Hampshire author Graham Kent

Although the pandemic might not have the world in the same chokehold it once did, its effects and impact are still being felt worldwide.


While this is a mixture of negative and positive, it’s still encouraging to hear of how so many people put lockdown to good use and spent their time in creative and worthwhile pursuits. We’ve published many stories about people who used their enforced time at home to harbour long-held ambitions – writing novels, researching projects, finally realising their passion project – and local author Graham Kent combined all of these things as he spent his lockdown writing a biography about the life of his grandfather, William James Kent.


“I inherited his Royal Navy ditty box when he died,” Graham explains. His grandfather had kept all kinds of paperwork in the box, including his service records and a diary he had written while serving in the North Russian Relief force in 1919. The North Russian Relief Force, which was also known as the Archangel Campaign, was a mission organised with the aim of rescuing Allied troops from North Russia.


William did not speak about his time in the army – “He came from a generation that seldom talked about their past,” Graham says, “and while he was alive I never asked” – so it was a surprise for his grandson to discover what an interesting life his relative had led. This was the situation for many ex-soldiers, many of whom had experienced wartime horrors that a modern civilian audience can barely imagine. People were expected to keep silent and to just get on with things; sharing one’s emotions was not seen as healthy or polite, so even survivors of the most terrible traumas were discouraged from sharing their experiences, no what the cost to their mental health.


It was during lockdown that Graham retrieved the ditty box from the back of a cupboard and realised what a valuable resource had been left to him.


William’s diary provided a fascinating jumping-off point for Graham’s own research, and he dived headfirst into discovering more about his grandfather. As well as studying William’s papers, he combed the internet for more information and spoke to various family members to collect their memories.


For Graham Kent, it was fascinating to look back at the life of a man who was not only a family member but who had lived through incredible social and political upheaval and was born into a world that, in many ways, was completely alien to our modern one. “He was born when Queen Victoria was on the throne and before man had learnt to fly – and before he died, man had landed on the moon! Life in the 20th century changed so dramatically from candlelit homes to electricity, radio, TV, and even the cinema becoming part of normal life.”


After his service in the First World War was over, William became a firefighter in World War Two. He married, raised a family, and died in 1990.


Graham has been “amazed and very pleased” by the response to his book. Requests for copies have come from as far afield as New Zealand and Gibraltar. Graham has started work on his second book, a work of local history which is provisionally titled “Discovering Grove Road”.


Anyone wishing to buy a copy of “The life and times of William James Kent” can contact Graham Kent by email at [email protected]. The book costs £10, and £2 of each sale will be donated to Alzheimer’s Research.

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