Ten Pound Poms – Privilege At A Price!

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There are advantages of being a senior in Victoria, especially in October each year during the Seniors Festival when so many free and fun events are scheduled.

This year was no exception, the delight magnified when I shared a day out with my sister, Rita.

We attended Melbourne’s Immigration Museum to enjoy a sneak preview of their latest exhibition: British Migrants: Instant Australians?

An exhibition close to our hearts because we were part of the assisted migration program when our family migrated from Scotland in 1962.

– yes, the Scots, Northern Irish and Welsh were labelled ‘Poms’ too!

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Migrant Myths and Memories

I love the Immigration Museum and have attended many special exhibitions, as well as frequent visits to the permanent reminders that more than nine million people have migrated to Australia since 1788. 

Immigration is about us all – those who were here and those who came.  Everyone has a story to tell – about ourselves, our families, friends and ancestors. It is in the telling of these stories that we can begin to understand Victoria’s rich histories.

The exhibition includes objects, historical film, images, and innovative multimedia experiences to explore the personal stories of British migrants and the contemporary perspectives of migrants and commentators.

(It)… incorporates a rich and diverse range of voices to explore narratives at both a national and personal level, focusing on questions of identity and impact on contemporary Australia.

There are plenty of well-known Aussies who were ‘Ten Pound Poms” or whose family were:

The Bee Gees (English), Hugh Jackman (English), Kylie Minogue (Welsh), Olivia Newton-John (English), Jimmy Barnes (Scotland), Bon Scott (Scotland), George Young (Scotland), Noni Hazelhurst (English), and cricketers Harold Larwood and Frank ‘Typhoon’ Tyson…

And of course two ex-Prime Ministers: Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott.

Not to mention a few other politicians caught in the recent Constitutional conundrum over dual citizenship and the right to sit in parliament.

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Picture gloomy, weary post-World War II Britain — England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Imagine the prospect of distant, sunny, booming Australia. Where would you rather be?

… Australia that was predominantly white and British — it had worked hard to be so.

Newcomers from Britain had all the advantages of a shared language, culture and history. So fitting in should be easy.

But reality is never that simple.

What did the British actually experience?

What did this mass migration mean for Australia at the time?

What does all this mean for us today?

Dr M McFadzean, the Exhibition’s curator talked about the methodology, research and work that went into putting the exhibition together. Several people shared their stories and visitors can listen to or read firsthand accounts from British migrants who travelled to Australia as part of the scheme.

  • 300,000 paid their own way
  • 80% of the 1.5 million from the UK were English
  • British migrants were the preferred migrants and didn’t have to be citizens to vote. (This changed in the 1970s)
  • British migrants could vote after 6 months, become citizens after a year and obtain an Australian passport – non-British had to wait 5 years.
  • British migrants could receive social security – they were considered lucky
  • Yet 25% returned within the two year period required for the assistance scheme and had to repay their fares.
  • Of those who returned to the UK, 25% came back to Australia!

The Tribute Garden

… the Tribute Garden is a public artwork that pays tribute to 7000 people who have made the journey to Victoria. 

The Tribute Garden features the names of immigrants who came from over 90 countries, from the 1800s to the present day.

The region now known as Victoria is represented by the people of the Kulin Nation as traditional owners of the land and records the names of languages and dialects spoken by Aboriginal communities.

Melbourne-based artist Evangelos Sakaris designed the original artwork, which was launched in 1998. Gina Batsakis led the design for the following stages of the project. The project concluded in 2002

 

I donated to the original art project so that my parents’ journey could be acknowledged.

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Our family recorded as coming across the sea: George T & Annie B McInnes and Family

Our family came under the auspices of the Personal Nomination Scheme because Dad’s sister Chrissie nominated us and guaranteed accommodation for the family, and to support us until Dad found a job.

Chrissie and her husband Bill arrived here 14th July 1952. He was an electrician and she was a tailoress. They came out to cousins whose family roots went back to the exodus from the Isle of Skye in the 1850s. We were lucky to have their support but childless Chrissie was so desperate to have immediate family join her she ‘gilded the lily’ and never foresaw the many adjustments our family of 8 would have to make.

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Many British migrants were accommodated in government hostels. These were usually a collection of corrugated iron Nissan huts left over from WW2, uncomfortable and unpleasant whatever the season, proving assumptions about the privileges of British migrants deceptive.

Breaking the Myths The Brits Got It Easy

Some migrants came out to jobs in the shipyards, railways or electricity commission, but most had to find their own employment. Even if eligible for Social Security many would not take it because of pride, others found the money inadequate and constantly struggled and worried about their poor prospects.

They often discovered their qualifications not accepted, their particular skill set not acknowledged, or required, or in my father’s case, he was considered “too old” at 40 to be an engine driver.

Vic Rail offered him a job as a cleaner, which he refused.

He had to abandon the idea of working on the railways and became a truck driver. In those days, more so than now, men were the breadwinners, their identity and self-esteem tied up with their employment.

For the first few months in Australia, my Father said he drove to work with tears in his eyes and sometimes streaming down his face as he adjusted to the sadness of no longer belonging to a railway community and doing a job he loved. He hated the ‘old house’ we rented with its ‘dry’ toilet down the back and a tacked on bathroom with no bath. He worried about the decision to migrate and our future.

He had worked for British Railways for 25 years, his father had been a railwayman. Both were proud to be train drivers – Dad competent with steam, diesel and electric. Like many migrants, the thought his skills would not be recognised or not needed never crossed his mind.

However, Dad said the Australian Government knew what it was doing when it insisted that assisted migrants remain at least two years or pay back their fares. Homesickness and culture shock genuine problems as many of the stories in the exhibition illustrate.

  • Some people took longer to adjust than others.
  • Some never adjusted.

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  • Family were left behind – loving grandparents, aunts and uncles
  • Established friendships abandoned or broken whether it be  at work, school, or neighbourhoods
  • The British thriving arts and culture scene – the Beatles, Mary Quant, Carnaby Street… was missed by many children and teenagers who had no choice but to follow their parents

A family arrived in Adelaide to be told by one of the ship’s crew, ‘Put your watch back 20 years…’

  • the city was ‘dead’ on a Sunday
  • no shops opened on a Saturday
  • pubs closed at 6.00pm

Two teenage migrant girls went to a dance dressed in latest gear from trendy Liverpool. The local hall full of girls with ’50s style frocks. You couldn’t dance unless a boy asked you.  The music outdated. The girls shunned for dressing weirdly.

