Tag Archives: Second World War

Advent mysteries

As I make my way through Advent,

What mysteries will manifest this Advent?

What mysteries will manifest this Advent?

an unexpected, personal Advent calendar mysteriously opens up before me.

It is a calendar that comes in the form of box or drawer that daily reveals, from the depths of clutter, long forgotten wonders and joys,

like this poem I wrote, for our church magazine, not long after our arrival in New Zealand.

The Strangers’ Christmas

Dark outside is the winter sky,
a strange, foreshadowing sky
to catch the warmth
of the midnight candles,
tightly held and sheltered,
in our tent of strangers.

Dark outside is the winter sky,
a strange, foreshadowing sky
to hold the guns
of strangers standing,
as black-robed angels,
cornered to our circled light.

Dark outside is the winter sky,
a strange, foreshadowing sky
to loose the star
of the warm, sweet babe,
delivered to Mary, carefully cradled,
in the stable of strangers.

Dark outside is the winter sky,
a strange, foreshadowing sky
to gather the ages
of then and now,
and the light that is the warmth,
within the lives of strangers.

The poem is a reflection on a Christmas Eve service in Maadi, Cairo,  in the late 1990s, during a time of terrorism and tension.  I am trying to capture the peculiarity of the lovely warmth of a service celebrating the “The Prince of Peace”, yet taking place under the protection of armed soldiers and police. Like Mary, we, too, were all strangers far from home, full of joy, but also anxious about the world to come.

The service, organised by the Maadi Community Church was held in a tent attached to the St John the Baptist church in Maadi.

Both churches continue to offer fellowship, a home away from home,  and solace to strangers, to this day, and seem to be thriving.  St John’s was established in 1931. Throughout the Second World War it served troops from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.

Paton, Harold Gear, 1919-2010. Brigadier Kenneth MacCormick and Mrs MacCormick leaving the church after the marriage ceremony, Egypt. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch :Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency. Ref: DA-02075-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23112562

Paton, Harold Gear, 1919-2010. Brigadier Kenneth MacCormick and Mrs MacCormick leaving the church after the marriage ceremony, Egypt. New Zealand. Department of Internal Affairs. War History Branch :Photographs relating to World War 1914-1918, World War 1939-1945, occupation of Japan, Korean War, and Malayan Emergency. Ref: DA-02075-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23112562

These days St John’s (Anglican/Episcopal) serves a diverse English-speaking congregation from many different backgrounds, ( Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans and Catholics ), and provides worship space to the Maadi Community Church, and Korean, Sudanese, West African, French Reformed, Scandinavian and Egyptian congregations.

In 2006, to commemorate its 75th anniversary, St John’s commissioned artist Debra Balchen to design/make nine stained glass windows focusing on the role of Egypt in the Bible.

Windows by Debra Balchen, commissioned by St John's Church, Maadi, Cairo.

Windows by Debra Balchen, commissioned by St John’s Church, Maadi, Cairo.

I would love to see these special windows in situ. Maybe that is an Advent-ure (thanks for the word, Linda 😉 ) that awaits me.

© silkannthreades

 

 

 

 

Tarawa: Lest We Forget

We have been honouring Veterans’ Day and Remembrance Day, so it is timely to write my own ‘Lest We Forget’ post about a small place in the Pacific, to which we owe an enormous debt of gratitude.  That small  place is Tarawa Atoll.

This is what happened there from 20 -23 November 1943. ( Warning! This Academy Award Winning Documentary is VERY GRAPHIC. Please do not watch it if you find war scenes disturbing.)

The Battle of Tarawa in the Pacific Theatre of War was brutal. Within the space of 76 hours, the Americans suffered approximately 3166 casualties. Enemy casualties were also horrendous.  “Of the 3,636 Japanese in the garrison, only one officer and sixteen enlisted men surrendered. Of the 1,200 Korean laborers brought to Tarawa to construct the defenses, only 129 survived. All told, 4,690 of the island’s defenders were killed.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Tarawa

And let’s not forget that the Tarawa Atoll was inhabited by its own people . Their losses, material and psychological, were immense too, particularly for the inhabitants of Betio Island, the main site of the Battle of Tarawa. Pre-war the people of Betio had enjoyed a good subsistence lifestyle. http://scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu/bitstream/handle/10125/15557/OP36-109-112.pdf?sequence=1   Following World War Two, their fragile environment and livelihoods were left in ruins.

And, to a large extent, in ruins they remain to this day. Not just for Betio, but for the entire country which is today known as Kiribati. In addition to war, phosphate mining and nuclear testing have  taken their toll. Now Kiribati is engaged in a new battle. It is on the front-line of another great struggle; once again not of its own making. Slowly, but surely, Kiribati is drowning. Climate change and rising sea levels are torturing Kiribati to death.

And the big powers, some of whom were once prepared to fight over Tarawa Atoll to the last man, if necessary, because it was considered so important to their success, don’t seem to give a toss.

Which means that when we come to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Tarawa in 2043, or the centenary of the end of the Second World War, there may not be much left of Tarawa to see. Within the next 50 or 60 years, most of Kiribati will be uninhabitable because of climate change.

