Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

writing

I am guessing I am in the same boat as lots of family historians who over time have accumulated boxes and boxes of old photographs and documents.  When you start collecting, it becomes known along the branches of the family tree that you interested in family history and thus you become a memorabilia magnet.  In my case, storage and preservation, have become a problem.  What began as small envelopes of photos and newspaper cuttings has developed into box loads.  The question is how does one store these items correctly in order to stop the ravages of time?

Many of the items I inherited, came into my possession in the old boxes that had been home for decades.  Despite the fact that the old boxes were not acid free, the contents have mostly weathered the years surprisingly well. Old photos and postcards have not discoloured too much, although newspaper cuttings have turned rusty brown.  Letters, on the other hand, have become brittle and break upon touch.  The spines of old books also tend to crack and split when opened.  With many of these items, the less they are handled the better.  So, I will share with you some of my solutions to this growing problem.

Old Letters and documents

If the letters have been folded and stored in the original envelopes for decades, they often become brittle, especially along the fold lines.  I have removed letters from envelopes and flattened out the folds (if possible without damage).  Archival storage boxes and envelopes/sleeves are available from various sources for the ongoing storage of items such as letters.  An alternative method, which I use, is to place the letters in the acid free sleeves of a scrapbook album.  The sleeves usually contain a sheet of acid free card that is great for providing support for letters.  Always place the original envelope in the sleeve with the letter, along with any other enclosures. To avoid handling, separate the pages of the letter.

IMG_8567

Old Photographs

I have been storing my larger photographs in large boxes, however, recently have scoured the internet for archival solutions.  Although you can purchase archival plastic bags or sleeves, an easy solution is to use zip lock food storage bags which are just as effective.  Store one large photograph per bag.  In my endeavours to bring some order to my collection,  I have just ordered some archival boxes for storing my larger photos.  Checkout this site. https://www.archivalmethods.com/video/drop-front-box-video

Meanwhile, I have gone through my collection of smaller photos and grouped them according to family names and placed bundles in small zip lock lunch bags.  For the moment, I have stored them in general photo boxes which are not acid or lignin free.  I have marked each bag with the contents and listed each on an index card.  This is a temporary measure as my current aim is to get organized. In time, I will purchase archival boxes.

IMG_8566

Books

Some of the old books that I inherited were in good condition, until I began to read them.  Handling causes the spines to crack and pages to come apart.  One particular book in my possession is an historical volume and fortunately I found it available for reading online.  As with photographs, I have placed books and diaries in zip lock food storage bags for safekeeping and refrain from touching them as much as possible.

These items are the tip of my iceberg.  At least I have made a start.  I now intend to go through each box of my Lyons Family collection and group items together – postcards with postcards, letters with letters, etc.  The overall task seems overwhelming, however, I figure that if I do one box at a time, the task seems more doable.  Hopefully, my suggestions might be helpful to anyone out there faced with the same dilemma.

 

 

 

 

 

Leaving for Katia – 5th August 1916

350px-MapBattleOfRomani

William felt the cool air bristle his face and neck as he stood to attention in front of his horse. The camp at Dueidar was a stream of moving shadows in the 3 a.m. moonlight.  Since the attacks on 23rd April, he had become an old hand at early morning starts.   Days and nights had blended into one.  Dates were unimportant, just insignificant numbers in a world where numbers stood for casualties or reinforcements.  For weeks, William’s world has consisted of night patrols in preparation for an enemy that outnumbered them.   Since the annihilation of Katia, he had heard the old Colonel saying over and over, “I will never let this regiment be taken by surprise!”

wilson_246x550

Colonel Wilson – Photo: Australian War Memorial

The morning’s early start was of no surprise to William. The booming of gunfire and artillery thundered across the sky for most of the preceding day, along with enemy planes droning back and forth over their camp.  Word came through last night of the Turkish attack on Romani.  He heard stories of fierce fighting resulting in many casualties and the capture of Mt Meredith, Wellington Ridge and other positions from the Turks.  Awake for most of the night, he was waiting, fully dressed, for that shove, that whisper telling him it was time.  He knew the time was nearing for the regiment to finally face the enemy’s angry agenda.

