musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Month: August 2014

Lets go by train

In 2012 I wrote a piece about traveling by bus, and it was quite a jolt remembering all of those trips I made as a youngster, but I really wanted to do a similar one about going by train, and here is the first part (warts and all).
There were two types of train travel in my day, the first being suburban, and the other mainline (aka “the holiday train”). Bear in mind that my experiences fall roughly between 1963-1989, this is not a comprehensive history of rail travel in South Africa.

Typical suburban train

 The Bethlehem Train.

My grandparents lived in Bethlehem and occasionally we would pack our goodies and catch the train to Bethlehem. I do not know whether it was completely by steam, it is possible that part of the journey was behind electric traction and then somewhere along the line we would be attached to the steam engine which would take us to that city in the OFS. Bethlehem was not been electrified in those days so a steamer was the only way to get there. The coaches were balconies mostly, beautiful wood and leather furnished with a unique smell that tended to remain with the senses just waiting to leap out at you the moment you stepped into a wooden coach again. They were also painted in Imperial Brown and I was fortunate enough to find a very good example (1st/2nd class D-15 mainline passenger saloon 1044.) at the defunct Heidelberg Transport Museum .

We travelled 2nd Class and I seem to recall that the upholstery was green leather (as opposed to blue used in 1st Class). The coaches also had a crossover in the middle, and once we had left Johannesburg the “Bedding Boy” would take our order for bedding and he would later come to make up the bunks in our compartment. The ticket examiner would also pay everybody a visit and double check that everybody was where they should be. I don’t recall whether there was a dining saloon on the train, but we always had a packed hamper of food for the trip to scoff along the way.  That could include sandwiches, fruit, boiled eggs and the flask of coffee or tea.

The compartments all had a fold down table that covered the stainless steel basin set up between the windows. There were wooden shutters that were raised by pulling on a leather strap and the top bunks folded down from the compartment wall. My brother and I always had those top bunks while my parents took the lower ones. I always remembered that some of the coaches had thick black leather straps that rang across the roof of the compartment as well as a small reading lamp in each corner. The coaches were of the clerestory type and they had vents in the ceiling that wound open when you turned a small handle. I don’t really know how successful these were, but I do know that travelling down to Bethlehem in Winter was a cold trip. The coaches all had radiators in them, and these would have been supplied by a steam heater wagon behind the traction. I do not know if the steam engine would have needed one of these though because steam was in abundance. The radiators only had two settings and as a result you were either freezing or in a sauna.

The beds would be made up by the bedding boy and they would be warm and the sheets would be crisp and the bed was very comfy, although I could never sleep on a train, there were just too many distractions. At night the train took on a life of its own. In those days the rails were not all welded and the trip would have the all pervading clickety-clack of wheels going over the joints, and of course the steamer would be making stack talk way up front, there was also the sound of sliding doors moving back and forth and the ticket examiner rattling his key in the slot of a door to check the tickets or remind somebody that theirs was the next stop. There was also the creak of the woodwork as it moved with the motion of the train, I suspect staff were also busy during the night because in the mornings the corridor would be clean and the toilets would be as clean as a public facility could be. I think that the poor bedding boy may have had that included in his duties, irrespective though, the trains were something to be proud of.

One of the thrills of the trip was sticking your head out of the window and looking for the loco in front, late at night you could often see the orange glow from the steam engine up front as she powered into the night, the smell of smoke and steam would be unforgettable, and of course once you came back into the compartment your parents would give you an earful because the fresh beds now had specks of soot all over them, and you were invariably covered in soot too.


Fortunately there was warmish water on tap although that strange steel basin with its odd taps and small plug hole was an adventure on its own.  Before bedtime all us males would be chased from the compartment while my mother changed into her nightdress. Banished to the corridor we would peer out into the darkness, nary a light would be shining outside and the sleeping countryside was probably oblivious to the creation passing by. Trains were a regular occurrence back then, they went almost everywhere and these old balconies were becoming rare as they were slowly withdrawn from service.
The toilet was at the end of the corridors and it too had a unique smell about it, not to mention that odd noise when you pressed the foot pedal to flush the loo. The small trapdoor would open and everybody held it for just a bit longer so that you could see the track beneath (although whether we actually did is debatable, but as a child you really hoped to see the sleepers rushing by. There was no drinking water in the basins, that was available from a big blue plastic bottle at either end of the coach. When you filled your cup from the small silver tap it would make a “bloop” noise as the water was displaced. Then mum would head off to the loo and the three of us would change into our PJ’s and we would clamber up into the bunks and try to sleep

This would not happen.