They spent the night as ‘wallflowers’.

But Dad did adjust and although he had a series of blue collar jobs and ‘chased money’ to educate, house and clothe us all, he never had any desire to return to Scotland for a holiday and loved the weather and our home in Croydon.

The journey out to Australia by ship at least gave families a month to acclimatise. Many considered the trip a great holiday.  For some, it was the first holiday they’d been able to afford and they established new friends although many were parted at Australian docks depending on their destination.

  • Friendships made and lost
  • Exotic places visited
  • Teenagers sulked but most got ‘over it’ because of many onboard activities
  • Food and cabins either thrilled or disappointed
  • Marriages made, others destroyed.

Once here, migrants realised telephone calls were expensive, as was postage, especially packages.

The 12,000 miles distance from Europe made Australia seem isolated and ‘the end of the world’.

Even for British migrants the change and adjustments were huge. Christmas a shock – too hot – yet cards pictured snow and reindeer – absolutely no relationship to reality.

In Melbourne, they discovered winter is cold and some days the promised sunny Australia seemed a myth. The weatherboard houses referred to as bungalows by the migrants, not as substantial as the brick houses of the UK. There was no double glazing, insulation, or central heating – common attributes in post-war Britain.

Some migrants expected everything to be modern and new, or ‘bushy’. Established cities like Melbourne an initial surprise or disappointment.

I remember my Dad commenting when our ship pulled into Station Pier that Melbourne, “looked just like Glasgow!”

We’d left cold foggy London, travelled through the Suez Canal and stopped at Colombo, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and arrived to an extremely hot summer.  Heat haze shimmered above melting bitumen, joined by a smoke haze above the ‘blue’ Dandenong Ranges ravaged by fire January and December 1962.

 

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A picture Dad took of the ‘bum boats’ that pulled alongside our ship at Port Said, Suez Canal. The Arab merchants spruiking their wares called every English woman “Mrs Simpson’ and every Scots or Irish “Mrs MacGregor”!

 

Life operated at a slow pace in our new home, semi-rural Croydon on Melbourne’s perimeter. Dress codes relaxed. Dad loved not having to wear a tie most days.

Aunt Chrissie walked to the mailbox in dressing-gown (housecoat) and slippers and no one seemed to mind. She even ran Uncle Bill to the railway station in their old Consol,  still in her nightie – and when she broke down one morning she was helped to start the car (crank handle in those days) by a passerby who didn’t seem surprised!

Mum couldn’t get over the meat trays in butcher shops, or the fruit shops with their plentiful melons, passionfruit, oranges and other fruit, but she sweltered in an old house cooking meals with a wood-devouring Raeburn stove.

Any money left over from Dad’s early pay packets used to buy an electric kettle, electric frypan and electric pot as a matter of urgency!

No matter when they arrived, all immigrants are linked by the common experience of a journey.

Over the past two centuries, the immigration journey to Australia has changed from a perilous sea voyage of up to 3 months to a routine flight lasting up to 24 hours. Changing transport has not only shortened the journey but made it more comfortable and affordable.

The journey remains one of the most memorable aspects of any immigration experience.

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Finding Ten Pound Poms in the National Archives & Public Record Office Victoria

The Immigration Museum invited two experts to explain how much easier it is to research your ancestry in the digital age and answer family history questions.

Terrie Page, National Archives of Australia demonstrated how to access the records of British immigrants. Personal and medical records available from the interviews conducted in the UK of those on the assisted passage scheme.

Go to the website naa.gov.au 

The first access point Terrie detailed was adverse publicity re Immigration scheme. There was plenty of criticism the publicity enticing migrants painted too rosy a picture and ‘facts’ were untrue. (For example, the offered wages were too high – stated in Australian pounds, not British pounds.)

This series is A445, Barcode: 247865 and you can read letters between the Australian and British Governments addressing complaints and articles in the press.

Series No. MP195/1, ( 1948-1958 basic information) MP210/2 (1952-1955) and MP250/2 (1958-1962) holds personal records of the interviews. Type in the name and year of your family and you may discover a copy of their acceptance letter (not every family has one).

Often there was only 2-3 weeks notice given to people. Not much time to pack up and sell goods and chattels and prepare yourself for the journey ahead.

In 1958, the Australian Government chartered the Fairsky for many voyages and although most people came by sea, the first aeroplane carrying assisted migrants arrived in 1959.

The Nominal Roll lets you type in the name of the ship and the date of departure and arrival and you can access Welfare Reports of the voyage, (A446 1962/67618) for example:

  • quality of food
  • entertainment provided
  • education provided
  • if there had been outbreaks of disease
  • if anyone had died

Searching for Melbourne Passenger Arrivals check if the ship came through Fremantle and put in the year of arrival. Items Series No. B4397

  • tick digital list box
  • enlarge to full screen
  • check multiple pages – look for the month (click pages, go up by 100)
  • hover over and find page number (Downloads are slow)
  • type into the box ‘jump to page’
  • remember the last page of every list has births and deaths
  • check passenger lists for a different class, boarding at different ports
  • the lists may not be alphabetical!

Stories Abound

Public servants were not as politically correct as today and many made handwritten notes on the official forms: “applicant obese but seems intelligent enough“, “five-year-old precocious and very bright”

There was a dock strike in Fremantle and migrants sent onto Melbourne by being off-loaded in Adelaide and put on the train. A young boy remembers waking up as the train trundled past Sunshine Station. The sun was rising and bathing the countryside in its glow, ‘What a lovely appropriate name,’ he murmured.

First impressions count.

PROV – Public Records Office Victoria

Charlie Farrugia, the Senior Collection Advisor explained that key records regarding immigration are Commonwealth therefore with the National Archives, but these are easily accessed from PROV State archives. (www.prov.vic.gov.au)

The State archives hold Department of Crown Land and Surveys information and records of statutory authorities such as the office of Valuer-General, School Councils and Courts etc.