“Mount!”  The order echoed down the lines of men and horses.

William, holding the reins against the neck of his horse, used his foot in the stirrup to help propel himself into the saddle.   He needed no prompting, he was a machine who could switch into gear upon hearing a single word or signal.  Colonel Wilson had ensured that every man could react without thought at a moment’s notice.  William had great faith in the Colonel’s judgement.  He had seen the man in action at Gallipoli.  He also witnessed what his regiment was capable of during the last three months of training, in anticipation for this moment.

“For-ward!”

Nudging his horse with his boot, William moved into line with the troopers in front of him.  As they slowly navigated the rocky trail to the top of Ridge 383, dawn lured them with a fiery crimson sky. ¹ Peering back from the elevation of the ridge, he thought how the column of New Zealand and Australian Mounted troops looked like a deadly giant khaki serpent glistening in the golden pink light as it slithered in and out of the rocky outcrops that marked the eastern route to Katia.

By the time the column reached the oasis of Bir-el-Nuss, the sun’s early morning softness had given way to stabbings of fiery heat that William felt through his shirt.  He was grateful for the chance to water his horse and retreated to a patch of speckled shade between the palms.  Removing his hat, he wiped the sweat off his brow and took a swig from his water bottle.  Laughter, chatter and snorting of eager horses sang a song of immunity against the ominous war cry of guns booming violently in the background.  All were oblivious to the long lines of ambulances rolling by.

What a strange world this is!” He thought to himself. “How is it, that we can appear so blasé?”  He knew that they all had their own coping mechanisms.  For now, the regiment was a collective arm of protection that gave a sense of security.  Sadly, the time was drawing near when each man would be fighting for himself.

Turning his back on the background banter, William wasted no time in checking and double checking the equipment strapped to his horse.  Making a mental checklist, he pored over the saddle and his various pouches and saddlebags.  Tightening the girth and stirrup straps, he was finally satisfied that he was done.  Straightening up, he preened his hat and feathers before placing it on his head.  Despite his small stature, he emanated an inner strength, borne out of experience.

During the two hours of wait, reinforcements began to arrive.  Brigade after brigade filed into the Oasis until it was a crowded entanglement of men and horses.  The light-hearted chatter and joking died as men noticed the faces of the new arrivals.  Horse after horse, with large brown staring eyes carried men, haggard in appearance, faces grimy and clothes splattered with dirt and blood.  No explanations were needed.  William had seen those staring eyed faces before.  They were the living dead, the survivors of the previous night’s fight.

“Mount!”

Once more, the column of men filed out into the fierce heat in the direction of a thunderous argument which had increased in intensity.  To the rut-tut-tut beat of machine guns, thousands of horses’ hooves pushed through the burning sand.  William scanned the rocky outcrops that protruded from the sand, looking for a glint of a rifle or field glasses.  Nothing.

Passing a small oasis, he looked down at a collection of bloody ambulance stretchers abandoned in the sand, some occupied by dead men.²  His grim thoughts of what had transpired were broken by the clattering roar of rifle fire cracking the air.  Holding the reins in one hand, he automatically felt the presence of his rifle with the other.

“Halt!”  “Taube!”  Taube!”  shouted down the line.³

William tugged the reins to stop moving.   His horse complied as he had practised the drill hundreds of times over the last three months.  The plane droned overhead, unable to see the thousands of horses and men who dotted the sandy floor.  It never ceased to amaze William how the enemy could not see so many horses and men, so long as they were still.  He found the experience unnerving nonetheless.

Machine guns began to rattle again, clashing with the cracking of rifle fire.  Then came the drone of more planes.  William looked up to see their own planes circling and Turkish shrapnel exploding around them.  His stomach tightened with that old familiar feeling.

Reaching the top of a ridge, the men dismounted whilst the Colonel and a group of officers discussed their plan.  William, standing nearby, watched the Colonel point to the Oasis in front and say:

“A battery of Austrian guns has been found in that Oasis. We will have to charge and take them.” (4)

 

REFERENCES:

  1. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 131)
  2. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 134)
  3. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 134)
  4. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

writing

In case you are all wondering, the story of William Lyons has not ended.  On the contrary, I have been searching through a minefield of history appertaining to his regiment’s activities in the Sinai Desert in the year 1916.  For a year that I assumed was lacking in significance, it is proving to be so action packed that I am a little overwhelmed. What do I include and what do I leave out?  That is my current dilemma.

