Speaking of Palm Trees
Letters from Egypt 1946-1947
Kathleen Taylor Smith
ISBN: 978-1-902019-09-3 (Old ISBN: 1 902019 09 1) 152 pages, paperback, 146mm x 208mm.
25 black and white photographs Published by Greenridges Press, March 2007.
Price: £ 8.99 Postage and Packing:
About the Book
Lifted and parted from the window pane;
There shone the river bank, remote and clear
With trees against the sunset skies again...
Kathleen Taylor Smith sailed in a troopship to Egypt in February 1946 to be with her husband Robert, who was working with the RAF in Cairo. She stayed for more than a year and fell in love with the country, in spite of the political turbulence that followed the Second World War. Ironically, although the British wanted to take their troops home, there were not enough ships to accommodate them and they stayed on, unwelcome, the targets of frustrated nationalists. Over the border in Israel, terrorists were also lethally active.
Kathleen took all this in her stride and wrote vivid descriptions about the country, and its people, to her beloved sister Maureen in England. Later she put all the material, together with accomplished poems with an Egyptian theme, into a book “Speaking of Palm Trees”. The typescript lay undiscovered among her effects until after her death in 1976.
It is now published as a unique snapshot of life in a complex and fascinating country which, at that time, was trying to shake itself free of colonialism. Kathleen’s compassion, curiosity and strength of character shine through as she learns about Egypt and is taken to the hearts of many of its people. She longs that “we might really get to know each other and the political side, with its suspicion and resentment, would vanish ‘like snow upon the desert’s dusty face’”.
Kathleen Taylor Smith (née Lawlor) was born in Canterbury on September 30, 1900, the younger of two daughters. Her parents were teachers and her father ran a school at St John’s Wood. In 1910 he died and the family moved to Yoxford, Suffolk. In 1918 her mother also died and Kathleen went to live with her elder sister Maureen in Bromley, Kent. In January 1921 she married Robert Taylor Smith and a couple of years later they moved to Farnborough, Hampshire, where their only son David was born in 1923. Eight years later, they moved to the house in Rowledge, near Farnham in Surrey, where they spent the rest of their lives.
During the Second World War Kathleen was treasurer of the local soldiers’ canteen committee and did the usual wartime wardening duties. Her husband was busy travelling around the country on official business and she spent much of the time alone. In late 1945 he was posted to Cairo and as soon as she could, in early 1946, Kathleen travelled to Egypt as a civilian to be with him. She became secretary to the Music Officer of the British Council in Cairo, which gave her the opportunity to meet many Egyptian people and establish a rapport with them.
Her open-minded and friendly approach also meant that she was accepted with affection by everyone she came across – from the servant who secretly put fresh flowers on her desk each morning to the young nationalists whose views she sought.
The sorry state of the country’s working animals had a great effect on her – she describes her visit to the Old War Horses Memorial Hospital for Animals, in Cairo, on April 8, 1946 – and she decided to devote the rest of her life to working for their welfare. (For more information see p140-142 of the book.) Between February 1946 and April 1947, Kathleen wrote lively descriptions about the country and its people, to her beloved sister Maureen in England. Later she put all the material, together with poems she had written at the time, into a ring-bound book which she called “Speaking of Palm Trees”. It gives a vivid picture of life in post-war Egypt. Her son David did not know of the existence of the work until he cleared his late mother’s estate in the mid-1970s.
It is obvious from her writing that she fell in love with Egypt immediately and after her first experiences, related in the book, she became more involved with the country from the late 1950s until 1973 when Robert suffered a stroke.
A woman of strong character and considerable ability – which shines through in the book – she eventually became organising secretary for the Brooke Hospital for Animals, a charity which is dedicated to relieving the suffering of horses, donkeys and mules working for poor people in the developing world. In this administrative role she later went out to Egypt once or twice a year. She died in 1976.
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STATUS - The book was published on March 14th 2007 and can be ordered from good bookshops.