This is the transcript of an interview I gave to an on-line magazine (now closed down) about I Think I Prefer the Tinned Variety: The Diary of a Petty Officer in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II.
The interviewer asked where the title of the book came from?
The title? Well, it was originally The Diary of a Petty Officer in the Fleet Air Arm during World War II but I thought that was too boring so I asked Michael for suggestions and he said, "Look in the book and you'll find it in there waiting for you."
So that's what I did.
Norman was brought up in a coal mining village in South Yorkshire but after his initial training he was sent to an air-base in Sierra Leone, West Africa for over a year. The diary records his daily life there. On 20th January 1944 he wrote:
"The oranges' season is now well in and the crop is excellent. Pineapples are also in and I had my first the other day. They are quite juicy but rather woody. I think I prefer the tinned variety." I thought this encapsulated the complete contrast he was experiencing in his new life in West Africa. I speculate that his preference for the tinned variety was an expression of his home-sickness.
So that's how I found the title and what Michael said was true: it was right there waiting for me. I kept the original as the sub-title so readers would know what the book was about after, hopefully, being intrigued by the title.
The interviewer suggested that it must have been emotional for me to read the diary of a young man, his hopes, dreams, desires, even his fears, knowing this young man would become my father. She asked how I coped with that and if I was able to detach myself from the personal feelings and if the relationship was an asset in interpreting the diaries?
Norman never talked about his war-time experiences. Sadly he developed cancer and died when he was fifty four. I was in my late twenties at the time so I expended huge amounts of emotion many years ago. Discovering the diary and sharing it with my sisters was wonderful. We found a side to our dad that we'd never known. Thirty years after his death we were able to talk and laugh and joke about him in a way we'd never done before.
This was my inspiration and motivation to turn the diary into an ebook.
As I studied the diary I found myself constantly questioning what he meant. You know how it can be with a diary, the entries are meaningful to the author but an unintended reader has to try and piece it together. I also realised that my knowledge of WW2 was patchy and I had to do a lot of reading to try and match his experiences with the bigger picture.
I thought long and hard, and talked with my sisters, before I made the diary public. Norman hadn't written for an audience and we tried to imagine how he would feel about it and whether he would have agreed to publication if he'd still been alive. We decided that he would have been amazed by the opportunity of Internet publishing. He was an ambitious man and took advantage of the opportunities that came his way throughout life so we think he would have been pleased.
The interviewer asked what discovery had surprised me most about my father's teenage/young adult years.
Norman was a committed Christian all his life but I didn't know until I read the diary how much his faith had meant to him when he was young. I speculate that he might have gone into the church if the war hadn't intervened and sent him to the other side of the globe. In the last months of WW2 he was stationed on a tiny, tropical island in the South Pacific as part of the British Pacific Fleet. He was there when Enola Gay was dropped on Hiroshima which must have been a traumatic experience.
When I was doing the background research I discovered that before being sent out to join the British Pacific Fleet the training had included jungle survival and hand-to-hand combat. As Norman couldn't even manage to tie his hammock properly when he was on a troop ship I don't think he would have survived very long in the jungle. Fortunately, the island he was stationed on had been prepared to accommodate service personnel by the American SeaBees (the United States Navy Construction Battalion [CB]). There was even an outdoor cinema!
The interviewer commented that Norman was very much an ordinary person, living through extra-ordinary world changing events, the basis of all great literature – only Norman's story, was of course, all true. Did I think there was a particular message for readers?
The book isn't about battles or heroics. I think some readers have been disappointed by this but you know thousands of young men (and also some young women) had their lives completely turned upside-down by their war-time experiences even though they weren't on the front-line. All fighting forces need their logistics and back-up in order to succeed and I hope that readers get insights into what was going on in the background during those challenging years.
And finally she asked what emotions had I hoped to inspire in my readers?
That's a very interesting question. I didn't particularly plan for any emotional impact on the audience. I just wanted to share the diary and make it more accessible by explaining the background. I wasn't able to find much information about the West Africa part of the story so I hope my dad's diary is filling a gap in historical writing. Readers I've talked to who knew my dad have expressed surprise as they had no idea where he'd been during the war years. I hope that the book will inspire empathy towards all those who played their part in WW2 even if they weren't called on to make the ultimate sacrifice. An Amazon reviewer said: "It was like listening to my old workmates when I was a callow apprentice in the early sixties some of them had a very action packed war and some just got to go places they wouldn't have seen in their lifetimes. This reminded me of those wonderful people of a marvellous generation who will go down in history as a fantastic example of what ordinary human beings can achieve given the opportunity." I liked that a lot.
I thought these were very insightful questions to ask which gave me the opportunity to reflect on the whole Tinned Variety Project. There are some more photos from my dad's war time collection on this page of our website. And you can get a flavour of the book if you click Preview below.
