Is this where my love of travel stems from?
I feel that this personal story of my Grandad’s World War II journey, through the lens of his old Coronet camera, may be more for my benefit, than yours.
A well-travelled companion
However, for anyone that shares my love of history (particularly family or military history), photography and travel. As well as the closeness that only comradery in battle can bring will hopefully enjoy this read.
From a young lad to a Grandad
Most of us nowadays have a smartphone with a camera, that within the blink of an eye you’ve captured that ideal shot. It’s there stored to memory for as long as we wish, the image is crisp, perfectly aligned and nobody’s head is chopped out of the picture.
Job done! Yep, “Bob’s your uncle”, well he’s my Grandad actually but let’s not be picky.
To the Army, my Grandad was Robert, to his mates he was Bob, although, to my brother and me, he was ‘Pop’.
Pop would always be winding us up one way or another, so, the antics he and his mates must have got up to during army downtime, I shudder to think.
Robert 'Pop' Bailey
Pop and Buddies
Pop in uniform
The Coronet Camera
Well, the reason this post has come about is that my parents are moving to a new house and are having a bit of a de-clutter. They came across the very travel-weary Coronet camera which my Grandad must have purchased in 1940 when he enlisted.
A compact travel camera - from the 2nd World War
Great Sphinx of Giza, Eygpt
The camera turned out to be very sturdy as Pop ended up heading to El Alamein, Monte Cassino and Greece (where he became a Prisoner of War, more on that later).
My Grandad was in the 23rd Armoured Brigade, which like so many other divisions, brigades and units, they were often part of a larger hierarchy. In the case of the 23rd Armoured Brigade, it was part of the 8th Army.
A statue to ‘Monty’
Our copy of the Eighth Army by Robin Neillands
The nostalgic photo album
I have spent time carefully pondering over Pop’s photo album. Gazing at each black and white photo, from his time around the Mediterranean and North Africa. It felt like I was flicking through a personal journal all with meaningful notes written next to them.
A page from the photo album
Every photo has a tale, and as the saying goes “A picture is worth a thousand words”.
What must have been going through his mind when he was told where he was being dispatched to?
They were so young, venturing into the unknown. For me Pop was always my Grandad; so, looking at the photos knowing he was in his very early 20’s, is strange.
Tanks from both sides
It’s all in the words
What I do love about Pop’s photo album is that my Grandad wrote a remark next to each shot, which he meticulously fixed in the album.
Photos from North Africa
In one picture he’s standing next to a camel in the middle of nowhere. He apologises for the way he was dressed, in his dirty uniform. My Nan obviously wanted a photo of him next to a camel as he explains how he rushed over to be next to it, and nearly got bitten.
Four different aircraft in the photo album
The Egyptian police force on camelback
During his time in El Alamein, the Army obviously let the troops visit the Ancient Pyramids in Egypt. As he took photos of the Great Pyramid and Sphinx at Giza.
His photos also include local families that they had met and built up a rapport with. He mentions chatting with children who wanted to go to England.
Pop with the locals
A Felucca on the Nile
An Egyptian goatherder on pyramids road
It’s good to talk
Prisoner of War
Al-Rifa'i Mosque, Cairo
However, on reading through his correspondence, we came across a letter that a fellow Army colleague had written to my Nan. It explains that the British Army had my Grandad’s kit and some personal items. However, the treasured Coronet camera was with him, along with a locket my Grandmother had given Pop prior to his departure.
I think it must have been a tough Christmas for my Nan in 1944. As she was informed on 20th December 1944, that my Grandfather was captured on 13th December in Athens.
She was later informed to some relief I can imagine, that he was repatriated on 24th January 1945. We have the War Office telegram that my Grandad was able to send back to her on 1st February 1945. It was short and to the point and read “Safe and well back with British”.
Never to be forgotten
Pop never really spoke of the war, just like so many returning soldiers. Which of course, you can undoubtedly understand and appreciate why they wouldn’t.
Just on the rare occasion that my Grandfather did reflect, it was very touching. I can remember him getting choked up (and I did too) about a group of Welsh lads he had become good friends with.
I believe they were part of the same Armoured Brigade as Pop but were in the tanks. Devastatingly they lost their lives when their vehicle took a direct hit. He said how he use to remember them singing “Land of my Fathers”.
It was over 20 years ago he told us about the Welsh boys, and I still remember where we were, when he explained it all.
Discovering our history
The Cross of Sacrifice in front of the Thiepval Memorial, Thiepval
However, closer to home, we have spent time tracing the last resting places of the young men who lost their lives from our little village in Eccles, Kent.
Thinking back now, my Grandad would encourage me to travel and always see the positives in it. Whereas I remember my nan would always be so cautious. Nevertheless, she must have enjoyed flicking through his photo album and seeing these weird and wonderful places.
The Eccles War Memorial and Clock
Thanks Pop for capturing your memories to film.
Inspired to visit Ypres to remember the fallen?
Ypres is a beautiful town to base yourselves at while discovering our history. Stay for the evening and attend The Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate.
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