-Millions of our grandparents were caught up in conflicts that shaped the 20th century.
-"We'd finally been released.
I was only about seven stone by this time.
I thought we were all going to die."
-Yeah, it gets you, doesn't it?
-[ Laughs ] -It does.
It really does.
-Now four international stars retrace their family footsteps across the globe.
-"Granddad was sitting with a gun, with instructions to shoot."
That must have been very difficult for my granddad.
That's going against every fatherly instinct.
-They uncover their grandparents' extraordinary stories.
-Your grandmother was here in one of the most historic moments of the 20th century.
-Oh, my goodness.
I never knew that.
-So, my grandfather's job was to keep an eye on Edward the abdicated king.
-Yes, he's MI5 and MI6.
-You can categorically say... -[ Laughs ] -...that my grandfather was a spy?
-He absolutely was a spy.
-[ Laughs ] What was she doing at a castle?!
[ Laughs ] Why are we at a castle?!
-I mean, that's mind-blowing.
That's her voice.
-They discover how their grandparents' experiences of war changed their own lives.
-We are memories passed down, experiences passed down.
Those traumas, those joys of his life live in me somewhere.
-That's what you pass on to your grandchildren, that surviving spirit.
God, it's really got me.
♪♪ This program was made possible, in part, by MyHeritage.
And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you.
♪♪ -I'm Toby Jones.
I've been an actor for over 30 years, appearing in films like "Captain America" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy."
I've also played soldiers caught up in the tragedy of war.
But my grandmother on my mum's side, Doreen Heslewood, experienced war firsthand.
She traveled into war zones to entertain troops during World War II.
We all knew Doreen as Dorki, and I was her first grandchild.
She had a certain romance about the theater.
Her demeanor was delicate and soft.
You know, as a child, that's immensely attractive and, you know, this is someone who's going to be giving you treats as a matter of course.
This is Dorki and me celebrating her 80th birthday.
A professional actress, she always loved that I'd followed in her footsteps.
She was a very poor critic of my work, so, she was someone to have there and, really, anything she said was [ Laughing ] of no value to me, whatsoever, because it was just all brilliant.
Dorki fell in love with my grandfather Reggie at the outbreak of war.
From a young age, I was very close to him, too.
My grandfather was great fun.
He played an extraordinary role in my adolescence.
We united in a love of humor.
He was very funny.
We'd play cards together.
We'd talk sport together.
We got on very well and made each other laugh.
[ Blast ] [ Gunfire ] My grandparents had only just got married and started a family when Reggie was sent to fight the Japanese, for over three long years, in the jungles of Burma and India.
[ Rapid gunfire ] I've come to Little Haven, in Pembrokeshire, a special place that connects three generations of my family.
I spent a lot of holidays happily going to stay with them.
They both had a terrific sense of humor.
Often, we played cards together because they'd play canasta obsessively.
[ Laughing ] And I think the throwing down of a winning hand would prompt, you know, huge expletives from both of them.
Even though they must know each other's tactics inside-out by then.
Anyway, I was there to complicate the game.
I know my grandparents did some extraordinary things during the war, but in between games of cards, we never really spoke about this momentous time in their lives.
[ Laughter ] I've come to meet my mum, Jennifer, and my two aunts Juliet and Caroline, to learn what they know about Reggie and Dorki's war.
-This picture is the three of us.
You, looking just like Toby's daughter.
And there's Daddy, reading a paper behind us in that one.
Look at that naughty face there.
-[ Laughs ] -Mum, you were a lot older, though, weren't you, than the others?
-Ten years older.
-She's ten years older than me.
They're lovely, these.
Look at that one.
-Oh, that's my favorite picture.
Daddy with his pipe, with Caggy and me.
Now, here's glamorous Mummy, look at her.
She just had to wear rolled-up trousers and a scarf round her head and she'd look cracking.
-Before the war, Reggie worked for a brewery company and Dorki began life as a young actress.
Do you know how they actually met?
Mummy's cousin Geoffrey introduced them.
Mummy, who already had other boyfriends, said, "I've met this young brewer.
You'll really like him."
