Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Friday, 26 September 2014

Turbans and Towels

This week’s Sepia Saturday photo prompt gave plenty of scope to themers. I had it in mind to go with the motorbike angle but as I started skimming my digital albums, I found the towel ’n turban idea more appealing. The photo features a 1944 Canadian photograph of a motorcycle courier and two servicewomen. One of the women has clearly been caught out, either en route to the showers or in the middle of some domestic chore, as she still has her towel draped over her arm and has tidied her hair into a turban.

This headwear became very popular during the War years due to rationing. Women learned to be creative with the scarves already in their wardrobe, whilst subsequently discovering that the scarves thus utilised, kept their hair clean whilst carrying out the Spring Cleaning, or hid the errant locks on ‘bad hair days’.

In this c1955 picnic picture, my brother is neither doing the cleaning, nor in need of a shampoo and set. It was a warm day, so perhaps he was using the towel as a makeshift sunhat. More likely however, is that he was clowning around for the camera. Mum, in mid-sandwich and I, concentrating on my drink, were oblivious of course.

Clearly there’s something about a towel and warm weather which brings out the inner child. In this next photograph from c1968, my friend’s father has adapted his towels as both turban and cape. I remember the dialogue well, as I wrote it in my teenage photo album, He was offering to sell us carpets or naughty postcards. We girls were in hysterics and I can’t show the rest of the picture as my friend is convulsed with laughter just as she takes a bite from her barbecued sausage; not a pretty sight. These days that kind of portrayal would be seen as only worthy of an end-of-the-pier show or pantomime, and would probably be deemed racist. In the 60s this kind of fare was served up on British television on a daily basis and passed for humour.

No racism intended in the next two photographs of my son, aged just eight years. This is just a little boy dressing up and hoping to win a fancy dress competition at the Primary School, Coningsby in July 1987. I’ve no idea who won, perhaps it was Rupert Bear standing next to him in the second shot.

The 1942 British Pathé video below shows us exactly how to make a turban from whatever we have hanging about in our wardrobe. Whatever you don’t forget to stick a bunch of flowers in there too, or use two scarves at once if you want to be a ‘natty little pussy cat’! Weave a feather in or make a ‘sort of beehive’ tipped over at a tricky angle! Be aware when viewing this short film that it ends abruptly and what follows is a shocking clip from another film which would definitely be non-PC .

Grab your towel and see what other contributors have made of this week’s prompt.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Remembrance for the Robin Hoods

At the outbreak of WW1 my grandfather Sydney volunteered for the army. He had turned sixteen in April that year and was an engineering apprentice in Nottingham. He joined the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment), 2/7th (Robin Hoods) Battalion, which was formed a hundred years ago tomorrow. Until the end of January 1915 the men were billeted at home, so Syd remained with his father, stepmother, sister and brother, whilst carrying out training, drill and tactical exercises. They then transferred to Luton and on to Dunstable for further training. It was here that the battalion was presented with a set of band instruments and Syd joined the band as a drummer. The picture above shows my grandfather (far left) with three pals outside their tents at the Watford camp.

In this picture he stands, wearing the drum (the far right). This time they have moved away from the tents, perhaps to practise without disturbing their comrades in the camp. 

This postcard was sent by Syd to his father in 1915; in August of that year the battalion undertook a two day march to Watford where, with 178 Brigade, they underwent final preparation for front line duties. In 1916, a week after his 18th birthday, when he became eligible for combat duties, the battalion received news that were to proceed to an unknown destination and two days later, having travelled by the cargo ship S.S.Patriotic, they were in Ireland (1)
My grandfather’s first taste of battle was not in France or Belgium as had been expected, but in suppressing an armed rebellion by Sinn Féin, the movement for independence from Britain. He had a difficult march with his battalion from Kingstown (now Dun Laogihre) to Dublin, carrying a full pack, weapons and 130 rounds of munitions on a warm Spring day(1). On 26th April the battalion walked into a trap and were quickly embroiled in what became known as the Battle of Mount Street Bridge, where many of the Foresters were simply picked off as they marched straight through the Dublin streets with no cover. Syd found himself in the charge up the Northumberland Road, where the Robin Hoods attacked (with drawn swords  and bayonets) Number 25, the school, the bridge and Clanwilliam House, all held by the rebels. "The attacks were pressed home 'at all costs'. Frontal charges onto the guns of the rebels." (2)

