Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

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Recently, my cousin messaged me, saying “I’m leaving for County Cavan, Ireland, today.  Would you like me to photograph anything for you?”

Now, County Cavan is where my Great Great Grandparents hailed from prior to seeking a better life in Australia in the 1860s.  So, yes, you guessed it.  My reply to my cousin was a definite  “Yes, everything please!!”

County Cavan has been on my bucket list for a while, but it wasn’t until Mary visited and brought back her photos that my interest was well and truly peaked.  She stumbled upon a small town church that could be mistaken for being the Deane family’s private chapel.  The stained glass windows are dedicated to various family members and one depicts a scene of a house and garden.  Mary found a house that resembled the glass picture and it was built on the same footprint of the original house that our Great Great Grandfather was born and raised.  And…to our amazement it is still inhabited by the Deane family.

 

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Photograph:  Mary LeFeurve

Upon knocking on the door of this house, Mary and her husband were welcomed inside as long lost relatives, representatives of their long lost son and daughter who were never to return in person. Inside was a framed artist’s impression of the original house where our Great Great Grandfather was born.  What would our ancestors say, if they knew that future generations have gone back to Ireland 150 years after they left,to find their roots?  Afterall, my Great Great Grandparents, after their marriage, never returned to their homeland.  Whether the reasons were financial or other, it is sad that they were never to see their respective families again.

 

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Photograph:  Mary LeFeurve

 What is also interesting is that my Great Great Grandfather George Deane hailed from a family of very intelligent people.  Apart from he and his brother John who came to Australia together, their brothers were all medical doctors, and the next generation showed a pattern of sons becoming doctors also.  Although, neither George nor John, chose medical professions, they were both known for their inventive minds and their untrained engineering prowess.  They both possessed strong pioneering spirits and left behind a legacy of achievements.

I have also stumbled upon some information about my Great Great Grandparents recently which gives great insight into their charactor as well as how they lived their lives.  My Great Great Grandfather was a very forceful character who, apparently, come up with his best ideas during heated discussions.  I remember from my own childhood, the many heated discussions that took place around my Grandfather’s kitchen table, between him, my father and uncle.  Those sessions were always loud and roudy, but never serious arguments.  Moreover, that was their way of discussing the “world”. Perhaps, their sharp and individual minds were inherited from George Deane.

In the writings that I have inherited, George Deane’s granddaughter, Doreen, describes her memories of her grandfather.

“I recall the firm manner, the fine stature and forcefulness of Grandfather Deane and I hold many memories of him – for example – a bearded man, silhouetted against a glowing world – against the hill scape of Mount Elliot – and further off Mount Inkerman beyond, Giru.  The sun sinking in the west over the inky black landscape and Grandfather telling stories from Irish folklore, enjoying our fascinated expressions as we sat, the five of us, on the verandah of “Burwood” homestead, looking up at Grandfather and drinking in every word he had to say until the sunset died and all the world was dark.  He set the fear of God into many, but I did not fear him at all.”

Doreen wrote the above in a letter to a cousin in Ireland in 1983.  That same cousin opened the door to Mary only a few weeks ago.  For the recipient of that letter, to learn about a long lost great uncle, was a truly precious thing and I hope that Doreen’s words were received with appreciation.  Sadly, Doreen is no longer here to tell her stories.  If she was, I would be drinking every word, syllabil and sound, just like she had many years before.

It is such a wonderful thing, to find windows into the lives who have long gone.  My Great Great Grandparents were pioneers, who left Ireland for a land that was both harsh and unpredictable, so different to their homeland.  They took a great risk, and I can say with certainty that it paid off.  Although, I sense from what I have been told, they possessed the tenacity to ensure success anyway. I wish they could be part of our modern world that has become smaller due to communications like the telephone, the computer and the internet.  What would they think of modern man’s ability to see and speak to family who live on the other side of the world, at the touch of a computer keyboard?  George Deane’s inventive mind would be in overdrive I’m sure.

