Letter to Great Grandfather

Dear Great Grandfather,

There have been many moments during my months of research that I wished you were here; so I could interview you personally, instead of those who only knew you in your latter years.  How I wish that I knew about you in my younger years so I could have sat down with my Grandfather and learnt more first hand.  But sadly, when we are young, we are only interested in the present, instead of the past which seems so grey and hazy like the world depicted in old photographs.

I am forever thankful that I have access to your old cupboards so I can piece together your life from the items you left behind. And I must tell you, the clues you left have often been cryptic and I have to read between the lines.

Each time I sit on the floor and pull out your old mustard box from beneath my mesh shelves, the smell of the past lingers with the fumes of moth balls, and my fingers disturb the layers of dust and the hornets’ nests that have gathered over the years.  But, Great Grandfather, I don’t mind that my hands feel gritty and that the floor ends up wearing fragments of the past, as I file through the miles of letters, cards and photographs. They are all that remains of you. They have been touched by your hands, they have been brushed with your DNA.


This box of bits and pieces of my Great Grandfather’s life were found in his old army trunk only a few months ago.

The last few weeks, my search has been intense as I check and double check your correspondence, for places and dates suggesting where you lived between the years 1901 to 1910.  But then, you already know the time I’ve spent as you watch me from the top shelf.  I am sure you look down from your portrait with amusement as I cringe from stiff knees and cramped legs from kneeling too long, searching through a world that has long since gone.  You could save me the time and discomfort of sitting on the floor, if you just tell me the answers I am looking for.

This week, Great Grandfather, I am researching your early military career, your position of Drill Instructor with the Queensland Mounted Infantry.  I do know how much it meant to you.  Afterall, you have left so many clues.  You kept so many books and manuals appertaining to that part of your life, which I have found in the mustard box where you placed them a lifetime ago.  I also found that brown folder, you know the one, in which you kept a copy of your original letter of application dated January 1901, along with the letter instructing you to take the next steamer to Gatton to commence your new position in February that year.

Of course I didn’t need to search through the boxes of stuff to know that you were a Drill Instructor as that is one detail that several of your Grandchildren have passed on to me.  However, I would like to thank you for filling in the details between the lines; it is as if you wanted to be found.  I have the feeling you want your family and the world to know that your life was worthwhile.  You have been biding your time, to find the right person to tell your story.  For that, Great Grandfather, I am eternally grateful, that you chose me.

So, beneath your watchful eyes, my search will continue to uncover the details of your career.  I have read some of your manuals Great Grandfather and realize that your life was about details.  All the mathematical precision that was required to be a good soldier is overwhelming.  I can picture you standing before a squad of men, drilling them with the details of the simplest of tasks.  You yell “STAND TO ATTENTION”, followed with “heels together! Feet turned at 30 degrees! Knees straight! Hang your arms straight from shoulders! Wrists straight! Hands closed, not clenched! Heads balanced on neck, not forward and balance your weight on both feet!”

Yes indeed, your world was one of exactness, whether you were training men how to stand on the parade ground or calculating the strength or direction of wind in order to shoot accurately at a target. How interesting it would be to sit and discuss these details with you over a steaming cup of tea or a whiskey, if you so wish.  Sadly, I know that in reality I will never be honoured with that opportunity, so I accept that I will have to continue deciphering the facts from what you left behind those old cupboard doors.

Your Great Granddaughter

Kim (Lyons) Chambers


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