Category: Memorials and Monuments

VE Day: 2020

The War in Europe is over.. we have won! Words like that must have been on everybody’s minds when 7 May 1945 finally broke. It has been 75 years since the event and on this day we can give thanks that we are not living in a Nazi dominated world, and the horror that the Soviet Union inflicted on it’s people and satellite states is no more.  For those at home they could go to bed safe in the knowledge that it was all over bar the shouting, although in the defeated Germany there was not much to celebrate over. Thousands of ex-Nazi’s suddenly grew a conscience and after a suitable period of time slipped back into civilian live unpunished and unrepentant. Millions of displaced people tried to return home, thousands of prisoners of war looked forward to repatriation and families everywhere mourned those who never came back.  

My father was one of those POWs interned in Germany when the war ended.  His records indicate that he  was repatriated to the UK on 31/05/1945. How he got there I do not know, and neither do I know where he was housed in the UK between then and when he boarded the ship back to the Union of South Africa on 26/08/1945.  I do not even know which ship he sailed on either, but he arrived in Cape Town on 11 September 1945 and was then sent to Pietermaritzburg. From there he seemed to have been on leave, until he was due to report back on 13/11/1945. Whether that was at Pietermaritzburg or Johannesburg I cannot say, however, the record confirms him as being at the dispersal depot at Hector Norris Park in Johannesburg on 20 November 1945, and he was finally discharged on the 28th of that month with the rank of Lance Corporal. He was one of the lucky ones. 

Unfortunately it would take two atomic bombs to convince the Japanese that the war was lost, and VJ Day was on 2 September 1945. The world however has never been without a war somewhere since then and millions of civilians  have lost their lives in conflict ever since. We have not learnt our lesson yet. The present pandemic has shown that it does not take much to throw a planet into disarray, and even in the midst of the current crisis we are still killing each other. 

The exuberance of victory was well deserved though. It had been a tough fight and the enemy was tenacious and adaptable, but the Allies had completed their task as best they could.  Reams would be written about the mistakes that were made and the armchair generals would pat themselves on the back and beam at the medals that they received, while the ordinary soldier was just glad to be back at home and able to get on with their lives. 

Both my parents lived through the 2nd World War and my mother lost her brother in Egypt in 1944; the passage of time would never heal that wound and the loss of that family member would always be a part of their lives.   

As we celebrate VE day on the Bank Holiday within the confines of our lockdown let us not forget that freedom does not come without a price, and that price is not cheap. 

Winston Churchill made the following speech to the nation:

“God bless you all. This is your victory! It is the victory of the cause of freedom in every land. In all our long history we have never seen a greater day than this. Everyone, man or woman, has done their best. Everyone has tried. Neither the long years, nor the dangers, nor the fierce attacks of the enemy, have in any way weakened the independent resolve of the British nation. God bless you all. My dear friends, this is your hour. This is not victory of a party or of any class. It’s a victory of the great British nation as a whole. We were the first, in this ancient island, to draw the sword against tyranny. After a while we were left all alone against the most tremendous military power that has been seen. We were all alone for a whole year.

There we stood, alone. Did anyone want to give in? Were we down-hearted? The lights went out and the bombs came down. But every man, woman and child in the country had no thought of quitting the struggle. London can take it. So we came back after long months from the jaws of death, out of the mouth of hell, while all the world wondered. When shall the reputation and faith of this generation of English men and women fail? I say that in the long years to come not only will the people of this island but of the world, wherever the bird of freedom chirps in human hearts, look back to what we’ve done and they will say ‘do not despair, do not yield to violence and tyranny, march straightforward and die if need be-unconquered.’ Now we have emerged from one deadly struggle-a terrible foe has been cast on the ground and awaits our judgement and our mercy.

But there is another foe who occupies large portions of the British Empire, a foe stained with cruelty and greed – the Japanese. I rejoice we can all take a night off today and another day tomorrow. Tomorrow our great Russian allies will also be celebrating victory and after that we must begin the task of rebuilding our hearth and homes, doing our utmost to make this country a land in which all have a chance, in which all have a duty, and we must turn ourselves to fulfil our duty to our own countrymen, and to our gallant allies of the United States who were so foully and treacherously attacked by Japan. “We will go hand and hand with them. Even if it is a hard struggle we will not be the ones who will fail.”

Amongst my collection is a letter of thanks from Field Marshal Jan Smuts that was sent to every single South African who served in the armed forces during World War 2.  Unfortunately I do not have a good image of it because it is behind glass. 

DRW © 2020. Created 05/05/2020. “Tribute to the Millions” – written by Bruno Peak – VE Day 75 Pageant Master


OTD: The Sinking of the Titanic

On this day in 1912 the world experienced a shipping disaster that would reverberate though history and leave us with a legacy that continues over 100 years after it occurred.  The sinking of the Titanic is not just about a ship sinking on it’s maiden voyage, but also about the arrogance of man, the structures of class and influence of money, the unwritten rules governing trans-Atlantic travel, the heroism of those who stayed at their posts and the folly of man. Strangely enough at this point in our history some of those structures are still visible as we face a global pandemic. 

