This post is long overdue. About 2 months ago I returned from a trip to the UK to see my Dad, who is in a care home suffering from dementia. It had been a year since I’d seen him and I had been warned by my brothers to be prepared for a noticeable change in his condition. I don’t get to go back to the UK very often, so with my Dad’s memory not being what it was, time was of the essence.
When I saw him a year ago, his short term memory was very bad, but his memory of events a long time ago was intact; he couldn’t remember what he’d had for breakfast that morning, but he could remember World War II perfectly. We had all grown up being very familiar with Dad’s war stories. He was a navigator in an RAF squadron on De Haviland Mosquitos, receiving basic training in Canada and then being stationed in Burma for the duration of the war.
The De Haviland Mosquito was quite an interesting airplane. It was a fast and lightweight bomber with some combat ability. The bulk of it was constructed from laminated plywood, which posed some problems when they first got it out to the heat and humidity in Burma. The humidity caused the plywood frame to warp and the glue to dissolve. Dad had some great stories about flying in these planes. They had used to “hedge-hop” which involved flying low in order to avoid enemy radar. On one occasion, this particular practice didn’t go so well when a wing was clipped by a telephone wire, damaging it and causing a swift emergency landing. Dad’s logbook tells some vivid tales. Practice runs are detailed in blue, while ops that were the “real thing” were written in red. It made for dramatic reading.
Although my brothers and I grew up listening to Dad recount these stories many times, it occurred to me that there will come a time when I’m not able to ask him to tell me a story one more time. So I took a small voice recorder with me to capture these stories once and for all. I was also interested to see how well Dad remembered his morse code. He had learnt it as part of his basic training and remembered it throughout his adult life. As a kid, I always knew when Dad was driving into the school parking lot to pick me up, because I’d hear the car horn blaring CQ CQ de G4IFA (my UK callsign). Dad thought it was hilarious and well, it was pretty funny. I already had quite a bit of camera gear, including all the batteries and chargers as well as the voice recorder, so I didn’t want to add too much extra equipment. I ended up fitting a small buzzer and a 9 volt battery into an Altoids tin and putting that in my suitcase, along with a KK-1 Straight Key. How do you think this came across to airport security personnel?
Well, I went through 6 airports and had some explaining to do in 3 of them. In one case, I had to plug the KK-1 key in to demonstrate that it really was just a morse code buzzer. Add to that the fact that my carry on bag was full of cameras, batteries, and a digital voice recorder, plus the fact that I was wearing a metal knee brace under my jeans, and you can see that I had a ball in every airport I went through.
After I had been through 5 of the 6 airports, I discovered that this multi-purpose tool which had been sitting at the bottom of my carry-on bag had not been picked up by any of the x-ray gear or hand searches of my bag:
Wow. I didn’t even know it was sitting at the bottom of my bag. It had been left over from a radio excursion to the top of Vollmer Peak a few months earlier.
Long story short – after a few tentative practice runs with the diminutive KK-1 straight key, my Dad sent the entire alphabet almost perfectly, only having a little trouble mixing up the letters q and y (a problem I have experienced also.) Despite the fact that his short term memory is pretty much gone, as is much of his long term memory, he can still remember the morse code he learnt about 70 years ago. Pretty impressive!