The Great Escape – 75th Anniversary

Earlier this week marked the 75th anniversary of the Great Escape when 76 RAF PoWs attempted to escape from Stalag Luft III, of which only 3 successfully escaped and made it home.

Of the 73 who were recaptured, 50 were chosen at random and murdered by the Gestapo.

The International Bomber Command Centre in the UK found 28 of those who were in Bomber Command and whose names are on the Centre’s memorial. A wreath has been laid at The Spire to honour the 50 who died, and a poppy placed in each of the 28 members of Bomber Command on the Memorial Walls.

The remaining 23 who were not shot, were placed in various prison camps including Colditz.

I’m a tad fragile at the moment and swilling with drugs to beat a couple of bugs, thus providing time to think which is more often than not, a huge negative.

I’ve stumbled across the website of an Australian author, who as fate would have it, is also a mate of my late aviation-tragic friend and author, Justin Sheedy.

Kristen Alexander is currently a PhD candidate at University of New South Wales (Canberra) researching the experiences of Australians in Stalag Luft III and welcomes contact with anyone with family connections to former SLIII prisoners. She has been writing about Australia’s aviation history since 2002. Allen & Unwin published Clive Caldwell Air Ace in 2006 and Jack Davenport Beaufighter Leader in 2009. Barrallier Books published Australian Eagles in 2013. NewSouth published Australia’s Few and the Battle of Britain in September 2014. Pen & Sword published the UK edition in April 2015. Jack Davenport Beaufighter Leader was in the RAAF Chief of Air Force’s 2010 Reading List. Australia’s Few was included on the 2015 list. Kristen won the Military Historical Society of Australia’s 2012 and 2013 Sabretache Writer’s Prize. Her articles and book reviews have appeared in Flightpath, Aircrew Book Review, Sabretache, Britain at War, and Aviation Heritage. Taking Flight. Lores Bonney’s Extraordinary Flying Career was published by the National Library of Australia in March 2016.

Photos of the lost 50.

Kristen’s website is and she has a fascinating blog in which she discusses the Great Escape, and particularly how the Australian relatives responded. It’s well worth a read.

Time for more antibiotics…..

St Patrick’s Day and Music 1.

I’ve just booked lunch at the local pub for St Patrick’s Day. The food is sure to be gross – Guinness Pies and Pork Sausages and Mash – though the view of the bay and the band in the beer garden are personal faves.

From the beer garden to North Stradbroke Island

Tullamore Tree specialise in Irish music (though the lead singer is from Glasgow, which is Irish enough in concept), covering traditional folk songs, songs of rebellion, and recent hits. There’s generally a lot of communal singing followed by ungainly movement on the dance floor which is all good fun. Unfortunately, I’ve checked the wardrobe and I’m all out of orange and/or green outfits (which oddly enough were always my colours when I was younger, taller and thinner. Orange for Gods sake. Who wears orange?)

As I’ve been told I must stop singing Gene Pitney songs by numerous people over the last fortnight I’ve moved on to the Irish music that seems to have played such a large part in my life over the years. The neighbours are going to be totally fed up by the end of the week……

When I visited Ireland with Daughter Numero 2 I experienced numerous “moments”. Quite sure we are both Celtic at heart. Still get a wee teary remembering being in Galway and just getting lost in the music.

So of course the neighbours have already had to deal with some crooning from old Bing…………

Moving on……….

The Dam Busters and Books

My poor old father lived in a house full of women – except for the Siamese cats. All cats were male.

He should have had sons. He tried so hard to make us capable of catching and gutting fish, skinning rabbits, and excelling at marbles. One birthday he gave me a cricket bat, and on another a couple of cap guns ( which I adored). The nicest comment I ever heard him say about both my sister and I was that we “ never cried like girls”. PC. What’s that?

A tough nut he never talked about the war. Not in the home, nor with mates. Compartmentalising things into a box with the label, PAST, was his survival strategy.

Once I started high school my Dad started feeding me military books to read. He had already directed my reading towards the likes of Robinson Caruso, The Last of the Mohicans, and Kipling, but secondary school led to a change.

The first, which I remember vividly, was Enemy Coast Head, by Guy Gibson.V.C., who led the DamBusters Raid. He handed the book to me as I was running out the front door to catch a bus. Didn’t say a word – just passed it over. What an odd book to put into a school bag, hey……..

When I finished it within the week I simply left the book in his bedroom.

A few days later he handed me No Passing Glory by Andrew Boyle, the biography of Sir Leonard Cheshire. Same thing: he just handed it to me to read in silence.