The story of the disaster is well known and I won’t repeat it, suffice to say there is a lot written about the sinking, and a lot of hot air written about it too. The concept of fake news has been with us a long time, and a quick glimpse of those early newspaper headlines will quickly reveal that sucking a story out of your thumb is one way to get your foot in the door and get yourself published. 

Unfortunately the sinking did not only affect those on board but also their families. The families of the luckless crew being particularly hard hit, the many graves in Southampton are testament to how the sinking affected the city and it’s people. 

Since the Titanic went down in 1912 mankind has become an expert at killing members of its race, 1500 people lost in one disaster may have seemed like a lot, but it was just a portent to what would happen in 1914 – 1918, and while there were lessons to be learnt about that conflict we promptly did it again in 1939 – 1945. Whenever I gave a talk about the Titanic I would count how many people were present at the function and use that to illustrate how many were in a lifeboat on the Atlantic in the morning of 15 April. 1500 seems like a lot, but in reality it is only a lot when you are amongst those who have lost a family member or a father/mother/son/daughter. 

The Titanic is not only about a ship, it is about people and how they reacted under those unique circumstances, we can look at them and agree that so many met their deaths with courage and fortitude. “Women and children first” may no longer apply in our modern world; we would probably be afraid to even think about something like that because we may offend the PC mob. Yet when the water is lapping at your feet we are theoretically all equal.

The Titanic is a crumbling heap of rust in the darkness of the North Atlantic, let us leave her in peace and let us remember the ship and it’s people on this day. 

DRW © 2020 Created 15/04/2020


What was supposed to be (2)

Continuing where we left off..

When last you saw me I had bedded down for the night and it is now Friday morning. All around me is solitude. The world has come to an end? nope. It is just the coronavirus lockdown. Anyway, I am now continuing with my virtual trip around London that would have happened if a pandemic hadn’t broken out.  Theoretically either on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday I would have managed to get my passport renewed and had some time to kill. Theoretically I would have either gone to the renewal office in Whitehall or had the whole day to spare. 

I did not have hard and fast plans for my 2nd free day, and my trip to Nunhead was really inter-changeable. I did however have another cemetery on my list to visit and it is an interesting one that I picked up on in 2013 and which I always wanted to return to. Between when I was there in 2013 and now the status quo has changed and I would possibly be able to get to see behind the walls of Crossbones Graveyard.   

In 2013 I had wanted to join in an evening vigil that was to take place on the 23rd of March but came down with a chest infection on the day before. I left London at the end of March so my 2nd visit never happened. Between then and now Crossbones has gained a website and it is possible to visit the site on most weekdays between 12 and 2, assuming that there are wardens to open the gates. I do not know what drew me to this site, there was just something strange about it. 

Crossbones was on my list of places to visit on this trip but alas things have gone wobbly yet again.

There were a few other choices open to me if I had free time. I could have visited any of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries in London, or taken in a museum or three, maybe even taken in a show or a gallery? I was considering taking a boat trip down the Thames to the Thames Barrier, but that was based on when trips were available and where they left from. 

“The Thames Barrier is a movable barrier system that is designed to prevent the floodplain of most of Greater London from being flooded by exceptionally high tides and storm surges moving up from the North Sea. It has been operational since 1982. When needed, it is closed (raised) during high tide; at low tide it can be opened to restore the river’s flow towards the sea. Built approximately 3 km (1.9 mi) due east of the Isle of Dogs, its northern bank is in Silvertown in the London Borough of Newham and its southern bank is in the New Charlton area of the Royal Borough of Greenwich.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thames_Barrier) 

The image above is by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC BY-SA 3.0 dated 6 February 2010 and is an 11 segment panoramic view. 

The last time I was on a boat trip on the Thames was way back in 2008 when I was in London on a business trip. I really wanted to do it again one day but never got down to it so maybe this was the opportunity? The images below are from 2008, and as you can see the weather was grey and gloomy.

As for museums, I would not mind paying a visit to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich again. I was not too enthralled by it last time I was there but there are a few things that I would like to relook. 

And being in Greenwich means that I will also be in spitting distance of the Cutty Sark although I would not do a repeat visit to her although would like to get some new images of her. 

Close to the ship is another remnant that I would like to experience:

This is the entrance to the Greenwich Foot Tunnel that links the south bank of the river with Millwall (London Borough of Tower Hamlets) on the north.  I have never ventured into the Isle of Dogs/Canary Wharf area before so this is one possible way of doing it. I could have taken the Docklands Light Rail too, but the idea of walking under the Thames is very tempting. 

