In My Father’s Words



In My Father’s Words


03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018


The Ashes


And then there was nothing but a smouldering pile of ashes, a small pile, it must be said.

1883, viewed from 2004, is a long time ago.  Well, 121 years to be exact, and it was in the 19th, and not the 20thcentury, which we can all remember.  And yet, 1883 was only 55 years before I was born, and looking back 55 years, I can recall pretty well what was going on in 1949.  All right, I remember a little anyway, and it doesn’t seem like the pre dawn of history.

Victoria had been our monarch for 46 years and still had another 18 to run.  The British Empire was at the height of its power and international influence.  The European peace achieved by Wellington and Blucher’s great victory at Waterloo was still holding, and would run for 99 years until the world was engulfed by the Kaiser’s War.    The Iron Duke had been dead for just thirty-one years.  Winston Churchill was only nine, and Hitler not yet a twinkle in Alois’s eye.  Gladstone was Prime Minister and someone called Chester Arthur was the 21st President of the United States.  Mr Arthur’s great predecessor, Abraham Lincoln, had, like John Brown, been mouldering in his grave for a mere nineteen years.

Europe was more or less ruled by six large empires; France, Germany, Austria, Russia, Turkey, and of course, the British Empire.  While the Continent was generally free of overall war, the Prussians had had a couple of overwhelming successes against the Austrians and their traditional enemies, the French.  The French Emperor, Napoleon III, with all his uncle’s arrogance, but none of his ability, had invaded Germany in 1870.  He lost his crown, his empire and a large part of his country.  The British restricted themselves to dust ups with the natives around the world and always won, in the end.  The Crimean War, the first to be photographed, and the Boer War at the end of the century, taught our grandfathers and great grandfathers that we weren’t quite as good as we had imagined.

The young United States was still recovering from its dreadful Civil War, called either that, or the War of States’ rights, depending on your viewpoint.  Some say the war had been fought to abolish slavery.  Probably not.  Incidentally, the decadent British Empire abolished slavery in 1833, some 28 tears before the guns roared at Fort Sumter.

The second half of the 19th Century was a good time for millions of people, and not so good for millions more.  Many things we now take for granted had not been invented.  Cars and aircraft were in the future by about 20 years.  Computers were not even contemplated.  Trains were clattering around the country, driven by steam and coal and depositing soot on peoples’ skins and stinging their eyes.  Electricity was in its infancy, with Thomas Edison in the US and Joseph Swan in Britain, developing the light bulb.  Godalming, in Surrey, became, in 1881, the first town in Britain to be supplied with electricity for public and private use. 

A Mr J Crapper patented the modern flushing toilet and gave a new word to the English language, an honour he could probably have done without.  The telephone had been invented in 1876 and was becoming popular.  There was no television, no radio, no CDs or DVDs, and no mobile telephones.  So some things were better.

One of the three women carefully stirred the small pile of ashes to ensure the fire was out.

In sport, the first International Rugby match had been played between England and Scotland in 1871, followed by International football or soccer a year later.  The Men’s singles had started at Wimbledon in 1877, but the ladies would not put their dainty feet on the sacred grass until 1884.    In cricket, the Australians had beaten England, in England, for the first, but certainly not the last time.  The Sporting Times carried a mock obituary on the ‘Death of English cricket’, saying that the body was to be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia.

The women put a quantity of the ash into a small urn and sealed it.

In 1883, the Hon. Ivo Bligh took an English cricket team to Australia, and at the end of the scheduled tour, England led 2-1.

The ‘Three Ladies of Melbourne’, alas identified only as such, presented the urn, with the Ashes to Ivo Bligh, to take back to England.  The Ashes were of a cricket bail, and thus was a legend, and many clichés, born.

Written by my Father B.M



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