Tag Archives: WWII

S- Sydney Harbour…A-Z Challenge.

Welcome back to my travel series for the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge, Places I’ve Been. Today, we sail into glorious  Sydney Harbour, undoubtedly one of the most stunningly beautiful places we’ve been so far, and for me, it’s home. Well, not exactly home, as I’ve never had the privilege of living right on the Harbour. However, it’s close enough.

Rowena Sydney Harbour Bridge

This photo was taken at Lavender Bay on the Northern side of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and you can see the ferris wheel at Luna Park beneath the bridge. As you can see, I wasn’t too well when this photo was taken. 

Today,  our journey sets out from Circular Quay. On our left, there’s the grand spanning arch of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, colloquially known as “the Coathanger” and on the right, we’re chugging past the majestic white sails of the Sydney Opera House. All of this is jaw-droppingly beautiful. However, for daily commuters heading across the bridge on the train, the harbour is often little more than a fuzz while they’re reading the newspaper, tinkering on their phones or simply trying to keep their noses free from a stranger’s armpit.

Soon, we pass a small island, Fort Denison which is a former penal site and defensive facility occupying a small island located north-east of the Royal Botanic Gardens and approximately 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) east of the Opera House. The island was formerly known in its indigenous name of Mat-te-wan-ye, and as Pinchgut Island. I’ve never been there. However, my mother took each of our kids there when they were younger for a special lunch.

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A yacht sailing on Sydney Harbour viewed from Mosman.

Oh dear. I’m not too sure where we should proceed and it’s impossible for me to point out places on the left and right of the harbour with such a vast expanse of water in between. Particularly, as you may recall, when I’m so spatially challenged and really don’t want to screw it up.

So, being ANZAC Day where Australia commemorates it’s service men and women who’ve served during all armed conflicts, I thought I’d stop pointed out the window and jump in my time machine instead. Take you back to the evening of the 31st May, 1942 when the Japanese Imperial Navy sent three midget submarines into Sydney Harbour from larger submarines which were lurking outside the heads. These midget submarines were built for stealth, barely squeezing in two crew members each.

Midget sub attack Sydney harbour

Japanese Midget Submarine in Sydney Harbour.

The first midget sub entered Sydney Harbour at 8pm, but got caught up in anti-submarine nets and attracted the attention of the HMAS Yarroma and Lolita. Once they realised they’d been caught, the Japanese crew activated an explosive, deliberately sinking the vessel and killing themselves.

The second managed to sneak past the nets and fired two torpedoes, which hit a Sydney ferry, killing nineteen Australian and two British naval officers. It then received fire from a number of Australian vessels and managed to escape, but never made it back to the mother sub.

The third and final midget sub entered Sydney Harbour at around 11pm. By this time, Sydney was ready. It had six depth charges (anti-submarine weapons) dropped on it, and was presumed sunk, until it made a comeback four hours later and tried to fire its torpedoes.  Since it was pretty banged up, the attack was a bust and the submarine was sunk by allied ships at around 3am 1.

Clearly, these attacks caused a bit of excitement.

Two years after the war, the story of a Japanese pilot appeared in the paper. He’d flown a Zero straight through Sydney Harbour undetected the night before the midget submarine attacks. Not a comforting thought, especially when you consider that the attack came around 6 months after surprise Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor on the 7th December, 1941. These were very dangerous and precarious times and when you look at the bridge, the Opera House and the bright blue water on a sunny day, it’s very hard to imagine that the war ever touched our doorstep..

It reads:

ATTACK ON SYDNEY – Japanese Story Of 1942 Raid

AUCKLAND, Tuesday (A.A.P.-Reuters). – Susumu Ito, proprietor of a little fish-ing tackle shop at Iwakuni, Japan, claims that he flew over Sydney Harbour the night be-fore the Japanese midget sub-marine attack on May 30, 1942. Ito, then a Japanese naval lieu-tenant, aged 24, told his story in Japan yesterday.

This is what he said:

“I was pilot of a Zero float-plane carried by a Japanese ocean-going submarine of 3,300 tons.

