Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

Vintage letter

Along with the rest of the world, I spent Saturday evening with my eyes glued to the royal wedding on television.  Royal weddings, with all their pomp, glamour and tradition, give so much joy to so many.  For a few hours, the Republican debate recedes to the background.

At the end of the proceedings, a friend asked a question that is often bandied around. “What is the relevance of the Royal family to us in Australia?”

I was quite flabbergasted and the first to admit I can be quite opinionated regarding issues that are important to me.  Having inherited my ‘royalist’ genes from my Grandmother, I replied, “But Britain is part of our heritage, as is the Queen.”

“But we are Aussies, not British,” she said in defense.

I am proud to stand up as a ‘Non-Republican’ as I see no valid resolution to the republican debate.  In my mind, why wipe out our heritage when it, in no way, effects the governance of the country.  Long ago, our national identity was shaped as we began to think as a nation, independent of Mother England.

Despite being Australian, British blood courses through my veins.  I’ve inherited my red hair, fair skin and blue eyes from my Irish ancestors.  I’ve proudly acquainted myself with living relatives in Britain during my visits.  I have also unashamedly stood on a park bench, like a royal groupie, at Ascot races to catch a glimpse of the Queen and the Queen Mother.

Queen

In defense of the royal family, they are an institution that spreads an enormous amount of goodwill around the world.  Apart from working tirelessly for numerous charities, they add a little sparkle to many lives.  To me a world without them would equate to a garden without flowers.

Now, if I were able to ask my Great Grandparents, William and Harriet Lyons, what their thoughts are on the subject, they might be grateful for the royal family’s existence. According to family, they met in Brisbane during the 1901 visit by Prince George and his wife Mary (the future King and Queen).  William, in his role as a trooper, apparently was assigned to security for the visit and Harriet was a spectator.  So, if we had no royal family, I would not exist. I rest my case.

 

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Back to Cairo

Cairo Railway Station A

Old Photo of Cairo’s Main Railway Station (Pinterest)

At 7.00 am the Cairo Railway Station was already crowded. William sat upright in his seat, looking out the window as the train slowly squealed to a stop.  White steam shot across the platform, drowning the moving streams of military personnel, nursing staff and locals in dense, hot clouds of mist.  Whistles bleated like angry, tweeting birds and voices blared from loudspeakers in muffled Arabic and English.  William felt the busyness of the city from the safety of his seat; the urgency in people’s running feet.  Taking a deep breath, he enjoyed his remaining moment of peace.

The door to the carriage clanged open, prompting the three soldiers to stand and edge their way to the stairs.  Stepping down from the train, they slung their kit-bags over their shoulders.  Then, eager to find the exit, they pushed their way through the throng of jostling people.

To their relief, the trio stepped through the imposing Islamic-styled archway onto the street. The noise that was amplified to a deafening pitch inside the entrance hall was replaced by the gentler jingling of tramcars and rumbling of wagon wheels outside.  The men paid little attention to their surrounds as they were intent on finding somewhere to eat. Their last meal was tea and toast at the Luxor Hotel, the afternoon before.

“Chaps, let’s have breakfast at the National?”  William suggested.

“That sounds very civilized,” Barr replied with a chuckle.

“Good idea.  Before its back to the dusty old camp,” Stevenson said.

“We can catch the 11.00am train back to Ismailia.  Do we have time to visit Mousky Bazaar before then?” William wished to make the most of his last day of leave.  He found the bazaar fascinating, with its labyrinth of alleyways crammed with an exotic and colourful wares.

“If we take a ride to the Bazaar,” Barr suggested. “we would save time.”

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Photo:  Mousky Bazaar (Pinterest)

 

With a plan in place, they decided to walk the short, one and a half mile distance to the National.  William was glad of the chance to stretch his legs.  He could feel the effects of sitting upright for hours in the hard wooden train seat. While hawkers aggressively sought trade from he and his companions, William paid them little attention.  Normally irritated by their unrelenting persistence, he smiled to himself and kept walking, totally ignoring their existence.  He felt more relaxed than he had for a long time, and looked forward to English food.

The National Hotel was a welcomed sight.  Crossing the threshold into the reception hall, the heavy glass doors closed behind them, silencing the noises on the street.  The men slowed their gait, enjoying a final touch of luxury before they returned to camp.

The smell of food lured the men through to the dining room.  Once seated, a waiter, wearing a long starched white apron poured steaming, hot tea into delicate china cups.   Raising his cup to his lips, William paused for a moment to savour the soothing aroma before taking a long slow sip.

“Ahh, I needed that,” sighed William, sinking back in his chair.

