Tim Kendall’s grandfather, the Reverend George Kendall OBE, famously ensured The Unknown Soldier’s safe passage to England to be buried at Westminster Abbey.
Here, Tim reflects on his efforts to bring his grandfather’s autobiography – Daring All Things – to a modern audience.
I have found it difficult to take on board the enormity of my grandfather’s experience of life since I came across this book, neatly typed in a dusty box in my aunty’s attic a few years ago: the autobiography of George Kendall OBE, ominously titled Daring All Things.
My grandfather had seldom talked about the past to my father David, who was born in 1935 when he was already 53. My father’s generation are now the last direct link to the First World War; it was their fathers and uncles who fought and died. However, in his introduction to the book, my father explains how my grandfather ‘lived in the present’ and seldom spoke about any of his past experiences. Luckily, he went one better and left his life story in words for us all…
What followed was a prolonged period of reading and researching. It took some time because his life (described in 28 chapters) encompassed a broad sweep of British history between 1881 and 1961. His opening words describe: ‘…a period full of upheavals, many of which were sudden and violent and of which many will pass in history as the greatest in mankind…’. As Cardinal Vincent Nichols describes in his insightful foreword to one of the chapters: ‘It is astonishing how Kendall had a front-row seat at some of the most significant moments in British history’.
I had to dust off my history books and join the dots of history I recalled from my school education. Such is the continuity of what we might call ‘The British establishment’, it became useful to meet with the equivalent national leaders today in order to get a feel for my grandfather’s reach of influence and the assistance that he could call on in pursuit of his pious mission: to practically and spiritually help the poor and – as a military chaplain – the injured soldiers in war and peace, and to bury all their dead reverently (whoever they may be). A number of the national leaders I met from the Christian clergy, Parliament, journalism and War studies also contributed forewords to selected chapters of the book in order to record their reflections on the man they encounter within.
My grandfather was very much an ‘Unknown Warrior’ and the bombing of the National Archives during the Second World War – together with a large bonfire in his garden after he died – made the research more taxing. However, amongst the records at the Metropolitan Archives in London; back copies of Methodist and national newspapers; TIME U.S. Magazine; on the wall of a church in South Wales; and on a pilgrimage courtesy of BBC1’s Antiques Roadshow WW1 special to the battlefields he served, I found corroboration (and more often) an expansion on his extraordinary claims.
In this modern era of easy access to the internet and sites like Wikipedia, I found it useful to ‘in an instant’ be able read on my phone more about the over 300 names he mentions and encounters in the book – some more obscure today than others. Many have no footprint at all now, but the 100 or so whose lives are still documented inspire awe. Together, these men and women did so much to both win the two World Wars and create modern Britain (at least until the 1960s when new generations and powers took hold).
On Remembrance Day in 2014, The Guardian published this article written by Maev Kennedy, who went on to also supply the foreword to the chapter ‘Sinn Fein Rising’. The article focussed on one of the key points of my grandfather’s life and the nation’s – the exhumation of the ‘Unknown Warrior’ and the first part of his hallowed journey to England in 1920. This event was only the end of the second part of his life. How he got there and what happened after is equally fascinatingly and described in parts one and three of his tale.
The readers’ comments at the end of the article are good for a laugh, which is something else you will find within the book (despite its often horrific content); it was something my grandfather continued to do until the day he died from a sudden heart attack in 1961 aged 79 – just a few months after he finally completed Daring All Things. It was truly his life -story.
Daring All Things. The Autobiography of George Kendall 1881-1961 is available for purchase from Helion here.