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Sunday, 3 May 2020

A WW2 Family Tribute - 52 Ancestors Wk 19

The theme of week 19 of 52 Ancsgtors is "Service".  So, as we come to mark VE Day on May 8th and the end of ~World War Two in Europe, I pay this tribute to my family who  served, survived, but not always remained unscathed by this defining period in their lives - my father John Weston, his brother Charles and my mother's brothers and sister  - Harry,  Billy and Peggy Danson. 

PEGGY DANSON, my aunt  was christened Margaret Olwen, the youngest daughter of William and Alice Danson of Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire.  Born after the First World war, she was very much the baby of the family to her much older brothers and sisters. (Left - Peggy with her mother).

Peggy served in the WAAF (Women's Auxiliary Air Force) with  a note in the family photograph album that she served in the Barrage Balloon Squadron in Hull, on theeast coast of Yorkshire.

Balloon Barrages were a passive form of defence, designed to force enemy planes to fly higher and thus bomb much less accurately.  They were simply a bag of lighter-than-air gas attached to a steel cable anchored to the ground. The balloon could be raised or lowered to the desired altitude by a winch.  The work was not without its dangers, as the heavy steel cable could at tlmes snap, resulting in devastating injuries to the operator.  

In Hull Peggy met her husband Harry Constable,  known as Con.  After their marriage in 1949 they emigrated to Australia, settling near Melbourne, and two sons were born - my cousins. Peggy made her only return visit to Britain in 1980.  Sadly following her death in 1999, contact with the Austrlian branch of my family was lost. 

BILLY DANSON  was named after his father William. Apart from knowing that we shared the same birthday and he joined the navy during the war, I know little about his life.  He had moved for work to the English Midlands and made his home there with his wartime bride Louie of Italian background. They never had any family, and my parents kept in regular touch with them.


HARRY RAWCLIFFE DANSON was a joiner like his father.  He joined the army and in this photograph I think there is a look of Errol Flynn about him.  He was one of the many men rescued  in the evacuation off Dunkirk in 1941, arriving home in the uniform in which he had entered he water.  He never talked about his wartime experiences but seeing documentaries or commemorations on TV could bring tears to his eyes,  with memories of what he had witnessed.  

His wartime marriage was short lived and he never remarried.  But he lived a full life with his work and hobbies - a DIY man, a productive gardener, a keen photographer, he sailed a small boat off the Fleetwood coast and  went ballroom dancing into his 80's - this was Blackpool, the mecca of ballroom dancing - and he was never short of partners.  He died in 2001 still retaining his good looks. 

 CHARLES WESTON's story is  told in the poignant  words of my father.
"Uncle Charles was a POW on the Bridge of the River Kwai — at least it was a bridge when the hundreds of POWs had finished it. Conditions were dreadful, 100s died through lack of food, mostly slops, no solids. Charles had beri-beri, dysentery, ulcers and malaria.  After the atomic bomb fell on Japan the POWs on the bridge were taken to Singapore and stayed in Changhai jail until shipped home.
My Mum and Dad never expected to see him again. In 1942 they got a card through the Red Cross — from the War Minister which read “Regret to inform you that your son has been posted missing”. Dad packed up work and the news broke him — he was never the same again. It was at Christmas 1943 that Mum got a card from the Red Cross with a few words “I am safe and well” — “Safe” yes…..”Well” certainly Not.  I was so sorry for Charles, as he arrived in Liverpool with no-one able to meet him. I was in Burma and Mum could not leave my Dad."

My father JOHN WESTON   did  talk about his war experiences (a santitized version I am sure)  and I am afraid it did provoke the reaction at times of “Not the war again, Dad”. It was only later that we came to realise what a life-defining period it was, and I persuaded him to write an account for his granddaughter.    I was also  proud to add my father's accounts to the BBC World War Two People's Story online.

Dad served in the RAF Codes & Ciphers Branch  and was seconded to General Bradley’s US 12th Army Group HQ. He landed at Omaha beach after D-Day and advanced via St. Mere Eglise, Avranches, Versailles, Paris, Verdun and Luxembourg through to Wiesbaden in German where he marked V.E. Day.  
"The GIs went wild, but we British took it all very quietly, with coffee and doughnuts from the Red Cross post – very very nice!”
  Immediately after VE Day,  Dad was posted to Burma where he was for V.J.  Day. 

VE Day 75 Logo

Above - this year's poster encouraging communities to mark VE Day - all curtailed of course by the Corona Virus epidemic.  I do have reservations about it being described   as a "Celebration".  Surely "Commemoration" is a more appropriate term?  Yes, it was a huge relief that the war had ended, yet for many it was a reminder of family and friends who would not be returning home or those men and women who came back  came back wounded or  damaged in spirit.   What do you think?  


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  1. I agree commemoration is the right word. So much tragedy and loss. Those who were Japanese POWs had a horrific time of it...no wonder Charles was never “well” again.

  2. Thank,you, Pauleen, for your understanding comment. I found the post a moving one to write. I was proud to make this tribute to members of my family and I am sure it echoed the experiences of so many families over the world.

  3. Indeed, Sue, "Commemoration" is the right way to remember them. So many sad and sometimes tragic stories among those who served and their families.

  4. Thank you, Diane , for your sympathetic comment.

  5. Very heart warming post. I enjoy reading about families experiences during the war, it affected so very many. Our family lost a much loved young man as a co pilot on a B-24 in Italy. My father was a gunner on a war ship in the Pacific and saw horrific battles. It shaped our generation in so many ways. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Thank you, Judy and Michael for sharing your tragic wartime losses.


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