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The Spike or Victoria University College Review Silver Jubilee 1924

Turning Over the Leaves

Turning Over the Leaves

When we come to the end of a period in our history such as the present, it seems natural and almost inevitable to stop and I look back. We find that the years that have passed form the leaves of an album in which have been pasted many views. Some of these are of such value that they stand out as clear and sharp as on the day on which they were made, some bring back sights and sounds and scents, some give us again days of immense pleasure and some recall experiences of deep interest to ourselves and it may be, to others. It is hard to decide which pictures in our albums we shall show when it must be only a few, but perhaps none draw us so irresistibly as those that belong to the war, and of these, the little family groups and the wayside sketches seem sometimes more compelling than those that recall dramatic and exciting events. May I reproduce three or four such pictures taken in London and in Salonica in the early years of the war that has changed all our lives.

(1) The Motor Bus.

The London streets have settled down to their extra shade of darkness following the latest issue of Police Regulations. No. 27 is making her way along Marylebone Road avoiding her neighbours and the odd people that rush across in front of her bonnet and disappear into the darkness again. She pulls up at Praed Street and the usual crowd tries to surge on before the other crowd elbows off. The conductor becomes rather irascible in the process of supervising and directing and starts her on again with three angry jerks of the bell as the last two passengers, a man and woman are swung on and make their way into the inside of the bus. The man is in uniform and on leave. The woman is dressed in a dark stuff frock and wears a hat with large curly black feathers. She is rather good looking but her eyes have the drowsy unfixed look that tells of time spent at the station bar. She looks straight ahead, ignoring the other passengers and at intervals remarks in a high-pitched monotonous voice, "Oi didn't cry when I said good-bye to 'im, Oi didn't cry when he went away, did oi Jim?" To this Jim replies, "You'll be orl righ, ole Liz, you'll be orl righ, yer will!" Then there is an interval of silence and then the same remark and Jim ready and anxious to do his bit of cheering up. But she takes no notice and the bus rocks on. Then her voice changes and there is a more forlorn note in it as she cries, "Oi didn't 'arf cry after 'ed gorn! Oi didn't 'arf cry after the train went. My! Oi didn't 'arf cry!"

(2) Paddington Station.

It is late afternoon and the South of Ireland Express stretches her long length at the platform, being due to leave in two minutes. Passengers settling into one compartment are attracted by a noise of voices on the platform and someone says, "Oh look at the poor old lady!" We look, and there on the platform she is, page 32 in the midst of a group that shouts and waves and is engaged in the process of cheering up. The poor old lady tries to smile with the best of them, but she can't manage it and the tears come, and the lines of smiles on her face are twisted into lines of pain and misery. The others become more hilarious and sing and dance about on the platform. And in the midst of it all somebody's old mother is trying hard to stop the tears that stream down her face. One dancer becomes still more gay. She puts her hands on her hips and her feathers wave bravely as she dances and sings. There is only half a minute till train time, but out springs Tommy from the carriage and joins her, his legs performing marvels of steps and capers.

The old refrain of the bus comes back to us—"Oi didn't cry when 'e went away. Oi didn't cry when the train went, oi didn't!"

The train moves out carrying Tommy with it. We pass the group of London faces looking trainwards and giving forth final shouts of joy and banter, but somebody's old mother no longer I SP' tries to hold back her tears.

(3) The End of it all.

Salonica harbour lay shining in the sunlight of the early afternoon. In the foreground, close along the quay were the fishing boats, their sides curved down to the centre like the ships of classical tales. Anchored near were several small Greek transports ready to discharge their loads of little Greek soldiers and to swing out their hundreds of little packhorses. These one would meet later as part of the unending line of the Greek army passing through the stony streets, on their way out to the frontier. Farther out lay the ships of the great nations—warships of Britain, France and Russia placed at intervals all over the harbour and among them transport after transport, their black decks filled from end to end with troops.

At the landing stage opposite the end of Venizelos St. were to be seen the motor launches from the warships and the boats from the transports edging their way among the Greek boatmen and landing British, French and Russian officers and seamen to join the crowds in the streets along the front.

Leaving this crowded quay a man and woman set out in a small boat to take some Red Cross luggage to a hospital ship lying far out. The day was particularly lovely and the scene impressed the woman afresh with its extraordinary interest and grandeur—the great harbour filled with its fleet of ships and the fine old Turkish town rising up from the shores to the hill top and made more picturesque by the delicate minarets springing up out of the crowded masses of old buildings. Thoughts of the great empire to which she belonged were in her mind and all the excitement of being in the midst of great and stirring scenes. They drew nearer the hospital ship—a beautiful thing with its long white hull on which stretched a band of bright green interrupted with a red cross.

Coming up to the gangway was an open barge towed by a small launch, and then one noticed that something was being carried with difficulty at the top of the gangway. The bright colours of a Hag showed up and brought some cheery remark to the man's lips. But the remark died away and both were suddenly silent as they saw what the burden was that was being carried down the long steps and placed in the barge with the page 33 Union Jack over it. Four men stepped into the barge and sat at the sides, one of them a priest, and the little motor launch pulled gently away across the sunlit water. One knew that there had been no fighting and that this was just one more soldier dying of disease by the way, after all his keenness to go to the front and all his dreams of the excitement of doing his bit.

Their eyes and their reverent thoughts followed that barge until it was lost among the shipping near the quay, and the sunshine and the glory of the scene went away with it, leaving only the aching thought of the pity of it all.

(4) Of Such is the Kingdom.

Late night had fallen upon Salonica and with it that great quiet in the stony streets that was such a contrast to the clatter of the incessant traffic by day. It was hard to believe that within two miles were great encampments of the armies of the nations spreading over the hills and stretching further day by day.

At the railway station a small party of women were 'getting Primus Stoves to go' and cutting bread and slicing lemons in preparations for gruel of some sort. In the early hours, you might see the guests arrive—Serbians who had long ago begun that weary journey away from the advancing foe and still were wandering on not knowing the end of it. They formed peculiarly pathetic little groups with those rescued 'bits of things' from the home, that somehow made the outcasts seem more homeless. Many scenes of pain, sorrow and suffering will have passed from our minds, before we forget those little family groups with all that they could now call home carried with them.

They get out of the train—old men, women and many tiny children. They are quite friendless and have no idea what to do or where to go. They accept the tea and bread and seem glad to be directed to a tent pitched among some frees by the station. Here they settle down on the straw and the little children sit down with a biscuit and a mug of milk and look quite content.

One night among the crowds in the tent, there was a group of two women with two tiny infants and two little toddlers; the babies were laid among the straw and the little boy and girl sat quietly beside them, making a very appealing picture. Some French soldiers were invited to come in and look, and with caressing voices began to murmur ' Les pauvres petits!' 'Les pauvres petits!' One stretched out his arms to the little boy, and the next moment the weary little soul got up from his bed of straw and climbed straight up into the arms of the Frenchman. Then carrying the little fellow, the big man walked out of the tent on to the platform and the two began petting each other and talking to each other, the one in French and the other in Serbian, but apparently with perfect understanding. The soldier would take off his hat and place it on the little child's head, and the little child would lift his two hands and draw them down the big man's cheeks and kiss him. And then they laughed together and pointed to the big train and explained things to each other, and some that were there could not take their eyes off that scene as long as the big French soldier walked on the dark platform with the little Serbian child in his arms.