“Here’s to a wonderful trip,” Stevenson raised his cup.

“Yes, and to our ongoing friendships,” Barr added.  The three men chinked their cups together then sat back in quiet contentment, enjoying the pleasant surroundings.

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Photo:  Old Ismailia Station (Pinterest)

That afternoon, the three men parted ways at the Ismailia Railway Station, returning to their respective regiments.  As William walked through the gate of the Moascar camp he was immediately struck by the sense of order.  Military life suited him; he loved the structure and organization.  Although the air was filled with sounds of hurried horses and riders on the drill field, distant echoes of gunshots on the practice range and shouted orders floating on the desert breeze, life there was a far cry from the chaos that existed outside the camp gates.

Moascar Camp near Ismailia

Moascar Camp – Egypt (Trove)

The noise, the busyness, the aggressive nature of men fighting to eke out a living, were both exciting and exasperating.  Despite the little frustrations experienced along the way, he enjoyed his four days of exploration.  He was in awe of the country’s history.  Most of all, he enjoyed the company of Stevenson and Barr.

William retired to his tent after an early supper at the Officers’ Mess , with the intention of finishing his letter to Cis.  He wanted to write while his memories were fresh and also he hoped to post it the following day.  Beneath the lamp light, he wrote:

…..The temple at Edfu is nearly a mile from the river, yet they had a tunnel from it and a nilometer in the temple.  In one corner a staircase still exists up which, we climbed 242 steps and had a grand view from the top.  The huge gateways to these places were called pylons and on each side, as a rule, a place was cut out of the wall to allow a huge flagpole to stand – must have been like the masts of ships. 

Left Edfu at 1400 and arrived at Luxor at 1700.  Went up to the Luxor Hotel and had some tea and toast and left for Cairo at 1810.  We arrived at Cairo at 0710, had breakfast at the National, then took a drive and stroll through the Musky Bazaar.  We caught the 1100 train and landed back here at 1400.  I felt tip top the whole time, but Mafeesh feloosh.  (??broke??)

As he folded his finished, eight-page letter and placed it in an envelope for posting, he extinguished his lamp and laid back on his bed.  Despite tiredness, his thoughts kept him awake.  He made a mental list of things he needed to do the next day:  post his letter, check his incoming mail, do his squadron’s payroll.  He needed to recoup some of the money he had spent during his leave.   The trip had cost him dearly.

William’s time away from camp had given him a renewed sense of clarity.  His thoughts shifted to his current position.  It felt like a comfortable old boot.  His years as an instructor had paid off.  Finally, he felt he was doing something really worthwhile.  Even though he missed his family, he had adjusted to his life in Egypt.  However, despite his growing sense of fulfillment, he was troubled by an undercurrent of doubt.  As much as he tried to ignore them, those difficult questions were always in the back of his mind.  After this war, what next?   Another war?  Will I be too old to enlist again?  How am I to return to the life of a farmer? 

He knew he would deal with those issues, when and if the occasions arose.  For now, he closed his eyes and looked forward to the familiar sound of the reveille at 0400.

 

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

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Have you ever wondered how the years away from their families, affected the thousands of men who enlisted for war?  In the case of William Lyons, he was away for more than three years.  He saw plenty of action – he spent five months at Gallipoli before spending more a year involved in various conflicts in Egypt and Palestine.  Then by the end of 1916 he was promoted to a Captain and was made the commander of a training squadron of the Fifth Light Horse Regiment.

This position would have been a dream come true, doing the job had held for most of his life, prior to becoming a farmer.  He had only taken up farming in 1910, four years prior to enlisting in 1914.  Combined with his fascination for Egyptian culture and history, he may have felt he was in heaven.  One can see from the detailed account he wrote home about his trip up the Nile, he was in awe of his surroundings.

When exploring the shelves and drawers of those old cupboards, the books, postcards and items from Egypt caught my attention.  Of course, I had no idea of the significance of my finds.  It would take me another 10 to 20 years to realize the story behind those items and the man who brought them home long ago.

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Vases brought back from Egypt by William Lyons

 

 

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This applique work was found rolled up with several other similar pieces, wrapped in newspaper.  William brought them back from Egypt at the end of the war.

My own fascination for Egypt began at high school where I spent an entire semester in Grade 12 studying archaeology.  For our final assignment, we were asked to write a detailed account of an actual archaeological dig.  Of course, the uncovering of Tutankhamun’s tomb was an obvious choice, given the abundance of material available.  Most of the books were written by Howard Carter, the archaeologist who discovered the tomb. The seeds of my dream to visit that great land of antiquity, were sown firmly in my psyche.

