Despite my on-going love affair with Venice, I was always conscious that I didn’t have any personal connection with this magical “water wonderland” – or so I thought. But I do now!
During my last visit (end September 2018) I planned to visit the cemetery island of San Michele, whose fascinating history I have described in Volume 2 of “Venice: The Diary of an Awestruck Traveller”. Having read so much about it, I wanted to explore the island for myself. The cemetery is divided into different sections and wandering around is a moving experience. The majority of visitors are bereaved family members, however, so if you go you are expected to dress modestly and behave with decorum. One of the places I particularly wanted to see was the Protestant Cemetery where, amongst others, Ezra Pound and Sir Ashley Clarke (founder of the Venice in Peril Fund) are buried. I found the graves I was looking for, and was strolling along a path when I came across seven very well tended graves (I found out later that they were the Commonwealth War Graves of World War 1 officers and seamen of the British merchant and Royal Navy). I was reading the names, but when I got to the last grave in a corner, my heart stopped. John Edwin (Jack) Grattidge. Grattidge is one of my family names and instinctively I knew he was a relative (he is – 2nd cousin x 2), though I hadn’t researched that branch of the family as yet. He died on the 8th December 1918, aged just 17, an apprentice on board the HMAT (His Majesty’s Australian Transport) ss Port Napier. So young, and when I read his epitaph “His sun set while it was yet day” I confess I shed a tear. I couldn’t wait to get home and discover all about him, which I did.
“Young Jack” (and two other seamen in the War Graves beside him who succumbed at the same time) died of pneumonia, a victim of the Spanish Flu pandemic sweeping the world in 1918 (500 million people died). The young were particularly affected because their strong immune reactions ravaged the body. The ss Port Napier, one of many merchant ships leased to Commonwealth countries during World War 1, was moored in the Canale della Giudecca in readiness to return Australian troops back home after the War had ended. But my “young Jack” never got to go home.
From one merchant seaman (ex-P&O Assistant Purser) to another:
“R.I.P young man. I’ve found you. You are no longer alone and forgotten in a strange land. I will visit you again, I promise. x”
On a completely different tack, join me next time to discover some historical facts about Venice and the fashion industry. Again, till then, ciao!