A couple of weeks later my father asked if I actually read the two books. Of course, I said. One did not disobey one’s father – in those days, at least. He looked sceptical. So you know what the old bugger did? He started hounding his twelve year old daughter with questions – which of course I was more than capable of answering. Unfortunately, I was never able to answer the maths questions…

I was reminded of this when I read there were moves to remake the movie, The Dam Busters. New information has become available with the secrecy codes lifted apparently. See here.

Poor old fella would be so disgusted that I can cry with the best of them these days.

Bridge Of Clay : Book Review

Book Review : Bridge Of Clay

Author: Markus Zusak

Published: 2018

Zusak’s previous publication was the much lauded The Book Thief. Couldn’t finish it. At this stage of the game there are just “too many books and too little time”.

Picking up the 580 plus pages of paperback Bridge Of Clay was always going to be dicey. I needed to give this Australian author another go, and in spite of its bulk found it an easy read. I’de rate this a four-cups-of-tea-and two-mint-slice-biscuits book. Finished it in a single sitting.

This is the story of five brothers, the Dunbar boys, with Matthew the eldest, summing up the storyline with :

Me, Rory, Henry, Clayton, Thomas.
We would never be the same.
Many considered us tearaways.
Mostly they were right.
Our mother was dead.
Our father had fled.
We swore like bastards, fought like contenders, and punished each other at pool, at table tennis, at Monopoly, darts, football, cards, at everything we could get our hands on.
We had a piano no-one played”.

The Dunbar brothers are all very different characters and yet are close, and they are all hurting. Matt at 18 taking on the bulk of family responsibilities. There is lots of brotherly love mixed with the shenanigans of “boys” .(said by the mother of daughters who threatened to send any male baby back along with any redheads). The nostalgic feel warms the ol’ heart. ( reminiscent of the beginning of the 1944 movie, The Fighting Sullivans.)

These boys have been shaped by stories from their parents. It is through stories that we learn what moulded their parents. Young Tom even names his pets after characters in The Odyssey and The Illiad because of stories shared by his parents. Even their pet mule, Archilles, is a source of stories.

Clay has lost more than his brothers, and despite the crushing heartache and loneliness, he metaphorically and literally builds the bridge that finally brings the family to a place of healing.

The book does jump around a bit from present, to past and present again. The movies the boys watch are valuable reference points. This may or may not have assisted the Millenials any.

Millenials might not also get the references made by the crucial female apprentice jockey character. More nostalgia on my part : I have strong memories of attending a race meeting to see that very same horse race on Anzac Day 1986. Looking and feeling swish in red high heels and a green and red dress, the image was shattered when I fainted, legs in the air, down by the winning post. Last time I ever wore high heels.(No, not the bubbles – I was to discover later that I was with child!)

Bridge Of Clay is a series of stories within stories that complete a jigsaw puzzle and is totally engaging. The mother’s death is sad, though a bit like watching the movie Titanic; we know how it’s going to end, we know it’s going to be catastrophic, though as it lingers on and on and on we just wish it would get on with it and sink. Penelope took a very long time to die.

The storytelling is languid and comforting, like a breeze on a hot summer day.

Bridge of Clay totally resonates. It has a very familiar feel and I’m not convinced that I’m not the Dunbar boys’ long lost sister and we didn’t share a history at Lime Kiln Road, Lugarno.

A terrific read in the Coming of Age genre and has been nominated for several awards.


Hanging Dean Martin

On the 25th of December, 1995, entertainer Dean Martin died at his Beverly Hills home. He was 78 years of age.

Why is Dean Martin’s death a significant memory for me? Because along with Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas”, Dean Martin’s “Christmas Album” was the soundtrack in the family home over the Festive season, ( with a smattering of Burl Ives, but let’s keep that just between us, ok).

I’ve shared previously that my youngest daughter collects Bing Crosby Dolls. My eldest collects Dean Martin ones. (Yeah, the apples don’t fall far from the tree….). She retains some memories of Xmas crooning and brings out Deano each December, although probably more as a hommage to her grandparents rather than the entertainer. Her Pop would sashay around the house, drink in hand, crooning along with Martin, though he preferred Resches Pilsner or a red. Her paternal grandmother didn’t sing, though she did her bit to ensure whiskey share prices never plummeted.

One of my next projects is to frame some of the old vinyls I have gathered over the last 45 years in their decorative sleeves. Not many – just half a dozen or so. They have all been transferred to CD as well as those stick things, yet I’ve been unable to part with them. Good music has always filled a hole and I can’t let go of them yet.

