Sepia Saturday #27 – Character Reference


This is my father when he was stationed in Singapore in the late 1940s. He joined the British Army in October, 1942. He enlisted as a “Boy Soldier” at the age of 151/2. The following letter that I discovered last week, leads me to believe that he was greatly influenced by that to which he refers.

My dad had left the Harding Street Trade Preparatory School in Belfast and started working as a Thread Packer in a Falls Road Linen Mill. Recognizing that there was no future for him there, I believe he must have harkened back to his halcyon days in the company of an American Serviceman. I think this prompted him to join up.

This letter tells the story. Please click to enlarge the images.



I am currently searching for the family of Jack Millwater so that I may pass along these memories my father so cherished, but was unable to share. I have a few leads, but if the name happens to strike you as familiar, please do let me know.

Visit the Sepia Saturday blog to enjoy other stories and photographs from many different backgrounds and experiences.


Sepia Saturday #13: The Road to Singapore

(“Aboard the USS St. Paul (a cruiser) in Singapore harbour with my US Navy host.”)

On October 7, 1942, at the age of 15 1/2, my father William Henry (Harry) Davison, who was born in the Whiterock area of Belfast in Ireland, enlisted in the British Army to escape what he called “a dead-end job” at the linen mill back home.
He was assigned for the first 3 years to the Southernmost part of England in Berkshire, Hampshire and Kent.
Many years later, in a letter to a family member, he wrote, “In Hampshire, I saw all the goings-on for D-Day, but was not involved in that, as I was too young.  I spent the years from 1947 to 1949 in Germany, from 1949 to 1952 in Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong and the final year of my Army service, in Hampshire until discharge from the Army in May 1953.

(As written on back: Port of Singapore waterfront.  November 1949.)
“Discharged on 4th May, I didn’t even go back to Belfast, but did visit my Mother, who lived then with an invalid brother, Patrick, in Portsmouth.  The 16th May was the day on which I departed by ship for Canada.”
My father often talked of Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaya with great fondness.  He was the sort of man who, if he saw someone who even looked remotely Asian, would make his way up to them and strike up a conversation.  It gave him great pleasure to spout a few (albeit broken) words of Chinese or talk of particular districts in the cities he remembered so well.  My dad loved to interact with people of all kinds—he was a man who would literally give you the shirt off his back. 
My mother tells me of a cold day when he came home from work  in the downtown core of Toronto without the big wool sweater his own mother had knitted for him and sent overseas. When my Mom asked him where the sweater was, he responded, “I saw this fella who looked really cold…”
I think his Army days and experience with people from all walks of life all over Europe and Asia gave him a real feel for his fell0w-man.  He loved everybody.

“Taken in Singapore on the US cruiser St. Paul in the year of 1950 if my memory serves me properly.”

Oops! Almost forgot, if you’d like to see more great photographs, visit the Sepia Saturday blog where you’ll find links to everyone who’s playing along.  Feel free to join in!

Sepia Saturday #6 – Cheaper By The Dozen


Clockwise from left: Mary, Granny Polland (I do not know her name), Betty, Hugh, Jane (in front) and Harry in the middle circa 1935?

I was an only child until I was nine years of age and my parents adopted a three-year 0ld girl who was to be my new little sister. (My mother had given birth to a boy when I myself was three, but he had died of jaundice after only five days.)

So, you can imagine how hard it is for me to fathom my own father’s family consisting of not merely one or two kids, but twelve! (Of course it was a Catholic family.) My father came in at number seven (He always claimed that as his lucky number and so do I, though I never win anything in lotteries or draws. But then again, neither did he.)

The oldest in the family were Mary and Tom; then followed (I’m not certain of the order) John, Mick, R.J., Rona (Veronica), my dad—William (Harry), Josephine (Josie), Betty, Odran (called Hugh), Jane (called Girlie)and Patrick (Pat).

As far as I know, Mary is the only one of the twelve to have stayed in Belfast, or in Ireland at all, for that matter. The remainder spent the better part of their lives in England, or for a short time, Scotland (Josie worked at Butlin’s holiday camp outside Ayr.)

The boys were all in the army or navy, except for Pat and Hugh. Pat had meningitis as a baby and was developmentally disabled from then on. I remember my dad was always bundling up his clothes into boxes and shipping them back home for Pat. Pat died some time in the late 1970s, but I did get the chance to meet him once when we went overseas as a family in 1977. He was always in great admiration of my dad—the great man who’d made it big in Canada.

I have so many cousins – some I’ve never met, or likely even heard of. While in the Republic of Ireland in ‘77 (it was a bad time to go to the north so the Belfast contingent came down to us), I came face to face for with Mary’s son, Harry and it was honest-to-god like looking in a mirror. I have never forgotten that.

Only the girls are left now. With my dad’s death in November 2008, all the boys have passed on. Both Mary and Josie reportedly have Alzheimer’s. Betty (a woman with a heart of gold and the heartiest laugh you can imagine) lives on the Isle of Wight with one of her son’s, Jerome, who is the kindest soul and looks out for his mum. Jane—who I’ve had the great fortune to spend quality time with on my own adventures in the past, now lives in Spain with my uncle Ernest. Veronica (Rona) passed away a few years back, but I had occasion to visit with her in the 90s and we got along very well.

Just one-third of the Davison children remain. I’m just sorry that I have no kids of my own to carry on the family line.

