Tag Archives: history

Christmas 1921

As many of you will be aware, I’ve been researching WWI rather intensively for the last two years in what has emerged as a series of research projects. Those of you who also research in a more intuitive fashion and allow yourselves the luxury of pursuing all those twists and turns others might dismiss as “distractions”, “rabbit warrens”, will be familiar with the joy of discovering new worlds and perspectives you never knew existed, rather than simply proving your own point. It was this seemingly random fossicking, which led me to Australian author, Ethel Turner from an entirely different angle finding a message of hope, human kindness and generosity we sorely need today.

To do this story justice, I’m going to straddle the story of Christmas 1921 across both my blogs here at Beyond the Flow, and over at Tea With Ethel Turner. Here I’ll provide more of the social and political background and context to Christmas 1921 and why it was special while over at Tea With Ethel Turner, I’ll share how she made a difference to Christmas 1921 with her band of Sunbeamers.

While the 1920s is often portrayed as a time of unrestrained celebration after the horrors of WWI, the reality was much more complex and certainly Christmas 1921 was a time of very mixed fortunes. Sure, the war was over. The Spanish Flu was also officially over as well. On the 6th December, 1921 the Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed seeing independence for Southern Ireland and ending the Anglo-Irish War. The Washington Conference was also promising peace in the Pacific. Yet, following his speech on the 20th December, 1921 Mr Stanley Bruce (the 8th Prime Minister from 1923 to 1929) who was representing Australia at the League of Nations, was described as “a supreme pessimist: sees nothing but trouble” after these dire warnings :

Mr Stanley Bruce

“SYDNEY, Tuesday.—Mr. S. M. Bruce, speaking at a National Club luncheon, remarked: “When one comes, back to Australia one is a little horrified to see what is going on. The whole of Europe to-day is struggling in a morass and it is doubtful whether it will ever get out. It is recognised if nothing is done to restore the economic stability of the world a wave of Bolshevism may spread all over the earth. We in Australia have a land where everything is good. Our country is the soundest of any in the world, but it is going to be faced, with the same troubles as the rest. We do not seem to have recognised this. We are only squabbling amongst ourselves.1.”

Gee, does this sound strangely familiar?

Anyway, here’s “Christmas 1921” which was published in Sydney’s Daily Telegraph on Christmas Eve, 1921:

CHRISTMAS, 1921

For many thousands of people throughout the world this must be a “black” Christmas. Almost every country is suffering from the effects of those five years of war, during which production was stopped and the savings of decades were scattered. Thousands of families to-day will be clouded with anxiety because there is no longer a market for the goods the production of which has furnished them with a means of living and their breadwinners with employment. To other families Christmas brings back memories which, though they are colored with pride, arc memories of sadness. It seems impossible that in the lifetime of this generation Christmas shall ever be a season of unmixed rejoicing, except for the children, whose festival it is. Yet throughout the world it will be recognised that the Christmas of 1921 is more in accord with those universal ideals which it connotes than any that we have known for many years past. To-morrow men can take part in a festival of peace and hope without any reflection on the vanity of human effort or the insincerity of all professions of faith. The year has been one in which a genuine and fruitful attempt has been made to banish the dangers of war. For the first time for a hundred years the statesmen of the world have given a practical demonstration of their faith that peace should be the goal of their policy and is the greatest .of human blessings. The delegates to Washington have set aside personal ambition and national avarice in their work for the good of mankind. The delegates from Great Britain and Ireland have agreed that each nation may have failed to appreciate the point of view of the other, and that each must make sacrifices of its own beliefs for the sake of peace. And when these public achievements are noticed men will be driven back to remember the many private acts of beneficence that have been carried out during the past three years. “There is a budding to-morrow in midnight.” It may pass unnoticed while men are oppressed by the surrounding darkness, but it should be acknowledged when we have at last arrived at the dawning of an era of peace and goodwill. In almost every epoch there are lamentations at the incurable selfishness of mankind or at the degeneration of the human species, and invariably they are answered by convincing examples. Before the war we were told that the age of self sacrifice had passed, that men had degenerated physically and morally, that the virtue of patriotism would be practised only by barbarians. The last months of 1914 answered, that reproach. Never was there a clearer response to the appeal of idealism, never did men come forward more spontaneously to avenge and to rescue the oppressed. Every day of the blackest period of human history was illuminated by some act of devotion, when men sacrificed themselves for one another or for their cause, when the motive of self interest, conspicuous though it was, was less frequently exemplified than any other. Since attention has been concentrated on the struggle for the spoils of victory the nobility of hundreds of thousands of obscure lives has been forgotten, but to-day it can be remembered and can be acknowledged as of the same quality as the self-sacrifice which has been placed at the service of the famine-stricken peoples of Europe. To-day we may rejoice in the efforts made by statesmen to establish peace among nations. But while these same states men were manoeuvring other work more urgently and immediately needed was being carried on with even less regard for international boundaries. In Austria and Ger many citizens of the victorious countries have given their money and their services for the sake Of their former enemies. The war, though it has founded much hatred and bitterness, has produced the clearest practical recognition of the brotherhood of man. The period In which lamentations at the folly and avarice of men have be on most frequent, and apparently most abundantly justified, has again seen them answered by the most indisputable examples. “Man, what is this? And why are thou despairing? God shall forgive thee all but thy despair?” The same question might have been asked, and the same comment made at any time during the period which is now coming to an end. At no time has there been so much self-sacrifice; at no time have individual citizens been so ready to spend their lives in the service of their fellowmen, and, if necessary, to ignore the boundaries ‘between one nation and another. Was there ever a more heroic instance of such devotion than that given by Sir Arthur Pearson, who “turned his necessity to glorious gain,” and set himself to brighten-the lives of others stricken with the same infirmity as himself? In this last period the work of the individual has been -in contrast with that of the statesmen; but we cannot afford to forget it now that the statesmen are giving themselves to the furtherance of peace and concord. Rather the inference should be that the impulse towards peace and brotherhood is never dead, but moves forward continually until statesmen are compelled to reduce into the form of a. public document’ the desire of hundreds of thousands of their constituents. We cannot say to-day that these efforts towards pacification have been completely successful. Both at Washington – and In Ireland there are elements so blinded by tradition that they cannot obey the force of reason. But all the ‘omens for peace are good. Not since the reign of – Caesar Augustus have there been so many signs of unity among the nations that make up the civilised world, and not since the Great War ended has there been so good a prospect that the men who fought there will reap the fruit of their sacrifices In the elimination of one of the chief causes of future wars.”2.

I can’t help looking back at these precious people of Christmas 1921 with their varying degrees of pessimism and hope, but still probably largely believing something could be done. That the Wall Street Crash, The Depression along and WWII weren’t just around the corner, although the writing was already on the wall.

Those babies born at Christmas 1921 would be 19 years old in 1939. It is unthinkable that so many of them went on to fight on the very same battlefields as their fathers, and that Australia’s sons would also find themselves fighting the Japanese and defending home soil. Our women weren’t immune either.

Yikes, sometimes time travel isn’t much fun after all, is it?!!

Meanwhile, while I’m tapping away here about Christmas 1921, we’re watching the movie: Don’t Look Up. A comet is threatening to collide with the Earth and the response of Americans is let’s just say “a concern”. I know that while we’re focusing on covid, climate change is our big threat and most of us don’t see it coming either. I hope this movie isn’t too prophetic!

