Remembering the Telegraphist Air Gunners
Following in their Father's Footsteps October 22, 2008 Article in The Vanguard (Yarmouth NS) By Michael Gorman More than 60 years ago a young man named Bill West, barely old enough to be considered a man, walked the streets of Yarmouth in his navy uniform. He spent nine months in Yarmouth training at East Camp as part of the Telegraphist Air Gunners (TAG) before heading back home to England to fight in the Second World War. Today West and his family reside in Australia, where he and his wife Gwen moved after the war. He's never since returned to Yarmouth. But last week his daughters walked the same streets, sat in the same parks and toured the same areas their father did so long ago. War has a lasting effect on people; why they are the way they are, why they do the things they do. But as is typical of many people who were involved in the Second World War, it took West a very long time before he talked openly and freely about his experiences. Marilynne Darroch, Annette Moulds and Judi Trent all say their father was strict with them when they were growing up and that he liked things done a certain way. For years they couldn't quite understand why — then they learned about his involvement in the war as a gunner so many years ago. Darroch says their decision to come to Yarmouth has a lot to do with a different connection their father has with the area — the one between him and the Wartime Heritage Association. West was a regular visitor at the family home of the association's director, George Egan, during his months in Yarmouth. Years later, it was a wedding photo of West and his wife that provided Egan with inspiration for one of his many productions. "My grandmother used to write to Bill's mother in England during the war," says Egan. "My mother and her sisters knew Bill. Then when we started doing this, I made the connection." It wasn't until Egan started contacting her dad via e-mail for information about his stories, says Darroch that her father started to open up to the family about his experiences. "Dad had never spoken about very much to do with the war before (he was contacted by Egan)," she says. "We started to find out quite a lot about it." The three have visited Shearwater and seen the restored Swordfish. Seeing that plane and thinking about their father inside it was enough to give them a new appreciation for what he did. But the more they learned about the connection between their dad and Egan, and when they saw videos of the productions, some of which featured stories about their father and mother, they knew they had to see Yarmouth. The Wartime Heritage Association (WHA), formerly known as 440 Productions, is known not only in Yarmouth but also throughout the province and beyond — especially in England — for the work it does telling the stories and preserving the memories of those involved in the Second World War, particularly those with a connection to Yarmouth. During the war, thousands of young men passed through Yarmouth to train at East Camp, West Camp and Camp 6o. The WHA is in the midst of a new production run, already having performed in Chester and with upcoming shows in Truro and a four show run at Th'YARC, Nov. 8, 9, 15 and 16. West's daughters are amazed by the work the program does and the stories it tells. "It makes you feel really proud," says Trent. "I think dad — like many of the men and women were told after the war to just go home and get on with your lives and forget about it, but that shouldn't have happened, I don't think at all. And he's bottled all the things up and I'm sure there are lots of things that have affected his life during that time and I think that we can now understand." Beyond learning about their father's experiences during his time in the service, Moulds says hearing him speak and watching the WHA performances also affords them a glimpse of what their father was like as a young man. Growing up, the three never had the chance to meet any of their father's family in England until much later in life. And because none of their father's friends from his youth are in Australia they've always had to rely on the stories from their mother and maternal grandmother. "I think we realized that we weren't dealing with our father as sort of a 50- or 60-year-old man; he'd been young (when he served) and I think that was what really kind of caught me up. I was just trying to figure out what I would have felt like." "We all see him as a young man, which we've not had the perspective any other way before," says Darroch. "I think we're a bit gentler with him." The visit was an emotional one for the three of them. Trips to East Camp and throughout the town brought many of the stories their dad started telling them to life. "Now that we've seen where East Camp was we'll probably know a lot more about what he's talking about, we'll actually understand," says Moulds. During their visit to the East Camp memorial by the Yarmouth cenotaph, the three became emotional. Things were starting to become very real. "I'm just so impressed with what (Egan) and others have done to unearth so much information and the connections and the human side of these individuals that were here and dad's just one of those individuals," says Trent. "It's really good to have come to see it, to walk on the same ground and think, 'well this is where all that happened.'"
Marilynne Darroch (left), Annette Moulds and Judi Trent. (Michael Gorman photo)
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