  • What happened to peoples lives after migration and the great leap of faith to start afresh?
  • any activity involving State Government can be researched.
  • the key page is Family History
  • records are of a personal and private nature so not everything is kept
  • indexed by Family Name.

Exploration and Self – Discovery – Records May Have  a Key…

Charlie invited everyone to explore PROV’s collections and archives by topic: Wills & Probate (if there was a will required to be lodged for probate), Family History, Births, Deaths & Marriages.

Also inquests and other coronial matters. Land records, Census records (unfortunately rarely kept prior to 1973), some Cemeteries, pupil records from schools now closed (if the school still exists then they hold previous student records), and electoral and municipal voter rolls (in the past you had to own property to vote and not all councils have or kept voter rolls.).

British Migrants: Instant Australians?

Diary Date:

The exhibition opens on 25 November. There’ll be tea and traditional British fare and talks by historians and curators, as well as the personal stories of British migrants.

Rita and I are looking forward to the full exhibition and will be revisiting the museum. We looked through the current exhibitions and left with plenty of food for thought and itching to check out the available records for our family – the months ahead will be busy!

If you have a migration story – please share.

“And it’s a human need to be told stories. The more we’re governed by idiots and have no control over our destinies, the more we need to tell stories to each other about who we are, why we are here, where we come from, and what might be possible.”

Alan Rickman

 

We Came by Boat at Christmas Time

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Orion – full steam ahead at sea. Photograph taken by & © Alan Judge (UK)

Check out this site for further details of the ship we came to Australia on in 1962. I’ve been thinking of that voyage because today, December 16th is the anniversary of our arrival in Melbourne at Station Pier. The ship finally docking at 8.00pm.

Where have those 53 years gone?

We were met by Dad’s sister, Chrissie and husband Bill, and their friends Edna and Ron Gray, Malcolm and Elizabeth Andree, Muriel and Eric Scrimshaw and Doreen and Dick Triggs (the parents of Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs).

All of those couples generously volunteered their cars and time knowing there were eight of us, plus luggage! What kindness, what generosity, what a welcome!

I’ve reminisced about our trip to Australia all those years ago – a voyage of discovery, which had a profound impact, etched on my memory…

Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

Miriam Beard

In the city the other day, I lined up to view Myer windows – an annual Christmas event for Melbournites and one I remembered from that first Christmas here all those years ago.

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60 years of animated windows at Myer – Santa’s Journey into Space featured 1962

The migrant ship, P&O’s Orion left cold, foggy Tilbury Docks in London on November 14th,1962. The first stop Piraeus, Greece, in the Mediterranean before the liner, continued through the Suez Canal to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and onto an Australia in the full bloom of summer – hot, humid tropics all the way and my first experience of a heatwave.

An unforgettable month long voyage for nine-year-old me, born in Greenock, Scotland, the city with the highest rainfall in the United Kingdom.

The Orion, used as a troop ship during WW2 had been refitted to carry the army of assisted migrants to Australia and New Zealand in the late 50s and early 60s. She was the first British ship to have air-conditioning in all her public rooms so we were more fortunate than my father’s sister Chrissie and husband Bill who sponsored us to Melbourne after migrating in July 1952.

We were all considered ‘ten pound Poms’ although we were actually Scots.

 

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The open and spacious design with sliding glass doors and removable walls, made the ship’s communal areas roomy and egalitarian. The Orion now a one class ship, sported breezy passageways and staircases with chromium and bakelite fittings; as well as the polished mahogany, found in wealthy British homes of the time. The ship suited tropical cruising and life on board definitely a jaw-dropping wonder to the majority of working class passengers, who like us were heading for what we hoped was ‘the promised land,’ sunny beaches and casual living.

Farewelling fogbound Tilbury
We began our journey across the sea
The apes of Gibraltar glimpsed
But only in our imagination
The Bay of Biscay tossed and pummelled
Brother George succumbed to seasickness
And I discovered my sea legs.
Piraeus, Greece glittered in the moonlight
Monuments of an ancient past shadowing a busy port.
Spruikers cluttered the docks
Committing daylight robbery
On gullible migrants
Sister Catriona and I hugged
Our Greek dolls while the boys discovered
Cars with no engines.
Bright traditional costumes of the dolls
soft, silken,beautiful and exotic.
Poukamiso – chemise, segouni – vest,
bodia – apron, zonari – sash, mandili – scarf
and tiny Tsarouhia – shoes.

Clothes never seen on the 500 migrants
Who shuffled on board that night
Belongings bundled in sheets
Squeezed into battered suitcases
Secured with string and hoisted on
Backs used more to manual labour
than dancing to bouzoukis
Greece an intriguing taste of
Somewhere different to Scotland
Our first foreign port, a window into another world.

We discovered the cabins could be stuffy, especially when shared with Mum and my five siblings. Not enough room to swing the proverbial cat after toddler Rita’s cot was set up. Did we care? Not really. We spent as many hours as possible away from the cabin, immersed in the swimming pool or roaming the various decks playing quoits, table tennis, hide and seek, getting into mischief while avoiding serious trouble.

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The pool on board – courtesy Museum Victoria

The swimming pool an exciting magnet for most of the children on board. Many like us, had never been in a pool or been able to swim in the sea beyond paddling in the shallows while shivering through cool British summers. We loved watching the sailors clean and refill the pool with saltwater each day, even learning to swim aboard ship, as did many migrants. If you didn’t master swimming, you at least floated secure in a life ring and appreciated the relief from the heat.

When we crossed the equator and ‘met’ King Neptune I don’t think anyone escaped the shenanigans or sampling the pool. No plastic sandals needed here before getting in the water, nor danger of hypothermia – the climates experienced as we moved through various zones very different to Scotland!

 

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The ship steamed into the Suez Canal
To enter a land straight from
Arthur Mees Children’s Encyclopaedias.
Hours spent on deck peering through
Dad’s binoculars at pyramids, camels,
Sand dunes and a Bedouin unaware
Of our spying eyes as he prepared
Breakfast beside a solitary tent
The Valley of the Kings hugging
A horizon bathed in liminal desert dawn.