And when he finally proposed to her, she said, "I'm afraid you must be drunk.
I want you to go on orange juice for a week and then ask me again."
[ Laughter ] -Yes, and Father became a little anxious about this new world, the theater world.
And so, he phoned his cousin Betty and he asked her what she thought and she said, "Well, what does she do?"
"She's an actress."
"Oh, scrap that.
Stick to golfing ladies."
[ Laughter ] -Thank God he didn't.
-They married in June 1940.
My mother was born a year later.
She didn't see Reggie for over three years, as he was sent to the Far East, to fight the Japanese.
Their only contact were the letters that Reggie sent every week.
-They married in haste, like a lot of other people, because of the war.
They both were 21 when they married.
-While he was away in the war, he organized for red roses to be delivered to Mum every single anniversary, and he did it all through their life.
I suppose what I find kind of mind-blowing is the idea of citizens suddenly becoming soldiers.
You know, to be working as a brewer doesn't prepare you for jungle warfare.
-He never talked about the war, but one of the things that he did talk to me about, once, I think it was probably when he was ill, before he died, he just said, "Oh, you'll never know what it was like to be in the jungle and to hear these voices saying, 'Over here, soldier.
Come over here, British soldier.'"
-It must've been absolutely terrifying.
I remember when we had these long journeys to Little Haven and I was sat behind Daddy in the car and I noticed that there was this little mark at the back of his neck and I always wondered what it was and, apparently, it was a bullet wound.
-Oh, I thought it was here.
-There was something here as well.
-After the war, I think Mummy, like many, many, many women, found that her husband had changed.
-I remember Mummy kept on saying, "He went one person -- patient, kind person, but he has returned troubled and broken, in a way."
I was really very scared of him.
If I told the slightest little lie or something, he would say, "Don't do that!"
And one of the punishments was not funny, but I'm saying it -- I'm sorry Dad, because we did make up eventually and had a great time together.
He would put his car lights on and I'd have to stand on the wall in the garage, the car lights on me and he'd say, "Now tell the truth.
What have you done today?
What's the lie?"
-I mean, that's like something out of the war, isn't it?
-Well, that's what I mean.
I mean, you think of it now and it's just appalling.
-It's only now that we've just realized it was probably PTSD.
-Yes, and the same for thousands and thousands of other people.
-And, you know, now, we recognize post-traumatic stress disorder.
It's something we can nail to all sorts of behavior, possibly.
-If only Mum had realized that's what it was.
[ Dirge plays ] ♪♪ -Hearing how the war impacted on Reggie's relationship with his family raises questions for me about the long-term effects of war.
My relationship was, obviously, very different with my grandparents, than theirs with their parents, and I think the complexity of my grandfather's life, more than my grandmother's, in terms of what he did and what he put up with, has become more clear to me.
I'm trying to retrieve key episodes from my grandparents' lives and forces that, in a way, have ricocheted down through time and formed me, in some way.
♪♪ [ Blast ] My grandparents' lives changed forever on the 3rd of September 1939.
[ Suspenseful music plays ] -This country is at war with Germany.
-After Hitler invaded Poland, [ Explosion ] Britain felt compelled to act.
♪♪ I know my grandfather Reggie was in the Royal Artillery, but that's pretty much all I know.
I've come to Salisbury Plain, where my grandfather arrived as a 21-year-old recruit, over 80 years ago, to find out how millions of men, like Reggie, were transformed overnight from civilians to soldiers.
I'm meeting Captain Tom Crosby.
-Toby, welcome to Larkhill, which is the home of the Royal Artillery.
Your grandfather joined as a gunner, before quickly commissioning as an officer on the 3rd of September, which was, coincidentally, the day that Britain declared war on Germany.
-Would he have come literally without any military experience at all?
-More than likely, yes.
War was on the horizon and people were just joining up left, right, and center.
As a gunner, he would've been trained up on the 25-pounder, which you see behind us.
This, at the time, was one of the best guns out there, if not the best.
[ Blasting ] [ Blasting ] [ Shouting in distance ] [ Blasting ] Aged just 21, Reggie went from selling beer, as a brewer, to leading a company of 30 men, some of whom had probably never fired a gun before.