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this. Hauled up at home on a wet and overcast day with covid spreading like wildfire all around us, I feel like I’m talking to myself. However, I know you’re out there and I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin

References

  1. Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), Wednesday 21 December 1921, page 13
  2. Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), Saturday 24 December 1921, page 10

Revisiting Badde Manors Cafe, Glebe.

Tonight, a friend tagged me on a photo of Badde Manors Cafe in Sydney’s Glebe, saying she thought I used to hang out there. I was pretty impressed by her memory, because each of us used to go there in our past lives before our paths crossed with pre-schoolers and babies at playgroup. However, Badde Manors was that sort of place. It left an indelible impression.

The Famous Cherubs Perched Up On The Roof

Anyone who has frequented Badde Manors has their own story to tell. I first went there at the start of 1989 when my best friend from school and I moved into a two storey terrace house on Abercrombie Street, Chippendale. It was right on the pedestrian crossing on the rat run from Redfern Station into campus, and we could sit up on the balcony in varying stages of sobriety, and prospective and unrequited requited love and call out to friends passing by. It was like living at the very centre of the universe and being surrounded by friends, life and opportunity. Indeed, across the road was the Reasonably Good Cafe where I used to do poetry readings back in the day. It was all there right at our fingertips…as I said, back in the day.

It was our flatmate, Michael, who introduced us to Badde Manors. He was a fair bit older than us, and much more suave, sophisticated and urbane. My friend hailed from the Northern Beaches, and I hailed from the North Shore, which might have had prestige but was sadly lacking in street cred and that’s what mattered more. I was probably doing my usual thing and wearing stripes and Country Road. I wasn’t conservative on the inside, but as we all know, it’s the outside which matters.

Indoor mural

Anyway, I was probably awkward, and although I was going into second year and was no longer a “fresher” I still had much to discover in the world, and that included Badde Manors. Michael introduced us one Saturday morning as we went to the markets and Macro Wholefoods.

I can’t even remember what I used to order there. Some kind of chocolate cake no doubt. However, what comes to mind now, is returning to Badde Manors in October 2018 and absorbing the cafe through the lens as it was that day – a frozen time capsule. I haven’t been there since, but get the impression from the web site that it might have been renovated.

Even the bathroom door was one of a kind!

Anyway, as I said, a friend tagged me on a photo of Badde Manors Cafe tonight, prompting me to post this photographic tour down memory lane. I thought others might want to join me here.

I especially hope those of you who used to hang out at Badde Manors have enjoyed sharing this trip down memory lane with me. It would be great if you could leave a few stories – a great thing to do on a wet and windy Boxing Day night.

I look forward to hearing from you!’

Best wishes,

Rowena

These are all my own photos copyright Rowena Curtin 2018.

The Woman of Kracow – Friday Fictioneers 14th October, 2021.

Should she stay, or should she go?

Pregnant, Alicja had flown from London to Kracow to consult her dead father. An intense man, he’d been a Polish fighter pilot in the famous Kosciusko 303 squadron. After years in exile, the iron curtain had lifted, and he’d died in his beloved Kracow. Thoroughly English, Alicja was a stranger here. Yet, despite longing to be plain “Alice”, she still held onto the Polish spelling.

Strolling through Main Square, she didn’t see the oncoming tram. However, an invisible force shoved her to safety.

“Papa! Papa!”

Somehow, she would stay.

Yet, could she?

…………

100 words

Four years ago, I met Roland in our local bookshop. His father was a Polish bomber plot in WWII, and he came from near Kracow which somehow managed to survive the war without being bombed to smithereens. I have been helping Roland research his father’s story and being in distant Australia, I decided to visit Kracow via Google Earth the other night. It was exquisite. Have you been there? It’s definitely on my bucket list. an interesting aspect to this research is that my Great Great grandmother was born in what went on to become Poland and she was till alive when my mum was a child. I looked up the village she came from some time ago, and didn’t relate to it at all. Meanwhile, I am hoping to find a bakery which makes Makowiec (Poppy Seed Roll). Or, I might have to try baking it myself. Soon, I’ll have to start calling myself Rowski!

Meanwhile, I have recently started a second blog, where I’m exploring English-Australian novelist Ethel Turner, who wrote the classic “Seven Little Australians”. However, so far I’ve been showcasing some of her other writing. Here’s the link:

https://teawithethelturner.com/

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields at https://rochellewisoff.com/ This week’s photo prompt has been provided by PHOTO PROMPT © Brenda Cox

Best wishes,

Rowena

Positive Thinking Be Damned – An Aussie Voice From the Spanish Flu Pandemic 1919.

I wonder how many people have taken on a project throughout Covid… Something to give them an enhanced sense of purpose and hope when everything around us is at best weird and completely unrecognizable (even your nearest and dearest behind the cursed mask), or for those who are losing precious loved ones one after another, there’s tragedy and grief.

Three out of the four of us trying on glasses at Specsavers last week when part of Sydney was under lockdown and we were playing it safe.

I’d got stuck into my project before covid. That’s because I was already in iso at home literally struggling to breathe during the Australian bushfire crisis. I have 50% lung capacity and was confined to our loungeroom or bed with the air-conditioning on. On bad days, I couldn’t leave these rooms. It was absolutely terrifying, and seriously life-threatening. Yet, at the same time, I was quite safe in my hidey-hole.

This is when doing some background research on family members who’d served in France during WWI really took off, turning into multiple projects of epic proportions. It is only a short jump from WWI to the 1919 Spanish Flu Epidemic. Indeed, tonight while I was researching some Australian war artists, I came across a rather impassioned letter to the editor of Smith’s Weekly talking about all the trials and tribulations they’d been through what with the drought, followed by the war and then the Spanish Flu. They go on to describe living conditions and restrictions at the time, and I thought it made for pretty good reading, and decided to share it with you.

By the way, before you read it, it might help you to understand the Australian context by reading a verse of Dorothea MacKellar’s famous poem, My Country, which eulogizes the trails and tribulations of living in Australia, and provides a background to the letter:

“I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains

Of ragged mountain ranges

Of droughts and flooding rains”

-Dorothea MacKeller, My Country.

AUSTRALIA’S TROBLES

Australia is a land of troubles! First, a thrice-barrelled drought squats down on our Sunny Land and burns her up like cinder. Then, Noah-like floods of varying horse-power and dampness smites your essential industries, pastoral, agricultural, etc,, one where they feel it. Then we have the war and its toll of precious life. Then, for a change, we are visited by the Spanish visitation. People walk around gagged and masked as if they belonged to the Secret Council of Ten or the Clutching Hand Gang. The Tax Collector then takes it into his head to camp on our front doorsteps. To escape him, we jump on a passing tram and go into town. “Please don’t sneeze!” “Please don’t cough!” “Please don’t spit!” “Please don’t cross your legs!” “Please don’t blow your nose in the car; do it outside!” “Please don’t spread yourself out. You don’t own the tram. Squeeze up and make room for others!”

