D-Day: My Granddad Teddy’s Experience

69 years ago yesterday my granddad, Teddy Williams, took part in the D Day landings. A Guernsey man, he joined up in June 1940 with five of his colleagues from the Guernsey Press . They caught the Glen Tilt (it was ferrying men of fighting age to the mainland to sign up) to Weymouth , from where they were taken to Portland Barracks. My granddad joined the Cornwall Light Infantry, took the oath and received 3s and 6d.

By the time of the Normandy landing he had already seen action as a Desert Rat and the invasion of Siciliy. In fact, he nearly never made it to Normandy at all as the American naval vessel that was carrying him from Folkestone to Juno Beach was accidentally rammed by a British destroyer, HMS Warspite. They lost one of the ramps in the incident, meaning my granddad and his fellow troops had to scramble ashore as best they could. In haste my granddad jumped in to what he thought was shallow water but it actually came over his head.  He tried to swim up and couldn’t because of the weight of his kit. Then he felt a hand on his back and he was lifted up until he was able to find his footing and scramble up the beach. He never knew who helped him that day.

By this time, the troops in the first landing managed to fight their way up the beach and were penetrating inland. This gave my granddad and the other Pioneers the chance to establish petrol dumps ashore. The fuel was ferried by amphibious vehicles from vessels standing offshore.

Granddad and his unit landed on Juno Beach and were attached to Canadian troops who he followed through to Hamburg. Every night, Canadian trucks would travel to the front lines to recover the dead, and the bodies were brought to where the Pioneers had set up a moving base. The corpses were unloaded and the vehicles refuelled.

He later received a medal for being one of the thousands of troops engaged in the first 20 days of the invasion.

And how do I know such detailed information? Characteristically of those who served in the war, granddad never really spoke about it. In 2004 though, to mark the 60th Anniversary of D-Day, my granddad’s old employer, the Guernsey Press, wrote an article about him. He sent a copy to each of his daughters (my mum Ann and my auntie Barbara) and across the top he wrote “thought you might like to see this.” I am holding that paper in my hands now granddad and I just want to say a sincere thank you to you – and all of those involved on that day. You changed the world.

 

Calling UK Dads to Be!! Fancy being in a BBC Documentary?

 

 

 

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dads being allowed in the delivery room, BBC three is  making a documentary series which will look at getting Dads involved in the pregnancy and birth of their first child: Dads in the Delivery Room. It is due to be on our screens next spring.

Filming has been going really well, and 10 couples have been filmed so far, but to complete the series, the Beeb need to find two dads-to-be for the final episode. Can you help?

You need to be:

  • awaiting the birth of your first baby trooper
  • keen as mustard to take advice from midwives about how to support your partner  – before, during and after the birth
  • have a partner that would welcome your support and is willing to take part

To find out more information, you can message me here or at neil@commandodad.com. Alternatively, you can contact the team directly:

Good Luck!

Men’s Fitness

I know it’s not very British to talk about your achievements (and to all non-British people reading this: that really is true) but I am so OVER THE MOON to be featured in this month’s Men’s Fitness magazine that I have reproduced the entire 22 line article here.

It’s all about fitting training around family commitments. As a stay at home dad who has trained for marathons, triathlons and other endurance events, this is something I know a LOT about.

Hooray!

Why won’t my daughter smile in photos?

My daughter Liberty has a beautiful smile. She smiles and laughs a lot. And yet something strange happens when you point a camera at her and actually ask her to smile.

You get either Exhibit A: The Aardman Character (or “More tea Gromit?”)

Image

Exhibit B: The Hitman  (or “I could smile but I may have to kill you”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or Exhibit C: The Bouncer (or “Your Name’s Not Down and You’re Not Coming In”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, I could go on.

 

Just to prove that she is actually a bobby dazzler, here’s the picture of her before I said ‘smile’. To see what happened when I did utter that word, see Exhibit A above.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are there any keen photographers out there that can offer me some advice about how to get my little girl to smile at the camera?

 

Memories of 9/11

Tuesday September 11 started much like any other day. It was my day off work and I walked my pregnant wife Tara 20 blocks to her office. It was a beautiful clear, sunny day. When I got back to our apartment I put the TV on (sound down) and started pottering around.

My wife called me around 9.30. She was very shaken and her first words were ‘don’t panic’. I immediately thought it was something to do with our baby. She asked me if I had the TV on and I replied that I had, and some film about the Twin Towers was on. Then she told me the terrible news – it wasn’t a film. It was real. She was watching it from her office window and saw the second plane go in (although she still thought it may be a bomb as she was watching from further up the island so didn’t see the plane, just the explosion). She told me that her bosses had said that they couldn’t guarantee any one’s safety and so she had been told that she must go to a place she felt safe. She wanted me to come and get her straight away.

I ran all the way. The subways were all running but I didn’t know how long that would last as everyone suspected a terrorist attack.

