RHYMES&REASONS

Observations, Thoughts and Reflections on 21st Century Life

Category: History

PLATOON of POPPIES

“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.”

On the 11th day of the 11th month 1918 Wilfred’s mother received news that her son had not survived.
He lost his life just six days before the armistice.
 
 
Platoon of Poppies‘ by Rebecca Pells Fine Art
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Mud and a Meeting of Minds 1917

 

Mud.

Thick, cloying, seeping.

Consuming, filthy, blanket

binding you as brothers

in mud laden arms.

Bath.

Soap, water, scrub.

Submerged, aching, wallowing

purging you as brothers

in trenches of white.

Search.

Memories, mind, self.

Trapped, engulfed, besieged

chains you as brothers

in images of hell.

Write.

Poetry, prose, horror.

Dredge, expose, release

links you as brothers

in words of truth.

 

Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the first meeting between Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon at  Craiglockhart War Hospital August 1917

The meeting lead to Owen’s haunting ‘war poems’.  He was born in Oswestry and lived in my home town of Shrewsbury, England.

‘Poppies for Peace’ Rebecca Pells

Still Life – a Personal Heritage

 

001‘Silver Jug with Lime’ 2016

Many of us seek an identity – or perhaps seek to escape from ourselves – through the things with which we choose to clutter our lives. Most are transient, outliving their usefulness, unable to keep up with our changing desires as the years pass by.  Few linger long after we have gone, travelling in time in a way which is closed to us.

There is a comfort in the familiar, in the multilayered existence of inheritance; a stabilizing, grounding sense of belonging which comes from things with which we grew up, the landmarks by which we navigated our early years. They are the threshold between our history and the present, between what has been, what is and what is yet to come. A kind of immortality we ourselves cannot achieve.

Such objects become integrated and entwined in our personal history handed down from generation to generation.

A familial wave passing through our lives.

001‘Silver Spoon with Lime’ 2016

https://www.artfinder.com/rebeccapells

The Somme 100 Years

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The Somme 100 Years

1st July 1916 marked the start of this bloody battle

57,470 casualties

19,240 died

And that was just the British

In a single day.

Today

in a fractured  Great Britain

on the cusp of cutting ties of friendship with Europe.

Least we forget the terribly consequences of political failure.

Peace must be prized above all else.

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(Installation by UK artist Carl Jaycock)

Lusitania 101 – a Life before the Tragedy

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On the 7th May 1915 the British liner RMS Lusitania, the fastest and most luxurious ship in the world at the time, was struck by a German torpedo off the coast of Ireland.  Of it’s 1962 passengers and crew only 764 survived – my great uncle and aunt were among them.  Their one year old son John was not.

An account of their trauma is taken from statements made by both  Mary and Elmore upon their eventual arrival in England.

“(Cyril) Elmore and Mary Anita Pells, travelling with their infant son John from Canada to England where Mr. Pells was to join his regiment, despaired of ever leaving the ship safely. At the time the torpedo struck  they were dining in the second class salon and returned to their E Deck cabin to retrieve John, and Elmore made a second trip below for lifebelts.  Not expecting to survive, they took seats together somewhere on one of the upper decks presumably on the port side, to wait for the end. When it came, they were pulled down deep with the ship, and in the torrent John was wrenched out of his father’s arms and lost. Elmore and Mary surfaced and were able to pull themselves atop an overturned lifeboat.”

Following a short period of recovery in London, Elmore joined his regiment as originally planned but after receiving a brief note telling of his safe arrival in France, Mary never heard from him again and he is documented as having been killed in action during the Battle of Aisne-Chemin des Dames on May 27th 1918.

The human element of this disaster, which has largely been lost among the controversial nature of the incident together with the passing of time, is now coming to light, re-surfacing along with the personal stories.  I have researched Elmore and Mary’s accounts with the benefit of the internet and personal family history.  However, I am also in possession of a wonderful photographic record of their lives in Canada prior to their fateful journey. The images long since faded, document a young couple in love.  Elmore met Canadian born Mary in the UK and following their engagement they emigrated to Vancouver, British Columbia and and were married at North Lonsdale in April 1914.   Their son John was born in February 1915.   The images tell a story of a vibrant life together, socialising, fancy dress and tennis parties and picnics on the beach with friends.  Just one image remains of their infant son John.