There were  many casualties and Syd saw his best friend shot dead as he fought beside him. By the end of the day the Sherwood Foresters had lost four officers killed and fourteen wounded. Amongst other ranks there were 216 killed or wounded; 234 men in one day was a huge loss. Some of the men were raw recruits who had only been in uniform for three months; my grandfather, as a reservist, was  well trained, but even he would not have been prepared for an ambush and for street fighting; for him, just a few days past his 18th birthday it would be a memorable event. Even today there is little remembrance of this significant event: the Sherwood Foresters who died fighting on the Home Front were not recognised in the glorious way that those who fell on the Western Front were and many of their graves are poorly kept.

He remained ‘under canvas’ for a further four months and then marched to Galway and the comparative comfort of the barracks, before being recalled to England in early 1917. From here the battalion finally transferred to France and took part with distinction in the second Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) and Cambrai later in 1917. Syd, trained in signals, was employed as a Runner, carrying messages along the trenches and between the lines. When the battalion was disbanded in January 1918, Syd transferred to the Royal Engineers Signals Service and returned to barracks for training.  The photo on the right was taken at that time and it’s the one I know best from my grandfather’s time in WW1, as it hung on the wall of my grandparents sitting room throughout his life. 

Very little reference was made to his war service as far as I can recall, but growing up I was always very aware of my grandfather’s part in suppressing the rebellion. All those months living under canvas, training, drilling and playing in the band, must have seemed a distant memory or forgotten dream when thrown into the nightmare of Easter 1916.  

On November 11th this year, when poppies are worn in remembrance, I’ll be thinking of the Sherwood Foresters and especially of Syd and his pals in the Robin Hoods who fought so bravely against all the odds. Perhaps one day their valour and sacrifice will be recognised and they will receive the honours due to them even though there is now not one left to accept them.

Join us at Sepia Saturday this week where the picture below with tents and poppies prompts different and varied memories for contributors.

Below are three documents I referred to in writing this post, the first of which is a newly published thesis. Once again I am also indebted to my brother for chronicling the family history.

(1) Hidden From Memory: Remembrance and Commemoration of the Sherwood Foresters' Involvement in Easter 1916. Amanda S. Kinchen. via Digital Commons at Georgia Southern University. pub Spring 2014
(2) In Some Forgotten Field - The Easter Uprising 1916. John McGuiggan
(3) The Robin Hoods; Rebellion in Ireland, Easter 1916

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Conduct Very Satisfactory

I like the casual pose of the three pals in this picture. It was taken in 1935 when my Dad was 13, or nearly 14 years old. He’s the one on the right with his right arm resting on his friend’s shoulder. I’ve no idea who the other two are, but the one in the middle looks a little older, perhaps the other boy’s big brother. I only came by this picture recently as there are very few pictures of Dad as a youngster. Some of my blog readers will remember him as the Brylcreemed youngster in Boy on a Bicycle, the window-smashing footballer in Let’s Play a Game and in his Boys Brigade uniform in Something for the Boys.  Dad died in late November 2012 and I am still finding out things about him that I never knew. I have a couple of his old school reports from about this time and they are in quite a fragile state but the one from that Summer Term of 1935, tells me something more about the boy in the photograph.

I know that he had moved from Nottingham to Doncaster with his family in 1933, when my grandfather, a railway worker, transferred to the repair shops there. This would have been Dad’s final (terminal) report at the school before moving on to the world of work.

He was a good attendee and received praise from his master for making good progress and his conduct and industry were 'very satisfactory’. What I can also deduce is that Dad was in a small-sized class of 31 (his previous one had 52 pupils) and that he was a reasonable, above average scholar. His composition, spelling and written and spoken English were good; there was no separate comment for handwriting then, which is a shame as Dad had the most beautiful copperplate handwriting right to the end of his life. What we now call Humanities were clearly not his strong subjects, but he was good at Geometry and Music and shone at Arts and Crafts. All this accords with the father I knew, who went on from there to further study Maths, English, Draughtsmanship and Mechanical Engineering at Evening College and trained with Castell’s Window Dressers, whilst playing his drum kit in his spare time. Longtime readers will remember that Dad was a very good hobby artist and  was still painting up until a year or so before his death.

