musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Category: War Memorial

Where I am now

It is 29 March and I am midway through my trip to South Africa. It has not been a very busy time but I have had to do certain things that needed sorting.

My mother was doing very badly when I first saw her, her situation is complicated, and there is no hard and fast solution, At this moment the best we can do is try to find some way to ensure that she is safe and cared for as best we can. After typing this I will be heading out to visit her. The traffic in Johannesburg is still a mess; that never changes! and as a result I have to wait until rush hour ends before venturing forth.

The roads were very quiet on the morning I landed because it was a public holiday, on a normal day this area is like a madhouse with the rules of the road being ignored by all and sundry. The tallest building in this image is the Carlton Centre and at the top of that building is the viewing deck where I took pics in 2011

The image above is taken from the top of the Carlton looking East in the direction where the first image was taken from.

I stayed with my brother for a day before heading to the West Rand where my friends stay and my storage unit is. I will stay on the West Rand until I fly home on the 6th.

The West Rand is not as bad as it is made out to be, and parts of it are very pretty. I used to live on the border of the Kloofendal Nature Reserve where the Confidence Reef is situated. It is a very unspoilt bit of land and my one friend has a wonderful view of the area from her flat.

There are a number of small mammals in the reserve, although all we could see on that afternoon were “Dassies” (Rock Hyrax).

There are also a lot of Guinea Fowl, and we often used to find them foraging in the parking lot of the building.

I did have a few places that I wanted to see once again, and I was keen to take a look at the Reid Tenwheeler that had been plinthed at the Rand Society of Model Engineers in Florida.

Of course I also got to see my favourite cat… Unfortunately he thinks he is a catfish that is trapped inside a cat’s body and that leaves him very tired and prone to wearing odd things on his head.

I was also re-acquainted with Niknaks. There are Niknaks in the UK but they do not come close to the ones that are sold in SA.

Talking of prices: Petrol is R13.31 a litre for 93 Octane. From 1 April it will decrease by 22 cents, however there is a 30 cent increase in the fuel levy and a 9 cent increase in the Road Accident Fund levy. 

The political situation in South Africa is of concern as the corrupt battle it out with the non corrupt and there were some interesting developments during this past week. Two famous South Africans passed away so far: Ahmed Kathrada,  a politician and former political prisoner and anti-apartheid activist.  As well as Joe Mafela, a popular TV star and entertainer. Both are being buried from West Park Cemetery this morning (Wednesday). Unfortunately my plans for the day involved a visit to West Park, and those plans have now been changed.

I am also going to try get to as many memorials as I can to see what condition they are in. The Ferreira Deep Memorial is a bit of an awkward one to photograph and I only managed a quick pic while we waited for the robot to change.

I also went to take a look at the war memorial in Rotunda Park in Turffontein. The long missing name plaque was replaced in March 2015 and this was the first time I had seen it after it was restored.

I spent two days sorting through my storage unit and disposing of more of my “stuff” but there is still a lot there and I am moving it to my brother’s house so that the money saved there can contribute to some sort of help for my mother.   

That pretty much sums up where I am now. 

29/03/2017. 15H35. I am at home. It has been a hot day, possibly one of the hottest I have experienced in quite some time. I have had quite an interesting morning, and here are some pics.

After visiting mum I headed to Turffontein Race Course where I wanted to photograph the Hennenman Air Crash Memorial. I had heard about it following photographs by Clinton Hattingh of a memorial in Alberton. The security at the race course were not sure where the memorial was, but they went out of their way to assist me in my quest. The Memorial is situated close to the offices of the race course, but inside a secure area. 

Once I finished with the race course I headed to the James Hall Museum of Transport in Rosettenville Road.

Last year when I did my blogpost about Bubble Cars and Micro Cars  I had two vehicles that I could not identify and I was hoping to rectify that today. However, between when my original pics were taken so long ago, and today the 2 vehicles have been removed and there is now a small exhibition on small cars that features a Messerschmitt, a BMW Isetta, The Enfield Electric Car as well as an Optimal Energy Joule.

At a later date I will do a blog post about the museum because it really deserves a post all on its own. The museum is in a beautiful condition and it is well worth making the trip to see it.

While I was in the area I stopped briefly at Wemmer Pan.  Sadly Pioneer Park is somewhat of a mess, it really seems to serve no real purpose anymore. Surprisingly enough the swimming pool is still open, but I was unable to get into the building.

The station and roof where the Johannesburg Live Steamers club used to operate from are still there, but the trains no longer circle the raised tracks. The tracks have been lifted and club has relocated Rietvlei Zoo Farm.  