Why cant my kids just collect Beanie Babies ?

When I was in the process of splitting assets many, many years ago was it property or shares that caused arguements? Nope – it was the record collection. ( And my paintings but I’m not bitter and have let that go. Kind of * thinking how good it would feel to throw a brick or two around right now. Besides, I snuck James Taylor into my pile by switching with Jonathon Livingston Seagull. So there).

Framing records is a thing apparently. My youngest has been on trend for years. I’m not sure I’m ready to have Dean Martin looking down at me from the lounge room wall just yet…..

Cait’s Bing. Who else?

Children’s Literature And Stamps

Growing up as a child in Australia in the sixties I have fond memories of play with my friends involving Cowboys and Indians, Malvern Scooters, Slippery Dips, Marble tournaments and Stamp collections. That’s correct. Stamp collections. When rain prevented outdoor play we gathered at a mate’s home to swap postage stamps before adding any new additions to our albums. We would exchange stamps with the same enthusiasm that we exchanged football cards or the plastic jewellrey found in breakfast cereal boxes.

Yes, okay, so I was a nerd.

My enthusiasm for stamps waned many, many years ago when I became more interested in glitter eyeshadow and collecting vinyl LP records. Waned, not stopped completely, as to this day I continue to collect the colourful postage stamps of the Cocos Keeling Islands.

Yes, I’m still a borderline nerd.

Each year Australia Post honours individuals who are leaders in their field of endeavour, having dedicated their adult lives to their chosen pursuit, shaping Australian society and culture in the process.

A longtime favourite.

This year’s recipients are celebrated and award-winning authors – talented creators of narrative books and picture books for young people, from the youngest readers through to adolescents.

The Legends of Children’s Literature stamp issue, released for Australia Day, honours Mem Fox AM, Morris Gleitzman, Leigh Hobbs, Alison Lester and Shaun Tan. 

The 2019 Australian Legends of Children’s Literature stamp issue comprises of five $1 stamps, a first day cover, stamp pack, maxicard set, five booklets of ten $1 stamps, and a booklet collection pack.

Just remember : “ The President of today is just the postage stamp of tomorrow”.

Lili Marlene and the Things You Learn.

Easing into yet another heatwave and a long weekend celebrating Australia Day. I’m not touching upon Australia Day this year : it’s gotten way too combative way too early in the year.

The shades are drawn and the pantry and fridge are full so there is no need to leave the comfort of the ceiling fans. Yesterday I collected a book, Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (AKA J K Rowling), the fourth in the Cormoran Strike detective series, from the Library and I was counting on the 600 plus pages for occupation. Three chapters in and about done. Have read the ending so know exactly what’s going to happen, and to where books five and six are leading.

So focussing on some projects instead.

Firstly, an Airfix Kit I started two years ago. I finished my first Kit of a Spitfire when I was 17 and had a boyfriend interested in aircraft. One of those shared interest things and it seemed a better option than pulling car engines apart. I did all the construction and all the fiddley bits, he listened to music and painted the end result. That was a pattern that never really changed so sayonara sweetheart…..

So now I’m working on a larger, more in-depth model of a Halifax. What’s more important on a personal level is that the nose art on the model is the same as that on the Halifax my father flew in during WW2.

How did this come about? No idea, though I have been on the trail for some time now.

What I have learned does put some things into a better perspective. My Dad was an old song and dance man, and if he wasn’t bursting into song he would be on his harmonica. ( May I share with you how embarrassing it is to have your father pull out his mouth organ at your wedding ?) Although the war was rarely mentioned in a house full of women he was extremely proud that he “used to earn extra beer money from singing in the pubs around London.”

I have memories that one of his favourite songs was Lili Marlene, made famous by both Marlene Dietrich and Vera Lynn. I don’t know which was his preferred version though as he moved into his late 70’s he and Vera would do duets on the record player.

Underneath the lantern. By the barrack gate. Darling I remember. The way you used to wait ‘Twas there that you whispered tenderly. That you loved me. You’d always be. My Lili of the lamplight. My own Lili Marlene.

So back to the nose art on the Halifax which I have only recently learned from the grandson of a gentleman from the other side of my world features……taa daa…. Lili of the Lamplight.

Each of the figures on the plane represent a crew member, the figure with the walking stick being the pilot as at 28 years of age he was considered “old”. I’m working on identifying the other figures.

Heatwave or not I have enough to keep me out of trouble. Damn!