Did grandad. live a grandad live a secret life as a spy?
SHE called him 'Pom'. He was her kindly old grandad. But Max Lehmann was living a double life as he travelled round the Eastern Bloc.
And when Nicci Fletcher unearthed 250 letters, passports and diaries charting his past, the truth began to dawn.
Because Max, it appears, may well have been ... a SPY.
e letters began in 1928 and span 30 years, including the time when Max served in the Home Guard as an engineer with the 24th Staordshire regiment, based near the family home in tettenhall Road, Wolverhampton.
And even then there was a hint of mystery. "I learned that my grandfather had been involved in testing experimental weapons," says Nicci, 47, from Malvern, Worcestershire. "My husband Andrew was in the Army and he says he'd never heard of some of the things my "grandfather worked on.
"But there was more. We sus"pect he may have been a spy. "Looking back, I remembered family stories my parents had told us when my mother was younger.
"ey said he always carried petrol in the car, together with a colour cine-lm camera which, considering there was rationing, was a bit unusual.
"After the war, he spent years travelling around Eastern Bloc Europe. He travelled alone for quite some time, then it was suggested that my grandmother join him because it was considered too dangerous for him to travel on his own.
"Some of these stories were very exciting. We learned that during one trip to Moscow, they had been out for dinner and went back to their hotel room to discover a body lying there.
"I also remember being told as a child that if I wanted to phone someone to discuss anything sensitive that I should go into the bathroom and turn all the taps "on whilst I made the call.
"It was all a bit cloak and dagger."
What is for sure is that Max " worked for F.J. Ballards engineering company in Tipton, which made beach defences during the war and industrial ovens and signs afterwards. It is thought that Max's ocial job was to help Eastern Bloc factories get back on track after the war - but his family suspect there was more to it than that.
ey may never know the real "reason he was there.
"It's very hard to prove whether or not my grandfather was a spy," says Nicci, who started researching her family history after reading the letters.
"Grandad was of German extraction but would denitely not have been working for the Germans. Both my grandparents had lost relatives in the concentration camps.
"I think he was possibly more "of an industrial spy after the war.
"At times my grandfather was writing to my grandmother three to four times a week.
"Sometimes it was just one or two words, at other times it was a long missive."
Nicci's mother Grace went to " boarding school at the age of seven because she found her father's coming and goings so distressing.
"She would be plunged into despair when he went away, then so excited when he came back, explains Nicci. "But then she would be plunged into despair again a couple of days later.
"ey decided she would have more stability at boarding school, and they often visited her and had her home for weekends. My grandfather tried to spend time with her during the holidays when he could."
One of the things the Leh" manns did to make family time special in 1951 was to buy a nar'rowboat, which they called 'Snail.'.
"Ballards was next to a canal ' and my grandfather was fasci"nated with canals," says Nicci. "He was one of the rst people to convert a working barge into a pleasure craft.
"In 1953, the three of them travelled from Wolverhampton along the canals to Paddington Basin in London for the Queen's coronation. I found an article about it in the local newspaper."
Nicci was 14 years old when " her grandfather died at the age of 84, having suered a stroke in his seventies.
"My grandad was a largerthan-life character," recalls Nicci, who has changed her family's names to protect their identities.
"e rst words I ever spoke were 'Pom Pom' as I pointed to him, so that was what he was called from then on.
"He had a wicked sense of humour. I remember he carried around a small grotesque gure and used to say it reminded him of Granny when he was away.
"My grandmother was always immaculately dressed - she used to change into about ve dierent outts every day."
It turned out that Polly, who " lived to be 97, had been for a tour on the Titanic just before it set sail.
"One of my biggest regrets is that I knew my grandmother had seen the Titanic sail but never asked her about it until she was in her nineties," says Nicci.
"at's when she revealed she'd had a guided tour of the rst class accommodation, too.
"If only I'd asked her in her 60s then she might have remembered more."
is revelation, together with " the discovery of the letters and a notebook in which her grandmother had started writing her memoirs, made Nicci realise that most families miss out on a wealth of shared stories by not recording their grandparents' memories.
* "My grandmother always anted to be a writer," says Nicci, who used to be a business analyst trainer.
"I decided I would write their story, called From Grannie's Pen, as a way of fullling this dream for her."
Nicci is unable to pass on this " legacy of family history because she has sadly not been able to have children herself.
On the morning of her 40th birthday, she awoke in excruciatIng pain and was unable to walk. It turned out she had stage four endometriosis, which had led to a frozen pelvis. Major surgery followed and a friend suggested she started writing during her convalescence.
As a result, she self-published a book titled Poetic Genes, featuring poems by her grandfather, grandmother, mother and herself. She has also published a collection of short stories for children.
Realising she could help others to uncover and record the secrets of their pasts, Nicci set up a company oering virtual boot camps, teaching people how to research and write their family history through 12 online modules.
Sadly, Nicci lost her father to a heart attack when she was just 27 and her mother died from a brain bleed 18 months later. ey were just 67 and 58.
"At 27, you think you are invincible and that your parents are invincible," says Nicci, whose own family history book continues to be a work in progress. "But it meant all the questions I had about my grandparents couldn't be answered by them.
"e letters I found gave me an insight into their lives that I didn't know about before. I was able to ll in a lot of the gaps from what I read - but they also raised a lot of questions. It's so frustrating because I wish I'd asked them more when they were alive."
WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE? NICCI | is running workshops at the Who Do You Think You Are? Live show at Birmingham's NEC from April 16 to 18. To book tickets, visit www.whodoyouthinkyouarelive.com. To find out more about Nicci, visit her website www.wasgrandadaspy.com
Grandad was of German extraction but would definitely not have been working for the Germans. Both my grandparents had lost relatives in the concentration camps
Max Lehmann as a boy |
Max and Polly Lehmann on their |narrowboat at Newbridge, Tettenhall
Mum Grace as a tot and Grannie Polly aged around 16 |
Grannie Polly |with mum Grace