Peter Markey rescues two war-victim Jews ..


Sergeant Peter Joseph Markey from Newry was part of the unsuccessful British parachute assault on Arnhem in September 1944.  (see also )

Markey was captured and incarcerated in Sagan prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. With the others there he was liberated by the Russians in February 1945.

Desparate to return to Britain, Markey considered that the best route was to go east, via Odessa. Plodding along, he met with a horse and cart on the road which turned out to be driven by two Jews, Hans Andriesse from Holland and his friend Sal Berkovitz, a Czech-born Belgian.

They invited Markey to climb aboard and travel with them. Their story was heart-rending.

Both had been rounded up by the Nazis in their determination to exterminate all Jews from the face of the earth. They would first be exploited in the war-effort forced labour camps.

Hans had been imprisoned in Westerbork transit camp and was on the train to Auschwitz along with 1,710 Dutch Jews when it stopped in Kosel where the able-bodied were ordered off. For thirty months in the forced labour camp there Hans survived the most extreme of conditions. He ended up in Kittlitztreben. There he met Sal, who had had similar experiences. Remarkably they survived until the close of the war, as the Germans were pressed from all sides.

Due to severe illness, they had been left to die when most of the inmates had been force-marched by their ruthless captors deeper into Germany before the Russians arrived.

When Peter Markey met them on the road, Hans and Sal had just been liberated by the Russians.

Markey resolved to find a way to repay their kindness.

Markey concocted a cover-story for Hans and Sal which saved their lives. He gave them false identity papers, Royal Engineers’ numbers and Sagan POW numbers. At every stage of their tortuous journey east, Markey persuaded doubting Russian and British officers that Hans and Sal had volunteered their services to the British in Arnhem.

The journey to Odessa took fifteen days. Eventually the friends boarded a troop ship for Glasgow. They celebrated St Patrick’s Day on board with Markey who waved wistfully at his native country as they sailed around the west coast of Ireland for Scotland.

Of the 107,000 Dutch Jews transported to the East by the Nazis, only 5,000 survived. Of the 550 men who alighted from the train at Kosel, only 30 survived. The women, children and elderly who remained on that train were murdered in Auschwitz.

Not one of the Kittlitztreben prisoners force-marched West before the Russians liberated the camp, survived.

Welcome the Fiddler!


So how do I spend my time in retirement, you ask?  Very pleasantly, on the whole.  Some days indeed, I am so occupied I cannot get in all the jobs I have engaged myself to do.

I play the organ in church.  Somewhat like myself, it is ancient and unpredictable.  Between Masses, benediction services, novenas, Holy Hours, missions, First Fridays, and so on, I am fairly often seated at the organ, which I play very ‘charitably’, for, verily, ‘my right hand knoweth not what my left hand doeth!’
Any time I meet a pretty young girl – and this town is full of them – I’ll say, ‘I’ll play the bridal march at your wedding.’ They always say, “Ach, Mr Crawford, you’ll have to get me a boy first!”  I notice that they always sigh when they tell me this.  In order to keep their young hearts up, I answer them thus:

“Look here, daughter, I never promised a girl that I’d play at her wedding, that I didn’t fulfil my promise.”  And it is so.  The first wedding I played at was in 1912.  Even considering that Lent is a close season, and Advent another,  have played for a brave few brides in that half-century.

I hope that, dressed in their bridal raiment, they will be waiting for me at the golden gates of heaven, as the blessed welcome the merry ‘Fiddler of Dooney’.

… more later …

Noble Ploughman: .. end …


Since man first turned the soil with his crude spade, revolutionary changes have merged into a progress which has created new worlds above the soil.  But it is still the same soil, and generally speaking producing the same foodstuffs for generally the same purpose.

As each scrape rises, turns and is folded over by the board, the furrow is fresh with dark-brown soil, from which rises a not unpleasant but queerly sour scent of earth.  One is gradually minded of some great rtevelation being unfolded:  as if the invisible veil of Time itself were being drawn off the great facts, the sacrifices and the stories now in the cold print of the history books.  One even feels the close, natural kinship which exists between man and earth – of which only those in constant communion with the earth are aware.

The land was dug with spades before the plough was invented.  When I see fields that, within living memory, were spade-dug by man, I marvel at such herculean tasks.  Ploughs then were few and far between.

There are a few wooden ploughs still retained for sentimental reasons or as museum pieces.  The spade was not been done away with.  It is still used for gardens and allotments and for digging round stones which the plough must pass over.  I have seen ploughmen with fast teams thrown clear of the handles after hitting such a stone.  Though most of the great ones are well-known.  Their location is passed down from generation to generation – as is the location of underground shores or drains.

