War and peace, a family account, cont’d

Previously on “War and peace”, from my great-grandfather Élie Martin to my great-uncle Philippe Onraët, an account of the family members who went to war, from the Chinese-French war of the 19th century to WWI… This post will deal with WWII onwards. (All images: family archives) 1939, Rwanda-Urundi, East Africa, my uncle Gérard Leclerc was…

War and peace, a family account

Elie Martin (1843-1920), my great-grandfather on my father’s side. A graduate of the École Navale (French Naval Academy), he joined the service in 1862. Family lore says he fought – and defeated – the Black flags pirates in the Bay of Halong in Indochina, during the Chinese-French war (1881-1885). His Biography at the École Navale…

1940, the war lost

It’s a small booklet, bound in faded black cloth. A time-yellowed label bears a name written with a dip pen: Martin Cyril. My father’s name. Surname first as was and still is customary in France. It’s my father’s flight log in 1939-1940 at the beginning of WWII. My father, very dapper in his freshly cut…

I had a house in Africa*

I had a house in Africa… Not “a farm at the foot of the Ngong hills”, as Karen Blixen, though I did go to the hills later. (“But that, Best Beloved” is another story.) It was a simple house by the West African sea. A concrete jetty pointing North. The sun rose every day to…

Spit, spat, said the snake*

“O-bla-di-o-bla-da. Life goes on, yeah…” “O-bla-di… Are you sure? That doesn’t sound right. Is it English?” “That’s what I can hear”, I said. “Wait, the lyrics are in the album. Pair of dummies that we are.” “Yeah”, Erik said. “But remember, we agreed the lyrics can only be used as a last resort.” “Right. Let…

An African childhood. Part 5*

My sister and I spent most of our childhood in Africa, West and East, from 1959 to 1971 with a brief interlude in Amsterdam. What you learn as a child stays with you always. Above: munching elephant in Uganda, Murchison Falls, source of the Nile, 1969. White rhinos, Uganda, 1969. The term “white” is a…

An African* childhood, part 3

The magic house, Conakry, Guinea, West Africa, c.1962. I’m sitting on the table, pondering the day’s next play. Little Sis walks down the stairs with her cast on her arm. Keep a safe distance lest she clubs you. The house may be long gone, the African village at the back has been replaced by rows…

Pot-Pourri two and soixante

Tiger hunt with the Prince of Wales. c.1905. First row, 2nd from the left, holding a stick, Rao Scindia, Maharajah of Gwalior; dressed in a dark suit, the Prince of Wales, future King George V; last from right, with a colonial helmet under his arm, my great-uncle, Frank Onraet, Chief-of-staff of the Maharajah, and organizer…

An African childhood. Part 2*

En route to the Islands of Los, off the coast of Conakry, Guinea, West Africa, c.1960. Far left, my mother. Centre, Mme Lips, with her braided hair down to her… I remember she had very long hair for the time. Far right, Dominique and Claude Millet, who much later, would be my host family in…