The moment when grandad met Gandhi?

A Sleaford writer has unearthed a treasure trove of Second World War era photographs taken by his two grandfathers, who both served in the RAF.

Crowds gather to meet Gandhi on Bombay beach, photographed by Josephs grandfather. EMN-210811-162001001
Crowds gather to meet Gandhi on Bombay beach, photographed by Josephs grandfather. EMN-210811-162001001

While researching his latest novel, Fairytale of the Other New York, the themes of the book motivated author Joseph Kiel to investigate what his grandparents got up to during the war.

Explains Joseph: “The narrative of Fairytale involves a young woman returning to Lincolnshire to care for her elderly nan. At the start of the book she stops off at the new International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln, and this sets the theme of family history and the stories that are handed down the generations, and also the mysteries from the gaps in knowledge where certain things have become lost in time.”

“Initially I’d intended to write a brief afterword following the main body of the book, but the more I investigated, the more fascinating material I discovered. So in the end, the book has become something of a double feature.”

Sleaford author Joseph Kiel. EMN-210811-162011001

Both of Joseph’s grandfathers were stationed abroad during the war and photographed the places they went, from Jerusalem and Nazareth in Palestine to North Africa, and then in the later years of the war they were both in India, on opposite sides of the country.

His maternal grandfather, John, had previously trained at RAF Cranwell and spent time at RAF Sutton Bridge.

Joseph said: “First of all, I found a seemingly unremarkable photograph of people milling around on a beach, but on the back, Grandad had written that this crowd was there to catch sight of Gandhi. Unfortunately I couldn’t see the man in question anywhere within the crowd of people so I was frustrated that my grandfather hadn’t gone in closer to get a shot of him.” But days later he hit the jackpot. “I came across another photograph from this occasion, and on it was an Indian man wearing a robe, kneeling in prayer, and I knew straight away who he was, and that my grandfather had captured his own little slice of history. Gandhi was, and still is, such a revered cultural icon, and to think that a member of my family photographed him in person is rather mindblowing.”

Joseph learned it had taken place on Juhu Beach in Bombay (now Mumbai) in May or June of 1944. What’s more, Joseph believes he may be in possession of the very camera that took the image, passed on when his grandmother died.

Joseph Kiel's grandad is on the back row, second from right, in the photo marked as "The 353 squadron team with trophies". EMN-210811-162102001

Joseph’s paternal grandfather, Joseph, could have played football professionally, but chose to become a teacher. However, while stationed in India during the war, he had his moment of glory.

A number of football matches were organised by the British Armed Forces to entertain the troops. Many professional footballers had joined up, and some ended up playing in these wartime matches, along with Joseph’s grandfather in a series of matches that were billed as England versus Scotland. Joseph knows he played in at least four of them and his dad has the commemorative trophies along with his white England shirt.

Author Joseph has put together around a hundred of these wartime photographs for his book, saying: “It’s quite possibly my most personal book yet as it drew on many of my family’s wartime tales, and also my relationships with my grandparents.”

The fictional narrative involves the main character signing up to be an extra in a Hollywood war film shooting in the Woodhall Spa area, but also set against the covid pandemic.

“It is also the first time I’ve written a book set in the real world,” he says. “I just felt that their stories needed telling.”

Fairytale of the Other New York is available as an ebook or in print form via Amazon. Visit: www.josephkiel.com.