When the train pulled into a station the comforting noises would stop, to be overtaken by those outside the sleeping train. A lot of people would travel by train so there were passengers boarding and doors slamming as well as the occasional safety valve lifting up in the front. Naturally everybody was shouting at everybody else and it sounded as if people were dropping boxes of plates just outside the compartment. Then the loco would blow its whistle and you would feel the initial tug, then a slow acceleration as the train once again started to move and then the first rail joint, and the second, the noise increasing as we picked up speed. If you were unfortunate something under the coach would squeak or rattle and you would just have to grin and bear it.


As the morning came closer it would be time to get up and usually we would be kicked out of bed quite early,  Mum would head off to the loo and we would change and then we would swap places and be banished to the corridor and loo once again.

The train would then start winding down towards Reitz, and I was told that the train did a large circle to get to Reitz, and we would watch this from the corridor, along with other males who had been banished to the corridor.

Eventually we would be allowed back into our compartment and would dump all the bedding on the top bunks and be able to re-use the seats once again. Somewhere along the line a steward would have brought coffee if there had been coffee making facilities on board, or the remnants of last nights tea from the thermos would be shared between the four of us.

The light outside would be improving and the little SAR Bokkie engraved on the window would look benevolently down on us as this fine example of the proud SAR neared its destination.


My grandfather worked as a guard at Bethlehem, and he would be waiting for us when we arrived at the station. He knew everybody there and would exchange greetings as he strode down the platform, resplendent in a suit. He always dressed up in a suit, and his only concession to comfort would be when he removed his jacket and took off his hat. We would pile out and head off the platform to the house. Our train was rapidly emptying behind us, the steam engine would be huffing and steaming at the front and we would leave it behind until our return trip. At the back the guards van was being emptied of its cargo too, mail, packages and all manner of assorted bits and pieces that were often moved by rail.

Bethlehem was a busy station back then, it had its own steam loco, and most of my family worked there. When electrification came along the loco was almost redundant, and the staff got cut back. Then they stopped the passenger trains and the station became a ghost station, with empty platforms and a slowly decaying building.


I went back there in 2011, and could not believe that this once busy station had become an empty shell. The death of the railways in that town was a disaster, because employment plummeted and the town was literally cut off, dependent on lumbering trucks that would disturb the silence as they passed through. Bethlehem was always known as a one horse town, now it was a no horse town.

I was fortunate to find a scrap of 8mm film that had a bit of footage from those days and had it converted, All that was missing was the smell of wood and leather, steam and smoke.
When our visit was over we would duplicate the train trip, only this time in the other direction, and probably the last part of the trip would have involved an electric unit as steam had been banished from Park Station. I know I always hated that return trip because I had to leave that beautiful train behind. If we were lucky we would be able to ride in one of the newer coaches, although they weren’t really new as they had been superseded themselves. The balconies would fade into memory, and eventually they would be completely replaced by other wood and leather creations, very similar to the 2nd class E13 sleeper that I saw at SANRASM.

That coach had the leather and wood smell about it, and when I explored it I was amazed at how much of it was as I remembered. The last time I would travel on a wood and leather coach like this would be in 1980 when I travelled on one to Potch to do my national service, but that’s another story for another time.

Part 2:  In which we travel on the Trans-Natal. 


We seemed to go to Durban every 7 years, and we stayed at the “Coogee Beach Hotel” which was if I recall in Gillespie Street. The overnight train trip (aka “The Holiday Train”) was part of the holiday, and about 6 weeks before we were due to leave my father would go to Park Station to book our compartment on the Trans-Natal. It was a very formal occasional too, the bookings for main line trains was run almost like a travel agent, and you bought the tickets as well as bedding tickets and meal tickets there.

Then the long wait which would involve endless imagination, careful choice of clothing and end of year exams. Eventually the big day would arrive and one fine day in December we would pack the red samsonite suitcases and head off to Park Station and down to the main line platforms where we would eagerly wait for the pair of red electric units bringing in the train.