In the meantime, I thought I would share some family history with my followers who are descendants of William Lyons.  His Granddaughter, Kay Lyons, recently travelled to Ireland in search of our roots.  Prior to departing she asked me for details of the family tree.  Thanks to Terry Drapes, Grandson of William’s brother Edwin, I have extensive details of the family tree.  If any of you are interested in a copy, I am happy to share as Terry has done a wonderful job of recording the Lyons family history.

Before I tell you about Kay’s discoveries, I’ll share some details of the family members who left Ireland for Australia.  William’s Grandparents, were Elizabeth (nee Sullivan – born approx. 1804 in County Cork) and Daniel Lyons (born somewhere between 1796 and 1814 at Kiltankin, Tipperary, County Cork).  They had ten children:  William, Alice, Patrick, Daniel, Honora, Johanna, John (Father of William), Thomas, James and Ann, all born in Tipperary.

The eldest two children of Elizabeth and Daniel, (William and Alice) left Ireland for Australia on the ship “Duchess of Northumberland”, arriving in Moreton Bay in February 1851.  The remainder of the family emigrated the following year aboard the ship “Meridian”, arriving at Brisbane in September 1852.

Now, back to Kay’s adventures.  Whilst in County Cork, she typed Kiltankin (the birth place of Daniel Lyons) into the hire car’s GPS, thinking it was the name of a village or town.  The instructions led them down a labyrinth of narrow country roads until a dead end, upon which the GPS announced “you have arrived”.   A farmhouse peered through the trees, so Kay set out on foot to find out at least where they were.

IMG

Her knocks on the door were answered by a nice young man in his thirties.

“Hello,” Kay announced. “my name is Kay Lyons, I’m from Australia and I am trying to trace my family history.”

“Well, you are in the right place.” She was told.

Now, in case you are wondering, John Condon, the man who answered the door is of no relation to the family.  He lives on the neighbouring farm. However, he was able to furnish Kay with the details of the last living descendants to live on the Lyons Farm prior to it being sold about ten years ago.

Kiltankin is the name of the area and the farm amounts to about 100 acres.  Mr and Mrs Lyons (names yet to be ascertained) were in their seventies when they sold the farm and have since died.  They had no children.  Mr Lyons was involved in an accident which caused the death of a man who worked for him.  Riddled by guilt, he sold up.  They walked out, leaving a lovely old house full of furniture and a beautiful rose garden.  Local villagers looted the contents and the new owner lives in the city and allows sheep to live in the house and stores hay in the rooms.  From 10 years of neglect it looks as though it has sat in ruins for 100 years.  The house as you can see from the photos is very old, possibly between 100 and 200 years old.

IMG_0001

No doubt this old farm house will eventually be bulldozed, including the last remnants of our Irish roots in that area, although there are bound to be living descendants still residing elsewhere in Ireland. It is a matter of finding them.  If you google “Lyons family of County Cork”, you will find that the family name was prominent in the county and that they were landed gentry.  On the Kiltankin property, there are also stables and the remains of cottages that were once home to the peasant families who worked on the property.

I hope you enjoyed this little journey into our past and I must thank Kay for sharing her journey with me.  I only wish I was standing beside her as she explored this little treasure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

writing

Yesterday morning I found myself wrapped in that cosy feeling when one feels at one with their surroundings.  West End Cemetery Park greeted me with a warm spirited hug as I, in turn, embraced Heritage Day.

Mingling with family and friends (some living and some not), I found myself walking along the wind damaged Strand after Cyclone Althea;  I revisited my dream of owning a Triumph Stag (the only car to ever stop me in my tracks); and my mind trailed off to the distant Scottish highlands on the haunting notes of bagpipes. Whilst on my time travels, I also stumbled upon a stall for aspiring writers, manned by a local Writers’ Group.

