Posted by on 14 September 2010 in General

Who Do You Think You Are? series seven drew to a close last night, and what a way to bow out. Alan Cumming’s episode was certainly one of the most moving I’ve seen. I have to say, though, the main emotion I took from it was shock.

The entire hour focused on a single person – Alan’s maternal grandfather Tom Darling. However, it definitely wasn’t lacking in content. The first half alone crammed in the equivalent of a usual episode, as the actor learned about his relative’s service in World War II, and the heroic part he played in major battles in both France and India.

Alan was lucky, as his mother already had Tom’s service record. The Ministry of Defence still has many of our ancestors’ documents from WWII, and will only release them to immediate relatives. Find out more. However, we have some other comprehensive and exclusive records to help you trace your family’s WWII heroes, including a British Army Roll of Honour and Prisoner of War records.

It was after the War that Tom’s life became truly shocking, as he joined the Malayan police during the battle against native guerillas. His role included lining up the dead bodies of enemies killed by his comrades as a deterrent to other locals.

While I realise Alan’s relative was carrying out orders, I find the idea of British forces performing such barbaric acts so recently extremely difficult to accept. The photos we saw reminded me of similar images in the old KGB prison in Vilnius, Lithuania – those serve as a reminder of the terrible practices of the Russians in slaughtering thousands of locals, and the comparison is disturbing.

Of course, the final shock was Tom’s cause of death. I was convinced we were being prepared for a verdict of suicide, so I was staggered when it transpired Alan’s relative was playing Russian roulette. It’s impossible to imagine how troubled you’d have to be to put a gun to your own head as part of a game, and I’m not surpised Alan was so upset.

So, an emotional and thought-provoking episode, but one that provided an unmissable end to a very good series. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long for more Who Do You Think You Are? episodes.

10 Comments

Mick Perry 

I have some concern that the Russian roulette story was not the truth.
The pathologist’s report said that the entry wound showed no powder burns; this indicates that the muzzle of the weapon was not in contact with the skin and must have been some distance away. The report also said that the entry would was 3 inches behind the ear; this would be towards the back of Tom Darling’s head. The Webley Mk IV .38″ revolver weighs 2.5 lbs and is 10.25″ long. I cannot see how anyone could hold such a weapon at the back of his head with the muzzle sufficiently distant from contact with his scalp so as to avoid powder burns or bruising.
It is such a pity that no comment was made about any efforts by the programme makers to trace and interview the other people who were actually present at the time of the shooting; the summary report compliled by a third party was unconvincing.

14 September 2010 at 10:59 pm
Barry Stevens 

I, too, had some worries about the proximity of the muzzle, but I have an even greater concern, and that is the fact that the programme failed to mention that Alan’s grandfather was commissioned into the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, (RAOC).

The stop/start facility on the Skybox recording is of immense value, as I found out.

He showed his Grandfather’s ‘Officer’s’ Service Record, the small red booklet. His Officer’s service number was 357383. (This was his new service number having forfeited his original service number 2928278, upon commission, which he’d had since originally enlisting).

Great mention was made of the record of injuries, but the expert didn’t seem to notice that the document was now in the name of an officer rather than a Lance Corporal despatch rider.
The evidence was all before him. The large record sheets referred to his Cameron Highlander service, and then in 1946 listed in great detail his RAOC service beginning in India, where it seems he received his commission.

His initial posting on sheet three states that he joined the Central Ordnance Depot, (COD), in Delhi. Then he was posted to the UK and joined COD Chilwell, moving through various of that unit’s companies: 6 Chilwell MT Group, then 12, back to 10 and finally back to 12.
From there he was posted to British Army of the Rhine, (BAOR) to serve in Armoured Vehicle support units, Ordnance Field Parks, (OFP’s), etc. All were listed.

He eventually returned from BAOR to the UK and entered Queen Alexander’s Military Hospital in Aldershot. I couldn’t spot whether as a patient or as a member of the support staff. After that he was demobbed via RAOC Feltham in Middlesex.

His RAOC commission is probably why he was able to enlist in the Malay Police Force as the equivalent to a Lieutenant, rather than make a serious promotional leap to that rank from Lance Corporal.

If all of this was left out for editorial reasons, so be it. But I would like Alan to be even more proud of his Grandfather by knowing that he managed to rise to officer rank within the British Army.

15 September 2010 at 11:57 am
Barry Stevens 

PS. I, too, am ex-RAOC, which is why the records just leaped out of the screen to me.

15 September 2010 at 12:00 pm
bromaelor 

People watch WDYTYA because they are interested in genealogy. But in the latest series we seem to have most of the research work hidden from us? Perhaps someone in the production team, with a degree in Media Studies from the University of Easy Access, thinks that we don’t need to know about all of that boring stuff? I don’t want a travelogue, let’s get back to genealogy!

15 September 2010 at 3:12 pm
Mr Darren Lack 

I enjoy military history , and am always interested in bravery awards . I was a bit dissapointed , then , that none of the experts noticed that Alan’s grandfathers MM had the War Medal ribbon and not the MM ribbon .

15 September 2010 at 5:08 pm
Chris Paton 

A really shaky start to the series for the first couple of episodes can thankfully be forgiven with a powerful end after a good run of interesting programmes throughout the rest of the run. To me, family history will always be about how it can affect our own identity – to know where you are going you need to know where you have been. Alan Cumming will undoubtedly have been shocked and thrilled, horrified and proud in equal measures by what he found out, and he will undoubtedly not be the man he started off as before his journey. But despite the shocks, I get the feeling he would not have had it any other way, because the truth (as much as could be established) was finally out. A great end to the series.

16 September 2010 at 12:22 am
Keith MAy 

I also noticed the incorrect medal ribbon on Tom Darling’s MM. There was a lot of interesting information about his RAOC service which wasn’t brought out in the programme. Still some questions left but a better than average series.

17 September 2010 at 10:26 am
Fraser Darling 

My great grandfather was also in the same regiment and was posted with Tom Darling.

19 September 2010 at 1:39 am
Marlene O'Neill 

I also agree that it would have been impossible to fire this weapon at such an angle into the back of his head.
Popularity breeds contempt and this man obviously had an enemy who used this firearm to dispose of him.
Russian Roulette BALDERDASH.

20 September 2010 at 4:30 pm
nursing schools 

Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

21 September 2010 at 9:35 pm