It took thirteen years for those seeds to grow and finally come to fruition.  Looking back, it was quite an adventure.  I booked on a small group tour with a budget tour company called “Explore”.  Our tour leader, on our arrival in each town or city, showed us what there was to see.  Thereafter, it was up to us to explore on our own.

We spent many hours treading the streets of Cairo on foot.  We braved the densely crowded bazaars and the suffocating pollution of the traffic.  I was attacked by locals in a market for taking photos and had to be rescued by my newfound friends.  I braved a hard-mouthed donkey that almost got me killed in order to visit the Valley of the Kings.  Although the monuments and museums were incredibly awe-inspiring, Egypt finally wore my patience extremely thin.  The aggressive street hawkers, the street noises and smells, that were initially new and exciting, suddenly became overwhelming and I craved the normalcy of home.  I welcomed the serenity of my departing flight, where passengers patiently stood in line to board; where they sat in relative quiet for the flight’s duration.  And, I enjoyed meals minus the grittiness of sand. t

This brings me back to my Great Grandfather.  Although, he would have felt fulfilled in his final role, I am certain he would also have craved the quiet and calm of life back on the farm.  Living in chaos for three years would have eventually worn down his patience and indeed his health was adversely affected.  Sometimes one needs to remove oneself from the madness and mayhem in order to appreciate the positives.

Now I will leave you with another episode of William’s “Trip up the Nile”.

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ANZAC DAY 2018

All Australian communities, large and small, were affected by the departure of men wishing to fight for their country during the first world war.  Recently, on a visit to Queensland’s outback town of Winton, I was shocked at the long list of names on the town’s cenotaph, men who paid the ultimate sacrifice.  Can you imagine the impact of those deaths on that small rural community?  Apart from the loss of valuable manpower, many families who lived in town and on stations, near and far, were left to grieve the deaths of loved ones.  The more fortunate families who saw the return of their husbands, fathers and brothers were left grieving for the men that they once were.

When asked to deliver an address this Anzac Day at my home town of Giru, I decided to honour those who departed from the district to fight in the first world war.  My research uncovered some startling facts.  Considering the population of the community, the numbers were surprisingly high.  The departure of a valuable workforce was bad enough, however, the impact of the war and drought on those families left to survive  was far reaching.  Often we forget about those left behind, sometimes fighting a war of their own.

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ANZAC DAY ADDRESS – GIRU 2018

THIS YEAR WILL MARK THE 100TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE END OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR.

BETWEEN 1914 AND 1918, 12 FARMERS AND FARM LABOURERS, ALONG WITH ONE NURSE, LEFT THIS DISTRICT TO SERVE THEIR COUNTRY.  THAT WAS A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER, CONSIDERING ONLY 20 FAMILIES HAD ESTABLISHED THEMSELVES AS SUGAR CANE FARMERS ALONG THE HAUGHTON RIVER AT THAT TIME.

AT THE ONSET OF THE WAR, THE TOWNSHIP OF GIRU AS WE KNOW IT TODAY, WAS NON-EXISTENT.  THE COMMUNITY CONSISTED OF FARMING LAND, SERVICED BY A SERIES OF RAILWAY SIDINGS – MINEHAN AND MINKEM ON THIS SIDE OF THE RIVER, ALONG WITH CHING-DO AND HODEL ON THE SOUTHERN SIDE.  THERE WERE NO SHOPS UNTIL THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE MINEHAN GENERAL STORE AND POST OFFICE IN 1915.   UNTIL THEN, FARMERS RELIED ON THE TRAIN SERVICE FOR THE DELIVERY OF SUPPLIES AND MAIL.

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Minehan General Store

LIVING IN OUR MODERN WORLD, IT IS HARD TO IMAGINE THE DIFFICULTIES OF EVERYDAY LIFE FOR THOSE PIONEERING FAMILIES, WITHOUT THE ADDED BURDEN OF A WAR.  I’M SURE THAT MY GREAT GRANDMOTHER’S STORY BORE SIMILARITIES TO THOSE OF HER NEIGHBOURS.  FROM NOVEMBER 1914 TO FEBRUARY 1918, SHE WAS LEFT TO RAISE FOUR YOUNG SONS AND RUN A FARM ALMOST SINGLE-HANDED – AND WITHOUT THE MECHANIZATION THAT FARMERS ENJOY TODAY.

