Remembering GDD*

It’s strange how you see the simplest, most ordinary things, in quite a different light after you’ve lost someone.

It’s just over a year since my father died, and small things have triggered bigger memories. I was searching in my mother’s old button tin, and came across this little packet – so typical of him. Neatly and methodically labelled in his distinctive handwriting – and dated!  That’s a retired civil servant for you!RHE's note in button boxAnd there’s his tattered and very worn shopping bag which I lovingly repaired. (More on that in this Clearing the Decks blogpost)mending RHE's bagThere are more powerful prompts of family memory. I took all the family photo albums when my parents moved to a retirement home, planning to scan them so all their four children could have copies.  But what with one thing and another they got shelved, and it wasn’t until after my father had died that I thought of this project.  It was then that I realised one of the albums documented his very early years of life. Oh silly, silly me.

The album is neatly inscribed at the back – it was a gift to my grandfather, Vin,  from his parents.Gift to Vin from his parents A 1924 Christmas present – a very nice leather album (though deteriorating and shedding leather dust now).very worn leather photo albumPerhaps my grandparents put it to the side to use when they had a family?  Who knows now.  Whatever, the first photo in it is the arrival of their first baby, my father, on 9th March 1926, – taken in their garden, I think, in Melbourne.  Oh, I recognise that look of a new mum, clutching a bundle of blanketed baby, and just thrilled to bits!1926 - Dordy & 3 week old RHE (small size)As with most new families, there is thorough and detailed documentation of the early photos.  All the grandparents are photographed, lots of dates and details neatly added in white ink (my grandmother’s writing).  There’s proud Dad Vin, and there are Christening photos too.Page 1 (web version)The “firsts” are all covered.  First trip to the family holiday villa at Cowes on Phillip Island (October 1926) – proud smiling grandfather and happy baby.1926 WHGE & RHE Cowes (web version)Christmas day, and baby’s first dip (again at Cowes).My father's first Christmas dip 1926, CowesThere are more firsts – first swimming lesson – and my grandparents go off on a camping holiday trip in their Dodge to Gippsland. If you look carefully at my grandmother, you can see there’s another baby on the way.Page 10 (web version)So there is! – next page, there’s little baby Billy.  And yet another first: Dick’s first balloon.Page 11 (web version)The photographs give every sign of a blissfully happy little family.1929 Vin Dordy RHE Bill (web version)But as every parent knows, it’s much harder work with two, and there’s far less spare time.  Still lots of pics in the album, but less detailed writing.  Here they are visiting family in Sydney, October- November 1929.Page 19 (web version)Then the inscriptions completely stop.  Just what I did with my old photo albums – after all you know everybody in the photos anyhow. And what’s more there’s  a distinctly wonky slant to the photos now – perhaps my grandmother’s getting help with the sticking from one of her little boys?

Still lovely happy photos of a very happy family.  All the things we think of as part of a happy childhood – swings, trains, sandpits, games in wheelbarrows, seaside, cuddles from Daddy …Page 21 (web version)The firsts continue, though they are unmarked – but surely this is my father, oh so proud, dressed up in his new school uniform, for his first day at school?1930s RHE ready for school (web version)There are several more pages like this, and then the last page with just the one photo on it.  I think it’s my father at a school sport’s day, possibly?  It’s a desperately sad photo, because there’s my father, on the cusp of being a lad, and his whole life changed in a blink of an eye.  The photography stops there; the last pages unused.Last pic in album (RHE)

Vin obituary 1933

My grandfather, Vin, died on 8th October, 1933.  He’d served in Palestine as a medical orderly in the First World War, and contracted amoebic dysentery.  Apparently, he was never a well man, and I believe he died of a pulmonary embolism, at his home, the Gnoll, 60 Canterbury Road, Melbourne.

Fascinatingly, what happened next to my father is hinted at in the earlier pages of this same photograph album.  My grandfather Vin and step-grandfather Roger were business colleagues, and here they are with my father (the little boy) and my great-grandfather.  I don’t know where this place is or when this photo was taken.Roger and Vin and Dick and WHGEBut what I do know is that my grandmother Dora married Roger four years later (in 1937) and settled in the UK with his Leicester family.  So that was the end of my father’s Australian childhood.

My father went on to have a busy and happy life.  He became a British diplomat so much of his working life was spent abroad –  he had postings in Tokyo, Belgrade and Tehran.  He also worked for the civil service in London, as a specialist in the oil industry, and later running courses for young EU civil servants. In retirement he was a Samaritan,  a political agent, a cathedral steward (both at Wells and Exeter cathedrals), a student (of languages, theology), a grandfather. Throughout his life he was interested in and enjoyed classical music and the arts. He was most knowledgeable about the places he travelled to. He was a gardener and a walker. He loved his dogs. He was generous to all with his time, energies and monies. A Christian gentle-man.

In 1952 he married my mother.RHE & JME wedding 1952They had four children – and lots of grandchildren!Chuzenji 1960sHe was a kind man, liberal, immensely hard-working.  He drove himself very hard, and expected the same of us, his children – and perhaps because of this tensions arose at home.  Unsurprisingly, the academic and intellectual was highly prized in our childhood, often to the exclusion of much else.

As he grew older (I have written about his illness at the end of his life here), his Australian youth came more to the fore.  When I was with him for his 80th birthday, he wept for his father who had died aged only 36.  And one of the many things I beat myself up about is the fact that I never returned this album to my father when he requested it at the end of his life.  It wasn’t deliberate – I just never got round to it.

