Father’s Day

My father died eons ago, but I’ll post one of his poems today, Father’s Day, to thank him for volunteering to join the army to go the Middle East back in the 40s.

Ron Bruce (my father in the slouch hat) with Ernie Weeks (my mother’s brother). By an amazing coincidence they ended up in the same hospital here in Kantara, Egypt

I get the feeling from this poem that as he was thinking and writing, he was probably regretting his decision to go so far from home, but at last he was coming back and couldn’t wait to get off the ship he had sailed on for weeks, the Duntroon. I also get a sense of appreciation for the hard-working nurses who attended him in Kantara Hospital, Egypt, and now on board this ship.

Duntroon, troop ship 1942

Thoughts

As I lie in my bed and gaze around,
I long for the day they set me aground,
My mind wanders back to my hometown
For this goddamned ship is getting me down.
I think of the fun and the times I’ve had
I think of my Sweetheart, my Mum and Dad,
I wish for the places I’m longing to see,
I wish for the faces of those dear to me.

You see, I’m in dock, on board this fine ship,
And I’m anxiously waiting the end of this trip.
I watch all the faces, the expressions they wear,
Some fat, some thin, and some have no hair.
Then there’s the Sisters in capes coloured red,
As they carry the medicine to ease a sick bed,
Their hours are endless, thanks often nil,
I’ve ne’er heard one grumble
And p’raps never will.

R.E.B.

Thoughts, R.E. Bruce, 1942

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46 Great Opening Lines: 22

In Laurence Binyon’s poem ‘For the Fallen’, which adorns numerous war memorials around Australia, there is a verse that every Australian knows:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old…

Opening line of the Author’s Note, Desert Boys, Peter Rees, 2012

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I’ve heard the line ‘They shall grow not old…’ every year of my life, yet it still catches me out. Wars need poets.

Australian soldiers in North Africa, 1941/42

When I look at the photo above from my father’s World War Two album, taken during his time in North Africa in 1941/42, I wonder whether these soldiers fell or grew old. Unfortunately the photo is uncaptioned and I have no names for them. They seem to be posing, demonstrating a lesson in warfare.

I’m struck by its similarity to the image on the cover of Desert Boys by Peter Rees, a book about Australian soldiers who fought in the desert in both world wars. In each photo there are five young Australian men in helmets, focusing on something to their left. Perhaps these cover men are also posing. In any case, their photos remind us that they went to the desert to fight, and may not have returned to grow old.

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WWII, Winter, Syria and Lebanon

Colonel Gee, Syria

Some years ago I scanned hundreds of photos from an album my father brought back from the Middle East in 1942.  The original snaps are small, about 2″ x 3″, so I’m fascinated by the detail I now see in these scanned and enlarged photos, such as the people on the right in the image above. The caption for this picture says “Col. Gee, Syria”. Nothing about the other guy. However, it’s uncertain whether it was taken in Syria or Lebanon. The photo below, the ski school for the soldiers, is marked as located in Syria when in fact it was in Lebanon.

Australian Army ski school,  Lebanon, 1942

Easy mistake to make, since the Australian soldiers were sent to train in Syria in the winter of 1941/42, but from there they went to Lebanon to train to fight in snow country. A disused chalet near Bcharre in the Lebanon ranges was turned into a ski school. It was pretty hard on the Australians, used to extreme heat but not extreme cold.

So much snow. The magnificent cedars of Lebanon form the only contrast in this black and white image.

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The Nile, 1941/42

A reader of this blog, a maritime archaeologist writing a PhD, expressed an interest in some of the photos I’ve posted here over the past five years, especially images of the Nile and its boats. So this post is about the Nile River, Egypt, in a particular period, 1941/42. The photos are from my father’s album, from a time he was stationed there for seven months with the army (not counting the couple of months to get there and back). He took photos and swapped photos with his mates, stuck them in an album and left them for his family to do what they wanted with them. Many of these photos have been on this blog before, with a couple of exceptions. Where there were captions beneath the photos in the album, I’ll repeat them. Where there was none, I’ll write what I know, if I know anything. The photographers of these photos are unknown. Some were taken by my father, some were not. I don’t know which is which.

