Many adults only find out grandparents were in Armed Forces after they die

More than two-thirds of adults regret that they did not speak to their grandparents about their lives and memories before they died, according to a survey.

A survey of 2,000 Britons who have lost a grandparent found that 83 percent had fond memories of their deceased grandparents that they will cherish forever.

But many announced that it was only after the death of their loved one that they heard fascinating stories about heroism.

One respondent said they did not know that his grandfather was awarded the Military Cross for his service in the First World War.

And another found out that his grandfather was wounded twice during the Great War – including on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

One respondent said that while cleaning up their late grandfather’s bungalow they found photos of him on a naval ship with Winston Churchill – something he had never spoken of.

While another discovered that her grandmother was a code decoder during the war, the rest of the family didn’t know until more than ten years after her death, as no one had asked her about her war experiences.

And it wasn’t just war stories – another found out that her late grandfather, a merchant seaman, brought a MONKEY from Africa that destroyed the house before it was turned over to a zoo.

The research was carried out by SSAFA, the Armed Forces Charityaiming to provide practical, emotional and financial support to our armed forces and their families.

Martin Frank ‘Bill’ Sykes BEM, 101, is one of the longest serving volunteers at SSAFA.

He served almost 30 years in the RAF and fought in North Africa and Italy during World War II.

He said: “I was shocked and saddened to hear that 41 percent of respondents wished they had spoken to their late grandparents about their war experiences.

“As a veteran and great grandparent, I find it incredibly important to share these stories and memories with them so that they can fully understand their own family history and experiences.

“I hope that my stories and memories of my time in the armed forces will be passed on to future generations.”

The survey also found that 65 percent had at least one deceased grandparent who served in the armed forces, and of those 15 percent said they had encouraged them to join.

And 84 percent think it’s important that their deceased grandparents’ experiences be shared with their families and others.

Three quarters of those who have grandparents who are still alive now want to ask them more about their experiences

The topics the public would most like to speak to their grandparents if they were still alive are the historical events of their lifetime, followed by their wartime experiences.

Not only the military background of their deceased grandparents remains a mystery to many – one fifth admits that they do not know any of their grandmothers’ maiden names.

One in ten did not know what their grandparents did for a living – and only 39 percent know where all of their deceased grandparents were born.

But three quarters (77 percent) like to hear from their relatives about a deceased grandparent, and 79 percent enjoy looking at old photos and documents.

While 59 percent said shows like Who Do You Think You Are made them want to learn more about their family history.

The question people would most like to ask their late grandparents is “How were their great grandparents”, followed by “How did they meet their partner” and “How were my parents as children”.

And of those who still have grandparents, 72 percent will now start asking them more about their lives.

The Armed Forces charity SSAFA urges people to ask their grandparents about their experiences before it's too late

SSAFA urges the UK public to speak to their older relatives, including grandparents, to capture their memories and stories before they are lost forever.

Tom Fox, former rifleman and SSAFA beneficiary, served with the Royal Green Jackets before working as a private military contractor for the US government.

He said, “I knew what some of my family members had to endure while serving in the army, such as helping me put things into perspective during difficult times.

“These stories, often told to me by my father, have made me feel obliged and taught that sometimes we must give up our own comfort and safety to help those who cannot protect themselves.

“I think my own family stories will teach my children that we are all committed to one another, especially in times of crisis like COVID-19, another emergency for which our armed forces have been mobilized.

“I would like to ask everyone to spend a little time with their parents or grandparents and ask them about their time in the armed forces.

“Listen to their amazing and often funny stories. Learn from them. This is your story, and it is far too valuable to fade away.”

To help the SSAFA continue to support service personnel, veterans, and their families, please visit here.

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