Up Front by Emma Hart

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Up Front: To the Letter

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  • nzlemming,

    I love that sort of history. People history, as opposed to stuff that gets taught in school. Doing genealogy with/for my mum has made me aware of so many stories of people I barely knew. And I wonder how many 21st century women are still writing/posting the same sort of details as your mum did in 1977. Except they'd prolly include a selfie sitting at the table ;-)

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2930 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah,

    I think I covered my tracks pretty well and had lulled him into a false sense of security by planting things in the garden right up to the time we left.

    A whole story in just one short sentence.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to nzlemming,

    Doing genealogy with/for my mum has made me aware of so many stories of people I barely knew.

    I think genealogy really plays into the human compulsion to make stories. You have a few pieces of information – so, an Irish woman marries a man born in America but living in Suffolk and they move to Australia – and your brain is just compelled to try to fill in the “how does that even happen?”. We have a copy of my x-great-grandfather’s will from 1814, and it’s a bunch of stories. He made his daughter executrix of his will, not one of his sons. He left his wife his “bed with the yellow curtains in the back house chamber”. You have to specify that your wife gets a bed?

    Etc.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler, in reply to Emma Hart,

    He left his wife his “bed with the yellow curtains in the back house chamber”. You have to specify that your wife gets a bed?

    How Shakespearean

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 856 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    so Nanna calls her daughter and son-in-law "Mum and Dad". It was obviously standard at the time, and now, creepy as fuck

    As New Zealand males used to refer to their wives as "Mother"?

    A great post. I sometimes feel that an interest in genealogy for some people is motivated by a desire to find some interesting or important relative in their past, so they can then bask in the reflected glory. When I was a boy growing up in South Taranaki, we had neighbours who used to boast how they were descended from Robert the Bruce . Even then, I thought it must be a very tenuous connection.

    Stories about ordinary folk are more interesting.

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2539 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Geoff Lealand,

    we had neighbours who used to boast how they were descended from Robert the Bruce

    If you figure out how many generations that is, you can work out how many thousand descendants he probably has, and also what vanishingly-small percentage of his DNA your neighbours are likely to have. Even if they're right. ;-)

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Danielle,

    People history, as opposed to stuff that gets taught in school.

    It's ALL people history, really. Just depends on how well it's taught and what they emphasise.

    Charo World. Cuchi-cuchi!… • Since Nov 2006 • 3828 posts Report Reply

  • Islander,

    I am my whanau's whakapapa person - but the real expert is my mother (who remembers cousin relationships when nobody else can even remember the cousins...)

    Some years ago, as part of my duties as trustee/sole executrix, I was given a wonderfully fragrant(as in lavender) bundle of letters. The date stramps were from the early 20th century. They were the love letters between my Nana and Grand-dad, Mary Matches and Tame Rakakino Mira.

    My mother, who again lives in the house she was born in, to that couple (and which her great-grandmother had built) refuses to read them...

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to Islander,

    They were the love letters between my Nana and Grand-dad, Mary Matches and Tame Rakakino Mira.

    Aw, that's fabulous. Though I can also understand not wanting to read them. I have one letter from my mother's first husband to her (it was undiscovered in a tin of old photographs), and it's painful in a whole different way. Just too private.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Geoff Lealand,

    I sometimes feel that an interest in genealogy for some people is motivated by a desire to find some interesting or important relative in their past, so they can then bask in the reflected glory.

    Yeah, nah. I mean, there are those who go looking for that, but sometimes it's just to make sure you don't marry your own cousin.

    Stories about ordinary folk are more interesting.

    Absolutely. Emma's right in that there's a desire to fill in the gaps, and my mother has written some freaky stories trying to do that, but I was just as happy finding out that my wastrel great-great grandfather was arrested for setting fire to the Martinborough Hotel, and was last heard of in the opium dens on Haining St.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2930 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart, in reply to James Butler,

    How Shakespearean

    Oh, and this. Because yeah, every time I think about the "second-best bed" thing, but it seems a bit wanky to be all, "See? Just like Shakespeare!"

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4650 posts Report Reply

  • John Russell,

    ...lulled him into a false sense of security by planting things in the garden right up to the time we left.

    Right, as the yoof would say, In The Feels.

    Auckland • Since Aug 2008 • 17 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Waugh, in reply to nzlemming,

    the opium dens on Haining St.

    Sorry, curiosity has gotten the better of me - that and the mention of opium dens and a street name that could easily be either Chinese or English. Wellington or Jiaxing?

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Brown,

    We have just been cleaning out the family home after mum went into care. We found all the letters I had sent home while I was sailing round the world in the 70s. Some of them up to 10 pages long. I think I only rang home about once a year over the 5 years we were away. It was good to see the letters pretty well match my stories. I thought it would be a good exercise to write parallel uncensored letters detailing what really happened.

    Piha • Since Nov 2006 • 19 posts Report Reply

  • Moz, in reply to Emma Hart,

    I'm a bit at the other end of the scale - I think there's private stuff that I will destroy so no-one else reads, and stuff that can be published. Either once I'm dead, or when I get round to it. There's a lot of value in reading ancestral tales, IMO.

