This is the story of a very worthy and interesting veteran from the First World War. It is a very special war casualty – our veteran is a Strad piano. The Piano was presented by Marcus Clark & Co Ltd to the Liverpool (near Sydney, Australia) Army camp. It was given into the care of Captain Chaplain George Trulford Walden, for his use in services and concerts for the A.I.F.
The piano gave good service at Liverpool for three months and when the 18th Battalion embarked on 25th June, 1915 on the troopship Ceramic for Egypt the piano went too! There were 3,000 soldiers and 100 signal boys on the Ceramic. One of those signal boys was a 15 year old youth, George French.
The piano played sedately for church servicer’s and really got into the swing of it when it was carried between decks for daily concerts. Strad Piano No. 225 dutifully performed in Egypt for a year and when the troops moved to Tell-el-Kebir the piano went too.
According to the yellowed history, found inside the piano, which is scripted in the finest copperplate writing “…sometimes on Saturday nights receiving its baptism of whisky, beer and candle grease, but on Sunday it was ready to lead the hymns for the church parades out in the desert.”
In 1916 our unique veteran swapped the desert sand for the mud of France, travelling across the Mediterranean amid the danger of enemy submarines.
Shortly before the end of the war Padre Walden moved up with his troops (he was now Padre with 13 Infantry Brigade) and had to leave the treasured piano in the town of Abbeville. Fortunately he had met someone who would undertake to care for the piano, a cashier in the Bank of France who was also a brilliant pianist.
When Padre Walden returned to Australia in 1920 Mr Reg (later Sir Marcus) Clark paid the $10 to have the piano returned to Australia. For many years the Strad stood proudly in the showroom of Marcus Clark’s store on Broadway (Sydney) until eventually it was given to the War Veterans’ Home at Narrabeen.
Unfortunately its ‘war wounds’ had taken a heavy toll and eventually the piano sat neglected and unusable…forgotten RSL ANZAC Village (as the War Vets is now known) was seeking a piano for a Christmas Concert in 1982 and the old piano and its history was re-discovered. The piano was lovingly restored and it resumed service, proudly playing for the Anzac services held at the Village.
Another of the residents at Narrabeen was that young signal boy, George French and I photographed him with No. 225 as an active 85 year old! We remember George and No.225.
Did you or do you play the piano?
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