Old enlistment papers reveal link between generations

 Photography talent follows family through time

By Faye Bayko

Three years after my father died in 2010 I discovered he had wanted to be a war photographer.  This was surprising to me because for as long as I could remember he had treated his use of a camera as a big joke. Sure, he was always peering out from behind one form of camera or another at family gatherings or on trips, but he would inevitably forget to take a lens cap off or drop a delicate floodlight and the shot would be ruined or missed.  Watching him with a camera was like watching slapstick comedy.

As I grew up I realized a lot of his comedy routine was insecurity and I started to become embarrassed for him.  I would never have guessed that he had once thought of it as a possible career choice. But, according to his World War II enlistment papers, that was what he had wanted.

In January of 1942, my father, who was barely 18 years old, expressed his wish to be a photographer in the Armoured Corps.  The interviewer noted on the application form that: “He has done own developing and with training might develop into a fairly good photographer.  Imagine Signal Corps would be better spot than Armoured Corps for this particular trade.”

The move to the Signal Corps was never realized. With an incomplete Grade 8 education and a background in rural Manitoba, my father’s skills with farm machinery overshadowed any photography dreams he had.  On home soil he worked as a driving and maintenance instructor, then trained as a gunner-operator for armoured vehicles.  When he was transferred for active duty it was inside a tank. On August 10, 1944, the war came to an end for him when a German shell pierced his tank’s armour.  He returned to Canada in January 1945.

Like a lot of those who served during World War II, my father found it difficult to speak about his time in service, but he brought back several photographs.  Unfortunately, I don’t have the originals so I have no idea if he marked which photographs he took with the camera he spend a month’s wages on and which by fellow recruits.

With such an interest in photography you would think that when he became a father in 1954, he would look forward to sharing that interest with his children, but the opposite seemed to be true. The sight of a camera in any of his children’s hands seemed to make him tense and he would taunt us.  It wasn’t until I was away from home that I was able to relax enough to experiment with my camera, and learn.

Now my son is happily exploring his photography interest through documentary film making and I find myself wondering at how this skill has woven itself through the family.  Maybe it’s simply a case of third-time lucky.

As a parent you don’t have any control over what your child will take as your legacy.  You can plan, lecture, and empire build all you want and they will find the one thing you’ve dropped in the gutter along the way, and pick it up to carry it forward.

My father lacked the confidence to take his interest in photography seriously and I waited until it was almost too late before finding the courage to take my own seriously, but my son has picked up our fumbled attempts and is carrying them into his future.  Only time will reveal if his children will share the interest and what they will do with it.

About Faye Bayko

I am a writer and photographer currently working out of Vancouver, BC.