Our mother had a brother two years older than her who died during the war. Not even my father had met him because he was part of her earlier life, but because she kept his memory burning bright, we and our own children all referred to him as Uncle Ronald. The grainy photos of him playing the accordion or in uniform made him a romantic figure, an association heightened by a wistfulness in Mum’s voice for how life might have been had he lived.
Ronald was a great letter writer and when he went off to serve on HMS Gloucester Mum kept his letters carefully, entrusting them in her later years to her youngest grandson. Then out of the blue, couple of years ago, Ronald came back into our lives. Another of his letters was sent to us by a stranger who had found it when sorting through his aunt’s affairs.
It was a letter Ronald had written to the mother of his friend Edgar, in which he recounted the circumstances surrounding Edgar’s death. The sensitivity with which it was written was astonishing for an 18 year old. Who knows how many young men wrote similar letters during the war, who have been quietly remembered at family celebrations over the years?