Walter Burley had two wives and seven children.  His wives had short lives, and four of his children died in infancy.  The three who survived to manhood, Alfred, James and Frederick, went to France to fight in World War One, even Alfred who had his own wife and six children.  Fortunately for them he returned.  Pity about Alfred’s two brothers who enlisted in the army together, numbers 5046 and 5047, for both their lives ended in France in 1917.  With all his siblings dead, Alfred came home to Australia in 1919 to find his wifeless father, Walter, was also dead and gone.  All of Alfred’s original family were in the ground.


I learned this little story of big losses through the Australian War Memorial’s prompting.  It’s reminding us nightly, from sunset to sunrise, that 62,000 Australians died in the fight that was World War One.  Walter’s sons, Frederick and James, are on the Honour Roll currently being projected onto the Memorial’s facade.  They are two of my grandparents’ cousins who did not return from France, so I’ve been zipping over to the Memorial to catch the names as they appear.  This month it’s Frederick’s turn.

I’ve read the army records, including a few letters and the immediate family history, of Frederick and his brothers.  I’m struck by the number of deaths that left Alfred the only standing family member.

The abundance of our ancestors’ details now available means we’re discovering their long-forgotten joys and losses.  But look closely;  there are even a few of their untruths.  Frederick’s details on the Roll reveal that, when he was young, he wished he was younger;  the Memorial records his age at death as 24, but he was born in 1887, which in 1917 made him 30…  Frederick died and was buried in April 1917 at Vaulx-Vraucourt, Pas de Calais, forever youngish.  He lied to the Australian Army, but he can’t lie to me because his birth details are these days online for all the world to see.

These Burley men were my first cousins three times removed.  I snapped this photo of Frederick’s name at 8:05pm one evening a couple of weeks ago, when it shone for 30 seconds.  In June 2016 his brother’s name, J.E. Burley, will be projected.  I’ve marked it in my diary.

Frederick Miles Burley, name projected onto the Australian War Memorial, 8th September 2015

Frederick Miles Burley, Honour Roll name projection, Australian War Memorial, 8th September 2015

The names of two other men, my grandfather’s cousins Frank and D’Arcey, were projected onto the Memorial during this year’s cold, starry winter evenings.  The significance of all this for me?  My grandfather also went to France, but he was a cousin who returned.  His name, like Alfred Burley’s, is not one of the 62,000 being projected, 30 times over 4 years, beneath the dome of the Memorial.


Thank you

Yesterday I read two writing prompts that gave me ideas.  The first one was the Daily Post’s prompt, Handwritten, and the second was in the ebook, 365 writing prompts, where the prompt for 11th September is Thank you.  The task is defined:

“The internet is full of rants. Help tip the balance: today, simply be thankful for something (or someone).”

It was funny they should say that about the internet and rants, because I was grazed by this combination today.  I was feeling thankful for something that happened because of the internet:  a nomination for a literary prize by the editor of Eleven Eleven literary journal.  Last month the journal published my translation of Jean Lorrain’s Princess Mandosiane.  Knowing little about prizes, I made what was perhaps a mistake and searched for online information.  Within seconds I was reading a rant about the meaninglessness of nominations, the unlikelihood of winning a prize, the embarrassment of being one of tens of thousands of nominees.  Don’t put it in your bio, pleads the ranter, don’t put it in your résumé.

One moment I was thankful, the next I was fizzing.  It took literally seconds for an internet rant to douse my small flame of pleasure.

Digging deeper and reading wider, I found a number of positive articles, a number of writers reminding readers, and me, that it’s incredibly hard work to get something published, let alone to be nominated for a prize, and that that’s something to put in your bio, something to write home about.  In fact, since I’m away from home, that’s something I’m going to do.

Today I’m simply thankful for Eleven Eleven journal and for the editor’s opinion of my work.

To illustrate my little achievement, here’s a photo I took at the beach this morning when I saw this rocky man laughing up at the sky.  Ha ha ha, you ranters!  A nomination is a reason to be cheerful.

Rock face, Lilli Pilli Beach NSW

Rock face, Lilli Pilli Beach NSW



The Daily Post writing prompt for 11th September was Handwritten:  When was the last time you wrote something by hand?

