Monday, 2 May 2011

Object of the Month - May 2011

I make no apologies for making May's "Object of the Month" a rather personal one.

There is no remarkable about these three medals - a 39-45 Star, a France and Germany Star, and a 39-45 Medal. Anyone who served in Europe after 1944 would have qualified for these. They're not particularly rare, and if you were to take them to a shop to try and sell them you might, if you were lucky, walk out with around £20.

To me, though, they are utterly priceless.

These three ordinary medals belonged to my father - James Thomson McNay. He served in the Royal Engineers in the Second World War - he arrived in France a few weeks after D-Day, and was in Europe for some time. After that he saw service in Greece and possibly other parts of the Mediterranean. He was discharged around 1946 or 1947 after the death of his father, my grandfather.

The reason for this being our Object for May is that he was born on the 6th May, and this year marks twenty years since he passed away.

My dad never spoke a great deal of his service. He once mentioned that a Bren gun was extremely heavy, and if you had one, you had someone else to carry your kit for you. I recall him saying that a PIAT kicked you in the shoulder like a mule, and I have a vague recollection of him saying that he kept some of his old uniform and had used it for when he was gardening.

Was he ashamed of his war service? I don't think so - he had a regimental tie in his wardrobe and I think he might have worn it to some dinners or reunions when I was young, and he definitely kept in touch with some old comrades - I was introduced to one at dads funeral - Allan McKerracher had been in the same unit as dad, and they had remained in touch for over forty years. Sadly "Mac" died several years ago before I could get in touch to learn more about dads war service.

My dad, in around 1942. My brother has inherited his looks and could be his twin.

I never knew what Dad's attitude to war was - I was too young to consider that, and by the time I was old enough to think about asking him he was long gone. It's things like that which make me miss him - I wish I knew more about what he went through, what he saw, what he felt.

Dad served as a Church of Scotland minister for over thirty years until his death in 1991 - I always wondered if the war had played any part in his decision to go into the ministry - I know it was against his mothers wishes, but what was the catalyst for the choice of career? Was it a single incident? Was it because of something he witnessed, or took part in? It's probable that his war service played no part in his decision. We shall never know.

When I was young the medals were in a box in Dad's desk at home which contained some old pens and various nick-nacks. My brother and I used to play with them - we would play at soldiers with these pinned to our chest like we were conquering war heroes. It wasn't that my dad didn't care for them - I remember him buying new ribbons for them, although he never had them mounted and he certainly never wore them to my knowledge. The medals remained in a box after his death in 1991, and when I moved out, I asked my Mum if I could have them - I'd always felt I had a connection to them, and it was one of the items I wanted of his to remember him.

They stayed in a box for several years until last year, when my friend Tom Gordon had them mounted for me - and on Remembrance Sunday in 2010 my daughter Lorna proudly wore them to the service of remembrance in George Square in Glasgow. I'm not religious nowadays, but on that day, it felt as if someone was looking down on us as the rain stopped moments before the service commenced.

So...a rather rambling post about a mans war service which wasn't really any different to countless thousands of others - but that's partly the point of this blog, and of the Research Group. Researching military history isn't always about Generals, and hardware, and gallantry medals.'s about one man, and the three simple campaign medals he keeps in a drawer next to some pens.

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