These are a few of the “Please don’t” “By orders” we encounter. In despair, we seek the theatre. Alas! “Closed till further notice on account of influenza epidemic!” stares at us with baleful eyes. Then, horror of horrors, we have the politician! Our last trouble as usual, is the worst of all! What Australia has done to be inflicted with the political pests and poltroons that infest our fair land. Heaven alone knows! O.B.U. and Bolshevik orators, bulb-eyed editors, clerical hum-bugs, business profiteers, wobbly poetic Post-misses, and catch-as-catch-can Premiers and State Governors form a formidable list enough to drive a man into the bush for the rest of his days. Truly, Australia is a land of trials and troubles. Anybody any remedy for all these ills?

— H.

Smith’s Weekly (Sydney, NSW : 1919 – 1950), Saturday 26 April 1919, page 9

You have to have a bit of sympathy for poor H. these days now, don’t you?! Mind you, from where I sit, H. was living it up by getting out and about. I haven’t caught a train since February last year when I caught up with a friend in Sydney, and we went out for dinner. I’m so pleased we did. That meal’s now starting to look like the Last Supper!

Not that I feel like I’m missing out most of the time. That’s the good thing about being into history. You know it goes round in cycles like the lands at the top of Enid Blyton’s Magic Faraway Tree. The landscape keeps changing, and you just need to wait for something else, and hopefully better, to come along.

Meanwhile, climate change is starting to make it back on the news. I would tend to call this unprecedented, but I am not even a speck of dust when it comes to the length of breadth of history which spans infinity. I really don’t know.

Anyway, its good food for thought. Any comments?

I’d love to hear from you!

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS You can read more about the impact of the Spanish Flu Epidemic on Sydney here: https://home.dictionaryofsydney.org/ah-chew-sniffle-sniffle-the-pneumonic-influenza-pandemic-of-1919/

Farewell to the Family Car…

It was a long, long time coming and extremely overdue. Yesterday, our blue, 2001 Nissan Pulsar was ceremonially collected by the wreckers and carted off to heaven.

A few days ago, I’d been overjoyed that Geoff had finally gotten around to getting it towed away. It was finally going to be scratched off our never-ending to-do list.

However, when the moment finally came and this massive tow truck pulls up outside our place to cart her off, it was a different story. Indeed, I was more reflective than expected and both Geoff and I formed a guard of honour of sorts to see her off.

We’ve been through a lot with that car. We bought it new in February 2001 just after we’d got engaged on Valentine’s Day, it just so happened that we bought the house in about the same week. Things were on the way up back then. All our Christmases had come at once, and we were impervious to future bad luck. We were engaged and invincible! We’d come through our bad luck and it was all going to be smooth sailing from here. None of what I now know to be the regular ups and downs of life, that precarious journey along the snakes and ladders, and far away from the laws of gravity which dictate that what goes up, comes down.

it’s been about 18 months since the car was last driven. In that time, it’s been superseded by the two luscious red Alfa Romeos. I don’t know what it’s taken so long for that car to go, However, there was something about me needing to clear stuff out before it could be hauled away, and Geoff needing to arrange to get it picked up. I’ll also blame Covid, even though it was awaiting pick up at least a year before Covid came along. I should also mention that my husband grew up on a farm in North-Eastern Tasmania where deceased vehicles simply rusted into the dirt. However, we don’t live on a farm. Moreover, my husband is collector of cars and you could say one more just blended into the landscape, even if the landscape was just a suburban back yard. There’s also this other factor that we’ve almost had the blue Pulsar for 20 years and it has simply become part of our landscape…here but not here.

Seeing the old girl off, brought so many memories to mind, especially bringing the kids home as babies from the hospital, which is such a massive event for all families. Huge. Yes, the kids had come home in the blue car. Fallen asleep in the blue car. Fought in the blue car. Thrown up all over the back seat in the blue car. My husband and I had argued in the blue car, and at least he’d driven off in the blue car in a few heated moments. However, what I hadn’t remembered til tonight, was that we drove home from our wedding in the blue car. I’d totally forgotten that. I only remember pulling up at the Church in the Mark IV Jaguar convertible. I was such a princess and it might’ve only been for one day, but the memory remains (and I still have the tiara to prove it.)

So, by the time the old girl was being hauled up on the tow truck, I almost felt like dragging her back. Giving them back their $150.00 and saying I’ve changed my mind. No! The blue car will stay with us forever. Can become some kind of water (or even rust feature) in the back yard. After all, all those memories are so precious. They need to preserved and it felt surprisingly sad to wave her off. Yet, at the same time, our place is getting buried alive in cars and it had to go. Time to cherish the memories and the photos without its physical presence.

Still, you know that just like saying goodbye to Bilbo the family dog who had been with us for 12 years from the time our daughter could crawl, the car also served us through a long, and monumental time in our lives. From when our son was a baby to being just one year out of school. By this time, it was our back up car and we’d bought a younger red Pulsar, which I unfortunately wrote off in the hospital car park a few years ago. While I’m not a real car person, the family car certainly takes you places and some how becomes more than just a car. Indeed, how many people recognize their friends by their car? How many people become their car. or it becomes them? There’s some strange psychology in that. Indeed, there could well be an entire branch of psychology dedicated to cars and their owners. It would be busy.

I wonder if any of you have had a car for a long time and it saw you through a lot? Or, do you have a special car with some stories to tell? How do you relate to your car? Is it just an A to B job? Or, a character car which is something special? I should mention that we also have a Morris Minor, but that’s another story for another day.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Home On A Saturday Morning…2020.

This morning, I became strangely captivated by the absurdity of our kitchen table. Or, more to the point, by the macabre and unlikely pairing of random objects which had simply been placed one on top of the other just waiting for someone to come along and put them in their rightful homes.

That might have been a job for Friday night so we could start the weekend off with a clean slate, open space and an outlook uncluttered by the detritus of four people and three dogs living under the one roof under the somewhat trying circumstances of informal isolation. Well, at least, that’s largely the go for my husband and I while we’ve loosened the noose for the kids who are on school holidays. Even still, they’re told to wash their hands as soon as they come home, and are interrogated about who they’re catching up with before they leave, and where their friends have been, as well as where the people they’ve been hanging out with have been. Any mention of Melbourne, and it’s out to the dog house. Fortunately, we live just North of Sydney and are still well away from experiencing what’s going on in America and other virus nightmare zones. However, we’ve not letting our guard down, and security is tighter at our place than the Queensland border.

Spoons 2020

2020 will go down in history as a year we don’t want to repeat.

Anyway, I’m sure our kitchen table was clear last night. Or, at least, it was some time yesterday. Then, Mr 16 returned home from a day out with his mates and pulled a gazillion plastic spoons out of his pockets and dumped them on the table. He thought they were a great joke, and I reminded me of a friend of mine who used to do that, and earned himself the inevitable nickname of “Spoon”. Spoon was tragically killed in a car accident in his early twenties when he swerved to avoid a koala. One of my best friends had gone out with Spoon for a few years, and my connection with him was more second-hand, although when someone in your circle dies young in a tragic accident like that, you can feel a misplaced closeness. That somehow you knew them better than you did. Or, perhaps you just remember every single little detail and they’ve become frozen in a poignant time capsule in your heart for eternity.