Postcard view of the "European" concourse

Postcard view of the “European” concourse

The concourse at Park Station was somewhat of a cathedral with its high ceiling, polished floors and islands leading down to the platforms. It was also segregated and in later years I got to know it reasonably well. I revisited it in 2012, and posted about that on my blog.

The first thing we had to do was check the passenger plan on the board at the platform, this would indicate which coach and which compartment your family was placed in. the coaches had a spring clip outside the windows of each compartment or coupe, and a small tag would be affixed to that clip with the passengers names on them. My father was never one for being late so invariably we stood around for hours waiting for the train to arrive. Eventually the electric units would come through, big red heavy machines that made a wonderful noise that is still characteristic of the 6E’s today. Sadly  the wonderful wooden coaches had been replaced by the all new Formica clad oval roof saloons on these “crack” mainline trains so part of the fun was gone. 

The train would be packed during the holiday season and people would throng the platform and windows, waiting until the departure bells rang and the units suddenly turned on the blowers as they started to inch forward out of Park Station. Some of the images I am using are of a trip I took with Reefsteamers in 2010 when we passed through Park Station en route for Magaliesburg. 


We would wend our way through the peak hour suburbans that headed in and out of the station, the Trans-Natal would leave in the late afternoon, heading east and pause at Germiston to pick up coaches and then head on its way to Natal, arriving after 9.00am the next morning.

We never ate in the dining saloon of the train, but always had a huge hamper of sandwiches, boiled eggs, tea and fruit to munch on. Invariably we were hungry immediately after leaving Johannesburg. Then the ticket examiner would call, and then the bedding boy who would take orders for beds in preparation for making the beds in the traditional blue SAR blankets and starched sheets. A steward would also come around and take orders for the dining saloon.  At Germiston they would shunt on coaches from Pretoria and we would be able to watch the steam engines in action. In 1986 during my last trip on the Trans-Natal the shunt would be done by the steam pilot loco of Germiston, class 12AR “Susan”, who is still around and used by Reefsteamers.  Then the blowers would start up and the train would start to move, nary a jerk would be felt and it usually felt as if the platform was leaving the train instead of the other way around. 

The journey would formally commence and we would trundle towards Durban. After or during our packed supper the beds would be made up by the bedding boy, and that meant that the bench seats were no longer available to sit on, but we would still lean out of the windows watching the scenery go past. Sleep did not feature in our plans, after all we only did  this every 7 years and only had 7 days to do it all in.

The Trans-Karoo headed by a pair of 5E's

The Trans-Karoo headed by a pair of 5E’s

Eventually my parents would pack us all off to bed, first banishing us to the corridor while she changed. My brother and I always in the upper bunks. Alas, sleep never came to me on those trips and it would be a long night of listening to the unique noises of a train and feel the swaying motion as we journeyed to Natal.

A typical SAR sleeper coach. (Reefsteamers)

A typical SAR sleeper coach. (Reefsteamers)

The modern coaches were very close in design to the wooden coaches although the clerestory roof was gone and the woodwork had been replaced by easy to clean Formica, although the leather seats were still there. The difference between 2nd and first class was that in 2nd class 6 bunks could be made up whereas in 1st only 4 were, and the leather was blue and there was a shower in the first class coaches.

Typical 2nd class compartment

The strange basin was still the same, as was the steam radiator and of course the blue water bottle which stood at the end of the corridors still dispensed water from a silver tap. There were also 3rd class coaches which were mostly sitters, and of course strictly segregated from the rest of the train.

Once again sleep would evade us and the night would drag on, the Trans-Natal was an express so did not stop at each and every station, so occasionally the outside light that shone through the steel shutters would change as we hurtled through a station. Every now and then a sliding door would open as somebody headed off to the loo down the passage, and occasionally the units in front would sound their horns. We were safe in those trains, we knew the driver and his assistant were awake and secretly I really wanted to be a train driver driving the units, although I ended up in the Telecommunications Department instead. 

The next morning would see us meandering down the long hills of Natal, calling at some of the sleepy stations along the way. Marionhill was very memorable because the train seemingly stopped in the middle of nowhere, and heaps of African children would throng around the train hoping that people would throw coins or sweets for them. Then we would slowly pull away again and continue on our journey to Pietermaritzburg with its circular platform and strange unfamiliar steelwork. It was a very pretty station, and nothing like the concrete monoliths in Durban and Johannesburg.