Leaving Wemmer Pan I climbed onto the M1 and headed off to Newtown to photograph two items that I had seen at Museum Africa in 2012. I had first been in Newtown in 2011 and revisited it in 2012, and at the time there was a lot of talk about redeveloping the “Potato Sheds” and erection of an office block/mall etc. That has now happened and frankly I think the end result was disappointing.  

I was glad to see that the old railway footbridge still survives, but it was barricaded closed.

Museum Africa borders on Mary Fitzgerald Square and it was a let down, the one exhibit I was after was closed and the other did not have the items I was looking for.  But, that’s how things go when you have after thoughts.  Sadly the museum is not a tourism hotspot and it was very quiet when I was there.

It was time to start heading home, and there are a number of possible routes to the West Rand. The one I chose would take me past Brixton Cemetery and I decided to pop in for a visit.

The cemetery is looking beautiful with its masses of green trees and beautiful light. It is a very pretty place, but I did not feel very secure there as vast sections of the fence have been stolen. Just before I left for the UK a lot of gravestones in the Jewish section had been vandalised and since then it has been fenced off. More images are available at my Photo Essay about Brixton Cemetery

I have spent many hours in this cemetery and it is like visiting and old friend. It is just such a pity that I did not really feel very safe, certainly not as safe as I feel in some of the cemeteries in the UK.

And that was my day. West  Park has been shelved for another day, and on Friday I am going to relocate my stuff from the storage unit so the blog may be slightly quiet for awhile. Once I have returned home I will expand this page and create subposts about some of the things I have seen. But, that is another story for another time

© DRW 2017. Created 29/03/2017

Updated: 11/04/2017 — 07:12

Remembering the Mendi 2017

Every year around this time I commemorate the lives lost in the sinking of the troopship Mendi on the 21st of February 1917. This year is no different and each year I know more about it.

Earlier this month I discovered a new Mendi Memorial in the churchyard of St John The Evangelist, Newtimber, Sussex. The memorial is to  “Chief Henry Bokleni Ndamase” who perished on the Mendi.

TQ2713 : Memorial to Chief Henry Bokleni Ndamase by Bob Parkes

Naturally I wanted to know more and took a good long look at my Roll of Honour and drew a blank. The big problem with the ROH is that it is really inaccurate, and there are a number of reasons for that. I consulted with the local co-ordinator of the South African War Graves Project and he replied as follows:

“This whole Mendi RoH is troubling, it seems to me that there were initial errors made in some of the names, errors crept in as a result of “tweaking” the facts and a general misunderstanding of the history of the casualties (probably due to the unavailability of any documentary evidence.) Many of these errors are now on memorials and plaques and seem to be copied from one to the next (or sourced from the internet) and how do we address that? We have forwarded copies of the documents at the SANDF Archive  that list the recruitment details of these chaps and I hope that these will eventually be filtered through the system and the graves/memorials amended. Lets see…

Typical documentation for SANLC

Henry Bokleni:   (7587)  His father was Bokleni and he was Henry. In keeping with the standard practice at the time, as he never had a surname, he was given his father’s name as a surname. It seems he was a Chief/Headman at the time.

Richard Ndamase:  (9389)  His father was Ndamase and he was Richard. In keeping with the standard practice at the time, as he never had a surname, he was given his father’s name as a surname. His Chief was Dumezweni so based on the info we have, it is unlikely he was a Chief.

Mxonywa Bangani:  (9379)  )  His father was Bangani and he was Mxonywa. In keeping with the standard practice at the time, as he never had a surname, he was given his father’s name as a surname. His Chief was Nongotwane so based on the info we have, it is unlikely he was a Chief.

Isaac Williams Wauchope : (3276) His father was Dyoba (also known as William Wauchope). Isaac was a learned man, holding the posts of a teacher and a clerk/interpreter to the magistrate and married his wife Mina as per Christian rites. He was a minister at a church in Blinkwater when he got sentenced to 3 years in Tokai Prison for forgery. He enlisted in 16 Oct 1916 as a clerk/interpreter and not as a chaplain (it is unlikely he would have got the chaplain post as he had a criminal record) The Chaplain job went to Koni Luhlongwana (9580), who also died on the ship.

 It does not seem that he used his father’s name as surname at all during his lifetime and so the use of “Dyoba” is incorrect. The reasoning behind the attempts to ‘africanise’ his name remain a mystery.

