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Battle Of Britain Day And My Father’s War

battle
Battle of Britain Day is 15 September. On that day in 1940, the German Air Force accepted that they could not sustain an air invasion of Britain. They ceased their daytime attacks, and resorted to only attacking at night.
 
 
I just realized today that my father, a soldier in the Canadian Army (whose prime military involvement in the Second World War was the invasion of Sicily and Italy), actually had greater personal hardship from events dealing with the air invasion of Britain, than the acute danger he faced during his land invasion.
 
 
The first thing that comes to mind is that he hated the confinement of bomb shelters, and would not use them. He would wander the streets and watch the air action. He saw bombs explode, and planes (of both sides) get shot down. He recounted one experience of seeing a German pilot parachuting to the ground, after bailing from his plane. A very young soldier aimed his rifle at the descending airman and was ready to shoot. An officer knocked his rifle aside. The soldier started to cry, yelling “They bring me over here, and they train me, but they won’t let me kill a damn German.”
 
 
On one occasion, my father went on leave with a group of soldiers, including his three best buddies. They were always together. However, my father also spent time with my mother (she was a British girl, and became his War Bride). As a result, my father did not return on the same truck that his buddies did, but spent as much time on leave as he could with my mother. When he did return to his barracks, he was greeted by shock and disbelief. The truck he was supposed to return in had been struck by a direct hit from a German bomber. It had just been assumed that one of the mangled corpses was his.
 
 
And the third thing, which I believe he only mentioned once, concerned an incident that happened near one of his British postings. His company was often moved and placed elsewhere during the three years he was in Britain. They would stay in each place a few months, and make friends with the local people. Near one of these postings there was a Boy’s School, mainly of younger teenagers. The boys were interested (indeed, fascinated) by the Canadian soldiers, and spent time with them. One day the school was bombed, and the soldiers were first into the ruined building. My father was eventually to see things more horrible than this slaughter, but I feel it affected him the worst.
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Kafka Has A Beer With His Father

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In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote. 

On this day, Kafka spent the afternoon with his father – an unusual event. And he even had a beer – he was not much of a drinker. But Kafka knew his estranged sister, Ottla, was coming to visit. Her parting of months before had been vicious.

***************************************

25 June 2017

We are rarely alone with each other, and the strain was palpable. I wanted to act as normally as possible, but since my usual conversation is what generally infuriates him, that seemed unwise. We read the newspapers, and I managed enough comments about the articles, and elicited his tiresome opinions about the war, and didn’t argue with him too much, that the afternoon – although slow – passed with little rancour. I even had a beer with him, and he showed his surprise. And, I even enjoyed it – but then, I had earned it.

In fact, it may have been the unaccustomed alcohol which lessened the shock of seeing Ottla enter the apartment with mother. Father stood from his chair, the newspapers falling at his feet. “Ottla has an hour before she must catch her train,” said Mother. “I have asked her in for some tea.” Father glared at her an excessively long minute without speaking, managing however to give me an occasional menacing glance. He then abruptly sat again, gathering his papers and holding them in front of his face. “Don’t give her too much,” came his voice from behind the pages. “Too much tea can make a long journey uncomfortable.” I knew that he had already read the pages he held, and I wondered what he was thinking.

About ten minutes passed, and then mother came back and asked if we would like any tea. “Yes,” my father answered, but instead of waiting for it to be brought to him, as is his usual practise, he followed mother into the dining room. And I followed him. Ottla didn’t look up, but he did manage to ask some questions about the farm, and she delivered some cautious replies. She stayed another twenty minutes, then I walked her to the station. It had been mother’s idea to come home, and Ottla had not strongly resisted. I know that she and father will never apologize to each other, but at least they now speak. Once we were out of sight of the house, she gripped my hand and held it until we reached the train. “How can I love that monster?” she asked from the train as it pulled away. “How can you not?” I replied. I hope the noise from the wheels drowned out my words.

 

26 June 1917

Fight and you die. Surrender and you die.

 

27 June 1917

Live and you die.

 

[Image] https:/ /s.inyourpocket.com/gallery/148184.jpg

 

The Summer Solstice Could Be Bad For Virgins

Thousands Gather To Celebrate Summer Solstice At Stonehenge
I have an odd connection to the Summer Solstice, and it is via Stonehenge. My father guarded the structure, and did so on Midsummer Day.

During the Second World War, it was feared that Germany would invade England. Many of the Canadian soldiers stationed in England were spread in a wide circle around London. An outright invasion would be a do-or-die situation, and Canadian soldiers had it been known to them – without direct orders – that no prisoners were to be taken.

