Tag Archives: First World War

Silence ~ an Advent Quest ~ Silent Night

Deep silence, deep sorrow, some peace:  Commonwealth War Cemetery, El Alamein, mid 1990s

Silent Night! Holy Night!
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon godly tender pair
Holy infant with curly hair
Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Translated by Bettina Klein
© 1998 Silent Night Museum
A-5024 Salzburg, Steingasse 9

No Advent Quest  would be complete without acknowledgement of Silent Night.

This  Christmas Eve will mark the 200th anniversary of the first public performance of Silent Night in 1818.  It was written by Joseph Mohr in 1816, partly as a way to celebrate  peace and freedom, and to encourage joy, following the end of the Napoleonic  Wars.*

A hundred and four years ago on Christmas Eve in 1914, German officer, Walter Kirchhoff, a tenor with the Berlin Opera  “came forward and sang Silent Night in German, and then in English. In the clear, cold night of Christmas Eve, his voice carried very far.The shooting had stopped and in that silence he sang and the British knew the song and sang back.”

Silent Night has been translated into  hundreds of languages and dialects.  The carol was  declared an intangible, cultural heritage by UNESCO in 2011.

When I listen to  Silent Night, I remember  the Holy Family’s search for peace and sanctuary. And I hear the yearning of most every one of us for  the deep silence of peace.



*For an accurate account  of  why Mohr wrote Silent Night, please read the comment by Shoreacres.

For more information on the recording in the final link please click here


From my desk ~ Chelonian Tales with a Difference

This is a post about two chelonians ~ Torty and Myrtle.

Torty is brown; Myrtle is purple.

Torty is a real chelonian.  Myrtle is an imaginary one.

Though time and reality and colour separate Torty and Myrtle, both are bound by the restorative  powers of compassion, kindness, and caring friendship.

Torty is New Zealand’s oldest survivor of World War One.  The story goes that, in March 1916, she was wandering near a bombed hospital in Salonika, Greece, when she was run over by a French gun wagon. A young New Zealand soldier, a medic on the hospital ship Marama, saw the accident and dug out the tiny tortoise from the wheel ruts. Torty’s shell had been gouged by the iron wheels of the wagon, and she had lost some toes. Her rescuer, Stewart Little, took her back to the Marama,  dressed her wounds, and cared for her. When the hospital ship left Salonika for New Zealand, Torty went to.  She became a favourite with the wounded, bedridden soldiers. On arrival in New Zealand, Stewart Little smuggled her ashore and cared for her for the next 60 years, until his death. Torty eventually found herself living in a retirement home with Stewart’s daughter-n-law, Elspeth, where she brought joy to residents and visitors alike.  When Elspeth died in 2015, Torty was given a new home with Stewart’s grandsons.

The story of Torty is told in Jennifer Beck’s  engaging  “Torty and the Soldier”,

Torty and the Soldier by Jennifer Beck

the last part of which reads:

“Stewart Little’s military service did not distinguish him from thousands of other Kiwi soldiers who served in WW1 in different ways. However, his simple act of kindness in a foreign land has provided the last living link with those who lost their lives in that war a hundred years ago.”

Our other little chelonian,  Myrtle, is an unusual hue for a turtle. As I said at the beginning, she’s purple; a rich, deep, decidedly purple, purple.

She is a fictional character, first created by author, Cynthia Reyes, 27 years ago,  to help her little daughter manage bullying at school,  and her ‘burden’ of  difference. Thanks to encouragement from Cynthia’s family, Myrtle has come out from her private shell and into the public sphere. She’s now the  star of  her own book.

