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July 30, 2012

The Mysterious Digger of Reykjavik

from Roderick Eime in Iceland

This little tale reminds me why I enjoy museums so much. Especially the tiny folk museums many of the major tours overlook.

Once when I was a kid, we stopped at a tea house gallery near Gawler and my Dad sprang up in surprise when he saw a photo of his grandfather hanging on the wall.

Today I stumbled on a tiny cottage in the historic harbour district of Reykjavik, called Hafnarfjordur. [www.Hafnarfjordur.is]

It was a time capsule left behind by a prominent local woman who died in 1980 and decreed her house not be touched and left it to the people as a little museum. Quaint kitchen utensils sat on the wood stove, vintage furniture still in place while family photos adorned the sideboard. 

As I surveyed the sepia-toned gallery of family portraits and candid snaps, something immediately caught my eye. It was a studio photograph of a striking young soldier in uniform. So what? Well it was very obviously an Australian soldier of the First World War complete with signature slouch hat and 'rising sun' emblems on his collar.

The obvious question: what was a WWI digger doing on a mantlepiece in Iceland?

Various theories were put forward by the young lady who was attending the house on this drizzly Sunday morning. One was that he was an unfulfilled romantic interest by the spinster and only child who passed away at age 88 having never left her native Iceland. The same girl suggested the soldier was French, but I was able to quickly correct her on that issue. 

So this handsome young man was not a son, nor a husband or brother. Also not a sweetheart she'd met on some international galavant. Clearly there is some research ahead.

The woman in question was Sigridur Erlendsdottir, daughter of Erlendur Marteinsson (father) and Sigurveig Einardottir. To further compound the mystery, Icelandic surnames follow a complicated protocol of adopting father's or mother's name and adding either 'son' or 'dottir' as appropriate. So, tracing a family line or looking up birth records is a headspin. The government, by the way, long gave up on names and deals with everything by number for official purposes. 

I would be grateful if you could share this with anyone you think might have an inkling as to the identity of this dashing bloke from Hafnarfjordur.

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