Who do you think you are?

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by angular, Sep 14, 2010.

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  1. Last night's episode will be of interest, I think.

    BBC iPlayer - Who Do You Think You Are?: Series 7: Alan Cumming

    While Alan Cumming is camp as a row of tents, and quite irritating to boot, the story of his grandfather's time in the Q. O. Cameron Highlanders and the Malaya Police is fascinating. How he met his end was surprising.
  2. I watched it, her indoors is a fan of the program so its often on the box in the corner but last nights episode was very interesting.
    Got to be honest, the Russian Roulette bit took me by surprise!
  3. Sad too. I was interested to see in a brief shot of one of his records that the medical assessment recording scale was just PULHEE and not PULHEEMS. The MS (Mental Stability) rating was added some years later. This would align with the researchers assertion that perhaps mental ailments were hushed up and records of a 'posting' to a military mental hospital/facility were destroyed. Another record in the shape of a small booklet was referred to as his 'officers record' it looked to me more like a Part 1 Paybook. The pewter tankard was said to have been awarded for passing his motorcycle test, it was more likely an award for taking part in the army's annual motor cycle trials which used to be held in Bordon.
  4. I was wondering if the story was actually as cut and dried as presented: why highlight the autopsy report showing the shot was "three inches behind the ear, and with no skin charring"? As Cumming himself observed before he heard about the Russian Roulette, it didn't sound like his grandpa had shot himself...
  5. I'm glad you posted this angular, if you hadn't, I would have. You're right, Alan is generally a little irritating, but hopefully people will stick with it.
    Big Tam's story is a sad reminder that those seemingly larger than life, old school characters were just as susceptible to combat stress as today's more empathetic, metrosexual soldiery.


    HOLLYWOOD star Alan Cumming's grandfather was a military hero who shot himself during a game of Russian roulette.

    The Perthshire-born actor makes the shocking discovery in a powerful episode of BBC genealogy series Who Do You Think You Are next week.

    Alan's maternal grandfather Tommy Darling was a decorated war veteran who served his country with the Cameron Highlanders during World War II.

    Tommy was a motorcycle courier who won a medal for bravery after taking ammunition to frontline troops as Nazi commander Rommel's tanks bore down on the French town of Dunkirk.

    He also fought the Japanese as they made their assault on India in the Battle of Kohima in 1944.

    But he paid the price for his courage, suffering serious shrapnel injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

    The moving episode of the series reveals how Tommy, known as Big Tam to his comrades, suffered from combat fatigue, a serious psychological condition not as widely recognised in the 1940s and 50s as it is today.

    Military records suggest he was treated in a sanatorium in the Indian town of Deolali, from where the slang term "do-lally" originates.

    Alan and his family knew very little about Tommy, who died in 1951 aged 35.

    His mother Mary, Tommy's daughter, was told her father died after accidentally discharging a shotgun while cleaning it during his work abroad.

    But Alan made the shocking discovery that his grandfather died drinking beer and playing Russian roulette in a bar in south-east Asia, where he was in the Malayan police.

    His three children did not find out he had separated from his wife Margaret, nor the exact nature of their father's death.

    Speaking at the start of his investigation in the final episode of the BBC1 series, Alan said: "At my gran's funeral someone intimated to me that it might not have been an accident.

    "I think there's something dodgy there. There's a picture of him on the wall in my hallway and every time I go past it, it's like a big zero.

    "I'm 45 now and time is marching on, making you more curious about the past.

    "Sometimes I feel like other parts of my life have been like an episode of Dallas, so why shouldn't this be, too?"

    But the star couldn't have scripted a more dramatic revelation.

    Manhattan-based Alan - now an American citizen who lives in New York with his partner Grant Shaffer - is one of Scotland's most successful acting exports.

    He's fondly remembered for camp airline comedy The High Life and yuppie spoof Victor and Barry with Forbes Masson.

    But it's as a star of Broadway theatre in Cabaret and Hollywood movies such as X-Men, Bond flick GoldenEye and Stanley Kubrick thriller Eyes Wide Shut that Alan made his mark internationally.

    He is now filming another series of US drama The Good Wife, in which he plays a lawyer opposite Julianna Margulies.

    Alan returned to Scotland to begin his research with his mother Mary in Dundee and travelled to France and Malaysia to find out what really happened to his grandad.

    Along the way he met some of the troops Tommy fought alongside and men in the Malaysian town of Chaah, where he died, who remember his days policing the town.

    After the war Tommy returned to Britain, living briefly in St Albans, Hertfordshire.

    But like many soldiers, he struggled on civvy street and applied to join the police in Malaya - now part of Malaysia - where he served in the early 1950s.

    Alan discovered how the people of Chaah held him in such high regard that they named a street and a kids' playpark after him.

    After reading his grandfather's autopsy report, Alan said: "I really am sideswiped. I didn't see that one coming at all.

