♪♪ -Millions of our grandparents were caught up in conflicts that shaped the 20th century.
-"We'd finally been released.
I was only about seven stone by this time.
I thought we were all going to die."
Yeah, it gets you, doesn't it?
[ Laughs ] -It does.
It really does.
-Now four international stars retrace their family footsteps across the globe.
-"Granddad was sitting with a gun, with instructions to shoot."
That must have been very difficult for my granddad.
That's going against every fatherly instinct.
-They uncover their grandparents' extraordinary stories.
-Your grandmother was here in one of the most historic moments of the 20th century.
-Oh, my goodness.
I never knew that.
-So, my grandfather's job was to keep an eye on Edward the abdicated king.
-Yes, he's MI5 and MI6.
-You can categorically say... -[ Laughs ] -...that my grandfather was a spy?
-He absolutely was a spy.
-[ Laughs ] What was she doing at a castle?!
[ Laughs ] Why are we at a castle?!
-I mean, that's mind-blowing.
That's her voice.
-They discover how their grandparents' experiences of war changed their own lives.
-We are memories passed down, experiences passed down.
Those traumas, those joys of his life live in me somewhere.
-That's what you pass on to your grandchildren, that surviving spirit.
God, it's really got me.
♪♪ O This program was made possible, in part, by MyHeritage.
And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.
I'm Keira Knightley.
This is where my grandmother, Jan grew up, in Glasgow.
I think what's amazing about this place is, it's obviously the base of the early days of my grandparents' romance during the Second World War.
I think, you know, either she would have been, sort of, I imagine, sneaking out this gate to go and see him, or maybe, he would have been waiting somewhere out here.
This is Jan and my grandfather, Mac, in 1942, in this very garden.
I've grown up with a family story, that when Glasgow was hit by Nazi planes, Mac braved the bombs to make sure he wasn't late for a date with my grandmother.
This is a generation of youth that were constantly exposed to violence and the prospect of death.
And yet, what they managed to do is maybe the most important thing there, is, if you've got a date with a girl, that you grab onto that, that you grab onto the excitement of life and love and laughter.
Um, even when there is death, maybe especially when there is death falling from the sky.
But World War II would tear my grandparents' blossoming romance apart.
My grandfather set sail from the banks of the River Clyde and fought in some of the Navy's deadliest battles.
♪♪ Mac sadly died before I was born, but I was incredibly close to my grandmother.
This is me, aged 3, with Jan. She's a huge influence on my life, and even though she was only 5'1", was like, she was there, like, in a big way.
We're a family of very strong women.
My Mum says when I argue, I can be very like her but fortunately, I laugh a lot more.
[ Laughs ] So, she said, "That's your saving grace."
It was like, thanks a lot.
If I'm feeling particularly unpowerful, I'll always think of her and be like, "Okay, come on, put your red lipstick on, put your heels on... get a beehive, and stride, and just keep going."
Growing up, I would spend every weekend with Jan. She was always exotic.
She smoked cigarettes with a very long, black, cigarette holder, and she was always in high heels.
I was a very scruffy kid.
I didn't wear skirts until I was 14.
I was a real tomboy, and she didn't like that.
But I never for a moment doubted that she loved me.
I've heard Jan volunteered during the war, but I know little about what she did.
I never spoke to my grandmother about the war.
She died when I was 11, and I think it wasn't until later that I was really like, ugh, I would have liked to have had a good conversation with you.
It's a period of time that I find endlessly fascinating.
I've acted in a lot of films set in World War II, and yet, I've never actually looked into exactly what my own family went through.
To find out more about my grandparents' war, I've come back to my childhood home to meet my Mum, Sharman.
-Hello, it's good to see you!
-You all right?
She's got a treasure trove of family photos and letters dating back decades.
This is a very big box, -Are you ready for that?
-There you go.
Thank you very much.
-There we go.
On the table.
Okay, look, I've got... -Yeah, what've you got?
Oh, my God!