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It is their own record of their life together, each photograph carefully entered into the small album by their own hands, unaware of the tragedy which was shortly to unfold and change their lives forever.  Faces reach out from the faded images, ethereal and yet full of life, crossing the threshold of a time long since gone and reaching into the 21st century in an effort to be remembered.  A reminder that they lived life to the full during their short time together:  there was life before the Lustania and for Mary a life after but very much changed.

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Through the remainder of the war Mary served as a nurse, and she was awarded a sum of $1089.15 for the loss of her personal property and Elmore’s medical expenses after her return to British Columbia.  For a time she lived in California, where she continued to study nursing, before returning for a third time to Canada, where the trail is lost in time.  However, somewhere along the way she maintained a connection to the Pells family – in 1936 she received a legacy from Elmore’s mother upon her death.

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Elmore – ‘lost in action’- has no known grave but is remembered at The Soissons Memorial located in the Aisne département of France. The memorial lists 3,887 names of British soldiers who were killed in the area from May to August 1918 during the Spring Offensive.

And somewhere, somehow, this little album has found it’s way from Canada back to England, passed down my family and  following the recent death of my own father John, who was named after his young cousin, is now one of my most treasured possessions.

 

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Easter 1916 – Was it Yesterday?

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‘Was it Yesterday’ by Rebecca Pells

available from https://www.artfinder.com/product/was-it-yesterday/

A few moths ago I attended the launch of a book written by the father of a friend.  First published in 1928/29, ‘Was it Yesterday?’ by A M Bown recounts his experiences in France during the First World War. For many years it remained out of print until his son and daughter, themselves now into their 80’s, realised that his story would be of interest to many others and so they set about the task of re-publishing.

‘When  he volunteered in 1914, A M Bown was a twenty year old scholar at Oxford (university) studying science.  He became an artillery subaltern and remained one throughout the First World War, being wounded twice and gaining the Military Cross for bravery.  This book, although fictionalised, grew out of his personal experiences and is a vivid and authentic account.

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He tells of ordinary day-to-day incidents, some amusing, some frightening, and gives a sense of real lives – and real deaths.  He keeps throughout a respect for his fellow soldiers, saying:

“So this little team in khaki stood waiting for the starting gun . . . in the greatest game of all, and whatever share the fields of Eton (college) may have had in any winning of it, the same share must be credited to the back alleys and the cinder patches, the parks and the recreation grounds which had been the nurseries of most of those who stood together in that forward line, picked to play for England.” ‘

Inspired by Bown’s story and with his family’s permission, I painted  ‘Was it Yesterday?’  The opened book sits upon a table from around 1916.  Original wallpaper tinged with ‘forget-me-not’ blue symbolizes the fading of memories of a time long since gone but which also bears witness to the present – a jug of fresh spring daffodils and bright scarf cast aside in a hurried moment. So intense are the events of which the author writes, that they feel like they happened only yesterday.

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‘Was it Yesterday?’ by A M Bown

available from

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Was-Yesterday-M-Bown/dp/1909644595/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1459161959&sr=8-1&keywords=was+it+yesterday+a+m+bown

Olive’s Table

005‘Olives’s Table’ 

available from

https://www.artfinder.com/product/olives-table/

A couple of weeks ago I was contemplating the subject of my next painting and looking for inspiration.  Around the same time I took delivery of a small mahogany sewing table which originally belonged to my great Aunt Olive.  When she passed away some thirty years ago it came into my father’s possession and has lived the last three decades in his spare room, somewhat forgotten.

A journey of two hundred miles in the boot of the car has brought it to rest in my home.  An ideal size and height and with a suitable covering for protection, it is has found it’s place in my studio as a table for my brushes and water pot.  Practicalities aside, I’m surprised at how fond I have become of this little table, this physical link which ties one female generation of my family to another.  Slightly battered in places it is of no great monetary value, neither would it take pride of place in a smart antique shop.