Of course, I couldn’t let the chance pass me by.  I had to stop and chat to like minded people whose souls, like my own, are immersed in the world of the written word; whose worlds slip in and out of reality at the touch of a pen, (or computer keyboard for the more tech-savvy among us). The advertising material mentioned access to critiques and publishing possibilities, all things that I will need in the future.  The works of group members were for sale and varied from fantasy to Historical fiction to family stories.  I felt sure that my chosen genre of family history would fit into the criteria somehow.  After-all, we are all writers, right?

I chatted with the three people manning the stall, trying to establish a connection.

“What style of writing are you interested in?” They asked.

“Family History,” I replied. “I’m writing about my Great Grandfather.”

“You might be better joining the Family History Association,” was their suggestion.

I have nothing against a Family History Association, and after visiting their stall, I do intend to join.  However, I love writing and thought that associating with like minded people would be inspiring. Don’t get me wrong, these people were really lovely and indeed tried to help and I think I will eventually join.  However, I came away mulling over the importance of writing about our family history.  Is family history writing considered by some to be a dry list of names, dates and facts?

Through the various courses I have attended on the subject of writing family history, I have learned the basics on how to write about the past in a fresh and interesting way.  I have found myself on some amazing journeys, following the works of other family historians, watching their stories bloom and flourish from mere seeds of dry facts into wonderful engaging tales.  First and foremost, we write to preserve our family stories for future generations.  Publication and success on the worldwide literary market would be great, however, for the most part our readers will be our families.  That makes our stories the most precious of all.

However, I still believe that writers of all kinds can learn so much from each other. A story still needs an underlying theme about a universal truth in order to capture the reader’s interest.  In hindsight, perhaps I should have described my current project to the Writer’s Group as “a story about a man who endeavoured, against all odds, to be true to himself.”  Then again, Great Grandfather’s spirit might not have been feeling sociable yesterday.

So for now, I will join the Family History Association to assist my research into my Great Grandfather’s story.  They have an amazing access to sites and materials. Then, when I eventually embark on an earth shattering Memoir or a smash hit novel, I might be ready to join a writers’ group, who will help pave my literary path with gold and put my name up on the Everest of Literary Greats.  There is no harm in dreaming is there?

 

 

23rd April 1916

 

 

Battle_of_Katia_map_(Gullett_p_83)

 

Before dawn on 23rd April 1916, as thick sea fog moved inland from the Bay of Tina, a 5000 strong army, under the command of German General Kress Von Kressenstein, was being mobilized.  Taking advantage of the fog, they launched simultaneous attacks on British posts east of the Suez Canal, including Oghratina, Bir Katia and Bir-El-Dueidar,  The latter, which was attacked by 700 camelmen, was the only survivor.  Out of a stronghold of 120 Royal Scots Fusiliers and 36 Bikanir Camel Corps, 23 men were lost.¹

William felt his aching head pumping against the swell of his rolled great coat.  His mind was dense and foggy, barely able to absorb the details of the day’s events as they were revealed around the campfire. His headaches had become more frequent of late.  Whether they were caused from the sun or lack of water, he didn’t know.  For now, he needed to wrap himself in a warm cocoon of darkness and quiet, although he knew that peace in his world was a luxury.  At any moment, the wall of safety could come crashing down, with a sudden outburst of rifle shots, as it did that morning.

The circle of faces, that joined William around the soft orange fire, all sagged from varying degrees of exhaustion.  Eyes stared blankly into the lethargic flames, barely reacting to the story of the day’s events as they unfolded.

“We can thank our Sentry’s poor wee terrier that any of us survived,” ² A young Scottish man recalled, shaking his head whilst staring into the fire.

Some men drew slowly from burning cigarettes, savouring the moment before illuminating the night sky with white streams of smoke.  One man stoked the dying flames with pieces of palm fronds.  But no one spoke or interrupted the young man who told the tale.

“The little chap barked furiously and jumped up onto the parapet, trying to shield his mate as the enemy loomed out of the thick fog.” He continued in his clipped Scottish accent.

“He saved his master.  That is for sure. The wee dog’s barking and growling awoke him from his sleep, then…..”

The storyteller paused and closed his eyes.

