Monday Musings From The Writer’s Desk

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Researching our family history can be a long and tedious process.  We read through documents and texts in search of clues.  Our search can be likened to panning for gold.  Often our work is rewarded with nothing more than a pan of sand, however, when we  happen upon the most minute detail about an ancestor’s life, it shines brightly like a speck of gold. That small golden speck makes the search worthwhile.

I am fortunate that my research has uncovered many specks and the odd nugget of gold.  Armed with few details of my Great Grandfather’s military life at the beginning of this journey, I have stumbled across a few treasures along the way.  Today, I would like to pay tribute to one such treasure; a man who lived and breathed more than a century ago.  He laboured alongside William Lyons in the trenches of Gallipoli and he endured the hardships of the battlefields of the Middle East.  His words survived those hard times and are still as vivid today as they were on the day he penned them.

Ion Idriess wrote diaries throughout his wartime service.  Putting pen to paper became a manic means of coping with the action transpiring around him.  One notebook led to another and eventually they filled a rucksack.  His colourful and lively descriptions place the reader right in the centre of chaos, dodging whizzing bullets and ducking beneath flying pieces of shrapnel.  He forces the reader to see through his battle weary eyes, to face the reality of that horrific world that imprisoned our men.

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Ion Idriess – Photo: Wikpedia

“The Desert Column” is the sum of those diaries.  According to General Sir Harry Chauvel, who wrote the forward, “Several books have been written in by officers and war correspondents but in this the campaign is viewed entirely from the private soldier’s point of view”.   He also said, “there is an accuracy in the descriptions of operations which could only be provided by a singularly observant man.  Idriess was, I think, above the average in this respect though I must say that the Australian Light Horseman was generally very quick in summing up a situation for himself”.

For me, those qualities of self-reliance, individuality and power of observation that Ion Idriess demonstrated in his writings, personified William Lyons.  Reading from line to line, I was seeing the battlefield demise through his eyes and hearing the whooshing bullets and whizzing shrapnel with his ears. I was standing in the muddy trenches of Gallipoli or galloping across the desert with my Great Grandfather.  I was listening to the inner workings of his mind and could feel the rumbling of his inner fears.  In my mind, Ion Idriess’ experiences became his.  The war became so real that I felt I was there as well.

In my attempts to write a realistic account of William Lyons’ experiences, I have relied on Mr Idriess to fill in the gaps.  I know I cannot write about what happened with absolute accuracy, however, I do know that the two men fought side by side on many occasions.   Although they were in different squadrons,  I can piece together from both Mr Idriess’ writings and the “Diaries of The Fifth Light Horse Regiment”, a reasonably accurate account of real events.  As for William Lyons’ actual thoughts, fears and actions, I have had to exercise some creative license, for which I hope he can forgive me.

 

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Charging Katia – 5th August 1916

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William had reached for his bayonet before the Colonel could utter a word.  Determination furrowed his brow, as he observed puffs of white smoke rising out of the dark green oasis palms below.  Sounds of exploding shrapnel and any hindering doubts about the outcome of the Regiment’s imminent charge were now in the back regions of his mind.  His total focus remained fixed on the target.

“REGIMENT – FIX – BAY’NETS,” Colonel Wilson’s voice boomed through the air, followed by the click-click-clicking of 500 bayonets. [1]

The gleam of shiny steel flashed in the sunlight as the mass of mounted men began to form up in readiness to charge.

“FOR-WARD!”

Excitement rippled down the line of men and horses, urging them into a brisk trot that soon fanned into an enthusiastic canter.  The momentum of the long sandy slope soon spurred five hundred horsemen into screaming fearless animals galloping into the unknown of Katia.

William was jammed into the mass of hot moving men and beasts, riding knee to knee, horse to horse.  He was a cog in a raging machine of galloping legs pumping like pistons into the sand. There was no turning back.  There was no time for fear.  He leaned forward along his horse’s neck, oblivious to his face being lashed by strands of mane that danced erratically on the winds of speed.  He willed the Oasis that rushed at him like a tsunami of sand and palms, silently shouting, Bring it on! I’m ready for you!  His thoughts kept a racing pace as he galloped forth on a blurry rush of adrenalin.

To his right, a sandbag trench stood unattended.  “Where are the guns? The parapet was empty. Without incident, he thundered on until his eyes widened at the sight of a line of men standing along the top of the Oasis Ridge.[2]  Will they shoot?  The thought passed as he was driven  forward by the wild hurricane of wide-eyed men and beasts that stormed its way through the line of bewildered Turks.   Palms crushed and crackled in their wake as they galloped through the Oasis into an open plain that was surrounded by miles of palms.

“HALT!”  The Colonel who had pulled his horse back on its haunches, held his hand high in the air. [3]

Suddenly, as he pulled on his reins, William found himself compressed by a mass of hot and sweaty screaming horses, thrashing about as they pulled up around the Colonel in a confusion of quelled fury.

“There are no signs of guns!”  Announced the Colonel. “They are not here.”

William heard the Colonel’s words, but the momentum of the charge still pumped wildly through his veins.  His heart still thumped loud and fast, awaiting that decisive moment.  He couldn’t turn it off. Questions flooded his being.  “Was intelligence incorrect?”  “Is this a trap?”

Then it came – that sickening thud of bullets hitting horse flesh cut through William’s thoughts. [4] Amidst the chaos of spraying bullets, the cries of pain and horror filled the air as men and horses with crimson chests fell to the ground.

 

References:

  1. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 134)
  2. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 135)
  3. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 136)
  4. The Desert Column by Ion Idriess (Page 136)

 

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.

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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.

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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

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

 

 

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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

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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

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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.”

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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:

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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.