"...He handed me a legacy that will live on through me "
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Youth in Dublin
Civilian life in Singapore
Prisoner of War
A New Life
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It begins with the diary. It transported my grandfather’s mind far beyond the confines of the Japanese Camps and kept him connected with a world and people he could only dream of.

Thirty five years after he penned his last line of the letter to his wife he placed those notebooks and scraps of paper into my fourteen year old hands, little realizing the path he was sending me and an unborn generation of the family on.Photo Albums and Diaries

He died a few short months after entrusting me with this gift. In an effort to feel he wasn’t really gone I started to transcribe his fine, elegant script into my own teenage scrawl, but youth and grief were against me. The bundle of papers was wrapped in plastic and placed carefully in a drawer for another day.

That day came a quarter of a century, and many drawers later. One night early on in 2006 I read the letter from start to finish and emerged from that journey into the past knowing how I would spend the next year of my life – I would transcribe the Diary, have it printed and bound professionally, and surprise my brothers at Christmas with it.

It seemed so straight forward to begin with, but as I typed I realized I needed to go beyond the pages of the diary. I wanted to understand the meaning of the Malay and Indian words so casually scattered throughout the text, I wanted to know what the abbreviations meant, I wanted to know more about the people my grandfather mentioned and I needed to understand the mindset of the inhabitants of a world that no longer exists.

There were boxes of letters and photo albums, and a scrapbook of cuttings that offered a glimpse into the pre-war life of my grandparents. There were the stories I remembered from my childhood, the reminiscences of my grandparents and my parents which waited quietly in my mind for me to revisit. And there was the internet. I was amazed by the wealth of information “out there” and in time built up the courage to contact complete strangers in other countries who proved so kind and generous in the way they shared their knowledge with me.

Stephanie & Alicky Hess
Whatever I typed out in a day became my 10 year old daughter’s bedtime reading. We would curl up together and I would read aloud Gran’pa’s words to her. Alicky grew to know and love her great-grandfather as she followed his adventures as a prisoner of the Japanese. We cheered him in his moments of triumph and wept at his moments of sadness. His stories, so humorously told when I was a child, were retold, this time by me. Alicky and I laughed together at the scenes depicted by Gran’pa, echoing the laughter he and I had shared 30 years earlier.

Christmas 2006 saw the fulfillment of my plan. I gave both my brothers a leather bound copy of the Diary and it was a lovely thing to watch their faces as puzzlement gave way to understanding as they realized what it was they were holding in their hands.

It might have ended there – I had done what I had set out to do, but that was in fact only the beginning of an extraordinary journey of discovery which continues to carry me and my family, like a Magic Carpet Ride, to new and unexpected adventures.

We have traveled to Singapore, the place of my birth, to explore the lost days of my grandparents’ youth. We have flown to Borneo to lay a flower on the grave of a loyal friend who lies so far from all he knew and loved. I have held in my hands trophies that bear my grandfather’s name, symbols of happy times more than seventy years in the past. We have met fascinating people and formed special friendships that have enriched our lives.

My grandfather gave me more than the gift of a diary.

He handed me a legacy that will live on through me
and beyond me to the future he fought for and survived for.


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