Myrtle the Purple Turtle by Cynthia Reyes

In “Myrtle the Purple Turtle”, we meet a joyful, happy young turtle who loves her ‘turtley’ life until one day she bumps into a rude, bully of a turtle, who questions her authenticity ~ She’s purple! Turtles aren’t  purple! How could Myrtle be a turtle? Upset, bewildered, and hurting, Myrtle tries to un -purple herself, by rubbing her shell in the green grass. In the process  of trying to change her true self, her world is literally turned upside down. Lying on her back, stranded, Myrtle is finally rescued by  her three friends, Hurtle, Snapper and Gertie. They stand beside her, turn her over, and gently restore Myrtle to her feet. And, with kind words and compassion, the three friends help Myrtle understand that  we are not all the same, and therein  lies the wonder of each of us.  “We are all different from each other!” (declares) Myrtle, happy once again.

“We are all  different from each other!” #loveyourshell ( Can you spot all the chelonians? )

In  turtle terms, Myrtle’s life is only just beginning. I hope her longevity will rival that of a real-life turtle. I hope, like Torty, she will bring pleasure and comfort to generations. Torty’s legacy is one of loving kindness, reaching above and beyond the horror of war. May Myrtle’s legacy be a firm, friendly, loving stand against the ugliness of bullying, as well as against the demeaning of difference.

Both Torty and Myrtle are beautifully illustrated: ” Torty and the Soldier” by Fifi Colston; “Myrtle the Purple Turtle” by Jo Robinson .

And just because I can: –

As a tail-piece to these Chelonian Tales, let me remind you of the original, purple Myrtle. She was not a turtle. In the 19th century she became so popular (supposedly) that many people gave her name to their daughters. She’s a true beauty and she was the very first  purple Myrtle I  ever met.

Here  is her portrait by Robert O’Brien http://www.treeguides.com/ who is the excellent illustrator of the Texas A & M Forest Service’s   Trees of Texas resource/identification guide http://texastreeid.tamu.edu/content/TreeDetails/?id=55  ( Bob O’ Brien kindly gave me permission to use his illustration for this blog post. ) Myrtle’s  full name is Crape Myrtle, or Crepe Myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica. She’s hardy and resilient and, although she is a native of China ( and Korea ), she is the Official State Shrub of Texas.

Crepe Myrtle by Robert O’Brien (with permission)http://texastreeid.tamu.edu/content/TreeDetails/?id=55


One last note: if you ever see the stories of Torty and Myrtle side by side, look at the colour schemes in each book and consider what they might mean, and how they make you feel about each story. Colour matters. In its difference, and its harmonies, it adds beauty and meaning to our world.


© silkannthreades

The Glory of a Box

 This is a piece I wrote in  April 2004 to commemorate the restoration of my mother’s Glory Box. It is long, so I will post it  in two parts. My parents were married in 1948 so the Glory Box pre dates that year.

A hope chest, dowry chest, cedar chest, or glory box is a chest used to collect items such as clothing and household linen, by unmarried young women in anticipation of married life. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hope_chest)

The box has been in my uncle’s garage for 20 years, or maybe it’s 30. No one is sure. No one can remember exactly how it came to be there. I remember it in the hallway at Grandad’s house at New Brighton. It was warm and golden like honey, A touch of honey yetand inside there was a pair of hand-knitted gloves, all sunshine-yellow mixed up with a touch of custard. It was once Mum’s glory box. Mum says she is sure there’s no glory in it now. She can’t even remember what’s in the box. My uncle says ‘blankets and coins’. Dad says ‘rubbish’.

My uncle is cleaning out his garage, so we tackle the box. It’s hidden under  cartons and suitcases. The lock is broken. The top is bent. There’s a hole in the side from my cousin’s skateboarding-in-the-garage days. But it has survived the flooding.

Inside the box, there are blankets and coins. My uncle says the coins are not worth a penny. Are they Mum’s? No one is sure, but we keep them anyway. Most of the blankets are moth-eaten, fit only for rubbish. As are Nana’s two, tiny, moth-reduced cardigans. Was she really so small?  The mohair rug from her house at Sumner is musty but there’s not a moth bite in it. The back says,” This rug will be replaced if attacked by moth”. Did they really intend a more than 60 year guarantee?

