Sometimes things come along that you just didn't expect, but which prove to be a huge gift from the Universe.
I'd been thinking about my late father a fair amount over the past few weeks, since he would have been 100 years old in January, and he died on the last day of February eighteen years ago. Coincidentally, he shares his birthday with my granddaughter, so you can see why he might be in my thoughts.
So, yesterday I had a delightful email from a gentleman from the Outer Hebridees (that the far North of Scotland in case you are wondering), saying he'd like to use some quotations from my father's memoir. It turns out he is the curator of a small museum in Tirlee, and had recently come into the possession of a whole series of letters written by one Charles MacLean, who was a resident of that small town and, it turns out, was a great friend and roommate of my father when they were serving on 217 Squadron in 1941. I knew about "Jock" MacLean, but there were no details, apart from the fact he was killed in action some weeks after my father was shot down and made a POW.
So now there are all these letters, full of excellent details about what it was like to train and be selected to be air Observers, gain a commission, and start active service as Navigators on a front line squadron. There is even, it turns out, a POW postcard sent by my father to Jock to let him know he'd survived. For me the most important thing is that I had very little idea what it was like to start in the RAF as the lowliest of recruits, get through basic training, and begin to be aircrew, ready to fight. My father was always slightly embarrassed that he'd come from very humble beginnings and so he glossed over much of his early training, He felt it wasn't very interesting to others. He was wrong about that. Now, here are these letters, written in a charming and buoyant style, and they make me feel I was right there, seeing what Jock saw, laughing at the absurdity of some of it, and never for one moment despondent. This sort of primary material, so full of life and character, is almost entirely missing in all the accounts I've read elsewhere.
And so a gap in my awareness has been partly filled. I could hardly be more thrilled.