Closer to the ship a flotilla of Arab merchants
Beguiling the English Mrs Simpsons
And Scots Mrs MacGregors
Offering fancy leather goods,
Carved wooden elephants and watches
With rubber bands keeping hands ticking
Until the ‘Bum Boats’ skedaddled back to shore
A thief chased by the sergeant of Arms and
Caught by local police provides a distraction
Like an episode of Z-Cars or Softly Softly.
Everyone seeks a bargain and the banter
From ship rail to boats below ranged from
The comedic to course, respectful to rude.
While adults bargained, the Gully Gully Man
Fluted his cobra to awe and frighten children
The snake’s sewn mouth unnoticed as it uncoiled,
Swayed, stretched and struck before being grabbed
And thrown into a tense crowd
That evaporated squealing, like steam from
A whistling kettle.

Dad shared a cabin with the father of another large family in the cabin opposite to ours. Both men, in a two-berth cabin at the end of the corridor, worked out amicable arrangements to have private time with their spouses and family. Because Dad had been a shift worker his banishment to another cabin didn’t really affect us, although no doubt it affected Mum. We were delighted we actually saw more of him than we usually did.

A ship is a great adventure playground, and we made the most of it. We spent countless hours just standing on deck watching the ocean, fascinated by the dolphins, flying fish, the occasional albatross and of course watching for land when we were due to call into port. The sunrises and sunsets magical and memorable like the mesmerising sea.

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Considered ‘all right for a girl’, I tagged along with older brothers Iain (11) and George (10) and their new friend Kenneth (12). They hatched exciting plans, whereas my older sister Catriona, who at thirteen attended the adult meal sittings with my parents, thought our games childish (and often she was right!).

Mature for her age, physically and mentally, Catriona was caught in that awkward in-between world of adolescence. The young deckhands ogled and whistled thinking she was older,but she pined for her school friends left behind in her first year at high school.

Colombo, Ceylon reached but a free Sri Lanka
Whispered chatter in dining halls and Kitchen
Of the ship. The lascar crew toiling at lower wages
Than white-skinned counterparts.
Colombo’s sweltering heat endured as
Dad searched for a ring for Mum, an anniversary looming.
We passed colourful saris and glossy black hair,
Boisterous beggars with blood-toothed grins advertising
Their love of Areca wrapped in betel leaves
Gobs of chewed nuts blackened by the sun
Dotted the streets. To my nine-year-old eyes
They were bloodstains. The smell of rotting vegetables
And sweaty humanity becoming the smell of death.
A cacophony of sounds, high pitched, persistent.
Buzzing flies biting, unfriendly like some people
Resentment at colonial betrayal simmering
Poverty displayed by stick legs and arms,
Gaunt faces, body sores, desperate words as
Crippled babies thrust into the faces
Of privileged whites streaming ashore.

Most days at sea on our month-long voyage
Spent exploring the one-class ship
Its First Class trimmings an exciting attraction
To our freewheeling gang of urban escapees
From the austerity of post war Britain.

One day, after seeing a school of flying fish the boys decided to go fishing although our only experience of this pastime in Greenock was catching tadpoles (we called them minnows) in jam jars, or  watching the tadpoles turn into frogs in our ‘secret lake’ (a big pond at the end of the Aileymill road).

English Kenneth described proper fishing, with a rod, hook and bait. We listened in awe at his expertise before scattering to find substitute equipment.

An empty toffee tin took the place of our usual jam jar. Discarded pieces of string and ribbon knotted together and tied around the rim of the tin transformed it into a ‘net’. Using orange peel as bait, we searched the decks for the best spot to launch our line and decided on a corner of the deck for crew only.

We had the run of the ship and within a couple of days knew it like our old neighbourhood ashore; certainly better than most adult passengers. We were rarely told to leave any area – an advantage of being a child.

Ignorant about the distance from the deck of the ship to the sea, and being children with an average height of four and half feet, we assumed our bundle of string more than adequate. We found a secluded corner, squeezed our skinny forms through the deck rails and hung precariously over the side.

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Our imagination only accommodated fish, pods of dolphins and fanciful birds like the albatross and pelican. The voyage beautiful and benign, providing a remarkable, unique time in our young lives. We concentrated on the task at hand, unaware of the dangers of falling into shark infested waters.

Several pairs of hands took turns lowering the tin down. Kenneth received a quick lesson on democracy à la large families. Our fishing line bounced its way down the side of the ship, but stopped well short of the enticing water line. A collective groan of disappointment manifested as downturned lips and wrinkled brows. What to do? Our mission a failure, our enthusiasm fizzling like a damp squib on Guy Fawkes Night.

What happened next is one of those unpredictable solutions children invent. With almost silent agreement, our aim changed from catching fish to seeing if we could guide the tin into an open porthole. This turned out to be a much more engaging project, requiring all the skill we could muster.

We speculated what was behind the porthole immediately below, and if we’d get into trouble, but any hesitation was brief, and dismissed. We were now commandos penetrating a German submarine with a secret weapon that would win the war. Our concentration so intense the shrieks of laughter from the swimming pool above and the roar of the ship’s engines below faded to be insignificant.

We even forgot our persistent rumbling tummies stirred by the ever present smells of food lingering in every nook and cranny of the Orion. Smells drifting from the dining rooms, restaurants and decks, and from the cabins below where many of the 500 Greeks who had boarded in Piraeus cooked exotic, alluring food.

The tin edged closer to the narrow opening and the capable hands of Iain guided it to success. In the celebration, he almost dropped the string, George bumped his head on the deck rail as he cheered and Kenneth saved me from sliding head first into the briny. A little huffed because he hadn’t been the pilot, Kenneth brought us back to reality with, ‘Gosh, let’s scarper.’

Iain dropped the string as if it was a death adder.

We extricated ourselves from the deck rails, but not before I glimpsed the angry face of the Maitre d’ peering up at us. On cue, music burst from the tannoy announcing the children’s sitting for lunch.

We raced back to the cabin to collect Mum, forgetting the initial shock of the Head Waiter’s face as we giggled and revelled in the thrill of mischief. He couldn’t recognise us from hundreds of children on board – could he?