“We arrived off Mayor Island, Bay of Plenty (New Zealand), in pitch dark one morning late in May, 1942. Our submarine carried midget submarines which were designed to be used to attack naval ships at Auckland and Sydney.

AUCKLAND SLEPT

“Our warplane was launched from the submarine and I quickly reached Auckland. While the city slept I cruised overhead un-molested and never climbing above 1,000 feet. I was never challenged or disturbed by intercepting fighters.

“I soon located Devonport Naval Base and gave it special attention. For the better part of an hour I looked for warships, but found no-thing that would warrant attack by one of our midget submarines.

“I flew back to the mother sub-marine and reported that there were no warships at Auckland.

“The submarine commander then decided to proceed to Sydney. We crossed the Tasman and surfaced off Sydney Heads on May 29.

FLIGHT OVER SYDNEY

“Unlike Auckland, I found the Sydney air rather crowded. There were Australian planes doing night flying exercises, but I was not molested.

“The Australian pilots did not appear to notice me, although the long streamlined single float of my Zero should have been conspicuous.

“I sighted what I considered to be suitable targets in Sydney Harbour and lost no time in returning to the submarine and making my report.

“Midget submarines were released. Later I left in the mother submarine for Rabaul,”

Ito said he spent about an hour over Auckland. His flight over Sydney was “very much briefer.” Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), Wednesday 16 July 1947, page 1

So, that all created a bit of excitement.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House viewed from a ferry looking East.

Perhaps, we’d better we’d better exit our time machine and go back to looking out the window. It’s a perfect, sunny, Sydney day.

Have you ever been to Sydney? Did she behave herself? Or did you experience four seasons in one day and possibly even a bush fire thrown in? I love you Sydney, but like all of us, she isn’t perfect.

Best wishes,

Rowena

References

Forgotten Sydney – The Attack On Sydney Harbour

https://www.navy.gov.au/history/feature-histories/japanese-midget-submarine-attack-sydney-harbour

Being There For Each Other…An ANZAC Day Tribute.

These days, it seems that ANZAC Day – the 25th April – is the only day almost universally held sacred and respected throughout Australia. ANZAC Day commemorates when the Australian and New Zealand forces first set foot at ANZAC Cove, Gallipoli on the 25th April, 1915. However, it’s come to represent all Australians who’ve served in armed conflicts, because as we’ve unfortunately come to find out, the Great War wasn’t “the war to end all wars”.

Kids at the cenotaph

As Scouts, one or both of our kids have participated in the local ANZAC Day march for almost the last 10 years. In particular, they’ve marched in memory of Geoff’s Great Uncle Private Ralph French who was killed in action near Mont St Quentin 4th September, 1918.

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Geoff’s Uncle, Private  Ralph French 

However, Geoff also had his Uncle Jim who served at Gallipoli and Beersheeba with the lighthorse  and his brother Daniel served in the Sinai campaign in addition to Uncle Angus who he never met and Uncle Len. His grandmother also had one of the those embroidered French postcards from her cousin Jack Burke. Not so many served on my side of the family. There was my Great Great Uncle Jack Quealey and the two Gordon brothers, Roland and Frank. That was WWI. Geoff’s Uncle Ralph and Uncle Walter both  served in New Guinea during WWII along with my Great Uncle, Jack Gordon. More recently, Geoff’s brother Terry was on the last ship to Vietnam and as a medic, nursed the injured returning home and at least one cousin served in the Gulf War.

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Geoff and the kids find Uncle Ralph at the Australian War Memorial

So, as you could imagine, ANZAC Day weighs heavily on our hearts and we’ve done our utmost best to ensure our kids know what it’s about. WWI and almost WWII are drifting beyond living memory. So, it’s no longer a scenario of “lest we forget”. We need to pass on the stories and sow the seeds. Ensure the younger generations know what happened, the sacrifices and the importance of maintaining the peace, though not always at any cost.

