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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Australia or New Zealand (01/15/09)

TITLE: A turn of events
By Anne Linington


“Two little boys had two little toys, each had a wooden gun..”, so sang Australian-born Rolf Harris in his 1969 hit. Rolf decided to re-release the record to mark the 90th anniversary of the end of the Great War, on learning of the song's remarkable resemblance to his family story. Research for a BBC documentary discovered that his father Cromwell and Uncle Carl went to war together, but the eventual outcome, was not mirrored by the happy one of which Rolf sang.

Cromwell and Carl emigrated from Wales to Australia in 1911, and signed up for service in 1914, initially enhancing both their ages to enable them to enlist together. Ultimately Carl was killed at the end of the war, and the documentary showed an emotional Rolf coming to terms with news of this uncanny coincidence between real life and his recording.

Another pair of brothers, my Grandfather George King and his brother Osborne also planned to emigrate to Australia together before the war, and would no doubt have signed up together as the Harris brothers had done. In the event James married Violet and moved to Naas, Southern Ireland, whilst Osborne carried out the plan of emigrating to Australia.

Naas is twenty-one miles south-west of Dublin, and on 24th April 1916 Dublin Post Office was bombed, in what is now known as The Easter uprising. Anxious about my grandfather's whereabouts when the bombing was heard, my grandmother went into premature labour. She gave birth the following day, a snowy Easter Monday 25th April 1916, to premature twins, John my father, and William. They were placed in shoe boxes surrounded by cotton wool as makeshift incubators, and a goat was later purchased as the twins were unable to digest cows milk.

Four weeks earlier, on the other side of the world, Osborne enlisted in the 28th Batallion of the Australian army. He sailed for Europe from Freemantle on the HMAT Surada on 26th September 1916. No doubt he and others like him were at sea for several weeks, but he was killed in action exactly six months after sailing, on 26th March 1917. Although there is no known grave, he is remembered on three separate war memorials in three different countries: the Australian War memorial, Canberra; the memorial at Villers-Bretonneux in France, and in the Hampshire village, England where his name can be seen on the grave of his parents James and Sarah King.

Whether Osborne ever knew of his twin nephews arrival I can't be sure. However, last year another generation of “Kings” visited the Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire borders to discover the places in which our ancestors lived, went to school, worked, married and are now buried. Included in the itinerary were moments spent acknowledging Private Osborne King's ultimate sacrifice. As eleven of us stood around, including sons, daughters and grandchildren of John and William, there was quiet recognition that if George had emigrated with Osborne as planned, none of us would have been born.

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This article has been read 724 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Karlene Jacobsen01/22/09
It is amazing how one decision can change so many things, isn't it?
Jan Ackerson 01/22/09
An interesting family history. Any one of the paragraphs could someday be exapnded into a longer story; I hope you do that some day.
Melanie Kerr 01/23/09
I watched the Rolf Harris programme. My husband is very keen on discovering his family history.
c clemons01/24/09
Very good.
Leah Nichols 01/25/09
I loved your refreshing nonfiction piece!
You describe the events very well; I would suggest making the paragraphs smaller so it's a better flow for the eyes of the reader. Just my preference, though. Well done!
Catrina Bradley 01/25/09
Very interesting! I like the little details, like the twin babies in shoe boxes surrounded by cotton. Those things make your history palpable to the reader. Nice job.
Joy Faire Stewart01/25/09
I found this a very interesting slice of history and would love to read more.
Chely Roach01/25/09
What an amazing family history...I would've loved to read more! Well done!
Beth LaBuff 01/25/09
I like the song lyrics that began your story. How your grandmother took care of her newborn twins with the shoeboxes and goat's milk was especially fascinating. Then your ending... all of life's "what if's".. An amazing story!
Verna Cole Mitchell 01/27/09
Your title is carried out well in your family history. I love the story of the shoebox incubators.