Thursday, 14 August 2014

Feeling Blue

This week's Sepia Saturday prompt is a photo of American soldiers under a banner exhorting them to write home in WW1,  with pen and paper, sitting  at tables in a wooden hut.  This caught my imagination, because - I was that soldier.  Or rather, strictly speaking, I was an RAF officer, some 68 years later in the Falkland Islands, but there were some similarities.  In my time in the Falklands (4 years after the war, I'm not stupid) it was almost impossible, and very expensive to phone home, and my state-of-the-art computer, a Sinclair Spectrum, hadn't even a word processor, let alone a method of communicating over the internet.  In dire emergency, we could use military satellite communications, but that was only  for reporting life-changing events.  So, we relied on the exchange of air mail letters, and cards.  The air mail letters were universally referred to as blueys - for obvious reasons (see picture below).  Twice a week, an RAF Tristar aircraft arrived from RAF Brize Norton bringing new personnel, and taking those home whose tour was over. It also brought a load of supplies, technical, administrative, and domestic as well as the mail.  Now, I would like to say that the mail was the most eagerly awaited thing to come of the aircraft, but in truth that was the FNG, the Falklands New Guy, who had come to replace you, and who was taken aback by the affection with which he was greeted, because it meant you were going back on the plane's returning flight!  However, the mail was a close second. I suspect most mail going home was full of brave talk about military and sporting things, interspersed with matters of the heart.  The incoming mail was much more personal, and was eagerly devoured for news of family and friends.  The lack of communication made it difficult for wives, who had to act as mother and father, and solve all the problems themselves, because 8000 miles away, we couldn't help.  My wife, Little Nell, bravely carried the secret of my father's impending death from cancer for weeks until I got home, when she could tell me face to face, because at that distance, I could have done nothing except fret.

Cards were normally more cheerful, showing Falklands scenes - penguins and seals mainly, but unlike blueys were not free to buy or to post.  In my role as the chief aircraft engineering officer for the RAF in the Falklands, I was privileged to fly all over the Islands in a variety of helicopters.  I was there for the Islands' summer, and while it did snow sometimes, and rarely got above 20 degrees C, the sun shone most days, and flying over the beautiful islands and seeing the wildlife was a great treat.  Consequently, the two cards below, piled on top of a bluey, with pictures of Gentoo and Magellan penguins, both of which species I'd seen, and smelled, at close quarters.

The picture of me sitting on the ramp of a Chinook helicopter on Sea Lion Island is, I admit, a bit posed, but it was a genuine bluey I was writing, as I wrote on the back of the photo "Me writing the 'It's lunchtime and I'm looking at Elephant Seals...'  bluey".

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Saturday, 9 August 2014

Sepia Saturday 240

In 2007, my employers, General Electric Aviation Systems sent me to present a paper at the Health and Usage Monitoring conference, part of the Melbourne Air Show. We had the conference closing dinner at one of the most atmospheric, not to say spooky, places I've ever eaten, the old Melbourne Gaol.  Above is our table set out for us on the ground floor.  The cells were all off walkways on 3 or 4 floors above us, from where the photo is taken. Below are a cell and the execution gallery......

........Where the condemned man  was trussed up ready to drop.

Like the most famous criminal in Australian History, Ned Kelly, the Man in the Iron Mask, who met his maker here on  1 November 1880.
Dinner by candlelight never had such a frisson!

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