Report of General Monthly Meeting - January 2019

My Family War by Janie Penn-Barwell


We had a memorable afternoon listening to Janie telling us about the diverse experiences of her father and uncles during the Second World War. She showed us extraordinary photographs of her family and read extracts from letters which had been carefully stored away by her mother, only to be found years later.

While stationed in the Far East, as medical officer on a destroyer, he witnessed the appalling loss of the two battleships Hood and Repulse which were sunk by Japanese planes. In particular, he remembered the amazing seamanship of the captain of the destroyer who took as many survivors as he could.

One of her uncles was a parachute regiment officer at the time of the battle at Arnhem for the Rhine bridges. We heard hair-raising stories of his capture by, and then escape from, German troops and how he was helped by the Dutch Resistance and eventually canoed down the Rhine to safety. Her family is still in touch with the then teenage daughter of the Dutch family who sheltered him.

Janie gave us many examples of her family’s war memorabilia. There were also contributions for other members regarding their families’ war experiences. One told us about the horrifying experiences of officers involved in the D-Day landings, and in particular in relation to bomb disposal. Another showed us her personal invitation to a Victory party in 1945!

This highly successful afternoon was a sobering reminder of the courage and determination showed by the generation fighting in World War II.


Julia Whitburn