Worth the try

This story was prompted by the photo below at Friday Fictioneers, https://rochellewisofffields.wordpress.com/2015/12/02/4-december-2015 , hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.  To be honest, it was also triggered by Rochelle’s own post, which I found to be beautiful and heartbreaking.  My story is based on a real event and it felt quite good to put it down on “paper”.  I’ve gone way over the word limit at 197 words, but I found it hard to keep to that.  Sorry.

The photo was kindly provided by Roger Bultot.

Worth the try

‘The dad you remember is in there,’ Dr Khan had said, ‘with his memories.  Stimulate them – with pictures, sounds – it might draw him out, even for a moment.’

So it seemed like serendipity when work took me past the site of HMS Ganges, the former base for naval cadets.  I’d lost count of how many times I’d listened to Dad’s tales of his time there.  Or not listened.

Some landmarks remained among the rubble, like Faith, Hope and Charity, the steps where Dad’s pal George collapsed and died during a training session.  The poem If on the gymnasium wall.  And, thankfully, the mast where Dad had once been the “button boy”.

From the hundreds of photos I took, I selected the best and made a DVD, with tunes like Heart of Oak in the background.

At first, when I played it, Dad didn’t seem interested.  He sat, rotating his thumbs, the way he did when his mind was elsewhere.  Then his thumbs fell still and the energy moved into his eyes.

When the film ended, I looked at Dad in anticipation.  Nothing, for ages, then he spoke, ‘I never went to Ganges.  That was your Uncle Jack.’

………………………………………………………………………………

HMS Ganges was a real training establishment for naval cadets, which operated in Suffolk, England until 1976.  If you’d like to know more about its history, please try this link: http://www.hmsgangesmuseum.org.uk/ .   The cadets regularly took part in “manning the mast”, with one lucky (?) individual taking the role of “button boy”, i.e. standing at the very top of the mast, 143 feet high, on a disc about a foot wide, and saluting!  The ceremony can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vaiRLNLuSGQ .

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28 Responses to Worth the try

  1. Dear John,

    It’s always worth the try. This seems longer than 100 words. I say this because I feel I lost the dad in the descriptions of HMS Ganges. At the same time I’m flattered that my story inspired you. I would challenge you to tighten this. I dare you! So, was Dad accurate in that it was Uncle Jack?
    Good beginnings here, so I hope you don’t mind my blathering even though you don’t have a C by your name.

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

    Liked by 1 person

    • JS Brand says:

      Hi Rochelle, thank you. I don’t think you’re blathering; I value your feedback. If you hadn’t guessed, the “story” was largely autobiographical. I suspect the apparent imbalance in the content reflects the fact that I don’t know my Dad very well and went to the lengths I did in trying to capture and present his memories to ease my own conscience as much as to draw him out of the shell that mental decay has locked him in. Sadly, Dad’s recollection was right. It was his younger brother who went to HMS Ganges, while Dad trained at another base 200 miles away. As a child I proudly wore my uncle’s HMS Ganges cap, thinking it had been my dad’s. I don’t know how this misunderstanding arose, but it persisted for decades. Typing the tale was quite cathartic and I think I’d really struggle to trim it down. Call me a coward, but I daren’t pick up the challenge.

      Like

  2. JS Brand says:

    Thank you Rochelle. I suspect this one will re-emerge as a short story before long.

    Like

  3. liz young says:

    I think your Dad allowed you to live with the mistake through your childhood because he didn’t want to embarrass you by pointing out your mistake. He clearly love you, and you him, judging by your story.

    Liked by 1 person

    • JS Brand says:

      Hi Liz, you’re really kind. You might be right, although from teen years onwards I don’t remember my dad holding back with corrective comments – maybe he was gentler when I was small. I think there’s an element of neither of us recognising the misunderstanding when it first started. My recollection included my dad and my uncle swapping stories about their respective experiences at HMS Ganges – in hindsight maybe they were talking about their days at different naval training schools. I could have sworn Dad told me he was the button boy once, but that’s probably just a small boy wanting to believe his dad was super-brave. Thank you for your comments.

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  4. This is definitely worth to do into a longer piece… I felt for you both in this story… to shorten it would be hard for me too, and I know how it feels when a particular story get stuck in your head you don’t want to deviate.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dale says:

    I was so into the story, I forgot it was supposedly too long… This could definitely be developed into a short story (meaning, longer than 197 words!)

    Like

  6. This is a very heart-touching story. I felt sad at the end when you went to all that work to develop a DVD about your Dad’s memories only to find out he had not gone to Ganges.

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  7. All that effort put into trying to get a response out of him, only to elicit that one. Truly a touching tale.

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    • JS Brand says:

      Thank you. The effort wasn’t wasted though. HMS Ganges is a really interesting site, so exploring the remains was enjoyable in itself. Plus I had to learn new skills to package the photographs. Most importantly I hope that, deep down, my dad appreciated what I’d tried to do, even if I was way off beam.

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  8. Bastet says:

    This is such a moving story … and I agree with Bjorn, it needed the length to convey the sentiment of the main character and his emotions. Memory is such an odd thing … especially those earlier memories which sometimes become wound up with our wishes and imagination as children. It was interesting though that the Dad who’d seemed disinterested became focused and remembered that it was his brother Jack who’d been on the Ganges. Though the main character (you) might not have been as rewarded as you thought you would be, I’d say it was an effort worth taking and something was touched .. if only for a moment.

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    • JS Brand says:

      Thank you for your comments. I think it was worth the effort too. The history of HMS Ganges is fascinating and, since I recalled this incident I’ve been busy on Google. I knew several cadets were supposed to have died of exhaustion (including, I thought, one of my dad’s pals) but wasn’t aware that more than 50 cadets died on the ship that preceded the land base. Most of them died from disease, which is no less tragic than the ones who suffered “accidents”. I came across a forum for former trainees and the range of feelings they express is huge – affection, pride, fear, sadness at the base’s demise – the list goes on. I’ll definitely write a short story based on my mini-experience but feel very tempted to do some more research and try to produce the bigger account that HMS Ganges deserves. That said, as a landlubber I’d be worried about making mistakes that might incur the wrath of the salty Seadogs who actually trained there.

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  9. Great story JS. I could totally see this scenario. Well done… maybe you can expand it a little more. It would have been difficult to cut this down to 100 words. Thanks for sharing a little bit of your story. 😉

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  10. His father awoke and a dark secret came out. It’s two for the price of one.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. You put a lot of history into this story related to the British Navy and the training. I did not know what button boy was until you explained it in a comment. Wondered about the reference to “Faith, Hope, and Charity.” That is ok because if I was reading a book I would just have to look it up. I think it was good that you father’s memory was jogged enough to be able to tell you that the story was really about your uncle. It was very loving of you to try to reach your father this way.

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  12. JS Brand says:

    Thank you Deborah. I felt I had to put in some of the historical features which were landmarks literally and in the false memory I’d created. When I saw Faith, Hope and Charity and the mast for the first time, I felt familiar with them and, when someone on site told me about the cadets who’d died there, I thought about the (seemingly invented) pal of my father who’d been among them. I realised readers wouldn’t have heard of them but, in a way, I shouldn’t have either (at least not in the way I thought I had). I cheated a bit by adding a footnote, I know.
    I’m glad people seem to have been touched by the flash fiction version of the story, but I now wish I’d kept it back to write up in more detail, so I could do it justice (and pay proper respect to the many young people who trained at HMS Ganges).
    I really appreciate your comments – thank you again.

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  13. rogershipp says:

    Loved the history involved in the story. Well done.

    Liked by 1 person

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