Category Archives: Emigrants from other countries

Leaving the world behind #5 – The kindness of strangers

In the summer of 2016 I spent 6 weeks in a care facility following surgery on a multiple leg fracture. Six long weeks. Six weeks when I wondered what ever would become of me, six long weeks when I had time to contemplate what might lie ahead should I need care that could not be given by my family. Here I observed daily life in a rural nursing home/ care facility populated by elderly who were cared for by enthusiastic young girls and men, and by mostly Phillipino and immigrant nurses. This series of posts are my thoughts on those surreal weeks.

The kindness of strangers.

Totally immobile and in need of help with basics like food preparation, managing stairs, showering etc, the knowledge that I could not go home after surgery dawned slowly but surely. Added to this, a cocktail of pain relieving narcotics frequently resulted in ‘out of body’ type sensations, such as floating and light headedness, or something similar to having had one or two too many glasses of wine, so a solution had to be found. This being that I  would be transferred from hospital to a care facility for 6 weeks until such time as the  plaster cast could be removed and a boot put in its place to prevent weight bearing.

The transfer itself was interesting.  In and out of elevators and wheeled along endless hospital corridors by ambulance crews, we ended up in what looked like a back yard with bins and sundry stuff  lying about. It was lashing rain. The ambulance was parked some distance away and we had to make a dash for it. Brian and Kate were both deeply apologetic that I had to be run through the rain as they could not park any nearer the door! Apparently I was fortunate that this was high summer and not the depths of winter with hailstones and high winds to contend with.

The care facility turned out to be a nursing home populated mainly by elderly and staffed, in the main, by some of the loveliest and kindest human beings I have ever met. Mainly Phillipino men and women, the nursing staff were always smiling, always kind, always helpful, always concerned and always attentive. These people were thousands of miles from their families, yet appreciated that they had jobs, could work and look after the family at home in the Phillipines. One of the senior nurses had worked in Ireland for 15 years. Her husband and 8 children were at home, while the two youngest were with her in Ireland.  Another had been in Ireland for 8 years while his wife and children remained in the Phillipines. He tries to get home once a year to see them. A few of them also had other jobs, caring for elderly in their own home, or perhaps working a shift in another establishment so they could look after their families on the other side of the world.  If asked about their family at home, the tears would well up in their eyes, yet they always had a smile and you would never think that they had such sadness to deal with on a daily basis. 11,500 kilometers is a huge distance between spouses and children.

The care assistants were mostly local young girls, students working through their holidays from nursing or other courses at university. At a guess, the average age of the assistants was about 20 years, desperately young to be caring for older people I thought. But I was wrong. I have never seen such affection and gentleness as these young girls had for the people in their care.

An elderly man, hands gnarled and with his back almost doubled over with arthritis, holds on to one of them, shuffling along as she gently guides him to the comfort of a big armchair in the sitting room. His face is expressionless, he does not speak, yet she talks away to him, encouraging him to take every step.

A frail white haired lady with a walking frame is gently guided towards the dining room; the short journey along the corridor from her room taking all of five minutes but is filled with cheerful banter from the carer about the beautiful flowers by her bedside. There is no response.

Flowers. Guaranteed to lift the spirits. (Image the silver voice)


A girl, who I discovered is all of 19 years old, wheels a profoundly disabled man to lunch in his huge wheelchair with lots of equipment attached. She chats away in an imaginary one sided conversation, and you would hope that he heard what she is saying even if he cannot respond.

At the weekly singalong, a young girl delights a profoundly incapacitated man in a wheelchair by holding his face and singing ‘You are my sunshine’ at close range. Only his gladdened eyes seemed to register what was happening.

A man who has lost his mobile phone for the fifth time in as many hours is distracted by a young girl who invites him to go out to the garden to look at flowers. He forgets his phone and follows her obediently as she expertly distracts him from his huge concern about the phone which  is not in fact lost at all.

All of this personal care is in addition to changing beds, helping patients get up and dressed for the day, serving meals, showering patients, providing cups of tea, all so willingly done, often on 12 hours shifts and on the minimum wage of just over 9 Euro an hour.

disco

Disco Girls (By Dossier – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29792495)

At the end of their shift on a Saturday night these young girls change into their disco gear, apply their make up and false eyelashes, don short short skirts, do their hair ( one, a brunette in uniform even had long grey tresses), splash on the scent  and head off for a night on the town. They look the same as all the other young things at the pub or disco, but believe me these fabulous girls on minimum wage are making a huge difference to many lives!