We entered the dining room with some trepidation, beginning to worry about Mum’s reaction should the Maitre d’ make a fuss, and worse would Dad find out. Our bravado tested when we saw our fishing implements sitting among the paraphernalia of the Head Waiter’s workstation. The man himself, looming larger than his six foot physique,  stood at the entrance of the dining room, head poised like a Roman Emperor watching everyone troop to their designated tables.

His patrician nose that Dad joked was more of a limb than a feature, sniffed the air for miscreants and Mum, as she often did made a pun without realising it. ‘What’s got up his nose?’ she asked Gordon, our dining room steward.

Gordon, a young man from Barrhead who had taken a shine to our family,
whispered and pointed at our tin, ‘That landed through the porthole when we were setting the tables.’ He laughed and shrugged. ‘A kid’s prank but Himself sees it as sullying His dining room.’

‘Is that so,’ said Mum laughing. ‘Wee bisums were smart to get it inside without a boat!’

The boys flashed warning looks at each other and signalled to me to remain silent. Mum’s admiration would become admonition if she knew it was her children being ‘smart’.

Kenneth, already seated, buried his head in the menu refusing eye contact. If challenged, we’d be on our own. Mum smiled and started to chat to Kenneth’s mother as Gordon brought the meals. The Maitre d,’ at the other side of the room sorting out a dispute over seating, no longer a threat to us. We relaxed to enjoy the food.

Every meal on board delicious because of the variety served, and we were always allowed seconds. We left a Britain hit by recession and found being aboard the Orion a luxurious holiday resort.

Gordon indulged our every whim, taking a particular shine to my young brother Alistair, a six year old with a cherubic face and insatiable appetite. His record for “seconds” of favourite meals being six plates of mince and tatties! If the stewards ran a competition on the appetites of their charges, Gordon would definitely win.

We laughed at pods of dolphins and flying fish
Argued over whale sightings and horizon mirages
Had competitions to see who could get closest
To the seabirds landing on railings.
The Wandering Albatross or pretty Petrels
Mesmerising. Each day fascinating.
The baby buried at sea, a stumbled upon ceremony
We didn’t let spoil the rest of our day
Only adult reflections consider sadness, social justice…

We didn’t have to go to school on board, but if we did attend classes, they were only for a couple of hours in the morning and we were given free ice cream. Ice cream in Scotland was sharing a family block after the Sunday roast – if the household budget could afford it. To be offered cones every day, a special treat indeed. However, we didn’t need too much persuading to go to school because the volunteer teachers were a lot of fun.

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Perhaps it was because of the comfortable non-compulsory nature of the classes, or their multi-aged composition, but whatever the reason, I absorbed the lessons, even learning all about L.S.D. (money sums, not the drug!). I became so proficient in maths that when I arrived in Australia Mr Tinney, the Croydon Primary School headmaster wanted me to go into Grade Six. Thank goodness Mum, worried about socialisation and making friends in my own age group, insisted promotion to Grade Five was enough of a challenge especially since George was also promoted to Grade Six. However, being the youngest in class dogged me for the rest of my school life.

From the morning wake-up calls broadcast into our cabin: ‘Wakey, Wakey Rise and Shine, it’s breakfast time on the Orient Line,‘ to the host of organised parties, dress-up competitions, deck games and Housey Housey (bingo) plus talent contests; the few weeks at sea provided pleasant memories.

The ship sailed into Fremantle at dawn
Yet most passengers crowded the decks
Eager for the first glimpse of a new homeland.
And to our surprise the skirl of bagpipes
Drowned seagulls screech, as a young woman
Marched the pier welcoming her sister home.
The loving gesture warmed hearts, calmed fears
The upheaval and journey to the unknown less daunting
As the strains of Waltzing Matilda skirled skywards.

Sultry summer air caressed our skin, a hot December sun disappeared into the sea when we prepared to disembark from P&O’s Orion in 1962, thirty-two days after leaving fogbound Tilbury.

Night now dropped a velvet blanket from the sky, no gradual, long twilight here like the Scottish gloaming.

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Amid harsh fluorescents, the inky sky disappeared as we docked and Aunt Chrissie grinned and waved below, jostled by hundreds of clamouring crowds on Station Pier. We interrupted Dad’s dinner to tell him we saw someone who looked like my godmother, Ina, his cousin. Five of us had heads crammed out the porthole and the lady yelled ‘are you the McInneses?’

We all nodded together and watched tears gather in her eyes to flow down her cheeks when Dad eventually joined us. A frightening crack as the bunk bed groaned under all the weight meant several of us scurried down and raced to be first at the deck rails to squeeze between adult legs and continue our observations of the chaos below.

Tears of joy stained Dad’s cheeks on seeing his only sister after a decade. His initial disappointment as the ship manoeuvred into port that the grimy part of Melbourne visible ‘looked just like Glasgow’ forgotten.

However, on deck, I trembled at the whispers of older boys that Christmas didn’t happen here. The hot night air and absence of snow was certainly unChristmassy!

Fortunately, on the way to our new home in bushy Croydon, Aunt Chrissie’s blue Ford Consul stopped beside a large department store. Myer windows blazed light and colour onto the deserted streets.

Led over to view the display of mechanical puppets narrating Santa’s journey into Space my child eyes ballooned. Had we arrived in Fairyland?
This new country promised an exciting and magical life.

Christmas did happen in summer and our first Australian Christmas proved to be as memorable as the eventful voyage on SS Orion and that very special welcome the evening of December 16, 1962.

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How sad that boat arrivals are now demonised and detained when we were welcomed with open arms. My wish this Christmas is that camps on Nauru and Manus Islands are closed, refugees are welcomed to Australia and we again care about human beings to build and share this land.

 

We will remember them… and celebrate their life and our links to the past!

They shall grow not old,
As we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them,
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun,
And in the morning
We will remember them.

Extract from ‘For the Fallen’, The Winnowing Fan: Poems on the Great War, 1914, Laurence Binyon.

Who was Private George Alexander McInnes?

100,000Australians, our war dead, are buried overseas. Most graves have never been visited by their loved ones, including  that of Private George Alexander McInnes, Grave A.64.

McINNES_GEORGE_ALEXANDER                    chatby war memorial register GA MCINNES

Nineteen years of age, when he died of enteric fever in Alexandria Hospital, Egypt, George is buried in Alexandria (Chatby) Military and War memorial Cemetery, along with 510 Australians from both wars.

