Scrapbooking Ancestral History

Dieppe - Grandfather
Created with Quick Page from Studio Manu @ Scrapbookgraphics

I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about how long it has been since I have been interested in knowing and  understanding my own  story and scrapbooking it.

Shortly after my paternal grandfather died,  my father sat me and my brother down to have a little talk with us about our grandpa.  I think I was about 12 at the time.  My dad pulled a big box down from a shelf at the top of his closet, the contents of which originally had belonged to his dad.  Inside,  we found a box of war medals, a Canadian military beret and sash, a stack of old letters, and a leather bound notebook with a leather strap tied around it to keep it closed. This was my grandpa’s journal.  Also tucked in the closet behind the hanging clothes was an antique,  steel guitar and a very old amplifier.  All of these things were treasures my dad had kept in remembrance of his own father, who served in WWII which is where each one of these artifacts had originated from.

My grandfather was a Canadian soldier in WWII who fought in the Battle of Dieppe, France in 1942.  For those that do not know the story of this raid, Canadians made up the greatest majority of the attackers with nearly 5,000 of 6,100 troops being Canadian.  However, the attack backfired as the enemy discovered the plan in advance and were fully prepared when troops tried to beach in Dieppe. It was a slaughter! Of the 4,963 Canadians who embarked from England for the operation, only 2,210 returned and many were wounded.  Casualties totaled 3,367 including 916 dead and 1,965 being prisoners of war.  My grandfather had been captured and kept as a prisoner of war, where he remained until the end of the war.  During his time in a POW camp, he kept a diary and this is what my father wanted to share most with us.

War stories are not usually that interesting to most young girls and that would include me as well, but because this was part of my own ancestral  history I became obsessed.  I read every page of that tattered, fragile journal, that my grandfather scribbled in while he was a POW.  I read it so many times that my mom decided it best to make photocopies to protect the book from being further damaged.  I read all of the letters as well which were a small stack of notes that he was able to send home to my grandmother on the rare occasions when they were allowed to write.

I learned from the journal, how my grandfather’s ship had been hit early on in the battle and how he jumped into the sea to save himself.  He swam from ship to ship trying to reach safety but each time he approached another boat in the fleet, it too would be hit.  He swam for what he thought was hours in heavy wet clothing, kicking off his  heavy boots to help prevent him from drowning, before he finally gave up and headed for the beach.  There he was captured and marched for miles in his bare feet until they got to the first camps.

He wrote about a kind French woman that had noticed his bloody bare feet when he was being marched with the other captured men.  She ran into the parade of prisoners, to give him a pair of sandals which he was extremely grateful for.   He wrote about how the days, months and years passed in the camps. He wrote mostly about how hard it was but he also wrote about how one of the guards had given him a guitar and how he played it often to entertain the prisoners and guards alike.  He wrote about how they had planned to escape digging a tunnel for months on end, and how he lost his nerve to go at the last minute.  3 of his buddies attempted the escape without him and were caught and shot for trying.   He also often mentioned how little he could actually share because his captors were always reading their mail and journals, indicating that his life was much harder to live than he was letting on through his writing.

My grandfather was one of the lucky ones that managed to make it back home to his family, however, he was never the same man that he was before he had left.  Sadly, he became an alcoholic and I don’t think he was a very present husband or father.   After years of hard drinking, he eventually died of cirrhosis of the liver.   This box of wartime treasures my father had kept and cherished,  really demonstrated the pride he felt knowing his father had lived through such horrors. I also believe it gave my father the empathy he needed to forgive his father’s shortcomings as well.   Knowing the story allowed my dad the opportunity to grow beyond it, so history didn’t have to repeat itself the way it often does when children cannot comprehend their parent’s human weaknesses and  sufferings.  My father has always been there for his wife and  children.

I also discovered a paperback book last year that was written by my grandmother’s long lost brother which tells the story of her own heritage, as well as her family’s very long journey from Russia to immigrate into Canada. I gave the book to my dad for his 76th birthday.  It details stories that my grandma had never shared with any of her family members.  In fact, it reveals an entirely different life history that my grandmother kept secret and then completely forgot about when she developed Alzheimer’s, eventually dying and taking those secrets to her grave.  My father was overwhelmed with both joy and sorrow to know the truth of her life, even discovering for the first time, that he had an older brother who died just after birth.  All of this  ultimately played such an important part in his own life story.

That’s the thing isn’t it?  Our personal life stories do not simply start on the day we were born.  The more we know and understand of our family history the greater the opportunity we have to understand ourselves.  When I first started scrapbooking it was with the intention to document as much of my children’s lives as I could possibly capture as my gift to them. However, over the  years I started to realize how very important it was for  me to document my own story as well which I find easiest to express in art journaling styles.     With the help of my mom, who I sometimes believe is a living and breathing library of family history, about 25% of my scrapbooking has been devoted to documenting the stories of my ancestors, which is one of the reasons why I have always loved vintage images and scrapbooking kits.   Collectively, this archive of scrapbooks and art journals will be my legacy to leave my children and grandchildren, so that they can glimpse the prequel of their own life stories.

I hope that in your own scrapbooking you will always remember that while it is a joy to document milestones and events in the lives of our children, it is so important to remember those that came before us as well.   Ultimately, the story you really need to tell is your own and I hope that over the years Scrapbookgraphics and the Studio Girls designers have been inspiring to you on this path.  In this high tech fast paced world we live in, my wish for you is that you will always find the time to enjoy this beautiful craft and all of the blessings and gifts that spring from it.

Comments

  1. Thanks so much for sharing! I am interested in my family history and have done some research – but have not the stories you have which makes it so interesting!
    Just wish I had started sooner and talked to family who knew all the stories!
    Gloria

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