However, it does exude charm and on investigation of the deep drawer suspended below the table top, I found my aunt’s personal sewing items – half used reels of thread, a wooden darning ‘mushroom’ and most touching of all – a felt needle case embroidered with her initials.  Immediately I was reminded of my mother’s needle case with it’s navy blue initialled cover and I clearly remember how she taught me to make my own.  I now have all three, a very real thread to the women of my family, items which would have been in daily use by them and as a young girl my own was too.

Then it became unfashionable to make do and mend and financially possible to buy new socks, or a skirt from a boutique rather than homemade.  And thus  a small sewing table became just a piece of furniture, no longer used as the cabinet maker conceived.  But this little table has come into my life just at the right time and  has found a life anew and is in daily use once more.  I also found my inspiration, as I felt this small piece of my heritage deserved a painting of it’s own and so I set it up with a vase of white roses in memory of my recently deceased father along with a book of Longfellow’s poems, a favourite of my mother’s and the result is ‘Olive’s Table’.

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Patterns

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Patterns are everywhere.  Life is made up of them.  We are their product.   From the extraordinary beauty of a single snowflake to the relative simplicity of the double helix which forms our DNA, patterns dominate life.  Nature produces them over and over, evolving yes but still within the boundaries of a recognisable pattern.  Man has replicated them from ancient times, everywhere you look you will find a pattern, not always obvious, sometimes we must seek them out.

There is a comfort in patterns, familiar, predictable they have boundaries and therefore a certainty about what has been, what is happening and what is yet to come.  Patterns dictate our behaviour too.  The rebellious teenager who pushes the boundaries of parental control and wisdom, wanting to forge their own path, unaware that they too are following an age old pattern.  They do not, however always work in our favour.  Behavioural patterns can be destructive, like a mutating cancer replicating it’s ugly cells the pattern forges forth, carried by belief that we are right, ignoring all evidence to the contrary.

 I recently visited an installation by UK artist Carl Jaycock in a local church.  Photographs of all the men and women from Shropshire who lost their lives in the First World  War – including Shropshire born poet Wilfred Owen – were formed into the shape of shell cases.  Alongside the beautiful floor tiles this human pattern was a haunting sight.  All those involved in that dreadful war unwittingly became part of the pattern of history.

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In recent weeks Germany has lead the way welcoming those seeking refuge from Syria and other ravaged countries.  There is a collective will to break the historical dysfunctional pattern of their homeland and create a new one – for some perhaps a form of absolution.  But scratch a little beneath the surface as one journalist did and the old prejudicial pattern is soon revealed, veiled but by no means dormant.  Collective will is shunned when reality challenges the pull of our individual autonomy  and the old destructive pattern snaps sharply back into place. Like the rebellious teenager we refuse to listen to wisdom even when we know the consequences may be devastating.

Why do we repeatedly do the same things and yet expect a different outcome?  Most of us are driven, controlled even by our ego, our immaturity beckoned and  seduced toward false havens – a flawed, myopic  isolation of the present suspended from historical context.  We witness the arctic melt, we see that prejudice leads to conflict, we feel when our repeated actions damage our personal relationships.  But still we resist the fluid, less unilateral stance which maturity demands of us, safe in the false belief that it is another at fault, another who must shoulder the burden of change.

   If we are to liberate ourselves from the cancerous, cyclical patterns born of short-sighted self interest, we must learn to cross familiar thresholds with a different, more determined intent in our step.

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“Courage was mine, and I had mystery    

Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery.”

Wilfred Owen

The Building that Changed the Face of the World!

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“It is one of those rare structures that changed the world of construction and design.  With it’s revolutionary iron frame it was the predecessor of the modern sky-scrapper.”  These are the words of Sir Neil Cossons, former chairman of English Heritage about the Flaxmill in Shrewsbury, UK.

  Described as the ‘grandfather of skyscrappers’ although it is no taller than a modern five storey building, the Flaxmill was designed as a ‘manufactory’ for the processing of flax into fine linen, by architect and amateur engineer Charles Bage in 1796.  Influenced by his friend Thomas Telford and Abraham Darby’s now infamous Ironbridge just 15 031 miles down the road, it was the first time a building had been constructed with an internal iron frame.  The fireproof combination of cast iron columns and cast iron beams was a system which later developed into the modern steel frame making modern skyscrappers possible.  The success of the Shrewsbury Flaxmill quickly spread to a series of other iron frame mills in Britain reducing fire risk but fuelling the industrial revolution.