However, my son knew nothing about that when he brought all these spoons home and spread them all over the kitchen table. Not only that, he left them there almost like a piece of ephemeral street art. Just to compound matters, he dumped them on top of my latest attempt to maintain some kind of diary and routine during 2020 when I have nowhere to go and virtually nothing to remember. I have no reason to routinely open a diary and be concerned with where I’m going, which is making it very hard to keep track of that rare random place I’m supposed to be (Is anyone else struggling with that? I know it surely couldn’t just be me?)

Anyway, after deciding that the image of my 2020 diary buried in plastic spoons somehow encapsulated the weirdness of 2020, I noticed a few other “curious points of interest” on the table. While we would usually hide all this unsightly kitchen and family clutter to produce a Insta-perfect shot, I was suddenly struck by all the personality and character which had been thrown together here, and how it possessed a strange kind of beauty which ought to be shared before it was swept away like detritus on the beach.

DSC_0294

First up, there’s this combo of a chocolate biscuit with a touch of lime resting on my tablet box. For the last 13 years, this tablet box has been part of my day more regularly than clockwork. Every day, I take a good handful of tablets to stave off my auto-immune disease, dermatomyositis. While photographing the spoons and my diary, I must’ve been in between thoughts and hadn’t quite managed to get my biscuit onto a plate. The biscuit was made by a friend of mine are chocolate with a hint of lime and rather special. They were left over the other night, and being kind and thoughtful, she divided the leftovers up into Chinese containers for us all to take home. Although I was also taking home the remains of a chocolate macadamia cake I’d made, I was looking forward to having her biscuits with a cup of tea. They were a real treat.

DSC_0297

Personally, I don’t feel the chewed up rubber innards of a tennis ball warrant an explanation. However, there might be those of you who don’t have scraps of tennis ball deposited all over the house like we do. Indeed, tapping away at my desk, I’ve spotted a streak of fluoro-orange felt with a few bits of cracked rubber still attached. Indeed, on the other side, I’ve just spotted one of my son’s disposable plastic spoons. How did it migrate out here? Surely, it wasn’t me?!! I don’t know. However, I’ve clearly been persecuted by crappy paraphernalia at every turn, and I can assure you most emphatically that”it wasn’t me”. Moreover, I’m sure sure that everyone around me, both human and canine, would agree. Of course, no one ever owns up to their crap, and the miscellaneous layers just keep building up until you pop out one morning, and a strange sedimentary rock is sitting there. Or, perhaps it’s more of a sandwich. I don’t know. All I do know, is that I don’t see this on anyone else’s Facebook pages, and I clearly don’t live an Instagram-able life!

DSC_0295

The quest for meaning continues…

Of course, the chaotic state of our kitchen table could well be a cause for prayer. Indeed, our house probably needs more prayer than most. Feeling that the state of the house was heading irretrievably down a precipitous cliff, I finally brought back the cleaner yesterday. By the way, I should point out that my cleaner isn’t some uppercrust indulgence. Rather, she’s a disability support worker and more of a vital necessity, except that the risk of catching the coronavirus far exceeded the need for a squeaky-clean house and we’ve been “doing alright” on our own. Anyway, when the cleaner found a stray rubber band, she hung it over the praying hands which I’d bought from Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral, and I thought it was a good laugh.You can’t take life too seriously, especially at the moment.

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Along with humour, nature has also been getting me through this year which just keeps doing my head in on so many fronts. I picked this shell up on one of my photography beach walks, either at Patonga or MacMasters. I’m not sure. I have a scattering of shells on our kitchen table from these walks. They’re ostensibly nothing spectacular, but they hold memories for me of those beautiful walks in the bright sunshine now that it’s Winter here, and I’ve had a cold for a few weeks and have switched into hibernation mode. I know it’s not good psych, but outside can wait.

Meanwhile, the outside is peering in through my window…the vast expansive branches of the Jacaranda tree just outside the door, a white camellia from our next door neighbour’s garden’s been keeping me company for awhile now, along with the chatter of the birds. There usually a dog (or all three) at my feet or even sleeping under my desk, although they’ve abandoned me today. The kids are home and no doubt they’re far more exciting. Moving humans are far more interesting than stationary ones tapping away on keyboards, and they have no concern for my ideas.

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Proof a mother’s work is never done.

Last, but by no means least, are my daughter’s pointe shoes and the accompanying post-it note. She bought a new pair of pointe shoes during the week and while they might dazzle you with their starstruck beauty, they not only torture your feet, but also your fingertips as you sew on elastics and ribbons which keep them attached to your ballerina’s feet. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried sewing into these beastly instruments of torture. However, jabbing a needle through leather is impossible for mere mortals. I snapped one needle and drew blood on separate stitch, and yet there was no respite for this ballerina’s mum. I just had to keep going and find a way. I ended up with a very strong, sword-like needle and pushing it through with the back of the dog’s brush. The dog had chewed it and there was a little tooth mark in the tough plastic where I could position the needle and push it through. Indeed, it almost appeared purpose-built, as long as I didn’t think to hard about it. Indeed, it didn’t even cross my mind at the time about how weird and absolutely bonkers it was. By 3 am, I only had one shoe done and decided my duty was done. That I was never going to have it finished in time for this morning’s class, and left an apologetic note… all on the kitchen table.

Meanwhile, I’m finding that our kitchen table’s being used less and less for its intended purpose. That it’s either too hot or too cold to sit out there in the kitchen, and i’s much more comfortable to sit out in the lounge with the reverse cycle going and the TV on. Just to compound the disintegration of family connection, our daughter usually eats in her room and our son often eats at his desk in the lounge while either playing games or watching videos. I really didn’t want us to go down this path. A path I know will lead to wrack and ruin. However, there are times I feel like Atlas carrying the weight of the family on my shoulders and I have to put the load down for a bit and recuperate a bit.  Stretch out. Extend my wings and do something without resistance. I don’t know if people realize they put themselves in the too hard basket and what that means, but sometimes, I run out of words to keep explaining and hope maybe a thought might pop into their heads without me putting it there myself. That, at the very least, they might actually stop to ask…Are Mum and Dad okay? Now, there’s a novel thought. One I didn’t consider myself when I was their age but surely something they could learn…

Anyway, it’s now Saturday afternoon and with my back turned on the tide, I have no idea what the table’s like now, However, it’s time for another cup of tea and I did just happen to see a faint ray of sunlight through the clouds.

So, now I wanted to ask you about your kitchen table. What does it say about you and what’s going on at your place? Although showing off your unkept table going against the grain, I’d love you to join me in this and have a bit of fun and please share your efforts in the comments. It could be really interesting to see a range of kitchen tables around the world and how different people live.

Meanwhile, I hope you and your loved ones and communities are safe and if they’re not, I’m thinking of you!

Love & best wishes,

Rowena

U – Umina Beach, Australia…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome back to Places I’ve Been, my theme for this year’s Blogging From A to Z April Challenge. Today, we’re off to Umina Beach, which isn’t very far away for me at all. It’s actually only 700 metres down the road.

Indeed, Umina Beach is home. Geoff and I moved up here almost 20 years ago to buy our first home. Despite what we thought would be a quick renovate and flip, we’re still here. In fact, we haven’t finished those renovations, and what we did manage to get done back at the beginning, needs to be re-done. After all, fixing up a fixer-upper is a lot like painting the Sydney Harbour Bridge. By the time you finally reach the finish, you need to  start painting at the beginning again.

