Saturday, May 19, 2007

A few simple questions for someone else called.... William Kerley (1895-1967)

My uncle found this photograph in a dusty box quite recently. The young soldier on the left is my paternal grandfather, in 1914. He was a territorial army boy-soldier, under-age he enlisted in the regular army and fought in the First World War. My dad, his son, says he saw the horrors of Churchill’s deathly debacle at Gallipoli, and was, apparently, invalided out of the dugouts when a trench-periscope exploded in his eye. This picture was taken when he was posted to Alexandria; but the details are sketchy - somewhere I have a mysterious certificate saying he passed a Camp Cook’s Examination there – and whilst in Egypt, he and his mates used to teach the locals to repeat nonsensical English doggerel like: ‘Queen Victoria, Him Very Bad Man’. Far from home, the soldiers of every generation get up to no good. With paraffin they’d make a little ring of fire in the sand outside their tents, place a petrified scorpion in the centre: all for the sport of watching the deadly arachnid sting itself to suicide, to escape the flames.

I have another photograph of him at the other end of his life, terminally ill with emphysema, but happily entertaining a small boy in the back garden of his Blackpool home, the toddler mesmerized by the ticking of a shiny pocket-watch he kept on a handsome chain. The small boy in question grew up to be me - but sadly my grandfather didn’t live long enough to tell me, first-hand, any of his numerous stories. Who are the other chaps in this picture? Despite your obvious cultural differences, you look a pretty chummy threesome. Who’s the soldier on the right? Why does he get to wear the long trousers? Who’s the tall chap in the fez, grandad, is he Egyptian dignitary or Alexandrian interpreter? Oh, and what happened next?


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