Gangi (my grandfather) died when I was 22. I was too young to be curious about his WW2 service. All I knew were a few anecdotes suitable for a child: he was in the RAF but never flew in a plane; he sailed around Africa to Egypt and ended WW2 in Germany. He taught me to count to five in Arabic and German and to drive a car on a disused airfield (I later discovered he’d served there).
A question from one of my children inspired me: “what did great-granddad do in the war?” I told her what I knew. It was enough to satisfy her curiosity but no longer enough to satisfy mine. I had a few pieces of the jigsaw but wanted them all.
I obtained his service record. It consisted of dates and abbreviations, and seemed indecipherable. As I studied, however, I saw it as a series of clues. The tales Gangi told me as a child now had context and the full story started to emerge. Gangi was helping me solve the puzzle as if it was one of the cryptic crosswords we loved to do together.
I’m donating royalties from Gangi’s War to the RAF Benevolent Fund.