Michael Ventris - Biography - Young Adult

Young Adult

Michael's father died in 1938 when Michael was 16 years old. Dora became administrator of the estate. Hard times, however, lay ahead. After the German invasion of Poland in 1939 the family holdings in that country were gone, and all income from there ceased. In 1940 Dora's father died. The family became destitute. Michael lost his mother to clinical depression and an overdose of barbiturates. He never spoke of her, assuming instead an ebullient and energetic manner in whatever he decided to do, a trait which won him numerous friends. At the same time they noted that he had a dark and mysterious side as well, associated with feelings that he was a fraud, and not a true genius. A friend of the family, a Russian sculptor, Naum Gabo, took Michael under his wing, so to speak. Michael later said that Gabo was the most family he had ever had. It may have been at Gabo's house that he began the study of Russian. He had resolved on architecture for a career. He enrolled at the Architectural Association School of Architecture. There he met and married Lois, who preferred to be called Betty. Her social background was similar to what Ventris' had been: her family was well-to-do, she had travelled in Europe, and she was interested in architecture, in addition to which she was popular and was considered very beautiful.

He did not complete his schooling immediately, being drafted in 1942. He chose the Royal Air Force (RAF). His preference was for navigator rather than pilot, for which he underwent extensive training in Canada, to qualify as an Air Navigator with the rank of Sergeant in 1944. While training, he studied Russian intensively for several weeks, the purpose of which, if any, is not clear. He was in time for the bombing of Germany, serving on the Handley Page Halifax with No. 76 Squadron RAF, initially at RAF Breighton and then at RAF Holme-on-Spalding Moor. After the conclusion of the war he served out the rest of his term on the ground in Germany, for which he was chosen because of his knowledge of Russian. His duties are unclear. His friends all assumed he was completing intelligence assignments, interpreting his denials as part of a legal gag. No such assignments have turned up, however, even after these many decades since his service. There is also no evidence that he was ever part of any code-breaking unit, as was Chadwick, even though the public readily believed this explanation of his genius and success with Linear B.

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