You don't have to understand the world. You just have to find your own way around in it. - Albert Einstein

Sunday, 25 December 2016

of Treasure Found - the 100-year-old Autograph Book

It's not often that I get the opportunity to mark a centenary, but this is such an occasion, so I want to share something special with you.
I've had this book for about nine years or so now. A friend of mine found it in a rubbish skip on the street in Five Dock, an inner western suburb of Sydney. He knew it was precious and saved it, but he didn't know what to do with it. It was when I showed him my altered book art that he decided that I loved old books enough to appreciate such a treasure, and he gave it to me. I don't know what to do with it either, either than love it and be amazed by it.
One hundred years ago, at Christmas in 1916, this book was presented to Dorothy Wickham Bate for Music. The latest date I can find recorded in the book is 1936. For twenty years, Miss Bate kept this book with her, adding new friends and memories to it regularly. I don't know why she stopped keeping it - there are plenty of blank pages still left - or where it was in all that time from 1936 until my friend found it, or how it ended up in a skip on the street after all that.

The book has been printed with beautiful decorative motifs, lines and spaces for autographs.
Dates are scattered randomly throughout the book. Miss Bate has used this book by opening to a random page each time rather than keeping a chronological order. A Mr Fred T. Berman, B.A. of Five Dock skipped ahead to the last page as early as February 5, 1917 to write thereupon "The end crowns all: /And that old common arbitrator Time / Will one day end it. / For tho' the day be ever so long, / At the last it singeth to evensong." Some of Miss Bate's friends signed just their names and the dates.
Many wrote short poems or passages; most of these have some religious flavour or moral lesson, while a  few are humorous.
"Once I had money and a friend
On whom I set great store,
I lent my money to my friend
And took his word therefore.
I asked my money of my friend
Naught but words I got.
I lost my money and my friend
Pursue him I would not.
But if I had money and a friend
As I have had before,
I'd keep my money and my friend,
And play the fool no more." - unsigned

"It is hard to find a friend
It is hard to find a hope.
It's harder still to find the towel
When your eyes are full of soap." - D. Bate 1916

"Life is mostly froth and bubble,
Two things stand like stone,
Kindness in another's trouble,
Courage in your own." - Miss Burwood, 1921

Some have drawn original artworks, little sketches and cartoons.
Most exciting for me to discover were a few extraordinary inclusions, such as a white envelope lying loose between the pages, not fixed in. On the front is written 'Autobiography. Miss Nobbs (Five Dock)' and on the back flap, 'N. Brailey, 14 Elizabeth St., Five Dock, 2046.' Inside is this photograph of two women in military-style uniform standing in front of a van, a S.D.C.A. St. Andrews Hut Tea Canteen, whatever that is exactly. The logo bears a motto - 'FOR HEALTH AND FREEDOM' and the van is apparently sponsored by a National Emergency Fund. It is parked in front of the arched doorway of a stone church. There are three typewritten pages fixed together with an old stud. The heading says 'AUTOBIOGRAPHY of JESSIE NOBBS, and memories of old FIVE DOCK.' That is a story in itself, of course, and I plan to share this precious document more fully with you in another post.
In 1916, of course, the Great War was raging, on the other side of the world perhaps, but very much at the centre of people's lives. Women and girls of all ages were called upon to knit socks and other comforts for soldiers on the front. In those days of trench warfare and footrot, I imagine that a fresh, new, dry pair of hand-made socks would have seemed like manna from heaven. A pair of Dorothy's socks made their way to a Sergent Henri Hiver of the 264th Regiment d'Infanterie, and he sent her this letter of thanks, written with exquisite penmanship and barely coherent English.

He provided his address...
...and she sent him a postcard in return, bearing this 1829 image of Como, Sydney.
It sailed to France but failed to find him, and was returned still in its envelope, where I found it, loose between the book's pages. I cried.
Someone has made a note of a 2nd Lieutenant Robert S. Lasker of the Royal Air Force, who was killed in May 1918.

And there is this amazingly odd, very utilitarian postcard that must have been issued to soldiers serving overseas. Lew Nicklaus was able to send word on September 9, 1917, that he was quite well and had received his parcel.
If there are any descendants or relatives of Miss Dorothy Bate looking around on the Internet for traces of their ancestors, it is my hope that one of them will find this post with their search engine. Wouldn't it be wonderful to find a rightful home for this most precious treasure?