Monday 8 August 2022

Beware of the Omblongous pie (and the other tell tale signs of PTSD in the family)

It is a bone of contention in our family, but I firmly believe that my Father suffered from PTSD as a result of his wartime experiences. Not all of my siblings agree. He had a wild temper and could really go off on one when the mood took him. He also had a long period in the 50’s and 60’s where he had a series of serious ailmentsailments. Eventually this was diagnosed as an ulcer, he had surgery and the pain went away. My belief was that this was as much to do with stress as anything else. Occasionally, he'd let the mask slip. My Dad was not one to ever, for one second, want to give anything other than an air of invincibility, but he did give an insight into how he was treated and how it affected him. I recall one day taking him up his breakfast, he'd always have it in bed. Mum would make tea, toast and a bowl of cornflakes and send one of us up with it. It was a great honour to give him his breakfast. He'd also get the Daily Express to keep up with the world events. One morning, he was in a bit of an agitated state. He'd not slept well. I asked him why. He said "I dreamed I was back in the Prisoner of War camp and the guards brought me this wonderful pie to eat. It had thick pastry and looked delicious, but when I took a bite, it was filled with alive worms and they were all laughing at me. They were pointing their guns and saying to eat the Omblongous pie". He then realised that I was a bit upset and made a big joke of it. We got Pie and Chips later and he teased me that he was getting me an Omblongous pie. It became a bit of a joke between us. A few weeks later, he had a similar dream, this time it was a 'Baddius Pie'. 

I thought nothing of it, but after he died, I was having a drink with my mother and she said that he was tormented by terrible nightmares for years, but would rarely discuss them. Shortly before he died, he told me that he felt a terrible sense of guilt about his rear Gunner, F/O John 'Spud'  Murphy. Spud had a premonition that they would get shot down on a bombing raid over Ploesti and he'd die in flames. When their ops were announced, it was a raid on Ploesti. Spud turned white and asked if there was any way they could skip the mission. As it was the last of their tour and they all wanted to get back for leave, my Dad insisted they did the mission. He told Spud "We can't cancel ops every time anyone has a nightmare". Sadly Spuds premonition was correct. My Dad said he always felt guilty. When he was captured and taken PoW he had to identify Spud, which really made him feel awful. 

My feeling was that to some extent he got over it when he retired. He opened up to me on a few occasions and he was brutally honest. He once told me "You've no idea how bad things can be in a war. I've looked at you and your brothers and I really don't think any of you have the make up or backbone to do what I had to do". I was quite hurt by this. He said "You'd never have made it through training. You don't like taking orders and you are always looking for short cuts". He added "It's not a bad thing but that's not what RAF pilots in wartime should do". 

What was interesting was a couple of years after he said that, he helped my band out at the Grahame Park Festival. He had a Estate car and helped us lug the gear down. He was quite fascinated by the logistics of putting on a festival. As was his way he knuckled down and helped sort out some unforeseen power issues. My cousin Jim, who was a Catholic Priest working in Africa was over and he came down and watched the show. Jim was very impressed by the Festival. He said he didn't expect to see anything like that outside of Africa. He had a long chat with the organiser, a lovely old chap from Nigeria, who used to work his socks off. 

A few days later, I went for a beer with my Dad. He said "I've got a confession to make. I never realised how much work went into these gigs you do. It's really impressive." He also complimented me on my skills at keeping a bunch of stoned musicians in line and on point. He told me of how he'd seen Oklahoma on Broadway in 1942 and how it blew his mind. He said that he'd never really appreciated just how great a show it was until he'd seen the work we put into setting up the GP festival. He told me that when he arrived in New York, everyone said it was the most amazing show. However it started with an old lady in a spotlight churning a milk churn. He'd thought to himself "Blimey I could see this down on the farm". Then a voice sung "There's a golden haze on the meadow" and all hell broke loose. He said it was the most amazing show and his time in New York in 1942 was the last time he was truly care free in his life. On arrival in the U.K. the war became real. I never knew that young man without a care in the world.I wish I did

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