Showing posts with label recent history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label recent history. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Portrait of Queen Victoria

From time to time, I continue to investigate (just for fun) the mysterious portrait of a young Queen Victoria, inherited by my friend Sheridan. When I last visited England, a year and a half ago, I dropped in at an arts school in the London suburb of Hampstead, known today as the Institute, which I mistook for the Hampstead Garden Suburb School of Arts and Crafts, whose former principal was Ernest Heath [1867-1945]. The director of the Institute told me that the two schools had nothing in common, and he suggested that I contact the Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington concerning Sheridan's plaque. Before I could do so, I needed to set down clearly, in the form of a website, my speculations concerning the plaque. And that's what I've been doing over the last few days.

[Click the image to visit my new website.]

Before building this website and contacting the museum (which I intend to do immediately), I had to get over an amusing obstacle, in the form of a legend that arose in Sheridan's family context in Australia. According to this legend, one of Sheridan's female ancestors was an adolescent friend of Victoria, and the ceramic plaque was a personal gift to her from the queen, maybe at the time of the marriage of Victoria and Albert. To evaluate this legend, which is surely false, I was helped greatly (in a negative sense) by an excellent study of Victoria's adolescence written recently by a US professor of English from Texas, Lynne Vallone.

It's a fascinating detective exercise to examine a certain situation, constructed around a legend, in order to separate the factual wheat from the mythical chaff. In the case of Sheridan's legend about a friendship between two adolescent girls, one of whom was a commoner and the other a princess, the emerging truth would appear to be far more gratifying. My conclusions are outlined in the new website. I'm convinced that Sheridan's ancestors in London were related to a celebrated line of creators who were appointed engravers and painters to British monarchs, including Victoria. That's more interesting than having an ancestor who was merely a teenage friend or bridesmaid of the queen...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Stale moronic jokes about France

I often stumble upon sad and senseless Anglo-Saxon stuff in a dubious category that might be termed French jokes, which flourished recently when French president Jacques Chirac created a huge wave of anti-French sentiments by pointing out truthfully [as events prove] that US president George W Bush was acting unwisely in attacking Iraq. The nastiest specimens of this silly would-be humor revert inevitably to a couple of widespread urban legends: first, the notion that France might have opted out dishonorably (surrendered) in the face of Hitler; and second, the allegation that the French, today, might not honor fully the role of Anglo-Saxon soldiers who gave their lives in the Battle of Normandy in June 1944. These two accusations are groundless. Facts, rather than would-be jokes, are necessary in this domain.

Countless books, videos and websites recount admirably the stark facts of this epoch, which were often complex... concerning particularly the relationships between Churchill, Eisenhower and de Gaulle. In any case, there is no longer any room for deliberate ambiguity; no longer any place for moronic "French jokes".

Sunday, November 11, 2007

November 11

The initial November 11 was in 1918, when the Armistice was signed on a cold wet day [like today at Gamone] in a railway carriage at Rethondes in the forest of Compiègne, to the north-east of Paris. Towards the end of that afternoon, in the Chamber of Deputies, French prime minister Georges Clemenceau read out the terms of Germany's surrender. The citizens of Paris started to dance in the streets, while watching a parade of captured cannons.

During more than four years of warfare, 1.4 million French soldiers had died, and 600 thousand had been wounded.

At the start of 1916, troops from the other side of the planet had moved to France to take part in the combats.

Referred to globally as the Anzac [Australian and New Zealand Army Corps], they were immediately hurled into the hell of the Somme. By the time the Armistice had been signed, 60 thousand Anzac troops had died on the combined fronts of the so-called Great War. Today, an Australian memorial is located at Villers-Bretonneux, up in Picardy, just to the east of Amiens.

While driving around in my Citroën this morning [looking in vain for a pharmacy, to obtain medicine for a severe cold], I discovered that commemoration services were taking place around the cenotaph of every town and village on my route.

I wish to conclude this evocation of the terrible events of 1914-1918 with this photo of a young Anzac soldier named Francis Pickering who succeeded in returning home safely to the family cattle station at Breeza in New South Wales:

As I've already explained on several occasions, this Pickering lad was the family hero whose nickname "King" (reflecting his prowess in various domains, including sport) was given as an official Christian name, in a spurt of zeal, to my father, born in 1917... who was embarrassed throughout his entire life by this silly regal name. Fortunately, the nurses in the maternity clinic at Rockhampton (Queensland) had a sense of humor, and they associated the new baby with a local Aboriginal celebrity known as King Billy. So, my father ended up being referred to by this nickname, soon shortened to Bill.

Saturday, October 27, 2007


[This is my 500th Antipodes post.]

Tomorrow, at the Vatican, 498 ecclesiastic "martyrs" of the Spanish Civil War [1936-1939] will be beatified. In quantitative terms, this must be a record of eternal bliss, suggesting that members of the Church in Spain have been the most saintly men and women on Earth.

By whom were these individuals martyrized? Mostly by anarchists and Communists. Does that mean that, in the context of this terrible and bloody conflict, these "martyrs" were on the side of the Fascist dictator Franco? That would be a rather stark way of putting things. Let's say that they were on God's side...