Many of the young men, like George,  forever remembered as soldiers, the sum total of their life a caption at the Australian War Memorial, or an inscription on a local cenotaph.

Often family history researchers, relatively new to Australia discover an ‘ANZAC’ and seek no further information if the relative died. However, in recent years there’s been a resurgence of interest in the Anzac legend, and this year with the Centenary of Gallipoli, more people are trying to understand what their relatives must have experienced and the devastating affect the missing lives had on the people left behind.

These young men had a life before the war, and probably a fruitful future if they had lived. When studying for my masters degree I began to explore my connection with the Anzac legend from a family researcher’s point of view, but also from a creative writer’s perspective. If I was going to write about family, I wanted the stories to be readable, believable,  to engage the reader so that the people will be remembered – not as a statistic or an entry in the family tree, but as a person who laughed, cried, loved and hated and contributed to the rich tapestry of the human story.

How do you go about researching a life when all you have are a handful of postcards written from Gallipoli?

How do you recreate a family when you never met, or knew the relatives well?

Can a combination of document research, family oral tradition and personal views recreate a life to write a sufficiently interesting tale that is ‘true’ to their memory?

To reclaim the first nineteen years of the life of George McInnes, it was necessary to begin the search with the fact that he had been killed in the Great War and download his army file from the National Archives of Australia website. They have generously made information on WW1 soldiers available for researchers.

George Alexander McINNES

Regimental number 2657
Place of birth: Williamstown, Victoria
School Number 1499 State School North Williamstown, Victoria
Religion Presbyterian
Occupation Labourer
Address Newport, Victoria
Marital status Single
Age at embarkation 19
Next of kin Father, A McInnes, 67 Oakbank Street, Newport, Victoria
Previous military service Served in the Citizen’s Forces
Enlistment date 31 May 1915
Rank on enlistment Private
Unit name 6th Battalion, 8th Reinforcement
AWM Embarkation Roll number 23/23/2
Embarkation details Unit embarked from Melbourne, Victoria, on board HMAT A68 Anchises on 26 August 1915
Fate: Died of disease 15 December 1915
Place of death or wounding Alexandria Hospital, Eygpt (died of Enteric)
Age at death 19
Age at death from cemetery records 19
Place of burial Chatby War Memorial (Row A, Grave No. 64), Egypt
Panel number, Roll of Honour,  Australian War Memorial 47
Miscellaneous information from cemetery records: Parents: Angus and Hannah MCINNES, “Gairloch”, Croydon, Victoria

Family/military connections LCPL, CG Leslie, 1st ANZAC Cycle Bn, CO, DOW 30 October, 1916

Copyright, AIF Database. May not be printed or reproduced without permission.

Armed with information from these files more data could be gleaned from the Public Record Office of Victoria and other sources, including an inherited box of old sepia and black and white photographs, faded and stained – and of course not labelled or dated!

Setting the scene – Highland Laddies The World O’er

The word Anzac was a new word to me in 1962, when I arrived in Australia from Scotland with my family, at nine years of age. We came to stay with an unmarried cousin of my father’s, Catherine McInnes the first person we met from the Australian branch of the clan. Aunt Kitty, as we were encouraged to call her, was 72 years of age and had never married. She lived a reclusive life after the death of her mother, Hannah the previous year and it must have been a shock when our family of eight exploded on the scene.

Aunt Kitty as I remember her   30s

Her old neglected weatherboard house in Croydon sat on the corner of Lincoln Road and a selection of potholes called James Road. Kitty’s outings, apart from shopping, were to the Croydon Presbyterian Church, Country Women’s Association meetings in the church hall and regular visits to donate blood to the Red Cross in the city. When my parents, a determined Scots/Irish couple arrived with six adventurous children, ranging from three to 13 years of age, her ordered solitary lifestyle changed forever.

Local children had declared Kitty’s rambling dilapidated house haunted, but the  unkempt bush block, encompassing a disused sawmill and overgrown orchard an ideal setting for the release of stored energy after our month’s journey on P & O’s Orion. Like Apaches in the popular Hollywood Westerns, we whooped and cavorted free from the confinement of small cabins, narrow corridors and the crowded decks of the migrant passenger ship.

At Croydon, we climbed trees, staged plum and apple fights, searched through remnants of sheds and chicken coops, discovered deserted bird nests and fox dens, blue-tongued lizards and grumpy possums and discarded rubbish from the turn of the century. We built escape tunnels and stockades to resemble those in Combat, a favourite TV show about a platoon of American soldiers winning the Second World War in Europe. When we wanted a change we escaped Colditz after all as 50s children we still lived in the shadow of WW2.

The old house provided a daily escapade outside, and inside it promised a fascinating adventure of the mind and soul. Gloomy timber-walled rooms, a grim contrast to the wide-open spaces and subdued colours of the garden of Australian bush and imported fruit trees, always coated with a layer of dust common in the dry Australian bush. We arrived a week before Christmas into a heatwave, a baptism of fire as we adjusted to our new home.

Dark cedar furniture deprived of the thrill of polish for a long time, crammed into the 12’ x 16’ lounge-room, lined with brown-stained weatherboards. A huge dining table sitting on blocks because of three broken castors, two lumpy shabby sofas huddled in a corner, horsehair interior leaking onto the dull brown linoleum.

An enormous sideboard, overflowing with ornaments, crockery and other paraphernalia of indeterminate origin, took up most of one wall. This room, out of bounds to us, but we often used it as a shortcut to other parts of the house when playing hide and seek, or tiptoed to peek at forbidden treasures when adults were busy. This was Aladdin’s cave in our eyes and like most curious children we found forbidden places the most exciting.

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My favourite objects, a huge emu egg and two large peacock feathers, their multi-coloured hues catching the limited sunlight and trembling in the breeze we made when running past. Rotten stumps meant you could feel the floorboards bounce and squeak beneath your feet. Sometimes it felt as if the room swayed. We were the cliched ‘herd of elephants’, Mum accused us of being whenever we played indoors.

