What the children didn’t know

Garden party

 Our theme for  today is groups of three. These three girls were  prizewinners at Mrs Burnell’s  garden party.in Castlemaine, Central Victoria, on Nov 16th, 1940 . It was part of the way into World War II, when raising money for war effort charities such as the Comfort Fund, Red Cross or Bundles for Britain was the usual reason for holding a money-raising event. It was such a patriotic time, not so long after the last coronation and a new king, with the country at war.  Best dresses and hats were brought out  for this special occasion, and the pram reflects the feeling at the time  with its crown, its Australian flags and red, white and blue bunting.. Crepe paper was the standard material for these creations, willingly constructed by parents. .  And the special doll Elizabeth was  named ,of course, after Princess Elizabeth.

A typical pretty, peaceful, family album picture of the time.  But it is what the picture doesn’t show which makes it interesting to me.  When the two girls on the right got out of bed that morning they had probably been primed to wish their mother a happy birthday.  It was her forty-first birthday.  But they would have been blissfully unaware of the reaction of their parents when they opened their morning newspaper of choice, the Argus, from Melbourne, and its news of the war from England. .Two nights before the worst bombing raid on the city of Coventry was carried out.  Over 4000 homes were destroyed and over 500 people killed. Coventry was the home of the  children’s 90  year old maternal great grandmother.  I don’t know long it was to be before the Australian family  found out that she was alive and well and was to live for another two years. Then on the night of the garden party the Royal Air Force  retaliated by bombing Hamburg.

But the children weren’t aware of this.

The Ruins of Coventry Cathedral

The Ruins of Coventry Cathedral

Also on the other side of the world and on that same day the Warsaw ghetto was closed to the outside world by the Nazis. In the previous month the Jewish people of Warsaw, about one third of the total population , had been rounded up by the Nazis and  confined to a small are of the city, These 400,000 people were held behind three metre high walls topped with barbed wire.  And on this fatal day the gap was closed.  Thirty percent  of the population crowded into two and a half percent  of the area.

But the children in Castlemaine weren’t aware of this

chilldren in warsaw ghetto

or of a group of three chikdren in the ghetto in Warsaw,

The garden party was held at the home of Mr and Mrs Burnell, a beautiful home with a large front lawn suitable for all the stalls and competitions that go with a fund-raising garden party.    It was directly across the road from  Thompson’s Englineering  & Pipe Works, established in 1875, where Mr Burnell was the General Manager.  He had won the MC during WorldWar I.  Thompson’s was the most important business in Castlemaine, commonly known as Thompson’s Foundry  and was spread out alongside the main railway line from Melbourne to Bendigo, an ideal position for transporting the heavy goods which  it made, a wide range of steam-engines, boilers, mining machinery, railway equipment and centrifugal pumps. But during World War II they made  artillery and tank guns, marine engines, circulating pumps and other heavy forging and foundry work.

Making guns for war, what  the children didn’t know.

How's this for a crankshaft ?

How’s this for a crankshaft ?

The  eldest girl in the photos remembers the workmen on their pushbikes, four and five abreast, sweeping up and down the Main Street on their way to and from work. With such a large work force the foundry had a piercing whistle  which screamed out at 7.00am, 7.20am and 7.30am. There was no excuse for being late for work and the whole town and beyond had its own non-negotiable alarm clock.

Small towns are such a web of people and places.  The mother of the two girls on the right had originally come to Castlemaine with her parents as from 1923 to 1928 her father worked in the office at Thompson’s and was Bandmaster of Thompson’s Foundry Band. This is the same man who brought a book on Shakespeare with him when he came to Australia.  The man really did have itchy feet and jumped as bandmaster from one small country town to another several times. The Foundry has had its own brass band since  1887 and 24 members of the band served in World War I, six of whom were killed.  I have no figures for the Second World War.

When is the world going to learn .

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Thompson's in 1960

Thompson’s in 1960

And for more interesting stories about groups of three, click on the links in Sepia Saturday.

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26 thoughts on “What the children didn’t know

  1. Jo in Melbourne Aus

    Yes, I totally agree with Lorraine’s comment. Of course there will always be people innocently and happily enjoying themselves in one part of the world, especially children, while others are suffering elsewhere. Did you know that the first Allied shots of both World War I and World War 2 were both fired from Port Phillip defences at the Point on ships that were attempting to either leave or enter the bay, on 5 August 1914 and 4 September 1939 respectively? We saw the two gun barrels and a commemorative plaque down at Port Nepean National Park just last week.

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    1. boundforoz Post author

      Thanks. I had forgottne about that. It’s so hard for us to imagine that happening. I hope they don’t let the developers into that park. I think I saw something to that effect earlier in the year.

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  2. Jackie van Bergen

    What a great spin – you’re right, the children didn’t know, and what a good thing that was – they could still be children, unlike the poor children in the ghetto or hiding in bomb shelters.

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    1. boundforoz Post author

      There were other ghetto photos which I liked but that particular photo wasn’t quite as confronting as some of the others, I hope some people will google Warsaw ghetto or Coventry and spend just a few minutes refreshing their knowledge of history.

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  3. Kat Mortensen

    I really appreciate the angle you took on this – something we don’t really think about – the obliviousness of childhood. It’s only when they grow up that they realize the importance of the things of which they were unaware.

    I read a very good novel by a Canadian author, that takes place during the bombing of Coventry. It might interest you: It is aptly titled, “Coventry”.

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      1. boundforoz Post author

        Thanks for that. I just checked the library and they have a copy but it will have to wait a while as I have too many books out at the moment, including two which I have just discovered are badly overdue. Shame on me. thanks for the tip.

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  4. Joan

    I was struck with how beautiful the Coventry Cathedral was — even in ruins — and devasted by the Warsaw ghetto children of three. Excellent work.

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  5. gluepot

    That photograph of a man standing next to a huge crankshaft reminds of that famous image of Isambard Kingdom Brunel posing by the launching chains of the Great Eastern in 1857. Great story.

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  6. Karen S.

    Oh yes, you are so right, when is the world going to learn. That first photo is just precious, so much going on in that, they were enjoying life, and being kept in the dark from the horrible things going on, so much the better for them.

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  7. Nonnie

    The photos from WWII are so sad. We humans either don’t know history or think it’s inconsequential. I hate what’s happening now in Egypt and Syria. About two years ago a survivor of the Holocaust spoke at a nearby town’s school. I was privileged to hear him, talk to him at the reception and bought his book. More people need to hear the message from those who are fortunate to survive wars and get a close-up and personal idea of what war is really like.
    On the more positive side, what a precious trio of girls at a garden party!

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  8. TICKLEBEAR

    When shall we learn?
    Probably never…
    It seems the big lesson[s] from the 20th century have served no purpose
    as we seem just as eager to deploy and bombard each other… 😦
    HUGZ

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  9. jamestaylorgimme

    That shot of the ruined Coventry cathedral brought back memories of my father. Born and raised there, he came to Oz as a young man to join his mother. He became a “real” Aussie and spoke in the idiom and with the cadence of the men around him – think slower than nowadays more like Chips Rafferty. The only time I ever saw him cry – and he was a tough old so-and-so – was that day you mentioned when Melburnians opened their morning papers to read about the bombing of Coventry. I believe he donated towards the fund to rebuild the cathedral after WW2. They did a good job, too, incorporating part of the remaining structure.

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