My grandfather goes looking for his own grave (and other Maltese mysteries)

Ninety-five or so years ago a teenager in New Zealand, hearing news of the– perhaps still “heroic”– early phases of the British involvement in the Great War, was desperate to enlist, but too young to do so. So he borrowed his elder brother’s birth certificate and went to enlist in the Otago Rifles.
(What on earth were his parents thinking?)
I believe his name was Cyril Howard Marlow. His brother’s name was George Stanley Marlow, so that was the name Cyril adopted upon enlistment.
The family have, as yet, no records of the early months of his service. But I think that by August he was in Gallipoli, and perhaps had been there for some months already.
Conditions of service for all the New Zealanders who fought in World War I were extremely harsh, and they were achingly far from home. (There was even a Maori Battalion. Can you imagine the kinds of assignments they got, and how those Maoris serving a distant British king felt about it all?)
Gallipoli is a 20-mile-long peninsula that forms the northern shore of the vital Dardanelles Strait, that links the Aegean to the Sea of Marmara. The British imperial war command wanted to take the peninsula from the Ottoman Empire, and Australians and New Zealanders formed a significant part of the invasion force that landed in April 1915. Things did not go well for any of the invaders… By August 1915 they were badly bogged down; and that month saw some notable setbacks for them, as the nimble Ottoman defenders commanded by the 34-year-old Lt.-Col. Mustafa Kemal found ways to trap them and push them back.
(I’ve blogged previously about the importance the Gallipoli battles paradoxically came to have in the formation of Australian and N.Z. national identity, including here.)
So, back to Cyril Howard Marlow… What we do know about the lad is that, most likely, he was wounded at Gallipoli and evacuated on one of the stream of hospital ships that carried the casualties from there to military hospitals the British rapidly organized on the island of Malta.
On September 12, 1915, he died in one of those hospitals. He was buried under the name he’d used to enlist with, that of George Stanley Marlow, in the military cemetery at Pieta (Our Lady of Sorrows), a small town just outside the Maltese capital, Valetta.
Today, I went to visit his grave. The meticulous record-keeping of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) enabled me to find it fairly easily.
George Stanley Marlow was my grandfather. He lived in London by the time Cyril Howard died. Seven months after Cyril’s death, George’s wife gave birth to their first child, who was my mother.
Later, the couple had another daughter, and then a much longed-for son. The son was named Howard Norman, in memory of his paternal uncle, deceased at Gallipoli, and his maternal uncle Norman Williams, who also perished in World War I.
Howard Norman Marlow enlisted as an aviator in World war II and was killed in North Africa.
The cemetery in which Cyril Howard Marlow lies is a testament to the tragedy and criminality of war. The grave he is buried in– like all those in the WW-I section of the cemetery– contains the bodies of three deceased servicemen. The CWGC says on its website that this because of the difficulty of digging numerous, appropriately deep graves during the conditions of war. That’s as may be. But what also became evident from the walk I took around the cemetery was that in the weeks between late August 1915 and the middle of October, the Commonwealth soldiers were being buried there at an extremely fast rate. In fact, just about all of the graves I saw in the section of the cemetery, which contains the crammed-together remains of more than 1,300 soldiers– most of them Brits but with a strong representation of “ANZACs”– had dates of death listed in just that short, seven-week period of late summer 1915.
If those were the ones who survived long enough to die on Malta, imagine how many more died in the hospital ships along the way and had to be buried at sea. Imagine how many more died on the field of battle itself.
So I guess that Cyril Howard was “lucky” to survive as long as he did and to end up buried in a sweet, peaceful cemetery in Pieta, Malta, in a place where his great-niece can come visit his grave.
One of my sisters tells me that my grandfather came to Malta once, to visit his little brother’s grave. That must have been an odd sensation– seeing your own name on a gravestone.
But he died in 1956 or so, when I was still a little girl, so I can’t ask him about it.
… And then, of course, I can’t help but contrast my own ability to go pay my respects at the grave of this ancestor, and the way the CWGC carefully tends the graves of the British dead around the world, with the way the Simon Wiesenthal Center of Los Angeles has been trying to tear up the extremely ancient Ma’moun Allah (“Mamilla”) cemetery in West Jerusalem.
I am really delighted to see that various U.S. civil rights organizations, including the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild, have been taking up the campaign to stop the Wiesenthal Center in its tracks there. Their project, which is to build a so-called “Museum of Tolerance” right on the site of that ancient cemetery, is an outrage.