-Look at that.
Okay, so... -Oh, this is weird.
-So, that's you.
Jan desperately disapproved of scruffy you.
-It's 'cause she wanted hair like that!
-Yeah, you didn't like having your hair brushed.
-No, but I think I'd shout at you, whereas I don't imagine that I shouted at her.
-Look at what you're letting her do.
-No, I know and she's putting a clip in the side, which must have been agony.
Mum has told me that Jan's strong personality was what Mac loved most about her.
-Look at her.
-She seemed powerful.
-What does it say?
-Together: "All my love, always, yours, Jan." -So, she used to sign, "Forever and always.
Love, forever and always."
Every year, in her diary, he used to write -- let me think -- "Is it not strange that I, who forget so much, should remember your voice, your touch, and the way of the wind in your hair."
-So it was every year, he was -- -They must have been quite something.
-Well, he loved her to bits and pieces.
He really did.
All her life.
And gloried in her, in her voice, in her excess, in her flamboyance.
And they had parties all through their life.
So, what I remember of my dad is the smell of the tobacco.
Old Holborn, he used to smoke, in a pipe.
-Is that a pipe?
-And was his hair, is that Brylcreem?
-That's Brylcreem, yeah.
So, this is his record of service.
He signed on for the Royal Navy for 12 years in 1934.
It's been carried around for years and years and years.
So, that's a list of all the ships he was on.
So, in 1939, he was on Wolverine.
-Did you ever ask him about his -- his -- -His service?
-I don't remember ever asking about him about his service.
-You don't know actually what battles he was part of, or like, anything like that?
-I know the ships, but I don't know the battles.
He never described any of the battles.
He did say that a torpedo had gone off in his ear.
-So, was he deaf in one ear?
-He wasn't deaf, deaf, but his hearing was duller than it should have been.
But he was -- he never was anything else but fascinated by the sea, and any war film that used to come onto the television, he and I would watch together, even into my teenage years.
So, he was a proper navy man, yeah.
-It was nice getting a sense of him and a sense of them, as a couple.
My mum's side, I mean, they weren't posh.
I think I've made a career of playing posh English, so I feel like I'm never gonna work again.
Suddenly it's like, oh, no.
[ Laughs ] It's all fake.
♪♪ When Britain declared war against Nazi Germany in September 1939, my grandfather, Mac, already had years of naval experience.
I've come to one of the last surviving World War II ships, HMS Belfast, to meet naval historian Kate Jamieson.
She's been researching my grandfather's role during the first few months of World War II.
-So, I've got a picture here of the Wolverine... -Oh, so this is it?
-...so you can get some idea of what she looked like, yep.
And, so, this is where, the equivalent of where we are on the Belfast right now, at the bridge.
-Yeah, I see.
-And we've also got the service record of Mac, your grandfather.
-See what he got up to in the Navy.
You can see here, he went to Osprey, and that's where you would do your anti-submarine training.
-So, why would he -- why would he have been doing anti-submarine training?
-He was an ASDIC operator.
So, it's what we would call sonar nowadays.
-So, he would be listening for U-boats.
-Anything that would threaten the convoy that he was protecting as part of the destroyer.
-What would be in the convoys?
-Troops, supplies, things to help the war effort.
-It sounds like that's a very important role.
If you think you're listening out for the vessels that could intentionally sink your ship and those that you're protecting.
-Yeah, so the pressure must have been... -Immense.
-U-boats had a fearsome reputation and hunted in packs.
-As darkness closes down, the U-boat draws nearer.
This is one moment when the radar operators, the eyes of the convoy, should know her every movement.
One slip by the radar operator and the U-boat will be able to carry out her mission.
-In the first six months of war, U-boats sunk hundreds of Allied ships.
My Grandfather and the 130-strong crew of the Wolverine were part of the first line of defense.
-The ship would send out a ping.
-Based on the time that it took for the sound to go out and then come back, you'd be able to work out -- -How close it was?
