Showing posts with label Great War. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Great War. Show all posts

Friday, August 1, 2014

Bells of joy, bells of pain

When I was a child in Grafton, nobody ever talked to me about the churches of London. (These days, I’ve made up largely for the lost information.) But all the children of Australia were familiar with the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons.

We were bewildered about the curious final lines of the nursery rhyme:
Here comes a candle to light you to bed.
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.
But we had fun in playing the game of Oranges and Lemons, and bringing down our arms to encircle the child who was consequently “caught out” at that moment.

Only later would I hear about public executions in London. The warder would carry a candle and ring a handbell in the early hours of the morning to wake up a condemned man.

The nursery rhyme mentions the church of St Leonard’s Shoreditch where my great-great-grandmother Sarah Jane Harris [1812-1889] was christened on 14 February 1812.

For several years in Paris, in the 1970s, I worked daily alongside Pierre Schaeffer [1910-1995], inventor of musique concrète and founder of the research service of the French Broadcasting System (the context that enabled me to create TV documentaries in the USA, Britain and Sweden).

Pierre had taken the personal initiative, on the evening of the liberation of Paris (Thursday 24 August 1944), of broadcasting a radio message asking priests in the churches of Paris to ring their bells.

A century ago, on 1 August 1914, the front pages of newspapers were covered with the story of the assassination of Jean Jaurès (the subject of my previous blog post, here). Later on in the day, the walls of France were covered in posters announcing a general mobilization.

France was henceforth preparing for war. Over the next 4 years horrendous happenings that would lead to the deaths of 1.4 million French soldiers and a third of a million French civilians.

At 4 o’clock in the afternoon of 1 August 1914, the bells of the nation rang out a grim tocsin, warning that there were terrible events on the horizon.

This afternoon at 4 o’clock, the same tocsin will be rung throughout all the cities, towns and villages of the nation, to commemorate the centenary of the start of the participation of France in World War I.

Friday, June 27, 2014

First two victims

Exactly a century ago, on 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was visiting Sarajevo—the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina—with his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg.

They were a nice couple, who might have gone on to worldly glory at the head of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  

Instead, they were cut down by the bullets of an assassin.

They might be thought of as the first two victims of the ensuing First World War. Their killer, Gavrilo Princip, was a fervent Serbian nationalist who belonged to a movement named Young Bosnia, which hoped to separate Bosnia from the Austro-Hungarian empire and unite it with the Serbian kingdom.

In the years that followed, millions would die in the senseless butchery of the so-called “Great War”. And much water would flow under the lovely Latin Bridge of Sarajevo where the act of an enraged 18-year-old student had plunged the planet into a time of mindlessness from which the nations of the Old World are still striving to emerge.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Photos of World War I

As soon as the Great War broke out, the French psychiatrist Frantz Adam [1886-1986] was enlisted as a medical officer in a French infantry regiment. Throughout the years that followed, he was present at major events on the Western Front: Vosges (1915), Somme and Verdun (1916), Chemin des Dames (1917)...

Besides his professional activities, Frantz Adam got into the habit of taking photos of all kinds of situations, both grim and pleasant, in the context of the Western Front. A few years ago, his descendant Arnaud Bouteloup inherited 600 photos taken by his great-uncle, and many of these images have been cleaned up and recently published in a French-language book entitled Ce que j'ai vu de la Grande Guerre (What I Saw of the Great War).

Click here to visit an AFP webpage on Frantz Adam with a few specimens of his photos. An image that caught my attention shows a group of eight Australian soldiers relaxing on a Belgian river bank in May 1918.

Click to enlarge

Anecdote: At the time the above photo was taken, my ancestral relative Francis Pickering [1897-1945] from the Quirindi district (NSW) was surely not too far away. His greatest military deeds were performed in the autumn of 1918 at Joncourt, to the east of Amiens, midway between Cambrai (to the north) and Saint-Quentin (to the south).

Nicknamed "the King" (because of his athletic prowess), Francis Pickering was awarded the Military Medal in 1919 "for bravery in the field". When my grandmother Kathleen Pickering gave birth to a son in October 1917, she chose the nickname of her young brother as the given name of her baby... and my poor father carried the burden of this embarrassing given name throughout his entire life. Worse still, his second given name was an ancestral surname, Mepham. So, my father's full name—King Mepham Skyvington—sounded as if he were the monarch of an ancient Anglo-Saxon province.