Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory by Keggie Carew
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Tom Carew was quite an amazing guy; at the age of 24 he parachuted into Nazi-occupied France as part of a secret operation with the codename Jedburgh. As secret agents went, he was bold and talented and unbelievable brave and caused lots of disruption; he even managed to escape from the Germans after having been captured. Having completed a successful mission he next destination was Burma, a place that would forge his reputation, making him somewhat of a legend as ‘Lawrence of Burma’ or the ‘Mad Irishman’. His exploits culminated in the award of a Distinguished Service Order (DSO), the youngest officer to ever obtain this.
To Keggie though he was just her dad. She was proud of his record during the war, even though she didn’t always understand what he had done, nor the significance of his actions. He had a liberal view of school, taking her out to take part in activities and providing the school with dubious reasons why. Her parents then split, and with the arrival of a step-mother on the scene, it meant that the strong bond she once had with her father, had gone. This gap lasted far too long, but in 2003 her step mother passed away and they pretty much picked up where they left off. She accompanied him to a Jedburgh reunion to meet up with lots of other veterans, their attitude to life and refusal to defer to authority was quite refreshing and it prompted Keggie to start to begin to sift through the files in his loft to learn more about his wartime antics. What suddenly made this uncovering of her father’s history more urgent was that Tom had suffered a series of small strokes and was starting to show signs of the long decline into dementia. And as Tom’s memories ebbed away, Keggie began to recover them through the documents.
It is a complex story that Keggie tells about her father and family. She weaves together the plight of her father as he forgets who his children are with the drama and excitement of the behind lines war activities. He was quite an amazing man and his military achievements gained him a DSO, but after the war, he found it hard to settle into regular life as a civilian. Even in his care home, he managed to cause a certain amount of chaos. Keggie’s writing is immersive and at times dense, the section about his military work in Burma was almost as hard to get through as hacking your way through a jungle there, but she writes with a warmth and generosity about her father, a man who was a genuine character and hero.
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