Canal sailing, Nile River
Imbaba opening bridge, Nile River, Egypt
Nile Bridge
Weir in Nile River
Felucca, Egypt
“English Bridge” Cairo, daytime
“English Bridge”, Cairo, nighttime
Camel bridge, Great Delta Barrage or Alkanater Kheireya, Nile River, Egypt
Officers’ convalescence, River Nile
Showboat celebrations on Nile, flood
Sunrise on Nile
Sunset on Nile
View to a village across the Nile

I love all my black and white 1940s photos, but I totally love the feluccas and never tire of looking photos of them.  Thanks, my reader, for asking me to take another glimpse into 1940s Nile history.

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Weekly photo challenge: Danger

My father captioned this photo in 1942 ‘Dud bombs’. But judging by the rubble almost covering the small building at the bottom right, some earlier bombs had done the job they were made for.

It’s an odd photo that seems to have a part of another photo laid over it; the man looking at the dud bombs is transparent! The hill of rock behind him is visible through his face…

The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge this week is to find an image that evokes danger, so I immediately thought of this one from Dad’s war album of photos from Egypt and Libya. I don’t have a clue about bombs, exploded or unexploded. But these dud bombs were probably a source of danger.

Dud bombs, North Africa c1941/1942
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Weekly photo challenge: The Road Taken

This week’s WordPress photo challenge title is The Road Taken, which is not the road taken by the poet Robert Frost in his poem, The Road Not Taken.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and Frost made a decision to take the grassy road, the one that wanted wear, the one less travelled by. Ages from then, he told how the road taken had made all the difference. The poem’s title is a careful play on its message – The Road Not Taken, for him, is the one everyone else took.

Here’s an image of a road taken in Israel, a road where no grass grows, where tarmacadam has been laid to avoid the mess of wheel ruts. The photo is from my father’s war album; he called it “Point duty Tel Aviv”. This traffic cop is a living traffic light, bang in the centre of converging roads, with only his arms and two painted arrows to give people direction. Clearly it’s a road that needs some form of traffic control, and indeed the officer seems to be looking at something coming his way.

Point Duty Tel Aviv c1941

Still in Israel, here’s a road that’s long and winding. The Road of the Seven Sisters was constructed during the time of the British Mandate of Palestine (1920-1948), and apparently there are seven bends in the road, though many disagree. I’ve read it’s hairy to drive it, but, at the time, it was the only approach for cars coming to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. It looks quite bleak in this black and white image but recent colour photos show vegetation now softening the roadsides.

Road of the Seven Sisters, Jerusalem c1941

(The photographer might have been my father or it might have been a friend; soldiers commonly swapped photos.)

Unlike Robert Frost, it’s not often I find myself in a wood, and even less often in a yellow wood here in a country where native forests are perpetually green. But if I did, and if I came to a fork in its road, I would not take a path if it needed traffic control, or if it were a steep winding road of hairy hairpin bends built for army vehicles. Like Frost I would go where no one else that day had trod.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

If The Road Not Taken is new to you, take a brief moment to read it. It’s in many places online, here for example.

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Weekly photo challenge: Names

It is said that the department store Whiteaway Laidlaw & Co. was often nicknamed Right-away & Paid-for, since they accepted only cash and offered no credit. It was also known simply as Whiteaways and became a household name in India, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai during the first half of the 20th century, as well as in other British colonised cities like Mombasa and Nairobi in Kenya, seen here in these wartime photos.

Whiteaway Laidlaw department store, Nairobi, Kenya, c1941
East African Standard building on the corner, Whiteaway Laidlaw department store on the right, Delamere Ave, Nairobi, Kenya, c1941 (from my father’s WWII album)

The store was founded by a Scotsman, Robert Laidlaw, in 1882 after he had lived in India for 20 years. He was not just an entrepreneur but also a philanthropist and British politician. He died in 1915 in London, but his emporium continued until 1962. It imported and sold household goods and was also a tailoring business, selling products that appealed to Europeans and wealthy locals. As advertised on the store sign in Mombasa, they were drapers and “Complete Outfitters”.