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PRIOR TO THE OUTBREAK OF WAR IN 1914, THE FUTURE LOOKED PROMISING FOR THE FARMERS ON THE HAUGHTON.  12000 TONNES OF CANE WERE RAILED TO PIONEER MILL FOR CRUSHING THAT YEAR. THE FOLLOWING YEAR WITH ITS INCREASE OF CULTIVATION, PROMISED A BUMPER YIELD OF 60000 TONNES.  HOWEVER  –   A CRIPPLING DROUGHT REDUCED THE HARVEST TO JUST 2500 TONNES.  INKERMAN MILL DIDN’T CRUSH AT ALL DUE TO THE SHORTAGE OF CANE AND THE TONNAGE OF BOTH  PIONEER AND KALAMIA MILLS WAS DRASTICALLY REDUCED.

George Deane hauling (a)

THE RIPPLING EFFECT OF THAT DROUGHT TRICKLED DOWN THROUGH THE REMAINING WAR YEARS, CAUSING FINANCIAL HARDSHIPS FOR MANY FARMING FAMILIES IN THE BURDEKIN AND HAUGHTON DISTRICTS.  THE SITUATION WAS WORSENED BY LOW SUGAR PRICES AND RISING PRODUCTIONS COSTS DUE TO THE WAR.

NOW, AS IF THE COMBINED EFFECTS OF WORLD POLITICS AND FORCES OF NATURE WERE NOT ENOUGH TO BEAR, THOSE 20 FAMILIES SUFFERED EACH DAY WITH THE KNOWLEDGE THAT THEIR LOVED ONES MIGHT NEVER RETURN FROM THE WAR.

THOSE 13 PEOPLE WHO SELFLESSLY OFFERED THEIR SERVICES FOR THEIR COUNTRY ARE LONG GONE, BUT IT IS IMPORTANT, ALL THESE YEARS LATER, WE CONTINUE TO REMEMBER THEM FOR THE SACRIFICES THEY MADE.  THEY WERE:

 

HUGH VERNON BROOKE

ENLISTED 27 SEPTEMBER 1915

SERVED IN FRANCE

 

JAMES STEWART BROOKES

ENLISTED 17 MARCH 1917 – AGED 26

SERVED IN FRANCE

 

ALFRED CHARLES BROOKES

ENLISTED 16 JULY 1915 – AGED 21

SERVED IN FRANCE

 

JOHN EDWARD BURNS

ENLISTED 1 JULY 1916 – AGED 40

SERVED IN FRANCE

 

MICHAEL CLEARY

ENLISTED 5 APRIL 1915 – AGED 28

SERVED IN FRANCE

 

JOHN THOMAS DAKERS

ENLISTED 14 JULY 1917 – AGED 36

SERVED IN FRANCE

WOUNDED IN ACTION 11 AUGUST 1918

 

CHRISTOPHER GRAY

ENLISTED 17 SEPTEMBER 1914 – AGED 21

SERVED ON THURSDAY ISLAND, THEN GALLIPOLI AND FRANCE.

 

HENRY GRIGGS

ENLISTED 18 OCTOBER 1915 – AGED 29

SERVED IN FRANCE

 

ROBERT JOSEPH LUXTON

ENLISTED 6 AUGUST 1915 – AGED 35

DIED IN FRANCE ON 11 APRIL 1917

 

WILLIAM LYONS

ENLISTED 21 NOVEMBER 1914 – AGED 41

SERVED AT GALLIPOLI AND PALESTINE

 

ANDREW NORMAN

ENLISTED 28TH DECEMBER 1914 – AGED 24

SERVED AT GALLIPOLI AND PALESTINE

 

ALEXANDER NORMAN

ENLISTED 30TH APRIL 1917 – AGED 21 YEARS

SERVED IN FRANCE

 

EMILY DEANE

JOINED THE AUSTRALIAN ARMY NURSING SERVICE ON 3RD SEPTEMBER 1917

SHE SERVED IN EGYPT UNTIL 1919

 

LEST WE FORGET

 

 

The Felucca Ride Up The Nile

William, Stevenson and Barr left  on the morning of 15th February for Assuan where more wonders of the world awaited them.  They eagerly captured their memories on film and William filled his notebook with facts he found interesting.  He knew that he would never return to Egypt.  If he survived this war and there was another, his age would prevent him from enlisting.

Referring to his scribblings and memories, he penned the following account to Cis.

