On 25th Oct 2012 Mary Dipnall was able to tell in a very measured way, part of the story of life of her father John Denton DIPNALL, brother of our grand mother Helene DIPNALL and child of Frank DENTON DIPNALL and Ellen Wallace Merritt.
It took 4 years for Mary’s Mother Dorothy (our Aunty Dot) to finally learn that John had died as a POW in a Japanese Camp. Mary has the press cutting with her of the request for information about John, letters from a Captain who kindly wrote and told her of the sad news that he knew that John had died.
Whilst the joy of peace and VE Day was celebrated Mary’s Mum and many more were still grieving and not knowing…it is difficult to even imagine how hard that must have been. Later she found some comfort and happiness and remarried thankfully Eric Hobbs. Eric had been a friend and comrade of John’s and suffered with him in the camp. The Dipnall-Hobbs fusion of a family not only suvived but thrived despite and perhaps because of the huge loss of John’s life.
I was lucky enough to know and enjoy as a child and young adult, the warmth, love, kindness and mirth in no mean measure of Dot and Eric’s hospitality. My parents held them in deep and fond regard. My father had huge respect for Eric and they would talk about Eric’s tough experiences from time to time but never shared in public, I was just aware that they did.
My late mother Thelma and her Mother Helen told us of the pain and heartache John’s loss had caused the family and how his brother Edgar struggled with surviving the war whilst his brother had not. The Dipnall’s suffered a lot of loss and sorrow during those ware years, like most families but I remember growing up that the Dipnall parties and especially those hosted by Dot and Eric were always joyful and the best.
Hearing Mary recounting what happened to their Dad John made me think a lot about how their experiences of WWII had so shaped our lives, a 3rd generation on from the war years. It has taken 3 generations for the story of what happened across the family during those key years 1939-1945 to unfold. It is still happening and revealing new insights into what made each and everyone of us who we are.
The Portsmouth Dipnall Clan as I was growing -up always had a strong centre, a close-knit heart. Two sisters had married two brothers, that must have been part of the reason but not all of it I believe. It is that spirit that has led to the annual picnic, a bit washed-out this year but I hope and believe it will keep going, at least through my generation. Hearing Mary made me think how much those wartime experiences were a part of why this small family has kept such a strong heart going even when those that kept the flames most warm have since left us.
Every family could not fail to be touched by these momentous events that much is obvious really when you think about the scale of human tragedy that a world war brings with it, but in just 1 family, it is almost incredible how much it has impacted on the lives that were to follow and I think still does.
For me Family History is a huge, deep and humbling learning process. Sometimes it is hard, the resonance down generations and the emotional impact that can have needs sensitive handling. Some important things I held as true and were believed all our lives, simply could not be as we believed them to be. It is the evidence that eventually resolves the questions, sometimes not as you want them to be but it is the facts, not the hearsay, that lead to the opportunity of a glimpse of true insight not just into the lives of those that have gone before us but how we might better lead our lives ahead.
John Denton Dipnall will never be forgotten in this family, how precious those letters and press cutting, what important records and artefacts of a terribly difficult time. John died 22nd SEP 1943, his memorial has been marked and registered by the War Graves Commission and can be visited in Kanchanaburi which is 129 kilometers Northwest of Bangkok in Thailand.
I can hear my Mum and Dad telling me why the war was so important still to them, and that we must never forget either war and why it was important not to take our hard won the freedoms for granted. I know now I should have listened more. I realise how real and personal that knowledge was and shared by millions of families. They never lost that belief and with 11th Day of November approaching and the thought of the impact of those two horrendous wars and the very touching moments that Mary so simply and in a modestly measured way shared with the Nation on the BBC Programme, I am sure and certain that not only do I not want to forget but that it is relevant and important for my nieces and nephews that follow and the generations that are to follow them. We can move on and must, but we should never forget, the past gives context and insight into the present and most importantly our futures.
I never really got into history at school, whilst I loved literature, I just didn’t get the relevance of history to our modern lives, I wish I had so much more, but it is never too late as they say and it was the journey of family history that made me want to learn some more. I owe that to the Dipnalls, the Bowdlers, the Furnesses, the Moores and the Wakefields and I am so grateful.
Thanks Mary for sharing this because that must have been very tough on camera: You made me think again as to why the Dipnall light has always burned so brightly in my heart, and how much your Mum, Eric and your Dad were at the centre of the reasons for that enduring. There may not have been very many Dipnalls in the world, but I am sure learning a lot from those that there were.