“Then, he was dead,” He finally said.

“What happened to the poor little begger?”  An Australian trooper asked.

“He was bashed with the butt of a rifle.”

The voice of the storyteller droned on as William laid back with his eyes shut, too tired to react.  His head was still thumping and his mind racing around and around with details of the day.  He wished he could shut it down. But the memories of those poor dead men that were buried that afternoon kept playing like a tragic newsreel.

Then, out of the fog, Cis and the boys appeared, smiling and waving as his train pulled away from Minehan Siding. That day feels like  a lifetime ago! Cis you are so strong.  You’re a survivor. But I do so worry about you. Was it fair of me to leave you for a war that seems to be going nowhere? 

The buzz of planes³ overhead seized the moment and all eyes looked skyward. They weren’t the enemy, but any disturbance at 8.30pm on a quiet desert night was unnerving.  What’s next?  As if the collective worries of those men were answered, the faint boom of guns echoed out of the darkness.

 

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Katia
  2. The Desert Column, by Ion Idriess – Page 76
  3. The Desert Column, by Ion Idriess – Page 75

 

 

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

Vintage letter

Becoming acquainted with our ancestors can be fraught with difficulties.  Without letters or diaries, where do we start?  Often, if you are researching a Grandparent or Great Grandparent, there are bound to be living relatives who knew your ancestor personally.  Of course, researching previous generations can be more difficult.

In the case of my Great Grandparents, I have managed to interview several living Grandchildren.  Interestingly, each of them began the conversation with, “I don’t think I can really help you.”  Regarding my Great Grandfather, they all assumed I wanted information about his military activities during the Great War.  In fact, I was hungry for any piece of information they could offer me, and it turned out they were more helpful than they imagined.

One of the aforementioned conversations was conducted over an hour and at the end of the phone call I had transcribed two A4 pages of notes. I noted titbits of conversations that took place 60 to 70 years ago; I discovered my Great Grandmother’s favourite jam; I was educated in family Christmas traditions; I listened intently as I was transported to the front room of my Great Grandparents’ house on the day my Great Grandfather died; and I learnt much about his character.  In another conversation, I discovered that Grandma was proud of her knitting abilities, as she only learnt the craft in her thirties.  Also, I discovered that she placed no importance on Christmas gifts, however, she always gave her Grandchildren money on their birthdays.

Over the years I have managed to place more pieces of the puzzle into place by grabbing fleeting comments.  One elderly friend of the family who grew up with my Grandfather remembered my Great Grandfather with fondness.  “Captain Lyons was always very polite, and thanked us kids when we opened the gate for him to drive his sulky through.” He recalled.

I have also grabbed from fleeting conversations with relatives that my Great Grandfather loved dancing, he played the tin whistle, he taught his nieces to ride their bicycles, and that he had problems with his eyes as a result of the Great War.  I questioned my Father regarding the latter comment and he confirmed that it could have been true as his Grandfather always wore sunglasses with wrap around sides.

Over the last 15 years, the collection of memories, stories and anecdotes I have gathered is quite substantial.  Each piece, however small and seemingly insignificant, have helped me create character portraits of my Great Grandparents.  Remember, our lives are the sum of fragments that have moulded our souls.  By gathering those pieces, we can gain a better understanding of our ancestors’ daily lives and the people they were.  The secret is to be patient.  It takes time to find those scattered pieces, but once a picture of your ancestor begins to form, the feelings of satisfaction are immense.

My final piece of advice is to act now, while there are living relatives who can assist you.  Once they are gone, so too are their valuable memories.

 

 

 

 

 

Returning to Bir-El-Dueidar

IMG_0002_NEW_0001

Oasis of Bir-El-Dueidar.  Photo taken by William Lyons in June 1916

William tipped his hat low on his forehead to shade his stinging eyes from the stabbing mid-afternoon sun.  The glare flashing from the sandy floor of the desert was blinding, but he didn’t mind.  At least he was shielded somewhat from the bright yellow mounds marking the path that “C” Squadron followed to the Oasis of Bir-El-Dueidar.

“Poor Beggars,” a voice behind him commented.