Aunt Kitty retreated to the lounge room each evening, to listen to programs on a valve wireless, which squatted on the mantelpiece, above a fireplace flickering flames, even in summer.

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Placed at the centre of the house, the dark and cold room had one window. This overlooked a tumbledown veranda in a dangerous state of disrepair. The tall and narrow sash window jammed shut, its cracked pane held together with discoloured sticky tape. This reminded my parents of the tape to prevent windows breaking from the German bombers that blitzed Scotland, but never reached Melbourne. The atmosphere of neglect that pervaded the property nowhere more evident than this once splendid room.

The ramshackle veranda on rotting stumps sagged against the side of the house, minuscule natural light valiantly trying to penetrate the lounge room. Wild honeysuckle and out of control jasmine provided a haven for mosquitoes that feasted regularly on our Celtic blood. A thicker blanket of greenery blocked out the sunlight as it trailed along the inside of the verandah roof to curl around the window.

A naked drop-pearl light bulb, hung from the ceiling, its flex covered in disintegrating brown cloth. It provided an inadequate 15-watt glow; the bulb a relic from between-the-war years, the same vintage as the cracked patchwork of dull brown linoleum.

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The world of television didn’t exist for Aunt Kitty and being too expensive for our family budget as Mum and Dad tried to establish themselves in a new country, our favourite programs relived in conversations and games. Therefore, when Aunt Kitty invited us into her sanctuary to listen to the radio, or hear her stories of the McInnes Clan in Australia we hurried through bedtime rituals to sit at her feet, faces scrubbed to shine by the glow of red gum logs. We heard tales amply illustrated by artefacts and pictures adorning the walls, or crowding the sideboard.

There were poison-tipped spears from New Guinea and other islands to the north of Australia; hunting boomerangs from Central Australia and nulla-nullas fashioned to kill. Fodder to excite imaginations.

Two huge blown emu eggs sat in patterned porcelain bowls – to us they were dinosaur eggs. Cassowary and peacock feathers protruded from dull brass vases, mother-of-pearl shells gleamed and a single large conch shell still whispered the sound of the Pacific Ocean when held to your ear.

Aunt Kitty fascinated us to silence with tales of brave Captain John McInnes from the Isle of Skye, travelling many times between Europe, the Americas and Australia until going down with his ship, in faraway Portland, Oregon. His clipper Cadzow Forest often mentioned in newspaper articles because of his seamanship. We absorbed the pride in Aunt Kitty’s voice, and demanded more stories. After spending a month travelling the high seas, but in a larger ship we wondered how the men aboard the Cadzow Forest coped with cyclonic winds, sheets of rain, mountainous waves and burning sun?

Relatives we’d never meet stared from behind ornately carved wooden frames, adventurers who had made Australia home or pioneers born here when the country colonised. However, their attempt to establish a dynasty failed with childless Kitty and her older brother, Jack, who married a woman long past childbearing age. Their younger sister, Jessie produced one son, but he would not be continuing the McInnes name. An older brother George, stood resplendent in his army uniform in a picture frame hung prominently above the sideboard and flagged by two poison-tipped spears. His Aussie slouch hat, set at a rakish angle and adorned with the rising sun Anzac Badge worn by diggers familiar from ‘postcards from the trenches’ Aunt Kitty kept.

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‘That photograph was taken prior to his departure for Gallipoli,’ whispered Kitty. Although ignorant of where that was, we recognised the finality and pain in the sentence. We didn’t ask where George lived now. He smiled from another photograph; this time dressed in full Highland regalia: kilt, sporran, beribboned bonnet, sgian-dubh (the highland dirk) – a picture postcard Scot!

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‘Why is he dressed as a Scottish soldier?’ I wondered aloud. ‘Was he in a Highland Regiment and fighting for Scotland?’ My eyebrows knitted in consternation. ‘Where is Gallipoli, Aunt Kitty?’

She smiled, and with the patience of a teacher said, ‘Gallipoli is a long way away in a country called Turkey,’ and then proceeded to talk about Scotland as ‘home’. She said it was important to keep our culture alive. George had borrowed the outfit from his best friend, another George who was a piper in a local Scottish band. Kitty’s voice softened at the mention of the other George and she twisted the shiny Celtic friendship ring on the third finger of her left hand.

‘George Martin was my fiancé. We got engaged before they set off for their great foreign adventure.’ Her mournful face stared at the photographs imprisoned behind carved frames. ‘Neither of them returned home. ‘

We knew to remain silent as we watched emotions flit across her face, her lips quiver.

‘Your Uncle George took ill in the trenches, along with hundreds of others. He was hospitalised in Constantinople and died from enteric fever. He was only nineteen years old.’

The spluttering and wheezing from the fire ceased. My chest ached from holding my breath. I could feel my brothers and sisters tense. Even the flames appeared to freeze. Aunt Kitty stared into the fireplace and spoke as if alone.

‘My fiancé survived Gallipoli, but fell wounded in a great battle in France beside the River Somme. Taken to England he was recovering … until the flu epidemic.’ Tears glistened at the corners of her pale grey eyes, or it may have been a trick of the light. She straightened her shoulders and sighed, ‘he never returned home.’

The sadness in the room, suspended from the cathedral ceiling like a dark cloak, ready to smother happiness and laughter forever. We had learned enough history at school, albeit about the more recent Second World War, to know that soldiers died far from home and the grieving lasted a lifetime.

As sometimes happens in moments of emotional intensity, a circuit breaker occurs. Six-year old, Alistair often did or said the unexpected like most young children. He’d been staring at the photographs, not really following the conversation and his childish voice began singing the popular Scottish song ‘Donald Where’s Your Troosers.’ Quietly at first…  then raucously.

The poignancy of the story passed him by, but his uninhibited singing drew a twitch of a smile from sombre Kitty. This gave the rest of us permission to laugh, but not forget the story of our ANZAC and Aunt Kitty’s Highland laddie, their absence lacing her life with sorrow and planting a seed in me to find out more about the man who shared two of my Father’s names.

Today it is 100 years since George and others left on what they thought would be a great adventure – that’s what war seems to mean to young men of a certain age when patriotism is whipped up by politicians and those in power with vested interests.

