Robert Laurence Bager (1918- 2003).
Grace Evelyn Tizard (1921-2019).
My parents fought in the Second World War, my father in the Royal Artillery with the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkerque, and the Eighth Army under ‘Monty‘ in North Africa and Italy, my mother in the ATS (the Auxiliary Territorial Service) in England and Wales, calibrating guns and helping to test radar technology. For both of them it was a socially liberating experience, my father being promoted to the ‘officer class’ at Alamein, my mother, along with millions of other women, finally allowed to do something useful in a man’s world.
I am proud of them both.
I don’t doubt that my brother and I brought our parents joy and satisfaction in their post-war years. We were their highest priority, but nothing, I think, could compare in intensity and influence to the years between 1939 and 1945.
The War marked them in different ways. My father saw terrible things on the front line but rarely spoke of it, though, by character and bearing, he remained a military man to the end of his life. My mother, by contrast, spoke of the War nostalgically, especially in the company of my godmother Anne, with whom she served. ‘Comrades in arms’, cantankerous friends for seventy years, for Anne and Tizzy (my mother’s abbreviated maiden name), the War was a time of levity and joy, as well as seriousness and sadness (my mother spoke of a Polish airman lost over continental Europe).
Jonathan and I were conscious of the War from our earliest years. It was the background to everything. The schoolmasters who taught us at our prep schools were often former military men, uncomfortable, like my father, in civvy street. Diminished by demobilisation, they’d been robbed of purpose. Commander Varley’s history lessons would conclude with a noisy re-enactment of the Japanese fighter planes that divebombed his convoy in the South China seas. His grasp of the more distant past was slender. In the playground we played at Spitfires and Messerschmitts. The films we watched, including my favourite, The Sound of Music, took the War as their starting points, and television was saturated with series such as Tenko, ‘Allo ‘Allo, Colditz, and Dad’s Army (my mother’s favourite), all harking back to that finest hour.
My generation is rooted in our parents’ experience of the War. It formed them, and, by extension, it formed us too. Our lives were made safer and more comfortable by the sacrifices they and their generation made. We have never known real danger or want (even at boarding school in the 1960s). Political misjudgement in the 1930s made the inevitable worse, but it was a war that had to be fought. We must be grateful to them.