One of the areas put under guard was Stonehenge. Though less so now, at that time Stonehenge was surrounded by vast planes. It was feared the Germans might use these open areas for paratroopers, and also gliders full of troops. Thus the area was defended.

My father was part of this protection, and it so happened that he stood guard duty near Stonehenge itself on Midsummer Day, and watched the sun rise over the monument.

He was aware of the significance of both time and place, as many of his comrades might not be.

Indeed, when he informed them that the Celts, at one time, sacrificed virgins on altars at Stonehenge, they expressed – in more earthy soldier language than I am going to use – “What a waste.”

(Image)https://timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2015/06/summer-solstice.jpeg

Kafka Had A Father For Life

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In Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the ‘missing’ diary entries from Kafka’s real diary. He either did not fill in these days himself, or he destroyed them. There are some estimates that Kafka destroyed 70% – 80% of everything he wrote. 

Kafka’s father gets a bad (and unwarranted) rap from Kafka and history. Hermann Kafka was emotionally distant, and devoted his life to his business (at which he was very successful). But he did this as much for his family, as for any other reason. He had come from hardship, poverty and want, and he wished different for his children. As long as they didn’t get in his way.

++++++++++++

01 January 1917

              There was a cloud caught in the branches of a tree today, outside my parents home. Or so it appeared. I got up from the cot and went to tell Ottla, but she was clearing the kitchen, tending to the dishes.

So I was radical, unthinking – driven by haste – and told the only one not consumed by labour. I told my father.

“In the trees?” he asked.

I propelled him from his chair, thrusting the papers aside. He followed me, and I could see the surprise on his face.

“Where?” he asked; and I pointed out the window. “But I see nothing.”  

“Oh, you have to lie on the cot.”  

“On the cot?”  

“And with your head just so.”

I pushed him onto it, and he lay, looking sideways.

“But you are right,” he said.

I thought, because of the holiday, he might be humouring me, but then I saw that his jaw hung open, and his face was astonished.

Does the boy never grow, that he can feel so good to be vindicated by his father?

Kafka Ponders His Father (for Father’s Day from Kafka In The Castle)

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the missing entries of his actual diaries.  There are many days to fill, as he either did not write during these days, or he destroyed the record.

cloud-tree

01 January 1917

There was a cloud caught in the branches of a tree today, outside my parents home.

Or so it appeared.

I got up from the cot and went to tell Ottla, but she was clearing the kitchen, tending to the dishes.

So I was radical, unthinking – driven by haste – and told the only one not consumed by labour. I told my father.

“In the trees?” he asked.

I propelled him from his chair, thrusting the papers aside. He followed me, and I could see the surprise on his face.

“Where?” he asked; and I pointed out the window.

“But I see nothing.”

“Oh, you have to lie on the cot.”

“On the cot?”

“And with your head just so.” I pushed him onto it, and he lay, looking sideways.

“But you are right,” he said.

I thought because of the holiday he might be humouring me, but then I saw that his jaw hung open, and his face was astonished.

Does the boy never grow, that he can feel so good to be vindicated by his father?

(image)http://www.wikilinks.fr/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/cloud-tree.jpg

Train Station Saved By Becoming House of Booze

 

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I was first at this train station in the late 1950s, to greet my Mother’s mother, who travelled by ship from England.
She first went to Saint John’s, and then (I guess) Halifax. She stayed with us two months or more, with one trip (I bet by train) to Ontario to see a sister (Great Aunt Lizzie, who sent me a toy where you squeezed a rubber ball attached to a hose that pushed air into a small box which made it pop open and a snake coiled out. I called the snake Lizzie, which caused some consternation).

Also, my brother’s first memory of my father was seeing a pair of legs waiting at the bottom of a rail car as he and Mom disembarked. I assume this was also the York St. Station. He would have been three. Dad was away on the continent fighting a war when he was born and, at war’s end, had been shipped directly back to Canada.

And – of course – I lived ten minutes away from this station for thirty-four years. Many and many are the times I walked the tracks to go to UNB, both as a student, and for work at the University Library. Many was the Sunday walk I took from the Station to the Princess Margaret Bridge, which was two kilometres away. Then I walked back beside the river.

I also took a number of train trips to and from this station. And during those times the train finally did not physically come into this station, one took a bus from here, to and fro the Fredericton Junction station.

This  unexpected walk down memory lane is caused by my current character, Alison Alexandra. For the last three days I have been describing Alison Alexandra sitting beside a disused train station (now a museum), waiting for a train to pass so she can wave at the engineer. Which she did.