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Filed under Ageing in Ireland, Emigrants from other countries, Ireland, Life in a Nursing Home, Seniors

April 11 1912,Titanic sails from Ireland

On the afternoon of April 11 1912, the Titanic picks up her last 123 passengers at Queenstown County Cork, Ireland. Joining the 2,105 already on board are 113 who will travel in 3rd class, 7 for 2nd class, and 3 as 1st class passengers.

Addergoole 14

Waiting on the Queenstown quayside to join the RMS Titanic
Published with permission of artist.

For some on board, this was a great adventure, crossing the Atlantic on board a luxurious new ship. Many may have been excited by the prospect of a new life in the New World, while many more would be feeling great sorrow at leaving loved ones behind, not knowing when or where they will meet again.

Titanic last

The last known image of Titanic as she departs Queenstown.Image Wiki.Commons

And so the RMS Titanic steams out of Cork Harbour for a meeting with destiny no one on board could envisage.

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Filed under Emigrants from other countries, Emigration from Ireland, Ireland, Irish American, Irish Diaspora, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Mayo Emigrants, Titanic

20 Minutes of Terror: 1942 Bombing of Broome Western Australia

With the temperature gauge in the car registering 41.8 degrees C  (107 F) I recently embarked on a mission to find some specific graves in  the biggest cemetery in Western Australia, having the beautiful name of Karrakatta. Needless to say some thought I probably needed to be delivered to a home for the bewildered, venturing out on such a hot day!

Almost a quarter of a million burials and cremations have taken place at this vast graveyard at Karrakatta, so my visit required some forward planning. Having (eventually!) found the ‘target’ plots, I noticed reference to a Commonwealth War Graves section on the cemetery map  and decided to take a look as I had never been in a war graves cemetery outside of the United States of America.

The seemingly endless rows of identical grey headstones, each one representing a unique life lived then lost. (Image: Thesilvervoice)

The War Graves cemetery is dominated by a tall central ‘Cross of Sacrifice’. The manicured  lawns and  straight lines of almost 500 grey granite grave-markers are a poignant sight. When visiting any memorial, I like to read as many names as I can. Here are the tombstones of 16 WWI Veterans,  477 WW2 Veterans and 4 Veterans of the Vietnam War. Walking along the rows I became aware of a great blaze of colour off to one side of the main section. I wandered off to investigate and was truly  astonished at what I found.

I entered an enclosed area marked ‘Dutch War Cemetery’ and surmised that perhaps floral tributes had been placed to mark a day of significance to the local Dutch community. There was a number of small neat gravestones – each with a single rose, already fading – with some already displaced by the wind.  I was puzzled to see children buried here – one headstone for a child aged 1, another for a child  aged 15, the latter with a bunch of fresh flowers wrapped in a sunshine yellow  bouquet.

The Netherlands Annex to the Perth Commonwealth War Cemetery (Image Thesilvervoice)

Fresh wreaths and floral bouquets decorated with the national colours of the Netherlands.(Image Thesilvervoice)

Still puzzled, I made my way towards the formal wreaths placed  below a wall plaque..

THIS MEMORIAL IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF DUTCH REFUGEES AND CREW MEMBERS WHO PERISHED ON 3RD MARCH 1942 WHEN SEAPLANES OF THE ROYAL NETHERLANDS NAVY WERE ATTACKED AND SUNK IN BROOME HARBOUR BY JAPANESE FIGHTER AIRCRAFT.THE VICTIMS WHOSE BODIES WERE NOT RECOVERED ARE LISTED BELOW…..

I had not been aware until recently that Australia had suffered any enemy bombing during the Second World War. I was informed otherwise in a recent post in an excellent blog that I follow, entitled Family History Across the Seas. Read here. A  post in February was on the commemoration of the bombing of Darwin  in 1942 in which  about 250 people died and several hundreds were injured. Just 12 days after the bombing of  Darwin, the town of  Broome  in the northern part of the vast state of Western Australia was targeted.

Broome was then a small pearling town that had become a staging post for hundreds of refugees fleeing the advancing Japanese in Indonesia. Indonesia as we now know it, was then a Dutch Colony known as the Dutch East Indies. Singapore had fallen on 15 February and as the Japanese advanced on Java, the evacuation was hasty with little time for recording names of refugees. It is estimated that up to 8,000 arrived at Broome from Java in the two weeks before March 3rd 1942, having been brought there by planes of  the Dutch, American and Australian military as well as on civil aircraft. On one day no fewer than 57 aircraft arrived in Broome.

