Making Peace

The Boy, his Sisters and the Magic Horse s a Tibetan tale retold by Gioia Timpanelli. The story opens with the father digging a hole and telling his son to get in, because his son refused to hunt animals for food. He inscribes “Open or not as you please”  on the slab he slides on top of the boy. I have always been in awe of the son’s compassion for his parents at the end of this tale.

Folktales are full of warnings about fathers who trade their daughters, abuse, or imprison them, or worse. Some children get precious little from their fathers. And I’ve been thinking about mine.

 My father had good timing at odd times.

 Waking us three kids up, to stand in our PJs and wellies below our big coats, in the knee-deep snow of the back garden to wonder, open-mouthed,  at the flickering Aurora Borealis in a velvet sky, late, late one January night.

Accompanying him on each Sunday walk as a child, taught me patience and to enjoy the peace of nature, as we crouched waiting for native finches to be caught in the traps he’d set. I still like bird-watching. Here, at last, is a close-up of the shy Buff-colured Rail from one of my daily walks.

Buff-coloured Rail

 On occasions he has surprised me with simple gifts, like this letter in response to a book I sent him (“The Cunning Little Vixen, illustrated by Maurice Sendak). It’s the only evidence I have of his handwriting. (“Hen” is a Scots form of familiarity with a woman)

Handwriting

One time when I was visiting, he was very proud of a large white shell he’d picked up on the island of Coll in the Inner Hebrides. “You can have it,” he said.

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On another visit back home, he slipped this to me.

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“It’s a Penny-Spitfire.”

During WW11 he and his pals in the RAF workshop near Reykjavik, used to make them on the fly from a copper coin, and give them to the WAFs they liked, to pin to their uniforms.

When I was younger I fought a lot with my father … arguments, tantrums, name-calling. The last fight was in my twenties. I stormed out of their sea-side caravan, fuming into the gloaming for a good long walk and got back hours later. The caravan was dark. They’d gone to the pub … and by a park light, I saw pinned to the door was a torn brown envelope, and written in my father’s hand.

“Come home. Meg, ALL is forgiven.’

Well, that did it. Peace ever since.

All photos and text by Meg

Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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Mother of the ANZACs

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… In the darkened world of warfare, a bright and shining flame, She was mother, sister, sweetheart to them all.”

 These words were in a song Dermot sang at our local folkclub recently. He’d written it about an Australian, Annie Wheeler during World War 1. I was drawn to the story. Who was this woman?

During the Great War, a century ago, any mail simply addressed to “Mrs Wheeler, Mother of the ANZACs, London” was delivered to her door in Westminster Gardens. One Xmas her daughter recalled, the mail that had arrived from Australia was 3 feet deep all through their flat!

A widow in her 40s, she had sailed from Australia with her daughter in 1913, in order to finish Portia’s education in England. When the war broke out in 1914 they couldn’t return, so Annie Wheeler worked as a nurse and then took the initiative to become a ‘hub’ of news and support for Australian soldiers, between England and Central Queensland where she’d lived.

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All through the war, Annie gleaned what she could from the nearby Army Headquarters and wrote fortnightly bulletins, which were published in Queensland provincial newspapers, giving many families the only news they ever got of what was happening to ‘their boys’ with the Australian Imperial Force in France … Egypt … Palestine …
 She and her daughter organised letters and gifts from Australia,  between brothers, and family in different battalions, to be forwarded to wherever those ‘ boys’ had been posted or were in hospital. They sent off supplies of extra clothing & food etc, wrote countless letters, visited hospitals and were kind to anyone who need to talk about home or the mates they missed. By 1918 she had the contact details of 2300 soldiers in a card file.
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One soldier drew a sign and stuck it on their front door showing the distinctive AIF Rising sun hat badge, a kangaroo and the words “Hop Right In, Dig”
AnnieW_3When Annie and her daughter arrived back in Rockhampton in 1919, over 5000 people met her train and cheering soldiers (Diggers) pulled her car through the streets to a public reception.
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[State Library of Queensland Image no 69293. Out of copyright]
Here in 1920, she sits in one of the grandest cars in Springsure, a Studebaker Big Six decked with bunting. Annie Wheeler is about to unveil a Memorial Fountain at the school.
She was presented with an O.B.E that same year, in recognition of her contribution as a ‘military welfare worker.’
For kindness itself.
Text adapted by Meg
Sources:
Dermot Dorgan. Conversation. 13 March 2014.
See also
Story Twigs …! by Meg Philp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License