How My Brussels Internship Brought Me Closer To My Family History

How My Brussels Internship Brought Me Closer To My Family History

Thomas Kingham undertook a Brussels internship while studying at UEA.  In this post he considers how the experience brought him closer to his family history.

Tom Kingham in Brussels in 2012
Tom Kingham in Brussels in 2012

While studying for my undergraduate History degree I was lucky enough to be one of two chosen to work in the East of England Brussels Office assisting European Policy Officers. Before embarking on my experience I soon sort to brush up on my knowledge of the European institutions by partaking in a couple of supporting politics modules. I have to be honest with you; my knowledge of the European institutions was rather skewed by the media, however, my opinion changed completely after my experience in Brussels.

My Experience In Brussels

From the offset we were thrown into the deep end as we were set a task to prepare for a meeting with Norwegian representatives on the issue of vocational education. While I, and my other colleague Andy, had limited time to prepare, we worked together quickly to come up with a few suggestions that were received favorably. What is more, I found it very interesting discussing ideas with other European representatives. What made an impression from that day, is their willingness to engage in positive and constructive ideas for creating partnerships.

During my time in Brussels we also were given plenty of time to attend multiple meetings on behalf of the office. This involved networking and making notes on consultations, as we sort to disseminate relevant information into a usable form back to the East of England SME’s. This was a vital aspect of the office’s work, in which one of its main aims is obtaining early intelligence on future policy initiatives and funding opportunities that would give East of England partners a head start in developing unique and rewarding projects.

In addition, other achievements included increasing the social media presence of the office, and also accessing and recommending areas in which the new website could enhance the office’s profile. In fact this part of the role I enjoyed the most and has since led me to pursue a career in marketing and advertising.

My Grandad’s War Effort

Tom Kingham's Grandfather
Tom Kingham’s Grandfather

Before embarking on my internship I spoke with my Grandmother, Mary Tinkler, about my upcoming time in Brussels and she soon explained that my Grandfather, William Tinkler, was stationed fifty miles out from Brussels in a little village called Tielt- Winge, as part of the 112th (Durham Light Inventory) Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment serving the country during World War II. Intrigued to find out more, she managed to find the letters in which the family kept in close contact with William in the decades after the War.

What started out as curiosity to find out more about the man that sparked my interest in history, quickly developed. I wanted to track down the exact place where he was stationed during the war and meet the people who looked after him. I decided to look up the address on Google Earth. I managed to find the name of the family he stayed with as they were using their surname as the business name for a local optician. I nervously called the number and was subsequently invited to visit the following weekend.

Whilst I embarked on my travels east from Brussels I found myself getting increasingly nervous, unsure exactly how the meeting would pan out, and a little concerned about how much they would be prepared to talk about the War. Much to my surprise they were very open about this time. On my arrival Emilienne Van Uffelen-Tambeur, a girl at the time of my Grandad’s stay, presented me with a picture of my grandad. The photograph on the right is that of which she presented to me on the day. We spent the rest of the day chatting and talking about William’s time in their village, with the family later deciding to take me out to Leuven, a local large town, for the area for a meal and one last goodbye.

A lesson of a lifetime

Something that particularly made an impression on me in my time with the family was their great admiration for the English. They repeatedly referred to William as ‘our English man’. I was told that this was apparently commonplace amongst all of the surrounding families in local villages and towns with regards to the English soldiers staying there.

The house that Tom Kingham's grandfather stayed in, in 1944
The house that Tom Kingham’s grandfather stayed in, in 1944

One story that stood out for me was that William taught them, as children then, a common nursery rhyme ‘Two Little Dickie Birds‘ which consequently became quite popular at the local school. Years later when they met in London this was something that Emilienne made sure to remind Bill.

What started out as a chance to gain more of a working experience abroad soon taught me a very interesting and important lesson. It not only taught me about the importance of what my grandad, and so many of the allied soldiers, achieved in World War II beyond just the fighting. It also gave me a true sense of identity and meaning towards the European union, an important bond after such a difficult time in European history. More than anything I am just thankful that I was able to learn a bit more ab

out the man that inspired my journey into further education.

In loving memory of William and Mary Tinkler.

Thomas Kingham now works as a Marketing Executive at Shout Promotional Merchandise.  He graduated from the University of East Anglia in 2013.

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