March 20th 1918. A century.

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March 20th 1918, a century ago, my father Cyril was born in Saint-Malo, Brittany, a city of sailors and privateers. His mother, Julie Onraët, was born in India, of an Anglo-French family of indigo planters, and Indian Civil Service. God save the King and all that. His father, Pierre Martin, was the son of a French Admiral. Pierre Martin entered the French Naval Academy and resigned after a year, for reasons unknown to later pursue a bureaucrat career in the Suez Canal. My cousins say he was a spy for the French Government all his life. Today, my father would have been a hundred years old. Time doth fly. Above, l. to. r. my aunt Gaud, Grandmother Julie and Father Cyril.

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My father witnessed most of the 20th century’s major technological changes: form horses to automobiles, electricity (he remembered when gas lighting was switched to electricity in his grandmother Wilhelmine’s house in Brittany), from sea- to air travel and so forth. Above, with my aunt Gaud, on the steamer sailing from Egypt to France every summer for the holiday.

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April-May 1940. He joined the French Air Force at the beginning of the war. They flew in unbelievable contraptions as you can see behind. He trained as an observer, not a pilot. Never fired a single shot, since the Air Academy was moved South every other week retreating from the German advance in the North. I’ve already mentioned that after France surrendered in June ’40, he and a friend stole the Colonel’s car to go to England and keep on fighting. They were arrested of course. End of his war. (Good for us kids, we might never have been born) 🙂

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Karachi, Pakistan. Mid 1954. L. to r. My father and yours truly. Measuring hands!

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DC-3 (two engines only), Phnomh-Penh, Cambodia. c.1957. Splendid planes. My father joined Air France, the national airline in 1945. He had no particular skill, he’d started college (Political science) in Paris before the war, but all that went to the drain during the war. His brief experience in the Air Force was probably the key factor. He met my mother in the office in Paris. She was a 19 year-old typist from Brittany. A year later, in ’47, my father was appointed Sales manager for Air France in Pakistan. A new adventure was to begin.E04ac-35

Ismaïla, Suez canal, c. 1934 or ’36. He was 16-18. Spent all his childhood in Egypt and never learnt Arabic. Beats me. 🙂 (At least my grandmother spoke perfect Hindustani)

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Conakry, Guinea, west Africa, c. 1960, with my sister Gaëlle.

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Rennes, Brittany, c.1919-1920. Cyril on the left. Little boys at that time were dressed as girls, with long hair. Aunt Gaud on the right sports a very fashionable “roaring twenties” haircut.

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Hong-Kong 1957. A business dinner with the local Air France manager (left), team and wives. My father is in the centre handling his chopsticks like a pro. My mother is third from the right. Is it me, or is the guy on her left, “hitting” on her? 😉

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Ismaïla, Egypt, c.1938-1939. My father (a very good rider) on Royal, my grandmother’s horse. I never thought about that, but that photo was taken in front of the house. Not at the club. Would that mean my grandmother kept her horse in a stable at home? (Anything can be expected from the English,  right?)

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Phnomh-Penh airport, Cambodia, 1957. I’ve shown that (and other) pictures before. After 8 years in Pakistan, my father was appointed General Manager of the newly formed Royal Air Cambodge, the Cambodian airline, a joint venture with the Khmer government. Right to left: my father with H. R. H. Samdech, Prince Norodom Sihanouk. Sihanouk (1922-2012) is the founder of modern Cambodia. According to my father, they went along well.

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Karachi, Pakistan. 1954. At the beach. Yours truly rubbing my gums on my father’s chin. Nothing better than a beard stubble when your teeth are growing.

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1938? A “D’harcourt” style photograph. I still have the glass plate. Yes. Really. A glass plate.

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Pakistan, 1955? At the beach-house. (I know, I know, silver spoons and all that) l. to r. well, obvious, I guess?

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Mauritius, 1969. My father with a pink shirt. My mother a Carnaby St incarnation. My father was then regional manager for East and South Africa. Half a continent. His greatest achievement, I believe, was to open the world to commercial air traffic, immediately after the war. Along with a handful of colleagues he opened new airways, to the Orient first, then in Africa. Remember: it all began with DC-3’s and DC-4’s. Travel to Pakistan, Indochina, not to mention Japan, took days. These new airways meant post (mail). Information to be shipped. Freight. Merchandise. Commerce. And passengers. New deals to be made. A world to rebuild after the near-destruction of WWII. He was a part of that.