The modern buildings above are part of the Isle Of Dogs developments and that is yuppie and banker clone territory. Wind back towards the 30’s and 40’s that was dockland, and ships abounded. I would really like to see what is left of the docks although may get turned away as I am not a yuppie. 

Talking about tunnels, I recently discovered another interesting artefact in London that I never really took notice of before. 

This seemingly innocuous building was part of the London Hydraulic Power Company and is the entrance to the long defunct Tower Subway. The other end was situated on Vine Street on the South Bank of the Thames.  The 410 m tunnel circular tunnel was dug through the London clay using a cast iron shield, and a 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) narrow gauge railway installed  in the tunnel and from August 1870 a cable-hauled wooden carriage conveyed passengers from one end to the other.  Unfortunately this was uneconomic and the company went bankrupt by the end of the year. The tunnel was then converted to pedestrian use and one million people a year crossed under the river, paying a toll of a halfpenny. In 1897 it was sold to the London Hydraulic Power Company and closed in 1898 following the opening of Tower Bridge. Today the tunnel is used for water mains.

The structure is close to The Tower of London and while searching for the pic I came across my images from December 2014 when I went there to see the “Blood Lands and Seas of Red” installation. It was really unforgettable and when completed would have completely surrounded the Tower of London. 

Just across the road at Trinity Square is another symbolic display of red, although it is not related to either of the World Wars. 

I suspect that I would invariably gravitate towards the Thames as the day wore on, or even better headed to Hyde Park or Kensington Gardens, The latter is close to three of my favourite museums: The London Science Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum and The Natural History Museum.  I have dealt with all three before and they are amazing places. 

Victoria and Albert Museum entrance

London Science Museum

Natural History Museum

The three are also reasonably close to Paddington Station so I am not too far from the hotel in case I decide to limp home dejectedly after 3 days walking and rubber-necking. Actually Kensington Gardens is quite a nice area to stroll through, you can admire the Albert Memorial

Or have a look at Kensington Palace

Admittedly places like that do not really interest me, although I am sure my brother would love to see inside. I have also seen Buckingham Palace from the outside so I am 2 up on him already. 

Now that I think of it, St James’s Park is not a bad place to spend some time either. Apart from the Palace it is a nice open space to unwind in. I also need to get photographs of the South African Royal Artillery Memorial.  Unfortunately it is very difficult to photograph without having somebody else in the picture.  This image was taken in 2008 and when I was there in 2013 those 2 were still there! 

With a bit of navigation you can exit St James’s Park and head into Green Park where the wonderful Bomber Command Memorial is. I photographed it in 2013 and it was a beautiful Memorial. 

and it is not too far from the Commonwealth Memorial Gates.  I really need to do more photography around the gates though, last time around it was perfunctory work and I missed quite a few things that I needed to see. 

On the right hand back of the image above you can see the really splendid Wellington’s Arch and the area around may be seen on the map below.

For a small fee you can go to the top of the Arch and see all of the War Memorials spread around you. I won’t go into detail of them but most are listed on my War Memorials in London page on a@s. And with a bit more road crossing you can then enter Hyde Park and cut across it to one last place that I would like to take in, although there is no guarantee I will be able to get it right and may have to arrange it first. The Hyde Park’s Pet Cemetery is behind Victoria Gate Lodge, adjoining Bayswater Road (Google Earth  51.511840° -0.172403°). Last time I was here I tried to have a look at it but there were construction works in the area and I could not really get to investigate it properly. This time around who knows? It is not open to the general public, although, a special one-hour viewing can be arranged by contacting The Royal Parks. The cost is £60.00 for up to six people. Unfortunately at that price I may give it a miss. I did manage some pics through the fence in 2017 but they don’t really show anything.

I remember looking for the cemetery in 2013 and not finding it, but then I was looking in the wrong place.  Hyde Park was a pretty stark and friendless place when I was there, so maybe I will take a better look at it if I have the time. 

The Memorial in the bottom right pane is the Cavalry Memorial and I did not really photograph it too well, intending to get back later but I never did so will try remedy that this time around. Hyde Park is a big space and there is a lot to see and a lot of ground to cover. Let us hope I manage to hold out and get back to my hotel for some supper and rest

However, with or without my renewal completed I would have to return to Tewkesbury on Saturday morning. Either via Evesham or Worcester. I think I will probably use the former as I can get some shopping done in Evesham at the same time. After all, I still have to get to work on the Monday. However, I created this virtual trip on the day when I was supposed to be in London. Instead we are all having to deal with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, and at this moment in time I have no idea when the renewal will play out and I will be able to relook the destinations I have marked in this post. All I can do is hope that we all get through this as soon as possible and that life can return to something resembling normal again.

DRW © 2020. Created 27/03/2020