When I got to her, things had advanced. A plane had hit the Pentagon and news had reached us that there was another plane but we didn’t know where. Rumours spread round her office that it was coming back to New York. She didn’t want to go back to our apartment as it was right by the United Nations, which she thought might be a possible target. So we decided to go to her sister Sam’s apartment which was near her office.

As we walked there, we passed St Vincent’s hospital, the nearest hospital to the Twin Towers. Doctors and nurses were out in the street with gurnies, ready to receive the casualties that never came.

We all sat in Sam’s apartment round a television watching it unfold, Sam, Tara, me and Jennifer: a friend who lived in Brooklyn but who couldn’t get home as they closed all routes on and off Manhattan. After a while we felt  we needed to get out – we all just felt we wanted to be with people.

We went to buy water as we had been told that the water supply to Manhattan may have been contaminated, and then to our local diner. It was absolutely packed, but very subdued. Everyone was just stunned and shocked. It is hard to articulate how unusual that was for New York. Much later when we walked home to our apartment, there wasn’t a single person in the streets. There are always people out on the street in Manhattan  – the ‘city that never sleeps’ – but that night we didn’t see another soul, despite the fact all the commuters had to find places to stay, and some people estimate that figure to be 2 million people. And there wasn’t a single homeless person on the streets either.

The next morning posters had started to appear ‘Have you seen this person?’ with a picture and a name, and contact details. Thousands of them. Everywhere. People still thought then that there were survivors wondering around dazed, or perhaps in hospital with memory loss because of the trauma. We didn’t really know that there had been so few survivors – yet.  Shrines with flowers and candles had sprung up overnight outside the many fire stations that had lost men. The FDNY funerals started very quickly after that. Many went along to pay respects to the brave men who had done their best to rescue people from what they must have known was an impossible situation.

Me, Tara and Sam volunteered to help – together with everyone we knew – the rescue crews that were down at the Twin Towers. But there were too  many volunteers. We went to the Park Avenue Armoury and people where queuing around the block to register as volunteers. Great crowds of people started to gather alongside the West Side Highway to cheer the crews as they went back and forth. Over the following weeks and months the crowds dwindled, but never completely disappeared.

In the following days, people started to arrive from all over America to visit the site, to be in New York and show their support. But they were just as powerless to help – or to change anything – as we ourselves were.

I worked at the UK Mission to the UN at the time, and I was called in the next day. I took the calls from hotels all over New York who had British citizens staying that had not returned. The Mission had to coordinate collecting their belongings and contacting relatives to return them. I am not articulate enough to explain what that felt like.

By then the stories about the victims calling their loved ones on their mobile phones started to filter out too. It seemed at the time like tragedy was being heaped on tragedy. It hung heavy on all of us.

When people ask what it was like to be there, I can only say it was like being in a surreal film. It didn’t seem real – we just couldn’t believe what we were witnessing with our own eyes. It was too terrible. It was too big. I feel emotional writing about it 11 years later. It has taught me an important life lesson though – I never leave my wife or troopers without telling them how much I love them.

Olympians Must Begin at Home

After Team GBs fantastic showing at the Olympics, and as we gear up for the Paralympics, there has been a lot of talk about getting more sport on the curriculum. Hooray! I say – but with a caveat. I think we can’t only rely on the schools: Olympians must begin at home.

As a PE teacher (and now as a supply teacher) I see countless notes excusing pupils from PE. Now while some of these are genuine, I’ve been in situations where nearly half of the pupils in the class have been excused from my lesson. My personal low was a pupil that handed me a note explaining he couldn’t do PE as he had lost his trainers. He was wearing them. But without the rest of his kit, and without the jurisdiction to override a note from home, nothing could be done.

We need to address this issue now, or it really won’t matter how many more lessons in the curriculum are devoted to PE. Hopefully, pupils – and parents – will have been inspired by the Olympics and PE teachers up and down the land can get on with the business of teaching their subject and helping every pupil reach their potential in sport – not juggling a depleted class and non-participants.

And of course, participation in sport is not just about creating Olympians. Sport can give you so many benefits in both the short, and long, term.  Not only will it make troopers  physically fit, but also give them a sense of belonging,  teach them how to work well in a group and individually and hopefully also be a lot of fun. And the lessons that sport teaches you can help you in whatever career you troopers decide upon. Ray Winstone, a former boxer, said in a recent article in Men’s Fitness: “boxing helped me mentally. I’ve bought that discipline and determination to acting.”

With so many potential benefits, should we as parents be writing notes to excuse our troopers from PE for anything other than medical reasons? I, for one, don’t think so.

 

Commando Dad Newsletter

I finally got the Commando Dad newsletter squared away and ready for dispatch.

To sign up for your copy of the newsletter, please go to the bottom of the Commando Dad homepage.

Your details will be kept solely for the purposes of Commando Dad newsletter. I will not share your details with the enemy!

Why the Sidelines are No Place for Dads

In 1970, on a warm summers evening  in July, my dad dropped my mum, who was in labour with me and my twin brother, off at the hospital and asked her to call him when she felt ready to cope with visitors. There didn’t seem anything unusual in that to either mum or dad, that was just how things were done. When their wives were in labour, men went off to work, or sat in the waiting room with flowers like in a Carry On film. Oh how times have changed.

