Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Blue Max Badge

I mentioned before that I have happy memories of Cobh and also much more vivid memories than I do of my life in Roundwood in Co. Wicklow. I think this is because I have blocked out some of that time as it was when I was first aware of things not being right.

We moved to Roundwood so my father could be closer to Dublin and the literary scene there and also so he could get to London more easily by plane instead of taking the ferry from Cork to Swansea. At this point in his career, he was very successful financially and so they bought a huge house. It is still there, situated about a mile or so from the village of Roundwood, on the road to Glendalough. It stuck out in those days and people in the village referred to it as 'the big yella house'. It was actually a sort of creamy white colour with three large gables and a balcony on the front, set in several acres of bushy grassland that my mother battled against for all the time she was there. For us it was an enormous change; living now in the countryside in a huge house with the whole countryside to play in. Again, my recollection is that my father was not there much.

He was very much there though in about 1965 I think it must have been, when he was the scriptwriter for The Blue Max, a film set in the 1st World War about the first German pilots. It starred James Mason, Ursula Andress and George Peppard and was about the class difficulties experienced by the George Peppard character. You can still see it on TV from time to time. It was all filmed on Calary bog not far from our house, where they built what we called 'The Wooden Village' for many years afterwards. In fact, every time we drove by, we would point it out and say 'There's the wooden village' as though it were the first time. I don't know why we did that but perhaps because it recalled the excitement of the time. I still look for where it was when I drive past now! It was a replica of a French town that was bombed in the war.

One day, a helicopter landed in our garden and it was John Guillermin, the film's director,coming to pay a visit. Another time, my sister, Patricia, got to meet George Peppard and came home with a brown bag full of peaches that he gave her. I have no idea why he gave her a bag of peaches but it was really exciting at the time!

On that film, each of the main people on it, the producer, director, scriptwriter, lead actors, cinematographer and some others, were given a small replica of the Blue Max badge, in silver, as a memento of their time on the film. When I was about 9 or 10 years old, because I was doing so well in school, my father gave me his Blue Max badge as a reward. It said 'Pour le Merite' on it ( curious for a badge that was for the first German air aces). I treasured it for many years until it disappeared from my room when I was about 15 years of age. At that time, we had a carpenter in the house who was splitting our larger bedrooms into smaller ones so we could each have our own room. My father always wrote at night time so he slept till about 1pm each day and so this workman could lounge around and do what he wanted while my father was asleep and we were at school. We came home one day and found him asleep on one of our beds. We tried to tell Daddy about it but he just dismissed our concerns. On top of the crooked wardrobes that never got their top coat of paint and the glue that seeped for years from the joins in the linoleum tiles on the kitchen floor, I believe he stole things. I am almost sure he stole my Blue Max Badge. The reason I am sure about this is that several years later, when I was about 19 or so, I was at a party somewhere in Wicklow and I ended up dancing and chatting with some guy who told me that he had a Blue Max Badge. I was very suspicious as I knew only about 7 were made for the key people on the film so I questioned him obliquely about it and it turned out that he also happened to know the sleepy carpenter! I did not feel I could say to him that it was my badge, at the time. Now, I wish I had confronted the situation as that was such a precious thing to me.

When I turned 40, I was having a beautiful ring made for myself in Bath, Somerset. I got to know the people who ran the jewelery shop quite well and one day I told one of them about my Blue Max Badge. It turned out that they specialised in finding unusual antique jewelery for people and so they found me a replica of the actual badge. It is almost impossible to get the real thing as there were so few made so a replica, of which there are also not many, was also quite precious. When it arrived at the jewelers and I opened the box, I was surprised to see how big it was compared to my original piece in silver. It was also in gold. I was delighted to have it again and kept it safe at home and took it out now and again. About 5 years later, when my gorgeous niece, Telche, was doing really well in school, I gave it to her for the same reasons my father give me his originally. I think it was only years later that she understood the significance of it. I hope she has it safe and passes it on to her child or someone she loves as much as I love her. Thus we can keep it as a family tradition as I never had children of my own.

A little bit of information on the badge itself:

Recipients of the Blue Max were required to wear the badge, which was a blue Maltese Cross with eagles between the arms, and the royal cipher and the words ‘Pour le Mérite’ on the cross, whenever in uniform.

Notable recipients included Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the ‘Red Baron’and Erwin Rommel, the famed “Desert Fox” of WWII. The last living holder of the Pour le Mérite was novelist Ernst Jünger who died in 1998 and who, at the age of 23, was the youngest ever recipient as well.

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