My grandparents, as told by my mother:

My father, Ernest F. Stephens (always called "Steve") was born in London, January 1909, the son of a Welsh coal-miner turned construction worker and an Irish farm girl who went to London and worked as a domestic servant in an upper-class household. Dad was the youngest of seven children (4 girls, 3 boys, in that order.) He completed high school at 14 but college or university was not available to him so he joined what was then the Royal Flying Corps intent on improving himself. (1923) He became what was called an "aircraft fitter" which was in essence a mechanic, and learned to fly in a Sopwith Camel. In 1928 he considered returning to civilian life but the depression had started and his father, brothers and brothers-in-law were all unemployed, so he re-enlisted and was promptly posted to the Middle East and bounced around that area from station to station for several years, during which time he learned Arabic and Farsi as well as French, and learned as much as he could about the history and culture of Persia (now Iran) Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and the Holy Land. He even read the Quran. He also went India returning to England in 1935. By then he was a sergeant in what was now called the Royal Air Force. The same year he met my mother and they married in February 1936.

My mother's name was Dorothy May Maidlow, although she was always called Shirley by her siblings, and her parents were refugees from Europe (German father, French mother) who came to England in 1915. My mother was actually born in Lugano, Switzerland, (May 1915) as her parents were on their way out of Europe. She was also the youngest child of her family, the 13th. Her father died when she was only eight and her mother when she was 15, so she went to live with one of her older sisters who was married. She had no formal education beyond high school but was very bright and a fine pianist and water-colour artist. When she married my father she did what was considered normal at the time and became a full-time homemaker. Told that she could have no children, in 1937 she and my father adopted my older brother, (also nicknamed Steve when he joined the Royal Navy at the age of 15).

In 1938 when Nazism was making life very difficult for German Jews, my parents fostered half a dozen Jewish refugee children who had been separated from their parents. (Luckily, in the end, all were reunited) When WW2 began in 1939, my brother was one of thousands of children from Britain's main cities who were sent to live in Wales to keep them safe from expected air-raids. (As it turned out, he was cared for by a family who spoke no English so when he returned home he spoke only Welsh and had to learn English all over again.)

At the time the war began, only officers could become RAF pilots, and to be an officer you had to have a university education and/or come from the moneyed classes. However, due to the shortage of skilled pilots, it was decided that sergeants could be trained and put into action. Thus my father became one of "The Few", the pilots who fought the battle of Britain in 1940, who beat the much larger, more experienced Luftwaffe. At this time, my mother joined the Women's Royal Air Corps in what was basically a secretarial position, but due to her above average intelligence she was recruited to work at Bletchley Park where she became one of the "girls" who eventually broke the Enigma code, along with other codes in use by the Germans.

After the Battle of Britain, my father was posted to a number of bases both at home and abroad, where he worked in his capacity as an aircraft mechanic but also took advanced courses that qualified him as an aeronautical engineer. While stationed in Gibraltar he was in charge of cannibalizing the remains of 250 aircraft that were damaged in the North African campaign - he built 50 complete airplanes from the pieces and parts. He was also stationed briefly in Malta, which was horribly bombarded by the Germans, in Libya and Egypt, and in 1941 he was sent back to Persia where he witnessed the coronation of the Shah of Iran. He was sent to Italy (Sicily) in 1943. There, he learned Italian and in 1944 he was on the Italian mainland when Vesuvius erupted and he also visited Pompeii and Rome.

In my father's absence my mother continued her work at Bletchley, and then (I'm not sure of the date) got my brother back from Wales. In 1943 she returned from work one day to find her house (and the entire block on which it had stood) destroyed in an air-raid. The only surviving item was a souvenir cup from 1911 commemorating the Coronation of King George V and Queen Mary which had belonged to her mother and is now in my possession. (It's a little chipped and scratched) In 1944 my mother lost another house to a V-1 rocket, while she and my brother were actually in it! She and my brother took shelter under the stairway, curled up tightly, and survived, only slightly injured, to find that the stairway was the only part of the house left standing.

In 1944 my father went to work with the French Resistance in Occupied France, a period which he did not discuss with us. The only story I heard was that he was responsible for the discovery of a German spy, posing as a member of the Maquis but felt rather badly because the young man was only 19 and was later executed.

At the end of WW2, the Royal Air Force decided to allow non-commissioned officers to go through a training programme that would allow them to become officers. My father was in the very first group chosen, and became a Flying Officer in 1946, about eighteen months before I was born in October 1947. My earliest recollections are from when I was about three, when we lived on an RAF station on Thorny Island, off the coast of Hampshire (Southern England) It was part of Coastal Command. They used seaplanes for patrolling the coast and I remember sitting on my father's lap and flying above the chalk cliffs. Since that day I've always loved aerial views of the land. In 1952, shortly after the birth of my youngest brother, my father returned from a posting in Bulawayo (now Zimbabwe, Africa) which was then part of the British Empire, with the news that the whole family was going be able to go and live there for the duration of his posting.

After we returned to England my father was appointed as the Commanding Officer of an RAF station near Liverpool, Northwest England, which was his last posting. He retired after 38 years of service. His experiences in the Middle East and Italy gave him an interest in archaeology and ancient history. He also loved gardening and until we went to live near Liverpool, he and my mother grew all the vegetables and much of the fruit that the family consumed. A couple of times a year, my father would travel to London for a meeting, and usually he took me with him. We would stay with his oldest sister and her family, and I got to see all the great sights of London, and then on the Monday we would go to a building in Whitehall, where I would sit in the lobby and read until his meeting was over. I was never told what transpired at these meetings - he just said it was related to his service in the RAF. When I was in my thirties, while visiting my parents in England, I saw a documentary on the BBC about Britain's MI5 and MI6 - and recognized the lobby where I used to wait for my Dad! Even then, my father told me nothing, other than to agree that I was right about that being the place!

For his service in the RAF my father was awarded the WW2 Service Medal, The Distinguished Service Order, (for his work in Gibraltar) The Africa Star, The Italy Star, The Long Service and Good Conduct Medal and the 1939-45 Star. My mother won the WW2 Service Medal and the 1939-45 Star.

My father passed away 12 April 1992 at the age of 84, my mother on 19 October 1995, aged 81. Had she lived a few weeks longer she would have been able to tell me the details of what she did at Bletchley and what my father did for Military Intelligence, but, having signed the Official Secrets Act she was sworn to secrecy until 31 December 1995 - and she took her oath very seriously.

I am immensely proud of both my parents. And I remember telling my father that I thought he was a remarkable person, to which he replied that he was not remarkable, that he was an ordinary man who had had a remarkable life.