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My Dad– a life of survival, acceptance and trust.

Being raised in London, England during World War 11,” I never felt like a victim during the war, people often referred to us as the poor children, it was part of my life and I accepted that” said Ken Graham.

Kenneth Peter Lewis Graham was born in the Spring of 1938. World War II  would start a year later when he was just one year old . While being raised in the midst of war, their Mum worked as a cook  and their Dad was in the Royal Air Force and served in India and Burma during the war, their Dad was a complete stranger to the boys until 1945. Ken spent much of his time with his 17 month older brother Derek.

My Dad and Uncle Derek in 1947. London, England

My Dad and Uncle Derek in 1947. London, England

When the war started many young children were sent away from London and moved to areas thought to be less at risk from aerial bombing. Operation Pied Piper, which began on September, 1939, officially relocated more than 3.5 million people.

Ken and Derek were sent to a farm at Chalfont Saint Peter, shortly after arriving the boys came down with dysentery and nearly died, they were sent back to their Mum in London after they had recovered enough to travel. While many children left London to live safely in the country, Ken and Derek spent their childhood in the midst war.

Both the boys attended Droop Street elementary school. They walked to school every day with gas masks slung across one shoulder. At times when the air raid sirens went off, they would hide in a shop doorway until the all clear sounded . During classes if the air raid sirens went off all the students would stand up and then continue their lessons in the school air raid shelter. If a buzz bomb went overhead we would all hold our breath and hope the engine would continue. If the engine stopped it meant the buzz bomb had run out of fuel and dropped from the sky filled with high explosives.  Source: Derek Graham

As a small child Ken would run around with his friends, one time he got caught throwing rocks at German Prisionors of War until the Tommy (British soldiers) yelled at them and sent them running. Often during the day Ken and his brother would collected shrapnel or tin foil dropped by departing bombers to help the efforts. The city was in the dark thorughout the war, at night they would find themselves running to bomb shelters due to airraids.

By the time the war ended in 1945 Ken was about 8 years old, he grew up fast in the streets of London. I have heard many stories about the gangs of London and my Dad’s explorations. I heard the reason why my Nanny (Grandmother) chose to get on a ship to Canada was to give Ken and Derek a new life.  At that point my Nan was 59 and 9 months when she emigrated to Canada, leaving her three grown up daughters in London to start a brand new life with her boys . They sailed from Liverpool on the Empress of Scotland and landed in Montreal and from there they spent two and a half days on a Canadian Pacific train to Edmonton

 

My Dad and his family outside his home celebrating end of war!

 Celebration – War has ended, outside my father’s home in London, England.

Arriving in Edmonton, Alberta Canada at the age of 15, my dad met my Mom two years later. He taught my Mom how to speak English, since she was from the Nederlands and spoke mostly Dutch. The two of them loved to dance, go rollerskating and have fun. It wasn’t long before my parents were married with their first baby on the way. By the time Tim came into the world my Dad was barely 18 years old.

My father wanted desperately to give his family a good life, he worked hard and felt kids should be seen and not heard. Respect was important in my family and we did not talk back. My parents had the first four of us kids before moving to Toronto, Canada where my father found better work and started taking engineering classes in the evening.  Soon after, my youngest brother Trevor was born.

I recall my Dad sitting us all down for one of our family meetings excitingly telling us we were moving to the United States of America, home of the free and lots of opportunity. He loved the idea that we could be whatever we wanted to be in life.

Moving from the city of Toronto to a small town in Kendall, NY was not easy. It was quiet in the Country and a bit of an adjustment especially for me– since I had never climbed a tree and  had an accent which made me feel different. 

Coming from the city we were used to living in a small space, however this home in Kendall was huge with six bedroom on 12 acres of land.  My father said this was his favorite time in life, where he enjoyed his six children (my sister Audrey was born in Kendall). For the first time my Father was part of a community, working at Eastman Kodak and coaching the boys baseball teams.

My Dad renovating our house in Kendall, NY

My Dad renovating our house in Kendall, NY

Things became more complicated and competitive as “the boys” got older.  I remember my Dad holding a family meeting and asking what kind of engineer did each of my brothers want to be? They were required to make a decision in that moment, each one of my brothers spoke up one-by-one. Tim, Manufacturing, Ron, Mechanical, Shane, Manufacturing, Trevor, Mechanical when I asked my Dad, what about me, he proudly stated that I could work at a the local hospital as a nurse’s assistant and meet a nice doctor.  

His thoughts on women were old fashion and I never bought into it, however I know he wanted us to be successful and to be the best we could be.

For me, its important to understand where we come from and what our parents have endured.  I had the priviledge of spending the past week with my Dad in San Diego, where he shared his life with me in ways I have never expereinced before.  I am forever grateful.

My father has managed his illness very similar to how he dealt with war as a child… as a survivor with acceptance and trust.

My Father passed away this evening on August 6, 2013.

Wendy