The inspiration my family's service gave me in my life, academics and creative work is considerable but as I write this, on 11/11 just after 11:11, I am most thankful that they were and are part of my life. And I think of those who didn't return.

Original cover with Princess Elizabeth

Next post will be Monday 26 November and I will have a guest blogger, author Bonnie McCune

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She has to deal with two kinds of spooks: spies and ghosts.

But which one is trying to kill her?

Jen Kirby has seen ghosts since she was a child, but she can’t talk to them or help them cross over. And, after a violent death in the family, she doesn’t want to see them anymore.

In her role as ghostwriter, Jen joins a Canadian Arctic expedition to document and help solve a forty-year-old mystery involving an American submarine station lost during the Cold War. The trouble is, there are people—living and dead—who don't want the story told, and they’ll do anything to stop her.
Now Jen is haunted by ghosts she can’t avoid or handle alone. That means confiding in the one man she doesn’t want to dismiss her as “crazy.” But can he help? Or is he part of the problem?