Robert Ralph French cenotaph

This year, our don was supposed to be commemorating ANZAC Day at the dawn service at Villers Bretonneaux on the battlefields of France. I went into overdrive researching what our family members went through over there, so he wouldn’t be standing there like a dingaling not knowing what had happened. However, thanks to the coronavirus, his excursion was obviously cancelled along with ANZAC Day marches throughout Australia. It is a solemn time, and it’s quite significant that we can’t do ANZAC Day in the usual way. Indeed, we couldn’t even watch the march on TV, although no doubt the Dawn Service was televised and hopefully we can watch that again later tonight. We didn’t get up to light candles and stand at the end of the driveway. I don’t know if many people did it around here, but it didn’t feel the same and I thought I’d rather do something on my blog.

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My Great Great Uncle Jack Quealey

Anyway, while we were watching the ANZAC Day coverage on TV today, I heard this incredible poem describing a soldier’s dependence on “mateship”. I don’t know why I’ve never heard this poem before, because it’s a poem every Australian should know right alongside Waltzing Matilda and the Man From Snowy River. Indeed, even more so, because what it refers to as the male bond of “mateship” could just as easily be represented by words such as:  “friendship”, “trust”, “Compassion” and “love”. Values which are just as important at home, as on the battle field, and we have much to learn from the brave and selfless men and women who have served our people. Moreover, we can add to them, our brave fire fighters and the front line warriors battling the coronavirus along with the teachers caring for their children in our schools. From our home to yours, we thank you.

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Geoff’s Great Uncle, Major James Griffin.

So, after all that “Blah, blah, blah” (as my daughter would say), here’s the poem, followed by an actual story which lived out these lines in the trenches of WWI France.

MATES 

Duncan Harold Butler 1906-1987

I’ve traveled down some dusty roads, both crooked tracks and straight,
and I have learnt life’s noblest creed summed up in one word, “Mate”.
I’m thinkin’ back across the years, a thing I do of late
and these words stick between me ears “You gotta have a mate.”

Someone who’ll take you as you are regardless of your state
and stand as firm as Ayers Rock because he is your mate.
Me mind goes back to ’43 to slavery and hate
when man’s one chance to stay alive depended on his mate.

With bamboo for a billy-can and bamboo for a plate,
A bamboo paradise for bugs was bed for me and mate.
You’d slip and slither through the mud and curse your rotten fate
But then you’d hear a quiet word – “Don’t drop your bundle, mate.”

And though it’s all so long ago this truth I have to state,
A man don’t know what lonely means ’til he has lost his mate.
If there’s a life that follers this, if there’s a Golden Gate,
The welcome that I wanna hear is just “Goodonya mate”.

And so to all who ask us why we keep these special dates,
Like ANZAC Day, I tell ’em “Why? We’re thinkin’ of our mates.”
And when I’ve left the driver’s seat and ‘anded in me plates
I’ll tell Ol’ Peter at the door “I’ve come to join me mates.”

…..

From your soldier boy

Embroidered French Card.

As I mentioned, I wanted to share a story which exemplified the incredible bonds of mateship outlined in this poem. I stumbled across this story during my WWI research.

Coincidentally, two newspaper men crossed each other’s paths in training camp at Kiama (South of Sydney) before they left for the front. They were George Washington Brownhill journalist and proprietor of the Forbes Advocate, and Sergeant Ray Colwell, a journalist with the Daily Telegraph. While in training in the UK, Brownhill sustained a football injury to his leg, which effectively put him out of action. However, fortunately, he saw just enough service to write a series of informative articles and letters home. Indeed, in his case, the pen was certainly mightier than the sword and I am most grateful for that. Unfortunately Sergeant Ray Colwell, was killed in action on the 7th June, 1917 at Messines. Although he wasn’t with him at the time, George Brownhill wrote a glowing letter outlining their friendship to Ray’s parents:

LATE SERGT. RAY COLWELL

The following letter has been received by Chaplain Colwell from Sergeant-Major Brownhill, who was Sergeant Ray Colwell’s great friend from the time he entered camp at Kiama until his death at the front: — What would it be possible for me to write in any way to lessen your sorrow?

However, it may be a comfort to you to hear from me, who was your dear son’s constant companion and friend for almost the whole of the time that he was in the uniform of his King and country.

