Archive for April, 2008


My Mother’s War

27 April 2008

As we’ve now got over the sadness of ANZAC Day I think I should talk about my mother’s experiences in the war, which were not quite so horrendous.

On 2nd September 1939, my mother returned to her family in Sheffield from a holiday she’d been taking on the Isle of Man.  She was nearly 19 and an only child.  My grandfather, who’d fought in the 1st World War, was very worried that war was imminent and wanted her at home, I think. 

On Sunday morning, 3rd September, she set off to the RAF office to see if there were any civilian admin. jobs available – she’d trained as a secretary.   They persuaded her to enlist and immediately sent her off for a medical.  She stripped and the MO was just about to do his examination when the entire place came to a stand-still to listen to Chamberlain’s address on the radio.  He declared that as Germany had failed to meet the ultimatum given to them, Britain had been at war with Germany since 11.00am. 

In all the commotion in the offices, her medical was skipped and she signed on the bottom line.  If she’d had a medical, she wouldn’t have got in.  She’s only just over 4’11”, well below their minimum height requirement, and subsequently had to have her uniforms made for her.  They didn’t even have shoes and gloves small enough. 

This also may mean that she was the first person in Britain to join up during the war.  We’ll never know that.  I do know that if she hadn’t enlisted, it’s highly unlikely she would have met my father.

She was in Sheffield during all the bombing and I know that’s had a life-long effect on her.  But she met my father, who came from London and was training there for a while, and decided to wangle herself a posting to India when he went out there.  She worked for Louis Mountbatten in Delhi and was then posted to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon, of course) where she spent the rest of the war, except for a short break to India to marry my father in St Mark’s Cathedral in Bangalore.  My father had more leave than my mother had, so he had a longer honeymoon!   In November 1945, they travelled back together by boat to England – we still have the correspondence between Commanding Officers giving them permission to do so.  I’ve been to St Mark’s and seen the registry entry, which was thrilling. 

My mother’s now nearly 88 and she also only talks really about the good times – except for a few stories she’s told us lately about the Sheffield Blitz.  She’s very specifically asked us NOT to put the Union flag on her coffin as she feels she doesn’t really deserve it.  Her time in Sri Lanka wasn’t arduous – plenty of fresh food, no fighting etc – and she feels that her family in England suffered far more than she did. 




“As Those That Are Left Grow Old”

25 April 2008

Today is ANZAC Day here – when we commemorate the lives of all Australian and New Zealand forces who died in our service.  And the words that are used here, as in England, always send a shiver down my spine. 

“They shall not grow old, as those that are left grow old”.

My father was one of those who was able to grow old and I know he appreciated how lucky he was (because it was luck) that he was able to have a family – children/grandchildren/great-grandchildren – when so many of his friends died as very young men.

My father was born in 1921 and joined the Army in I think 1937 (and added two years to his age to help him get in!).  He ended up with thousands of others being bombed on a beach in Dunkirk , waiting for the boats to take them all back to England.  

Then he volunteered for the first group of Commandos to be trained on an island off Scotland, and was then sent to Syria (where he was taken prisoner for a while with a lot of Australians – but that’s another story).

Then again he volunteered to go to Hong Kong, to swim at night (he was a champion swimmer) over to mainland China (I think to recruit mercenaries).

And then off he went to India, where he joined the Chin Hill Battalion, Burma Regiment, got his commission, and spent the rest of the war in Burma and India. 

At the end of the war, he was 24 years old.  And they say young people nowadays have to grow up so quickly.  He stayed in the Army for another 6 or 7 years. 

ANZAC Day moves me more than similar ceremonies in England because so much of the English ones concentrate on the war against Germany.  Those men (and of course, women: my mother was an RAF Sergeant in Sri Lanka) who were in the Far East fighting the war against Japan called themselves The Forgotten Army.  But so many ANZACS were fighting in those areas that it’s probably the main focus of attention of the survivors in Australia.

Last year, I was looking at the Burma Star Association’s website, where children and grandchildren of Burma Star holders were looking for information about their relatives.  And I think they ALL said the same thing – “He never talked about it”.  Well, my father never talked about it either, except to tell us any funny stories (I suppose you have to get your humour where you can find it in those situations!).  He carried all the dreadful parts to his grave, 7 years ago.   My mother wore his dress medals and we put the Union flag on his coffin.

Would it be really schmaltzy of me to finish by saying:  “At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we shall remember him”?

This is, after all, the wonderful man I’ve told you about before who kept for all those years the scarf I knitted for him when I was 5, all wrapped up in tissue paper in his sock drawer. 



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Thank You, Mr Postman!

22 April 2008

The winners of my Blogiversary Competition have received their prizes and seem really pleased.  It’s not easy buying gifts for people you only know through their blogs, although I have briefly met Lynne.  But I think I got it about right.

Lynne was sent 50g of Mollydale pure silk (bright pink!), as she mentioned on her blog that she’d never knitted with silk, a Terry’s Dark Chocolate Orange (because it’s English, I love them and I presume everyone else does as well!), and a Pompom maker ( just because it seemed appropriate).  All in one of those fancy gift boxes you can buy, but this one had a handle so will make a good receptacle for something or other.  Unfortunately Lynne won’t be knitting for a while as she has shoulder problems but I hope she enjoys the silk when she can eventually use it.

I sent Petunia in the USA a ball of Rubi & Lana 2ply pure wool (because that’s our knitting group, and also she listens to Sticks & String and had heard of the shop from David Reidy), a 50g ball of Kaalund Classic 2 pure wool (because it’s Australian and lovely), a bar of chocolate with raisins soaked in Australian wine (sounded good but I’ve never tried it), and some koala and kangaroo pencils, together with a couple of iron-on Australian flag badges for her 2 year old grandsons who live with her.  Again, all in a fancy gift box.  Petunia has pictures up on her blog but I think she must have eaten the chocolate before she got the camera out!