Brown mohair ageing in place

Brown mohair ageing in place

We find towels and tarnished silver-plated forks. They’re probably Nana’s. Who put them in the box, and when? We find Pop’s starched white collars, size 17, at least a dozen. His cigarette holder with the little gold rim is in the box too. I remember the cigarettes, but not the holder.  We find their passports, but, hey, I say, why is Nana, ‘Maude’, with an e? She was always Maud without an e. I remember that. My uncle goes upstairs and checks her birth certificate. The passport is wrong.  How did that happen? No one knows.

The box is musty. I have to wear a mask to avoid the smell. The photos are particularly musty. There are dozens of them. Some are from Fiji days, others are older. Most of them are unlabeled. Dad says, this is such and such, and my uncle says, this is so and so.  Sometimes they agree, sometimes they don’t. Fanny, the Harewood grandmother, and her dog, Rajar, are easily identified. Harewood Grandmother 1935They are not so sure about their Dunedin grandmother. Is that really her? She looks too young to be the mother of grown-up daughters. They’re undecided.  Dad says this is a portrait of Aunty Lily, Frank’s Lily, from Canada. My uncle says not. He says it’s one of their father’s sisters; maybe Sissy, maybe Mary.  She looks like my sister, so maybe my uncle is right. But Dad is sure it is Lily; the one with tales of sledding across the snows of Canada.

Is this Lily?

Is this Lily?

The brothers agree that this one is Teddy.

Teddy, of the silver pocket watch, who died at Gallipoli. There’s no label on the photo, just an address, but they know it’s Teddy. Teddy, who died years before either of them was born.

There is a photo of Dad as a baby. It’s the only one of the photos still in a frame. It isn’t labeled but there’s no mistaking Dad.

A bonny babe

A bonny babe

To be continued………

© silkannthreades

A little bit of history

Yesterday, I received some real mail in my real mail box. So rare is real mail these days, I feel I should declare real mail days as red-letter days  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_letter_day).  The mail,  from my maternal aunt,  included a  home-made card, a handwritten note and an article cut out from the Mid Canterbury Herald. The article gave me the greatest delight because it featured a photograph of my grandfather that I hadn’t seen before.P1020506My grandfather is seated with his ‘cobbers’ (friends)  outside the Ashburton Soldiers Club. I don’t know when the photo was taken but it was  probably either towards the end, or shortly after the end, of World War One.

My grandfather left New Zealand for the war in Europe on 5 February 1916. He was a Rifleman in the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, 3rd Battalion.  We know very little about his war service and experiences but he was in Egypt and then France . At some stage,in France, he was a batman for an officer. We don’t know what action he saw in France but he was there through the last half of 1916 and some of 1917. But by March 1917 he was an invalid in Codford, England. By July 1917 he was on his way home to New Zealand. Here is an account of what my grandfather may have experienced along with thousands of other New Zealand soldiers in the First World War  http://www.teara.govt.nz/en/1966/wars-first-world-war-1914-18/page-5

Whatever scars my grandfather brought home with him, they didn’t deter him from becoming a member of a gun club and a prize-winning member at that. He won many prizes but his greatest achievement was in 1922 when he won the Miniature Rifle Championship of New Zealand.

As a child, I had no idea that my grandfather was an excellent shot, or knew anything at all about guns. They were never mentioned in my hearing. He was kind and gentle mannered and couldn’t bear to watch even the mildest of gun battles on television. It amazed me that even the mere sight of a gun in a Western was enough to make him leave the room.

Reading my mail and looking at the photo of my grandfather in his young days, reminded me of another red-letter day. In 1969, my grandfather and I went to our city’s main bookstore, Whitcombe and Tombs so that I could choose, and my grandfather could buy me, a Bible.  It was my first year at high school and boarding school and I think we were required to have a Bible as part of our school kit.  I remember my grandfather patiently waiting, whilst I looked through the large selection of Bibles, and finally chose this oneThe Gift I don’t believe I chose the most expensive Bible in the shop but I am sure my good, dear grandfather had to stop himself from blanching at my choice. He was not a wealthy man and led a very frugal lifestyle.   However, I think I made a good choice and I count this small Bible as one of my greatest treasures. To this day, I love the India paper, the Crystal print, the gold edges, the Morocco binding and the words within.  Always near to me, it is a constant reminder of a champion grandfather.