When the land sinks beneath the sea, the people of Kiribati will become citizens of nowhere.  What a tragedy. They will be as lost and broken as the 520, or more, Marines , and the thousands of Japanese, who lie, to this day, mangled and unidentified under the fragile surface of  Tarawa. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/24/magazine/the-search-for-the-lost-marines-of-tarawa.html?pagewanted=all

‘Last week some 2,000 or 3,000 United States Marines, most of them now dead or wounded, gave the nation a name to stand beside those of Concord Bridge, the Bonhomme Richard, the Alamo, Little Bighorn, and Belleau Wood. The name was Tarawa.’

—Robert Sherrod, Time Magazine War Correspondent, 6 December 1943

 

This post is for climate warrior/peacemaker Matisse whose recent post on Kiribati and climate change reminded me how often we forget what is on our doorstep  http://matissewb.com/2014/11/12/the-arctic-is-melting-islands-are-disappearing-the-president-of-kiribati-sails-to-the-top-of-the-world-to-visit-the-ice-that-will-soon-swallow-his-nation/#respond   Please read her post. It is important.

Lest We Forget …battles old and new, and an island people whose sacrifices, present and past, allow us to live as we do.

© silkannthreades

 

 

Even a child knows……

The other day I found an idyllic picnic spot and a commemorative plaque to Dr Neil Cherry at Ouruhia Domain. https://silkannthreades.wordpress.com/2013/07/26/one-sandwich-short-of-a-picnic/

Kaputone Water

Kaputone Water

Whilst contemplating my surroundings and my discoveries, I remembered some other tranquil, picnic places I have known; in particular, ones from my childhood. Almost always, we sat by the water, the wimpling water, because, there, one might find the teeniest respite from  the heat and humidity of the tropics.

By the wimpling water

By the wimpling water

Picnic by Sea Water

Picnic by Sea Water

My memories of that time are rich and full. I swam and played and read  to my heart’s content. On a macro-mini level, my childhood was idyllic; yes, it was – idyllic.

But, in my immediate environment, and in the larger world, there were tensions of which I was acutely aware, although I was so very young. For one, there was racism, (and social and economic inequality).  There were people who lived at the lines (at the bottom of the hill), and there were people who lived at the top of the hill. There were children who could go to my school and children who couldn’t. And some were allowed at the club and others weren’t. Colour and colonialism ruled how our society lived. I knew this, even as a child; and I knew it wasn’t right and it wasn’t just.

But, more sinister, and more unmanageable and unfathomable to a child, were the less than peaceful events happening in the Pacific. At the end of the Second World War, the administrators and colonial rulers of much of the Pacific; namely the US, Britain and France, turned regions of their territories  into what may have been  the largest nuclear testing laboratory in the world. For their former enemies, there were reconstruction and development initiatives; for their faithful friends and allies in the Pacific; for the communities who sacrificed their land and lives for the war effort, there were, yipdee doo, nuclear testing programmes.

I don’t know ,or understand, all the details of the nuclear testing, but there is a plethora of information on the internet; much of it confusing to a non-scientist like me. What I do know is that in November 1962, when I was six years old and a bit,  I saw the aurora created by this

Kingfish 1 November 1962 Johnston Atoll 410 kilotons Operation Fishbowl, high altitude nuclear explosion, 97 km altitude, Thor missile with W-50 warhead, dramatic aurora-like effects, extensive ionosphere disruption, radio communication over central Pacific disrupted for over three hours

It was extraordinary, eerie, fiery and awful, and, as I don’t think we really knew for sure what was causing the transformation of the sky, it created a feeling of apocalyptic doom. More especially because this probable nuclear explosion came so soon after the drama of the Cuban missile crisis, when we worried, for days, that nuclear war was about to engulf the world. Young as I was, I remember the fear of potential nuclear warfare. Young as I was, I knew that what I saw in November 1962 was as wrong as it was awful. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Dominic

The American and British testing came to an end not long after, but that was not the end of the Pacific’s nuclear battering, for the  French then  took over the nuclear testing baton in the Pacific. Between 1966 and 1996, the French conducted 181 nuclear explosions, 45 of them in the atmosphere, the rest underground. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moruroa

In all these nuclear testing exercises and experiments, there were accidents and disasters and fallout on innocent, peaceful Pacific Peoples. There was long lasting harm done to previously pristine environments…and for what reason… hubris, power, to make a safer world, because they could, so they did? I didn’t understand why as a child. I was implacably angry about it as a teenager and young adult, and, now, I am simply sad. Particularly sad because the testing has created a hardness in my heart; a small stony part of me that  struggles  to forgive a lengthy, nuclear invasion/abuse of my backyard.

Dr Neil Cherry tried  to help veterans/victims of radioactive fallout receive compensation. The struggle for recompense and recognition continue, as does the  impact of that nuclear testing  on the lives of ordinary citizens.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jul/03/french-nuclear-tests-polynesia-declassified

It’s also more than a little ironic that this whole nuclear scenario in the Pacific was only  possible because  our  most  famous, New Zealand scientist, Lord Rutherford of Nelson, discovered how to split the atom. http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/manchester/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_8282000/8282223.stm

To finish on a positive note, here are a couple of photos of my happy days in the bosom of my precious nuclear family; NUCLEAR; what a word to use for a family. 🙂

© silkannthreades