Here is the link that describes how this station – eventually – was revived from its years of abandonment, and its derelict situation, to become a modern place of commerce.

Escape From The House of Hell

alh5baf0f_ottla[Franz & Ottla]

Franz Kafka lived way too long with his parents (his discord with his father is famous), and stayed in the city of Prague (which he described as “The little mother with claws”) for most of his life. But his sister, Ottla, escaped both. In my rendition of Kafka’s missing diary entries, in Kafka In The Castle, I show his reaction to his sister’s escape.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

20 April 1917

Fate laughed up its sleeve, and this morning’s post brought a letter from Felice. A letter of no consequence, except for its arrival.

And I, in fact, have answered it. Perhaps too hastily. Perhaps too truthfully.

I have praised Ottla so much previously that F. has, upon occasion, made comments about my admiration.

That was her word, and I think it was not used favourably.

But the truth is – I have great admiration for my youngest sister. She does not think and think and think.

She does not discuss things for weeks.

She acts.

My God – she got away from Prague!

Kafka With A Father’s Knife In His Back On The Ides of March

1eid_mar

 

In my novel, Kafka In The Castle, I fill in the missing entries of his actual diaries.  There are many days to fill, as he either did not write during these days, or he destroyed the record.

Franz Kafka had his famous conflict with his father. He wrote a book about it.   For The Ides of March,  I imagine how Kafka pictured the will and actions of his father.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

15 March 1917

Had I been born into a different family  – with other parents – I would be a different person. I was doomed from my first breath to have the father I have. My life is shaped beyond the reach of my choice.

I have lived so much of my life defending myself, that I marvel I have advanced at all. It is difficult to have achievements while continually looking over your shoulder for a knife in the back. Harder still, when you have to stop periodically, reach awkwardly around, and pull out the blades embedded there from childhood.

Cut and bloodied fingers make it painful to pick up the life spread before you.

But, my father is not always content to stand behind. From any alley – indeed, from any room, across any table – my father can charge at me with an outstretched lance, or a sword held high to come chopping down across my neck, with the full intent of severing my head from my body.

That he often strikes blindly makes his attack no less destructive.

(Image) cdn.history.com/sites/2/2017/03/1Eid_Mar.jpg

My Father Was A Veteran Who Marched On Remembrance Day

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My father, Byron Caleb Estey, served in the Canadian Army for the entirety of the Second World War. He was 31 when he signed up, and was a decade or more older than most of the soldiers he served with. At the end of the war, he was offered an instant promotion from Corporal to Sergeant Major. He declined. He had had enough.

He was with the 90th Anti-Tank Battery. He was the member of the crew who calculated the coordinates to aim the gun and destroy targets. He did this up through Sicily and Italy, except for those times when he grabbed his rifle to shoot at soldiers shooting at him.

I imagine I could write pages repeating the anecdotes he told – and maybe some day I will. He didn’t talk all that much about the war, and when he did, I’d guess 80% of his stories were humorous. The other 20% were not.

I regret not discussing his war experiences more with him, but he did not encourage it. I once asked how close he got to the German soldiers. He said, close enough to kill them.

He hated Germans and Japanese all of his life. I understand that this is not the way of most soldiers. They mellow. They come to understand that soldiers on the other side were doing a job, just as they were. My father was not one of these. Those 20% of his stories explained his attitude to me.

He fought in – arguably – the most horrific and bloodiest battle in the war, the Battle of Ortona over Christmas week of 1943. He marched over piles of bodies, and crawled over piles of bodies. Such were the details he would tell. He didn’t speak of his feelings, or use words like “horror”.

On Remembrance Day he would march in the community parade. He rarely lingered for a meal or beer or camaraderie at The Legion. He did not seem affected by the memorial event, and did not talk any more or less about his experiences just because it was 11 November.

Because his tales were more funny than not, I’ll close on what might have been his last funny story.

At his death, the Royal Canadian Legion wanted to conduct a small ceremony at the funeral parlour. They requested that his medals be pinned to his chest. But, the medals could not be found. This was odd, because they were important to him, and he always wore them for the Remembrance Day parade.

It is excessive to say that the whole house was searched – but not by much. Drawers, shelves, boxes, closets, clothes, were repeatedly searched. Nothing. The Last Post was played over a Veteran with no medals.

Months later, when the house was being sold and possessions were being removed, his clothes were searched before being given away. In the side pocket of a jacket he never wore were the medals, all spiff and shiny.

He would have smiled at that.

Dale Estey

 

(image)http://i.pinimg.com/236x/60/fc/c6/60fcc6ed57cfd2fb5d3373758564c568–division-guns.jpg

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