RHYMES&REASONS

Observations, Thoughts and Reflections on 21st Century Life

Tag: WW1

Lusitania – a life before and after the tragedy

 

 

 

On the 1st May 1915 Cunard’s RMS Lusitania, the fastest and most luxurious ship in the world at the time, set sail from pier 54 in New York headed to Liverpool, UK. On Friday 7th May it was struck by a German torpedo off the coast of Ireland. Of it’s 1959 passengers and crew on board 1198 perished – my great uncle and aunt were among the survivors.  Their three month old son John was not.

An account of their trauma is taken from statements made by both Anita 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)Anita surfaced and were able to pull themselves atop an overturned lifeboat.”

Following a short period of recovery, Elmore spent time at a military camp near London training the young recruits and Anita worked as a volunteer nurse stationed in Birmingham. Upon receipt of his commission Elmore joined his regiment in April 1918.  After receiving a brief note telling of his safe arrival in France, Anita never heard from Elmore again and he is documented as having been killed in action during the Battle of Aisne-Chemin des Dames on May 27th 1918 just five weeks after arriving at the front.

My interest in researching their story was sparked by an old photograph album passed to me from my father six years ago. It documents the young couple in their lives together in England and Canada prior to their fateful journey, enjoying life as a young adventurous couple, blissfully unaware of the series of tragedies which were to unfold, spiralling their fates in directions they can never have imagined.

 

Elmore and Anita met in the UK and following their engagement they emigrated to Vancouver, British Columbia, where they joined Anita’s sister and husband.  They married at North Lonsdale in April 1914 and lived at Vedder Crossing a beautiful undeveloped area surrounded by tree covered mountains fifty miles inland. Their son John was born in February 1915. 

After the war Anita returned to Canada but this was just the beginning of her story.  Despite the tragedies she’d experienced and now a young childless widow, Anita found strength and forged a life for herself, which took her from Canada to California, from New York to Nassau.  She nursed the sick in a tuberculosis sanatorium and sailed the Caribbean aboard the infamous yacht the Carlsark and took to the skies on the first Pan Am flights alongside the wealthy. But she never forgot her roots in an Edwardian laundry in London, or her brief time as wife and mother.  Hers was a life lived, a story to be told . . . 

 

The Garden Party

The Tennis Party

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using copies of photographs from the album I have created paintings to bring to life the images.

Rebecca Pells Fine Art

Rebecca is currently researching Anita’s story for a book

 

©️Rebecca Pells

 

Letters and Layers

There can be few, if anyone alive who faught in the horror of those fields in Flanders during the First World War and the family threads which tie myself, like so many others to that generation grow ever weaker as each year passes.

Over the last four years we have seen many services, exhibitions and publications in commemoration of the 1914-1918 Great War and they may well be the last of any major significance.   And commemorate is all we can now do, first hand experiences have exhausted their testimony as the final battalion of veterans have joined their brothers in arms.  And yet the war has influenced, however indirectly, each and every one of us and the world in which we now live.

It’s effects resonate and rumble on, the bass tone which echoes around the world of which we are barely aware, as the sountracks of each generation since have been laid down and mixed atop.  They can no longer be separated, as fresh paint meets rust, it peels and flakes, old with new.

For many family life and history was forever changed as layers of desperate, heartbreaking pain and fear forced their way into the very DNA of homes across the land,  plastering them with an unwanted, enveloping layer of ‘wallpaper’, whole families captive within the confines of this compound.  The rumble of the guns have ceased but the fallout has echoed down the generations, defying the latest paint and fashions, etched into every nook and cranny.  Precious letters so carefully tucked away,  come to light as homes are cleared and another generation takes up the mantle.  Faded photographs of life before and life after – ghostly abscences, once there were four now just three.  Scratch beneath the layers a little and there you will reveal the evidence, the reason for enigmas and  secrets and sadness.

There you will find answers to why things are the way they are.

 

Top:  ‘Madame Brugiere’

Above: ‘Un Petit Mot’

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

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

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