Zac at the beach

Zac at the beach a few weeks ago.

Geoff and I didn’t plan to leave Sydney, or even buy a place in Umina Beach. We’d started looking around real estate in Sydney, but came up to Umina Beach to visit our niece and this place was for sale two streets away. This massive decision was all very spontaneous, although you could also say it was meant to be. However, as we’ve found out, this decision was a lot more far-reaching than deciding where to camp for the night. Although Sydney’s only an hour down the road and Geoff commutes there for work, it’s not the same as actually living there.  It’s taken me quite a long time to call Umina Beach home, and I still consider myself a Sydney person. This region is considered part of Greater Sydney. However, when I was alone at home with the new baby and Geoff was commuting to Sydney and away most of the day, I really felt that distance. However, through getting involved in Church, playgroups and community action groups, that started to change. By the time the kids started school and I was also working part-time for a local IT company, I felt a lot more settled. Through living there, we’ve managed our mortgage on one income, without being enslaved to the mighty mortgage which is the norm in Sydney. It’s naturally a lot more relaxing around here with the beach at one end of the street and flat, inland water suitable for sailing and kayaking down another. Can’t complain about that!

 

Lady at Ocean Beach

Lady at Ocean Beach, NSW.

So, after that rather lengthy introduction, you must be wondering if we’re ever going to make it to the beach. My apologies. I can take all of this a bit for granted what with living here all the time. However, before we hit the beach, I need to make a quick distinction between the name of the place and the names of the beaches around here. The place is called Umina Beach, but the beach itself is divided into Ocean Beach, which is just down from our place, and Umina Beach to the West. However, it’s all one expanse of golden sand and a fabulous place to go for a walk. There’s even a designated dog beach.

Nippers Running

Our son racing at Nippers, a junior form of life saving. 

In so many ways, the beach is our cultural hub and a true blue melting pot where lifesavers, swimmers, walkers, dogs, kids and seagulls all congregate, exercise and relax. We’ve taken the kids down to the beach from the time they were born, and held them into the frolicking waves, until they were old enough to hold their hands and eventually join Nippers, along with many of the other local kids on a Sunday morning. Now, our daughter goes down to the beach with her friends and Geoff and our son prefer sailing. I have done some swimming, but am better known as walker and dog walker, although there can also be a bit of talk with that as well.

The set of photos above were taken in November 2007 celebrating Geoff’s Birthday.

Our beach has had some rough times over the years. Rough storms have removed tonnes of sand, ripped out rows of native trees and extensive remediation works have been undertaken to halt the damage. The road around the beach front was even closed off for awhile there, as there were concerns it too could fall in the drink. I don’t think this situation has really stabilised but it might’ve improved.

Geoff & Rowena

Just off Umina Beach, there’s the Umina Precinct Park, which as a dream come true for the local action group I belonged to when the kids were small. Back then, even getting a local park with a fence seemed like an impossible pipe dream. However, council came onboard and the project snowballed into a regional park and tourist attraction. This was well beyond our wildest dreams, and I should remember this when a situation seems hopeless. Never give up!

Flamin Ron the World’s Hottest Chilli Pie on TV

However,  every town has to have its personality. It’s claim to fame. For Umina Beach, this comes in the form of pastry chef, Ron Bruns from the Bremen Patisserie and his infamous pie… the Flamin Ron, the world’s hottest chilli pie. While I know Ron quite well and love his almond croissants and bee sting cake, I’ve never even considered dipping my little finger into one of these pies, let alone tried to eat one. In case you’re wondering whether this pie is as ruthlessly hot as it claims, you actually need to sign a legal waiver beforehand. So, that’s warning enough for me. However, despite local horror stories, there are still mighty warriors willing to take on the Flamin Ron challenge blow the consequences. This includes Richard, who tells a wonderful  tale

Woy Woy Air Strip

Woy Woy Air Strip extending down to Umina Beach with Lion Island right in front of the runway. 

While I was putting together this post, I did some historical research, hoping to find some historical detail of interest. After all, if you’ve been following me throughout this series, you’ll know how much I love jumping into my time machine, travelling back in time beyond the present day. It’s somewhat well-known around here that there used to be an air strip through town. I couldn’t have told you exactly where it was. However, that’s what Google’s for and the old newspapers.

This brings us to the Woy Woy Airstrip, which was built during WWII along with an aerodrome. The runway extended from Woy Woy down in a straight line along what’s now Trafalgar Avenue into Umina Beach, ending about a street away from our place. During WWII, the air strip was even used by US bombers. You can read more about it here  at All Things Woy. 

Tiger_Moth

Imagine this crashing into your roof. Luckily, no one was home when a Tiger Moth crashed into a Umina home in 1950. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

However, our street wasn’t always a street away from trouble. On the 4th November, 1950 long a few life times before we moved in, a Tiger Moth plane crash landed into a house at the end of the street. Of course, 70 years down the track, having a Tiger Moth crash land in your street sounds particularly exciting (especially after being in lock down for at least 6 weeks!!), although I should also point out that the pilot was injured. The plane crashed into the roof, and as the pilot wandered out in a dazed state, he fell 15ft  off the roof. Fortunately, residents Mr and Mrs Henson were away visiting their daughter in Sydney at the time. The plane crashed right on dinner time, and it’s almost certain they would have been killed. So, there’s something more I learned on my travels during the Blogging From A to Z Challenge.

Couple Ocean Beach best

Sunset at the beach

Well, it’s now time to leave Umina Beach behind and get a bit of shut eye before our adventures start up again in the morning. Indeed, I might need to stay home for awhile after all this travel is over. What I would give to sleep in my own bed again, instead of tramping along the road from hotel to hotel.

Oh, that’s right. I haven’t been anywhere at all. It’s just me, myself and I stuck inside these same four walls along with Geoff, two teenagers and three dogs.

Humph! We’re definitely in need of a holiday!!

How are you holding up in isolation? Where would you like to go? My list is just getting longer and longer. However, due to my health, my movements are particularly restricted. So, right now even being able to walk into a local shop to buy some chocolate has become an impossible dream. That said, I’m certainly not going without. Hoarding chocolate hasn’t become a crime.

Take care & stay safe!

Best wishes,

Rowena

K – Köln (Cologne), Germany…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to what I surely hope is Day 11, of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, where we’ll be touching down in Köln (Cologne) on the River Rhine. I was in Köln back in May, 1992 with my best friend Lisa, and it was our second port of call on our great European backpacking adventure. I didn’t know much about about Köln before the trip. However, my grandmother used to wear 4711 Eau de Cologne when I was a little girl, and while it was mesmerising then, it was more of a “granny fragrance” and most definitely not something I’d wear myself. However, you’re welcome to visit the Farina Fragrance Museum near the Town Hall.