-Which was really interesting.
-That must have been terrifying.
And we've got a video here to kind of show you the role that your grandfather was doing.
-From the senior ship, a message flickers.
Submarine in the vicinity.
Carry out a sweep.
[ Pinging ] Hang on to it, follow it.
Don't lose it.
We're coming about.
[ Pinging rapidly ] Definitely a sub sir.
Quite close to us.
Keep after it.
We'll swing right over and start blasting.
-It really hits you on a sort of animal level, that sound, of just getting more and more and more and more stressful and intense.
-I don't know.
It makes me feel quite panicky, that noise.
I think I don't quite know how I would be able to kind of... -I think that's one of the things that's great about the fact that your grandfather had a few years' experience by that point.
-Maybe the training helps you to... -The training would have helped, and he would have had more practice in picking up those sounds.
♪♪ -He must have had nerves of steel.
I mean, quite literally, you're listening to something coming towards you that is trying to kill you.
Could I imagine having the nerve that it must have taken, you know, to be listening to that coming closer and closer and closer and closer and closer, and to keep your cool?
You just kind of go ha!
That's what he lived with.
My grandfather would soon be thrown into a catastrophic battle that would bring down the British government.
♪♪ Just seven months into World War II, my grandfather, Mac, and the crew of HMS Wolverine were scrambled across the treacherous North Sea.
-Britain, an expeditionary force was made ready at incredibly short notice to leave for the war zone.
Aggression had spread north to Scandinavia.
-Hitler had caught Britain off guard, as 10,000 Nazi troops swept into Norway.
-Germany has landed troops in Narvik, Bergen, Trondheim, Oslo.
♪♪ I'm going to the Churchill War Rooms to meet Professor Joe Maiolo, an expert on the Norway Campaign.
-Hi, I'm Keira.
Nice to meet you.
-Hey, Joe, nice to meet you.
Ah, so, tell me about this.
Well, welcome to the map room.
This was the nerve center of the war and of course, they would have been able to track each campaign, and particularly, of course, your grandfather's campaign, which is the Norwegian campaign.
-So, what are we doing in Norway?
-We're trying to prevent Germany from securing its supply of iron ore. -Okay, what's iron ore used for?
-To make steel.
So it's fundamental to the war economy.
-Oh, right, okay.
-Your grandfather, Mac, was involved in what was one of the most important opening campaigns of the war in Europe.
-When my grandfather arrived in the spring of 1940, Norway's ports were in flames.
The German air force inflicted heavy losses.
Within two months, 25,000 Allied soldiers needed to be evacuated.
-Your grandfather, Mac, would have been at the last stage of the campaign at Narvik.
We've got a clip here, and it's really quite dramatic.
-In the face of the naval anti-aircraft fire, the German bombers kept too high to be filmed.
In consequence, their bomb aiming was not so good.
But it was good enough to keep the evacuation lively.
-It's so funny, because what did he say?
"Enough to keep it lively."
[ Laughing ] Yeah, that's sort of -- -Most amazing understatement I've ever heard.
It's amazing, you can see the bombs dropping.
♪♪ This would have been your grandfather's experience, too.
-Hell in frozen water.
-In just 61 days, 4,500 Brits were killed or wounded in Norway.
-One thing that's really important about the Norwegian Campaign, is the perception of the rest of the world.
So, I have some interesting newspaper clips, and we've got the big headline here... -"British Flee Norway."
-"British Flee Norway."
And that claim -- -It's big, actually, isn't it?
Look, 'cause it's "Entire Country Except Narvik Abandoned."
It's seen as a defeat.
-The perception is it is absolutely a defeat.
-The chaotic campaign in Norway forced Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain to resign.
He was replaced by Winston Churchill.
-We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind.
You ask, what is our policy?
I will say, it is to wage war by sea, land, and air with all our might, and with all the strength that God can give us.
♪♪ -My grandfather didn't talk about Norway, but others managed to pass on their experience.
-Are you Nick?