 “At least they are no danger to us now.” Another weary voice trailed off down the line.

“Chaps, you can’t afford to relax.  Our job is not over yet.” William hoped no-one could detect the slight wavering of his voice.  He, too, was tired and looked forward to reaching the shade of the oasis, but he daren’t show it.

William rode on, trying to push aside the distraction of conversations.  Although they had chased the enemy out into the desert, his nerves were still alert. Lowering his gaze to shade his eyes, he found himself staring into the eyes of the enemy.  Years of training had moulded his body and mind with the discipline of the job, but at times he felt so human.  Is it wrong to pity the enemy?  Does the sight of death get any easier?  Drawing a deep breath, he guided his horse around the casualties that littered the desert floor, mentally screening out the staring eyes that blindly watched the procession of Light Horsemen.

The waving arms of date palms loomed only 100 yards ahead.  The pushing of horses’ hooves through the soft sand was amplified by the growing hush that spread down the line of horsemen as their horses stepped over and around more bodies that littered the sand.  Turks in yellow uniforms, Arabs in dirty hairy robes and camels, all caught in grotesque moments of death, guided them back into the place where the attack had blazed for five heated hours.

The argument of gunfire that had urged his regiment to gallop down to Dueidar had ceased.  William lifted his water bottle to his dry cracked lips, hoping to revive some of the energy he had spent that day.  With apprehension, he listened to the deathly quiet, wondering what awaited them beneath the covering of palms.  The enemy of more than 600 men had disappeared on their camels into the desert, but what had they left behind?

Entering the protective covering of date palms, William’s eyes took a few seconds to refocus in the softened light. Dismounting, he watered his horse from what remained in his water bottle, before taking in his surroundings.  A group of injured Scottish soldiers strapped with bloodied bandages leaned against a cluster of palm trunks, talking to several troopers he recognized from his own regiment.  Weaving in and out of gaps in the entanglement of men and horses, his eyes kept stumbling over the afternoon’s casualties.

Life and death co-inhabited the small space.  Turkish prisoners shared a patch of sand with the lifeless forms of their deceased.  Horses tensed and fidgeted as they managed to sidestep their own fallen comrades.   However, it was a small gathering in a clearing in the trees that caught William’s attention.

Tethering his horse, William slowly edged toward the group of Scottish Yeomanry, until he could see the row of 19 men laying on the ground, beside the body of a bay horse.   Each man, silenced by a single bullet to the head, was being formally identified by their comrades. 1.

Without thinking, William removed his hat and marked the sign of cross with his shaking hand.  Lowering his head, he tried to blot out the proceedings of the day, anything, to calm his racing mind.  Regaining his composure, he returned his hat on his head and slipped away unnoticed from the sad little group, curious as to what exactly happened that morning.

 ‘But that will have to wait,’ he reminded himself as he strode back to his men. ‘There are horses to be fed and men to be buried.’

 

References:

  1. The Desert Column, by Ion Idriess.  Page 75.

 

 

 

Monday Morning Musings From The Writer’s Desk

writing

 

The word “Gallipoli” is synonymous with Australian history.   It has been said that it was the birthplace of Australia as a nation.  Our ancestors arrived as sons of the British Empire and came home as Australians. They developed their identity as they fought another nation’s war.  They willingly spilled their blood for the British Empire, and yet they had no real grievances with their enemy.

There was a sense of respect for each side.  The Armistice Day in May 1915 proved that men on both sides could be friends.  For the duration of the day, whilst they buried the dead, many shared family photographs and swapped small token gifts.  Then at 5.30pm, each side returned to their respective trenches and the fighting recommenced.

That respect has continued well after the end of the war.  Turkey has maintained the war cemeteries where our dead are interred and each year they accommodate the thousands of pilgrims who visit Gallipoli each year. The words of the World War One Turkish General Ataturk are very telling of the ongoing friendship between Turkey and the countries of the British Empire.

“Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives….you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.  Therefore rest in peace.  There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours.