In reality, the war to end all wars a myth, but we must remember those who lost their lives, who suffered injury and the dislocated families on all sides of the conflict that had to live with stories of horror and hardship.

There are no real winners in war and as I find out more about the effects of George’s death on Angus and Hannah and his siblings I hope to do justice to their legacy and ensure George Alexander McInnes is not just a name on a war memorial or gravestone.

A good place to start (and to end this post) is to reveal what I know of the day he was born.

Williamstown, County of Bourke, 24th February 1896

George Alexander McInnes’s, birth on the 16th January 1896 is registered by his father, Angus McInnes and his mother, Hannah. Angus is a thirty-eight-year-old labourer from Dunvegan, Isle of Skye, Scotland and his thirty-two-year-old wife Hannah McDonald formerly Leslie, is from Colac Victoria. They were married on 4th June 1890 at Colac and there are two daughters listed: Catherine Ann (4 years) and Jessie (2 years).

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HR Mclean, and a midwife, Mrs Sanderson are present at the birth, rare assistance in the economically depressed 1890s. McLean listed as an accoucheur was probably a male doctor. More than likely, George was born at home, 67 Oakbank Street Newport, because women avoided the humiliation of existing services of understaffed, over-crowded hospitals, where their modesty was rarely considered. The Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital (initially called Victoria Hospital) did not open for business until much later in the year to be ‘one of three hospitals in the world founded, managed and run by women, for women.’

Victoria was changing rapidly as the new century approached and for George it was a good time to be born. Factory Acts introduced in Victoria in 1896 tightened control over the employment and exploitation of children in the industrial workforce, the emphasis being on children as the economic responsibility of parents not as a contributor to the family income.

There was already a uniquely centralised model of school education in Victoria set up in 1872, based on the principles of free, secular and compulsory education. The expanding industry and commerce changed labour patterns and created a demand for improvements in the literacy and numeracy, of the working population.

George would get educational opportunities only imagined by his parents who still spoke Scottish Gaelic as their preferred language. In 1897, the Victorian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was established ‘amid great community concern for child abuse and the plight of children growing up in impoverished and socially inadequate conditions… The value of children was seen to extend beyond the family to society as a whole.

The wages board system, began in Victoria in 1896 whereby wages boards
represented different industries or occupations, comprising equal numbers of
employee and employer representatives, presided over by a neutral chairman who, if necessary, exercised a casting vote. This industrial mediation system designed to prevent the growth of ‘sweat shops’ and rampant exploitation.

Fortunate George would later join his father, an employee of the Victorian Railways in June 1883, a time of great expansion. In a list of permanent railway employees, Angus is recorded as a labourer in the Locomotive branch.

The Newport Workshops started in 1884, and later employed George as a ‘lad labourer,’ but either because of his youth, or his lack of permanency, George is only listed in one annual report – and that is the year of his death, 1915 where he is praised for joining the Australian Expeditionary Forces. He then appears in an obituary column with 55 of the 2,073 railway employees enlisted for active service. Fifty-five young men who ‘ gave their lives for the Empire’.

And again we have returned to the end of George’s life and it promised to be a good one if the war hadn’t intervened.

Victoria spearheaded the movement for an eight-hour working day, and in 1896 incoming ships were met and new arrivals told not to accept any other conditions than that provided by the eight-hour system. Although wages fell to 3s. 6d. for a time, the eight-hour day remained the standard working day for most classes of labour. Railway workers like Angus were fortunate to be on 8/- a day and the McInnes household living in a railway cottage were probably better off than many working class people.

For a long time the character of Williamstown’s industrial development was essentially maritime. The early development directly linked to the development of the port. Williamstown handled most of Melbourne’s shipping before the gold rushes, and boat building and repair yards and associated iron foundries developed.

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However, when the massive Newport Railway workshops were established so too were many new industries. ‘The railway employees together with those in other government employment, gave Williamstown the reputation of being a government town…

The McInnes home in Oakbank Street is two streets away from The Strand and within walking distance of the Newport Railway Station, convenient and prime real estate. The detached house single storey weatherboard (now part of a heritage precinct) set back from the street boundary by a small garden and low front fence would have been considered comfortable for a young family. The wide streets with bluestone kerbs a safe play area for children although no doubt George and his sisters had many trips by Cobb and Co Coach to visit Hannah’s family in Colac before that mode of transport  was superseded by the motor car.

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On his enlistment papers when he joined the Australian Imperial Force on 31st May 1915, George states he has been a senior cadet for four years and one year with the 70th Infantry Militia Citizen’s Forces, ‘still serving’. In 1911 when universal military training was introduced, George would have joined Senior Cadets.

The Defence Act at that time prescribed training in the Senior Cadets at ages 14 -18 and in the Citizen Forces from 18 – 26, he was 19 years 5 months when he joined the AIF. During 1914 with World War I in progress he probably carried out guard duties at munitions factories, oil installations and railway bridges.

The enlistment papers also state he attended North Williamstown State School number 1499 but it is actually No. 1409. Errors like this common in many of the army documents where they even have his address wrong.

The most useful information from the enlistment certificate is the physical description. A picture of a fit young man emerges: 5’8 1/2 inches tall, weighing 9st 11lbs with blue eyes and brown hair. He has two moles on his left cheek and a small scar on his centre back. Imagination starts to speculate how he got the scar… and I’m overwhelmed with emotion. All the photographs of soldiers in WW1 play in a loop in my head,  I can picture young George’s journey and tears flow…

WAR AND PEACE
Mairi Neil

We had the war to end all wars
And yet it happens again.
Confrontation and conflagration
Serves power hungry men.
Uncle George
Buried in Egypt
Like many of his generation
Died a 19 year old ANZAC
To earn our veneration.

Those young adventurers
Volunteered for a melee
Naive and ignorant
Of what was to be …

The trenches,
The slaughter,
The mud,
Screams of pain,
Stench of death,
… the blood
They discovered
Brutality’s
Deadly finality.

In war, no winners
Only propaganda spinners.

Humiliation     Retaliation
Radiation         Defoliation
Emaciation      Starvation

Why not mediation and conciliation?

The ghosts of diggers weep
Sacrifice did not keep
Future generations safe from war
Let us demand peace
All military actions cease
Bring all troops home
NOW!