Tuesday, September 21, 2010

If This Box Could Talk - The Stories It Could Tell

Have I mentioned that I love all kinds of history including military history.
And, I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to work in a business where everything that I touch, wear, appraise and sell, has a history.  Of course I don't always know the provenance of a piece of estate jewelry or object d'art, but I appreciate the fact that every piece has a story behind it.
Take this sterling silver cigarette case for example.
I am rarely enamored with inanimate objects but there is something about this specific item that moves me.
Let's start with the top.  You can see from the photo that the case is engraved with a map of Burma with the names of the major cities. Ten of those cities, including Rangoon and Mandalay, are emphasized by flush set Burma rubies. 
The back of the case is engraved
India 1945
Burma 43-44-45
China 45
Obviously, we all know what was going on in these countries during these years.
Then we have the interior which is engraved
Helen From Jim
Who was Helen? And more importantly, who was Jim?  Was he an Aussi, an American or a Brit?  Was he an officer, a diplomat, a businessman, a reporter or a spy?  Who did he know? What did he witness during the war years?
When I hold this case in my hand I have the inexplicable feeling that there is a Somerset Maugham quality story of love and loss connected with it.
So much happened in Burma during 1943,1944 and 1945
and of course so much has happened since.
And on the topic, last weekend's Wall Street Journal listed five of the best books with first hand accounts of WW2 and Quartered Safe Out There: A Harrowing Tale Of World War II by George Macdonald Fraser was on their list.
Here's what WSJ reviewer Andrew Roberts had to say about the book.
George MacDonald Fraser, British author of the Flashman series of novels, fought in the 17th (Black Cat) Indian Division of the 14th Army during the siege of Meiktila and the battle of Pyawbwe in Burma. He believed, probably correctly, that soldiering in Burma rivaled flying in the RAF's Bomber Command as "the worst ticket you could draw in the lottery of active service." This was so not just because of the Japanese enemy; there were also 15-inch poisonous centipedes, malaria, "spiders the size of plates," typhus, jungle sores on the wrists and ankles, dysentery, and leeches. In terse, unsentimental language, Fraser's superb war memoir, "Quartered Safe Out Here," relates how the soldiers in his close-knit company fought their battles, mourned their friends and simply tried to survive from day to day.

Perhaps Jim fought with 17th Black Cat Indian Division.
I wish that I knew.
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David Toms said...

What a wondeful post and story! I also love the history behind antique or old objects. Defiitely a Somerset Maughan story here! Oh and I love the case!

Savvy Gal said...

yes do invite me when you are down here by SCP so we can pig out at Season 52.

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

I love this stuff. Very nice case.

Do let me know if you come across any Great War relics, or German or Italian items from WWII.

I have a WWI snuff box sitting on my mantle that I picked up at Bermondsey market in 1986 or 1987. I once kept in it the first few quid I earned as a kid, some cufflinks, and the dried remnants of a flower one of my first girlfriends ever gave me.

Furthermore, I'm really impressed that you know of the author of Flashman.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely piece, it could inspire a short story.

Anonymous said...

Oh just noticed that review was by Andrew Roberts, he's a friend of hubs, he is a great Trad party boy!

Couture Carrie said...

What a lovely objet, darling!
Beautifully written post, too!


Nouf Q. said...

I couldn't find the versace earrings dear, link please?

Belle de Ville said...

David, yes isn't this box amazing. There is something both romantic and poignant about it.
Savvy, yes one of these days.
LB, we rarely see Great War items, although I used to see many of them in France.
Tabitha, Yes, I thought the exact same thing about the box inspiring a short story. And why am I not surprised that you and your husband know Andrew Roberts.
CC, thank you.
Nouf, I left the link on your blog.

David Toms said...

BHelle, This got me inspired to call my mother in Australia to find my grandfather's Princess Mary's Gift tin from WWI


Wildernesschic said...

I do love smoking memorabilia .. the whole ritual of it has left so many lovely items

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