I got to thinking about the pieces of nature that I use as backdrops for the photos of the pieces I make. Most of them are precious to me, and have little life stories behind them.
I found the piece of stone the ring is sitting on in this picture in the desert on a trip to Egypt. One of the places our journey took us was to El Alamein, where parts of World War Two were famously fought. As pictured below, the battlegrounds were basically desert, stretching on for miles and miles with no shelter and presumably very little water – it must have been a living (and dying) hell. The area is still so heavily mined that it is impossible to use it for anything, and of course the Egyptian Government don’t have the financial ability to have the mines removed. There is argument that the countries responsible for laying them should be responsible for removing them, which sounds like a fair call to me!
We went first to the German War Memorial, and saw the names of all the German soldiers who died there at El Alamein – most of them only about 20 years old. It was moving and saddening to think that each of the names we read represented the loss of life of a young man who didn’t necessarily want to be there fighting and killing, and that it also represented a lifetime of heartache for his family that were left behind.
After that we went to the War Museum, which was quite interesting, lots of info about the battle, and many examples of uniforms, weapons etc. Little scraps of letters written to loved ones. Outside the museum had all the anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, and personnel carriers and tanks and the like on display. They found a Spitfire in the desert in 1999, and that was there – they also recently found a big three tonne Ford lorry used by the Canadians during the war buried in the sand, and apparently when they turned the engine over, it still started! Ford wanted to buy the battery back, but the museum wouldn’t sell it.
We then went to the Commonwealth Cemetery and Memorial, which is a huge area of graves – of course, the casualties at El Alamein were nothing compared with some of the other battles, but it seemed enormous nonetheless!
I had been researching my family tree not long before we took the trip to Egypt, and El Alamein went from being the only place on our agenda that I didn’t really care so much about seeing to being a point of interest for me, as my second cousin twice removed (so, that’s my grandfather’s grandfather’s brother’s grandson – confused yet? It’s quite a close family connection in genealogical terms, I promise! 🙂 ), was recorded as having died there at El Alamein. We found his name in the official grave register at the site, and recorded on the memorial wall, meaning that his body was never found so was unable to be buried there.
The register entry shows him lost in the SS Scillin – and the last battle in which he fought ended some days before the 14 November, which is shown as his date of death. The SS Scillin was actually an Italian ship, loaded with Commonwealth POW, which was sunk by a British submarine. Poor boy, dead at 22, killed by his own side. This information was only released by the British Government in 1996, so it is doubtful that his family ever knew what had really happened to him. I wonder what they were told? Regardless, I can only imagine how painful it must be to receive the news that your nearest and dearest has been killed in the war.
Anyway, I wandered around the cemetery reading some of the sad inscriptions, had a private cry at the tragedy and waste, and then went for a look at the Australian War Memorial, which is where I found this piece of stone, lying on some waste ground beside the path. I’m not sure if it’s natural, or if it’s a piece of rubble from some old building, but it spoke to me and I brought it home.