What a loss that so much untold and unrecorded history and interesting information goes to the graves with people. Thank goodness for those people who have kept, and do keep, diaries. Blogging also has to be a great way for future generations to view the lives of people doing everyday things which may be viewed as humdrum or uninteresting now but, to those who will follow, will be of great interest. Thank goodness for museums and record offices who are guarding our history because without them we would be all be the poorer without the information they hold.
Will the current generation keep letters home from service men and women in the Falklands or Iraq? Will pilots serving around the world hand their logbooks on to future generations to pour over? Will photos and other treasures be kept in modern plastic boxes to answer questions from future generations? What will you keep that may be of interest to others in the future?
Personally, I wish I had asked more questions of my family members when they were alive and not allowed myself to be fobbed off with â€˜you don’t want to hear about that’ or â€˜I don’t want to talk about it’ or â€˜don’t start him off about that’. I know that from a young age I had wanted to be the third generation pilot in the family and obtained my PPL in 1980, although it is many years since I have flown.
I grew up with the understanding that my grandfather had led a varied and colourful life, going to sea, working on the US railways as a navvie, teaching the Russians to fly seaplanes, setting up communication networks in Iraq, plus commanding seaplane bases. My grandfather, William James Daddo-Langlois, a Guernseyman, had followed a family tradition and gone to sea as a youngster in 1911, including a round the world voyage in the four masted schooner the Annie M. Reid. He also served in the RNAS and the RAF as a seaplane / flyingboat pilot. Unfortunately, my grandmother wouldn’t let him talk about his experiences when I asked him, perhaps she was bored by it all, and I didn’t dare disobey her.
From quite a young age I had also known that my mother’s brother, William Raoul Daddo-Langlois (known to the family as Bill), had been a Spitfire pilot and had been killed in WW2, but I had never really known anything about him as a person as he died before I was born. My mother and her brother had been very close and I discerned over the years that my mother had never really come to terms with his death and refused to discuss details of him with me or my sister.
Naturally, as I grew older I would ask questions about Bill but the responses from her were short and sharp and told me nothing. All I had really gleaned about him by the time I was an older teenager was that he had served in Malta, had been killed on the first day of the Sicily landings, that his name was on the memorial in Valetta Harbour and, that my mother held the Americans responsible for his death. The latter information I found out many years later to be only partially true. I remember my mother telling me that in 1952 she had horrified my grandfather (who was by this time a retired Group Captain) when she told him they were being flown out to Malta, for the unveiling of the memorial, in a York aircraft. He had told her that they were banned at the time even for troop carrying – supposedly because they were considered to be at the end of their flying life. My mother’s only other comment on the event was that she had then been worried seeing the wings flexing during the flight.
Back in the early 1980s I started to try to find out for myself about Bill. So, how do you set about finding out about wartime pilots, this being the days before the internet? I wrote to the Ministry of Defence for details, who kindly gave me an outline of his service and then; about 1986 I saw a â€˜This is Your Life’ programme on TV dedicated to Laddie Lucas, the golfer, MP, and ex WW2 pilot, who mentioned my uncle as being his good friend. So naturally I contacted him.
We met for a delightful lunch in London, and I received numerous letters in which Laddie told me as much as he could about his friend Raoul, he told me that he had coined Bill’s second name because he thought there were too many Bills around at the time and it had become confusing. Also, I eagerly read the many books that he had written telling about their flying training together in Canada, their time based in Cornwall, and their posting to Malta. Laddie also gave me the names of other pilots living in the UK and around the world who had known Raoul and, I had wonderful letters from some very brave and interesting men, regretfully these letters have been mislaid over the years. My contact with Laddie also triggered my mother’s desire to attend various functions relating to the Siege of Malta with Laddie, and associated with other writers, such as Christopher Shores, who was also writing a book at the time about Malta but she didn’t discuss him with me. Unfortunately, not long after this my mother died and then, as will happen, my time had to be focused in other directions and I put my interest in him on the backburner for a number of years.
What I hadn’t realised until much later was that after my mother’s death I had inherited a mass of treasures. In two metal boxes she had kept all the family documents such as birth certificates, Wills, photographs and letters relating to her family going back to the 1700s. Stupidly, for ages I didn’t actively sit down and examine the contents and, what treasures there are.
It was James Holland who triggered off my interest in the family flying history again by requesting to look at anything that would give him an insight into Raoul for his books â€˜The Fortress of Malta’, and ultimately â€˜A Pair of Silver Wings’. James is amazingly knowledgeable about Malta and it’s valiant fight against the Axis powers, and had already examined our family flying documents, such as logbooks, and photos held by the RAF Museum in Hendon but he wanted to know about Raoul as a person. So what could I tell him, nothing really but, my mother had kept many of the letters Raoul had written to her and my grandparents from when he was at school through to his ultimate death in July 1943. It gave me great pleasure to allow James to read through these letters and, because of his book and his analysis of Raoul’s life, I know so much more about Raoul’s flying exploits and his time on Malta and, I also now think I know him as a man too.
We can’t hoard everything but I am very grateful to my mother for guarding family documents and also for her trusting Hendon to keep other family records for use by researchers now and in the future. What will I keep of a personal nature for generations to come? Amongst my current treasures are a Will dated 1783 for a relative who served on the same ship as Nelson, HMS Raisonable (but not at the same time) which was witnessed by its then commanding officer John Augustus, Lord Harvey and bears his signature; an apprentice’s Indenture dated 1803 when my relative was a boy of 14 years; letters dating from 1840 including one sent by a sea captain to his children upon hearing of the death of his wife; Certificates of Discharge from numerous ships also dating from 1840 to 1920s for various sea going members of the family and other related documents; and, of course, Raoul’s letters to his family. All these and the poems and notes, death cards and notices, and the like will hopefully some day be useful to future relations when they have questions to ask about their ancestors.