Soon after my father died many years ago at the age of 78, my elder brother discovered a letter among my father’s possessions. The letter had been sent from Northern Borneo during the 1950´s from a cousin of my father called Trevor.
As a child my brother remembered hearing about Trevor and his mother Grace from our father. They were missionaries and had gone to Borneo, now part of Malaysia, in 1939, when Trevor was aged 29. The letter had a return address, albeit from many years previously, and my brother decided to write back to our uncle Trevor on the off chance that he could still be reached at that address. To his surprise he received a reply.
My uncle Trevor still lived in the same village, Taginambur, and aged 87 and partially blind, took the effort to write back. This led to my brother going to Borneo to visit our uncle for two weeks.
Originally from Cheddar in Somerset, Trevor had never returned to Britain since his arrival in Borneo as a missionary. He had married a local girl and with her had two daughters. He spoke the local language and was known by the tribe he lived with, the Dunsun tribe, as Asang, the man of light. I have a book about his life and signed by him called, Asang, The story of Trevor White and the Dunsuns of Sabah.
It’s strange reading about someone who I never met, but who was a member of my extended family. Trevor had an amazing life, a life far from what could be called normal, and even though I am not by any means a religious person, and don’t necessarily agree with missionaries trying to push their beliefs on other people, I admire his dedication to something which he believed in and thought was right.
He married Ann Ridgard who came from Haverford West, in Pembrokeshire, in 1835 and they had six children. One of whom was John Fletcher and he is the link to my family living in Cardiff. John Fletcher, who died in 1924, is buried in Cathay’s Cemetery, Cardiff, which is very close to where I lived as a young child. My brother erected a headstone on his grave a few years ago.
Samuel started his working life as a cloth weaver, but in December 1819 at the age of 18, he joined the royal marines in Coventry, Warwickshire, England and served on a variety of ships. The ships he served on during his time as a royal marine were; Queen Charlotte, Ganges, Albion, Melville, Spartiate, Victory, Britannia, Phoenix (in Spain) and lastly the Indus. Total service afloat and on foreign stations 13 years 2 months and 2 days and his total service on shore in the United Kingdom 8 years 1 month and 7 days.
In October 1827, while serving on the HMS Albion, he fought in the battle of Navarino, which took place during the Greek war of independence off the coast of the Peloponnese peninsula in the Ionian Sea off the coast of Greece.
I guess he had an interesting life, but maybe at the expense of his wife and children who must have missed his presence while he was at sea, especially as I suppose the chances of returning home during those voyages were much less than nowadays.
My parents had what could be deemed an unorthodox life, but mainly because they lived through the Second World War. During the war my father was in the army and was a Quarter Master Sergeant, the person in charge of organising the supplies. This would now be termed logistics and I guess that meant he was not in the front line. How he was chosen to work in that area I have no idea, but I imagine it was better in terms of survival than being a foot soldier.
He didn’t talk much about his time in the army during the war and I imagine apart from the camaraderie it was a time most of those involved would prefer to forget as they must have seen some gruesome and distressing sights. My father took part in the D-day landings to liberate France from the German occupation, and I remember when I was fourteen we went on holiday to Normandy in northern France, because my father wanted to revisit the beaches where he had landed all those years ago. We went to a local restaurant on the cliffs above one of the beaches for lunch, and on discovering that my father had landed there on D-Day the restaurant owner gave us a free lunch as a way of thanking him for his part in the liberation.
I remember my mother once telling me that a V2 rocket, the unmanned rockets filled with explosives that were sent across the sea from mainland Europe by the Germans, landed at the end of the street where I later lived as a child, leaving a deep crater. She said that you could hear the engines of the rockets as they approached and as long as you could hear the engine you didn’t panic. It was when the engine stopped that you panicked because this meant that it was about to hurtle towards the ground and cause destruction somewhere nearby.
It must have been so hard living through the war, not knowing if loved ones were going to return home, the destruction, the rationing. My uncle died during the war so I never met him. After the war my father worked for Cardiff Fire Brigade, which I guess gave him a similar feeling of camaraderie and an adrenalin rush every time he was called out to an emergency similar to that which he would have felt at times during the war.
I’m just glad I haven’t had to experience living in a war zone and I hope I never will.
After all the suffering wars have caused throughout history it’s sad that they still continue.
During a visit to Britain in 1931, Mahatma Gandhi was asked what he thought about Western civilisation, to which he replied,
"I think it would be a good idea".
And on that note I will leave you for another week.
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