Roamer: Postcard and poetry commemorate war on eve of centenary of Anzac

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Roamer very evidently isn’t the only person in Northern Ireland who cherishes old postcards!

Roamer very evidently isn’t the only person in Northern Ireland who cherishes old postcards!

After the Linen Hall Library shared a delightful trio of vintage cards on Wednesday’s page, News Letter readers admitted to hoarding old cards of all sorts.

And they agreed with me that cards can be very special, often evoking such a variety of memories - of the sender, of the era, of the place they came from, and of the image on the front of the card.

“I have a much treasured postcard of my grandfather, Samuel Walmsley Malone, a Downpatrick man,” wrote Carryduff-reader Helen Long, enclosing a card showing a handsome young man inset amongst flags and a coat of arms.

Helen shared a poem on this page last year - ‘Our Lights Are Going Out’ - penned for the WWI Centenary Remembrance Day when countless lights were turned off in churches and homes around the country, and candles were lit to commemorate the dead.

Her grandfather’s card hearkens back to WWI, and to much more besides, as Helen explained in her note to Roamer.

“He was in Dublin training to be a woodwork teacher, and had this photo taken while there. There is much of significance to the historian within the image.

“First of all, the year - 1914. In the autumn of that year, the cataclysmic Great War would break out in Europe, after which the world would never be the same again. And only two years on, in 1916, the Easter Rising in Dublin would set in motion a chain of events that would culminate in Britain’s withdrawal from most of Ireland.

“There is therefore a deep irony in the arrangement of this photograph, with the flags of Empire framing the subject, for within a few years most signs of the Empire would be banished for ever from Dublin!

“So the serious-looking young man, frozen in this moment by the click of a shutter, was living through interesting times! Some time before this photo was taken, Samuel had met and fallen in love with Eleanor Martin. She was one of 13 children, and several of her siblings had already emigrated to America.

“In 1912 Eleanor herself went off across the Atlantic for two years. Before letting her go, the determined Samuel had secured her promise to return and marry him.

“So during the two-year engagement they were separated by several thousand miles of water - surely an unthinkable feat of fidelity nowadays! But perhaps here we should note the Malone family motto - Fidelis ad Urnam (Faithful until the tomb). So it proved with Samuel and Eleanor. Eleanor kept her promise and did return after two wonderful years with her brothers and sisters. The couple were duly married on 6th January 1915.”

Helen Long’s poem on Remembrance Day last year ended with a verse of hope that the world would keep on remembering. A blanket of emotion enshrouding the globe on the 100th anniversary of the start of the war. Helen and many many others yearned for the remembering to continue.

“Our lights are going out,” Helen’s poem ended, “To prove we won’t forget, At the dawning of the morning, And when the sun has set.”

The on-going centenary of one of mankind’s greatest tragedies continues tomorrow - Anzac Day - a day that bears enormous poignancy in Ireland north and south.

More than 200,000 Irish people served in armed forces engaged in WWI, including over 60,000 Ulstermen. A tragic total of around 40,000 Irishmen died, about 10,000 of those from the north.

One of the many blood-soaked campaigns was on the Gallipoli Peninsula on the western shore of the Dardanelles.

Following an unsuccessful naval attack that began on 19 February 1915, allied troops began to land on 25 April, now commemorated as Anzac Day, when soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed at dawn and heroically secured a bridgehead at Anzac Cove, with hundreds killed and many more wounded. The exact number of causalities is not known.

The British attempted landings at five other locations, establishing footholds in only three before requesting reinforcements.

It all became a tragic, deadly stalemate that continued until Allied troops were evacuated in December 1915 and January 1916.

Had Gallipoli succeeded, it could have ended Turkey’s participation in the war. The campaign cost the Turks some 300,000 men and the Allies around 214,000.

The immense sadness and significance of the Anzac landings, a century ago tomorrow, was vividly highlighted in an Irishman John Sandes’ poems.

Thank you to the Roamer-reader who sent me a timely note about Sandes, born in County Cork in 1863.

Son of an Anglican clergyman, Sandes became a renowned novelist, poet and journalist after emigrating to Australia in 1887.

His poems and writings made a significant contribution to the ‘Anzac legend’ - such as this verse from a work entitled Landing in the Dawn.

“Then, by grace of God above you,

Oh my sons come back to-day

In the thoughts of those who love you,

In the tears of those who pray.

This I know - and nothing surer

Is from heavenly wisdom drawn -

Earth is sweeter, nobler, purer,

For your Landing in the Dawn.”

Many Irishmen from north and south fought and died heroically in the Gallipoli campaign. Tomorrow, Anzac Day, there’ll be special reports in the News Letter, including details of the only fighting ship that is still with us having survived the Gallipoli campaign. HMS M33, built and launched in Belfast, is currently being restored in Portsmouth.