Something in me claimed him as a chum the first time I saw him at Kiama, and it pleases me to think that he responded. I liked and admired him, and thought of him almost as a brother. He was one of the whitest, straightest, and sweetest natured men I have ever known, or expect ever to know, and possessed many intellectual qualities that made his friendship a privilege. I never heard him express a wrong sentiment, and believe that he never harboured one.’ He was kind and thoughtful to a degree in his dealings with his fellow-men and soldiers, and every member of the reinforcements of which he and I were members loved and admired him.

To me personally he was tender when he might have been harsh, thoughtful and patient when he might have been any thing else, and always a clean-thinking, clean-living, honest fellow, whose companionship I delighted in.

Ray left England for France a little earlier than I did, but I joined up with him at Bapaume, got apportioned to the same section and tent, and together, side by side, we marched into our battalion’s share in the great engagements at Bullecourt. There we were in the trenches for two days and the best part of three nights, during which time we were subjected to heavy enemy shelling, and the worst elements of snow and rain. We shared the same dug-out, helped one another in our work, kept together for protection against the cold, and exchanged confidences in the long watches of the night. When our platoon was relieved I was in a rather broken-down condition, and it was largely by Ray’s help that I got away from the danger zone.  The enemy seemed to guess our movements, and poured in a shower of shells as we crept away into the darkness. That was the time of all times when a man might have thought of himself first.

Ray, being strong and well, could have been one of the first out of the shell area, but his place was in the rear, helping his almost helpless friend, and cheering me on with words and actions of encouragement. He was a man all through the episode, and I will never forget how good he was to me, and how self-sacrificing.

Afterwards I was in hospital for a fortnight but then rejoined the battalion, and our comradeship was resumed in all its warmth, save that while he strong and buoyant, was out on parade each day, I remained on the sick list and in quarters. When the battalion was moved up to ‘the region of Messines I was sent back to hospital, and finally reached Le Havre; where a Medical Board declared me unfit for further active service, and I am now engaged in clerical work in our base depot office. It was thus that the ties of our mateship were severed, and thus that I was not with Ray at Messines.

Will it be any consolation to you to know that the end was instantaneous, and the agony of a lingering death was spared him? He died from wounds in the head, and he died as a soldier and a man, as brave, as kindly, and as good a fellow as ever wore the uniform’ of his country. And if he had had time for one last thought, it would have centred around the father and mother, his brothers and sisters, who were the all in all of his love and affection. An arm of aid to the weak, A friendly hand to the friendless; Kind words — So short to speak, But whose echo is endless. The world is wide— these things are so small — They may be nothing, but they are all.  Methodist (Sydney, NSW : 1892 – 1954), Saturday 29 September 1917, page 7

Surely, there’s little doubt that everyone would love to have a friend like Ray!

Lest we forget!

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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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

ANZAC Day 25th April, 2019.

This morning, our son and I attended the local ANZAC Day march and commemoration service. Indeed, as a Scout, our son was in the march and even carried the Australian flag. I must apologize that the photo is a little historic, but it can be difficult to get teenagers to comply. I’m sure you understand.

ANZAC Day is an incredibly deep and reflective day for us on a personal level. Geoff has family who served in just about every conflict and his Great Uncle, Robert Ralph French, was killed in Action in France. That was his grandmother’s much loved brother and since he had no children of his own, we’ve embraced him and our children will carry his memory forward.

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In addition to thinking about these sacrifices, today I also reflected on the format of the commemoration service and how it’s probably the last bastion of tradition in our ephemeral contemporary world. Even after all these years and long after the Australian national anthem was changed to Advance Australia Fair, we sing God Save the Queen on ANZAC Day instead. I don’t know how that went at other locations, but where we were, there weren’t too many singing along. Many didn’t know the words and I also wonder how many didn’t feel right singing it either. We’ve moved a long way forward as a nation since then both in terms of gaining independence from Britain, but also in acknowledging and embracing our Aboriginal heritage. That Australia wasn’t “terra nullus” after all.