    "What state of mind must he have have been in to get his kicks from being in some little bar and putting a gun to his head?

    "I feel really sad for him."

    Visiting Malaysia's national archives in Kuala Lumpur, Alan uncovered official documents outlining how Tommy died in the game where players dice with death and bets are placed on the outcome of the spin of a revolver's cylinder.

    They show how police hid the nature of Tommy's death from his family, suggesting a firearm accidentally discharged.

    There is also a moving letter from Alan's late grandmother Margaret, asking for her husband's personal effects to be returned so that his children would have something to remember him by.

    The star was moved to tears when he found a note detailing his gran's inability to pay the £4 charge to have her dead husband's possessions delivered from Liverpool docks in London.

    Records and personal anecdotes gathered by Alan on his journey reveal that Tommy was held in the highest regard by his military peers and superiors.

    But a mystery period of five years at the beginning of the 1940s speaks of the stigma surrounding episodes of mental ill-health, common both then and now as an after-effect of combat.

    Looking at old photographs of Tommy, Alan said: "It's easy for me to be proud of him as a person. He's not just a bravery machine. He's a rounded person who struggled. He's a little soul. I can see it in his eyes.

    "His death is not so shocking when you look at his life. His story tells us about military stress and how it affects you.

    "It's not that we don't value the job they did and the job soldiers do nowadays, it's that we don't value the effects of that later in life.

    "His is the complete example of how a life was lost because of that. Finding out about that and sharing it with my family has reinforced my belief that it's important to be honest and open rather than having skeletons in the closet.

    "The truth can hurt but not knowing can hurt even more.

    "The way he's remembered with such love by people, that they named a street and a park after him, shows he affected lives so deeply on the other side of the world. That's such a lovely thing.

    "I think Tommy Darling lived life with the volume way up."
  6. Initially I thought that too but would be easly explained by him simply turning his head to one side.
    The documentary evidence seemed quite clear though, witness statement and it was in a public place
  7. A fascinating if tragic final episode of what has been a thoroughly absorbing series. Lt Darling is clearly held in very high regard by those who knew him. The circumstances of his death do sound odd though. When I heard the extract from the autopsy report I tried to replicate it because I didn't believe it. If it was as described then it seems a very unnatural position to take rather than that depicted in The Deer Hunter. To have no charring suggests that the weapon was not in close contact to the skull.
  8. jim24

    jim24 Book Reviewer

    In fact most people who shoot themselves in the head turn away from the weapon so three inches behind the ear would be about right, most shots at close range into the temple fail to do a clean kill because of the turn away effect in fact many survive with minor wounds to the forehead, I actually had to treat one some years ago
  9. That doesn't make any sense. If you have a pistol pointed at your temple and you turn away from it, how do you get a wound to the forehead?
  10. seaweed

    seaweed LE Book Reviewer

    The first-hand account of Kohima was totally riveting (as are the follow-on comments about PTSD). So also the explanation, on site, of how Darling earned his MM at La Bassee. Paradoxically where a gt uncle of mine was killed in '14.
  11. Yes it does. Role-play it a few times TT and you'll see how the bullet ends up skiting along the forehead rather than blatting into the jelly-meat!

    I thoroughly enjoyed the programme apart from the attempts to editorialise Big Tam into a PTSD case, on some pretty flimsy evidence. Deolali did have a mental hospital but it also had several other hospitals, including a convalescent centre - the temperatures at Deolali were apparently 1 degree C lower than elsewhere. He obviously wasn't a calm and rational man by the time he took his life in the game of Russian roulette but he seemed to be functioning pretty well as a Colonial policeman. It made me wonder about the game of Russian roulette - which apparently he had played before - and the circumstances behind it. Altogether an unsatisfactory amount of information. The lack of a pension or any financial assistance was pretty indicative that all was not as it might have ben.

    The "officer's record book" puzzled me too. Might he have been commissioned into the RAOC in the missing period - looking at the job he was referred to as doing in his five post war years of Army service?
  12. sorry buddy, could you tell me how to post new threads on here? as in, i would like to start a thread, but i can not work out how to do it???

    many thanks.
  13. AlienFTM

    AlienFTM LE Book Reviewer

    Go to the top of this page and click on the link Military History and Militaria in the line that reads (excuse the stand-in graphics):

    > Forum > Cultural Corner > Military History and Militaria > Who do you think you are?

    This will bring you back to the forum index.

    You'll see the same line (less the name of the thread you are no longer in thus):

    > Forum > Cultural Corner > Military History and Militaria

    A couple of lines down from that, click + Post New Thread
  14. Anyone see the Patrick Stewart one in the new series a few days back? His old man had an interesting story that landed up with his as RSM of 2 Para in 1945.
  15. Yes I thought that was a really interesting episode too. Didn't really know about Operation Dragoon until I watched it. I did notice however that Patrick became more Yorkshireman and less hollywood lovey as the programme went on.