Then we were off once again on the final downhill stretch to Durban, by now the air felt very different, a touch of humidity and heat? those trains were not air conditioned and opening a window was the best way to keep cool. The holiday feel was in the air.

The cuttings and greenery started to give way to houses and industry and soon we were wending our way into Durban Station. I think I only went into the new station in 1986, our other arrivals may have been at the old station.  Our holiday had begun!.

There are at least 3 reels of 8mm footage from our Durban holidays that have survived. Unfortunately though, they are random and don’t seem to have any real theme. Just a family, on their holidays. Actually its more about 2 boys on their holidays with the occasional shot of my father in them. That means my mother must have been playing cameraperson.  There is one image that came out which I am particularly fond of, and which I would love to have as a still image.  

Naturally there are no images of the train trip itself, but then film was an expensive commodity and while I do recall taking photographs one year, they were never developed and the film was lost forever.
Those seven days flew by in 2 days, and eventually we would be dropped off at the station by my uncle and board the train for the trip back to Johannesburg. It too was a identical trip, except for one odd thing which always confused me. In the morning it always felt as if we were heading in the wrong direction, instead of going towards Johannesburg it felt as if we were heading back to Durban. I always secretly hoped that this was the case, but it never was.  Arriving at Park Station was an anti-climax. It did not feel good to be at home, although none of us missed the heat and humidity. The only real thing we brought back was sunburn, sand in strange places and a bottle  of sea water for the maid. It was really time to start counting off another 7 years on the calender. But first it was Back to School!

1982 Print ad for the SAR

The last time I caught the Trans-Natal was in 1986, I had resigned from Transnet (as the SAR was now known) and had a weeks holiday. I travelled 1st class on my annual free pass and it was almost exactly as I remembered it from my childhood, the only difference was that I ate breakfast in the dining saloon.  It was also the last time I travelled on a mainline train in South Africa. 
Reefsteamers still operates two sets of original ex SAR coachsets in their original livery. They have saloons and sitters and the experience is very good for nostalgia sake. 
Train travel as part of the holiday was fun when you were young, although I do not know how my parents coped with us in that compartment, fortunately the trips were only overnighters. We never went on the Blue train, or even the Trans-Karoo, so those experiences are not in my field of knowledge. I did use the train when I was doing my national service, traveling from Johannesburg to Bloemfontein, Kimberly and Jan Kemp Dorp. That one involved a change at Warrenton and a 4 hour wait for the Mafeking train with its steam loco in front. I wish I had paid more attention to those trips but then we were more interested in getting home to civvy street. I also saw a troop train leave Johannesburg bound for the border, and it was a very memorable occasion, long lines of uniformed soldiers waving as the train pulled out of the station, the noise and emotion were very tangible, and very sad too. 
Those days are gone. The railways that I knew no longer exists, it has moved on, but whether it has improved I cannot say as I have never travelled with Shosholoza Meyl, I believe that it is still fun, it is just slightly different. 
Special credit must go to Reefsteamers who has managed to maintain their fleet of nostalgia which helped me so much to recapture some of my lost memories. SAR Menus courtesy of Brian Bunyard.
© DRW. 2014-2018. Created 24/08/2014. Images recreated and posts merged 19/04/2016
Updated: 31/12/2017 — 09:03

Imperial War Museum at last

One of the places I wanted to see from my bucket list is the Imperial War Museum. The irony is that when I lived in Kennington the IWM was just up the street but it was closed. All I could do was stand outside that magnificent building and grumble and mutter and take pics of those magnificent guns that stand outside it.