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“At the Prime Minister”. Karachi, Pakistan, c. 1949. My father on the right, always dapper in his Humphrey Bogart white tux. My mother, 23, 24? with a typical post WWII haircut. She designed her own dresses.  A good sketch artist and painter she bought the silk in the Bazaar, and handed the material and drawings to the tailor. Voilà.

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Karachi, 1953-54. They had a cocktail or dinner party almost every night.

“We will always have Paris.” (Ingrid Bergman to Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, 1941).

1918-2018. A century just flipped by.

 

79 thoughts on “March 20th 1918. A century.

  1. Wow, grand , wonderful. Thank you for the trip into your past the meeting of your father. I met my biological father but I never learned of his history. I often wondered about his background. You know about your father and his background, I find that wonderful. Hugs

  2. This is such a poignant blog piece that I’ve truly enjoyed!

    Although I’m a big fan of history, I’m getting much more interested in hearing personal histories such as this one about your father + how he positively impacted your family. The pictures add so very much to the narrative.

    Thx for posting!

    • Glad you liked it. 🙂
      Actually the pictures are the backbone. I made a first selection of pix. Then the final one. I try to limit to a dozen images. Then wrote around the pix. I do that most of the time.
      Thank you for your visit.

    • Totally. I mean, I’ve known those photographs all my life. (Took me years to digitalize all of it) but the more I delve the further away they are in time. A century has gone ma’amji. In a snap of fingers.
      Glad you liked the post.
      Take care.

  3. Very touching again, Brieuc ! Your father obviously had a talent to be alive and present in his time. Indeed, the pictures do not show it all, there must have been hard times, but the number of opportunities he made himself is just incredible. And to see you, your father and your mother, is moving to me.
    I also had long blond coiled hair when I was very young … but this has passed !
    Many thanks, Brieuc, and have a super great day,
    Gilles

    • Long blonde coiled hair? haha… Tout passe.
      Hard times? Of course. Two world wars took their toil. Tuberculosis took 3 or four of my grandmother’s sisters “entre-deux guerres. And living in the “South” we also were lucky. Cambodia? Before the Khmer rouges. Guinea? Before Sekou went mad and started killing everyone. Beyrouth? Before the war. Pakistan? Before the Mullahs. Ethiopia? Before Mengistu. Strikingly most of the countries we lived in were plunged into chaos afterwards…
      Bonne soirée Gilles.

  4. This was once again a fantastic trip into your past! Your farther was a very handsome man. Your parents seem to have led a very full exciting life. I love all these old photo’s especially the ones depicting you as well. It seems we could have born in the same year..1953?

    • Yes. 1953. This confirms you are a very classy lady. 🙂 1953 is THE best year. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. (What day?)
      My parents helped forge a new world. Before the war, international travel (by sea) took forever. Too slow. In the 50’s, with DC-4’s and later Constellations (which I remember) only a few days were needed from Europe to the Far east. Airlines liberated exchange, business, communication. That was my father’s job in Asia and later in Africa.
      And you and I watched the last days of the old world, which is a privilege shared by few.
      My cousins in South Africa were born in Nairobi. At night they had to keep the dogs in for there were leopards coming out in the garden.
      1953? Hmmm. I bet we learnt to dance on the same tunes!
      😉
      Tot ziens.

      • I will try to remember. 28/8. No promise. I’m terrible with dates. But you are right: There was no plastic. I remember the first coke can arriving as a crazy american thing. Tupperware? in the 70’s? There was hardly any garbage anywhere as people did not throw things away. You had them repaired. 😉
        Have a safe trip Dina.

  5. C’est fascinant, comme histoire…
    J’adore les anciennes photos.
    Ma grand-mère qui va sur ses 97 ans a gardé quelques photos aussi. J’essaie de collecter ses souvenirs parce que c’est passionnant…

  6. I’m wiping out my tears. Really.
    Just wonderful.
    Wish I realized much earlier how important history was. Family history and world history altogether.
    Thank you very much for this trip into past – and hopefully never forgotten – times.