-Yes, I am.
Nice to meet you.
-Nice to meet you.
-I'm at the home of the Irish Guards to meet Nick Pairs.
His very existence is inextricably linked to my grandfather and the crew of HMS Wolverine.
-This is my grandfather, and he was an Irish Guard.
-Oh, wow, look.
This is him in the uniform.
-What was going on with your grandfather?
-My grandfather was on a ship called the Chrobry, which was taking the Irish Guards up through Norway.
-And it was heavily bombed.
-I've got a picture of it here.
-So, it took a real hit.
-And what was that from?
-Yes, German bombers.
It made a real mess of the top.
But the Wolverine was near enough to save a lot of men from the Chrobry.
-So, how many people did they get off?
The Wolverine managed to save around 700 men.
-Yeah, from the Chrobry.
They really packed them onto the Wolverine, which your grandfather was on.
-Yeah, but they managed to do that in like 14 or 15 minutes I think, so... -They got 700 people off in like 15 minutes?
-And all scrambling, ship to ship.
Obviously, the Chrobry goes down eventually.
-And the Wolverine heads back to shore, but constantly under attack.
-Wow, so they're attacked again?
-Yeah, from air.
-So you think you've done this crazy mission of saving people, and then you're still -- you're still in the middle of a battle and being attacked.
-My grandfather came back from the war quite a morose man.
-For obvious reasons.
-For obvious reasons, yeah.
-I think he never really brought it up again.
-But he was an avid artist and poet.
So, he wrote a short story of "Chrobry's Last Cruise."
"The dull thuds of exploding bombs above woke me and set mental alarm bells ringing."
So, he was fast asleep when these bombs dropped.
-"Racing upwards along passages and gangways, I eventually arrived into open air at Chrobry's stern.
She was on fire, her funnel wreathed an acrid, black smoke."
-So, he woke up into hell, yeah.
-To chaos, yeah.
So, he goes on to say about your grandfather's -- the Wolverine, as it pulls up, "Our saviors being the gallant captain and crew of an escorting destroyer, HMS Wolverine."
So, he saw them as his heroes.
-Yeah, that's amazing.
-"...which came alongside Chrobry, which was full of I know not how much war materiel and in imminent danger of exploding."
Just crazy, isn't it.
No wonder they didn't talk when they got back.
-No, I know.
-If your granddad hadn't been on the Wolverine and picked up my grandfather... well, there wouldn't be any me, would there?
-We wouldn't be speaking today.
-I mean it's extraordinary, isn't it, 'cause it's just fate.
It's just luck that you're at the bottom of the ship when the top is hit.
-Oh, God, it's all so arbitrary.
And the fact that that's just the beginning of the war... My grandfather thankfully made it back to Scotland alive.
Weeks later, France fell.
Most of Western Europe was now under Nazi control.
Britain faced the very real threat of invasion.
Throughout the country, over half a million women volunteered to bolster Britain's war effort.
One of those women was my grandmother, Jan.
But I don't know what she did or where she worked.
I'm in the Western Highlands, 200 miles from my grandmother's home in Glasgow.
I have absolutely no idea what my grandmother would have been doing here.
I mean, this is very far away from anything.
[ Chuckles ] What was she doing at a castle?!
Why are we at a castle?!
♪♪ ♪♪ -Hello, welcome to Duncraig Castle.
-Thank you, I'm Keira.
-Lovely to meet you.
-Hey, nice to meet you, Lorna.
Lorna Steele-McGinn, from the Highland Archive, has been researching my grandmother's time here.
So, what am I doing here!
Well, Duncraig Castle was used as a naval hospital through the duration of the Second World War.
If you want to have a look at this picture, you might be able to recognize somebody standing outside it.
-There's a lot of people to look at.
There she is.
She's sitting down at the bottom.
-Front row with a big smile on her face.
-Do you want to wander over and see if we can find exactly where she was standing?
-Yeah, go on.
-And stand, recreate it.
