musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Month: February 2014

Almost a year

Wow. This time a year ago I was probably approaching Dubai.

This is all I saw of Dubai.

This is all I saw of Dubai.

I then spent nearly 4 hours trying to get my watch to change timezones

It is true, I have been here in the UK just under a year, having arrived at Heathrow on the 1st of March 2013. (at the time of updating the date on this post I have been here 4 years and 10 months).

I distinctly remember sitting on the tube from the airport travelling along an unfamiliar stretch of countryside,  surrounded by people engrossed in cellphones, newspapers or mp3’s. Many probably travelled along here on a regular basis while this was my first time.  I was tired, disorientated, and somewhat depressed, having embarked on a major change in my life literally overnight,
 
Eventually arriving at The Oval station on the Northern Line, I still had to get to my accommodation in Kennington, and dragged my familiar green suitcase along the pavements for about a kilo until I got there. I probably slept the sleep of the just that night, or maybe I was just very tired? 
 
 
There was a lot I still had to do, minor things like organising a bank account, and getting registered with a GP, getting a National Insurance Number, and buying a sim card for my phone, plus a host of other odds and ends that I had to deal with.
 
 
I spent 5 weeks in London, and they were very busy ones, but with a lot of sightseeing thrown in. One thing was certain though, I was not going to find a casual job here, there was just too much competition. I had originally considered going to Southampton when I was planning this trip, but had decided to stick with London initially and decide once I was there. With my lease expiring I decided to head south to that harbour city, and see what would happen from there. The results of that excursion are plastered in this blog between May and November 2013. 
 
 
I am starting year 2 tomorrow, and I hope it only gets better from here. Maybe on 28 Feb 2015 I will be looking back on this post? who knows. (now looking back from 29/12/2017)
 
So, watch this space for further adventures, I think there are more coming, if only I can get a few other projects completed and the weather would improve.
 
© DRW 2014-2018. Images recreated 17/04/2016
Updated: 30/12/2017 — 20:14

Remembering the Mendi. Hollybrook Cemetery

Every year about this time I try to write something about the Mendi disaster, it is one of those tragedies that is becoming even more known now compared to when it happened in 1917. Last year I was fortunate enough to confront the Mendi legacy at Hollybrook Cemetery in Southampton, and at Milton Cemetery in Portsmouth.
Today, 23 February 2014, the South African Legion of Military Veterans in the UK held a commemorative service at Hollybrook Cemetery, to Honour and Remember those men from the South African Native Labour Corps who lost their lives in this tragic disaster so many years ago. The Isle of Wight is not too far from Southampton, and this is really the main centre in the UK where they are remembered on a memorial. Unfortunately it was a cold and grey day in Southampton, and I kept on thinking that it was probably a cold and grey day when they died. I do not recall reading what the weather was like on that day, but it was foggy on that morning when the Mendi was lost. The occasion was well attended, not only by foreign dignitaries, but also by South Africans that have made the United Kingdom their home. 
We were fortunate enough to have wreaths from a number of service, veterans and military organisations, and the Mayor of Southampton was there to lay a wreath on behalf of the city from where so many South Africans have sailed from or to.
  
The point was made that the men who sailed on the Mendi were not conscripted into service, they were volunteers, their status was as non-combatants, and they were involved in a war far removed from their homes and villages back in Africa. Sadly very little information exists on the men themselves, they do not have record cards, and there is no service or medical file for them. Often their names were incorrectly captured, and CWGC has recently replaced the panels of the memorial to reflect the names of these men and to correct grammatical and spelling errors. Yet, when I was validating records for the South African War Graves Project I could not help but wonder who was Saucepan Maake or Canteen Mahutu? Their real names are lost forever, we know nothing about them. 
 
The Roll of Honour of the Mendi is a long one, each must have had a mother and a father, or siblings, maybe a wife and children to whom they never returned. Over the years their immediate family would die out too, and they would be only a distant memory of somebody that never returned from what was in effect a “White Mans War”. Today we helped to keep that memory alive of these men, and I hope that one day when we too are gone somebody will continue with the Remembrance of those who did not return.
 
“Be quiet and calm, my countrymen, for what is taking place is exactly what you came to do. You are going to die… but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we drilling the death drill. I, a Xhosa, say you are my brothers. Swazi’s, Pondo’s, Basuto’s, we die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our assegaais in the kraal, our voices are left with our bodies. “

Those inspiring words are words that need to reach out to a younger generation, so that they too can show the courage that the men on that sinking ship had, so many years ago and so far from home.

The playing of the Last Post, and the act of Remembrance always seem so minor, but those few minutes leave you time to reflect on those who have made the final sacrifice. The Centenary of World War One is months away, and all of the participants in it have their own part in the tragedy and waste. The Sinking of the Mendi and the Battle of Delville Wood are significant to South Africa, and we must never forget them, and those who fell in those moments of madness almost a century ago.

