All entries for Wednesday 01 June 2011

June 01, 2011

Being an Immigrant During World War Two

Wars are not only fought along battlelines, but also at home. And while cultural and political tensions are played out on the field of war, they also show themselves in the towns and cities that soldiers are fighting to protect.

One sad story of the home front was told to me by my Welsh grandmother, Norma Roach. it told the tale a family of Italian immigrants, who during World War Two, lived in Maesteg, a small coal town in South Wales. Italians from the Apennine Mountains migrated to the UK during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, and many of them settled in Wales. The Welsh Valley people became used to Italian cafés and ice-cream parlours.

One such Italian family was the Bellis, who set up an Italian café in Maesteg, the town where my Welsh family lived for hundreds of years. They were well liked in town, but during World War Two, a policy of internment was brought in for immigrants from Italy, Germany and other enemy countries. After Mussolini declared war in 1940, the British government saw Italian immigrants as enemy aiens and potential spies. To control this unknown quantity, the government decided to send these immigrants to Canada where they could do less harm.

This meant, however, breaking up families. The older Bellis who were Italian citizens were rounded up and put on a boat to Canada – the SS Arandora Star, while members of the Belli family who were born in Wales had to stay behind.

The ironic thing was that the Bellis journeying to Canada on the Arandora Star never completed their journey. It was sunk in the Atlantic by a German submarine. There were over 1200 German and Italian internees on board, and over 800 people died including the Bellis.


Leadership Underground: My Grandfather's Story

Writing about web page http://www.redroom.com/blog/zbthompson/leadership-underground-my-grandfathers-story

[This entry originally appeared on Red Room: http://www.redroom.com/blog/zbthompson/leadership-underground-my-grandfathers-story]

When I think about leadership, I will always remember family stories told to me about my Welsh grandfather. Graham Roach was a miner who worked his way up to be the pit’s safety officer, a job which often involved dealing with painful and disfiguring injuries. People are often aware of mining disasters, but often, they are not so conscious of the accidents that happen regularly, every week even. How, for example, my grandfather watched a slice of stone fall down and cut off the four fingers of a man who had been resting his hand on the seam. The stories of these eponymous accidents and how my grandfather dealt with them, were passed along the family grapevine. My grandfather told my uncle who in turn told my mother who in turn told me.

One famous story tells how my grandfather himself was injured. The night was when a conveyor belt snapped and wrapped itself round the leg of my grandfather and another man.

The first man was screaming: ‘For the love of God, get it off me, boys.’

My grandfather, never one to waste words, simply said: ‘Me too, boys.’

He was always a man of few words, and the story made us all laugh, even though it meant hours of agony for my grandfather. The first man was weeping and wailing and calling out for a doctor. My grandfather simply repeated: ‘Me too.’

On another shift, my grandfather was underground when the mine flooded. Down one tunnel, some of the machinery had been swallowed up by the water. At the end of the tunnel was a long black pool. Taking off his boots, my grandfather readied himself. Now he dived into the water-filled shaft meeting the water’s cold slap. He dived down feeling his way along the side of the shaft in the dark. His hand blundered on something metallic and sharp. He came up with the drill and worked all night in his wet clothes.

It doesn’t surprise me that during World War Two, my grandfather had one of the most dangerous jobs in the airforce as a rear gunner. In the airforce and in his job at the mine, he always seemed to be the one to take on the difficult task, the thing that no one else wanted to do. He is altogether the kind of leader that I admire. Not a showy or conspicuous man, but nevertheless a man who knows how to act in a crisis. A man who doesn’t make a fuss when something goes wrong, but simply waits in silence for help to come. A man who does unpleasant tasks, not relishing them, but knowing that they have to be done and that he must lead by example.

My grandfather: Graham Roach

Why Poetry Matters: Poetry and Music —– May/June 2011.

Writing about web page http://www.facebook.com/nvwritersnetwork

At a recent event at Penn State, poet Robin Becker opened her reading by noting that poetry had its origins in song, and she quoted the Pennsylvania poet J.D. McClatchy who says: “All arts want to have their birth in music”. Poetry and song do seem to overlap in significant ways. Some poets like the Surrealist Peter Blegvad set their words to music. Musicians also make songs of poems, as in Joni Mitchell’s rendering of W.B. Yeats’ `The Second Coming…

...John Cale’s version of Dylan Thomas’s `Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night…

...or Leonard Cohen’s ‘Take this Waltz’ based on Lorca’s
poem `Little Viennese Waltz’...

Some songwriters, too, have the lyrics of a poet. Many cite Bob Dylan as a prime example, or his forebear, Woody Guthrie, who wrote poetic narratives on the lives of the poor. This particularly American tradition is carried on today by artists like Gillian Welch, who write the stories of the outcast, poor and bereft. Written about the tragedy of American sharecroppers in the 1930s, Welch’s `Annabelle’ recalls Walker Evan’s eponymous photographs of Depression-era poverty. Songs like this also recall the origins of poetry, as an essentially sung form and a means to convey oral histories.


...

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