I couldn’t wait for the birth of my children. I read the books, attended the ante-natal classes and got to know the midwife. I was convinced that if my wife went into labour unexpectedly I would be able to deliver my son (tying off the placenta with a clean shoelace – I looked it up). Luckily, my emergency delivery plans never saw the light of day as we made it to the hospital in plenty of time.

I was right by my wife’s side throughout, offering what comfort and support I could. And words cannot explain the feeling of finally holding my brand new baby trooper in my arms. It is an amazing experience, as any dad will tell you.

But then something really strange happened after the birth. Without any warning, I disappeared. I became completely invisible to doctors, nurses and the midwife. I think my wife could see me, but I was finding it hard to get to the side of her bed to double check.

So perhaps I didn’t physically disappear (although that would make a good story) but it certainly felt like it.  And that’s when I first realised that it’s very, very easy to become sidelined as a new dad. And not only in the delivery room, but beyond it too. The vast majority of advice, support and care is geared towards mum. Don’t get me wrong, parents need all the advice, support and care that it is possible to give them, but dads are parents too. And we have a crucial role to play, right from the minute we welcome our trooper into the world.

We need to provide physical support, such as taking on night feeds, keeping the house squared away, buying supplies, getting meals on the table, washing clothes and generally keeping on top of everything. But most importantly, we need to make sure that our partner has everything she physically needs, from time to take a bath to healthy food.

We also need to provide emotional support, essential to keeping morale high. Sometimes, our partners can feel as if life has become all about the baby trooper. Reassure her and let her know you’re in this together. Having a new baby is tiring for everyone, but your wife and trooper have been through labour too. Tempers can get frayed in the beginning when you’re both adjusting to a completely new lifestyle on limited sleep. Keep calm.

And our trooper needs us too. Don’t believe that we aren’t biologically programmed to be good carers. We may not have the ‘maternal instinct’ but I can assure you that the minute my troopers were born, my wife and I both had a huge instinct to love, protect and care for them.  We got the ‘parental instinct’. And in terms of physically caring for a baby, we can do everything but breastfeed. It might not seem like it at the time (well it certainly didn’t for me) but with practical experience, you will easily master the basics.

But of course it doesn’t end there. Even after ten years as a stay at home dad, I still consider myself a Commando Dad in training. It is worth the effort. To a trooper, their dad has many roles, often falling somewhere between Hero, Role Model and Protector. When you become a dad you step into those shoes and you owe it to yourself – and your troopers – to be the best dad you can be. So don’t let yourself get sidelined, dads. You are simply too important.

I wrote this blog for The Baba Blog, a great blog  full of practical advice and tips for new mums…..and hopefully some new dads too.

The Spooky Tale of How I Named My Daughter, Liberty

Naming your baby trooper is a tough business. There’s the whole issue around any name needing to be a good fit with your surname, as well as avoiding acronyms and all the names you have negative associations with (the kid at school with unsavoury habits, annoying colleagues with unsavoury habits, any boss you ever had, unsavoury habits or not etc). But the naming of my own troopers is an increasingly unusual story.

First, Samuel Robert Sinclair. Named after my wife’s granddad Samuel Lucas (or more accurately, Ernest Edwin Samuel Lucas, but that’s another story) and her dad, Robert ‘Bob’ Lucas. Both great men and two great names. Job done.

Then Jude Bonaparte Sinclair. Yes, you read right. Jude was originally destined to be called Peter Edward (using my own dad and

granddad’s names) but my wife took a bad fall when she was pregnant and we thought that she may miscarry. Then one day soon after the drama was over, she said, “I think we should change the name of this baby you know. He’s a fighter.” So we looked up the patron saint of second chances and his name was Jude.

We got Bonaparte from my other granddad, Napoleon Bonaparte Sinclair. Yes, you read that one right too. When my granddad was born there was much ado about which family names he should be given. In the end his dad declared he would be named after someone he admired to end the argument. I should add at this point that the whole family is from Thurso, Scotland.

 

Finally, Liberty Maeve Sinclair. Now this is the kind of story I need to preface with ‘I have witnesses’.

Naming a girl is difficult, because not only are there millions more names to choose from but every noun can plausibly be a girl’s name (Willow was in the running for a long time, for example). We knew her middle name was to be Maeve as my wife’s nanny had been of Irish descent (Florence O’Rourke from Cork) and her auntie is a Maeve and she is a Tara. But we went through every first name under the sun and couldn’t agree on a single one.

Then one night I had a dream (stay with me) that my wife handed me a baby and said: “this is your daughter and her name is Liberty.” Now, I should tell you that we were living in Hoboken at the time and I thought, well maybe I have just picked up the idea from the Statue of Liberty and didn’t give it much thought.

Then later that morning I heard my wife talking on the phone to her sister. She too had a dream. In a very brightly lit room our son Samuel had said to her “You have to call the baby Liberty mom. Two beings made of light told me.”