-Yeah, let's recreate it.
-So I think she must have been somewhere in front of those doors.
-Oh, this is extraordinary.
It's very funny because I knew she was doing something in the war, but I really wouldn't put her... -Here.
The Royal Navy converted the castle into a hospital in 1939.
Throughout the war, hundreds of injured military personnel were treated here.
It's so quiet now, but I want to know exactly what my gran did here.
-Okay, so the next thing we have to show you is this document here, which you might want to have a wee look at.
-Start up here.
-Okay, the name -- Williams.
-And you can see here what her role was.
-Yeah, so she was part of the administration of making the hospital run and work.
-So she's here 19th June 1940.
-And she stayed for around about a year here.
-She was a part of the VAD, which is the Volunteer Aid Detachment.
There were around 15,000 people, who worked in the VAD.
-Right, women, yeah.
-And they were civilians who would support military nurses.
-It must have been very traumatic.
And to be put in a position where you're having to deal with that every single day, it's really kind of mentally... -Intense.
-Very, very intense.
Jan never talked about her time here.
-So, this is one of the only parts that is as it was when your gran was here.
Or of any of the patients she helped.
-We've been in contact with someone who was a patient here at the time your gran was here.
-You see your gran in the picture?
-Yeah, she's, again... -Straightaway!
-I mean, looking like she's having a great time.
-Yeah, and the man next to her is a man called John, with his arm round her.
-With his arm round her.
-Who was a patient here at the time.
We've been in touch with John's family, and they've written you a letter... -Oh!
-"Dear Keira, my father, John Bullough, was in the RAF during the war.
He appears in the photograph with his arm around a lady, who I understand is your grandmother.
In September 1940, he was on a lorry traveling by ferry to the Isle of Skye.
The ferry capsized and began to sink.
He was pulled down to the seabed, but somehow managed to free himself and escape.
My father, John, spent a few months recovering at Duncraig and was well looked after there.
With kind regards, Ian Bullough."
They looked like they really got on.
-They do, they look like they were having a laugh in amongst all the trauma.
-I think this is a very, very beautiful place.
It must have been so strange being here and yet there is such destruction and such tragedy going on around it.
Thinking about the character of my gran, I think she would have been able to find laughter and connection with people, and I can imagine that she would have fitted very well into that.
♪♪ Jan left Duncraig in the Spring of 1941 and returned to her family home in Glasgow.
By now, the city was under siege from Nazi bombers.
My grandparents told my mum how they met.
-The story goes that he was in Port Glasgow, and there was an air raid, so it was either go to a shelter and not get killed, or it was be late for my mother.
So, he decided that being late for my mother was much the worst option.
-So, he crawled up the middle of the street, on the cobbles, on his belly, to keep himself away from the -- -During an actual air raid?
-During an actual air raid, in order to get to my mother and not be late.
-I mean, she really was terrifying, wasn't she?
She was more terrifying than an air raid!
He loved her to bits.
I definitely feel a massive through line between my grandmother, my mother, me, and my daughters.
My daughter is this kind of ex-- my oldest one, she's this explosion of personality, and you know, I look at her and my mum looks at her and we both go, "Whoop, there she is."
♪♪ But my grandparents' lives would soon be rocked by the revelation that Mac's younger brother, Wilf, was missing in action.
♪♪ I've come to Cardiff, to a place, I'm told, is precious to my family.
♪♪ ♪♪ So, it says, "Mrs. Lily MacDonald, your son, Wilfred MacDonald... deeply regret to inform you that ship in which he... the Battle of the Java Seas..." Ugh, God.
Wilf was fighting the Japanese over 7,000 miles away, off the coast of Indonesia, when his ship, the HMS Stronghold was sunk.
It took another five months before my grandfather learnt about his fate.
♪♪ "Dear Doreen, yes, it is bad news about Wilf, but we must not take it too much to heart.
The kid was not the mourning type, and I don't think, knowing him, that he would appreciate it.