And they each received one of those wonderful cards that Jejune makes. 

I couldn’t forget my sister, Judith, as she puts loads of comments here but I specifically excluded her from the competition.  So I sent her some Bendigo wool as a “Thank You” and to stop her constant moaning about being discriminated against.

I’m glad everyone seems happy with my choices.  Watch this space this time next year!



Summit or Nowt **

21 April 2008

**  A title only comprehensible to someone from Yorkshire (or, at least, the North of England).

Well, the 2020 Summit has finished and the papers are tearing it apart today.  1000 people were invited to Canberra (incidentally, at their own expense) to gather some “big ideas” for this country to take us through to the year 2020.  Not the “short-termism” that typically afflicts most Governments, and the Australian one particularly so, as they have only a 3 year term.

Each group of 100 had to come up with at least one Big Idea, and one idea that would cost little or nothing.  I was particularly interested in those –  is it because I’m mean, or because I’m an accountant, or just because we all say “Why doesn’t the Government do such and such”?  Well, I do anyway.

Tim Costello, who’s head of World Vision and seems a thoroughly decent bloke, said that his group (Environment) came up with so many no-cost or low-cost ideas “we could get rid of the Treasury”.   I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing that he’d been consulted many moons ago and then maybe we wouldn’t have had to suffer his incredibly ghastly brother, Peter, who was Treasurer for 11 years before the Howard Government was kicked out in November.  I’ve often wandered what sort of talk takes place over the Christmas dinner when the Costello family gathers together.

I haven’t worked my way through most of the suggestions so far but some of the low/no cost ones seem eminently sensible to me.  Allow people to pay off their HECS debts (the money they have to contribute to their university education) through voluntary work (at present it’s deducted from their salaries, as a tax).  Ensure that every child leaves school with a First Aid certificate.  A simple St John Ambulance course in basic life-saving skills would probably take about 2 afternoons out of a school year. 

And I hope some of the Big Ideas aren’t just going to be put back in their box and not brought out until the next Talk Fest.   

World Youth Day Update:  (Sorry, I’m not going to let this one go!).

Apparently, the body of Pier Giorgio Frassati is to be brought to Sydney for WYD.  He died in 1925.  I can’t bring a bar of chocolate into the country, or a wooden trinket from Bali, and I have to have my shoes disinfected by airport staff if I’ve so much as walked through a field overseas, but we can bring in the corpse of a man who’s been dead for over 80 years.   

**  Translation:   It means “something or nothing”. 


100 Posts

19 April 2008

This is the 100th post I’ve made to this blog – not a great number for a year’s blogging but I’m not in a competition. I blog when I want to blog.

So I’m going to give you a real treat:   I’m not going to say anything!

Just give you a really lovely and funny video.


The Continuing Saga of World Youth Day

16 April 2008

Why does the Road Traffic Authority feel it necessary to produce billboards all over this city giving us a countdown to World Youth Day?

Is it:

a)   So that we can all make arrangements to get out of town, or

b)   So that we can ensure our rosaries are polished in time for the festivities?

I particularly like the suggestion of a reader in the Sydney Morning Herald last week that someone should organise a world Atheists Day to be held at Vatican City.  But it was assumed that the Vatican wouldn’t be as generous in their funding of this shindig as the NSW and Federal Government have been with World Youth Day.

Friends and I were discussing whether the Chaser would do an APEC-style stunt while the fun was on in Sydney but it was agreed that they probably couldn’t do anything funnier than the real thing.  The latest announcement, incidentally, is that a few hundred Portaloos are to be brought into service to act as confessionals.  Priest and confessor sharing one Portaloo?  Or two Portaloos side by side with a hole drilled between them?  I await the release of further details on this one.

And, to revert to a post I made a couple of weeks ago, why does World Youth DAY last 6 days?



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Another Reunion

14 April 2008

Following on from the story of meeting up with a very old friend after many years, I remembered that I have another story of contacting someone from my past.  In this case, my very dim and distant past.

I was born in a military hospital in the days when fathers didn’t have a great deal of involvement in the birthing process.  Popped in to see wife when she’d washed, changed her nightdress and combed her hair.  Got a quick glimpse of new baby.

The day after I was born, my father returned to renew my acquaintance but was adamant that the baby my mother was breastfeeding wasn’t the same one he’d been introduced to a day earlier.  And he was right.  The baby was a boy and the grandson of a Field-Marshall!  A swap was surreptitiously made, in fear of Court Martial probably, and off I went home with the correct set of parents.

As a child, I was told by my father (tongue firmly in cheek, I promise you) that he hadn’t had to have me – he could have had a nice little boy called Mark.

Fast forward many years to the Gulf War in 1991.  I was watching television footage of a BBC correspondent interviewing British officers in Saudi Arabia when I noticed that, according to the name displayed at the bottom of the screen, the man being interviewed was my “bosom pal”.  I can’t remember what he looked like as I was transfixed by the name.  But for some reason I decided to write to him and tell him the story (which I was sure he wouldn’t have heard before).  I received a lovely reply.  Yes, he was definitely the same man (born on same day in same hospital as me) and No, he had no idea that one of his first meals had been at my mother’s breast – he was quite sure his mother wasn’t aware of this either!

It doesn’t seem to have done him any harm.  He went on to become a very senior officer and diplomat, retiring about 3 years ago in the rank of Colonel. 

My father would have been proud of him!