I'm going to a bombproof bunker, to get a sense of what Reggie would've experienced, coming under attack.
-This is the center third of Salisbury Plain and these two areas here, to the north of it, are the impact areas.
Over 100 years' worth of shrapnel -- First World War, Second World War, and, you know, Afghanistan, Iraq.
-[ Indistinct ] [ Blasting ] [ Blasting ] [ Explosion ] -Ohhhhh!
[ Laughter ] -Were you expecting that?
-No, not in any way, whatsoever.
Were you expecting that?
-Yes, I was.
-Well, because I knew that they were creeping in closer and closer.
-Yeah, but not that close.
[ Exhales forcefully ] I mean, terrifying, that power, isn't it?
[ Laughing ] The final shell took me by surprise.
I was discombobulated by that.
I-I couldn't really process the idea of being able to put up with too much of that, really.
Before I left Larkhill, I was given the opportunity to fire the same kind of gun my grandfather had used in the jungles of Burma.
-The round gets put into the chamber.
-I'm sat here, aren't I?
-The famous 25-pounder.
We're going to be firing in about one minute, alright?
-What could possibly go wrong?
[ Blast ] You smell that?
-[ Laughs ] -Yes.
-The smell of victory.
[ Whimsical tune plays ] While Reggie was undergoing training, my grandmother Dorki also decided to devote her talents to the war effort.
Every week, 500 actors lined the streets of London's Covent Garden to audition for ENSA, the Entertainment National Service Association, at the Theatre Royal.
♪♪ [ Indistinct conversations ] By the end of 1939, ENSA had put on 500 shows to over half a million soldiers.
[ Applause ] But it did face some snobbery from the establishment.
I'm siding with critics here, am I?
"I have attended one or two -- I dare say a dozen -- E.N.S.A.
shows... and I must admit that some of the worst hours [ Laughing ] of my career have been spent in E.N.S.A.
There were, I am told, 1,250,000 E.N.S.A.
It is a most formidable thought."
It is a most formidable thought.
When she got much older, I would take her to the theater, even in her 80s.
It was a very easy way to please her, is to take her to a theater and to be in that atmosphere.
I think it meant a lot to her.
[ Suspenseful music plays ] ♪♪ I've come to Northern France.
In May 1940, my grandmother Dorki came here with a company of actors as part of ENSA... -♪ Roll out the barrel ♪ -...to raise the spirits of 400,000 British soldiers.
I'm meeting Professor Anselm Heinrich in Béthune.
He's an expert on the history of theater and he's been researching Dorki's time in France.
-Hi, I'm Anselm.
-Very good to see you.
-Nice to see you.
-Welcome to Béthune.
-What a beautiful theater.
-Yes, wonderful, isn't it?
And this is the stage your grandmother would've performed on in 1940.
-This actual stage?
-This actual stage.
-Wow, that's something.
-[ Laughs ] A lot of the soldiers were in these garrisons, sitting, doing next to nothing, waiting for some action, so, they were really welcoming these companies coming round and performing.
-Were they doing plays or were they doing light comedies?
-They performed a lot of music hall turns, but at the same time, ENSA had a different notion of what theater for the troops should be like.
There needs to be something elevating, something educational, because, in the Second World War, Britain was fighting Nazi barbarism.
It's about the very roots of what we are about in Britain.
It's culture, it's the arts.
We found this book about women in war in 1940 and your grandmother is featured in that book and she's interviewed.
-My grandmother's interviewed?
[ Laughs ] I can't get over that.
I can't get over that there's a book with her being [ Laughing ] interviewed.
"There were many thrills for this young actress.
She said she had never dreamt of anything half as interesting as that month turned out to be."
I mean, she literally never talked about this -- to me, anyway.
-"Even the strict Army discipline, the passport with 'Admit bearer into the War zone,' was exciting."
-I've got something else here.
You'll be surprised.
-I will be.
[ Laughter ] -So -- -I'm already surprised.
-So, one of the biggest stars of the time in Britain was Gracie Fields.
-And ENSA secured her services to come here, to Northern France, to entertain the troops.
