The Flip Flap sounds like something I might do when procrastinating over my nanowrimo novel (er…kind of like now then….)
Last week I was doing some research into the 1908 Franco-British Exhibition which has a prominent role in my nanowrimo novel. This large exhibition on a purpose-built 140 acre site in Shepherds Bush, ran for six months and saw 8 million visitors. It also hosted the 1908 Olympic Games, a relatively minor sporting event back in those days and far less famous than the ‘Franco’.
The star attraction at the exhibition was the Flip Flap, a steel structure with two viewing platforms that rose 200 feet into the air. The Flip Flap seemed somehow familiar to me, then I remembered I’d seen it on a postcard I own.
The postcard was written by my great grandmother’s stepbrother, Alexander in August 1909. The postcard shows the view from one of the Flip Flap’s platforms. In the background you can see the Olympic stadium with an event or parade taking place. Alec would have been 15 when he wrote this postcard, presumably picked up on a visit to the exhibition. Did Alec ride on the Flip Flap? It looks rather terrifying to me, but then I’m used to rather higher standards of health and safety!
The card was actually posted from Dieppe in France, whilst Alec was visiting his aunt. Both Alec and my great grandmother’s parents were born in Europe – the family was an inter-cultural pot-pourri of French, Belgian and Polish-German. Alex wrote the postcard in French and all the family were bilingual.
Alec’s father and my great grandmother’s mother had married each other because they had both been widowed and, as my great grandmother put it, one needed a wife and the other a husband. It seems to have been a successful marriage and they had two more children together, bringing the combined family to ten.
Five years later, when Britain went to war with Germany, the nineteen-year-old Alec and his two brothers signed up to fight. Alec served briefly with the French Foreign Legion, before joining the Middlesex Regiment. He served in Ireland and the Mediterranean but it was in France on 26 August, less than three months before end of war, that he was killed.
Eleven other men from the battalion died on the same day as Alec. The battalion was being relieved and heading back for several days rest behind the lines. The regimental history records that they were under heavy barrage and it may have been these shells that killed Alec. He was 24 years old.
My great grandmother kept her stepbrother’s postcards along with many others she received and it was only after her death, 15 years ago at the age of 99, that I started to look through them and piece together these forgotten stories.