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The Resilience of a Generation: The Great Leap Forward

Published 26th July, 2017 in The Great Leap Forward

Sophie and her paternal grandfather who had the ‘good war’.

The Resilience of a Generation by Sophie McClelland

Resilience is a topic that has been on my mind for a while. One of my earliest memories – I can’t have been much older than four – was of feeling the glass inside my grandmother’s arm; fragments of the windows that had shattered when a bomb landed in the garden of their house in Newport, South Wales, that had remained in her arm, its edges had grown smooth from being there for almost fifty years. The Second World War was part of her, physically, as well as emotionally. She had lost her only brother to the war, and when the bomb exploded in their garden, her husband had been at home too, fetching a chair to shield himself. He lost one eye and needed much surgery on the other to save his sight. He lived with a glass eye for the rest of his life and would often ‘lose’ it somewhere in the house, to the great delight of my brother and I as we turned up cushions to find it. My grandmother was pregnant with her second daughter at the time, and the baby was born with her hands covering her ears.

My other grandfather had what was described as a ‘good’ war. Although an army captain, he wasn’t sent to fight. But one of his brothers was, and had an awful War. He was captured by the German army having parachuted across enemy lines and was taken to PoW camp. He made it home after the war, arriving on my grandfather’s step, emaciated and haunted. He had a bath and dinner, and talked and talked that night about his experiences, but never spoke of them again. He was one of those quiet men that caused a hush in the room when he did move to speak.

The resilience of that generation, of which there sadly aren’t many left, amazes me. Before writing Dependence Day, I’d listened to several interviews with veterans of the Second World War who had been through unimaginable suffering and witnessed horrific deeds during their conscripted service and, yet, what pervaded the interviews was their calm, their inner strength, and their positivity. One such gentleman hadn’t spoken about his experiences until almost seventy years later. He thought himself ‘lucky’ because he’d survived. What truly frightened him was the thought of losing his independence now he was old and getting frail – facing the prospect of life in a home with others, who might not understand him.

Perhaps it is only through the survival of truly awful things that one can become truly resilient. In Dependence Day, I wanted to juxtapose the calm, measured resilience of centenarian Frank with the palpable anxiousness of his granddaughter Helena, as she rushes and frets her way through her own, not nearly as harrowing, life, as many of us do. As a member of this ‘entitled,’ rushing generation, hearing the stories of Frank’s generations has made me appreciate the depth of resilience.

As we face an ageing population with a longer life expectancy these days, it’s a pressing concern to preserve the independence that becomes more and more precious until age or disability threatens to take it from us. In my story, although lonely, Frank takes consolation from the simple structure of his days and the constantness of his home. His whistle was my grandfather’s whistle, and his story is a tribute to a generation owed their independence for as long as we can help grant it, because in their effort, and sacrifice, they granted it for us.

Sophie’s grandparents who suffered the bomb blast: their wedding day in 1938

Sophie McClelland is a copy-editor from Wales who moved to Perth in 2012 after a decade in London where she attained an English degree at Kings College London and spent many happy years working for an independent publisher. She has two young children and ‘Dependence Day’ is her first short story. 

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