The service also includes two traditional hymns: God Our Hope in Ages Past and Abide With Me. The only voice I could hear singing was the minister on the microphone. I sang along but there was silence all around me. I felt it would have been helpful to have a choir leading the singing or have groups practice these hymns beforehand. It sounds dreadful when no one is singing along, just like at a silent funeral.

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I feel this dog has earned the right be be an “Australian Digger”…slang for soldier.

I wonder how these traditions are going to go moving forward. Are they set in stone? Or, will future generations find a new means of expression?

Meanwhile, I made fresh ANZAC Biscuits when we got home and then watched a bit of the dawn service in Gallipoli and France. The ANZAC Biscuits have been an important part of my tradition and a way of expressing my gratitude. There’s something for me about pouring your emotions into food and sharing that with those you love.

I’ll leave you with this poem:

In Flanders fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae (1872–1918)

Lest we forget.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS Just thought I’d mention that Geoff ended up being called into work for several hours last night and hence he wasn’t at the march but watching the march on the TV at home.

Fighting War on A Different Front…Army Dentists WWII.

While it was all very well for our Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies to follow Britain’s lead and declare war on Germany on the 3rd September, 1939, the reality was that our troops were far from ready to go.

Indeed, it appears that our young men had stuck their tooth brushes where the sun don’t shine, and their teeth were just as black. Just to give you some idea of the full scale of the problem, in September 1939 in regional Victoria of 2,477 men examined, only 301 were classed as dentally fit and many of those had upper and lower dentures.That’s not a lot of pearly whites!

With the army struggling to treat almost universal dental annihilation, the NSW branch of the Australian Dental Association set up a clinic at the showgrounds where a team of 80 volunteer dentists worked in relays of twelve. These volunteers included my grandfather, Bob Curtin, who had a dental practice in Macquarie Street and you can see him hard at work in the photo above.

By the time the clinic closed in September 1941, 66,991 teeth had pulled out along with giving 97,763 fillings and supplying 19,318 dentures. I can’t help wondering what happened to all those teeth and whether they’ve all been stashed somewhere in one of these construction holes you see in the ground. I’ve never thought of teeth as landfill before but given those numbers, disposing of all those teeth must’ve been a consideration. Or, perhaps the tooth fairy took off with the lot. In that case, leaving a penny under all those bottles of beer, must’ve cost her a pretty penny.

Army dentists cartoon 1940

Not unsurprisingly, the soldiers themselves were less than enthusiastic about fronting up to the dentist. Indeed, one soldier we’ll just call “Jack” spilled the beans on what was known as the “Dental Clinic Racket”. This was not only a way of avoiding the dentist. It had the added bonus of getting them out of all sorts of duties so they could head off to their “bung-hole” (bed) instead:

“To secure, immunity from distasteful tasks by this means a soldier would first make an appointment with the clinic. He would show the appointment slip to the sergeant and be sent away from the kitchen, or some other fatigue to keep the appointment. At the clinic he would plead some excuse for delay, and the dentists, always willing to oblige, almost invariably agreed, to make an appointment for another day, The soldier was then free to go to his”bung-hole” and rest. But we have a checking system from today which will kill that dodge. Of course, in a day or so, the boys will think up a new one.”

Jack then goes on to say that the dental clinic made a raid on his unit that morning:

“All the boys were examined for dental defects, and if extractions were required, hustled straight over to get the works. I’ve seen some of those boys rush up a hill with fixed bayonets, yelling like madmen. The enemy was only imaginary, but I know that they would, and-will, do tho same when shot and shell are flying. But when these men were told to face the Dental Corps they paled, and almost had to be driven to the clinic. If the Dental Corps, had the same effect on an enemy, they would make ideal front line troops.”

Eunice & Robert Wedding

The marriage of Eunice Gardiner & Robert Vincent Curtin at St Mary’s Cathedral 1940.