Whiteaway Laidlaw department store, Mombasa, Kenya, c1941
Whiteaway Laidlaw department store, Mombasa, Kenya, c1941 (from my father’s WWII album)

Kenya was then a British colony engaged in defending itself against Italian Ethiopia (created in 1936) on its northern border. Kenya herself contributed a great number of men to fight for the British colonial Military: the King’s African Rifles. The Italians were defeated in November 1941 during my father’s period in North Africa. Hence these photos in his album.

I’ve been looking at these old photos since I was a small small child and have often wondered why two photos feature the same franchise of Whiteaways. Perhaps my father bought some outfits here. Apparently the store catered for shoppers with a small purse, which would therefore have attracted soldiers. Thanks to WordPress for challenging me to find out who Whiteaway Laidlaw were.

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Weekly photo challenge: Nostalgia

Any image of a tram makes me long for the past. When I was a child in Brisbane there were trams in the city, but by 1969 the use and support of trams had declined and the tramway was closed. It had been operating since 1885.

Brisbane tram, 1968, courtesy of Aussie mobs at https://www.flickr.com/photos/hwmobs/10115705345/in/photostream/
Brisbane tram, 1968, courtesy of Aussie mobs at https://www.flickr.com/photos/hwmobs/10115705345/in/photostream/

(An aside: In case you’re wondering about Vincent’s, they were powders for headaches, wrapped in paper. You poured the powder into your mouth and washed it down with water. My father took them daily. They were withdrawn from the market in the 1970s because they were causing renal failure and codeine addiction. So he shouldn’t have taken them with confidence after all.)

These days in Australia, only Adelaide and Melbourne still have trams. Melbourne is famous for them, and whenever I’m there I catch them just for the fun of it.

When I lived in Lyon, France, I often got around on trams, enjoying the ease of hopping on and off without having to climb stairs or walk down the aisle in search of a seat, as you do on a bus or a train, and without having to descend into the subterranean metro stations.

At present in Canberra, a light rail system (tramway) is under construction, but there’s a heated debate about the expense of it and disputes about the benefits. A local election in a couple of weeks will determine whether the project continues. And if The Opposition wins, it will stop the construction and cancel the contracts for which numbers of people have been employed. Hmmm.

But despite the arguments against our tram project, my nostalgia-filled heart is firing up memories of tram trips taken, of the fun of travelling on these little street trains, of waiting at the tram stops with my mother or father, or by myself in Lyon, holding my ticket nervously purchased in much-practised French, and being transported quickly and efficiently to my destination. So, rationally or not, I’m pro tram.

This 1941 photo of a tram in Port Said, perhaps waiting for the Australian soldiers to jump on board, gives me a little thrill every time I look at it. I wish it could teleport into my life so I could ride on it.

Tram, Port Said, Egypt, c1941
Tram and Australian soldiers, Port Said, Egypt, c1941. Photo from my father’s album. Subjects and photographer unknown.

Thanks WordPress for evoking my nostalgia.

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Weekly photo challenge: Opposites

A single frame, conflicting elements: small and large, short and tall, thin and fat, man and beast, free and bound…

Voilà. Another photo from my father’s WWII album. This one taken at the Giza Zoo, Cairo (thanks for this info, M. Fakhry).

Elephant and handler, c1941, India?
Elephant and handler, c1941, Giza Zoo, Cairo

Thanks, WordPress photo challenge.

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Weekly photo challenge: Curve

This week’s photo prompt, Curve, immediately made me think of the semicircular arches on the Catholic Basilica in Heliopolis, Cairo, or Basilica of the Virgin Mary. I’ve written about it and posted a few photos in other posts, for example here and here and here, but I have a fourth one from a different angle. It’s a church that’s not particularly Roman Catholic in a western European sense, but rather more like the Byzantine basilica, Hagia Sophia, in Istanbul, which also has large semicircular arches on its sides, and multiple domes. The Heliopolis basilica is deceptively cake-like in this photo and doesn’t look too monumental, that is, until you look at the little man walking down the road!

Roman Catholic Basilica, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941
Roman Catholic Basilica, Heliopolis, Cairo, c1941

I post these images for those who are interested in not-so-ancient Egyptian history; they are from my father’s war album, a collection of photos he took in 1941/42 as well as photos from his mates.

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