I write by hand many times a day, and indeed was handwriting something for another blog post only moments before I began typing these words.  But writing for this blog is something I do infrequently, unfortunately.  Translating literature is what I do every day, writing the translation by hand before keying it into my computer.  Usually I write with a cheap ballpoint pen or pencil on cheap note paper.  However, a German friend recently sent me a calligraphy pen and coloured inks, and a French friend sent me a Clairefontaine notebook with its silky smooth papier velouté.  To test them both out, I wrote the fourth verse from St. Patrick’s Breastplate:

St Patrick's Breastplate v.4

The last lines are particularly meaningful to me, for I love the sea and its rocks, not to mention stability…  Just this morning, in the small bay of Lilli Pilli Beach, I was snapping waves as they crashed against rock projections:

LilliPilli Beach NSW

Lilli Pilli Beach NSW

I once heard that when you’re focused on a subject or scene to photograph it, you can’t feel depressed.  Your brain is too busy getting the shot right.  Similarly, when you’re writing out your thoughts by hand, your disappointments and confusions flow out of your head, through the pen and onto the paper.  But no one needed to tell me that.


Weekly photo challenge: Connected

Here’s a direction sign from World War II Libya.  The photo taken in about 1941 is in my father’s war album, and is marked as “Signpost Libyan Desert”.  The camps are named after Australia’s state capitals, and might have helped the Australian forces to feel (slightly) connected with home, several months’ sail away.

All the capital cities are there except for Hobart.  But this board is a palimpsest, a surface where earlier writing has been removed, scraped off, to make way for later writing.  Here, the former text has been rubbed or washed away but if you look closely you’ll see the ghosts of smaller words, including the name of Hobart.  Whatever happened to Camp Hobart?

There’s also a bit of graffiti on the bottom where a few blokes have scratched their names.

Searching for the locations of the other place names, I learnt that Ikingi Maryût was in the Western Desert outside Alexandria, Egypt, to Libya’s east.  But I’m not sure about Abd-el-Kader, though it had been the name of a popular nineteenth-century leader of Algeria, to Libya’s west.

Signpost, Libyan desert, c1941

Signpost, Libyan desert, c1941

Thanks to WordPress for the photo challenge.  See what the word ‘connected’ triggered in others.



Tonight at 7.52 when it was 6 degrees Celsius and blowing an icy gale, I took this photo of D’arcey Richard Nottingham Shaw’s name projected onto the Australian War Memorial.  It was hard to hold my camera still in the wind, but the photo is not too bad.  D’arcey was killed in action on The Somme in France in 1917, yet he has no grave;  his remains were never found.  On his Roll of Honour card, digitally available on the A.W.M. website, it is noted that D’arcey Shaw’s wounds were the result of being buried twice from bombs bursting near him in Pozières.  How ironic, that they should write that, when in the end he was buried nowhere.


D R N Shaw, projected onto Australian War Memorial, 26th July 2015

Because he died defending Australia, his name was written in light for 30 seconds tonight, perhaps for my benefit alone.  As far as I know, none of his other family members live in Canberra.  Since I’m just ten minutes away, it’s easy to whip down to the Memorial and see the names when they come up between sunset and sunrise.

D’arcey was my grandfather’s cousin.  I want to remember him and his two brothers who also died in France, in the war to end all wars, because my grandfather was there too, but he didn’t die.

Nineteen-year-old D’arcey was the second son in his family to be killed in France, and there would be a third, Frank Percy Shaw.  His name was projected onto the War Memorial on 21st June, a night that was cool but not freezing like tonight.  I wrote about him here.

As I was leaving around the back of the Memorial I saw four kangaroos standing guard in the dark.  They’re delightful at a distance and are happy to be photographed from a car window, but if I’d got out and approached them they would have either hopped away or hopped towards me and treated me as an enemy.

Kangaroos AWM

Kangaroos at the back of the Australian War Memorial

The next date that I will have a relative’s name up for viewing is in early spring.  I’m happy knowing it won’t be another chilling evening.


Land meets water

Where land meets water in a large city, we build homes and offices for the short walk to the beach and the long view of the open sea.  It’s a place to turn our backs on all that disturbs us in society.

For Ailsa’s Land Meets Water photo challenge, here’s a photo of Stanley Bay, Alexandria, Egypt in about 1941.  The corniche, the road running round the coastline, was constructed in 1935.  The descending levels of concrete bathing cabins added on the shoreline form an amphitheatre that looks onto the Mediterranean.  Here in 1941 people are bathing in the sun and sea, and, by all appearances, are unafraid.  Yet in May, June and December of that year there had been fierce enemy air and sea attacks on Alexandria with hundreds of people killed and injured.  In this scene there are bathers on the sand, in the water and on the rocks, as though all is well.

Today Alexandria is not facing the same threats, but the population has multiplied.  Modern photos show the corniche lined with high-rise apartment blocks, not as picturesque as those in the 1940s, and with not nearly as much space to roam between buildings.  And town planners seem to have had second thoughts about the bathing boxes, which have disappeared.  Only the sea remains the same.

The photo is from my father’s WWII album.



Photo challenge: Independence

Yesterday, a French friend asked me to define the word ‘yoke’.  She looked in her bilingual dictionary and came up with ‘constraint’.  But it’s more than that, I think, and I tried to explain that it can be a mark of servitude.  Or slavery.  Or it can be a metaphor for a burden, anything that keeps you coupled to a problem.

