Saturday Slant with Craig Fleming: Looking forward and backward with equal part

Craig and his maternal grandfather Thomas Leach on Blackpool beach in 1957; Thomas and Albert Leach reunited in hospital in 1917 after being gassed during the First World War; paternal grandmother Margaret Fleming; and grandaughter Rebecca's drawing of her dream bedroom complete with "walking" wardrobe
Craig and his maternal grandfather Thomas Leach on Blackpool beach in 1957; Thomas and Albert Leach reunited in hospital in 1917 after being gassed during the First World War; paternal grandmother Margaret Fleming; and grandaughter Rebecca's drawing of her dream bedroom complete with "walking" wardrobe
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I used to be someone’s grandson.

Now I’m somebody’s grandad instead.

Thomas and Albert Leach reunited in hospital in 1917 after being gassed during the First World War''Thomas Leach 'Albert Leach

Thomas and Albert Leach reunited in hospital in 1917 after being gassed during the First World War''Thomas Leach 'Albert Leach

A respectable one, at that, as I jokingly remind my colleagues here at The Gazette, which I leave on Friday, for early retirement, after 41 years and seven months.

I suppose it’s a generational thing but now I can happily look forwards and backwards, in equal measure, being slap bang in the middle if you truncate my family tree.

Isn’t it easy, though, to take your grandparents for granted when you are young?

You think they are always going to be there and, in the case of my paternal grandmother, that seemed ever more likely with each birthday she clocked up.

Margaret Fleming, Craig Fleming's paternal grandmother

Margaret Fleming, Craig Fleming's paternal grandmother

Margaret Fleming, a resilient, big-hearted Geordie, and a widow for all but the first few months of my life, would have been 124 on January 25 and I raised a glass as usual to her memory.

She actually died in July 1990 – outliving three of her eight children – almost six months to the very day we’d all gathered to celebrate with pride her milestone 100th birthday.

As a youngster my summer holidays were spent at her home in one of those long terraced rows, the type featured on the small screen when Catherine Cookson’s novels were turned into TV dramas in the late 1980s.

I had booked an overnight hotel in Newcastle several weeks ahead of her summer passing, intending to call in to see her while travelling south through the North East on our way back home from visiting my aunt - her daughter Betty- in Scotland.

Dream bedroom of Craig Fleming's grandaughter Rebecca

Dream bedroom of Craig Fleming's grandaughter Rebecca

As it turned out, that room booking had been made for the night before her funeral. Serendipity at work?

Turning to my maternal grandparents, this week I have been looking through a bundle of faded postcards, heart-touching, tender correspondence between two late teenagers very much in love yet separated by conflict.

My future grandmother Edith at home with her family in East Lancashire, her husband-to-be Thomas (from who I get my first name and now my grandson Jake’s middle moniker) a serving soldier during the First World War.

Appropriately he signs all his cards as Tommy, yet what strikes me most is the formality of the messages themselves. For good measure my grandad often sent an additional card for his future mother-in-law.

Thomas Leach was one of the lucky ones – he came back and was able to get on with his interrupted life.

The verse on the picture side of one of the postcards sums up perfectly the uncertainty of those times: “As you stand in the crowded street just to watch those lads go by, don’t feel soft if a tear drop comes to the corner of your eye, each brave lad marching on to war takes an equal chance to return no more.”

Somehow, I can’t imagine how soldier Tommy felt when that one arrived. But return he did and the conflict brought an added personal bonus, again celebrated on a picture postcard. My grandad’s early years were spent in the Haslingden Workhouse, which later became a hospital, after he and his siblings were orphaned. My great grandfather had been killed in an industrial accident, my great grandmother dying soon after in childbirth.

Eldest son Albert, a good few years older than the rest, had emigrated to Canada before all this tragedy. I use the word serendipity again, but how else do you explain two long-lost brothers, separated by thousands of miles, re-united, with a photograph to prove it, in a military hospital, with the same injuries?

Serving with different regiments, both were patients in 1917 after suffering the horrific effects of one of the most lethal of all the poisonous chemicals used during the war. The German Army added mustard gas to high explosive shells and the recovering brothers Leach are pictured with the tell-tale symptoms of sore eyes. Lucky not to have been permanently blinded, eye and lung problems were a lasting legacy for my grandad.

He and I were inseparable mates. My treasured photographs include one of a Blackpool day trip, the two of us on the sands, complete with ourjackets and ties, in about 1957.

And the image clearly shows his still-sunken eyes.

So much for looking to the past. In contrast my grandaughter Rebecca, nine next month, has been busy drawing her dream bedroom.

There’s a cabin bed tucked away, allowing more room for the important trappings which include – wait for it – a swimming pool (no sign of a dehumidifier!), a pony, and a rabbit with carrot and bone (I always thought they were vegetarian, but then again perhaps it is for teeth sharpening). The wonderful attention to detail takes in a row of electrical sockets and plugs for the TV, DVD player, Xbox and the like. And who wouldn’t want a fine chandelier on their ceiling?

But my favourite piece of furniture has to be the “walking” wardbrobe.

With a name like that it must have steps...