Of course, we are not here to talk about Gracie Fields, only, because there is a link -Ah?
-to your grandmother.
This is, in the words of your grandmother, what she experienced.
-"Instead of watching Gracie Fields when she came on the stage, her wonderful effect on the masses compelled me suddenly to watch their reactions to her.
If I live to be 200 [ Chuckles ] I do not think I shall ever forget how each of those many, many men expressed complete devotion and admiration, and showed gleeful excitement when Gracie came on and said, [ Laughing ] 'Hello, Boys!'"
-[ Laughs ] -Wow!
I mean, that's mind-blowing.
That's her voice.
-What a find that book is.
-[ Laughing ] Major find in our family.
Yes, unbelievable, yes.
-I'm encountering her at the age of my children... -Yeah.
-...and I'm hearing her voice and her excitement at being at the center of the world, really.
-"The climax of emotional feelings to me was when we took our curtain call and as 'God Save the King' struck up, massed khaki and Air Force blue rose instantly to attention...
It was a truly great moment!
Tears filled my eyes as they flashed quickly round the stalls and I thought more than I ever have thought before or since of the great pity of this ugly war."
What an amazing thing.
-Beautiful, isn't it?
-It's an interesting moment for me, as a historian, but also as a German, to talk about this, because my grandfathers were involved in the war as well and one of them actually fought in France in June 1940, so, to think that his unit were possibly on the way here... -Did he talk about it?
-No, he never.
No, he never, no.
-♪ Land of Hope ♪ ♪ And Glory ♪ -"It was a truly great moment!
Tears filled my eyes as they flashed quickly round the stalls and I thought more than I ever have thought... of the great pity of this ugly war."
Dorki performed in 11 French towns over a month, but her life was now in danger.
On the 10th of May 1940, Nazi Germany took the whole world by surprise.
Four million men invaded Northern France.
They swept across the country in just six weeks.
The British Army, ENSA, and my grandmother made a desperate retreat to the Channel ports.
I'm meeting French historian Ludivine Broch in Boulogne, to uncover how Dorki escaped this imminent threat.
-Your grandmother was here in May 1940, one of the most historic moments of the 20th century -- during the fall of France.
-She was actually here?
-Oh, my goodness.
I never knew that.
-So, she's going to be evacuated from these beaches.
I just never knew that.
-It happens really fast because the Germans break through into Belgium and Holland and everybody is kind of woken up in a startle -- the war for the Western Front is starting now.
In Paris, they're thinking already of evacuating the government.
So, the head of ENSA, where Dorki is working, is woken up at 6:00 am with a call from the War Office and then he has to alert the rest of ENSA with one code word and the code word is Hamlet.
[ Laughter ] -Right, right, right, right.
I think they had a lot of fun thinking up of these code words, yeah.
"...and ENSA were forced to make a run for it, covering a journey of 150 miles by night without leaving a scrap of equipment behind."
-This kind of wave of masses of people on the roads -- during the bombings, you know -- is one of the things Dorki will have definitely started to feel by the time she's being evacuated.
[ Explosion ] -And by a surprise attack, the city of Boulogne is captured.
[ Explosion ] The harbor lays under German fire.
[ Explosion ] [ Birds cheeping ] -And this is actually the diary extract of James Hudson, who was a war reporter, and he's in Boulogne.
-So, he can give an account of the sort of thing she was seeing.
"We were turning in when the German bombers soared over [Boulogne] harbor again.
The hum went on for a while..." "It was reported today that swastikas had been chalked up in the streets."
That's terrifying, isn't it, that detail?
"22nd May: We got the word: 'The order is we've to catch a boat in three quarters of an hour'."
That's so immediate and direct, isn't it?
So, Dorki, I think, is going to be evacuated around 22, 23 May.
And, very shortly after, on 5th of June, she marries your grandfather.
Just that close?!
That close to her return?
-What, less than two weeks?
[ Laughter ] -Yes.
-That's really extraordinary, isn't it?
-What an amazing sequence [ Laughing ] of events.