   047   That is quite a CV for one a building!  But there is so much more to The Flaxmill’s heritage than just facts.  It’s impact was not only on the development of architecture but on the progress of industry, economy and wealth, population, housing and lives.  It has touched four centuries, crossing the threshold of three.  At the time of construction of the main mill building America had not long since won it’s independence, the dust was still settling after the Storming of the Bastille in France and Shrewsbury’s most famous son Charles Darwin had yet to be born.

This sense of encompassing history is palpable.  The collection of buildings radiate an imposing heaviness, weary of having witnessed too much but it’s iron skeleton provides not just a frame but an iron will to keep standing when gravity and time would have it otherwise.  Woven into it’s walls are the stories of all who have lived and worked within them – the blood, the sweat, the tears, the deaths. Two hundred and twenty years spinning, twisting, weaving their threads and stories from the 18th to the 21st century.  The iron frame soars with dignity above your head, the warp and the weft of the architects pen waiting patiently for the next plan to be drawn.

Through the Mill 2015

‘The Iron and The Flax’ and ‘The Linen and The Dye’ by Rebecca Pells

038I have passed by this building hundreds of times but it has only been recently when I had the opportunity to exhibit a couple of my paintings during the Flaxmill Heritage Open days  that I have taken any real notice of it.  Researching it’s history in preparation for my work it is only now that I have come, with some guilt, to appreciate the influence it has had in the development of the modern world.  Imagine the 21st century without skyscrappers – where would all the businesses go, where would all the people live?  London, New York, Tokyo would not be the places they are today.  Things could have taken a very different path.  But they didn’t – thanks to one Charles Bage and his iron framed Flaxmill.

It was to be a further twelve years before another Shrewsbury man named Charles would also change the world.  Charles Darwin.  But that’s a whole other story!

For further information about Shrewsbury Flaxmill visit Friends of the Flaxmill Maltings

For my artwork visit Rebecca Pells Artist

Heirloom Bouquet

Bouquet of Heirlooms

Heirloom Bouquet Rebecca Pells 2015

Never have so many owned so much as we do in the 21st century.  Consumerism is spreading like a virulent disease infecting huge numbers of people.  Far from fleeing and looking for an antidote it’s welcomed by many who seek to catch the bug and embrace it.

From where does our love affair with the inanimate come?  The first objects were practical and necessary – clothes, tools and utensils and then excess commodities which could be traded in exchange for ‘foreign’ goods brought wealth and the ability to purchase more. But from earliest times we have evidence of purely decorative items such as jewellery and ornaments, artifacts which quickly became an indication of status or something cherished.  Items became integrated and entwined in our personal history handed down from generation to generation, a familial wave passing through our lives.

 Although many of us today continue to judge our success and that of others by what we own, abundance seems to have changed this relationship – things are replaced with an up to date version or simply because we have become bored and enjoy the fleeting satisfaction of acquiring the new. Many of us seek an identity  – or perhaps seek to escape from ourselves  – through the things we clutter our lives with.  Barely grasped and with little time for emotional attachment, we no longer truly inhabit the gift of inheritance. Perhaps that is the way it should be, the inanimate remaining transient, pleasing one moment and forgotten the next.

  However, there is a comfort in the familiar, in the multilayered existence of inheritance; a stabilizing, grounding sense of belonging which comes from things with which we grew up, the landmarks by which we navigated our early years.  They are the threshold between our history and the present, between what has been, what is and what is yet to come.  A kind of immortality we cannot ourselves achieve.  Often they are not of much monetary worth, but offer the far greater value of connection.

In the above painting the jugs are from a collection of my mother’s, the string of pearls my grandmother’s and the oak cabinet on which they rest from my great grandparents home.  By contrast, the flowers arranged in a mass produced vase offer a metaphor of contemporary ownership, admired for a short time before fading and being discarded to make way for the fresh.

My Great Grandfather Arthur Pells  1851-1927

My Great Grandfather Arthur Pells 1851-1927

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