Samantha Scott wishes to expand her creativity from quilting to writing and has aspirations of completing a book detailing the life story of her mother in law. She is also at work on a photo book about her grandparents - the story of a parlour maid from Kent and the man from the Merchant Navy whom she fell in love with. In 2020 to celebrate her 55th birthday, Sam climbed or walked all 55 of Auckland’s volcanoes with friends, her husband and two daughters. There may be a book in that story too.
My grandfather would have been 106 years old today. I am his eldest grandchild, and when I was young, he used to say things to me like “Morning mate! How are you going, mate?” and “What shall we do next, mate?”I used to answer with “I’m good, mate.” Or “Can we go to the pet shop, mate?”; or “Yes, please, mate.” My brothers, my daughters and I all call my grandfather, Mate. My cousins call him Grandad.
Alfred George Gifford was born on Thursday November 5, 1914 and lived with his parents Edwin John and Annie Elizabeth (nee Scrivens) in a council house in Broomfield, Kent. He was the middle child in a family of five between Frederick Arthur and Rose Ellen, and Charles Edwin and sister Doris. Fred left school at the age of fourteen to work as an errand boy for the local greengrocer. At fifteen he enrolled in Sea School and in 1930 joined the Merchant Navy at just sixteen. The following year he went on his first overseas deployment, and he traveled with the navy to many countries, including New Zealand which he told my mother was “God’s own country.”
He began as a deck boy and over the course of his fifteen-year naval career he moved through the ranks of Ordinary Seaman, Quartermaster, Carpenter, and finished up as a Petty Officer, with three medals to pin to his dress uniform (if he had claimed them). During the Second World War, he was torpedoed more than once; and spent several long periods based in Port Said, at the northern end of the Suez Canal.
I am fortunate to have his photograph album of his time in the Merchant Navy, and a handful of the precious letters he wrote to my grandmother. They were long letters to his “Dearest, Darling Babsy,” and they somehow managed to be both polite and also full of emotional anguish. From the SS Fort Erie on September 25, 1943, he writes:
Thanks a lot for the unexpected pleasure of having a letter from you so soon. You have no idea how it cheered me up or how many times I have read it, but I understand all that’s in it my love, and like you feel the pain of being parted, can’t say I like the idea very much either however things are cracking up a bit now and I suppose everyone will have to do a share.
Although he returned home on leave, his children, my mother and uncle, were born while he was away from England. In another letter to my grandmother, this one dated September 25, 1943, just before my mother’s second birthday, he writes:
I have been puzzling over something to make for our little girl, dear, but as yet haven’t decided on anything. What would I give to see her now and hold her. I expect she can talk a bit by now dear and I bet she speaks as pretty as she looks. She’s certainly a picture dear, just like her mother.
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