By William Gaby
Towards the end of a telephone conversation with my grandmother a few weeks ago, I was startled by a surprising revelation. As if a fleeting afterthought, she revealed that her mother had recorded an oral history in the early 2000s. “It was only a very amateur recording – I can’t imagine it would be of any use to you”. Demanding that the transcript be posted immediately, a few days later I sat down to read it. The following sprang off the page:
The war ended on November 11th 1918 … but it was a year later when my father came home. During the war he was a driver to Lord Allenby in Palestine and Egypt and went to Jerusalem where he bought a Bible for us. My mother went to the station to meet my father and when he was coming in we put a record on the gramophone – ‘See the Conquering Hero Come’.
As a historian of Palestine, I was astonished. Phoning my grandmother immediately, I implored: ‘why didn’t you tell me about this sooner… please tell me you kept the Bible?’
She had not. What she had kept, however, was a small brass pot that my great-great-grandfather had also returned. Minutes later I received a photo. The pot I knew well – I had used it, for years, as it contains the key to my grandmother’s shed.
Having only decided to specialise in Palestinian history earlier this year, I was struck by the realisation that I had already touched my field of research – as an eager child trying to unlock the shed to get my toy digger.
Image: Taken from author’s personal collection.