You, the Mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears.  Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.  After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

gallipoli5a

Recent news reports have surfaced of  so-called “renovations” of the Gallipoli memorials in Turkey.  The above memorial has totally been defaced and it is up for debate as to the truth of what is taking place.  The photo below is what is looks like now:

v0

The Turkish Government is stating that the monuments are being renovated, however, it has been hinted that the current Government intends to emphasize an Islamic angle to the conflict, by casting Gallipoli as a crusader invasion which was resisted by Jihadi defenders.

I would love to sit down with my Great Grandfather and have a discussion on the subject.  When I first read the article that appeared in the paper I became quite incensed at my Great Grandfather’s memory being disrespected.  Then I realized that no words can change what transpired.  History is what it is and was witnessed by thousands of men whose accounts of the conflict have survived to this day.  Each Anzac Day, television screens are beaming actual footage into our living rooms;  spokespeople tell the sorry tales at services around the country and fortunately, no veterans are here to witness the rumoured  events that are transpiring in Turkey today.

I do hope that the defacing of the monuments are just part of a renovation project and not an act of vilification by an extremist Islamic government.  However, the spirits of our ancestors who fought and lost their lives in Turkey know the truth and with our help, that truth will certainly survive.  After-all, it has already survived for more than a century.

 

Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

writing

Good Morning Family Friends and Followers

In case you were wondering whether I will be continuing my blog, the answer is Yes.  I have had a break due to my husband being ill, however, the life and times of William Lyons are ever present in my mind.  He is always looking over my shoulder, guiding me to follow the trail of clues he left behind; to unravel the tangled web of conflicts that consumed his life for more than three years.

The year is now 1916 and my eyes are burnt from the sun and intense heat of the Sinai Desert, as I follow the paths that he and his horse cut through the sand as the regiment endeavoured to push the Turks back from the Suez canal.  Directed by the signposts written by Ion Idriess in “The Desert Column” and the Commanding Officer of the Fifth Light Horse in the “War Diaries”, the war drums are beating at every twist and turn in the road as the Turks heat up their attacks on the Anzac and British outposts.

My original assumption that nothing much happened in William’s life in the year 1916 has proved to be so wrong.  As my eyes scan the war diaries, the words hit me like flying bullets, as the various attacks explode off the pages of text.  Nervously I wait with he and his men as they sit silently in the dark expecting the enemy to appear out of the shadows or thick desert fog.  The long and sleepless nights patrolling the desert most certainly affected their nerves, knowing that at any given moment an Arab could creep up from behind and cut one’s throat without any warning, as they often did.

War in the Sinai Desert was a war of many foes.  Along with the Turks, the sun, sand, flies and stench of death were formidable forces to deal with.  Food was often inadequate and water was scarce.  By mid year, men were issued with one bottle of water every 24 hours. Chlorinated tablets were also issued to kill any bacteria in the  brackish water. However, the same tablets were also used to rid stirrups of rust and it burnt leather, which makes you wonder how good it was for human consumption.   The combination of searing heat and lack of water saw, on occasion, both men and horses dying of sunstroke and thirst.  Some men resorted to drinking from the horses’ wells, although it was forbidden.

As I think of William, I wonder how he was affected by the extreme elements.  He had experienced similar hardships in South Africa in 1899 and took it upon himself to prepare himself for the heat and lack of water prior to his departure in October 1914.  Whether the conditions of South Africa were on par with those of the Sinai Desert, I cannot say.  However, according to family he had problems with his eyes as a result of the war and always wore wrap-around sunglasses to cut the glare.

So, I continue my journey of discovery, sorting through the numerous “stunts”, trying to decide which to include in my story.  To the untrained civilian, they seem quite serious, resulting in numerous casualties, although the history books claim that the regiment were only involved in minor scuffles throughout that year.  I guess when you put things in perspective, compared to major campaigns such as Gallipoli and the Western Front, they are relatively minor.  That fact, however,  would have done little to alleviate the grief of families who lost loved ones in those “minor scuffles”.

 

Preserving Your Family History

Vintage letter

 

When it comes to preserving your family history, there is no time like now.

Imagine it is one hundred years in time and your living relatives are curious about their ancestors.  If they stumble upon your photograph, will they know who you were?  If there is nothing written on the back of the photograph, then the chances will be that you will be just another nameless face.  Is that what you want for future generations? Do you want to fade into oblivion, along with your entire life story?

