This is the tale of Captain Kerosene. My maternal Grandfather. A Son of the British Empire. A Cabin Boy, a Sailor, a Soldier, a Husband, a Father, a Grandfather, but I think mostly a Fireman.
Dagga [as we called him] died shortly after I started kindergarten, although his legacy and presence in my life remains strong to this day. He was a figure of imposing statue. Perhaps not through physical height, although he was tall, but height of character. A commanding, respected figure of authority, and that was just around the house,.. ha ha.. Yet despite his booming voice, hands that could span both mine with room leftover, he left me with a sense of security, protection, love and respect, and a grounded sense of belonging. He also taught us to ‘Speak the Queen’s English’ and ‘Put your shoulders back girl!’. Yet the overall feeling I recall is love.
As a child I was entertained and fascinated by stories of this man who seemed invincible. Stories I thought had been tweaked into grandiose by their telling and retelling. Yet I would learn in later life that these stories had been not stretched beyond their truth. This was a man who spent his youth travelling the world looking for adventure. Be it as a merchant marine in his teens, one of only two who survived a shipwreck in the merciless Bay of Biscay. A soldier in the Salonican Army, fighting alongside the Allied Russians when separated from his troop. Awarded a lifetime pension by the Russians for his bravery and commitment. Now this one I surely thought a glossy fib until I found the papers, buried under other childhood remnants in my fathers garage.
In the 1920’s he migrated to Australia, working for his passage aboard the merchant ship ‘Beltana’. It was here in Sydney he would find his destiny in both family and career.
A legend always needs a great moniker. According to a newspaper article I found, no one knows why. My mother though would tell otherwise. She told us colleagues awarded him this name for the volumes of ‘Fire He Had Eaten’ during his 33 years in the NSW Fire Brigade. She would tell us humorous stories of her youth living above the Firehouse he captained. And yet sadder stories of a grown man coming home from work and collapsing in tears from the horrors he had witnessed during days and nights of fighting fires within the Sydney CBD. In those days the ladders were wooden and building materials were not chosen for their fire retardant nature. Hence tragedies were an everyday occurrence in the life of a fireman. He went on to become Sydney Fire Brigade’s Drill Instructor and during the war trained the Police & Armed Forces in fire fighting. So as you can see, he was a legend, at least in the eyes of his family and colleagues.
Of course there were also the funny stories. Stories of growing up with a strict British father [and drill instructor!] during the years of WWII, and then the more liberated years that followed. I imagine rearing a teenage girl above a Firehouse must of been one of his greatest challenges!.
I think for all his adventures, his lifelong loves would always be his family and the Fire Brigade
So Happy ‘Grand’ Fathers Day
You’ll forgive me for rambling on about my hero. Personally I think all Firemen [and Firewomen] are heroes!
My Black & White Sunday post can be found over [here]
Images: All images are from the family library of ‘BeingRuby’ [with the exception of the blue image from Ralph Lauren]