” …. an’ about two perches out from the big bush in Paddy’s Hill field there’s a bad stone!  Now, watch yourself there!  I remember being thrown … “

It is such hidden stones that make the blacksmith’s forge “thronged ground” during the ploughing season, for almost everyone who enters has a sock to be mended or ‘squared’ or pointed with steel.  The ‘sock’ by the way is a detachable part of the plough which fits onto the sole-plate and which cuts the scrape underneath.  The ‘coulter’ – an iron knife on the forward beam, slices the sod.

In the forge the men talk of the incidents which occurred during their labours that day; about teams, ploughs and horses; and then go to their homes with the mended socks in readiness for renewed work the next day.

It seems a humble calling:  but all great labours are remote and inconspicuous.  For the song of the plough sings gently of the most distinguished labour in the civilized world.  Men labour that men may live when clay-clogged footsteps walk in fresh brown furrows after a team of pulling horses.

… end …

Weekend Breaks: Clarence


How time flies!  Already we have seen one third of all the plays in the 2012 Newry Drama Festival!
Bart’s opening on Friday night was competent, distracting and pleasant:  I expect no kudos to come their way though.

Ballyduff (Saturday) and Nenagh (Sunday) were both outstanding in their own different ways:  Waterford displayed an exceptionally talent youth section and the production was excellent.  Tipperary gave a masterly technical performance, especially in set, lighting, costume and sound.  I expect them to win an award in the latter category.  Both performances however left room for improvement.  The Judge was weak in The Crucible:  the over-ornate and technical set restricted the cast of Jekyll and Hyde.

The best is yet to come.  I look forward especially to Silken Thomas’ Jerusalem (Friday) and Newpoint’s Beauty Queen of Lenane (Thursday).

Tonight it is Clarence with Weekend Breaks.

Attend and enjoy!

The Old Academy


Some philanthropists, solicitous about the possibility of my becoming bored with so much leisure at my disposal, naively advised me to open ‘a wee shop’.  However recalling all the money I had paid out of my own pocket for pens, pencils, jotters, catechisms, readers, copies and rubbers for some of my old pupils (who did me up to the two eyes!) I decided to steer clear and wide of any commercial reef. When I was young I had often heard people talk in awed tones of so-and-so who was in Stubbs Gazette.  I therefore had no great urge to appear in that dreaded chronicle of financial disasters.  Wisely I decided to play it cool.

Every morning, waiting till the streets are well-aired, I lie in bed, not having to clock in any more.  I read the civil register page of the Irish News and, on discovering that I have not yet died, I rise and start the day. Sometimes on my ambles I catch a glimpse of the academy wherein I wrought for so many  (forty) years.  It still looks right well from the outside, but not having entered it for the past ten years, I cannot vouch any more for the inside! Truth be told, for all I know or feel or care, I might never have been inside it!

Speaking truthfully, it evokes no nostalgia whatever!

…. more later …

‘of Retiring Disposition’: Crawford


Shortly before I ‘packed up’ – continued Sean Crawford – ‘I happened to be in our crowded local Post Office. A lady with the invincible inquisitiveness of her sex spoke loudly to me. ‘Is it true, Mr Crawford, that you are soon to retire?’  Everyone stopped talking and looked in my direction. ‘Madam,’ I replied shortly. ‘You know me.  I have always been of a retiring disposition!’ She herself retired, not having got any change out of your truly. Around that blissful period, before I’d ‘swallowed the anchor’ (to use a nautical anology) I was often subject to some very subtle catechism. ‘Have you any idea who’s going to get your job?’  I was often asked. ‘No’, I replied, inevitably but gently, ‘I cannot tell you who he will be, but whoever he is, I wish him luck.  He will need it!’ … more later …

At the Crossroads of History


Newry City Library presents  ‘At the Crossroads of History’ when Tony Canavan will be talking about Newry from the earliest times to the present. It starts at 7pm tomorrow Thursday 15th March.  However booking is essential. The library can be contacted on 028 3026 4683. P.S.  Tony was in fine form.  His address was lucid, informative and interesting.  It was also well-attended.  He answered questions for a half an hour and was very well received by all. Thank you!

Sean Crawford in Retirement


I was browsing the other day and came across the retirement reflections of one Sean Crawford of Warrenpoint.  These are almost 50 years old so I have to take it that the great Sean has passed on.  He has left behind a wealth of reminiscences – and historical notes – which I mine from time to time for these articles.

He was recently retired from teaching at the time, but busier than ever, both in writing, researching, recording and teaching.  A bit like myself.  Anyway, here are his thoughts!

“I am now ten years retired from teaching and, like Jonny Walker, ‘still going strong’.  My ‘Old Age Pension’ now pays for the Income Tax on my teacher’s retirement pension.   I have extracted a fairly decent sum out of the authorities who used to pay me twenty-three shillings a week back in 1910 when I had to teach anything up to 60 scholars in three different classes. Some of these were infants: one was three years old, and sent to school to get him out of the road of his parents, who considered the classroom a creche. Nowadays I get three pounds, seven shillings and sixpence Old Age Pension every Monday morning for doing nothing.

Could you bate it?”

… more later …