The past twelve months – 14 – August 2014

World War One

3 August

Today I take a VERY local look.


A train heading for Wollongong via the original Helensburgh tunnel in 1914. The current deviation and new station are under construction on the left. That train could have been 1954 however, when I was living overlooking the line in Sutherland, though the “dogbox” carriages had become rarer by then. That engine though: I probably saw it! Photo from Lost Wollongong

11 August: Anzac Girls last night on ABC. This has been 2014’s most visited post – 657 views so far.

Meanwhile a kind of local connection. I suspect when I was very young I may have met the James sisters in Shellharbour: see Illawarra Remembers.

My current World War 1 reading includes Adam Hochschild’s To End All Wars and Margaret MacMillan’s The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914. See also Christopher Hitchens on Hochschild:

In his previous works, on subjects as diverse as the Belgian Congo and the victims of Stalinism, Hochschild has distinguished himself as a historian “from below,” as it were, or from the viewpoint of the victims. He stays loyal to this method in “To End All Wars,” concentrating on the appalling losses suffered by the rank and file and the extraordinary courage of those who decided that the war was not a just one. Since many of the latter were of the upper classes, some of them with close relatives in power, he is enabled to shift between the upstairs-downstairs settings of post-Edwardian England, as its denizens began in their different ways to realize that the world they had cherished was passing forever…

We read these stirring yet wrenching accounts, of soldiers setting off to battle accompanied by cheers, and shudder because we know what they do not. We know what is coming, in other words. And coming not only to them. What is really coming, stepping jackbooted over the poisoned ruins of civilized Europe, is the pornographic figure of the Nazi. Again, Hochschild is an acute register. He has read the relevant passages of “Mein Kampf,” in which a gassed and wounded Austrian corporal began to incubate the idea of a ghastly revenge. He notes the increasing anti-Semitism of decaying wartime imperial Germany, with its vile rumors of Jewish cowardice and machination. And he approaches a truly arresting realization: Nazism can perhaps be avoided, but only on condition that German militarism is not too heavily defeated on the battlefield…

19 August: The flowers of the forest.

From Adam Hochschild, To End All Wars (2011) p. 349:

Should we not include some of the deaths reflected in the elevated rates of suicide that followed the war? … The Battle of Fromelles, … a forgotten sideshow to the Somme, saw more than 2,000 Australian and British soldiers die on July 19 and 20, 1916, in a foredoomed night attack against formidable German machine-gun nests in half-buried concrete bunkers. Brigadier-General H E Elliott had protested beforehand to Haig – something few dared do – that his troops were being asked to do the impossible. After the battle Elliott stepped between the dead bodies, tried to comfort the wounded, then returned to his headquarters with tears streaming down his face. Fifteen years later, half a world away in Australia, he killed himself.

See The War that Changed Us on ABC tonight.

It promises to be a more nuanced approach than the ra-ra ‘War that Made Us Australian’ type approach that I find so uncomfortable.  Its six main characters are two soldiers Archie Barwick, Harold ‘Pompey’ Elliott, army nurse Kit McNaughton, anti-war activists Vida Goldstein and Tom Barker, and pro-war pastoralist’s wife Eva Hughes.

20 August: We came from the Tomb of Ezra – Sutherland 1964…

…1964! I was deeply embedded in the by then uber-Calvinist Sutherland Presbyterian Church, turned 21, wrote a thesis on King Lear, and had hepatitis. The previous year I had worked at the MLC Insurance Company in Martin Place. By the end of 1964 I was a BA (Hons) – but the truth is I knew bugger-all really.

And World War I was just 50 years on.

In the shop were Mr and Mrs Morris – name anglicised I would think. She seemed about twice the size of him and really seemed to be running the shop. You would often find them reading behind the counter. Perhaps because I was known to be an educated young fellow I would sometimes be greeted oddly. One time the opening line was “What do you think of Spinoza’s philosophy?” I had little to say in reply as they knew far more about it than I did!

You see the Morrises were Jewish – rather unusual in The Shire. In time they told me quite a bit about their life, but I was too young and too crass to explore it more. Like many they had come via China to Australia, but during World War 1 they were here:



28 August: Anniversaries – life changes…; 12 August: Food for thought and otherwise.

Kung Pao Chicken at Steelers 6 August

13 August: Friday nights in 1957 at Waratah Street West Sutherland; 14 August: Yesterday’s geriatric TV memories – the answers.


The Sydney boys High Choir in 1958. I was in the choir, but still in 58? Not sure…


But there is a lad there that looks rather like me…

24 August: Two kinds of people on earth to-day…

Last night I made an amazing discovery, an aspect of myself of which I had hitherto been unaware. Or perhaps now I am a septuagenarian it has developed as part of the general unravelling one has to expect. To adapt the words of the Bard of Wisconsin:

THERE are two kinds of people on earth to-day
Just two kinds of people, no more, I say…

And 23 August: Poetastery and pollies. “Lifters and leaners” and Ella Wheeler Wilcox. And my aunt.

The faults of a poetaster frequently include errors or lapses in their work’s meter, badly rhyming words which jar rather than flow, oversentimentality, too much use of the pathetic fallacy and unintentionally bathetic choice of subject matter…

This poet is an example, according to most critics and historians of poetry, though she may not be the worst. There was a silver-fish nibbled copy of the following at the bottom of a cupboard at our place when I was growing up. It had belonged to my Grandfather Tom Whitfield. When he had a daughter in Shellharbour in 1904 she was named “Ella”. My late aunt, of course. Coincidence? I wonder…