As it turned out, 1940 was a busy year for my grandfather. That photo appeared in the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday 2nd July, 1940. While my grandfather was flat out trying to maintain his dental practice while volunteering out at the showground, a young concert pianist had returned from London to tour Australia with the ABC under famous English conductor, Sir Thomas Beecham. While I’m not exactly sure of when they arrived in Australia it would appear they arrived in March, 1940. At some point along the way, my grandmother was in Sydney and had a toothache. Her brother Les had gone through school with my grandfather and I’m not too sure if that’s how she ended up there with that toothache. However, that was the beginning of a new chapter in our history. They were engaged n the 23rd August, 1940 and married in December.

Well, wrapping this up has been a bit of a rush job as I’m off to a concert at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music tonight and I want to potter around for a bit while I’m down there.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Flying with the Green Fairy…Friday Fictioneers.

We call her “Le Petite Danseuse“, after that sculpture by Degas. The story goes that she wears a long white tutu, and pirouettes round and round like a music box dancer. As yet, I’ve never seen her. Not that I haven’t looked. Waited. Even played my violin hoping she’d come. Nothing.

Pierre from accounts captured a blurry, white image on his phone. Reckons this was a dance studio, and a young ballerina died when the Brits bombed Paris.

Bet it’s only steam from the kettle. Or, that he’s drunk too much Absinthe, and gone flying with the “green fairy”.

99 Words

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This has been another contribution for Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. This week’s photo image was provided by Yarnspinner.

I also wanted to let you know that I’ve been participating in the Blogging A-Z April Challenge. My theme this year is Writing Letters to Dead Artists. Here’s a link to my  Weekly Round up

If you are participating in the challenge, please leave a link to your blog and a brief intro in the comments below.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

 

The Eye Beside the Sea, France.

“Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.”

Paramahansa Yogananda

“Behind the most beautiful eyes, lay secrets deeper and darker than the mysterious sea..”

-yld

Last night, I was trawling through Facebook, when I stumbled across this fantastic image of a big blue eye staring out to sea with a sense of the ocean being swept up inside and the waves crashing within.

Of course, I had to investigate it further. Investigate it via the only means at my disposal…Google. Sadly, there was no spontaneous trip to France for this little black duck. Yet, coincidently, I’m watching a travel doco set in Paris at this very moment. Well, I was until the ads started up.

eyestreetart3-900x505

French artist Cece painted “The Eye” on a WWII blockhaus on the beach of Siouville-Hague, Normandy, France. The village of Siouville-Hague is located in North-West France, in the department of Manche in Basse-Normandie.

Normandy Landings

These days, it’s hard to imagine the scenes this blockhaus witnessed during WWII. I have no sense of direction at the best of times and it is difficult for me to get a real sense of the geography and the action it actually witnessed. However, I  gather this blockhaus witnessed The Normandy landings (codenamed Operation Neptune), which led to the liberation of France from the Nazis.

Getting back to the artwork, Cece explained:

“The basic idea was to revitalize an abandoned place full of history: a world war 2 blockhaus, collapsed, almost lying on its side. At first it was about to humanize this place with some poetry : before, the eye of the soldiers were watching the dead coming from the sea, and now there is this big blue eye, looking at the life and moves coming from waves movements, talks and answers , interactions of two creations coming from man and nature .. and then also I’ve wanted to point out the damage that may make human at some sites (into the pupil, the silhouette of the nuclear power plant from la hague).”

Yet, clearly “The Eye” also stands alone, divorced from the past. The eyes are the window to the soul and with this eye staring out and being washed by the sea, it’s redolent with meaning. I would love to stand there on the sand in front of it, peering deeply almost through the eye, and see what comes back to me. What mysteries would be revealed? Would “The Eye” reveal hidden, inner parts of myself? Or, perhaps even lead me into some kind of dance with its creator? Either way, I have no doubt,  that there’d be magic.

“Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.”

– Paramahansa Yogananda

Coincidently, a new TV series is about to start up here in Australia. Seasoned journalist, Ray Martin, will be hosting: Look Me In the Eye in which two estranged people sit in silence for five minutes, looking at each other. I’m looking forward to seeing how it pans out. Although we know eye contact is very powerful, is it enough?

By the way, if you have seen this magnificent artwork in the flesh, I’d love to hear what it was like. 

xx Rowena