Thursday, 26 May 2011

Tales of ash and the North Atlantic

The Icelandic volcano erupted as I shook the last of my grandfather from his canister over a remote hill top in the Brecon Beacons. Strangely fitting that events in the North Atlantic should so dominate the weekend we mark his passing, as they had so dominated his life. My Grandfather was a hero in those waters.

When this nation was on its knees and in desperate need of resupply, Lieutenant commander Tony Cole-Hamilton RN stood, with a small band of naval officers and enlisted men between the U-Boat wolf packs and the convoys of American aid that would lead to the salvation of this country. One of the last surviving veterans who personally witnessed the sinking of HMS Hood by the Bismark, he would often attest that the, now infamous, four word message from HMS Prince of Wales handed to him on the bridge of the the HMS Acates, which read simply: 'Hood sunk, am retiring.' was one of the saddest moments of his entire life.

All told that war robbed him of his hearing and two siblings, his brother David a fellow naval officer aboard a destroyer torpedoed by a U-boat (he was 28) and his sister Joan, an MBE and top-flight FCO intelligence at 27 whose flight from San Fransisco to the conference at Potsdam disappeared from radar screens over the Atlantic. Their's was a generation of men and women who had to put everything on the line and did so with quiet dignity and profound resilience. But Grandpa never let the tragedy of war define him. Delighting in mirth and mischief, he was a riot.

My favourite of the many hilarious and almost certainly apocryphal tales was this one:

Before his days in the navy he owned an Otter class dinghy, he loved it very much, but had to part with it as he moved away to naval college at Dartmouth. Many years later he was on shore leave, driving through the south coast. He drove passed a house where under tarpaulin he caught a glimpse of a boat identical to the one he had owned as a boy. So struck was he by the similarity he actually pulled up, got out of the car and went into the drive, he greeted the puzzled home-owner who happened to be leaving his house to take his dog for a walk.

"Sorry to disturb you," says grandpa, "but is that an otter?"

The man looked bewildered and replied tersely,

"Good-god man, can’t you see it’s a Jack Rustle."

He would have approved of the irreverent and slightly macabre jokes at his expense this weekend concerning Grandpa's possible contribution to the mayhem caused by clouds of ash over the Atlantic.

1 comment:

  1. Great story Alex, enjoyed reading that very much. Keep up the good work - Alan Mackie