Threads of hos­pi­tal­ity

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Con­tents -

In early July 1942 Pri­vate Thomas Birch es­caped from the Ger­man pris­oner-of-war camp at Skines, Crete, where he had been in­terned only a month ear­lier. He cut a hole in the barbed-wire fence and walked into the hills. Even­tu­ally, he came upon the small vil­lage of Mescalas, where a lo­cal fam­ily gave him refuge. They shared with Birch what lit­tle food and sup­plies they had, and later helped him es­cape from the is­land. This vest, made by the daugh­ter of the fam­ily, was given to Birch. The fam­ily goat was shorn, and the wool spun, washed, dyed and knit­ted into an un­der­stated, func­tional, and – most im­por­tantly – warm item of cloth­ing. Each thread is im­bued with the labour and skill of the maker, and speaks not only of her abil­ity to em­pathise with a stranger but also of the fam­ily’s gen­eros­ity. Aus­tralian vet­er­ans have of­ten warmly re­called the hos­pi­tal­ity shown by the lo­cal peo­ple dur­ing the Greece and Crete cam­paigns and the sense of mu­tual friend­ship that grew out of this shared ex­pe­ri­ence. This vest is on dis­play in the Sec­ond World War Gallery at the Aus­tralian War Memo­rial, along with other ob­jects and sto­ries of cap­ture, sur­vival and es­cape. Eleni Hol­loway As­sis­tant Cu­ra­tor Mil­i­tary Her­aldry & Tech­nol­ogy

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