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Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Swimmers with arms folded

 I know its still Movember, but this week I've decided to concentrate instead on the fact that the man in the prompt photo has his arms folded, because I really like the following shot of my late father-in-law Bob Featherston, left, and his brother-in-law Win Vail with his arms folded, taken when they were in relaxed mode, on the promenade surrounding the Eastern Beach Swimming Enclosure in Corio Bay, Victoria. 

Eastern Beach has been a popular area for swimming and family picnics since its establishment in the 1930's. According to the article below, the shark-proof enclosure was opened by the acting Mayoress of Geelong on Tuesday 28 March 1939. It includes a diving platform, a promenade level and a lower level for swimmers, with a children's playground and paddling pool nearby. Surrounding terraces, kiosk and dressing sheds, were designed in the Art Deco style that was popular around that period.

Robert Leslie Featherston and  Henry Winton Vail at Eastern Beach, c. 1946

Item from the Argus newspaper, 29 March 1939, found in Trove
These two photographs from the State Library of Victoria show Eastern Beach thronged with crowds, c. 1939

I'm not sure exactly when the photograph of Bob and Win was taken, but I think it's likely to have been around 1946 or 47, when both men were aged around thirty. The smiles and casual poise of these two young men in their bathers belie a considerable amount of courage, bravery and life experience, with both men having not long returned from service in World War 2.

Winton Vail was a Melbourne boy who married Bob's sister Jean in May 1946, after serving with the Australian Army in Europe during World War 2. Bob Featherston was born and educated in Geelong. He was a young teacher at a small country school when the war began, and was one of the first to volunteer for aircrew. He obtained his wings with the Royal Australian Air Force, and was serving in Squadron 12,  RAF Bomber Command, when his Lancaster was shot down over the Baltic Coast on 17 January 1943. Bob was captured and held as a prisoner of war for over two years in Stalag V111B at Lamsdorf and Stalag Luft 111 in Sagan, Poland. When finally liberated by the Americans after surviving the Long March from January to April 1945,  Bob found his way to to England, where he met his English bride Mary. They were subsequently married in  January 1947, back home in Geelong Australia. Bob was always loathe to speak about his experience as a POW.

Just a year or so before enlisting, Bob had also shown considerable bravery when he had been involved in a beach rescue at Ocean Grove, a surfing beach on the Bellarine Peninsula near Geelong.  Here is a report of what took place on Saturday 6 January 1940.

Report published in The Riverine Herald, Echuca and Moama, 9 January 1940, found on Trove.

Sadly the body of young James Wilksch was never found. At the inquest the coroner complimented both Bob and Mr Hames for their prompt action in going to the aid of the boys, saying that if they had not done so, many more lives would have been lost.

Over the years the boardwalk around the Eastern Beach swimming area deteriorated and was in need of repair, so in the early 1990s  members of the public were invited to participate in funding its refurbishment, by sponsoring plaques to be placed on replacement planks for the boardwalk on which Bob and Win were standing. Bob's other sister Dawn Featherston thought this was a good idea, no doubt having happy memories of family visits to the beach, and she paid for plaques for her parents Joseph and Grace, and for herself and her siblings Bob and Jean. Dawn passed away in 1995, and neither she nor her parents have any other physical memorial.

Plaque at the beginning of the Promenade

The Featherston family plaques

Here is a relatively recent photo taken at Eastern Beach, showing some of the painted bollard figures that are to be found scattered all around the bay. There are 111 of them in total, all sculpted by artist Jan Mitchell and installed around 1999. Ms Mitchell did extensive research before creating them, and they represent various famous figures and local characters in period costume who feature in the history of the Geelong district. The group pictured is entitled the Town Baths Swimmers Club, and shows how men's swimming costumes developed. Originally when the beach inspectors weren't looking, the men would slip their arms out of their singlet tops and roll them down to the waist, as reported in this item found on Trove from the Argus newspaper dated 15 December 1937.


Neither Bob nor Win nor Dawn was around to see the bollards, but one of Bob's granddaughters can be seen posing with the figures above, and the boardwalk comprising hundreds of sponsored planks can be seen in the distance.  Jan Mitchell passed away in 2008, and appropriately a bollard depicting her has subsequently been created and added as the final bollard in the collection.

If you are interested, a large number of photographs of many more bollards seen around Corio Bay can be found on Flickr, and by the way, quite a few of them have moustaches!

Now click here for many and varied takes on the photographic theme for Sepia Saturday 205.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Momentous moments and memorials

Do you remember when...

