At this time of year, my grandfather always comes to mind and one particular story that will live on in my family’s memory.
However, this story may not be all true…
As I grew up, I recall my grandfather William to be a rather stern man with strong principles. Frankly, I was a little afraid of him at times, yet also in awe of his deeds.
As with many others of his time, he won a medal for bravery in the first world war and this held a special place in my imagination as a young boy.
At that time, I believed that he’d held off an enemy advance armed only with a machine gun, whilst his comrades made a retreat. He saved many lives in this act of heroism.
This was the story I grew up with and, like most stories, I had no idea who had first told me it and never questioned it’s validity. Why on earth would I?
In later years, I learned that this was only part of the story.
After my grandfather passed away, my father uncovered a new twist to the story as he learned that William had been a conscientious objector. His strong religious beliefs and the influence of a particular pastor in his early life, led him to take a non-combatant role, in his case a stretcher bearer.
So a new story developed to replace my boyhood one. One in which William threw down the stretcher in the heat of battle and pick up arms to save his fellow soldiers.
Perhaps it appealed to my beliefs and values or simply to the age I had reached, but this story seemed so much more powerful.
He became even more of a hero, to both me and my young daughter.
A number of years passed by, and the two of us were visiting my parents at their home on the south coast. We were chatting and reminiscing as children and grandchildren do when with parents and grandparents, and we started to recall the story of William’s heroism.
“That’s not how it happened!” my dad suddenly exclaimed. “Yes, he was a stretcher bearer, but he didn’t pick up arms in the heat of battle.”
He went on to explain that Field marshall Haig had sent a request to all non-combatants to take up arms ahead of the battle and grandad did just that.
In unison, my daughter and I both exclaimed “we prefer our story.”
The appeal of our version outweighed what may have been the truth. So, does that mean that the truth doesn’t matter?
Surely, stories have to be true and accurate, don’t they? After all, we strive for truth, the right answers, all the time?
Well, I’m not so sure. Maybe the truly great stories are grounded in truth, yet shaped by our imagination and our own sense of right.
In loving memory of William Watson, a truly wonderful man.