They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning
We will remember them.
 
 
And then we were finished,  our wreaths were laid and group photographs were taken. The fact that so many had braved the chilly weather was a good sign. Seven services had been held for the Mendi this year, and I cannot help but feel that this one was the closest to the place where the sinking had occurred. 

  
Soon Hollybrook would grow quiet again, and people would pause at the Cross of Sacrifice, and see the many names that are remembered here, and just maybe somebody will reach out and touch the names, making a tactile connection to one who has long entered into the other realm. Maybe they too came from South Africa and came to discover our proud military heritage that is remembered here. And I know that somewhere, many years ago, families in African homes remembered their lost family member, and that they too hoped that somebody would reach out and take the flame of Remembrance from them when they were gone, that flame has passed to us now, the next generation of servicemen from the SADF, and one day we too will pass it onwards. 

Rest in peace Men of the Mendi, 
 

“……. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our assegaais in the kraal, our voices are left with our bodies. ” 

© DRW 2014-2018. Images recreated 17/04/2016
Updated: 30/12/2017 — 20:15

Boscombe Down Aviation Collection.

The real reason for my walkies yesterday was to visit the Boscombe Down Aviation Collection which is at Old Sarum Airfield. It isn’t a very long walk to get there, and to be honest I was very disappointed by the collection.
 
My first oooh moment was when I saw my first Hawker Hunter. It is a real beaut of an aircraft, with that strange otherness that many British aircraft had in the days when the UK aviation industry was still producing aircraft.
 
The aircraft behind it is a Jet Provost, and she isn’t looking as immaculate as the Hunter is. The problem with aircraft is that realistically they should be kept under cover, but that’s assuming you have cover to keep them under.
 
Of course the saddest find was the cockpit of a Comet MK2 that now stands forlornly on a corner. It is as close to a Comet that I would ever get, but this poor remnant is very sad. At one point in history these aircraft were the ground-breakers of long haul jet flight, but now it is relegated to a mere shade of its former self. 
 
Once inside the museum I was surrounded by cockpits and very few intact aircraft. I think that was one of the reasons I felt so disappointed; there are very few intact aircraft here. 
  
I do understand though the limitations of a collection like this, these museums are really operated by volunteers and people who have a love for these machines. Money is tight, space is tighter and exhibits are not always easy to acquire. If anything a cockpit is better than nothing. Boscombe Down was originally an aircraft testing site at Amesbury. The collection is probably part of the equipment that was at that original airfield.
 
The other intact aircraft are: 
Hawker Sea Harrier

Hawker Sea Harrier

Gloster Meteor

Gloster Meteor

BE2b

BE2b

Chipmunk WD321

 There is also a Jaguar under preservation, although it may be be a long time before  she is any sort of state to be displayed properly.
 
I did look around the cockpits, and the pair of Canberra remnants were very interesting, considering that the SAAF flew Canberras during the Bush War.
 

I have no idea how they managed to squeeze into those small spaces though, access to that transparent nose was almost impossible, never mind how they did it with their flying gear on and while in flight. That is the one thing that did strike me, all of these cockpits were really small and cramped and it does give a better appreciation for the men who flew them.

Not all aircraft here are fighters, there are two larger cockpits which are more my size. This particular aircraft is a Hawker Siddeley Andover and it was used for early trials of low light and infra red night flying.
 


The “front office” of a modern fighter is a mix of analogue and digital, although I cannot recall which aircraft this is. The museum was reasonably busy too, and trying to get a coherent set of images was difficult as people kept on drifting in and out of view, or popping up where you don’t want them to be.

Unfortunately the Lightning was blocked off so I could not get a look into her cockpit, but I was really amazed at how big this part of the aircraft was. It is just a pity that there was no complete Lightning to see.

That was about it, all that remained was photographing the two helicopters through the fence. One being a Wasp and the other a mystery.

For some reason I thought this yellow machine was Russian. But it turns out that is is a Sycamore XJ380. The Sycamore has the distinction of being the first British designed helicopters to fly.

Then I was ready to head off home, I did not include all my images here, there are too many. But like so many of these places you tend to realise that you missed seeing everything, or taking notice of some of the smaller exhibits. I do however feel a twinge of nostalgia for that Comet outside, and they do have a wonderful model of one of these aircraft

As well as a lot of seats from the Comet standing outside.

From the days when passengers were treated as travellers and not as cattle.

There is also a memorial to the Air Observation Post Squadrons that were based at Old Sarum Airfield during World War 2.

That concluded my photography, and I hung around at the airfield for awhile but there was nothing really exciting going on there so I headed off back to Salisbury.

