Aunty Freda’s fiancé – last seen on television

Four-minute story

Aunty Freda’s fiancé – last seen on television

Have you ever watched old newsreel film, the sort of scratched black and white images your grandparents might have watched when they were small? Do you ever wonder who these people were, sometimes moving awkwardly or stiffly, or in crowds, sometimes rushing back and forth on important occasions, a coronation perhaps, or a celebration of the end of a war?

Sometimes it seems that film can bring historical figures back to life, a politician, a film star or a famous athlete breaking again that world record.

When these pictures were first filmed most people would have seen them at the cinema; there were no televisions. Later they became available as archive film and provide useful material for documentaries and history programmes. They enable us to see for ourselves something of recent history and, with television, they bring the past into our sitting rooms. What though, for a viewer who recognises someone in the film, someone dear or rather special. What then?

I know of two people to whom this happened. An uncle had an older brother, flying in the RAF during the Second World War. Watching a newsreel film at the cinema he recognised the aeroplane that his brother flew, a night-fighter, which was shown being shot-down and my uncle realised that he had just seen his brother killed.

My father’s cousin, Aunty Freda, was working as a nanny with a diplomatic family in Egypt during the early part of the Second World War. While she was there she met a New Zealand soldier and they became engaged. Then the wives and children of diplomatic families were evacuated and Aunty Freda spent long weeks with her family as they returned by sea to the UK. Not long after their return she was notified that her fiancé had been killed.

When she had arrived back in the UK, Aunty Freda had not known what she was going to do with herself for she was no longer needed as a nanny. It was learning of her fiancé’s death that made her determined to support the war effort and she joined the army, as a nurse. Years later, watching a documentary film about the war in North Africa, she saw a face that she thought she recognised. It was the face of a soldier, one of many soldiers in the film, but one that stood out. It was then that it dawned on her, all those years later, that it was her fiancé, filmed before he was killed. She never again watched war-time film.

What do think made this bit of film so shocking for Aunty Freda?

At the age of eight, Aunty Freda was a bridesmaid at my grandmother’s wedding which she was able to recall in conversation with my children. Is there a story in your life that you would like people to remember once you are only a memory?

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