That has given me quite a lump in my throat. The huddled graves, a wretched metaphor for the conditions on Intrepid and the men's relationship. Perspectives are interesting too. Intrepid was a 'tough gig' by any measure, but my grandfather came from a pretty brutal family regime and appalling poverty in an East London slum. We know he was desperate to join up and get food and shoes. He recalled 'life on board' fondly. He talked so much about the food - he really was malnourished before joining up, so even rice and tinned beef was a slap up meal for him. He talked lots about eating eggs. Imagine that. Coming back from war and taking stories through your adult life about 'eggs'. He was quite used to sleeping on the floor and being cold to the bone too. It's no wonder he was singled out for the Arctic runs. Tough kid, his naivety was a good substitute for bravery, perhaps. How times have changed - thankfully. I live not far from where he trained at Ganges, another 'joining the dots' moment.
How did I find you? Well 'Once upon a time...' (I shall give you a very very potted history). A year ago I rediscovered my grandad's navy penknife. He gave it to me as a child and I used it right through Scouts. (So pleased I didn't lose it!) I found it in a drawer, cleaned some rust off the blade and discovered a date - 43.
"Mum, when did grandad join up?"
"This isn't his bloody knife. Typical, he's palmed me off with someone else's!"
"Well, maybe he got a new one during the war. I wonder what he was doing in 43 that meant he would have got new kit?"
And that's where the research started. Obviously he was reissued with his kit on HMS Medway in 43, after Intrepid sank. So I spent hours and hours getting his records and finding articles and information together (now trying to turn it into a book - I'm a writer, but work in advertising, so book-length copy terrifies me). Images were harder to come by. Searching for 'Intrepid' just brought up standard images, but I did find a couple of photos. So I just kept tweaking search terms - particularly when I realised the magnitude of the Olga loss. I found images under 'Olga' which had Intrepid in the background and then my last roll of the dice last week was searching 'Leros 43' and your website came up. I'm so very pleased it did.
If you ever find yourself in the east of England, please drop me a line before you travel. It would be an honour and 'spritual' moment to buy you a glass of beer somewhere. Thanks so much again for taking the time out of your schedule to write to me and particular thanks for the images. If I ever get to the point of having a manuscript I will be sure to send it your way.
I must at least pretend to do some work now, but I leave you with this exerpt. Thank you so much again.
'When I was feeling ‘under pressure’ at University in my 20s, he would take great pleasure in telling me that by my age, he’d left school, had two jobs and fought a war. If I ever complained about the cold as a small weedy boy, he would wait for a break in the horse racing, lift himself up in his chair and say something like, ‘It’s not cold. You should try chipping ice off the deck in the Arctic.’ Then he’d take a bite of his prawn sandwich and sink back into the relative peace and comfort of the 1970s to check his betting slip. When I travelled to Thailand, thinking I was on a dashing bold adventure, he delighted in reminding me he had been all over Asia; mostly reducing it to rubble and craters, but he’d been there nonetheless.
'However, these insights were frustratingly few and far between and it didn’t seem right to press for more. More did creep out the older he got. Maybe he sensed time running out, but my probing questions in my 20s and 30s got maybe two or three sentence answers rather than the quips of my childhood. But it was still precious little to go on.'
Perhaps that is what made me write this book. His silence was a kind of shorthand for the stunned silence the very prospect of war should always be met with. A shorthand I needed to rewrite in full.