“Thursday 15th we left Luxor at 1000 hours and arrived Assuan at 1610 hours.  Put in the evening in a boat on the river.  Landed on Elephantine Island and saw what I think impressed me as much as anything in Egypt – a nilometer or flood gauge, put there in Cleopatra’s time.  A stairway is cut from well above the highest flood level, through the solid granite and slabs about a metre long are marked by grooves and bands about 8 inches long and an inch wide or deep, the whole way down.  Alongside this, our people or the French have placed a more elaborate one. I suppose that when the flood waters reached a certain height, word was sent by relays of horse or camel-men or runners to the people of lower Egypt to warn them.  This island is about 600 yards by 400 yards – a foundation of huge granite rocks, covered with Nile mud, and is a mass of flowers and trees.  A large Hotel Savoy is build on the southern end and there is a museum on the Northern end.  Close by is one that Kitchener owned and used as a residence.  Fancy he gave it to the Egyptian Government……”

“The Assuan Dam is 1 and a quarter miles long and backs the water up for 185 miles. The average depth in the deep part is 88 feet – the width of water just above the wall is about 2 and half miles….”

“We saw in a quarry what was intended to be the father of obelisks, but the Pharaoh died before it was completed.  The top side was dressed and there is 92ft of it showing, by 10 and a half feet at the widest part. Their method of cutting out these things was he same as Padda told me they used to cut that big boulder at the foot of that spur the train passes between Cromarty and Cleveland (I think).  They drilled oblong holes about 8×2 with about 6 inch spaces between – plugged these with wood and then wet the wood.  There are rows of holes now that no wood was inserted in.  How the deuce they cut or drilled the holes, there is nothing to show.  I picked up a chip of this unfinished obelisk, also a piece from the fallen colossus.  You’ll see a snap of us standing alongside of it at Thebes…”

At midday on the 16th the men climbed aboard a traditional Egyptian sailing boat known as a Felucca.  For their overnight journey back to Luxor, they took their places along the wooden seat that ran around the circumference of the open hull.  One of the native crewmen pushed the boat away from the shore with a long timber oar and before long they were being moved along by the forces of nature.

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Photo:  Egyptian Felucca on the River Nile.  Taken by the author.

The afternoon was spent watching life unfold along the river.  Through field glasses, they watched women crouched on the water’s edge, washing clothes.  Children with tousled hair ran and played on the sandy bank.  Further along, shepherds watched over grazing flocks of woolly sheep and men harvested crops in a field.

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Photo:  Taken by the author in Egypt 1988

“Life has not changed for centuries,” William mused.

“Yes, it is as if we have stepped back in time,” Stevenson replied.  “Look at that huge sailing boat .”  He shifted his companions’ attention to a large, old sailing boat that sat against the sandy bank.

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Photo:  Taken by the author – Egypt 1988

They watched the stream of men carrying cargo of some kind along a narrow gangway onto the deck.  Before they could even gauge what sort of cargo it was, the scene had faded into the distance.  Like the flowing river waters, life was constantly moving, scenes changing,  all beneath the majestic backdrop of rocky hills that followed the horizon.

The crew of four natives, who also hailed from the past in long, flowing robes and nests of fabric on their heads, were totally attuned to the currents and winds of the river.  At times, the large billowing sail scooted them along as fast and skilful as a running deer.  During windless lulls, the craft was manoeuvred with two cumbersome oars.  Regardless, the sailors’ smiling faces never complained.  Each handled the craft with the an elegance that bespoke confidence.

Later that evening, William laid back on the floor of the boat, resting his head against his kitbag.  Listening to the soothing slosh of water against the wooden hull, he knew he would have no trouble sleeping.  Beneath his great coat, he wrapped himself into a blanket of contentment and closed his eyes.

Despite his tiredness, war had trained William to be a light sleeper. At intervals through the night he opened his eyes to ensure the helmsman hadn’t fallen asleep.  With each glance towards the stern he was reassured they were in expert hands.  He heard soft murmurs in a foreign tongue and the occasional  humming of a song.  Most importantly, adjusting his vision to the bright moonlight, he could see a hand guiding the tiller to keep the craft on course.

At around 0400, William awoke as he did every morning, expecting the reveille to sound shortly thereafter.   He felt a nudge on his arm.

“Look,” whispered Lt. Barr who had noticed William was awake.

William’s gaze followed Barr’s pointing arm towards the starry sky.

“Well, I’ll be blowed,” he gasped.  “This is the first time I have seen the Southern Cross for two years.

The  unique constellation of stars suddenly flooded him with a rush of pride.  That simple reminder of home suddenly meant more than all the monuments of Egypt.

Post note:  I  had a discussion with my Father about his Grandfather seeing the ‘Southern Cross’ in the Northern Hemisphere.  It was mentioned in his letter.  Dad suggested I research the matter as he was certain that it could only be seen in the Southern Hemisphere.  Well, my Great Grandfather was not mistaken as it can be seen close to the Equator, particularly in Northern Africa.

