Bitter-sweet memories of a young man who never came home….

Staff in Grimsby Local History Library were recently contacted by a lady who wanted to try and help her 85 year old mother-in-law who has dementia.  Kim Rands explained that 85 year old Olive Wharton was born in Grimsby and grew up in the town.  During the Second World War, Olive made a friend of a young lad called Tony Rands who joined the RAF.  Each time he came home on leave, she would rush round to his house and he always gave her time and welcomed her in, even though she was just six years old.  She has never forgotten him and was heartbroken when she was told that he had not come home on leave because he had been killed.  She remembers him so fondly – it was like it happened yesterday.

Kim contacted Jennie Cartwright, a development officer with Lincs Inspire Library Service to ask if she could check to see if there were any reports about the death of Tony in the local newspaper, and better still, if there was a photograph of him.  She told Jennie that Olive is so focused on that period of time and that she thought it would be extremely beneficial if Olive could see a photograph of Tony to help her with retaining memories.

There is a large collection of local historical newspapers on microfilm kept in Grimsby Local History Library so Jennie set about checking both the Grimsby News, a weekly newspaper, and the Grimsby Evening Telegraph as it was then.  Jennie said ‘ Kim had already supplied us with the date of Tony’s death which was 17th October 1940 so it was easy to go straight to that date in the newspapers and we struck lucky!’ An article had been published entitled ‘Grimsby Airman Missing.  Former pupil of St James School’ and it was accompanied by a photograph of Tony who was born in 1919.  The article, together with the photograph was scanned and sent to Kim so that she would be able to show Olive.  As Olive lived in Cromwell Road, Grimsby, Jennie also sent a copy of pages from a 1935 Grimsby and Cleethorpes Street Directory showing all the residents of Cromwell Road so Olive might also be able to recall neighbours and family friends who lived in the same street. 

The response from Kim was heart-warming.  She told us that she had taken the photo and newspaper report to Olive and she became quite emotional at seeing the photograph of Tony.  She had been very fond of him, and perhaps looked up to him as a big brother.  The memories came tumbling out.  The entries from the Street Directory also helped Olive to remember names and people she had forgotten.

One of the key objectives of Lincs Inspire is to support people with their health and wellbeing, and this enquiry and subsequent outcomes demonstrate very clearly how local history resources can be used to help people with early-stage dementia, and with reminiscence in general.  Kim and Olive are more than happy for their story to be published, and Kim hopes that someone may read this article and remember Olive.  She attended the Kitty Haydens’ Dance School and also worked at Tickler’s Jam Factory for a time before joining the WRAF and would love to hear from anyone who remembers her or has memories of Tony Rands to share.

Kim’s final comments were ‘after years of being told the Tony Rands story, it has been lovely to at last see what he looked like and fill in the gaps.  The mental health of people with Dementia and Alzheimers is so dependent on photographs, stories and events from their past. An added bonus is for families because they open up a whole store of memories and stories that they might never have known about…..those things are very important’.

Edward Anthony Gaston Rands is commemorated on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website www.cwgc.org on the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey, Panel 18 and on the list of WW2 casualties at the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln www.internationalbcc.co.uk

He was in 144 Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, and was the son of Edward Francis and Emily Annie Grayson RANDS.