© silkannthreades

A small Last Post

I didn’t feel that I had the emotional energy to write another post about Anzac Day, but my son took some photos of our dog, Jack, wearing a Red Poppy……

and the very sweetness of them has inspired me to write one small, last post. It is a tribute to the animals who were as much a part of the Gallipoli campaign, and the First World War, as any human being.  There are some wonderful Anzac stories about these animals. One particularly famous animal is a donkey, used for bearing the wounded from Gallipoli. The donkey was awarded a RSPCA Purple Cross for animal bravery in war.

However,  it is the inscriptions on the  Animals in War   Memorial situated on the eastern edge of Hyde Park, London, that best sums up my feelings about the contributions our animal friends  have made to our man-made wars

This monument is dedicated to all the animals
that served and died alongside British and allied forces
in wars and campaigns throughout time” (First inscription)

They had no choice“(Second inscription)

Many and various animals were employed to support British and Allied Forces in wars and campaigns over the centuries, and as a result millions died. From the pigeon to the elephant, they all played a vital role in every region of the world in the cause of human freedom.
Their contribution must never be forgotten.“(At the rear of the Memorial)

I have not seen this Memorial, unveiled in 2004, but I would certainly like to, one day. In the meantime, my little Jack, will honour his fallen comrades.

Lest we forget

P1020382Footnote: Jack is a diminutive form of the name John.  The soldiers at Gallipoli were referred to as Johnnies and Mehmets by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in his famous words written in 1934.  Anzac soldiers were also known to refer to their Turkish enemies, at the time, as Johnny Turk.

© silkannthreades

Peace and Reconciliation

Today, Anzac Day, we spent some quiet time at the Park of Remembrance.Peace and Reconciliation

It was a beautiful, sunny, autumn afternoon.Peace in the Autumn Sun

A few of the wreaths from the Dawn Service in nearby Cranmer Square had been placed at the base of the statue of Sergeant Henry James Nicholas V.C., M.M.   Sergeant Nicholas was awarded the military’s highest honour, the Victoria Cross, for his bravery in action in Belgium in the First World War.

Our Governor General in his Anzac Address this morning mentioned that, on this day, one hundred years ago, people were experiencing their last year of peace for the next four years. The following year, 1914, the world was engaged in The Great War; the war that people thought, or were told, would end all wars.

Peace, as we know it today, is incredibly precious.  Sergeant Nicholas did not live to enjoy that Peace.  We must live and honour that Peace for him.

For more information on Sergeant Nicholas go to the following link (http://christchurchcitylibraries.com/heritage/people/henrynicholas/)

© silkannthreades

Rosemary for Remembrance

In my previous post, I wrote about the Red Poppy which is an international symbol of remembrance for all those who have fought and died in war.  Another flower, which symbolises remembrance, is rosemary.

On our Anzac Day, we often combine poppies and rosemary in the wreaths, or floral tributes, we place on our war memorials or on headstones in cemeteries for service personnel. This is my table centrepiece with rosemary from my garden. I plan to add some poppies tomorrow on Anzac Day.Remembrance

According to Philippa Werry’s beautiful book on Anzac*, rosemary grows wild on the Gallipoli peninsula.  She writes that a wounded soldier brought home a rosemary cutting from Gallipoli, and a hedge from that cutting grows to this day in the Waite Arboretum near Adelaide, Australia. Also included in the book is a beautiful poem by New Zealand poet Alistair Te Ariki Campbell called ‘Gallipoli Peninsula’. Some of you may be able to access it on  this link  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xVzC47BEcyQ.  It begins “It was magical when flowers appeared on the upper reaches….. ”  This poem has also been set to music. This link will give you a brief sample of the music  being sung by the New Zealand Secondary Schools’ Choir ( http://sounz.org.nz/works/show/20973 )

Rosemary, or Rosmarinus officinalis, is member of the mint family.  Rosemary derives from the Latin for ‘dew’ (ros) and ‘sea’ (marinus) and can be translated as ‘dew of the sea’. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosemary).  I think “dew of the sea” is a perfect description for the gentle blues and greens and sea foamy hues of rosemary.