Kat Mortensen©2010 Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

For more exceptional Sepia Saturday posts, please visit News From Nowhere, maintained by the erudite and charming, Alan Burnett.

Sepia Saturday #5 : Not a mug shot.


Although it looks a bit like a mug shot of a mobster from a Jimmy Cagney film, this is actually my grandfather, Joseph Davison. He fathered 12 kids with my grandmother, MaryAnn, but as is quite common in the poor areas of Northern Ireland, he wasted much of any money he made as a hodman in the local pub and his family suffered as a result. Fortunately, my grandmother ran a small shop at the front of the house, where she sold bread and black-market cigarettes. That’s how she kept the dozen Davisons fed on potato farls and soda bread.

Joseph, although called Davison, never knew his own father and thus, my ancestry is hazy at best on my dad’s side.

I never met the man, for he died when I was very young, but his blood runs through my veins and I suspect my liking of Irish whiskey and Guinness may be due in small part to that connection.

Who knows? Perhaps he penned a few poems while sitting in his favourite local. My father certainly had a way with words and he must have got that from someone. I’d like to believe it was his dad.

For more Sepia Saturday participants, please visit Alan Burnett’s blog, News From Nowhere.

Kat Mortensen©2010 Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Sepia Saturday #2: Dad’s Army

Army Life c.1945 (my father is on the right)

My dad was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. He was the seventh child in a family of twelve children. At the age of 15 1/2, he joined the British Army as a Boy Soldier. That was in 1942. He never saw active duty in World War II, but he was a sergeant for 11 years and was a member of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

Strangely, my father did not pursue a career in mechanics when he arrived in Canada in 1953. Instead, he got his high school qualifications and went on to become a Chartered Accountant with Revenue Canada. Yes! My dad was THE TAXMAN! We used to joke with him whenever Matthew, the Tax Collector was mentioned in the readings at Sunday Mass. Matthew had “a bad rap”, he used to say in his own defense.

My father loved numbers, but he also loved the outdoors and nature. You can see by this picture that he had the opportunity to relax with his fell0w-soldiers. I love this picture because it captures a sense of contentment that I quite often saw in my father’s face when he was out working in the yard at our house on Pyramid Crescent. I wonder what he was thinking at the time the photo was taken?

The badge on his cap is the official R.E.M.E. badge. I am pleased to be in possession of a patch with this insignia woven into it as well as 2 metal badges that he once wore. We also have a number of photos from his army days and his original red-paper dog-tag.


Please visit Alan Burnett at the News From Nowhere blog to see another Sepia Saturday post. Watch the comments to see who else is playing along or perhaps tell us if you’re going to play too!
Kat Mortensen©2009 Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape

Where I’m From – in poetry

My Great-aunt, “Big Clara” (the tall one),as opposed to “Little Clara” (the shorter).

Colleen, of Loose Leaf Notes left a comment on my blog yesterday and I found myself at her blog, thanking her and having a nose around to see what she is all about. She is a brilliant writer, who writes from the heart and writes in such a way as to immediately draw you into her world. I have added her to my links in the sidebar.

At Colleen’s blog, I read a poem entitled “Where I’m From”. Upon reading it I began to wonder if she would think it too bold of me if I should attempt a similar type of poem since it was such a wonderful expression of who she is. I was pleased to notice that she actually attributed this poem to another person’s blog and that there is in fact a template for anyone who wants to write one like it. I can see Michelle Hix of Sont les mots… taking this on, or perhaps Fenny . Here is the link to the template and a bit of the history of the origin of the piece. You can read Colleen’s memorable poem here.

Here’s my version of “Where I’m From”

Scraps of Me

I’m from sixties’ suburbia,
pb & j and cheese-spread
in the canteloupe kitchen
of the brick bungalow
on Pyramid Crescent.

I‘m from blown dandelions
plucked daisies, and the buttercup test,
from pixie stix, pop rocks,
Dickie Dee bells
and candy cigarettes.

I’m from best-suit Sundays,
candle-lit Masses
and my father’s tenor tones
carrying each hymn
from memory.

I’m from the seventh one
of the twelve bastard-spawned
Catholics of Rodney Drive, Belfast —
the son who crossed
the Atlantic.

I’m from corned beef and cabbage,
Feis Eirann and the Clancy Bros,
Murphy-jokes and miracles,
clay pipes and pots of gold
at the end of the rainbow.

I’m from the middle daughter
of the shunned ex-Baptist–
the Dominion Coal Company clerk
of Glace Bay, Cape Breton
Nova Scotia.

I’m from bloodsuckers, seaweed,
and salt-water… “out East Bay”,
the house on Cottage Street
with the “Aren’t they gorgeous?”
sweet pea-beds, and tiger-lilies.

I’m from, “Who’s like you
since Leatherarse died?”
and frequently:
“What do you think this is,
your Father’s yacht?”

I’m from the roll of the sea
and the rise of the hills,
from blueberry pie,
“Big Clara’s” strawberry jam
and outdoor lobster feasts.

I’m from the nun-chase
across the Santana schoolyard
and the tear-stained
train-station farewell
at the age of 15.

I’m from acid-free albums
of corner-pointed pictures
and pinked photographs
of British army days
and “the old country”
in the footed tin box.

Kathleen Mortensen © 2008

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