The teacher summed Dad up well, his conduct was exemplary; he was a gentleman, and he worked ceaselessly throughout his life to make sure that his family were well cared for. He wasn’t always appreciated by his employers and he never rose to the top. He was once told he didn’t have 'enough fire in his belly'; he was far too nice. He didn’t toady and creep and was really quite gullible, often taking people at face value. He didn’t learn the secret handshake and he didn’t marry the boss’s daughter. What he did have was lots of friends who appreciated his friendship and his many kindnesses. Even today people still speak of him as ‘such a lovely man’ which gives my mother great comfort. I bet his two pals in the picture knew him as a good friend as well, just look at the body language.

Our prompt this week was what led me to this picture of my Dad. Three pals together with one casually resting his hand on another’s shoulder. However, I don’t think their whisky-fuelled behaviour was ‘very satisfactory’ and they all look a little worse for wear. Join other contributors to Sepia Saturday to read more reports.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Monkey Puzzle

That’s me with the monkey and my big brother with the parrot, in 1960. We were at the seaside somewhere, probably Southsea, and had our pictures taken with these exotic pets, presumably because it was out of the ordinary. What can’t be seen is that the monkey was digging its teeth into my hand and it’s a wonder I wasn’t afflicted by some awful disease. I’ve never understood the appeal of monkeys as pets, they’re far too similar to humans; however our picture prompt for this week’s Sepia Saturday shows an itinerant musician and one of his monkeys c1900, surrounded by a group of children, and this was the closest I could come to matching it. The little girl next to the man appears to have been crying - perhaps she’s been bitten by the monkey too!

When I opened the link to the original photograph in the Flickr photostream, of the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office, it showed more of the street scene; the Flickr image is a detail and is copyright free, but the original print is taken from a plate glass negative collected by E.R. Pretyman (1870-1930) and copies may be downloaded for research and study purposes only, so I’ve just included a thumbnail. It’s worth doing so for for your own enjoyment and it will allow you to form an opinion on my next question.

Whist searching through Flickr for pictures of itinerant musicians, hurdy gurdy men, men with monkeys, street entertainers etc, the words ‘organ grinder  gave mixed results, but there in the top right was this picture from 1908.

This one comes from the State Library of Queensland and there are biographical notes about the subject. Anders Bernhardt Nielsen and his pet monkey performing in Brisbane. Anders owned several performing monkeys and travelled to mostly country shows with them, accompanied by his wife Mary Kate. In his younger days Anders and his brother had a travelling boxing tent.

Is it the same man in both photographs? Anders was of small stature and the man in the original Tasmanian print is also small and stocky. He isn't much taller than the children. The clothes, hat, moustache and monkeys outfit all look similar. He is a little older of course in the Brisbane photograph, as can be expected. Looking at the maps its not inconceivable that Anders would have plied his trade along the Queensland coast, the most populated area, and then onto Tasmania.

According to a message board on ancestry.com, posted by a descendant, Anders was born in 1865 in Copenhagen and arrived in Australia in 1885. He lived in Pittsworth, Queensland and married Mary Kate Dobson in 1900, about the time that our prompt picture was taken. They went on to have at least four children; with so many mouths to feed its not surprising that he would travel far afield. This is where I also found that he had most likely 'jumped ship' and settled in Melbourne in 1885 (via Tasmania), thereafter changing his name to avoid detection, and setting up the boxing business with his brother for a while. Its a fascinating story but I didnt want to get into it too much as Anders is not my own ancestor, although I feel I know him so much better now. I wonder if anyone else has made the connection between the two photographs. The power of Sepia Saturday to lead us down untrodden paths, never ceases to amaze me. Dont forget to join other contributor this week to see what they made of the prompt.