Many of the evacuees would have breathed a sigh of relief to have reached the safety of Broome as it was considered to be beyond the range of Japanese aircraft. Packed into flying boats, they remained on board  while being refueled  before flying south. They remained on board as there was insufficient accommodation in the tiny town to facilitate the large numbers of people passing through.On the morning of March 3 1942, there were 15 flying boats in Broome for refuelling, each one ‘packed to the brim’ with Dutch people. Just after 9 am, nine Japanese planes attacked, and within 20 minutes had destroyed every aircraft in Broome harbour as well as those on the airstrip.

The burning waters of Roebuck Bay were filled with screaming men women and  children. Many who survived the strafing drowned in the fast flowing currents, were incinerated or taken by sharks as they tried to make it to shore. It is not known precisely how many died on that day or who they were, as there were inadequate passenger lists. Also killed were passengers and crew of an American aircraft  shot down shortly after taking off. The number of victims varies between 80 and 100 but the exact number and the identity of some of them will  never be known.

Twenty-three-year-old Pilot Officer Frank Russell was aboard one of the flying boats. Soon afterwards he described, “a scene of ghastly devastation! Our flying boats all over the place were sending up huge clouds of black smoke. Burning petrol in sinister patches floated all over the sea … All around us there fell a ceaseless stream of tracer bullets. Several of the Dutch Dorniers had been full of women and kids, waiting to take off to … safety.”

The Japanese flew 97 air-raids over northern Australia during World War II. The bombing of Broome was ‘hushed up’ for some time as the authorities did not wish to cause alarm to the residents of Australia.

In Broome at very low tide, the wreckage  of the destroyed aircraft can be seen – a poignant reminder and  memorial of that terrible day.

The Dutch bodies recovered were first buried in the Broome War Cemetery but were removed and reburied in a special area in the Karrakatta cemetery in Perth in 1950. I have been unable to discover the reason for this other than Perth possibly being  more accessible for relatives who may wish to visit the graves.
Many are commemorated in Karrakatta. Those known to be buried here are :
Name Age
Sergeant Albert van Tour 35 RNN
Catharina van Tour 8 Civilian
Sergeant Johannes Gerardus van Aggelan 32 RNN
Johanna van Aggelan 32 Civilian
Luitenant ter zee Pieter Johannes Hendrikse 51 RNN
Loes Heidsieck 25 Civilian
Henri Rudolf de Sera 21 RNN
Hendrik de Bruyn 4 Civilian
Alida Brandenburg-Trumpie 30 Civilian
Jenny Hendrikse van der Putte 28 Civilian
Johannes van Tuyn 1 Civilian
Maria van Tuyn van Gelooven 28 Civilian
Elizabeth Kuin 5 Civilian
Anna Maria Dorothea Kuin Sturk 29 Civilian
Cornelius Piers 14 Civilian
Frans Piers 7 Civilian
C.G.E. Piers Morien 42 Civilian
Johanna Borsch Baas 36 Civilian
Adri Kramer 17 Civilian
Abdul Hamed bin Juden 36 Civilian (killed in raid March 20 1942 )

Another three graves are marked “Unknown Dutch lady”, and two are marked “Unknown Dutch child”.

This story struck a chord with me as it is about emigration, one of the key themes of my blog. I concentrate on the Irish diaspora and in so doing I am even more aware of  other great movements of people – migrations –  across the globe. Many went on to better lives and many also endured terrible suffering, and many more gave their lives because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I salute the Dutch men and women who lost their lives or who lost family members in this great tragedy. I was happy to have made this serendipitous discovery and to walk among their graves in Karrakatta  cemetery, to remember them and their families who still honour them and leave  floral tributes at their graves.

Addendum:

Just a few weeks ago in February 2017, the following comment was added to this post:

Nancy Gleason

My father, Capt. Harry W. Markey, was aboard the American plane that was shot down. He was killed, age 29. The Japanese pilot who shot down that plane was shot down and killed by a Dutch gunner on the ground.
Nancy Gleason
In memory too of Capt. Harry W Markey and all those who lost their lives on that tragic day.

References

Information on burials taken from Mervyn W. Prime, WA’s Pearl Harbour: the Japanese raid on Broome (1985).

http://www.awm.gov.au/exhibitions/alliesinadversity

http://library.thinkquest.org/10236/

http://www.abc.net.au

Family history across the seas Blog

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Filed under Emigrants from other countries, Family History, Genealogy, Oral History