The media is certainly making sure we do not overlook the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK. Footage of that fateful motorcade moment must have been replayed in the last few days almost as often as it was back in November 1963!  I was almost 11 back then, it was Saturday morning our time, and I was out shopping in Canberra city with my parents, when we met some friends of theirs, Mr and Mrs Levy, who told us the incredible news of what had just happened a few hours earlier. I think I even know what street corner we were stopped on. The previous year my primary school teacher Mr Harvey had given us lessons on the Cold War and the drama of the Cuban Missile crisis, and had instilled upon me at least the perilous state of the world in which JFK played such a dominant role. All the revelations since then have not diminished the drama or tragedy of what occurred.

There is actually a family history connection here. Arthur Augustus Calwell was the Leader of the Australian Labor Party prior to Gough Whitlam. He was also a first cousin of my husband's grandmother Grace. In July 1963 when Mr Calwell was Leader of the Opposition, he was granted an audience with the President in the Oval Office. Apparently during their meeting Mr Calwell told Mr Kennedy that his Calwell ancestors had left the States 100 years earlier in 1853, around the same time that Kennedy's ancestors had arrived there from Ireland, and Kennedy joked that he hoped it wasn't a case of cause and effect! Arthur Calwell was a keen family history researcher, and managed to get in touch with and meet some of his remaining American relatives during his American trip.

When Parliament met following the Presidential assassination a few months later, Calwell said, inter alia,  in an eloquent eulogy, that "A great and good man died and a generous and noble heart ceased to beat," when the US president "fell before an assassin's bullet". "When that death comes with the meaninglessness of assassination, then its sadness takes on a horror never to be obliterated from our memories."

It was ironic that on 21 June 1966 Calwell himself was to be the victim of an attempted assassination, when he was shot at point blank range when leaving a political meeting. The bullet was fortunately deflected by the car window and lodged in the lapel of Calwell's coat. He was slightly injured and spent the night in hospital. He subsequently wrote a letter of forgiveness to his attacker and continued on with his election campaign, but retired as leader of the ALP in January 1967, after suffering a substantial electoral defeat, and died in 1973.

The grave of Arthur Calwell and family at Melbourne General Cemetery
 I visited  the Kennedy monument at  the Arlington National Cemetery in 2005, and it is indeed a solemn place of reflection.
On that same trip in 2005 we also visited New York, and during a wander through Central Park we came across Strawberry Fields, which is effectively a monument to John Lennon, who was murdered in his nearby apartment building on 8 December 1980, almost 33 years ago now. I don't remember exactly what I was doing that day, apart from the fact that as it was my sister-in-law's birthday we may have been helping her celebrate, but I know it was certainly a shock, and there was an outpouring of grief from all his fans and admirers world-wide, and a similar wave of sadness and  incredulity at how such a terribly tragic thing could possibly have occurred. The late great John Lennon, mourned for both his music and his work as a  peace activist.

Another death of an individual which resulted in world-wide mourning was of course that of Diana, Princess of Wales, 16 years ago, and it appears that the cause of her death is still in dispute. So much investigation, so many rumours, and yet no final resolution as to exactly what or how it happened! Diana was greatly admired by the general public for her grace and her humanity. The shrine created to Diana and Dodi in the stairwell of Harrods is tacky but somehow poignant at the same time. Is it still in place there, now that Mohamed al Fayed no longer owns the iconic store? Of course there are other monuments in Diana's memory, such as the attractive memorial fountain in Hyde Park, but I can't locate my own photograph of that either, so this one taken when we visited Harrods in December 1999 and the shrine will have to suffice. 

Probably the momentous event to which I've personally been closest was in Canberra, our national capital,  on 11 November 1975, when the Australian Governor General saw fit to dismiss the Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, only three years after he became leader, and to appoint the leader of the Opposition in his place, pending a general election, which Labor was to lose.  To see a memorable photograph from that day, taken on the steps of what was then Parliament House click  here.  This was effectively a bloodless coup. It was unbelievable that such a thing could have happened, and was to have huge repercussions for  Australian politics. Gough believed he would be re-elected by the Australian people who would see the injustice of what had occurred, but it was not to be. I was in the middle of studying for my final law exams, only three or four kilometres away in a nearby suburb, where we were renting a government flat, and although I thought we went down to the steps of Parliament later that afternoon to join the crowds of protesters and others, I'm assured by my better half that in fact we did not. Exams must having been pressing, but still, I doubt I could have concentrated on studying after seeing the news!

At home relaxing, circa 1975, in knitted vest and 70's style flares or bell-bottom trousers, and clearly not studying right at that moment either.
                                          For more momentous moments in time, please click here.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Doorsteps: family gatherings and stories of love and loss, and of then and now

I didn't really think I had many photos of people framed in doorways or porches, but on closer examination my mother's albums come to my rescue again.  I could single out just one, but I'm not good at choosing, so will include a few of them here.

