Ooh, La La!!!

 

 

Lewis32 Lewis33

Lewis35 Lewis36

I have very mixed feelings about all the hype surrounding the centenary of the Gallipoli landing, but share the deep sorrow most feel for the terrible loss of life on both sides. I was always told dad served at Gallipoli but he never discussed details of his service and the Archival record is incomplete. Certainly he enlisted on 25 April 1915 and sailed from Sydney in mid July, so he could well have been involved with 2nd Battalion in the latter stages. It is a question awaiting an answer.

Anzac Day was truly the ‘one day of the year’  in our family. Dad would return home from the march very inebriated, sometimes jubilant, sometimes inconsolably emotional or withdrawn, occasionally very argumentative. I recall as a boy lining up in the crowds with my mother and sisters to wave flags as the men and bands marched by and, years later, driving dad and a few of his mates to the Dawn Service at the Sydney cenotaph and picking them up after the reunion, ‘Well out the heads’, as dad would say. They are some of the most powerful memories of my younger days and only possible because he survived.

Here are a few photographs showing dad celebrating the occasion with some of his returned comrades. The top one is labelled, dad is in the middle of the one below and in ‘Ooh La La !!!’ he is first on the left next to the man at the head of the table.

Mum, Dad and the Scowling Author

Lewis40

This photograph was taken at 536 Illawarra Rd Marrickville, at the Cook’s River end near the Undercliffe Bridge. Dad would’ve been about fifty and mum in her late forties. It is not so remarkable today for a woman to give birth in her mid forties, but it was then and one (or both) of us was not expected to survive. The house was opposite a garbage tip (now Steele Park) and prone to flooding: the best they could afford at the time. Mum’s father, a farmer in the Liverpool area, was embezzled by a crooked solicitor, who subsequently committed suicide. She was forever rescuing errant brothers from hard times by selling off such small portions of land as remained. Dad was owed money, which was never repaid.

Lucky Siblings

Lewis42

That’s my dear sister, the late Gwen Dean, brandishing me proudly as a wee bairn. Imagine having a sister already in her twenties when you were born and only because your father survived a disaster as terrible as the Great War. What are the odds on that? You’ve probably already noticed the similarity with the ‘miracle monkey’ shot. Thanks to another ‘miracle’, Photoshop, the author’s head has been transposed from this photograph with Gwen to that one. Actually, the baby on Dad’s lap wasn’t me at all – it was my cousin, Barry Mandile, with my head patched on. Sorry, Baz, it was such a great shot of Dad, I couldn’t resist.

Miracle Monkey

Little did Dad know when this photograph was taken that the wee ‘miracle monkey’ on his knee was already scheming to one day write Wounded: a Great War novel  to evoke something of his experience in that catastrophe and signify the miracle that we both existed, at all.

Lewis39

‘ Number 5’

Lewis38

No idea where or when this poor quality photograph I found with dad’s things was taken but suspect that’s him, seated, middle, foreground. What stuck me about it was the range of expressions on the young men’s faces, from a troubled emptiness to glowing good cheer. Maybe ‘Number 5’ was a pub or estaminet and some of the boys when leaving bumped into some on the way in. Or maybe those haunted looks were permanent. Perhaps you might recognize someone in the photograph and help solve the mystery.

Body language

In 'Wounded: a Great War novel' I allude to how ill at ease, many years after the war, Snow seemed at family gatherings, especially weddings and christenings - strangely withdrawn. I think this photograph of my mother and father taken with the author on the day of his christening tells you where that idea came from.

In ‘Wounded: a Great War novel’ I allude to how ill at ease Snow seemed at family gatherings, especially weddings and christenings – strangely withdrawn. I think this photograph of my mother and father taken with the author on the day of his christening tells you where that idea came from.

Petite carte de poche

Found this pocket map of the French and Belgium battle lines in Dad's cedar box of 'old war secrets'. The pencil sketch, annotated 'fire bay', is particularly evocative. The hand-writing is unclear but seems to indicate details of  a battalion transfer from one battalion, possibly 34th to another in May and June 1917 (author unknown).

Found this pocket map of the French and Belgium battle lines in Dad’s cedar box of ‘old war secrets’. The pencil sketch, annotated ‘fire bay’, is particularly evocative. The hand-writing is unclear but seems to indicate details of a transfer from one battalion, possibly 34th, to another, in May and June 1917 (author unknown).

Proud but Contrite

Lewis08 Dad painted this display banner for the 50th Anniversary of his battalion’s departure from Sydney in 1915. In Wounded; a Great War novel, George tells an old Frenchman he meets while visiting a village his father billeted in, ‘Sometimes on Anzac Day I would drive him and a couple of Digger mates … to the Sydney Cenotaph for the Dawn Service and pick them up after the reunion ….  Dad used to paint illustrated banners, depicting battle sites, and I remember how emotional I’d get watching him and his old pals shuffling along beneath them, trying to keep up with the band, proud but contrite, minds thousands of miles away with fallen mates, still just boys in their minds …  and thinking about young men they’d killed, too, I should think.’

Engulfed by nostalgia

I’m engulfed by a wave of nostalgia. A great distance has opened between my family and me and not just geographical – people who once meant everything, now fading memories. The big guns have seen to that, belted the sentimentality out of me.

Embroidery Lesson

Lewis07

In ‘Wounded: a Great War novel’, Snow and Cozette form a romantic attachment in the summer of 1917 while the Old Bat is resting in the tiny French Flanders village of Sec Bois. So, naturally, when I found this rather amateurish, incomplete embroidered doily in the cedar title box in dad’s shed, my imagination was stirred: ‘She takes cloth and thread, positions an embroidering needle between my fingers, nudges me in the ribs and I set the implement darting back and forth, every stitch vested with a higher meaning under Cozette’s close tutelage, every error an excuse for gales of laughter and ‘inadvertent’ touching.’