Musings From The Writer’s Desk

 

Vintage letter

Good Afternoon Family, Friends and Followers of William’s story.

I have been away from my desk for the past few weeks, partly due to my participation in a Writing Group and also I have been on holidays.  However, William has not been far from my thoughts as I toured outback Queensland, visiting Hughendon, Winton, Longreach, Balcaldine and Emerald.

In Barcaldine, we revisited the Shearers’ Strike which began within a year of William joining the Queensland Mounted Infantry in Mackay.  I cannot say with certainty that he was involved, however it is highly likely.  At any rate, he would have been made aware of the events that transpired, via word of mouth  or the local newspapers.

Whilst on my travels, I was reminded of our instantaneous world where information can satisfy our curiosity at the touch of a key.  William and his friends didn’t have that option back in 1917.  They didn’t have mobile phones that could tell them the names of the mummies in the tomb of Amenophus II or the name of the archaeologist who first opened the tomb.  Because they weren’t afforded that luxury, they would have interacted with their guide.  And, if he didn’t know the answers, I’m sure they wouldn’t have stressed over the fact.  Like myself, they would have been happy to let things play out, whichever way they did.  They would have exchanged conversations with other visitors who shared the same hotels, and come up with numerous historical scenarios.

Because their eyes weren’t glued to facebook or checking emails and texts whilst exploring the sights, they would have possessed a keener sense of observation and a longer attention span.  They would have experienced a heightened sense of surprise when presented with splendour of the Pharaoh’s tomb and the treasures they saw elsewhere in Egypt.  Remember, there was no colour photography back then, so observing treasure in black and white would not have prepared their senses for reality.

I love that element of surprise and sometimes it such a wonderful feeling to discover something with one’s own eyes, without the help of google.  I’m sure that William and his travel companions were unable to visit everything that was on offer in the Valley of the Kings.  Having been there myself, I am aware of the great expanse of desert that includes many the tombs of Pharaohs, Queens, Artisans and regular people.  On my trip by donkey, I only saw a  sampling of Pharaohs’ tombs.  I visited some of the others in the afternoon by bus.  My motto is “What you don’t see, doesn’t matter.”  In today’s world, however, google makes people want it all now.  A sense of urgency has pervaded modern man’s consciousness.

The other aspect of modern technology that never ceases to astound and annoy me is the obsession with selfies.  What would William think of that?  Of course, he and his friends would laugh off the notion that in 100 years time, people would own weird square telephones that weren’t attached to the wall by wires;  that one could take one’s own photo with the device and send it instantly to the other side of the world at the press of a button.  I notice that in William’s snapshots, there are no images of himself and his companions.  They were obviously more interested in their surroundings than themselves.

As for texting and emails, I am thankful that they weren’t thought of back in 1917.  That would have meant that William’s account of his trip would have been long lost in cyber space.  He most probably would not have written an eight page letter home;  it would not have been kept;  and I would not have experienced that precious thrill of discovery.   It is interesting food for thought.  Are we leaving an interesting footprint on this earth, for our future generations to discover.  Are we going to show ourselves as self-centred, without anything substantial to say?

Without further words, please enjoy the next instalment of William’s letter.

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Monday’s Musings From The Writer’s Desk

Vintage letter

Welcome back to William’s trip up the Nile.  It is obvious from his writing that Egypt and its history made a huge impact on this sugar cane farmer from the Haughton River.  He was fortunate to be afforded the opportunity as so many weren’t.  Below are pages 4 and 5 of his personal account of that trip.

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William took numerous photos during that trip, most of which are of the Temple of Karnac.  The photos were wrapped in the developing receipt.  The above letter was tucked in a pocket of the photo packet.  I have included some below, along with the inscriptions that William wrote on the back of each snapshot.

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Photo:  William Lyons.  “Sacred lake, Karnac.  Could not learn anything of interest in connection.”

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Photo:  William Lyons. “Statue of Rameses, Luxor.  They were not very gallant in those days.  Note the small figure at his left side respresenting his Queen.”

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Photo:  William Lyons. “Crops along Nile.”

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Photo:  William Lyons.  “The hills which contain the tombs of the Kings and the Queens.”

The Valley of the Kings

William’s immediate impression of the valley floor was one of disappointment. Compared to the massive scale of the great pyramids of Giza, the barren landscape was underwhelming.  There was nothing visible that marked the area as a special burial ground for ancient Pharaohs.

