Tag Archives: merchant navy

Live In The Present But Treasure The Past


Robert & Mona Litchfield

Coventry, 24th December 1944

My Nan and Grandad were married on a Christmas eve during the second world war. As I mentioned in my last post, my Grandad was in the Merchant Navy and had seven ships sunk under him. He was either hideously unlucky or gloriously lucky, depending on whether you focus on his repeated survival or how often a watery grave tried to claim him. It’s crazy to imagine how easily I might not have existed. 

My Nan worked in the local pharmacy. She was originally from Wales, but her whole family moved to the city of Coventry, famous for Lady Godiva and the Coventry cathedral, which was destroyed in the blitz in 1940. My Grandad had been inside, putting out incendiary bombs, but the rescue attempt was no use and now only ruins remain. 

I don’t know how my grandparents met. I know that my Nan’s previous boyfriend died, his whole family victims of one of the Coventry bombings. I just can’t imagine what life must have been like, living in ever-present fear and losing people constantly. It makes me determined never to take my peaceful existence for granted.

When I was little and my grandparents babysat my younger sister and I, we used to tear around their little house, playing at dressing up and uncovering secrets in the jewellery boxes and containers hidden in the cupboards. I once found an old biscuit tin full of alien items from another world – ration stamps, identity cards, badges, pins… And letters – love letters.

When I was a teenager, my Nan died after a ten year battle with cancer, leaving my Grandad inconsolable, just waiting until he could join her through the years that followed. He counted every day. When my Grandad finally left us as well, my Dad and I cleaned out the wee house that he and his brother had grown up in. I squirrelled away treasures for keepsakes, such as the photograph above. I hunted high and low for the biscuit tin but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I was devastated not to find the box of memories and momentos of love.  

I love letters like I love books. You can’t hold or smell a text or email. It’s a different feeling. I still write letters and fill cards every so often for that reason – the feeling I have when I receive one myself. I love having something that can be touched; something physical to pin up or put away to look at another day, maybe years away. Maybe one day a grandkid of mine will find a tin, read my writing, and wonder what my life was really like – I like the idea more than the thought of them finding my Facebook. I want them to feel how I feel when I hold a faded photograph and read a letter like the one below. 

I couldn’t find the biscuit tin. But when I picked up the picture of my grandparents on their wedding day, housed in a silver, gilded frame, I had a funny feeling. I opened the back and, sure enough, found a piece of what I’d been looking for. A moment in time. A memory. A reminder that, whatever era you live in, the greatest treasure is love. 



What’s your favourite keepsake? It’s so important to live in and for the present, but we should never forget the inspiration to be found in what is past.