Far from home and family : a journey following the 2NZEF, WWII AND Please send home: the war diaries and letters of Jack Bickley 1941-1945
Two stories in one, bound back to back
FAR FROM HOME AND FAMILY is his daughter Mary Sutherland’s journey (along with her husband Fergus) following in the footsteps of her father, some 70 years later. SAMPLE OF MARY'S WRITINGS: So, decision to miss Naples being made, we drive on and again do exactly what Dad did, we ‘missed the back way to Caserta and had to drive all the way through the middle of Naples’. It is 5 o’clock on a Friday evening and the ‘wild traffic’ and the ‘grimy streets’ our guide book attributes to Naples are very evident. Fergus does a wonderful impression of a Cairo bus driver, and this, combined with my superb navigating, gets us close to the waterfront where there is plenty of parking, and inviting green spaces. We park the little red car and, taking all our valuables with us, set off towards the waterfront. On his last day of training in Naples, Dad wrote, "Went for a walk with Mac in afternoon – he took my photo on the promenade with the old castle in the background. I leave by 3 o’clock train tomorrow." The promenade is easy to find, and it is a wonderful walk. It is evening and many people are strolling along, holding hands, walking dogs, jogging or just ambling. There is plenty of space and the sea on our right hand looks lovely. We have Dad’s photo with us and we find the exact spot. A young couple is occupying the balustrade, but they soon move as we start to set up to take our photo. I take their place, it is still warm. It is a very special feeling for me. My bottom is sitting on exactly the same bit of balustrade as Dad’s, 66 years earlier. The war is well in the past, and Vesuvius is now a dark, sullen and silent mountain, but so much has remained the same. This section of balustrade, probably not a major attraction for the city of Naples, holds that important element of continuity. Bottoms have been sitting here, warming the cold metal every day for years. It is a place to sit and reflect.
PLEASE SEND HOME is the transcript of the very interesting and informative diaries of Jack Bickley who, as a soldier in the 2NZEF, WWII, spent his war years in North-Western Egypt, the Eastern Mediterranean, Greece, Crete, North Africa and Italy. SAMPLE OF JACK'S DIARIES 1942: I don’t think I was actually scared coming through the ambush. I seemed to have two personalities. One that observed quite calmly the things around, flying bullets. I watched later flying sparks, trucks bursting into flames, people screaming & rushing round in the orange glow, all seemed like a scene from a particularly lurid cinema. All my senses seemed doubly awake, someone was lying across my heels and I remember thinking that I would probably get cramp if I had to stop in that position too long. There was a most peculiar odour that I’ll never forget. It was a composite, partly a new truck, partly a new tyre lying on the floor, partly a smell of bursting bombs, partly because someone, probably the wounded, had unconsciously excreted, & mostly a hot oily burning smell of roaring engines & racing tyres. I think if I were to smell that smell again I would be scared. Blood and fire it was. All the little paltry exterior things seemed to fill that half of me. The other half was quite calm too, but it was conscious of the danger. I wondered if I would be hit, and where. Whether it would be severe or slight, whether if I was hit, and I couldn’t see how I couldn’t would I be brave or not. Whether we would ever get out of it.
Mary Sutherland was born in Invercargill and brought up in Southland Otago where she has lived most of her life. As a student in the '60s she marched against the Vietnam War and Ban the Bomb protests. But finding her father's diaries opened up a window to the experiences of the young men who travelled far from home and family to fight for what they believed had to be done. Mary is a mother, a wife, a teacher, an actor, a singer, and runs a successful tourism business in partnership with her husband Fergus. Far from Home and Family is her first book. Jack Bickley was born in Riverton in 1915 and lived most of his life in Southland and Otago. After his war experience, he married his 'best of all' Irene Shiels and together they taught in rural Southland and Dunedin. He retired from teaching at the end of 1975 and lived in Arrowtown. His passion for creating the garden needed to provide the fresh vegetables to go with his roast mutton and mint sauce, his keen interest in photography and community affairs filled his days. He continued to keep diaries for most of his life detailing his teaching, gardening and community activities right to the day he died in 1978.