The fight the Stronghold made against superior odds will go down in naval history, not that that is much comfort to those of us who knew and loved Wilf.
It is of great sorrow to me that he never met Jan, and I'm sure he would have like her.
Chin up to us, Doreen, my dear, Cheerio, all the best, Mac.
Snuggles, Jan." Ugh.
Mac's sort of extraordinary.
"Right, yep, it's bad news, this is what it is."
It's the letter and the conversation that so many people at that point are having, but that you don't want to -- never want to have.
Just four months later, my great grandfather, William, was hit by a van during an air raid blackout.
He died on Christmas Day.
Ah, God, what a year.
I think the letters are extraordinary.
You do get that sense, with Mac, that you're protecting the younger siblings, and I think that's the thing, is it's like, you know, we all go, "Oh, well, at least he died as a hero."
You think... but he died.
You think about that in a house like this, you know, with brothers of similar ages growing up, and one doesn't come back.
Yeah, it's very visceral.
It's very visc-- Yeah, and I think, probably, it's quite visceral because you get a sense of, like, of a bunch of lads, who were sort of really close and have had a laugh, and one of the dies in the South Java Sea.
And he probably didn't even know what he was doing there.
And he didn't go down in naval history.
So, what the...was it for?
We know what it was for.
I don't think that would make your mum feel any better.
I wouldn't feel any better.
♪♪ ♪♪ Mac had little time to mourn the death of his younger brother and father.
He was serving 400 miles away on a naval base in Scotland.
Britain had been transformed by the arrival of over 1.5 million American forces passing through its docks.
-I am Sarah.
Lovely to meet you.
-Nice to meet you, Sarah.
Military historian Sarah-Louise Miller has been researching how the arrival of American soldiers impacted my grandparents' lives.
So, what are we doing here?
-We are in Greenock.
So, this coastline here is a tremendously significant and important location, as far as the Second World War goes.
-You get thousands of Americans coming through this coastline, and involved in that effort are both your grandparents.
-So, your Grandfather Mac and Grandma Jan. -Oh, wow, okay, right here?
-And what are they doing?
-So, we know that Mac was working around here... -Yeah.
-...on multiple anti-submarine warfare bases.
And Grandma Jan is working here with the US Army.
This is summer, 1943.
You need to move tremendous numbers of troops, coming in across the Atlantic, to help with the Allied war effort.
So, when you need to move that many people, you need a lot of organization behind the scenes.
-What exactly did Jan do?
-Would you like to have a read of this?
-This is a reference from one of Jan's superiors.
-So, it says, "To whom it may concern, Miss Janet Rewat Williams has been employed as my secretary for the past eight months.
In the operation of troop movements, Miss Williams engaged in the actual operational activities of this office, which called for a great deal of initiative, tact, and good sound judgment.
Miss Williams is neat and pleasing in appearance.
Her alert and intelligent way of handling her job makes her a valuable part of any office."
That is a lovely document and it's lov-- She was clearly very good at what she did.
-Very, and it's an unusual document in some ways, because that document actually acknowledges what Jan is doing is going above and beyond what's expected and asked of her.
-We actually have another one.
-This is from another superior.
-"Miss Williams, by her untiring efforts and devotion to duty, proved to be an able assistant concerning the movement of troops, all of which were of a secret nature.
The work of Miss Williams was errorless throughout."
Wow, so that's kind of -- that's amazing.
-That is amazing, yeah.
-That's amazing, yeah.
-And, obviously, from the dates in that document, we know that she was working through D-Day because there's a tremendous number of troops in Scotland, in this area, who then have to be moved, very secretly, to the South Coast, to the ports that they're gonna leave from for the D-Day landings.
-How did they move that many people secretly?
-Because Jan was good at her job.
-Because Jan was good at her job, yeah.
-And her colleagues.
So, Jan's part of the unseen workforce that made most of what the allies did to take back Europe possible.
-It's very important.
-It's how you win wars.
