Discovering the Military Man

The doors of those old cupboards had remained securely nailed until the house was eventually sold in 1985.  Following the sale, the contents of the house were relocated to my Grandparent’s empty house on the family farm, near Giru, North Queensland. Along with the cupboards, there were various boxes that had been sealed decades before and which would remain so for another decade.  For years, my sisters, my parents and I held court over our miniature museum.  We were guardians over more than a century of memories.  There were memories of family times with four young boys on the sugar cane farm of “Fontenoy”, and there were dark clouded memories of war. At the end of each session of exploration and admiration, we would gently place each item back in its rightful home and reclose the doors.  We always wore a hat of guardianship rather than that of ownership.  The items in those old cupboards belonged to my Great Grandparents, and although they were no longer here in person, the spirit of their memory was indeed an overwhelming presence.


As we preened the contents of those old timber cupboards we had no idea of the significance of what we were admiring.  I enjoyed countless hours immersing my soul in brittle gilded pages of Egyptian art; albums of vintage postcards from Egypt, Sinai and Suez Canal; brass vases engraved with Egyptian hieroglyphics; and I can still recall the moment I opened a small leather bound pocket book.  It was my Great Grandfather’s war diary written in 1917.  Inside the front cover were the words “Merry Christmas Dadda, from the boys,” scribed by a child’s copybook hand.


It took a few more years to realize the significance of my find. Each time I explored the contents of those old cupboards, it felt like an archaeological dig; forever mindful of the history we held in our hands; of the fragility of items that were being subjected to the air for the first time in possibly 70 years.  I felt like Howard Carter opening the tomb of Tutankhamun.  My treasure may not have been as grand, but for our family it was indeed just as important.


One Sunday in August 1995, my cousin Donna and I were exploring the cupboards in our Grandparent’s house when we noticed a smallish cardboard box sitting against the wall.  Sitting cross legged in the dirt and cobwebs that carpeted the floor, I folded back the flaps of the box.  Inside was a parcel wrapped in brown paper and tied with jute string.  Lifting it out of the box, I placed it in my lap and untied the string bow as carefully as my Great Grandmother had tied it decades before.  As the string fell to the floor, the brown paper wrapping struggled to stay apart. Holding it in place, I found myself staring down at a handsome sepia face.

His was a handsome face with alert, piercing eyes and a moustache that brushed his mouth.  He stood tall and proud in the uniform of a soldier, one gloved hand grasping a cane, the other by his side, and an officer’s cap shaded his brow.  His thin elongated neck and his slight swayed stance, I had seen before.  Was it my Grandfather? Or perhaps his brothers?  Maybe it was all? I turned the photo over in anticipation of finding his identity.  The words scribed in ink on the back confirmed what I already knew it read Lt. W.M.J. Lyons.

WMJ portrait

“So, this is what the ole boy looks like!” Donna exclaimed, grabbing the photo from my hands.

“Yes,” I said, excited beyond words. “At last we have found our Great Grandfather, the Military Man.”


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