Although it is nice to visit the beautiful homelands of our ancestors, it is easy to forget why they left in the first place.  In the case of George and Harriet Deane, perhaps it was political freedom or to escape the hardships of the potato famine.  All I know for sure is that his adventurist spirit brought him to Australia and I am grateful that he did.  In doing so, he allowed his family and future generations to prosper in a free world that has remained unblemished by ongoing civil war and religious persecution.

 

 

Finding Jack Hanly

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Lt. Jack Hanly

 

For a split second, William allowed the yellow flashes that confused night with day to remind him of the world in “the Jungle”, as he referred to his cane farm “Fontenoy”.   June sees the beginning of harvesting and the first burn for the year.  Cane fires are such glorious displays of light and shadow as they perform their stormy dance against the night sky.   These mesmerising acts of rage ravish every stalk, leaf and animal in their wake, before raining black ash over the ground, forming a thick black and grey carpet.

The storm that had gripped Gallipoli was not so different, William thought.  With all its beauty, there is a dark side to the moon.  With each flash of light and thunderous boom and crackle of bursting shells and gunfire, the world was blackened by a torrential force of death. Tonight was no different to the one before it and the one before that.

As he scrambled along, making a zig zag path, the rough foliage of scrubby trees scratched his bare arms.  He daren’t look down.  The weight of his rifle slung over his shoulder, reminded him to keep focused.  Finger on the trigger, he strained to see in the dark.  His foot stumbled in a hole, jarring his torso forward.  His spare hand steadied his balance on the branches of another prickly bush.  He dare not speak as he led his party of men across the 1500 yards of wasteland between the two trench lines.  The slightest sound could cost their lives.  Then…a deafening roar hits his ears.  Without thinking, he sprawled his body flat on the ground and looked around to see that his men have followed suit.  Then it came, the force of a tornado, the soaring storm of shrapnel whizzing around above them, pushing bushes over as if hit by a hail storm.  There’s a lull.  Dust settled on their faces, in his eyes.  No time to brush it off. Must move on.

Boots clod left, right, smashing the earth, rattling shrapnel and spent shells that litter the ground between the silent distorted forms in uniforms that cling to the stench of death.  The men crouched down beside each lost soldier, in search of a familiar face, if there was a face left at all.  Their friend Jack Hanly was out there somewhere.  But where?  Another staring face, void of life, name unknown.  Carrying the weight of disappointment, the group moved on, following that zig zag path into the night.

Then crack, crack…crack, crack, crack of rifle fire was near.  Bullets hit a tree with a loud bang.  The ping of metal on rock rang out of the darkness.  Several hit the ground around them sending gravel flying, hitting William in the face, causing it to sting, reeling him backwards from the force.

“Down!” William ordered his group. Once more, they sprawled flat on the ground, waiting for the firing to cease; for the air to clear of deadly debris.  Then, they dragged themselves along the ground to a clump of bushes for cover.

“Let’s go back,” William whispered to his men, wiping the dirt from his eyes.  “It is too risky.  We don’t want any more deaths.”

“Righto Sir,” One young trooper whispers in reply.

Back in a dugout, William leaned against the earth wall looking up at the roof, roughly constructed of tree branches and iron, reinforced by sandbags and the bodies of the dead. The night was buzzing from passing bullets that soared back and forth ceaselessly, and filled with the smoky stench of an unburied graveyard.  In places, the iron had been damaged, the sandbags have been obliterated and the remains of the dead oozed greasy liquid into the space. He closed his eyes in an attempt to sleep, but the noise and thudding of bombs exploding around him made that impossible.  Each time his eyelids involuntarily dropped, they were forced open again as the dugout shook from an explosion. Instead, he tried to while away his momentary period of rest with memories of his friend Jack Hanly.

“I’ll never return,” ¹ He had said as he climbed up over the parapet, leading his group of 13 men towards the enemy trenches.  He knew that his mission was doomed.

The “Twin Trenches” had been discovered empty earlier in the day by the 9th Battalion patrol.  It was assumed that they were deserted.  Jack was ordered to take a look and “If they are empty, keep going until you find some Turks.” ²

Nearing the trench, Jack ordered his men to charge.  The Turks were waiting for them.  Poor Jack was shot twice through the chest.  Being under intense fire, his men, realizing that their commanding officer was dead, left his body and ran to safety.