The building itself is an interesting one too as it was the site of the former Bethlehem Royal Hospital known as Bedlam. It is a magnificent building too, but there is very little visible that could connect it to it’s former role. 
The crowds heading in the direction of the museum was not a good sign, and the 6 coaches parked outside did not auger well either. Once past the doors my biggest fears were justified when I realised the place was packed. I had been given a 2.30 slot of the World War 1 galleries, but seeing as it was already just after 12.00 I did not think I would be able to find enough to keep me amused for 2,5 hours. The crowds made it very difficult to get anywhere close to anything.
As you enter you are confronted with the central courtyard as above, my eye was drawn to the Spitfire MK1 almost immediately. She just looked amazing, and I was determined to get as many other shots of her as I could. The World War 1 Galleries were housed on the ground floor but I was not scheduled to visit those till 2.30 so headed up the stairs. It was even more crowded here and extremely difficult to look at anything. 
I was very curious about the the blue nosed object sticking out over the landing and it turned out to be an Italian Human Torpedo, and it was fantastic. Having an open cockpit you could see the complicated controls used to operate the vehicle, and again I was left thinking about how difficult it must have been to operate one of these under wartime conditions. 
Next to the chariot was a pile of wreckage, and I was puzzled because I could not find a information card that said what it was. I eventually found out that this is part of the wreckage of the midget submarine X7 that was lost on the mission to sink the Tirpitz. I had seen the intact X24 during my visit last month to the Submarine Museum at Gosport, and this was an interesting link between the two vessels. 
One of the more endearing images I have of the IWM is the piece of  a Lancaster that the museum had. I recall watching the TV series The World At Warand one of the interviews was held with that Lanc fuselage behind the interviewee. That Lanc relic rested very close to this spot. Unfortunately, getting a semi-decent image of it was impossible. 
That aircraft was the one thing that I had on my list for the museum, everything else was really just a bonus. It is however one of those items where the interesting bits is out of reach, a platform level with the cockpit would have made this so much nicer to view, but in itself it is an awesome relic. There were other items here that were interesting, but the crowds made it very difficult to actually see anything, naturally the selfie brigade was out, as were the seemingly stalled people who stood and never moved. This museum is one to savour, not one that you need to struggle with. 
I headed upwards, to another level, and then another, slowly being defeated by hordes of people and vaguely hoping that I would find a toilet and quickly. The really quiet areas were the portrait galleries, and they had some magnificent works in them, but photography wasn’t allowed so I cannot boast about what I saw. At each landing I stopped and looked at that Spitfire and Harrier, looking for an all encompassing shot.
I went into the Holocaust exhibition, and it was really excellent, telling the a comprehensive story as opposed to a hodge podge of bits and pieces, there were a lot of personal items on display, and a lot of video displays expanded on the overall story within. The audience was very muted in here, and it was a very effective display. 
On the whole though a lot of what I saw was not really in my field of interest, as it dealt with the Korean conflict and the Gulf conflict, there was also emphasis placed on Britain and how it came through the war and the period afterwards.  It is a lot of information that has to be moved through, and I do wonder whether they are trying to cover too many bases in too small a space. 
I had covered the museum in an hour, and to be honest was not going to hang around for another 90 minutes for the WW1 galleries, although they are pretty much the most important part of the museum at this point in time. I had a train to catch and headed out the door.
I will be brutally honest and say that it did not meet my expectations. There were a lot fewer tangible items on display, and some items were really minor things that did not have much of a focal point. The crowds were terrible and I expect that was because it was school holidays and a Saturday, and of course the museum had been closed for so long. I do admit that there were a lot of research stations and stuff that I probably did not even get close to; I prefer seeing items as opposed to images, and there was really a shortage of those. I probably need to go back one day when it is quieter and take my time over the museum, but that won’t happen for awhile. The bookshop had some interesting titles, but quite a lot were not price marked and the shop itself was laid out badly. I expected to walk out there with heaps of books, I came out with a museum guide and that’s all.

The most popular parts of the museum are really the areas devoted to the two World Wars, and that’s where the huge crowds were. The other areas did not attract as much attention, the portrait galleries were really very quiet, although the Holocaust display was packed.  Maybe one day when it is quieter? I don’t know but I really felt let down by the whole experience. I really felt that the expectation exceeded the the reality. Maybe it is because I have been to other museums that just seemed so much better. Highlights were definitely that Lancaster and the Spitfire, the rest were just so-so. The War Museum in Johannesburg was infinitely better from the perspective of exhibits. 

*Update June 2016.*

I revisited the Museum in early June 2016 and my impressions as before still stand. I did get to see the Jack Cornwell gun which is what I was after, as well as the Ashcroft and WW1 galleries, and they did add a lot to the experience. But, I still came away unimpressed. I cannot put a finger on why though, but I suspect it has to do with the lack of tangible exhibits. 

Random images.