4711

When I think back to our time in Köln, the first thing that comes to mind is hunger. The second is food envy. By this stage, our initial stash of bread rolls from our first free night’s accommodation in the KLM Hotel in Amsterdam, had well and truly run out. Ever conserving our pennies, we thought very carefully before lashing out on a punnet of strawberries to share for dinner, which tragically turned out to be sour. So, it take much imagination to put yourself in that picture. Just to rub salt in the wound, we were staying at the Youth Hostel, and a group of German high school students was also staying there and while we were starving, they were all being dished up huge, delectable bowls full of spaghetti. While we were drooling, crippled with growling hunger and covertous food envy; these spoiled brats, didn’t finish their meals. Indeed, the dining room was filled with half-empty bowls and if we didn’t have any self-dignity (or perhaps if we’d been travelling alone and didn’t have an eye witness) we could’ve polished off their leftovers, and even licked the bowls. The irony is, of course, that we were still flush with funds at this point, and I actually arrived home with enough money to buy a return ticket to Europe. However, it was that uncertainty of not knowing what lay ahead, which reigned our spending in (something we know all too well in these particularly uncertain times).

Aside from the hunger,  magnificent Köln Cathedral was absolutely sensational, particularly since this was the first cathedral we’d ever visited in Europe and it was so far beyond anything we have back in Australia , that it blew me away. . Apparently, the cathedral is Germany’s most visited landmark. Construction began back in 1248 but was halted in 1473, unfinished and work did not restart until the 1840s, when the edifice was completed to its original Medieval plan in 1880. It’s hard to imagine something being unfinished for so long, and it makes me feel so much better about all my own unfinished projects. 

DSC_9050

There was another aspect to our visit to Köln Cathedral. As it turned out, we were in Köln during the 50th Anniversary of “Operation Millenium” where Britain almost bombed Köln out of existence in retaliation for German attacks on London and Warsaw. Indeed, on the evening of 30 May 1942, over 1,000 bombers took off for Cologne under the Command of Bomber Harris. Köln was decimated. All but flattened, except for the magnificent Cathedral which miraculously survived peering imperiously over the carnage. I’m not going to make any apologies for not liking war or its after effects. This wasn’t some virtual experience in a video game. You can find out more about it here HERE. I’m yet to finish watching this documentary but it seems rather balanced and definitely has some incredible and very sobering footage.

National-Archives-Mass_bomber_raid_on_Cologne_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqRW1mvIVYlV4JG0MIT8wtjBRjid0pkpSoel9MG7q99NA

As part of the anniversary commemorations, there was a small protest outside Köln Cathedral called the “Cologne Complaining Wall for Peace”. I was fascinated by this at the time, particular as an Australian who’d only been in Europe for a week and it really opened my eyes. It’s always good to hear more than one side of any story, and I usually prefer multiple angles to really shake things up. So, now I’m going to peer at these photos from 28 years ago hoping my dodgy eyesight can glean something from all those years ago.

Here goes:

A Monument for “Bomber Harris”.

May 31, 1992 is the 50th Anniversary of the 1,000 bomber attack on Cologne. British Airfield Marshal Arthur Harris ordered the attack. The destruction of Dresden on February 1, 1945 was his work, too.

In May

The British Government plans to dedicate a monument to him in Central London with funds from the veterans’ organization.

“Bomber Command Harris”

KILL ONE,

and you’re a murderer.

Kill 100,000

and you are a hero.

To keep matters straight- Harris’s carpet bombing attacks “to demoralise the civilian population” were a reaction to the raids which Nazi Germany committed against cities like:

Guernica (1937)

Warsaw (1939)

Rotterdam (1940)

Coventry (1940)

Belgrade (     )

Cologne-and-Cathedral-1944

Köln in 1944. 

The display also included photos of Köln after the bombings, showing the monumental devastation. Look at it now, and on first impressions, you’d never know until you  take a deeper look and discern the new from the old.

While I acknowledge bringing up controversial and rather grim details of WWII is rather hard hitting, I do believe we need to know about this things. That we can’t just fill our head with happy thoughts, and hope to acquire wisdom. That as much as we campaign and long for peace, that war inevitably seems to comes in one form or another and we not only need to be prepared, we need to know how to fight and defend ourselves against the enemy. As it stands at the moment, that enemy is a virus but the principles remain, especially if you don’t want to be a sitting duck for attack.

DSC_9052

However, before I move on from its beautiful Churches and cathedrals, I thought we might check out Groß St Martin’s Cathedral. It’s a Romanesque Catholic church and its foundations (circa 960 AD) rest on remnants of a Roman chapel, built on what was then an island in the Rhine. The church was later transformed into a Benedictine monastery. The current buildings, including a soaring crossing tower that is a landmark of Cologne’s Old Town, were erected between 1150-1250.

St Martins 1946

The church was badly damaged during World War II, and there was a question of whether the church should be restored, and how it should be restored, was the subject of debate. Should the church be left as a ruined memorial to the war? Or should it be fully restored? And if so, which period in the history of Great Saint Martin represents the “original” church? A series of public lectures were held in 1946/47, under the theme “What happens to the Cologne Churches?”. These lectures involved artists, politicians, architects and restorers, and mirrored public debates on the issue. In spite of some public scepticism, restoration work began in 1948, and the church was opened to worshippers when the interior restorations were completed in 1985, after a long wait of forty years. The altar was consecrated by Archbishop Joseph Höffner, who installed holy relics of Brigitta von Schweden, Sebastianus and Engelbert of Cologne, in its sepulchre. So, it hadn’t been open long before I was there.

Cologne Hot Chocolate

Lastly, after rousing your sympathy for this little Aussie Battler starving away over in Germany, I do have a confession to make. I did manage to find one indulgence. This was a hot chocolate with whipped cream. I’d never had one before, but a pact was made. It was divine. I absolutely loved its pure indulgence. Loved it enough to endure the disapproval of the skim brigade. After all, everybody needs a little bit of naughtiness.

On that note, it’s time for us to leave Köln behind. Back in 1992, Köln marked a fork in the road. With Germany in the grip of a train and garbage strike with trains difficult to catch and rubbish piling in the streets, Lisa decided to leave Germany and I can’t remember whether she went back to Amsterdam, or headed onto Prague and Budapest. Meanwhile, I continued further South bound for Heidelberg, accidentally leaving my passport behind in Köln just to complicate matters a little more after having my wallet stolen in Amsterdam only days before. However, as we head along to L in the Blogging A to Z Challenge, we’ll be heading somewhere else but you can visit Heidelberg HERE.

Have you ever been to Köln? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Maitland Thomas Butler WWI – The Brother Who Missed The Boat.

The research road continues today as we meet up with Maitland Thomas Butler, Maud Butler’s older brother. I introduced you to Maud Butler in a previous post: Jack and Maud.

As you may recall, my Great Great Uncle Jack Quealy served in France during WWI and a few months ago I set out to gain a better understanding of what he went through. A sense of moderate urgency was given to the project, because our son will be visiting Europe in a few months’ time on a school history excursion. They’ll be spending ANZAC Day at Villers Bretonneau and I wanted him to be fully informed about our family members who’d served. There were quite a few, especially Geoff’s Great Uncle Ralph French who was killed in action and he is also part of this project.

Jack Quealy WWI

Great Great Uncle Jack Quealy

My attention initially honed onto an entry in GG Uncle Jack’s service records, which showed he was wounded in action in France on the 28th August, 1916. No further details were given and naturally I wanted to know where he was. This seemed relatively simple at the time with all the resources of the World Wide Web at my fingertips.

