Wednesday, 16 January 2013

December, 1946 - In which Ron arrives in Port Said, camera in hand... and I make some observations...



This is where Ron’s first notebook diary ends and we can only assume that the rest of the passage on board M.V Dunnottar Castle was uneventful.

The voyage ended in Port Said and as the ship docked Ron was ready with his camera...

Ron doesn't identify this ship but I think it may be the "Dunnottar Castle"


"12.12.46
One of the many small boats that rowed along side us in Port Said
with wares laid out in the bottom, shouting their prices.  The salesmen
sling raffia bags on cord from their boat to the Dunnottar Castle,
in this way they transact their deals."


(Note: My father used a bellows camera similar to the one pictured here.  Most of the photos Dad took he had developed and printed as mini prints measuring no more than 3 x 5cm consequently the quality is not great.  Unfortunately none of the negatives has survived.  In order to reproduce them I have photocopied them at 400% enlargement and then scanned them in.  Inevitably there has been some loss of clarity... or is it just my aging eyes!  Captions in "Speech marks" are notes Dad recorded on the back of the photos)

Dad used a large metal trunk to transport his gear to Palestine.  I recall this trunk living in our attic in my childhood years.  We were puzzled as to its contents - heavy wooden pieces of two ancient standard lamps which became frustrating giant jigsaw puzzles as we tried to fit the various pieces together.  What always puzzled and amused me more was the sticker on the side of the trunk which bore the legend "Not wanted on voyage".  I could not imagine why someone would bother to stick a label on something they weren't going to take on their voyage... of course Dad pointed out that it was an indication that the trunk could be stowed in the hold of the ship as the contents would not be required during the passage.  Ah of course!  But then, I wondered, why would you want to take two old standard lamps to Palestine anyway?


What shall we do with the drunken sailor?
... I'm not sure Ron looks terribly happy about this..
In fact this picture may not belong in this section - it has no comment
on the back from Dad - but it has a boat in, and water,
so here it is...
As I reflect on Dad's story I am struck again by how, as I get older, the story seems paradoxically to become more recent.  My father travelled to Palestine in 1946 - when he talked of this time to us as children it felt an age away - a story set in some distant war torn world.  The Second World War was the stuff of films - American films largely - and Commando comic books swapped among my school friends.  It was a time represented for me by small plastic soldiers set out on a blanket battlefield; and Airfix kits of American Grumann Warplanes, Messerschmidts and Lancaster Bombers and, of course, Spitfires and Hurricanes - this was a time made fictional and shaded in black and white.  And Palestine was a strange mixture of this World War world and The Bible - The Sea of Galilee, Bethlehem, Jerusalem -  a land of Dates and Olives, Milk and Honey.  A strange and schizophrenic contradiction.

It was not until much later that it really started to dawn on me how recently these events had occurred in my father's life.  

It was 1992, he was 64 and I was 32 - the same age he was when I was born.  
I was about to have my first child - and he died 4 months before she was due.
This was me, then, at 32 thinking about my life and realising how recent, no, how present the past still was.  My father had been a young man in Palestine only fourteen years before my birth.  I could remember the events of my life fourteen years prior to this and it was as if they were still happening, still affecting my life choices, my opinions, now.  They were not just dusty black and white photos in an album but were experiences and consequences that I carried with me all the time .  
"12.12.46
Port Said from the bows of the Dunnottar Castle"

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