“What a blunder,” William thought to himself.  “Fourteen men against a trench full of Turks.  It is a wonder anyone survived.  It was murder.”³

William’s eyes finally succumbed to the weight of grief and fatigue.  Once more, he was in the “jungle” watching the last labouring breath of a dying cane fire.  Small animals fled from the charred paddock of blackened sticks of cane and lifeless thrash seeking survival.  Their startled eyes wore the shock of leaving behind their dead family and friends who were caught in the fire.

Reference:

1,2 & 3 –  War Diary by J. Graham

Monday Musings From Behind The Writer’s Desk

 

writingIf you are interested in living in the shoes of a 5th Light Horse veteran, I must mention an incredible book called “The Desert Column” by Ian Idriess.

 

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Sniper Billy Sing (left) and Jack Idriess with his back facing camera

 

Ion Idriess was a trooper in the Fifth Light Horse Regiment with William Lyons.  This book is a condensed version of the many diaries he wrote during World War One, during his time in Gallipoli, Sinai and Palestine.  According to the author:

“The Desert Column is more than my diary, it is myself.  I began the diary as we crowded the decks off Gallipoli and watched the first shells crash into Turkish soil.  Gradually it grew to be a mania.  I would whip out the little book and note, immediately, anything exciting that was happening.  As the years dragged on, my haversack became full of little notebooks.” 

In the four years that Ion Idriess spent abroad, he had accumulated so many notebooks that he had to throw away his iron rations, in order to make room on his haversack.  In his own words, “What would the heads have said, had they found out!  Goodness only knows.”

Indeed!  Soldiers were advised not to write diaries, but if young Trooper Idriess had not put pen to paper, then the world would be deprived of one of the most detailed accounts of everyday life endured by soldiers sent to Gallipoli, Sinai and Palestine during the first world war.

Thus far, I have only read of his experiences in the trenches of Gallipoli and it is a very riveting read.

“We stumbled in the darkness instinctively ducking our heads only to thud into the wall of the tunnel where it twisted and turned.  The floor was uneven with puddle holes of putrid water.  Of course, no one dare strike a light;  we were going to the most dangerous spot of the whole Gallipoli line.  The route smelt like a cavern dug in a graveyard, where the people are not even in their coffins.  We are right in Lone Pine now and the stench is just awful;  the dead men, Turks and Australians, are lying buried and half-buried in the trench bottom, in the sides of the trench, and built up into the parapet.  They have made the sandbags greasy.  The flies hum in a bee-like cloud.  I understand now why men can only live in this portion of the trenches for forty-eight hours at a stretch…”

It is a miracle that he could even manage to fill so many pages with his descriptive writing with what was happening around him.

“We are being shelled with shrapnel again;  the damn things are screaming overhead and bursting with frightful crashes.  Hardly a man in the 5th that has not experienced some miraculous escapes.  Steaming hot fragments of shell have plunged into our dugouts by day and by night, bullets have pierced men’s hats and equipment, some have nicked the puttees of men as they slept.  And yet we have only had a few men hit.”

As my eyes hungrily devour the words on the yellowing pages of my copy of “The Desert Column”, the booming of guns, the burr of machine gunfire and the constant whizzing of bullets flying through the air, brings history to life.  Knowing that my Great Grandfather was in the trenches, experiencing the same stresses and horrors as the writer, is very sobering.  Ion Idriess hailed from North Queensland, so it is even reasonable to assume that they knew each other, although they were in different squadrons and the regiment was 500 men in total.

The book is most probably no longer in print and I do remember finding a copy on ebay a few years ago and the owners were asking a hefty price.  The first edition went to print in 1932.  The copy I have on loan was printed in 1932  It is not in very good condition and the spine is split.  Each time I hold the volume in my hands, I’m afraid it will fall apart.  But I must say that it is indeed difficult to put down.

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Ion (Jack) Idriess 1950 (Photo:  Wikipedia.org)