He was particularly proud of his time at Magdalen College, Oxford.  He gained a scholarship to go there to study Classics, and was rewarded for all his hard work and application with a double first degree.

This poem by C S Lewis is about Addison’s Walk, a particularly beautiful and surprisingly rural part of Magdalen College.  None knew Magdalen better than Lewis since he was a fellow and tutor there for many years.  The poem was one of my father’s favourites, and he wrote it out in his own hand to send around the family.C S Lewis Magdalen poemI think perhaps for my father last year the summer did come true:  “We shall escape the circle and undo the spell.”


* GDD stands for Grandad Dick – which is what my children called their grandfather.



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Lost - and found.

22 thoughts on “Remembering GDD*”

  1. I love this post so much, dear Katherine… It got me thinking about so many things… particularly about how we don’t print photos anymore and someday it will be all lost and there will be nothing “physical” left to hold and sparkle all these wonderful memories. Thank you so much for sharing. I always enjoy your writing!


    1. Thank you, Alina! You are quite right about the problems with how we keep our photos now – we have a huge photo archive on computer and it’s just not the same as an actual photo album. Apart from anything else, it’s so special to think of my father, my grandmother – and others – all handling this album and treasuring it.


    1. I remembered you writing about the snowdrops from your Dad’s garden – the tangible is very precious when remembering people, isn’t it? I am glad you liked the post – thank you.


  2. Old photographs are precious – they allow us to see the story, to get to know their characters as time flows, and when accompanied by that neat handwriting of bygone days, it becomes even more precious. I’m glad you got to enjoy a trip down memory lane. Thanks for taking us with you!


    1. Aren’t they indeed precious, Leonor – and nothing sadder than finding old photos in charity shops with no names, no identification – as though the people in them weren’t really cared for. Glad you enjoyed my memory lane trip – it means a lot to me to share it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Have you ever watched One Hour Photo with Robin Williams? There’s a scene there where his character goes to a market of sorts and buys photos of people he doesn’t know – and then pretends they’re his family. Photos are such powerful things. Having them for sale in charity shops is indeed sad 😕


    1. Thank you, Sheryl – it has been in my mind for some time to write something somewhere about my father, and suddenly the album prompted the story for me. I guess it’s sort of what I feel I owe them in some sort of odd way – the very least that I can do.


    1. Yes! My researches for this story (finding the newspaper announcement in Melbourne’s Argus newspaper) have led me to ask lots more questions about these people. Lots of resources out there to help, but stupidly I let pass the opportunity to ask my father more questions – so very silly of me!


  3. Very poignant and very moving. What a source of strength and stability to know your father had such a full and happy life, from childhood to old age. The Melbourne connection never fails to move me.


    1. Thank you, Rebecca – the Australian Melbourne connection means a great deal to me too, and makes the links with you and my other Australian social media friends all the more special. I do realise now it is quite unusual to have such a well-documented childhood. I also thought it very important to make the point with my father’s story that his father’s early death was a tragedy (and the pictures of my dad first in the UK are terrible – this very anxious, sad little boy and all those feelings captured in his face – he must have been mercilessly teased for his Aussie accent apart from anything else) but looking back over his whole life, there is an overriding sense of happiness and achievement. My mother, overwhelmed by the difficulties of his final years with dementia, didn’t want a eulogy or music or special readings at his cremation – it was all very dry religious words that meant a lot to her, but I hated! This post was me reclaiming my father’s full and happy life.


  4. A bit late in commenting…but wanted you to know how much I enjoyed this post, kd. I too have my mom and dad’s old photo album, with the black pages and white pen. Beautifully captured moments in time just after the end of WWII. I agree how sad it is to find old photos discarded in flea markets….


    1. Thank you, Karen. Glad to hear that you too have a treasured old album – they are so precious, aren’t they? You realise why people in times of disaster (fire, floods etc) grab their old photo albums, often before anything else.


  5. This is a very special post, Katherine, and obviously has so much meaning to you as a special tribute to your father. I love those early pictures, the one of him in his school uniform, the one of them all in the sunlit bush – what a huge transition that must have been for a sensitive 11 year-old, to grey, small England. I have much more of a picture now of his Australian side, of Dordy (how glamorous she was!), of his youth. How very sad, his father dying so young. And then the beautiful wedding picture, how slim, elegant and gorgeous they both were! It was nice to see the C.S.Lewis poem in his own writing, and it reminded me of how he wrote out a lovely little Goethe poem after Tilla’s death, which I still have among my mementoes of Tilla.

    Oh, how time passes, and everything changes……. We’re all passing through, but do we remember that fact before it’s too late?

    Thank-you for sharing your father’s life. Here he is immortalised on the interweb!


    1. How gently funny to think of my father’s life immortalised on the interweb! Especially as the internet was a bit beyond their generation. My father did email for a while briefly, and I know Harry used computers – did your father ever learn to use one?! Yes, this blog has a real feel of time passing – those lives that were captured so vividly in the old photo album – those times of happiness, fun, sadness, loss, – all slipping away, just as ours are too. Carpe diem 🙂


      1. No indeed, my father certainly never did anything newfangled like use a computer!! He kept his massive correspondence going in longhand – quite beautiful strong writing but hard to read – right to the end. Tilla using her laptop, e-mailing and ordering books on Amazon was quite an anomaly at Somerton.

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