Today I passed this yoke, and took the photo to show her.

A yoke is a binding thing.  A piece of wood fastened to the necks of two animals, then attached to a plough, forces them to work obediently and stops them escaping.  When the yoke is removed, and especially once it’s nailed to the top of a post, the animals are free to roam and go where they please.  Independence.


Thanks Ailsa for the ‘Independence’ photo challenge.


Last night I went to the Australian War Memorial for an 8:58 pm appointment.  At this moment, Frank’s name would be projected onto the exterior wall of the Hall of Memory, an honourable way of remembering the soldiers who died for Australia in World War One.  Every 30 seconds a new name appears.  There are 62,000 names on the Roll of Honour which will all be displayed several times between 2014 and 2018, from sunset to sunrise.

F.A.P. Shaw, name from the Honour Roll projected onto Australian War Memorial, 21st June 2015

F.A.P. Shaw, projected onto Australian War Memorial, 21st June 2015

Frank was my first cousin twice removed.  Or, if you like, my grandfather’s cousin.  He was the third son in his family to be killed in action in France; the first one died in 1916, the second in 1917, and Frank in 1918.  He was 23, had been promoted to Lance Corporal, was twice recommended for decorations and was congratulated for conspicuous gallantry and daring in reconnoitring enemy positions in February 1918.  Five weeks later he was killed by the enemy on 5th April, 1918 in France.

After receiving news of the death of a third son to die on the Somme, Frank’s father asked the Defence Department to send home his personal effects.  And so, in July 1918, the effects of Frank Albert Percy Shaw were sent with the SS Barunga.  In case no. 1153 were a two-Franc note (damaged), a wallet, a note case, photos, two prayer books, a letter and a YMCA wallet cover.  On 15th July, the Barunga was torpedoed by the enemy and was lost with all cargo.  But, at last some good news, she was carrying invalided troops back to Australia, and all on board were saved.

The Barunga, with the personal effects of a number of soldiers who had died, is still sitting on the ocean floor off the Isles of Scilly, south-west of Lands End, England.

Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 21st June 2015

Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 21st June 2015


On the way

Last week, for the first time in a long time, my son and I met for morning tea in a café, and on our way back to the car I caught sight of some writing engraved into the concrete as we stepped up on a kerb. I stooped to take a photo, and at that moment a bus turned the corner.  My son thought I was crazy, crouching down on the road, focused on photographing a bit of concrete graffiti while a passing bus was leaning into the corner.  But he was missing the magic of the moment.

Here’s what captured my attention:  a grey concrete kerb, utilitarian and ugly, made ‘beautiful’ with a few words and autumn leaves collected in the hollow of the gutter.

You are beautiful 2

Thanks WordPress for the challenge to photograph something on the way to somewhere.

Japanese Gardens, Helwan, Cairo

In the 1800s, the town of Helwan was Egypt’s winter resort for the wealthy.  During the Second World War, British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers were resident in the area and visited these gardens constructed in 1917 by the architect Zulfiqar Pasha, who gave them a Japanese theme with about forty Buddha statues, elephants, a Japanese-style bridge and pagodas.

Japanese Gardens, Helwan, Cairo, c1941

After the 1952 revolution the gardens were neglected and Helwan became an industrial area.  However, about a decade ago, with help from the Japanese Embassy, they were restored as a Japanese Garden.  Once more it has become a desirable escape from the crowds of Cairo.  It’s not just tourists who enjoy the space;  most Muslim locals also love it as a green oasis amid decrepit concrete buildings, even accepting the novelty of Buddha statues in a Japanese garden, the only one in the Middle East.

Japanese Gardens, Helwan, Cairo, 1941

Japanese Gardens, Helwan, Cairo, c1941

In an earlier blog post, I had previously posted the photo of the seated Buddha on a lotus flower and the three elephants, but I deleted it.  However, I’m posting it again, because today I was reminded of the value of photos.

When I went searching online for current images of these statues, I found that my photo had been copied before I deleted it, and then it was used to illustrate a couple of stories about the demise of the statues. The Buddha has been beheaded and the elephants de-trunked.  What a horrifying discovery!  A couple of web sites have stories or brief notes about the destruction, and the authors of these sites have used my photo to show the statues as they were in the 1940s.

My father’s wartime photos are a valuable historical resource, and I’m pleased to be able to share them through this blog.  However, it’s disappointing that I received no credit as owner of the photo.  Take a look at this Twitter post, for example, and a news site, here, which has put its own name across the bottom of the photo.  Please, if you wish to use my photos in your stories, ask me before copying them, and give me credit.  Thanks.