[ Dirge plays ] Five thousands British soldiers and hundreds of ENSA performers, including Dorki, were evacuated by the Royal Navy before Boulogne fell under Nazi control.
It makes you think, "I must've forgotten some key revelation," because it seems so critical in her life story that, not only was she taking flight from France, evacuating France, but that she was married within two weeks after doing so.
It seems extraordinary to me that neither I, nor anyone in my family, seems to know this story and also doesn't -- we don't repeat it, you know, annually.
[ Suspenseful music plays ] ♪♪ The story of the Boulogne evacuation was overshadowed by events 70 miles up the coast, [ Explosion ] days later.
The miracle of Dunkirk saved thousands of lives, but left Britain fearing invasion.
Dorki's experiences in France would've made her realize what she valued and loved.
On her return, just months after meeting Reggie, they married and, soon after, Dorki became pregnant with my mother, Jennifer.
Reggie had not seen action against the enemy yet and was stationed in Eastbourne.
I'm meeting a family who I'm told can shed light on Reggie and Dorki's early months as a married couple.
I'm Ted Bugler.
Nice to meet you.
-And my brother Richard.
So, we don't know any-- well, I don't know anything about you guys, so.
-No, you don't.
You don't really know why you're here, presumably.
-Well, I'm tracing my mother's parents' wartime experience.
-Reggie and Dorki.
-Well, we know of them because of my father being, probably, your father's best friend during the war... -Really?
-This was our dad in uniform.
-He, after the war, got together with a lot of other people and produced the history of the regiment, which is this book here, and we thought, if you're happy, we'd take you through some of it... -Oh, I'd love to.
-...see if you can remember things that Reggie might've told you.
Dorki gets a mention as well... -Oh, really?!
-...as does our mother, Marjorie.
We can see where we go from there.
-So, the name of the regiment was...?
-The 114th Sussex Field Regiment.
-They started out in Southern England.
I mean, they were guarding here, at Eastbourne, then they were moved to Dover.
-What were they guarding?
-Potential landing points.
And they were stationed down in Presteigne, in Wales; and at Haywards Heath, which is where Dorki and Mother took a house -- number 49 Haywards Road, Haywards Heath.
-Dad writes, "Although many of us were not far from home, there were many camp followers in Haywards Heath and my wife brought our new babe, Marion, and shared a house with Reggie Heslewood's wife and their newborn, Jennifer.
There was talk from the neighbors about men being in and out of 49 Haywards Road -[ Laughing ] -at all hours of the night.
And so we were, anxious to watch the nappy changing and have some of the joys of young parenthood whenever we came off duty."
-Watch the nappy changing.
[ Laughs ] -That was Warren and Marjorie with our late sister Marion.
-It's an awful thing to say, isn't it, but this could've been the only picture that they ever had as a family.
-Like the photos of my mum with Reggie and Dorki.
-In early 1942, my grandfather and his best friend were separated from their young families.
-Before they left England, there were lots of rumors starting to circulate.
They knew that something was afoot, but no one quite knew what.
"Soon the camps were running with rumours.
'Someone' had seen khaki shorts.
'Someone' had heard Middle East mentioned by 'someone else' who knew about these things."
And so, there was that definite feeling that life was about to change.
-They set out on the Orion and they were headed for the relief of Singapore, really, but Singapore fell before they could get there and so, they went to India to train for jungle warfare.
-I love the idea of them all coming to depend on each other.
But also, back home, I really didn't know that Warren's wife and my grandmother were living together with their first children, two daughters, and that comradeship there, as well.
It's extraordinary to get these sort of fleeting glimpses of your grandfather in someone else's story, in a way.
♪♪ In February 1942, my grandparents' precious moments of early parenthood and happiness were cut short.
Reggie left Dorki and my mum, Jennifer.
Over the next three months, he made the 10,000-mile journey to Sri Lanka, and then on to India, still a key part of the British Empire, at the very moment it faced an invasion from the Japanese Army.
-One savage stroke, Japan had secured both a base for her forthcoming attack on India and a natural shield to her conquests in Southeast Asia.
-Six months earlier, the Japanese had launched a devastating attack on Pearl Harbor... [ Explosions ] and invaded the British colonies of Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore, all on the very same day.