When I file through the numerous photos, letters and keepsakes that lived behind my Great Grandparents’ cupboard doors, I feel blessed in that I am able to preserve an entire lifetime of memories.  Obviously, my Great Grandfather’s military life was of great importance as he had kept and preserved so much.  Those pieces of his life form a strong portrait of the man.  What do your things say about you? More importantly, what legacy do want to leave for your family?

Photographs are a good place to start, as family history archaeologists  are always excited by looking into the faces of ancestors.  Family resemblances are a coup.  I have a group photo of my ancestors taken back at the beginning of the 20th Century.  There are no names written on the photo to identify the faces, although I know one of the faces is that of my Great Great Grandmother.  I have identified her from the numerous photos of have of her.  Another face would have to be her sister and perhaps the central figure was her Mother.  I am always struck by the man standing at the back of the group as he has an uncanny resemblance to my Grandfather.  I know it cannot be him as he was probably not born at the time the photograph was taken.  So, my message to you is to write the “who”, the “where” and the “when” on the back of your photographs to save lots of guesswork by future generations.

Aside from what your ancestors look like, it is important to know how they lived and what they thought.  Photos are windows through which we can look into their lives, but we need family stories to bring them to life. I grew up listening to stories, told by my parents and grandparents. Now I wish I had written them down, but as a child it was enough to listen with eager ears as I was transported back into carefree times filled with adventure.  There is a line from that wonderful movie “Secondhand Lion”, that would describe some of my ancestors, whom I had the pleasure of knowing.  The two 90 year old brothers have just died trying to fly their bi-plane through a barn and their great nephew is asked, “Did they really live?” to which he replied, “Yes, they really lived.”

Those two elderly brothers, in the story, lived a remarkable life and passed it on to their nephew in the form of stories.  Not everyone has such a colourful history, however, everyone’s life is valuable and worth preserving for posterity.  Perhaps it is time to start writing down your family stories you heard as a child.  If you are still blessed to have your Grandparents, then start with them.  They all have a story to tell and it is too late once they take them to their graves.

When I first ventured out on the ancestral trail, I became curious about my Grandparents’ lives.  I was fortunate in that my Grandmother on my Father’s side, was always talking about her family.  She was one of 12 siblings and I knew the names of each of them, as well as the names of her parents.  However, after her death, I was curious about her parents’ stories; how they first came to Australia; how they met and married.  My Dad suggested that I talk to his Aunt, my Grandmother’s only surviving sibling.  His words were, “you had better hurry as she is not getting any younger!”  She was 87 at the time.

I am so glad that I contacted Aunty Dulcie as she was a wealth of information.  I wrote out a list of questions and forwarded it to her by mail as she lived 1000 miles away in Brisbane.  I then visited her in Brisbane a few weeks later and she had the answers written out for me.  That marked the beginning of a seven year friendship.  She was my last connection to my Grandmother; her voice, the sparkle in her eyes; the many conversations sprinkled with references to her siblings and parents.  Like me, you too might find a treasure trove of family history, if you reach out to long lost family.

If you do not have any living grandparents or great aunts and uncles, then start with your parents.  Everyone has a story and their stories are part of your life too.  It is important to record the lives of those who walked this earth before us, in order to make sense of our own lives.  I can honestly say that I have discovered myself whilst uncovering those who lived before me.

Apart from the stories of past generations, it is also important to preserve our own stories.  Remember that in the future, we will be a past generation.  Do you document your life?  Scrapbooks are a great way to start preserving your photos along with the accompanying stories.  Keeping a journal is a wonderful way of recording your life.  Not only are the everyday happenings important, but your thoughts are also vital as they paint a picture of who you really are.

When I began my enquiries into my family’s history, I had the basic genealogical information such as names, dates of birth etc., but that wasn’t enough.  I yearned to discover who my ancestors were as people, not just a position on a family tree.  I guess that is what I want of my own life.  It is not enough to be simply a face and name.  I want my future generations to know me as a living person with thoughts and needs, who created an interesting tangle of colourful leaves along the branches of the family tree.