Unsorted random photographs.
BAC1-11 Cockpit

BAC1-11 Cockpit

Lloyd Loom chair as used by Battle of Britain Pilots waiting to scarmble

Lloyd Loom chair as used by Battle of Britain Pilots waiting to scramble

GAF Jindivik target drone

GAF Jindivik target drone

Hawker Harrier vectored thrust nozzles

Hawker Harrier vectored thrust nozzles

Rolls Royce Avon engine

Rolls Royce Avon engine

Back seat driver (Navigator?) of a Canberra

Back seat driver (Navigator?) of a Canberra


BDAC is a nice museum, but the lack of complete aircraft does let it down,but it is worth the trip anyway just to get a feel for those heady days of British aviation.  More images are available on my external gallery
© DRW 2014-2018. Images replaced 17/04/2016
Updated: 30/12/2017 — 20:16

Old Sarum, a hill with a view.

This morning I headed off to Old Sarum, a longish walk “just up the street”. It is one of those really old sites that seem to abound in the UK, steeped in history, blood, religion and a dash more history. Realistically there isn’t really much to see there, from afar it looks like a giant pimple on the landscape, but once you investigate what lies beyond then things get interesting. 
 
Image from the main information board.

Image from the main information board.

The site is just outside Salisbury, and it could really be described as the place Salisbury was before Salisbury was what it is. It is the site of the cathedral that existed before Salisbury Cathedral was built. It was not only a cathedral though, but an iron age hill fort, a Norman fortress and at one time home to the English King (or one or two of them).  The pimple is deceptive though, because there is a moat between the surrounding area and the inner sanctum of the fortress (lets call it a fortress at this point). Crossing that moat would bring you into the castle and fortifications within.
 
The "drawbridge" looking out of the entrance towards the parking lot

The “drawbridge” looking out of the entrance towards the parking lot

Within the walls of the the inner fortress would have stood the castle/fortress proper. With its many layers of access to various members of the population. Tradesmen around the back, higher-ups higher up, and the King and his court being lord of all he surveyed below.
 
Very little remains of the interior buildings, realistically there are just remnants of walls and rooms and no real sense of what stood here originally. This grassy area was probably the courtyard with the well where the signpost is. At one point (1110-1120) the home of Henry I was here, and this would have been a bustling area. The place fell into disfavour and some repairs were carried out in 1366, but by 1514 it was an abandoned and desolate place and the site was given to Thomas Compton along with permission to demolish it and reuse the building materials.
 
  
In the 16th century the buildings were all demolished, leaving the ruins behind for us to puzzle over. It was excavated between 1909 and 1915, and it is probable that there are layers of buildings built over each other, and we only really see the ruins today. Oddly enough one important historical artifact has survived, ye olde privy…. 
  
The royal loo was probably built over this deep pit,  which was where the the King could read the morning newspapers in peace before stepping out for a days ruling/throning.  Some poor peasant (a Baldrick type I suspect), would have the unenviable task of having to clean up every so often, being lowered down into the poo to clean up. It does show that even Kings have more than one throne. 
 
 
The view over the surrounding countryside is magnificent, and you would see an enemy coming from miles away. The outlines in the image above are all that remains of the cathedral that stood at that spot before. The original cathedral was completed in 1092, but it was severely damaged by lightning 5 days after it was consecrated. A mere hundred years later and it too was abandoned in favour of the new cathedral in what was technically “New Sarum” (Salisbury).  The remains of the cathedral and Bishops residence are outside the inner sanctum of the fortress but inside the first moated area, and you have to walk around the fortress to get to them. All that is left are the foundation outlines and a few remnants of rooms. Not much to see, although there were two burial areas close to the ruins.
 
You would have had to cross the drawbridge and head along a path that must have existed back then, I am sure the mud must have created havoc with any procession.
 
Today you would need your imagination to conjure up a cathedral at this spot. It is however a very pretty area with breathtaking views. And it is very popular with the dog walking set. I have no idea how they keep the grounds so immaculate either. 
 
And what of Salisbury? it lays roughly east of Old Sarum, and you can see the spire of the cathedral from the fortress. Unfortunately the sun was sitting in the east and the clouds kept on coming and going, but I did manage this image.
 
And so Old Sarum was left to its ghosts, and I do not think this would be a nice place on a dark and windy night. There was a decidedly creepy feel about it 
  
So I said my farewells and headed off to my next destination. The site is not really one with a lot to see, but it has a rich and complex history and I cannot begin to cover that here. It is however a very pretty place and its worth just going there to walk the area, Who knows, I may go back one day. I am sure there is more to see if only I look more closely.
 
© DRW 2014-2018. Images recreated 17/04/2016
Updated: 30/12/2017 — 20:17
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