    Someone published a book of war stories a few years ago that included excerpts from my maternal grandfather's letters to his wife. I have photos of the relevant pages, and will OCR them at some point. IIRC when she went through her stock of letters looking for publishable parts my grandmother carefully destroyed a number of them, and parts of others. Having a scanner meant she could give decent hi-res images to the book's author, and having me to advise meant that redactions were definitely redacted. The family have a collection of memorabilia but I suspect I will have to wait until the next generation die before I can get my hands on it and scan it. Some of it is in museums, and more of it probably will be in time. Hopefully the national library or someone similar has the letters my gran approved being made public.

    I've also scanned my letters and diaries over the ears, because it's easier than carrying paper around. Books are a PITA to dispose of, they don't burn,shredding is hard and even wet you can't tear them up. But I'd rather know that my diaries are destroyed than hope for the best in landfill, you know.

    Sydney, West Island • Since Nov 2006 • 1198 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to Moz,

    I burn diarytype stuff each NY bonfire.
    Nobody will ever troll through my head stuff.
    Not even my writing notes.

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Isabel Hitchings,

    Oh, the dignity and courage in that letter!

    I recently uncovered a stash of letters written to me, by assorted friends, when I'd gone home from university one summer. It was quite hilarious to read four different accounts of the same scandals.

    Christchurch • Since Jul 2007 • 719 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    One of the most valuable documents in my family history is the manifesto my father penned, explaining why he and his fellow soldiers were refusing to return to the war in the North Africa, when troops from the Second Echelon were home on leave in NZ. He and his pals were court-martialed and dishonourably discharged. A moment in NZ history which was kept quiet for a long time.

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2539 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah, in reply to Geoff Lealand,

    I would like to read that, Geoff. Is it available anywhere? And I'd like to read more about the whole thing.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1445 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Geoff Lealand,

    … the manifesto my father penned, explaining why he and his fellow soldiers were refusing to return to the war in the North Africa, when troops from the Second Echelon were home on leave in NZ.

    He actually wrote it? Fascinating stuff. My father was part of the Second Echelon. It was only years after his death that I found a lot of material relating to the ‘mutiny’, as some called it at the time, tightly crammed into a tobacco tin among his effects. While he appears to have been a willing signatory, everything relating to that episode seemed firmly quarantined from other wartime memorabilia in its own little time capsule.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4591 posts Report Reply

  • Ben Austin, in reply to Deborah,

    Geoff, I would also like to read any links you care to share on the topic

    London • Since Nov 2006 • 1019 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Brown, in reply to Joe Wylie,

    My father kept a diary of the years he was in North Africa and Italy in WW2, but his longhand is very hard to read. He did not get leave with the second Echelon but I remember that he sympathised with the 'mutiny'.
    We do have 3 fantastic photo albums of life in the desert and Italy, including shots at Cassino. He was a stretcher bearer and nurse with the field ambulance. He never talked about it much, apart from tales about looting wine and drinking. Late in life, he started to tell some horrendous stories about what it was really like.

    Piha • Since Nov 2006 • 19 posts Report Reply

  • Geoff Lealand,

    I will really have to find it now. I loaned it to Les Cleveland, the war historian, years ago but I am sure he returned it. Unfortunately paper things tend to disappear into some mysterious dark hole in our house but I will begin a search for it this weekend. Then I will scan it or transcribe it.

    Another interesting document I have is a copy of a very scatological reworking of the 'Battle Hymn of the Marines"; a deeply resentful diatribe against American troops stationed in NZ. Found in a Nelson antique store years ago.

    Also a fascinating diary from 1927, about the daily life of a governess or nanny for a farming family in Mokoia, South Taranaki, I donated that one to the Taranaki museum.

    Screen & Media Studies, U… • Since Oct 2007 • 2539 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    For those who are interested, the 'mutiny' is quite well detailed in John McLeod's book 'myth and reality - the New Zealand soldier in WW2'.

    From the relevant section of the book, the text of a letter given to a Major A. S. Playle in Hamilton reads as follows:

    "Sir,

    We have paraded here as ordered. We now respectfully request that arrangements be made to place us on leave without pay until such time as every Grade One man in New Zealand has done his duty overseas.

    Our slogan is: 'Every man once, before volunteers are called upon twice.'

    Please convey this message to the Ministry of Defence and Members of the War Cabinet that we now desire to change places with the Grade One men in industry and to enjoy the many privileges of the Home Front.

    Thanking you,
    From 'other ranks only'
    Furlough Draft"

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    My grandfather was in the British Army for WW2, and was evacuated from Dunkirk the same day that my grandmother was giving birth to my dad. He told me about it in detail once when I was around 10-11. I always meant to get him on film talking about it, but never got round to it before he died – one of my greatest regrets.

    He did leave four typed up pages that he obviously thought were sufficient to fully describe the entirety of his adult life, but they are full of phrases like “my experiences at this time were almost identical to theose of Ernie Martin”, before he moves on to another time and place: ‘I was posted to Old Delhi, and frequently visited Chawri Bazaaar, where I had a close shave during the Ghandi troubles [and that’s clearly all that needs saying on that point, so I’ll move on to talk about Germany now]’.

    Personally, I've kept a bunch of letters and journals that I wrote 20-odd years ago in my teens and 20's, but can't bear to re-read them. Just this week my wife ambushed me with the first love letter I ever wrote her, and forced me to re-read it (the hot coals would have been preferable). I keep them for the same reasons as Emma talks about - my children might one day want a glimpse of my past life. And I might return to them when I'm older.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

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