Here are my grandparents Mona and Jack Morrison on the porch of their weatherboard home at 2 Aylmer St Somerfield, with their two oldest children Patricia and Kenneth, in about 1925. My mother Jean was the next child to arrive, being born the following year.

Kenneth Forbes Morrison, the baby in the photograph above, enlisted and became a pilot in the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Aged only 19, he was a Flight Sergeant in the 78th Squadron RAF, but tragically Ken and all his crew were killed when the Halifax he was flying was shot down over Wuppertal Germany on 25 June 1943. Sister Jean was sixteen, and has told me she remembers the day they received news of his death as if it were yesterday.  The crew members' names appear in one of a large number of books of remembrance maintained for all those RAF members who have died in conflicts worldwide. These books line the walls of the RAF Church of St Clement Danes, London, and are well worth a visit.

 The second photo was taken just in front of the Aylmer St porch, and shows Jack with his father Daniel and brother Arnold, who must both have come down to Christchurch for some occasion. Daniel and his wife Mary Bridget Morrissey emigrated from Cork in 1875 with their first baby daughter,changed their surname to Morrison,  and had another fourteen children in the district of Canvastown, Marlborough NZ. Daniel began his working life as a messenger boy in Cork, and retired as a much respected company secretary of a local cheese factory. A large brood indeed, but in those days babies just happened, and four of the Morrison children died in infancy. Of the remaining sons, Bill, the eldest, was a farmer, and three of his brothers became lawyers, including the two above, but missing from any future family gatherings would be their brother Austin Lindsay, who was killed in the Battle of the Somme. On Sept 9th 1916 he wrote his last letter home: 'If anything should happen to me try and bear it Mother, as cheerfully as possible, just for my sake.  I can't write any more, there is a great deal I would like to say but don't know how to; I send my fondest love to all and hope to meet you all again.  Farewell now Mother mine, with fondest love from your son Austin.xxxxxxxx. '
Lest We Forget
Next are three photos taken when Mona and daughter Jean visited Mona's sister Ruby and her husband Will in about 1935. Will Berry and his son Jack posed in the doorway of their Invercargill home.

The Invercargill home to which the arched doorway is attached
A couple of charmers: Jack, right, with his older brother Doug, still in the doorway
 Sadly Jack [John Waldwyn Berry], born in 1920, was to be killed in 1943 in Italy. The report from the Auckland War Memorial Museum Cenotaph Database records that "[At] 8:00 am on 21 November 1943, Corporal Berry and two others crossed the Sangro River. Arriving on the further bank, Berry left his men behind and went on alone to the foot of a cliff. He left his gun and then, apparently, climbed the cliff unarmed. He did not return, and nothing more was heard of him until months later when his grave was discovered near Chieti, Italy". So there was to be equal heartbreak for sisters Mona and Ruby,  mothers of cousins Ken and Jack.

On a happier note, here are my paternal grandparents Oliver and Myrtle Cruickshank, standing in the alcove of their home in Rangiora NZ, in 1949, and then no doubt one of them has taken a shot of their son Ian and his fiancee Jean in the same setting.  Jean has captioned the photos accordingly.

Mr and Mrs Cruickshank
'A future Mr and Mrs'

The Cruickshank family home in Park St Rangiora. Granddad Oliver was a keen gardener.

Back in the Aylmer St porch a few months later, we see Mona and Jack again, all dressed and ready for the wedding of their daughter Jean to Ian Cruickshank on 22 April 1950.

Here too are  Aunties Bess and Flo, two more sisters of Mona, also set to go to their niece Jean's wedding.

 Finally, here's a doorway photograph taken in far off Turriff Aberdeenshire, ancestral home of my Cruickshank ancestors. During the year spent in the UK in 1953/4, my parents visited the mothers of all the crew members who had perished with Ken. We also called in on some relatives like my great great Aunty Kitty in Margate, as discussed in  a previous post, and also my great grandfather's cousin, George Morrison Cruickshank, who ran the chemist shop in Turriff, where we stayed in a flat above the shop for a few nights.  Pictured in the doorway with a small yours truly are George, born 1874, and his daughter Janet, born 1919.

 Amazingly just a couple of weeks ago another Cruickshank descendant in Invercargill NZ showed me this 'matching' postcard that George had sent to her family back in the 1920s. On the back George wrote that it showed him standing in his shop doorway, with his little daughter Janet standing on the kerbside.

High St, Turriff, 2003. 

 The Cruickshank pharmacy in Turriff is still run by Alan, one of George's grandsons. We met him there but didn't think to pose in the doorway.