* Anzac Day, The New Zealand Story by Philippa Werry

© silkannthreades

Poppy Day

Yesterday, 19th April, was Poppy Day in New Zealand. The Red Poppy is ‘an international symbol for remembrance for all those who have fought and died in war’*.  We celebrate Poppy Day on the Friday before Anzac Day ( 25th April).Recipes to Remember

When I was at our local Mall yesterday afternoon,  I noticed that many people were wearing red Poppies.  The sight of the Poppies reminded me that I had yet to buy my Poppy, but I couldn’t find anyone in the area who was supplying them. I expect it was a bit late in the day for the volunteers to still be at their posts,  with their boxes of artificial poppies , patiently waiting for people to offer a donation in exchange for the honour of wearing a Poppy. The money raised is for the use and work of the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association which was founded in 1916.

Although I didn’t find a Poppy, I did find a wonderful new book called Anzac Day, The New Zealand Story by Philippa Werry. ( http://www.newhollandpublishers.co.nz/display.php?id=1709)  It is written for young readers but it is a book that can be enjoyed by all age groups. Here is a quote from the book about the origins of Poppy Day in New Zealand.

” While the Anzacs were fighting at Gallipoli, a Canadian doctor, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, was caring for the wounded at Ypres (modern-day Ieper) in Belgium. One of his friends was killed in battle, and afterwards he scribbled down a poem on a bit of paper. Another officer found it and sent it to a magazine in England. The poem,‘ In Flanders Fields’ was published on 8 December 1915. It described how the red poppies quickly grew back between the rows of crosses marking the graves of dead soldiers.

John McCrae died of pneumonia in January 1918…….his poem lived on and was translated into many different languages. Today the red poppy is an international symbol of remembrance for all those who have fought and died in war*.”

Philippa Werry goes on to explain that the New Zealand RSA  placed an order  in 1921 for thousands of hand-made silk poppies from France to be sold on Armistice Day ( 11th November). The shipment arrived too late for Armistice Day so the Poppy Appeal Day was postponed until 24 April 1922, the day before Anzac Day. Since that time Poppy Day in New Zealand has always coincided with Anzac Day.

On Poppy Day, I happened to make Skype contact with my brother and sister-in-law at Heathrow Airport. They were waiting to board their flight to Istanbul. They are on their way to attend the Dawn Service at Gallipoli on Anzac Day. It is one of the most remarkable gatherings in modern history. Thousands of Australian and New Zealanders make the pilgrimage to the service each year.  Along with those who attend memorial services at home, they honour those who went to war and they dwell a while in the sadness and futility of war. In military terms, the Gallipoli campaign was a resounding defeat for the Allied Forces, yet, today, that defeat unites us in bonds stronger than anyone could possibly have imagined on the terrible day of the Gallipoli landings, on 25 April 1915.

ANZAC is an acronym introduced during the First World War. It stands for the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps.  My grandfather and several of my great uncles were Anzacs. Two of my great uncles lost their lives at Gallipoli.

Here are some statistics:  2721 New Zealanders died during the Gallipoli campaign. 1669 have no known grave and 252 were buried at sea. One of those 252 was my great-uncle.   Australian deaths were 8587 and Turkey suffered 86,000 deaths.  French and British casualties were also in their thousands.

Fellow blogger, Rebecca, has some lovely blogs on the Red Poppy and its significance in Canada. (http://ladybudd.com/2012/11/06/the-remembrance-poppy/#comments)   If other bloggers would like to  comment on my blog  with Poppy photos/links I would be very grateful.

© silkannthreades