My Grandfather passed away last week.
He served in the navy in the Second World War. He was on the ship that sank the Bismark (or tried to sink it as it scuttled). He was the signalman that signalled the Bismark to surrender.
He had tattoos. He worked hard. He cared for his family. A real man.
When I was young he would tell me wartime stories and show me how to make knots. He taught me playing card tricks and we played cricket in his garden. The cricket bat broke one day so he got some wood and half an hour later he’d made a new one. That’s a Grandfather.
When we moved from Birmingham to the South he made the effort to visit and would see us every summer. I used to write to him, especially during the long bleak winters where we lived. He wrote back with letters that were kind, warm and encouraging.
He told me a story once. He was a signalman in the Navy during wartime. The ship he was on had two signalmen. Another ship needed a signalman so they came alongside and he was winched over to the new one. As they sailed away – a German U-Boat sunk the ship he had just come from killing everyone on board. I was too young to understand what that meant but even to this day I can recall the look on his face as he told me that. A hard look that only men who have served in war can bring.
Later in life I would see that look a lot more when I had dealings with young servicemen returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. Even as a writer I couldn’t possibly begin to try and describe it.
My Grandfather was the single most inspiring role model in my life. He was the reason I chose to write under the name of Haywood and not the one that I was told to use by another man. The tattoos I have now are in memory of him. The poem “IF” by Rudyard Kipling that is transcribed on my right arm comes from knowing such a great person and understanding what it is to be a man from the brief life lessons he gave.
Like I said. We moved south when I was young and as with many families – the contact slowed and eventually stopped but not one for one second did I ever forget where I came from.
I visited a few years ago when I was passing through Birmingham and managed to call in at the last minute. The warmth he showed was immeasurable and it’s that image I hold in my mind now.
He succumbed to Dementia. To those who cared for him it must have been a wholly terrible thing to see and deal with, for any family to experience such a thing is a tragedy.
His funeral is on Tuesday 11th November – a poignant day that will be marked by many as we give thanks to those who gave their lives in wartime. I cannot go. I want to go but I cannot and sometimes in life, you cannot always do the things you want to do.
But please do not think that I do not honour the passing of my own. Because I do.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
In memory of Ivan Haywood.