-I think women's roles are so sort of belittled an afterthought.
You sort of look at secretary and you look at clerk, and it sort of doesn't tell any of the story at all.
In her reference, the fact that they call her "errorless."
I don't think I've been errorless in my life!
[ Laughing ] I mean, I think she would have liked that.
And then, it says "neat and pleasing."
Now, I mean, you know, if that was me, I'd be really offended.
I'd be really like, "Really?
I've done all that, and actually, on my reference, you're talking about how neat and pleasing I am?"
But being part of the organization of all of that, that's the difference between winning and losing in a war, and, so, I'm really proud she was a part of that.
She is a formidable woman in my memory, and I'm glad that there's a shape of her as a young woman coming into being.
But Jan's life would soon be turned upside down, when, like Mac, she discovered her younger brother, Andrew, was missing in action.
♪♪ My Grandmother, Jan, was extremely close to her younger brother, Andrew, having nursed him as a sickly child.
He recovered, and as a young man, joined the RAF.
But in 1943, my grandmother received news that Andrew had been shot down over Germany.
I've come to the RAF museum, where historian Harry Raffal has delved into the archive to unearth what happened to Andrew.
-Hi, I'm Keira.
-Nice to meet you.
-Nice to meet you.
-This is the Halifax Mk.
II, which is the same type of bomber which your grandmother's brother would have flown.
-This one crashed.
It was hit by flack as it came into attack.
It's actually the only all- original Halifax in the country.
-I mean it's an extr-- it's just an extraordinary thing.
-You can't escape the cost of war looking at it.
-This is a picture of Andrew at the front, with his crew.
This Is so weird 'cause I haven't seen many pictures of him.
He's a good-looking chap.
My grandmother's youngest brother had joined the most dangerous of the three armed forces.
-This is where Andrew would have been aiming the bombs from.
You can see the damage which this one's taken.
-In bomber command, half of all aircrew never returned home.
But this bit?
-But this bit, so he'd have been lying down on the inside.
-He wouldn't -- Sorry wait, he's -- What?
He's lying down... -Lying down.
-...sort of here?
-Yeah, he'd have had an electronic switch, he'd have hit that, the bombs would have dropped, and obviously, this is key to making sure the mission's successful because, if you aren't dropping your bombs at the right time, then you don't get the concentration needed to destroy the target which you're attacking.
In this case, it was a target in Essen, in Germany.
-450 acres of working Essen were devastated in the attack by the RAF.
-Essen was home to a vast armaments factory, but it was heavily defended by Nazi Germany.
Andrew's plane was shot down on his 8th bombing raid.
-This is a bomber loss card.
-"Hit by flack nearing the target area and abandoned from 17,000 feet."
[ Gasps ] Wait, they jumped out at 17,000 feet?
-Andrew would have been one of the first out because the escape hatch is just behind him.
-Well, that was lucky.
The reason why they had the time to get out is because the pilot is holding the controls, he keeps the aircraft steady, gives them the time to get out.
So, he knows it's going down, and at that point, the speed drops off and it gets very close to stalling speed.
It's gonna just... -Stalling speed.
-Oh, my God.
-So, as soon as he decides to stay at the controls, to give the others the chance to get out, he was going to die.
-Oh, my God.
"Sergeant Charlebois held the controls steady in order to give his crew every opportunity to escape.
He is buried in the Reichswald Forest War Cemetery."
And, so, the rest of them, they would have had parachutes on and parachuted out?
-At the time, my grandmother didn't hear about Andrew's fate for several weeks.
I think my grandmother had incredible strength.
Would it have broken her to hear about Andrew?
They were very close.
I think there's no doubt that she would have felt it.
And I suppose the worst thing is you just never know.
I think the never knowing must be -- must be very hard.
♪♪ To find out what happened next to Andrew, I'm meeting his son and my distant cousin, Brian.
How are you?
-Brian, I'm very well.
-Come in, come in.
-How are you doing?