    • Hey Dragos. Glad you enjoyed it.
      History IS important. And it pisse me off sometimes when I read ignorant blokes reinventing large chunks of history. I mean, “I was there”. Be good.

      • Indeed. Unfortunately, as they say history is always being rewritten by the “winners”. The rest of us, the “losers”, have just lived it as it was…
        Have a great weekend, hope you all get rid of the flu as soon as possible. 😉

      • Thank you in return. 🙂
        Daughter #1 might hate me for this but I don’t believe in vaccines and all that. I take only “liquid antibiotics” 😀 and garlic, at times some hot chili peppers too. Not even an aspirin in ten years. Human body must build its own imunity the most natural way possible. But that’s me.

        Lily’s been out for a few hours already. It’s a “wonderful” Spring time out here, ten inches snow. No idea where she may be roaming on such a weather. But she seems healthy, knock on wood. Thank you for asking. 🙂

      • Glad to hear that. A black cat in the snow must make for an interesting video or pix.
        Daughter #1 respects your choice. As long as it works for you. And garlic? My grandfather believed very much in garlic. It is said to be good for health. Joyeuses Pâques.

      • The little devil never stays long on the premises and I never have that ancient camera at hand anyway. She’s older now and more confident, roams away into neighbors’ yards. 🙂

        Yeah, garlic is good for health, we use it frequently here, especially in the countryside.

        Is it Easter already? My, oh my… Enjoy your colombian holiday, happy Easter to you too! 🙂

    • “Galore”? 🙂 Yes, you’re right. The advantage of living a silver spoon childhood, is that all greed leaves you: you’ve had it all already. So you can concentrate on the real stuff. (do I make sense?) Thanks for the visit Janet. Always a pleasure.

  7. Dear Brian, your photos are spectacular, as is the history behind them. A wonderful and captivating post. I find the photo of you and your father measuring hands most endearing. Please enjoy the rest of your week. ~ Mia

  8. Remember your father and mine were great friends, and I remember meeting you in Mombasa. Nice pictures. Will never forget my aunt Gaud…..

    • Jambo! Jambo mzee mkubwa! 🙂
      I remember it all.
      Your father, Robert, was, I think, as close to a brother as my father ever had. I remember the meets in Nairobi and Mombasa. Fondly. He was from 1911? 107 years? A world ago.
      And you did meet Gaud? Quite a character wasn’t she? 🙂
      I hope you are well ndugu mkubwa.
      (I have seen your message about facetime or other. Will get to it as soon as I can)
      Kwaheri sassa.

  9. What an excellent post and capture of your family’s history! Your family certainly travelled extensively.

    I love all the photos and yes, the guy was definitely hitting on your mum. Your parents were so very stylish – could be a Vogue photo shoot.

    Like we discussed in another post, a lot of my family photos were taken to the Tip – heart-wrenching, especially for a photographer. 😦

    • Thank you Nilla. Family’s been “on the road” since the mid 1700’s!
      He was hitting on her, right? 😉 Of course the photos are a selection, but the times then were stylish. I remember my mother with elbow-long gloves and a cigarette-holder. (didn’t smoke but it was part of the “show”)
      And I can only say how much I understand your dismay at the Tip disaster. Not even negatives were saved? I hope some pictures were preserved at least. (And don’t ever talk to your brother again) 😉

      • Nomads at heart. I don’t believe we’re born to be stuck in one place. I believe we should roam this earth until we can no longer, then go peacefully. 🙂

        Of course, it’s so obvious. Your father probably found it amusing at the time.

        Love the clothes of those years and yes, very stylish indeed. I was born in the wrong era.

        Ah well, I need to move on from that little tragedy…in more ways than one. I don’t believe so, I think the lot was thrown out with all my mother’s Super 8 movies. The only photos preserved are the very few that I have had in my own album and wished I had taken the lot. But, I was leaving them to be split up between the four of us, together. The moral of the story hey…
        That’s the other tragedy, I haven’t spoken to him in years, but that’s another story. 😦

  10. So wonderful narratives and the fotos are stunning too….and your horse story memories are delightful…also my cousin married a man from Karachi…I have relatives from Spain coming this summer ☺️ thank you for sharing Brian 🤓 have a good day ~ smiles Hedy