William Buckle 1813 – 1895 is my great, great grandfather’s older brother.
William’s parents were John and Hannah Buckle of Sinderby and Pickhill in North Yorkshire.
William was baptised in the parish church of Pickhill on 17 January 1813.
William is recorded on the 1841 census.
The record shows that William was married to Jane and had a son, Thomas, aged about one year old. William and his family lived in the village of Carlton Miniott where William was employed as an agricultural labourer. Carlton Miniott is about five miles from Pickhill.
William was married to Jane Armin on 2nd December 1837 at the parish church of St Columba’s in Topcliffe, North Yorkshire. (Topcliffe is about eight miles from Pickhill).
Jane’s parents were Thomas and Ann Armin. They lived in South Kilvington which is about ten miles from Pickhill. Thomas worked as a blacksmith.
When the marriage was registered, both William and Jane made their mark in the parish register.
Although William’s father was recorded on the marriage record he’d already died in 1836. William’s mother died a few years later in 1841.
And then something amazing happened!
Up to this point William and Jane’s lives had been experienced in a couple of villages in a radius of about ten miles. And their families and ancestors had lived in either the same villages or a few others situated within a few miles.
In 1842 William, Jane and son Thomas emigrated to Australia.
They sailed on a ship named The Royal Saxon and landed in Tasmania.
The “Royal Saxon” departed London on the 19 June 1842 sailing to Launceston in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) via Tristan Da Cunha arriving on 22 November 1842. A journey of 5 months! (See Australian Brickhills.)
The British Newspaper Archive has a copy of the Cork Examiner June 1842 which has an announcement about free passages to Australia and who to contact for more information. I can only speculate that there was a similar promotion in a newspaper nearer to Pickhill.
Cork Examiner – Monday 06 June 1842
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
A previous sailing of the “Royal Saxon” resulted in all the newly arrived emigrants finding work within twenty four hours. Which presumably happened for William Buckle judging by his subsequent success.
Cork Examiner – Friday 14 April 1843
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
And the standards of care for the passengers of the “Royal Saxon” seems to have been of the highest from both the captain and the surgeon on board. Even though they don’t appear to have been able to do anything for baby John Buckle who died during the voyage.
Southern Reporter and Cork Commercial Courier – Saturday 13 August 1842
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
The “Royal Saxon” was built in Liverpool in 1829. The ship carried cargo and passengers to India, Australia and the Far East.
In 1839 the “Royal Saxon” attempted to violate a Royal Navy blockade of Canton and inadvertently became the direct cause of the Battle of Chuenpi and consequently the First Opium War.
Miller [Public domain] Wikicommons
The ship escaped the blockade and continued to trade. Between 1841 and 1844 the “Royal Saxon” was used specifically to transport colonists to Australia.
Now you might think that this is a bit of a tall story but if you look at the Australian Find a Grave website you’ll see that William Buckle of North Yorkshire born in 1813 is buried in the Heywood Cemetery, Glenelg Shire, Victoria, Australia. And the memorial states that William first arrived in Tasmania in 1842 and then moved to Victoria around 1845. In 1851 he took up the pastoral run called “Rifle Ranges” in Digby and in 1857 opened the “Digby Hotel”.
The website for the Glenelg & Wannon Settlers & Settlement Portland Bay District, South-West Victoria, Australia has the full story which you can read here. It’s a fantastic account of what happened to William, Jane and Thomas. And there’s more information about the history of the “Digby Hotel here.
And an official history can be found here.
So it’s official!
My ancestors, William, Jane and Thomas Buckle emigrated to Australia in 1842.
The career of the "Royal Saxon" is believed to have ended in 1857 by which time, William Buckle owned the “Rifle Ranges Station” and had already opened the “Digby Hotel” near Digby in South West Victoria, Australia. William’s decision to take a free passage for himself and his family on the “Royal Saxon” in 1842 was certainly a good one.
William and Jane had three more surviving children after Thomas (who died in 1924).
Jane 1844 – 1918
Hannah 1846 – 1924
George 1850 – 1858.
Jane died in 1874 and her Find a Grave record is here.
It’s almost 11,000 miles from Pickhill in North Yorkshire to Tasmania.
It’s quite staggering to think that ancestors of mine were so brave as to undertake the long journey and start a new life on the other side of the world.
And fantastic to have found the story.
Thanks for reading my blog today. My ancestry connection to Australia continued in 1945 when my dad passed through Sidney on his Royal Navy journey to the Pacific (see I Think I Prefer the Tinned Variety) and in the 1960s when my mum's cousin Edith, a nurse, emigrated to Tasmania too.
Thanks for reading my blog today
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For over thirty years Cathy Murray worked in British primary education as a class teacher and then as head teacher of four different schools.