We've never spoken about this chapter in our family history.
Now, wait a minute, you've got lots of documents on the table.
-Yes, I have.
-That's very exciting.
What's the telegram you've got over there?
This is a telegram indicating that my father has been -- has been found.
He's no longer registered as missing.
-Right, okay, it says, "Important.
According to telegram from International Red Cross, quoting German information, your son, Sergeant Williams, previously reported missing, is now a prisoner of war.
Report states he was captured on 12th March 1943."
It's very strange 'cause, in a way, this must have -- this must have been such a huge relief.
-At least you know he's alive.
There's some pictures of the camp.
It shows what the main camp on the Polish border was like.
♪♪ -[ Sighs ] ♪♪ -And I've got an excerpt from his memoir.
Would you like me to?
-Yes, please, I want you to read it, yeah.
-Talk that one through, right.
-That would be lovely.
-"The worst thing about being in prison was the fact that you had no idea how long you were going to be there, or what would happen to you if the Germans won the war.
That and the thought you might never see your family again.
There were things that made you depressed.
I used to stand inside the mesh fencing and circle my eyes with my fingers, so that I could see the sky and the land outside the camp without having to look through the wire, so that I could pretend that I was free."
-That's an extraordinary thing, isn't it?
Andrew was held in appalling conditions for over 18 months.
But in 1945, as Russian troops advanced into Germany, Nazi soldiers evacuated the camp.
They forced Andrew and hundreds of POWs to march 600 miles west.
-"The weather was terrible, and we soon became weak from lack of food and sleep.
I believe it was one of the coldest winters for 25 years.
The march lasted from the 22nd of January to the 22nd of March 1945.
And then, American tanks appeared.
They'd broken through.
We went out of our hut to welcome them.
I remember staggering over to a wall..." [ Chuckles ] You read the last bit.
-"I remember staggering over to a wall and leaning back against it, sliding down to the ground and crying.
We'd finally been released.
I was only about seven stone by this time, and I'd thought we were all gonna die.
[ Inhales deeply ] Ohh-ee.
What happened to them, do you know?
-"When we flew back to Britain, the war had still two months left to run.
I was given three week's leave and got a train back to Glasgow.
From the station, I got a taxi back to Kendal Avenue.
Mum was waiting for me when I arrived home.
She came running up the street when she saw the taxi coming."
-I bet she did.
Oh, God, yeah, it gets you, doesn't it?
It really does.
I mean, it's like -- This is a generation, it's not that far away, you know.
-It's very close.
And that's sort of -- I think that's what's sort of quite extraordinary.
♪♪ My Gran would have been so relieved that Andrew made it home alive.
But while she was reunited with her younger brother, my grandfather, Mac, was left with only a memory of his.
Despite the tragedies they had faced, my grandparents remained deeply in love until Mac passed away in 1981.
This is a poem that my mum found in Jan's things, that Jan had kept, which I think was quite a popular poem of the day.
But she kept it, which I think is quite interesting.
It's... That's very moving.
"There was never a day so misty and grey, that the blue was not somewhere above it.
There is never a mountaintop so bleak, that some little flower does not love it.
There was never a night so dreary and dark, that the stars were not somewhere shining.
There is never a cloud so heavy and black, that it has not a silver lining."
It must have meant so much.
God, it's really got me.
Imagine to keep it.
It's moving 'cause it's so small.
And that's what you have to hold on to.
♪♪ I think our capacity to sort of, in the darkest moments, to find humor, to find escapism, to find, you know, things to think about that get you through, I think that's extraordinary, if that's what you pass onto your children.
♪♪ That's what you pass onto your grandchildren actually, is that sense of surviving spirit.
♪♪ They came from very ordinary backgrounds.
And very ordinary people were asked to do extraordinary, horrific things, and they did.
We have lived with the aftermath of that and it -- it can happen again.
It's happening in Ukraine right now.
You think politics aren't important?
You think it's not important to make sure that we see the humanity in each other?
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