Friday, 30 July 2010

Of cricket balls and possibilities

I caught up with Rosemary Swincer Eldridge, the eldest child of Flora Ross Swincer this week. She is seven years older than I am and therefore remembers a lot more about our grand-parents and family history. She had some great stories to tell and I have asked her to write down everything that she remembers.

Collecting 'stories', no matter how small helps to weave together the fabric of our shared past as descendants of Charlie Ross and Mary Atkins.

Her mother, she said, always maintained that Charlie Ross had been born on Ithaca so this 'strengthens' the family 'story' for the place of origin. Flora was the eldest child and three years older than Jessie  and therefore would have been closer to the 'truth'. It seems clear at this point that Ithaca  as my great-grandfather's birth place is probably correct and that means Rossolimos is the most likely 'bet' for Charlie's original name. However, 'probably' and 'likely' do not make for truth and so the quest continues.

The postcard album which  our grandmother gave to Rosemary is a 'real' postcard album in the main,i.e. beautifully decorative postcards with messages written on the back. I did not have time to read many but hope to do so at some point  in the future. It is such a wonderful record of the times and of our grandmother's life.  Many of them are birthday wishes for Hilda Jones and notes from friends on their travels. One postcard has come from Transvaal in South Africa and suggests that a friend, or family member may have been there during the Boer War.

The album also contained a couple of interesting photographs which I hope soon to have scanned so I can add them to the file. One is probably Charles Vangelios when he was young and another Charles Harold Simper, the first husband of Hilda Jones Ross. The likeness between the photograph and my uncle, Laurie Simper, his son, is unmistakeable.

But, sadly, there were no photographs with Greek writing on the back!

It is interesting to find how much more there is to 'see' in a photograph when one knows the 'story' of the person behind the captured image. Which is why I would like to identify the soldier or soldiers in our as yet unidentified photographs. Hilda Ross Lewis was convinced that the photograph below was Chrysantheous Christus (Dan) but his daughter, Shirley Ross Benson has a photograph of him which clearly shows they are not one and the same. Chrysantheous, Charles and Constantinus are all somewhat swarthy - olive-skinned - with longer shaped faces, inherited no doubt from their mother. Spiros has a broader face but is not as fair as either of the men in these photographs. Unless a family member 'recognises' a likeness, we may never know who they are.

PHOTO LEFT: Unidentified soldier One.

But the unexpected surprise of the day was seeing a cricket ball which had been presented to our grandfather by his team, inscribed 'To Nigger Ross'..... political correctness, thankfully, not being a part of life in the past. The ball looked well used and was set upon a small stand with the copper plaque fixed to one side. So, Charles Vangelios was a keen cricket player in his day and clearly popular with his team-mates. Not only did I not know he played cricket I had no idea this memento existed.

He was, from the stories I have heard and the memories I have, a gentle, funny man. Chrysantheous Christus was also something of a trickster but I have yet to ascertain if the 'trickster' archetype has come down through Charlie Ross or his wife, Mary. I suspect it is the former because the photographs I have seen of Mary, both as a young girl and a very old lady, show her to be quite serious. But I could be wrong of course. At this point all is conjecture.

But all may not be conjecture at another point. I have had an email from the Lincolnshire Mashfords whom I first contacted a year or so ago. At that time they thought we were probably Devon Mashfords but the Haynes link made me think differently. And now, Lesley Mashford who is researching the Lincolnshire Mashfords for the family, has written from the United Kingdom to say that yes, the family did have an Elizabeth Mashford who went to Australia.  I am looking forward to seeing the information.

One more piece in the puzzle may be about to fall into place. Although the puzzle of our two photographs of unknown soldiers remains and may never be solved.

PHOTO LEFT: Unidentified soldier Two.

I did wonder if these photo postcards had been sent by members of the Atkins side of the family but my Atkins researcher, Luke Scane-Harris and his mother, Patricia, say no! Sigh.

The uniforms are clearly First World War and the full length looks more English than Australian. A driver's uniform perhaps?

Such fresh-faced young men. One can only wonder if they lived or died. Perhaps the fact that we cannot seem to find out who they were means they did not survive.

And yet there is something of a family resemblance. They look familiar. Perhaps our 'driver' was a Mashford. Or perhaps they were just family friends sending photo postcards to Constantinus John and his wife Ada.

We may never know. I like to think though,  even if they remain anonymous, that bringing their images into the 'light' is an honouring.... whether or not these young men lived long, full lives or died in the blood-drenched mud of the Belgian trenches. I have seen those trenches and the images of the cadaverous landscape where bare-stripped broken trees held the shattered bodies of horses and men. From the pristine fantasy of an artist's studio to the nightmare world of war!

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