The secrets are in the words. Littering the shelves and boxes of those old cupboards, they beckoned me to take another step; they aroused my curiosity; they pleaded with me to turn that key and to enter that inner sanctuary.
Venturing cautiously back through the corridors of time, I followed the trail of words that William left behind. His love of words was evident. Like a Thesaurus of clues, the trail meandered through a forest of scribblings and print that seemed totally unconnected except by the hand that created them. Words, sentences and quotes were sprinkled on letters, cards and on the back of photographs. His scribblings filled the margins of historical volumes and ran across the lines of notebooks. Many were perhaps delivered as fleeting thoughts; others were pieces of history tucked away behind book covers or purse pockets so that they may never be found. It didn’t take me long to realize that these morsels of memory were the roadmaps to his soul; they were signposts guiding me through the inner sanctum of his secret life.
Yes, the secrets are in the words. Everyone’s life can be reduced to the sum of words and as I listened to the words of William Lyons tell their story, I noted an edge to their voice. Were they warning me to beware of discovering things that might be too difficult to bear? If they were, I didn’t listen, I didn’t care. There was no stopping me now that I had come this far. So, I eagerly followed the trail like a hound on a hunt, trying to decipher pictures and thoughts that were seemingly abstract. I tried to fill in the gaps where words remained unsaid. Perhaps it is those unspoken words that were most telling of all.
There were words that William could not share with his family, in the fear they would not understand. How could he truly express himself when there are no adequate words to explain? So, he walked alone in a world that he could not share. He kept it under lock and key, away from his family and away from himself to save his sanity. After-all, he needed no reminders of the past. But as time passed, the occasional word escaped; leading me to discover the secret world within.
As I crossed the threshold of that inner sanctuary, I knew there was no turning back. When the word “Gallipoli” glared up at me from a page, I eagerly devoured the page from beginning to end.
‘The Lutzow has become shabby,’ I read. ‘ from ferrying so many men to Gallipoli. She was crammed to the gunwales for this latest voyage….there were 106 officers and 2250 men aboard as well as the ship’s company…” (1)
The words began pulling me into a deep dark hole, as I found myself sitting beside William on the ship’s crowded floor. My eyes scanned back and forth, the words churned around and around as I sensed the collective fear of 2356 men. I wanted to jump ship, knowing what the future holds. I felt the urge to console the poor beggars, whose fate I already knew, by shouting “everything will be okay”, but I knew that was not true. With the knowledge that history cannot be rewritten, I sat helplessly watching my fellow passengers whiling away the hours, trying to keep the unthinkable at bay. The discord of voices chatting; nerves rattling, motors humming and the ocean waves thumping against the steel hull of the ship filled the long dark void of night. And even well after many succumbed to sleep, the grinding of metal against stone growled like howling wolves in the background as bayonets were preparing for war.
I finally drifted off, leaving the grinding of bayonets fade into history and found myself riding another tsunami of words. The deep base notes of exploding rockets, the staccato of rifle shots, were all players in the sound and light show of rockets and star shells lighting up the skies.(2) The night of 18th May, Cape Helles, Gallipoli was an awesome sight and the bombings and gunfire argued explosively for the entire next day.
I stood beside William on the open deck watching the rallying of bombs and gunfire on the shoreline in awe, knowing we were safely well away from it all. He borrowed a pair of field glasses in order to take a closer look at the proceedings and I detected a grin on his face as I too could feel the excitement of all those on board. At last they have been relieved of the boredom they had experienced during the preceding weeks of waiting for war. He passed the glasses to me which I eagerly received, and could not believe my eyes as I watched several by-planes taking off into the sky. It was amazing to witness the height of technology at a time that is now history.
The words were now rushing towards me at a nervous pace, as I raced along the shelves, eager to read more about the fate of those men. Storm clouds gathered on the yellow brown pages of another book. I found myself jammed between khaki clad men riding the stormy ocean waves in a trawler named the Claxton.(3) Gripped by the fear of being visible to the enemy, I shuddered and winced at the whooshing of bullets and shrapnel that whizzed around us at lightning speed, hitting the sea and spraying us with water and fear. Was my fear my reward for turning the key? I had so eagerly succumbed to temptation as I entered William’s world. Now I was not so sure and longed to turn back. But there was no time for that as Anzac Cove was looming ahead. All I could do was sit and watch history replay like an old movie on Anzac Day.
I felt deeply saddened, knowing that William had no choice as he sat with his pack on his back and a rifle in his hand, awaiting orders to go ashore. I grabbed his arm and whispered, “Good luck Great Grandfather,” not wanting to let him go, knowing that he was about to enter the depths of hell. He looked at me with a furrowed brow, as if he could detect the desperation in my voice and eyes. He quietly replied, “Don’t worry about me dear, what will be will be.”
I watched William jump up from his seat, scramble overboard and wade through the shallow waters amidst a storm of assailing bullets. The edge of the shore became a moving mass of uniformed men as I watched my Great Grandfather disappear amongst them. I then turned my back on the past, knowing that fate had his own purpose for steering his life along that horrific path.
A landing at Gallipoli 1915 – Photo: royalmunsterfusiliers.org
There are no words to adequately explain my experience of walking in my Great Grandfather’s shoes. When I crossed the threshold of his secret world, I ignored the warnings and cryptic clues, I misunderstood the signposts that lit the path as I blindly searched for the truth. For now, I am so relieved that I can return from the past and once more close the doors of the cupboards that conceal the secrets of his life.
- The Price of Valour by John Hamilton (P. 91)
- The Price of Valour by John Hamilton (P. 92)
- The History of the Fifth Light Horse Regiment. (Ch.2)