-The pent-up force of Japan's military ambition exploded into Burma.
Ill-prepared, ill-equipped, but fighting stubbornly, the British forces were forced back.
-The Japanese were now on the Indian border and my grandfather joined a new Indian army to begin the fightback.
[ Gunshots ] I've come to the National Army Museum to meet curator Jasdeep Singh, to find out what role Reggie played in this new multinational force.
I'm aware that my grandfather went to Sri Lanka from Eastbourne, and then moved to India.
That's about all I know.
-So, it was very common for British soldiers to go out to India, to train Indian troops, and then together, as a unit, be deployed to war.
There were only 200,000 Indian men at the start of the war.
By the war's end, we're talking two and a half million.
-[ Chuckles ] -Just have a think about that.
-That's the largest volunteer army in modern history.
The men that he was commanding and training, they're new jawans.
Jawan means "young recruits."
They had never worn boots before.
Some of our papers tell us that the thing they found hardest was wearing boots for so long.
-There's a collection of papers here from the headquarters of the 20th Indian Division.
It's around the time... -Yeah, yeah.
-...your grandfather was there.
What's interesting is, if we just turn to this page here... -Ah, there he is.
-See if you recognize.
-[ Laughing ] There he is.
-Yeah, yeah, yeah.
-He was the staff captain.
-Quartermaster in and of the 20th Indian Division.
It was seen as a unit that would impact immediately.
You know, the motto of the 20th Indian Division is Sweat Saves Blood.
I haven't seen that one.
-You may not have seen some of them.
He's a real boss here.
-[ Laughs ] -What do you mean, his posture?
-Just the whole demeanor.
Bearing in mind, you know, commanding these troops, he's a young boy, he's a young lad out there.
-Twenty-two or so.
But body language, alone, tells us of the confidence that he's grown and he's grown into that role.
This is what Reggie would've had to understand the region.
"A Short Review and Some Hints for the Use of Soldiers Proceeding to India."
Key phrases -- Who are you?
What's your name?
What do you want?
There isn't any water.
Call the water carrier."
[ Laughter ] "Has the cart come?"
-It's an essential term, Toby, You can't -- "Is the tailor here?"
-You can't do in India without knowing that term, clearly.
[ Laughter ] But this tells us quite a lot.
-Well, effectively, it's the actual mechanics of empire, isn't it?
-It's an attitude.
-It is and it's really not the right approach to communicating with these men.
-[ Shouting ] -These racist attitudes derive from 200 years of colonial rule, where Indians were treated as second-class citizens.
By the late 1930s, the movement for independence had reached a boiling point.
The British government offered vague promises that self-rule would come, eventually, if India stood by them during World War II.
-I've interviewed veterans from the Second World War, you know, I've asked, "Why did you join up?"
And the Indian veterans say, "Well, we were told that we would get independence."
Now, that's not to say that everyone was fighting for that.
They all have different motives.
No one Indian soldier signs up for the exact same reason as the other.
But, collectively, they stayed steadfast -- -It's an extraordinary achievement, isn't it, to have made an effective army out of all of those different motivations?
The Japanese Army sought to exploit these colonial tensions.
-Have a look at these very graphic leaflets.
-What do you see?
-So, this is propaganda, right?
-These are propaganda leaflets airdropped by the Japanese.
They're painting a picture under the British, showing the famine.
So, under that flag, starvation.
But under freedom, it might look like this.
People like Reggie at headquarters would've seen some of this.
We don't really know how effective these were, but we know that it didn't sway 2.5 million people, at least.
Indian soldiers were now fighting for their own survival.
By 1944, [ Blast ] over 100,000 Japanese soldiers were massed on the Indian-Burma border.
I've come to meet novelist Abda Khan.
Her father, Samundar, was a 15-year-old Muslim volunteer and fought in the same battles as Reggie.
I'd love to hear about what you've discovered about your father.
-When I was about 11 years old, I couldn't sleep, so, I came down and I said, "I'll tell you what, Dad, tell me your life story."
And he said, "When I was about 15 years old, I went into town and there was a bit of a commotion.