However, working this out was a lot harder than I’d expected. The information captured in service records is very scant, and doesn’t include the more detailed information a researcher like myself desperately craves. I wanted to know exactly where he was. Find that X marks the spot imprinted the very spot where it happened. To my way of thinking, I also assumed he had to be injured in a battle, and I wanted to know more about that too, along with who he was with and finding tales from or about his mates. The old adage “somewhere in France” simply wasn’t enough. I had to know more. Not getting terribly far, I widened my search and soon found myself swimming well out to sea without a paddle. However, finally, all this research is starting to develop some perimeters, and is taking shape.

Maud Butler AWM Robert Fletcher

Maud Butler in uniform on board the Suevic 1915.

It was this wider search which introduced me to an entire cast of fascinating characters,  including  ship stowaway, Maud Butler, who I’ve already explored in previous posts. On 22nd December, 1915 she stowed away on board HMAT A26 Suevic dressed as a soldier as a desperate effort to get to  the front and serve as a nurse.  I’d hoped GG Uncle Jack had caught the same ship. However, as I’ve already explained, he’d already left on board the Aeneas two days before…another detail which wasn’t easy to come by via the route I used. Much to my disappointment, Maud and Jack weren’t even two ships passing in the night.

While Maud Butler’s story is gripping and also has a complexity which draws me in, I was going to put her to one side and continue my research into the troops themselves. However, not wanting to leave a stone unturned, I wanted to check out her brother’s service records. You never know. I thought he could also have a story to tell.

Indeed, when you read accounts of Maud’s “adventure”, her brother is almost pivotal to the story. Private Les Spriggs mentioned them both in a letter dated 25th January, 1916 from the Aerodrome Camp, Heliopolis, which was published on Wednesday 22 March 1916 in the Wyalong Advocate and Mining, Agricultural and Pastoral Gazette :

“…The first day out at sea there was a girl discovered on board dressed in a uniform. She was trying to get to Egypt to see her brother who was wounded in a hospital. She was put off on to a passing steamer[1].

Maud’s brother was also mentioned in a message in a bottle, which was thrown overboard from the Suevic on the way to the front. The following message was written by Mr. Ted Blakey, of Manly, to his mother and found off the Victorian coast.

“At sea, Saturday, December 25, 1915, 4 p.m. My dear Mum,—I am sending this note by bottle from the Victorian coast. I hope you will get this O.K. We have just finished our Christmas dinner—turkey and pork. Everyone on board is O.K. A girl was found on board dressed as a soldier; she was going to fight with her brother at Gallipoli, Oh, well, good-bye for the present.—I am, your loving son, Ted.[2]

Maud openly denied she was simply going to the front to see her brother. Rather, she spoke about her plans to serve as a nurse after her valiant attempts to sign up with the Red Cross and at Victoria Barracks failed due to inexperience. However, she mentions that her brother is at the front:

“It is not correct that I joined the ship just in sport, to see my brother who is at the front,” said Miss Maud Butler. “My object was to do what I could to help. I wanted to join the Red Cross, and I tried very hard to get accepted. When I failed I bought a khaki suit and stowed away…In fact, it was before my brother went away at all,” continued Miss Butler, who was seen yesterday at the rooms of the Young Women’s Christian Association, “that I wanted to go. He has been at the front for six months.[3]

However, as it turns out, Maud Butler’s brother, Maitland Thomas Butler, was nowhere near the front in December, 1915. While I can’t be sure of his exact whereabouts, I suspect he was living at home with Mum and Dad in Cessnock and working as a miner locally. Born 10th June, 1897 at Coen, Far North Queensland, he was only 18 years old at the time and underage. The legal enlistment age was 21 and men needed to be 19 years of age to go overseas. However, they could get parental consent.

Fast-forwarding to 11th April, 1917, Maitland Thomas Butler enlisted, putting up his age to 21 years one month and also incorrectly stated that “Weston NSW” was his place of birth. However, on 12th April he was “discharged underage” from the Sydney Showgrounds. The stated cause was “letter written by mother”. It looks like his mother had hotfooted it down to Sydney and submitted a statutory declaration stating that “my son Maitland Butler is only 18 years of age. He will be 19 years of age on the 10th June 1917.” It seems a bit rough that a letter from Mum could end the dreams of  a grown man. However, having had her young daughter try to flee overseas to the front, Mrs Rose Butler was clearly putting her foot down. Getting her own troops back in order. As a parent of teenagers myself, I have a great deal of empathy for Rose and Thomas Butler and I can’t help sensing the same iron will and determination in the mother, which was found in the kids.

However, just like sister Maud who didn’t give up on her first attempt and boarded a second troopship in uniform, Maitland Butler didn’t give up on his dream of getting to the front either. On 19th September, 1917 he enlisted again. This time he was more inventive and signed up as “Frank Emerson” at West Maitland. On 19th December, 1917 he embarked for the front onboard A38 Ulysses from Sydney and disembarked on the 13th February, 1918 at Southampton, England.  On 7th July, 1918 he was taken on strength in France by the 2nd Battalion from the 26th reinforcements.

During his time with the 2nd Battalion, Maitland participated in the Allies’ own offensive, launched to the east of Amiens on 8 August 1918. This advance by British and Empire troops was the greatest success in a single day on the Western Front, one that German General Erich Ludendorff described as “the black day of the German Army in this war”. In Mid-September they fought around Menin Road, Belgium which formed part of the wider Third Battle of Ypres. Maitland Butler was later gassed on the 25th September, 1918 rejoining his company on 1st October, 1918. I will expand on his war service at a later date.

Up until this point, you could probably say that Maitland Butler’s service record, while not without its moments, fell inside what you could call the range of “normal soldier behaviour” (a variation on what the kids’ high school refers to as “normal teenage behaviour”). However, not unlike his famous sister and her voyage leaving Australia, Maitland Butler landed in hot water coming home.

ss_euripides_lsOn 6th September, 1919 Maitland Butler embarked for Sydney onboard the Euripides. All went well until he went on shore leave in Durban,  South Africa and failed to return at the end of shore leave on the 1st October. A day later, he was reported AWOL when his ship sailed for Australia at 1318. Almost two weeks later, on 13th October, 1919 he reported to the AIF Office and was charged with:

Charge 1. Neglected to obey troopship orders in that he was not on board HT Euripides at 1318 2.10.19 when she sailed for Australia.

2.AWL from 2200 1.10.19 to 1130 13.10.19 to 1130 13.10.19

He was awarded 168 hours detention & forfeit 28 days pay AA.46.2d by Lt Beveridge in Durban. However, he escaped from escort while being taken to civil gaol for safe custody 1200 and was captured a day later and charged with gambling by the civil police. 12th November, 1919 he embarked in Arrest on S.S. “Chepatow Castle” for Cape Town and four days later he disembaked ex CHEPSTOW CASTLE CAPETOWN & reported to the AIF Depot. Finally, on 20th November, 1919 Maitland Butler embarked onboard HT Nestor for continuation of voyage to Australia & demobilisation.

He was home at last.

After touching base with Maud and Maitland Butler to some extent while out on Research Road, I couldn’t help but parallel their contrasting experiences of travelling to and from the front. Maud went to very great lengths to stowaway on board HMAT 26 Suevic masquerading as a man in soldier’s uniform. Then, there’s her older brother, Maitland Butler, going to equally great lengths to avoid getting onto his ship in Durban and coming home. Either way, the two of them no doubt gave their parents some hefty headaches and they could’ve used a Bex and a good lie down. Or, at the very least, a very strong cup of tea.

