From the office: The Second World War's forgotten front

By Editor, 13 August 2015 - 10:11am

Paul Hollywood's episode will take him to Africa to learn about his grandfather during the Second World War. Hopefully it will inspire others to explore similar stories of their own, says Sarah Williams 

Sarah Williams is editor at Who Do You Think You Are? MagazineThursday 13 August 2015
Sarah Williams, editor
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Dr Leedham Green

Sarah's grandfather served as a surgeon in West Africa during the Second World War

I love it when Who Do You Think You Are? reveals unusual aspects of our past. I love it when it shows clever detective work. I love it when you see a celebrity slowly get drawn into their family's story until you see it really matter to them. And yes, I can't deny it, I do like it when I need to get the tissues out!

But I get a particular pleasure when I feel a connection to the story. I definitely needed the tissues during Hugh Dennis's episode because one of his grandfathers had a similar First World War experience to my maternal grandfather. It wasn't even a particularly sad story. I just suddenly felt a connection to a grandfather I had never known.

My paternal grandfather was a surgeon with the Royal Army Medical Corps, holding the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in West Africa during the Second World War. Bizarrely I know more about his father's work as a surgeon during the Boer War than I do about my grandfather's time in Africa. Family history can be like that sometimes. You can end up knowing more about someone you never met than a person you knew and loved.

And so tonight I will be looking forward to finding out about Paul Hollywood's story, not just because I'm a big fan of the Great British Bake Off, but also because he will be finding out about his grandfather's involvement in North Africa during the Second World War.

I'm sure the action in North Africa was more intense than anything that happened in West Africa, so I won't learn anything that will relate to my family history, but I'm hoping it will inspire me to finally order my grandfather's service record (or at least get my father to do it) and actually carry out some research into what it was like in the hopsitals he worked in. Africa is one of the lesser-known fronts of the Second World War but, considering my family connection, my ignorance is inexcusable.

Time and again, WDYTYA? reminds us that we need to ask questions before it is too late. We need to connect to family, we need to talk and we need to listen. If I have learned one thing it is that the generations that come after us may not always ask the questions that they will later want to know the answers to.

I guess it's up to us to write it down, as Alan Crosby's mother did (see his recent blog post). If nothing else, it will be a goldmine for those WDYTYA? researchers when my future grandchildren become celebrity chefs, musicians, actors and athletes!

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Five things you didn't know about Paul Hollywood
previous blog Article
Meet the researcher: Dr Ben Thomas (Paul Hollywood's episode)
next blog Article
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