Frederick Burley

Walter Burley had two wives and seven children.  His wives had short lives, and four of his children died in infancy.  The three who survived to manhood, Alfred, James and Frederick, went to France to fight in World War One, even Alfred who had his own wife and six children.  Fortunately for them he returned.  Pity about Alfred’s two brothers who enlisted in the army together, numbers 5046 and 5047, for both their lives ended in France in 1917.  With all his siblings dead, Alfred came home to Australia in 1919 to find his wifeless father, Walter, was also dead and gone.  All of Alfred’s original family were in the ground.


I learned this little story of big losses through the Australian War Memorial’s prompting.  It’s reminding us nightly, from sunset to sunrise, that 62,000 Australians died in the fight that was World War One.  Walter’s sons, Frederick and James, are on the Honour Roll currently being projected onto the Memorial’s facade.  They are two of my grandparents’ cousins who did not return from France, so I’ve been zipping over to the Memorial to catch the names as they appear.  This month it’s Frederick’s turn.

I’ve read the army records, including a few letters and the immediate family history, of Frederick and his brothers.  I’m struck by the number of deaths that left Alfred the only standing family member.

The abundance of our ancestors’ details now available means we’re discovering their long-forgotten joys and losses.  But look closely;  there are even a few of their untruths.  Frederick’s details on the Roll reveal that, when he was young, he wished he was younger;  the Memorial records his age at death as 24, but he was born in 1887, which in 1917 made him 30…  Frederick died and was buried in April 1917 at Vaulx-Vraucourt, Pas de Calais, forever youngish.  He lied to the Australian Army, but he can’t lie to me because his birth details are these days online for all the world to see.

These Burley men were my first cousins three times removed.  I snapped this photo of Frederick’s name at 8:05pm one evening a couple of weeks ago, when it shone for 30 seconds.  In June 2016 his brother’s name, J.E. Burley, will be projected.  I’ve marked it in my diary.

Frederick Miles Burley, name projected onto the Australian War Memorial, 8th September 2015
Frederick Miles Burley, Honour Roll name projection, Australian War Memorial, 8th September 2015

The names of three other men, my grandfather’s cousins George, Frank and D’Arcey, were projected onto the Memorial during this year’s cold, starry winter evenings.  The significance of all this for me?  My grandfather also went to France, but he was a cousin who returned.  His name, like Alfred Burley’s, is not one of the 62,000 being projected, 30 times over 4 years, beneath the dome of the Memorial.



Thank you

Yesterday I read two writing prompts that gave me ideas.  The first one was the Daily Post’s prompt, Handwritten, and the second was in the ebook, 365 writing prompts, where the prompt for 11th September is Thank you.  The task is defined:

“The internet is full of rants. Help tip the balance: today, simply be thankful for something (or someone).”

It was funny they should say that about the internet and rants, because I was grazed by this combination today.  I was feeling thankful for something that happened because of the internet:  a nomination for a literary prize by the editor of Eleven Eleven literary journal.  Last month the journal published my translation of Jean Lorrain’s Princess Mandosiane.  Knowing little about prizes, I made what was perhaps a mistake and searched for online information.  Within seconds I was reading a rant about the meaninglessness of nominations, the unlikelihood of winning a prize, the embarrassment of being one of tens of thousands of nominees.  Don’t put it in your bio, pleads the ranter, don’t put it in your résumé.

One moment I was thankful, the next I was fizzing.  It took literally seconds for an internet rant to douse my small flame of pleasure.

Digging deeper and reading wider, I found a number of positive articles, a number of writers reminding readers, and me, that it’s incredibly hard work to get something published, let alone to be nominated for a prize, and that that’s something to put in your bio, something to write home about.  In fact, since I’m away from home, that’s something I’m going to do.

Today I’m simply thankful for Eleven Eleven journal and for the editor’s opinion of my work.

To illustrate my little achievement, here’s a photo I took at the beach this morning when I saw this rocky man laughing up at the sky.  Ha ha ha, you ranters!  A nomination is a reason to be cheerful.

Rock face, Lilli Pilli Beach NSW
Rock face, Lilli Pilli Beach NSW




The Daily Post writing prompt for 11th September was Handwritten:  When was the last time you wrote something by hand?

I write by hand many times a day, and indeed was handwriting something for another blog post only moments before I began typing these words.  But writing for this blog is something I do infrequently, unfortunately.  Translating literature is what I do every day, writing the translation by hand before keying it into my computer.  Usually I write with a cheap ballpoint pen or pencil on cheap note paper.  However, a German friend recently sent me a calligraphy pen and coloured inks, and a French friend sent me a Clairefontaine notebook with its silky smooth papier velouté.  To test them both out, I wrote the fourth verse from St. Patrick’s Breastplate:

St Patrick’s Breastplate v.4

The last lines are particularly meaningful to me, for I love the sea and its rocks, not to mention stability…  Just this morning, in the small bay of Lilli Pilli Beach, I was snapping waves as they crashed against rock projections:

LilliPilli Beach NSW
Lilli Pilli Beach NSW

I once heard that when you’re focused on a subject or scene to photograph it, you can’t feel depressed.  Your brain is too busy getting the shot right.  Similarly, when you’re writing out your thoughts by hand, your disappointments and confusions flow out of your head, through the pen and onto the paper.  But no one needed to tell me that.



Weekly photo challenge: Connected

Here’s a direction sign from World War II Libya.  The photo taken in about 1941 is in my father’s war album, and is marked as “Signpost Libyan Desert”.  The camps are named after Australia’s state capitals, and might have helped the Australian forces to feel (slightly) connected with home, several months’ sail away.

All the capital cities are there except for Hobart.  But this board is a palimpsest, a surface where earlier writing has been removed, scraped off, to make way for later writing.  Here, the former text has been rubbed or washed away but if you look closely you’ll see the ghosts of smaller words, including the name of Hobart.  Whatever happened to Camp Hobart?

There’s also a bit of graffiti on the bottom where a few blokes have scratched their names.

Searching for the locations of the other place names, I learnt that Ikingi Maryût was in the Western Desert outside Alexandria, Egypt, to Libya’s east.  But I’m not sure about Abd-el-Kader, though it had been the name of a popular nineteenth-century leader of Algeria, to Libya’s west.

Signpost, Libyan desert, c1941
Signpost, Libyan desert, c1941

Thanks to WordPress for the photo challenge.  See what the word ‘connected’ triggered in others.