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin

References

[1] Wyalong Advocate and Mining, Agricultural and Pastoral Gazette (NSW : 1900 – 1928), Wednesday 22 March 1916, page 2

[2] Koroit Sentinel and Tower Hill Advocate (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), Saturday 22 January 1916, page 2

[3] Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), Wednesday 29 December 1915, page 5

Services records Maitland Thomas Butler.

Wikipaedia.

The Story Jack & Maud…the Rollercoaster Ride of Writing Historical Fiction.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

John Lennon.

Writers of historical fiction will appreciate the gruelling roller-coaster ride I’m on. Indeed, as I pursue this exceptionally gripping story, I’ve become a crazed addict. I’m hooked. I might be parked in the lounge room on my laptop, but the adrenalin’s pumping. It’s so exhilarating, and I have to remind myself I’m running a marathon, not a sprint. While there’s a huge whopper of a fish on the end of my line, I still need to reel it in. Catch the darn thing. So, it’s very important that I don’t get ahead of myself. I need to get my facts straight, even though the bright lights are all but blinding me.

However, although these seemingly random pieces were starting to come together, there was still this awful, niggling feeling that Jack and Maud weren’t on the same ship after all. That the dates which were ever so close, weren’t quite lining up and I couldn’t quite make them fit. Had I been a writing fiction, of course, it wouldn’t matter. I could’ve bent or even manufactured the truth and kept my story alive. However, the historian in me couldn’t do that. She insisted on the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. According to her, there’s nothing worse than red pen in the margin which isn’t your own.

Yet, while it was starting to look like Jack and Maud were on separate ships which didn’t even pass during the night, I didn’t know for sure and wasn’t quite willing to give up on the story yet.

 

Above: Left photo of Maud Butler on board the Suevic taken by Robert Fletcher owned by the Australian War Memorial. Right photo of Private Jack Quealy, my Great Great Uncle.

The story of Jack and Maud isn’t one of romance. Rather, it’s one of war. On 9th August, 1915 my Great Great Uncle, Jack Quealy, enlisted in the Australian Infantry Force (AIF) at Holsworthy and joined the 13th Reinforcements of the 13th Battalion. At the time, he was 27 years old. He was working as a Letterpress Printer for Cunningham & Co in Pitt Street Sydney and was married to Maggie known as “Scotty”. They had two young children… Jack Jnr three and Eddie two. His service records state that he embarked on the 20th December, 1915 although the name of the ship was conspicuously absent. If it wasn’t for Maud, the exact name of the ship wouldn’t have mattered quite so much, but now it did and I dearly wanted Jack to be on the Suevic. However, it was looking like the Suevic didn’t leave until the 22nd. So near, and yet so far.

Yet, why does Maud matter? Who on earth was she and what, if anything, did she have to do with our Jack? Why all the excitement?

Perhaps, the best place to start is via a message in a bottle which was found washed up on a beach at Portland Bay, Victoria on New Year’s Day, 1916. It read:

“At sea, Saturday, December 25, 1915, 4 p.m. My dear Mum,—I am sending this note by bottle from the Victorian coast. I hope you will get this O.K. We have just finished our Christmas dinner—turkey and pork. Everyone on board is O.K. A girl was found on board dressed as a soldier; she was going to fight with her brother at Gallipoli. Oh, well, good-bye for the present.

—I am, your loving son, Ted.” 1.

That girl was Maud Butler, the 17 year old daughter of a Cessnock coal miner who’d disguised herself as a soldier to get away to the front to serve as a nurse. However, she’d applied both at the Red Cross and at Victoria Barracks and was knocked back due to age and inexperience. Not easily deterred, Maud hatched a plan which is best expressed in her own words…

“I wanted to help at the war, and I still want to do something. It is not true that I stowed away on a troopship just to see my soldier brother in Egypt. I would have gone just the same, because I really do want to be a Red Cross nurse and help the wounded boys.’ This is the response Miss Butler made when questioned by the women of the Y.W.C.A. in Melbourne, in whose care she was placed until she could be clothed in feminine attire and returned to her people in Kurri Kurri, N.S.W…. ‘Soon after the war started,’ the girl continued, ‘I had a terrible desire to help in some way, but I was only a girl, and I soon found that there were difficulties to overcome. I knew it was no use to stay at Kurri Kurri, because I could never learn to be a nurse there. My brother had gone to the war, and I decided to do something for myself. I took a situation in Pyrmont, as a waitress, and while there put in my time off trying to get in as a nurse. I went to the Red Cross in George-street, and then to Victoria Barracks, but there was no luck at either place. I was only seventeen and I was without training. I could see that I looked too young to enlist as a boy, so I decided to get on board a transport as an ordinary soldier and try my luck that way. I bought uniform bit by bit, all except the regulation tan boots. Then I went to a barber and had my hair cut oft, pretending that I had a fever. He said ‘You don’t look it,’ but he did what I asked him. Climbed a Hawser. ‘I walked from Pyrmont to the city and through the Domain to where a transport was lying at No. 1 wharf. I saw a sentry there, so knew it was no good trying to get past him. ‘Well,’ I said to myself. ‘here goes for up the line.’ It was a hand-over-hand job, and I didn’t think the boats were so tall. I got up after a struggle and crawled to a life boat. The only provisions I had brought with me were some lollies, and I had not had anything to eat from that Wednesday night until Friday, when I was ‘howled out.’ On Thursday, when soldiers were about the deck, I got out of my hiding place and walked round with them. Some asked me for a cigarette, others offered them to me, but no one seemed to suspect me. At sea everything went well except that I was hungry. That night I got back to my hiding-place, and next morning about 10.30 an officer came up to me on deck and asked me what I belonged to. I said, ‘The seventh of the nineteenth.” I went on watching the boys play cards, and gave them advice. Then the officer came back and said, ‘Show me your identification medal. That was the finish of me. I had forgotten that, he said he was going to get a doctor to examine me, so I knew it was all over and I then told him I was a girl. If I had been a boy it would have been all right. I could have gone on. They took me to the captain, and he was very nice —in fact, they all were. The captain gave me a good breakfast, and it was great, but the news was all over the ship in three minutes, and 500 of them had snapped me with cameras. The captain said that he was going to tranship me. Then I cried for the first time; it was hard luck, wasn’t it. now?. The captain was a jolly fellow. He asked me why I didn’t get tan boots, and that made me cry more. ‘Miss Butler asserts that if she had been a boy she would have been in the firing line before this. She is convinced that there is something she can do, and intends to try the Red Cross again.[2]

It would’ve made a great story if Jack and Maud had been on the same ship and something to share with the family. Moreover, thanks to Maud, the Suevic’s journey to the front attracted more media attention and provides some valuable insights into life on board.

As it turned out, Jack Quealy embarked on the Aeneas and so far, I’ve unearthed nothing about that voyage at all. Anyway, it’s quite probably that these details about the Suevic provide some insight into Jack’s trip to the front as well. I’ll elaborate on these in my next post.

Stay tuned!

Best wishes,

Rowena

References

  1. Koroit Sentinel and Tower Hill Advocate (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), Saturday 22 January 1916, page 2

[2] Farmer and Settler (Sydney, NSW : 1906 – 1955), Friday 31 December 1915, page 8