For more doorstop gatherings and reflections, go to Sepia Saturday 203

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Oh, I do like to be beside the seaside...

I don't have any photos of photographers or cartoon style cats, but I do have lots of pictures of people and beaches. Here in Australia we take the glorious golden sand at most of our beaches for granted, and are horrified at much of what the English call the seaside - gravelly, pebbly, rocky grey sand that you couldn't walk on without shoes, let alone lie back and sunbathe on a towel, although somehow the locals seem to do just that. Alternatively they lounge about sunning themselves  in deckchairs under a pale sun. At some English beaches I've visited  the children were making mud castles, rather than sand castles like this lovely one snapped at St Kilda beach Melbourne earlier this year!

So what to choose for this week's blog topic? I decided to be rather self-indulgent and to display a few more of the photos from pages of the scrapbook my mother made for me as a momento of our year in England from 24 October 1953 to 1 January 1955, when my father was on a research fellowship at Cambridge.

Jean and Joanna visit Gt Gt Aunty Kitt and her friend Hetty, in August 1954
In the summer of 1954 Dad, Mum and I went down to Margate Kent, to visit my father's Great Aunty Kitt. Kate Annie Byles was Dad's grandfather Thomas Alfred Byles' youngest sister. Thomas was born in 1863 in Mile End London, and according to family legend he left home in his early teens and stowed away aboard a ship called the Rakaia, bound for New Zealand. He was certainly living at home with his parents and siblings at the time of the 1871 census, but by 1881 he was not to be found either with the family or elsewhere in England. The Rakaia made voyages to NZ in 1878 and 1879, but I haven't yet managed to discover any documentation confirming that Thomas was made to work as a cabin boy when discovered on board, or that he was kept on Somes Island in Wellington Harbour until he was of age, but nor does he appear on any passenger list that I can find. Apparently Thomas told my aunt that he ran away because he didn't like his father's new wife, but the evidence does not bear this out. His parents George William Byles and Mary Catherine Daw were first cousins, who were married in 1847 and in fact remained together until George's death in October 1889, which occurred just a couple of weeks before son Thomas was married in Wellington NZ. Brother Alexander, a ship's steward, was a witness to the wedding. Alexander travelled the world and eventually settled in NZ himself. Born in 1871, Kate must only have been around seven or eight at most when her brother Thomas left home, and she never saw him again.  He died in 1951, but must have kept in touch with his English family. Consequently in 1954 my parents were able to meet his youngest sister Kate, the last surviving member of George and Mary Catherine's twelve children. She never married, and passed away in 1958. Hopefully she enjoyed the visit of her great nephew and great great niece. I think she must have been the only 'great' relative I ever actually met!
10 Holly Lane  Margate, home of Kate Byles, 1954

I'm not sure which half of this house belonged to Miss Byles, but as this street view below snipped from Google maps shows, it has changed little in almost 60 years.

Just in case  you're wondering about the relevance of all this to the topic, here it comes: 
After visiting Great Great Aunty Kitt, Mum, Dad and I headed down to the seaside to enjoy the 'leisure and pleasure' offered there.

Enjoying  icecreams at the beach - yum! Note my Dad did not feel any need to remove either his shoes, his jacket or even his tie.
Testing the water
Mum's caption here reads: "Joanna demands a donkey ride!"
 I think the donkey looks happy too.
Donkeys were a beach attraction at Margate for 118 years, and it was the first beach to have them. In 2008 they were retired, due to illness in the donkey owner's family. A Daily Mail news item about their history can be read here.  When I visited Margate again in 2009, the town and its beach were looking rather depressed and neglected, but it seems the donkeys are back again now and hopefully the seaside town of Margate  has also been revived. Unlike most English beaches, it does have the attraction of good sand!

Visiting in May 2009, we practically had Margate beach to ourselves

Which way to ...?

Deckchairs and Sunbeds,  For your Leisure and Pleasure, as the sign says

In the scrapbook Mum also pasted these two postcards together with the snaps, and there's even a piece of seaweed that has been preserved all this time.

I love those chalky white cliffs

To finish, here are some views of one of my favourite Australian beaches, at Hawks Nest on the mid north coast of  NSW,  where we are lucky enough to have a beach unit. There's a 15 km stretch of sandy beach, if you care for a stroll. Margate, eat your heart out!

Winda Woppa, Hawks Nest NSW
View to Cabbage Tree Island from Bennetts Beach Hawks Nest

 Looking along Bennetts Beach to Yaccaba Headland 

Now for more subjective seaside reflections, just kick off your shoes and socks and head on over to Sepia Saturday