I went up to somebody and said, 'What's going on here?'
And he said, 'Oh, it's the British.
So, he says, "I thought about it for a second," and he goes, "I just got in the line."
I was like, "What, Dad, why?!"
He said, "I dunno.
I just got in the line and they asked me my age."
He goes, "I lied about my age."
And they said, "You're a fit young man, you can join."
I said, "Well, then what happened next?"
He said, "Well, I was walking home and it dawned on me.
I was so scared."
I was like, "Scared of what?"
He said, "Scared of your granny, what she was going to say when I got back."
-[ Laughs ] -So, anyway, he got back home, he said, "Look, Mum, we don't have anything.
If I join the army, I'll have a regular wage.
I'll send it back home.
You can buy a little bit of land.
You can buy a cow.
You can have your own milk."
-So, I think, when he went into the war, he was very much a child, really, but one that had had to grow up really quickly.
-I know, from my family, that Reggie wrote love letters to Dorki almost every week.
Abda's father didn't have that opportunity.
-Well, my father was completely illiterate, so, it was a case of, once you left home, you literally had no communication with home.
You had no contact.
I don't have any diaries.
I don't have any photographs.
And, actually, people like my father are quite invisible from the history books.
I'm trying to imagine what must've been in his head.
Do you think he was patriotic?
-I think he was pragmatic.
-In 1944, my grandfather Reggie Heslewood, having been separated from his family for three long years, was now thrown into a brutal fight against the Japanese Army.
I never asked Reggie about these battles and how they affected him.
To find out more, I'm meeting historian Dr. Robert Lyman.
-Every year, from May until September, Burma lies under the monsoon, setting free malaria, dysentery, and typhus -- enemies more deadly than the Jap.
This is an excerpt from the diary of Colonel Bickford, who commanded the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment.
"We have been living in the most indescribable filth.
Rotting corpses of Japs and our own, bad food lying about with the attendant flies... For the past 10 days we have been faced with Monsoon and Mud, Jungle and Japs.
In the jungle you never know when you are being watched from any bush... an eerie feeling."
[ Scoffs ] That's an understatement.
-I've always said that fighting in Burma was probably the worst place you'd ever want to fight.
It was, you know, the worst sort of campaign ever.
Everything was against you.
Forget about the Japanese -- the monsoon, the terrible terrain, you were at the end of a long line of communication, supply was erratic.
-I know my grandfather was shot during the war, but he never talked about it.
Incredibly, Rob has found a record of what happened.
-I want to put to rest a family mystery.
"Proceedings of a court of inquiry.
Statement of Captain R.R.E.
Heslewood... On 20 Feb 43 at 0115 hrs I was returning from a reconnaissance... and stopped my motor cycle.
The sentry came up to me and stood with his rifle in front of my face.
[I] said to him, 'Kya Chahie."
As soon as I had said this he pulled the trigger and a round of blank was discharged within a foot of my face, injuring my mouth."
So, he was shot.
-He was shot.
-But not in action.
-[ Laughs ] Not in action.
Well, you could call it action, but certainly not by the Japanese.
-And that's the origin of all those family stories.
-About whether he was shot or not.
[ Laughter ] -Yes.
-Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Kind of glad, though, that I'm not misremembering that it was around his mouth.
I mean, I do remember that.
[ Blast ] [ Blast ] On the 8th of March 1944, [ Explosion ] the Indian Army, including Reggie, faced 100,000 Japanese soldiers, who invaded India through the border towns of Imphal and Kohima.
-Hemmed into a narrow ring, the small garrison was laid under a murderous barrage from the heights above the town.
[ Rapid gunfire ] No member of the garrison slept for more than two hours on end.
The only water supply lay within 30 yards of the Japs.
[ Explosion ] Men crawled out singly on their bellies to fill their containers.
[ Blast ] -The 20th Indian Division, and Reggie, fought in hellish conditions for three months.
They inflicted the single biggest defeat the Japanese Army had ever suffered.
-Imphal was a profound defeat, but the men who did the fighting... -The Indians.
-...the large proportion of men who did the fighting and achieved victory in '44 and '45, were Indians.