© DRW 2014-2018. Images recreated 19/04/2016. 9 more images added from 2016 trip 26/06/2016
Updated: 30/12/2017 — 20:32

Tower Hamlets, a quick look

During the month I was in London in 2013, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit 5 out of the “magnificent seven” cemeteries in that city (Highgate, Kensall Green, Abney Park, Brompton, and Nunhead). Each was different, and each had its own attraction. Two of them eluded me though, and at the last moment I decided to try for Tower Hamlets during my trip to London on 15 August 2014. It was either that or Bunhill Fields (finally saw it in 2016), but the attraction of getting another of those famous cems under my belt was too great to ignore.
I hit the tube early, bailing at Miles End on the Central Line. The cemetery is a short walk from the station and easily found. 
Unfortunately though it was a bit of a gloomy overcast morning and the clouds kept on coming and going. There was a lodge, but no visitors center to pop into, or toilets for that matter.  My first find was a good one, I have been looking to photograph one of these headstones for ages and this was my first and she was one of the closest graves to the entrance gates.
And having seen it I am not too sure whether I really like the headstone after all, it seems slightly over melodramatic.  
My handy cemetery book says that the cemetery is 29 acres of greenery, and the greenery was obvious almost immediately. In fact I was reminded of Abney Park although the paths seemed a bit wider here. 

Like many of these cemeteries it is a series of meandering paths that seemingly ends up somewhere. You literally take a path and follow it until you end up back where you started, (or keeping going in circles until you get tired). The first detour I made was to the War Memorial, 

There are no CWGC headstones in the cemetery and there are 283 casualties listed as being buried here. And while it is more about bulb plating, this map gives a rough indication of the layout of the cemetery. My aiming point was a memorial which was close to Holly Walk on the map.
As I walked along the path I stopped and spotted one interesting memorial which I made a detour to photograph, on reflection this was probably the most ornate of them all that I saw.  
Continuing further I spotted a path and stopped, because coming up the path was what I thought was a fox. We stood and looked at each other and I started taking pics, but he was a bit far and I could not be 100% sure. It did not look like a dog, but the bushy tail was not there, and I will be honest I do not really know whether it was one or not. I like to think it was.
Eventually I came to the memorial I was looking for.
The cemetery was bombed during the war, and a number of memorials and buildings were damaged by bombs, it is also probable that a number of graves were damaged too, and of course the dead are buried in this cemetery. The Docklands area is not too far away and that was a prime target for the bombers overhead. 
I continued my meander, pausing occasionally to photograph a headstone or a group of headstones. 
The designs are all very similar and virtually indistinguishable in the undergrowth.  Again the similarity with Abney Park is very prominent, although the paths here were well tended and overall the cemetery was wild, but not madly unkempt. There is a a Friends Group that looks after the cemetery, and they do seem to be doing a reasonable job considering that they are probably all volunteers. 
Eventually I came to what was nice grouping of memorials, and it was actually quite odd to see this group together. 
The grouping on the left have two different surnames, while the grouping on the right have the same, but why the similar headstones? I have no idea. Still, the two crosses were really stunning, although both of the angel figurines are looking somewhat worn. 
Various areas of the cemetery are named as woods, dales and glades, and given the nature of the place it is well suited to what I was seeing around me.  
One thing I did feel was that there wasn’t that heaviness that I experienced in Highgate and Nunhead, and it was actually a nice cemetery to walk through. It was obviously very popular with the locals as I kept on encountering people walking or jogging through it. That  is one thing I do like about these glorious old cemeteries, they have become parks in their own right, in the Victorian Era they were seen as places to visit and promenade, today they are green spaces to use at leisure. 
Then it was time to head off to my next destination, the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red commemoration at the Tower of London. I was planning to go from Miles End to Liverpool Street and then onwards to Tower Hill Station. I hadn’t spent as much time as I had planned here, so had a bit of leeway to play with.  I had not been able to find the ruins of the Anglican Chapel that were somewhere in the cemetery, but had seen pretty much what I wanted to so as to get a feel for the place. The last thing I photographed was the slightly derelict lodge, which really needed some TLC.
In many of the cemeteries I had been in the lodges were in private hands, and I think that they could make for interesting living spaces, after all, you are at the doorway of one of London’s Magnificent Seven, and a very pretty place it is too.
Tower Hamlets is not a great cem, it will never be on the scale of Highgate or Brompton, but it does feel like a lot of the normal people of London are buried here as opposed to the “upper crust” buried in the more better known cemeteries, but at the end of the day, when the money ran out they all faced the same issues with all of these garden cemeteries (with the exception of Brompton), a cemetery that became an urban forest, and is now a tourist attraction for those who like rooting amongst the long forgotten dead. 
© DRW 2014-2018. Created 15/08/2014, images recreated 19/04/2016
Updated: 30/12/2017 — 20:34