Magnanimous in Defeat

It’s a beautiful place to sit, on a bench overlooking Tarakena Bay on the southeast corner of New Zealand’s North Island. One can watch the ferry boats traversing Cook Strait which separates the North and South Islands, and in the foreground are rocky crags with nesting gulls.
Just to divert a moment from the main subject, we observe a nesting gull (White, yellow beak with a red spot, gray wings) shift position as a juvenile gull (all brown) settles in on the nest. The juvenile stretches its neck up and down a couple of times, then bows down low, obviously to disgorge some food to unseen chicks in the nest. I didn’t know that juveniles did that! But we check the bird book. Adult gulls are similar in appearance but the juveniles are brown.
What a grand thing we’ve seen. A bird of one generation giving up food for members of its own generation. The mind wanders. In the US the government is running up a huge debt with ever-increasing gigantic deficits to finance corporate welfare and needless wars, when those funds could be used to house and feed the needy. What we could learn from gulls!
Anyhow, I told you that to tell you this. If you were fortunate enough to be sitting on that bench, and you looked up and over your left shoulder, you would see perched on a bluff a large concrete structure called “Ataturk Memorial.”

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New Zealand notes, #2

    Another NZ piece I wanted to post earlier. But I’m home now, so once I get myself sorted out a bit after the trip I should be back to more regular posting.

Mike Roberts is a successful man. You can watch him adeptly
co-anchoring the hour-long evening news magazine on TV-3, or you can
see his face on billboards throughout the country. He has, by
his own reckoning “about one-third” Maori blood. But he
self-identifies strongly and confidently as a Maori.

Back in 1999 he decided to make a documentary about the life of his
(mostly Maori) father. He titled it “White sheep” He told me a bit about it:

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New Zealand notes, #1

    I’m back in the US of A. On a beautiful mountaintop overlooking Los Angeles. Our family is gathering here for a short time to commemorate my mother-in-law, who passed away in mid-May.

    I finally have a faintly workable computer/internet setup, so I wanted to post at least the first of these screeds I wrote about New Zealand.

    Today, once again, we took a flight that crossed both the Equator and the International Date Line in one hop. I feel I’m in a time-warp but what the heck. The following was written on about June 27…

And so, what of New Zealand in the

We flew into Auckland, arriving really early on the morning of Friday,
June 17. We picked up a hire car and drove down (up?) to Taupo, a
small town near the geographical middle of the North Island.
We stayed there for a week with my sister Hilly and her partner, who
living in Taupo for this year. They chose this small lakeside
town because my Aunty Margery– the only remaining member of our
family’s older generation– has lived there for many years and is now,
at 87, living in a nursing home near the center of town.

On June 25, Bill and I left Taupo and drove east and a little south to
town called Napier on the North Island’s east (Pacific) coast. After
two days there, we drove 200 miles south to Martinborough.

It’s my first visit to Aotearoa/New Zealand. I grew up in England
in the 1950s and 1960s, and the general view of NZ that I’d obtained
then was that it was “a more perfect England”, trapped somewhere in the
genteel reaches of the 1920s. Actually, though you can definitely
still catch whiffs of that image here today, much of the country isn’t
like that at all. Starting with its geography: the portions of it
that I’ve seen are far more dramatic than anything you can see in
England, with sharp escarpments, starkly configured volcanic hills and
mountains, steam rising from geothermal features in many places, and
lots of heavy, near-tropical vegetation including distinctly un-English
flora like tree-ferns, long drapy vines, and yuccas.

The culture also seems in many ways un-“English”…

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We conquer the capital

Today we were in Wellington, capital of New Zealand. It was a fun day; also, very beautiful. We spent a bunch of time in the National Museum/ Te Pape, and learned a whole lot more about the Treaty of Waitangi and the preservation of Maori language and culture as one of the taonga (treasures) of the Maroi people under the Treaty.
I started drawing some comparisons/contrasts between the situation of the Maori citizens of NZ with that of the ethnically Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up a slightly larger proportion of the national population there. Israel, of course, defines itself as the “state of the Jewish people (everywhere)”, and notably not as the “state of its citizens”. In New Zealand, I don’t think anyone would currently describe her/himself as supporting the country being the “state of the Pakeha (white people)”. Or maybe some would, but not in public.
Anyway, there’s lots more to write about this, which I have started doing for the blog– though I can’t post this yet, given the tech constraints– but shall also now do for al-Hayat. It’s a fascinating topic– the attempt of a settler-dominated society to change course and start to act respectfully toward the culture and (some of) the interests of the indigenous people.
On the tech constraints– we’tre still in this hotel in Martinborough with sclerotic web access and no USB port for my thumbstick. On the other hand, we’re in the heart of a really lovely wine-growing area. So I’ll deal with it.
Tomorrow I’m going to talk with the head of the Maori Land Court in Wellington and then Bill and I fly to Auckland.