The men dismounted their donkeys and led them down a track to the valley floor. They followed a sandy road mapped out by rocky retaining walls supporting mounds of loose gravel and stone.  William thought that perhaps they were the product of past excavations.  The dugout entrances of the tombs were marked with coded signs.  They followed the guide to a sign that read ‘K35’ and stopped at the top of a rough flight of stony steps leading down to a wooden doorway.

“This is the tomb of Amenophis II,” the guide announced. “This tomb is very special because the pharaoh’s mummy is still in the burial chamber.  You will see him today.”

Although curious at the prospect of seeing a real Egyptian mummy, William felt a grip of apprehension.  The guide told them that nine mummies were discovered in the tomb, but only Amenophis II remained.  William enquired why.

“Because the tomb was originally intended for him,” the guide answered.

Tomb of Amenophis II 1917

Photo:  Soldier and guide at the Entrance of Tomb of Amenophus II, taken n 1917.

Tethering the donkeys, the men followed the guide through the wooden doorway, into a cavernous stairway illuminated by a single electric light bulb.  Placing his hands on the cool walls, William steadied his footing as he descended through the dim capsule of stone. The musty space echoed with the muffled voices of a group ahead of them, but for the most part William and his friends remained quiet.  Concentration assisted them down the uneven stone steps and sloping corridors that led them deep beneath the valley floor.

Entering a series of small, empty rooms, they took a 90-degree left-turn and descended another flight of stairs.  The gloomy, unadorned stairs and corridors in no way prepared the men for what awaited them.

“Goodness,” William finally found his voice, as he brushed his fingers back through his cropped hair.  “I didn’t’ expect this at all.”

“Astounding,” Stephenson’s eyes were wide and smiling.  Barr remained quiet, but his facial expression gave away his thoughts.

Once the three travelers recovered from their initial surprise, they moved slowly around the space.  Each step represented a new discovery:  the six ornate pillars, the ceiling  painted like a night blue sky shining with gold stars, the intricate border frescoes that ran around the top and bottom edges of the walls, and the detailed depictions of the pharaoh’s daily life.  The room, in its entirety,  stole the men’s undivided attention along with their voices.  What was there to say?  No words could adequately describe the vision before them.

Silently, they neared a rail that blocked the far end of the six pillars.  Squeezing into a space beside another group of visitors, they were taken aback as their eyes focused on the sunken floor below.

Their guide joined them at the rail and whispered, “This is the mummy of Amenophis II.”  His voice bounced softly off the walls.

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Mummy of Amenophus II.  Photo:  Dept. of Egyptian Antiquities

William stared at the blackened face of the Pharaoh. He appeared well preserved, despite the thousands of years that had passed since his death.  Suddenly, William felt a twinge of uneasiness in the presence of the dead king.  Perhaps, because death has marred much the past two years.  Listening to the guide’s spiel, he thought about the pomp and ceremony that accompanied the pharaoh’s death;  the years of preparation prior to him taking his final breath and the splendour of his final resting place.  Somehow, it seemed obscene, compared to the hastily dug graves and quick burials of fallen comrades on the battlefields.  He was relieved when they began to ascend to the surface, to the land of the living.

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That evening, before going to bed, William tried to digest the events of the long and tiring day.  They visited several tombs and ruins, before making the return trip to Luxor by donkey.  Although he knew that words could not paint a true picture of what they saw or experienced, he continued his letter to Cis.

This morning at 0330 hours, we crossed in a boat to the West bank and put in a long interesting day.  Rode donkeys to a lot of ruins, thence about five miles through a barren gorge to the Tombs of the Kings.  Some of these are lit with electric lights, but if a party wishes to do the trip in style, they can have them all brilliantly lit by giving notice the day previous and paying £E2. 

The natives run alongside pestering one to buy antiques, scarabs, beads – also the hands and feet of Mummies.  The whole of the hills are honeycombed with tombs of minor folk and from these came the hands and feet…… 

Folding the unfinished letter once again, he placed it in his kitbag and grabbed a window faced envelope he had kept from the telegraph office and sat it on the writing table.  Then he retrieved a small pile of blackened wheat grains from a tied handkerchief and placed them, with great care, in the envelope, before sealing it shut.  Fingering the envelope, his thoughts were filled with stories of an archaeologist called Howard Carter who had discovered several royal tombs.  That afternoon, they saw his house which had stood empty, high on the cliff top, since the onset of war.  The war had halted his search for the tomb of the boy King, Tutankhamun.  William smiled to himself, knowing, first hand, the thrill of discovery.  He had found his own little treasure in a tomb that afternoon.

