Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Two Little Boys

Little Sis and I grew up loving Rolf Harris. We could never 'see what it was yet' but loved watching him paint in that bizarre abstract way with what looked like pots of housepaint. His programmes also introduced us to the didgereedoo and the wobble board and his famous signature records 'Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport', 'Jake the Peg', 'The Court of King Caractacus' and, of course, 'Two Little Boys'. The latter was our favourite and we often acted out the story it told of the two little boys on their wooden horses pretending heroics in childhood which would later be acted out on a real battlefield.

The song itself was written about the American Civil War but 'My Family at War' last night told the story of Rolf's father, Crom, and his bosom buddy and brother, Carl. They had emigrated from Wales to Australia but both signed up to join the ANZAC forces and returned to Europe to fight the Bosch. Carl was only 16 and this was discovered when they reached England so he was kept behind whilst his brother went off to the trenches of Northern France alone. They were separated for the first time.

One of the tales recounted in the programme was the battle for the village of Villers Bretonneux, which was recaptured from German hands by the ANZAC divisions with heavy losses in April 1918. Above the blackboards at the village school are written the words 'N'oublions jamais l'Australie', a sentiment echoed throughout the town. Never Forget Australia.

It was not until August 1918 that the brothers found themselves on the same battlefield at Le Hammel and both were injured. Crom received a gunshot wound and was taken off to a field station from where he returned home. Carl was not so lucky. The shrapnel wound in his knee caused complications and he died shortly afterwards aged only 19. Crom never spoke of his time in the trenches but he kept his helmet, complete with a large hole in the back, signifying how close he came to death earlier in the War. When Rolf became famous and began singing 'Two Little Boys', his Auntie Pixie would always turn it off because she couldn't bear to be reminded of the death of her brother.

The other story told in this episode was that of Kirsty Wark's Uncle John Alan Wark. This remarkable young man signed up a few weeks after Lord Kitchener's initial call and wrote the most beautiful letters home to his family. His War spanned the entire 1914-18 duration and in November 1918, he wrote to his mother telling her that he was on his way home. A few days later, travelling through Belgium, he started to feel unwell and was taken to hospital where his death was one of the 50 million in the pandemic of Spanish Flu that swept through Europe in 1918.

If you get an opportunity to watch any of the episodes in this moving series on BBC iPlayer, you will discover stories of amazing courage that bring the horror of that terrible time graphically to life.


justme said...

I really enjoyed both this post and yesterdays. You are wonderfully thoughtful and write really well about difficult and complex subjects. Uncle Normans comment touched me too. I found the whole Remembrance Day thing very emotional this year, more so than usual, but am far to inarticulate even to attempt to write about it.

scarlet-blue said...

I didn't know the story behind the song, which is bad because I've grown up with it. Very poignant now I know.

Lady in red said...

I too watched this program it was very moving. I was suprised that Rolf had not known the history before this program.

I was lucky enough with my family to see a live show of his a few years ago in my local theatre and even at his age he is still such an enthusiastic entertainer.

having my cake said...

Justme - I think it was particularly poignant this year because there are so few of the veterans from the Great War still alive... and I think one of them had died very recently.

Scarlet - That was the whole thing, Rolf didn't know either! His family would never talk about it properly.

LiR - I seem to recall he also did a series recently where he painted portraits of celebs.

Uncle Norman said...

My Granddads little brother was called Jimmy. He went to war aged 17 and was gassed after only two weeks at the front. My Granddad who was a medic, found him in no mans land by chance and tended to him in the field hospital. As he was in a bad way he asked for a priest to give him the last rites. When the the priest turned up it was their cousin (they never liked him very much). Jimmy survived the field hospital and was sent home to die, which he did 78 years later. My Granddad also live to be 96 as did the sanctimonious cousin.

This is not a piss take.

having my cake said...

UN - I guess, when you think about it, in those days people didnt tend to move so far from where they were born and whilst, when they enlisted, they might be put into different platoons, they would probably be put into a division drawn from a particular area so it would not be so unusual for relatives to be in the same battle. However, to actually find each other in the performance of their duty within the smoke, mess and blood and fear is an amazing coincidence.

After all the sadness from The Two Little Boys episode, it's lovely to hear that your story has a happy ending with all parties living into old age. Sounds like, if you look after yourself(!), you should have a long life ahead of you x

Helga Hansen said...

I watched the programme last night, and cried my eyes out. Harry Patch is from around here, and he only spoke about his experiences in the war after he turned 100... he is 110 now. I have huge respect and admiration for all veterans!

Ro said...

There were some extraordinary stories - it helps us, so far removed from these events, to appreciate what these brave people went through for their countries.

Once again the Beeb has shown why, despite the occasional blip, it's a valuable national institution.

Walker said...

Both stories were sad and interesting.
Fate has no mercy or picks favorites.
I wish they would have ended better for a happy ending but many families didnt see happy endings because of war and many still are feeling losses because of way.
Another great post

Can Bass 1 said...

Many thanks for the recommendation, dear lady.