  11. A century just flipped by – yes it did! First of all, I was just looking at your mum’s outfit in the 1er ministre photo before I read that she designed her dresses herself. She looks like a movie star, and your dad too. Very picturesque family! Secondly, all these photos are just SO intriguing. I could stare at them all day. You can see so much in the look in their eyes, in the haircuts, clothes, poses, background. Whole lives. Moments in lives. I wonder where all those people are now. Some gone. The rest, are they happy? How did life treat them? And with the fact that I’m in a baby phase right now, I can’t help looking into the eyes of Cyril le bébé and wondering what his baby eyes saw… what his mum saw for his future… did she expect he would have such adventures in his life? Those baby eyes look like they are seeing intomthe future.
    Lovely post!

    • Wow. Thank you for your comments. Yes, being a mother changes perspective. I don’t know what my grandmother thought. I think that for her, India, Egypt, was all the same. Normal. (I sometimes think I spent my childhood inside the Jungle book.) 😉 The dresses? Well, in those days, there were no world brands. People had tailors. 🙂 And my mother had a good eye (with the backup of issues of fashion magazines no doubt). And in those days the world was more open than today. Air France was an un-official ambassador and all played their part. Meeting presidents or ministers to negotiate air routes… I doubt the Air France manager in Mexico has ever met the President.
      Anyway. Those were fun (and sometimes dangerous ) moments. (Read “The cook is a spy” if you haven’t yet. On this very blog) Happy Easter

  12. What a rich voyage into another era. Those vintage photos and clothes and airplanes. A cocktail or dinner party every night! Yes, I do believe that man was flirting with your mother. 😉

    • Hi JULIE. Yes it was another era. In many layers. My father wrote a book about those India times. I will go back to it and see if I can mix his text with some photos. And the Hong Kong photo is fun… I’d seen it many times before and when I picked it for this post i thought that. Quite fun.

  13. wow, 64 thoughts on this post!
    I’ll add mine too 🙂 I really enjoyed going through it, the photos fascinated me. It’s amazing to get such a personal glimpse into life way before I was born. Really intriguing, couldn’t help but wonder how it must have been to live in that era. Thank you for sharing!!

    • 64? 😉
      Thank you for yours. It was indeed a long time ago. Now how was it to live then? I was only a child, but strangely enough, the answer is: normal. There was no frontier between the books I read and the reality. I’d close an adventure book, and go swim where dolphins had been an hour before. It was normal that my father should meet the President. I knew a few Ambassadors too. 🙂 Like I said: “Normal”. 😉

  14. A beautiful post Brian. I love the photos and such a glimpse into an extraordinary life that conjures a sense of timelessness. I bet that horse was kept in the back garden. Thanks for sharing.

    • Pleasure Paul. Knowing my English grandmother, I wouldn’t surprised… Problem is no-one left to ask. Maybe my older cousins? I know one has the plan of the house in Ismaïlia.
      Timelessness? An interesting concept- Yes, you are right in a way.
      Tot ziens.

      • Old photographs often give me a sense of timelessness. Maybe because for the people in the photos the idea of gazing backwards from our (unimaginable) future freezes them in time.
        Hope all’s well Brian?

      • Als goed. 🙂
        Yes you’re right. There was a moment in time when a young Cyril rode Royal outside the house in Ismaïlia. He had no idea what the future would be. And he collided photons forever frozen in time and a picture. Timeless indeed.
        Cheers

  15. You know I love your family stories and old photographs! Your parents were amazing. Like something out of a novel. And who could blame that man for hitting on your mother…she was a goddess. Happy Birthday Dad!

  16. Not sure how I missed this post, Brian. I’m in awe of the history of your family and the photos you have. Both your parents had the movie star good looks of their era. Your mother was simply stunning. Talented, too, in her design skills. Yes, that man was definitely hitting on your mum. What the hell would your dad be doing on a horse in a suit? So funny to my eyes.

    • Never too late. 🙂 I am fortunate to have very extensive archives. thousands of photos going back to the 19th century. Allows for good stories. Now the suit? The horse was my grandmother’s. Born in India. My grandmother not the horse. Some say she loved that horse more than any one in the family. 🙂 And my father was always very dapper. Probably came back from the club in his best suit, and who held the camera told him, get on Royal for a few shots. 🙂 (He was also a good rider)
      Glad you liked the post. cheers.

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