 

 

Monday Musings From the Writer’s Desk

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Yes, I know you are watching over me, Great Grandfather.  Why else do tiny crumbs of information or thoughts end up in my hands?  I don’t really believe in coincidences any more as they occur too often, and just at the right moment in time.   My little psychic moments are usually an extension of my thoughts, or appear when something needs to verified.  It is almost as if you are answering the questions that whirl around in my mind.

In writing my current post about Great Grandfather’s trip up the Nile, I have actually written much of the piece through my own eyes.  He wrote in his letter that he rode to the Valley of the Kings on the back of a donkey, which is exactly how I saw the famous royal burial grounds in 1988.  Although 70 years passed between the visits, I am sure that nothing much had changed in that time.  Except for the line of tourist buses that greeted us on our arrival, that is.

My group crossed the Nile in a boat at 3.00am and on the other side we walked to our guide’s shop where we were issued with donkeys.  William didn’t mention what time he began this journey, however, he did make the crossing by boat.  In order to put in a day at the Valley of the Kings, it is very possible he was an early starter as well.  The desert can be very hot during the day, even during the cooler months, therefore the purpose of an early morning ride was not just to enjoy the sunrise.

Our guide gave us instructions for the donkeys; the word “hoosh” meant stop or slow down.  My donkey was extremely hard-mouthed and no amount of pulling on the reins or hooshing had any positive effect on the beast.  Before we rode too far, I swapped my donkey with that of our guide.  He didn’t want to go anywhere.  That made for an interesting ride.  On our return, I was given my original donkey and at one point in the journey, when we rode along a gazetted road, it almost dragged me under a trailer with logs protruding from its tray.  That was scary to say the least.  My point is that I have written my own experience into William’s story.  I am sure that he managed his donkey better than I did, being an experienced horseman.  Perhaps my version of the event will put a smile on his face.

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The Writer is on the right.

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Photo taken by the Writer in December 1988.

When reading William’s account of the day, I realized how similar our experiences were.  His mention of the hawkers, who were trying to sell beads, scarabs and mummified body parts, made me laugh.  I had the same experience;  they appeared from nowhere.  At the time, I wished that I had a can of insect repellent to ‘get rid of the pests’.  Thank goodness, I didn’t see any body parts.  This memory brings me to a little discovery I made only yesterday.  I found an old postcard album and the following card fell from a page.  You will note William’s handwritten inscription, which I have included in my story as dialogue.  He obviously wanted to have his say.

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Monday Musings From the Writer’s Desk

Vintage letter

I hope you are enjoying William’s interlude away from the war.  I am certainly finding the task of writing about this period a breath of fresh air.  Having the details of his trip up the Nile recorded, in his own words, has assisted me greatly.  Oft I find myself, as other family historian’s have also, enhancing the known facts with one’s imagination.  In this case, William has provided me with the backbone of his story.

Before I give you pages 2 and 3 of his letter to read, I must share my latest find.  Those old cupboards, that sat untouched for many decades, were the keepers of countless secrets and treasures which seem to keep materializing out of thin air.  When I interviewed my Dad’s cousin John a while ago, he asked whether I had found a small glass bottle containing black wheat.  I hadn’t, although his comment sparked my curiosity as I had been through Great Grandfather’s belongings with a fine tooth comb, over and over.  “My Grandfather told me, the wheat came from an Egyptian tomb,” John said.

Only a matter of weeks after my conversation with John, I discovered Great Grandfather’s war trunk which contained more unseen treasure.  Flipping through a box of letters etc, I found a window faced envelope bearing Egyptian writing.  Inside was a blackened head of wheat.  You can imagine my excitement as I indeed assumed that was what John was talking about.   Well, the contents of the envelope may have hailed from a tomb, but last week, I made another discovery.

Whilst cleaning out my old craft room, I happened upon a small glass vial that I knew came from behind the old cupboard doors.  The contents looked like small pieces of mineral, like black coal, and the glass was coated with black dust.  Upon a closer inspection I noticed the shape of the grains resembled wheat.  Removing the cork stopper, I soon realized the treasure I held in my hands.  I had found Great Grandfather’s stash, he had souvenired from a tomb;  wheat that is possibly several thousand years old.

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Wheat taken from an Egyptian tomb by William Lyons

No doubt this wheat was stored for a King’s or his servant’s enjoyment in the afterlife.  I must say thanks to Great Grandfather for providing me with such enjoyment in his own afterlife.  By sharing these finds, I hope to give his extended family some joy as well.

Below are pages 2 and 3 of his letter about his Trip up the Nile.  Please enjoy.

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