Opinion: Captain Tom charmed us and a generation spoke

Pearl Diver was inspired by Captain Tom and VE Day celebrations to write about her father.

Pearl Diver was inspired by Captain Tom and VE Day celebrations to write about her father. - Credit: Archant

Susannah Reid, presenter of “Good Morning Britain” on ITV, was full of praise for the many older people she has interviewed over the past months, finding them much better value than the usual celebrities!

1800194, Flight Sergeant, Flight Engineer, Raymond Edgar Hedges, RAFVR, age 35, KIA: There has also been a series on the BBC about the second world war generation which was excellent, plus VE 75 – which encouraged me to write the following about my father. At the time he was killed I was Isobel Patience Hedges but I have since changed my name by deed poll to Pearl Diver.

When my father was killed on December 16, 1943, he was only 35, but by wartime standards he was old. The other six crew in the Lancaster were 21 and Australian. His age meant he was a volunteer.

He was in the Pathfinders – the section of Bomber Command who marked the targets for the bombers – and was shot down over Holland, returning from a raid on Berlin. When he died I was 18 months old and my little brother Terry was six months. My parents had married in 1939 so they had barely four years of married life before my mother was left to cope on her own. They had married late because they were both supporting their own families and couldn’t afford to marry. My mother had been against him volunteering.

My mother finally decided to leave London when, while I was sitting in my high chair one lunchtime, the kitchen window blew in. A bomb had exploded in the Thames – we lived close by. The Germans were trying to hit a block of flats called Dolphin Square, which still exists to this day.

We went to the coast, to a place called Selsey, and stayed there until the end of the war, when we went back to London. Unfortunately, my father’s death was not the only loss my mother experienced, as my brother died when he was six. I was left alone with a mother who never mentioned my brother or father again. My mother never remarried (not for want of offers) and lived, silently, on my father’s memory for the remainder of her life. But she bravely did try to expand her horizons by emigrating to New Zealand in 1955 as a “£10 Pom” and I benefitted greatly from a whole new world until I returned to London in 1965.

I still miss the father I never knew. My story is sad but not unique. Millions of lives across the world were wrecked or ended by the Second World War. In those days there was no diagnosis of PTSD – mental illness in general was simply brushed under the carpet. Men, and women too, suffered in silence for the rest of their lives.

But the silence was broken over the past few months in the lead up to VE Day. Led by Captain Tom, who charmed us all with his eloquence, this generation suddenly spoke. Millions of young people discovered a group who might have been very old but had a lot of wise things to say. Let’s hope it stays that way. cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/2649332/hedges,-raymond-edgar/