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

This morning I headed into London with the express purpose of viewing the “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” installation at the Tower of London. Time is drawing near when the weather will close up, the rail tickets will become expensive, and the 11th of November is upon us. Of course this was only one of three destinations that I had in mind for my day out, but more about those later.
The moat of the Tower is currently being filled with 888246 ceramic poppies, each representing a British Military fatality during World War 1.  That is a lot of poppies, and seeing the real thing is overwhelming.
I realised that there were a lot of people there when our queue to get off the underground platform at Tower Hill ground to a halt. There were people everywhere, and I suspect that many, like myself, were really shocked at the sheer size of the red patch that is seemingly flowing out from an opening in the battlements into the moat. 
But once you step back and look along the length of the moat you suddenly get a sense of scale of the size of the project, and the numbers of casualties that are being commemorated. 
Each poppy is hand placed, and the installation is scheduled to be completed by November 11, I do not know how many have been placed already, but there are still two months to go and the moat is a very large area. Looking at the numbers, they have to place over 9000 poppies a day which means there are roughly 100000 in place already. 

It is really breathtaking to see,  as numbers lost in warfare goes 800000 is not a lot, but when you see all of these poppies you need to consider that for every poppy there was a mother and father, possibly siblings, wives, children and loved ones. Each poppy connected a family to a person, and those family members are sometimes unaware that they have somebody in their past that is represented by one of these ceramic flowers. 
The work is the brainchild of Paul Cummins, who has really made a monument that just says so much, and which is going to be unbelievable when it is completed.
I do not know if I will see it again, but I do think that this is one of the most effective memorials I have seen for those who never came home. 
More information about the installation and the charities that will be benefiting from the sale of the poppies is available on the The Tower of London Remembers Website
© DRW 2014-2018. Images recreated 19/04/2016
Updated: 30/12/2017 — 20:35

04/11/1914 – 04/11/2014

On the 4th of August 1914 the so called “War to End all Wars” became the world obsession until 11 November 1918.  It was not a healthy obsession, in fact it was a disaster of global proportions, and would bring forth an even greater carnage in 1939.

On this date, 100 years ago, Britain declared war on Germany. The carnage was about to commence.

“The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life-time”.

A lantern from Delville Wood.

The problem is, there are no more living soldiers from that war who can remind us of what they went through, and  we are 100 years divorced from this day in history. We concern ourselves with mundane things like bandwidth, mobile devices, nail art, vapid celebrities, fashion, and materialism. The men in the trenches were probably more concerned that those who sent them into battle were seemingly so divorced from the battlefield that they threw away lives in a seemingly concerted effort to rack up the most casualties in one day.
It is difficult to really picture the monstrous battles with the sunny skies and trees and red blood spilling on the shell ravaged battlefield, it is impossible to imagine waiting for the whistle to blow and mounting the parapet of the trench to die a few steps later. I cannot imagine the courage of those men who walked across no mans land because some ass of a staff officer decreed it so. Of course our view of the war is not from the German point of view either, in fact I suspect that there is very little written about the German troops who waited in their dugouts for the barrage to lift so that they could start to massacre the oncoming Tommy regiments.
I have found a few books that deal with the casualty clearing stations, but I cannot quite get my head around the thought of the pain and suffering that happened there. Or the doctors and staff that had to make some sort of sense out of the carnage. It is all surreal, it doesn’t exist in our 24 million colour LED monitors, instead it is in 256 shades of grey. 
The commemoration is gearing up in a large way here in the UK, and I expect that by the time Remembrance Day arrives on 11 November many people will be thinking of that day in a new light. Tonight all around Britain people will be turning off their lights at 10pm, my own lights are going out shortly after I publish this blogpost. it is a small way to recognise that this was a momentous event in history, and one that will be remembered all around the globe, albeit in a globe that still fights wars, still kills innocents, and still does not realise that it is all really senseless.

Tonight we remember the soldiers, sailors, airmen, nurses, and all service personnel and their loved ones, we remember them because we dare not forget!


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Updated: 30/12/2017 — 20:35
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