-And we've forgotten that.
In the typically Western way in which we, in Britain, view the war, we see this as a British campaign with British soldiers, but only one-tenth of the fighting men were British.
The rest were Indians, and what they achieved was an Indian victory, in my view.
And I think the role that Reggie played was quite extraordinary.
He was part of the very small team that organized the entire logistics effort.
[ Flames crackling ] Both sides suffered heavy losses at Imphal.
My grandfather placed his life in the hands of Indian soldiers.
Over four years, he forged close relationships.
Rob has tracked down a letter Reggie sent home.
What he's describing is a poem that's been prepared for him by his Indian soldiers and I think it's quite revealing.
"I put my soap box right behind the group... as they all turned round and surrounded me and then the poem was read... Of course, it's prose in English, but it seems to rhyme ok [ Laughing ] in hindi: 'The candidates... were much pleased when they saw the face of the captain.
[ Laughing ] He has beautiful face with blue eyes...
It is the Captain Heslewood.
[ Laughs ] His face indicates the devoted attributes, sympathy, love and mercy -- he loves and likes the Indians...
He does not know what bad treatment is...
He has kind and loving manners and therefore one and all of us should pray to god that he should become a Colonel very soon."
[ Laughter ] -Isn't that fabulous?
-That's the other question I have for you.
You know, I was wondering about PTSD and all of that, but on a more basic, human, level, the euphoria of victory and the anticlimax of peace, in a way, and how to negotiate that emotionally.
-Those troops, when they were going home, were told explicitly not to talk about their experiences of the war.
"Just button it up.
Bit of stiff upper lip, go home, get your lives back in order, and don't bore everyone at home -Wow!
-with your stories -Wow!
-of fighting the Japanese."
-They were told that on demob, were they?
-They were told, actually, on the ship coming home.
I mean, Reggie had been out there since 1942.
The war was this terrible aberration that people wanted to leave behind.
But you can leave the physical reality behind.
You're still left with the mental fragility that needs to be dealt with.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Well, there's certainly no beginning and end to suffering.
Did the ends justify the means?
That's what he had to debate the rest of his life.
Before I went on this journey, I had little idea about the threats my grandparents had faced, the courage they'd shown, and the scars war had left on them.
Despite what they'd endured, my grandparents remained deeply in love until the end.
I've come to meet my aunt Juliet.
When Dorki died, in 2011, she was buried side-by-side with Reggie.
-We insisted that it had her name because everyone knew her as Dorki.
And we chose the wording, I think correctly.
She is an actress resting now.
[ Laughing ] Yeah, yeah.
-And all the letters that Dad wrote to her from India are in the grave with them.
-I remember you making that decision.
-We thought it was the best thing to do with them because I wondered what on Earth was going to happen to them for the rest of their lives and who would want them in their attics.
They were in my attic.
-The makers of this program?
-Mm, [ Laughter ] perhaps.
And so, it just seemed the right thing to put them together because these letters were extraordinary.
They were written over the whole of the time he was in India and there are hundreds of them.
Most of them are just love letters and sometimes it's just pages of, "I love you."
[ Tender tune plays ] He loved India, and so did I.
We went on these very, very long train journeys and, occasionally, the train would stop in the heat.
I remember him getting out at one point and I think we'd been stationary for about an hour or so, but he gathered a lot of children round him and when he got back into the train, he said, "My God," he said, "My Urdu has come back."
-He just loved being there.
-I think it's reminded me of what great people they were and, certainly, as a child, what great grandparents they were, that they were irreverent and funny.
♪♪ -In a different lifetime, as an actor, could you see yourself in ENSA?
-[ Laughing ] In ENSA?
I can't see myself doing it.
Having been to the artillery and fired a gun, in a way, and watched soldiers doing that, I don't -- I think ENSA's the best place for me.
But I don't know that -- I'm not sure about whether there's a part for me in "Night Must Fall," but I -- there must be some role I can play in the war effort for ENSA.
Maybe I could learn ventriloquy or something and go along in the musical section.
[ Suspenseful music plays ] Announcer: This program is available on Amazon Prime Video.