New Memorial to the Mendi :  There is also a problem with the 670 (it was 646, including the crew) who died. We have identified the home provinces of some of the casualties – Transvaal (287), Eastern Cape (139), Natal (87), Northern Cape (27), OFS (26), Basutoland (26), Bechuanaland (8), Western Cape (5), Rhodesia (1) and SWA (1) so not all were from the Eastern Cape.”

The reality is that the memorial contains incorrect information, and it is perpetuated as there is no real way to correct many of the errors. I am relooking my own RoH and correcting it to conform with the data that SAWGP has.  

However, in spite of the errors, the fact remains that people have not forgotten the Mendi, in fact we probably know more about it today than we did way back in 1917. 

This year, apart from the Services of Remembrance being held at Hollybrook and Milton Cemeteries in Hampshire, a South African Warship, SAS Amatola, (a Valour Class Frigate) will lay a wreath at the site of the disaster.  On board her will be some of the relatives of the soldiers who died on board that ill fated troopship.

The Mendi has not been forgotten, it is now prominent in the military history of South Africa, The men who lost their lives have not been forgotten, the sea has claimed them, but their spirit and courage still resonates 100 years after they died. However, we need to broaden our vision and recognise that all of the men of the battalions of the SANLC and NMC who volunteered to serve overseas are remembered too, because the non combatant role that they played was equally important to the ending of the “war to end all wars” 

© DRW 2017. Created 21/02/2017.  Image of Newtimber Memorial © Copyright Bob Parkes and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Updated: 06/04/2017 — 06:22

Worcester Cathedral

The reason behind my “Waddle Through Worcester” was really to see Worcester Cathedral, or, as it is properly known: “The Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Mary the Virgin of Worcester”. 

Like so many cathedrals it is large, beautiful and awe inspiring. It will be the eighth Cathedral/Abbey that I have seen and it is hard to know which is my favourite. It does not really matter though because each leaves me speechless and awed at the same time.

Unfortunately, getting the whole building into an image is very difficult because there is no real place where you can see it all in one shot. But, I do know where to try for next time. I returned to Worcester on Monday 13th and have replaced some of the exterior images in this post. 

 

The interior follows the same basic arrangement of most cathedrals and churches although parts of it were erected at different periods of time.

 

 

Information booklet available at http://www.worcestercathedral.co.uk/media/Cathedral_Brochure.pdf

The entrance was not quite where I expected it to be, but nevertheless it was very impressive with all those statues over the door. I do however wish that there had been more sunlight.

And, as usual, the moment I stepped inside it was as if I had entered a totally different world. I always like to think that having seen 8 of these churches I would be used to them, but each is unique, and I like to think that in the days of yore this place was held in awe by the people who came from far and wide and entered within. It certainly leaves me shell shocked. 

There are a lot of aspects to taking photographs in a cathedral. The light varies considerably and in many cases a flash is required and  I try to  avoid using a flash. There are always people moving in and out of view, and sometimes areas are just too big to photograph effectively. I do not carry a DSLR and make do with a reasonable hand held camera. Photographic permits are available from the shop at £3.

Overhead the vast expanse of vaulted ceilings is quite a dizzying sight, but nevertheless it is always worthwhile to lean back and appreciate the work of those who built this building.

Before the English Reformation the Cathedral was known as Worcester Priory. It was built between 1084 and 1504 and represents every style of English architecture from Norman to Perpendicular Gothic. 

There are some really beautiful wall memorials and effigies in the cathedral, and some are outstanding works of art rather than mere memorials.  I cannot help but marvel at the skill of those who created these works. 

   

Like so many churches there is a font and a pulpit,

and a quire,

An organ (or 3) 

and an Altar.

And the High Altar (image below).

In front of the High Altar and before the quire is the tomb of  King John.  Unfortunately I could not get a decent image of the tomb because of one person that was seemingly glued to the immediate space around it. 

Saint Wulfstan and Saint Oswald can be seen in miniature beside the head of John on his effigy.

It is not every day that you get to see the tomb of a King.

Underneath the Cathedral is the Crypt of St Wulfstan, and it is was open for viewing although the chapel was roped off.

It is a quiet and thoughtful place, a very appealing spot to wander around in. Many of the slabs on the floor are floor memorials. 

Returning to ground level I needed to find the loo (as usual), and that took me to the Cloister. It too is a pretty space, surrounding the central garden/graveyard/herb garden. I would have really liked to have walked around in that space but it was locked. 

I did find this area quite dark in spite of the many windows. 

But then it was still grey and gloomy outside anyway so that may have had something to do with the atmosphere.

My ablutions over, it was time to return to the building again and take another walk around. There is a dedicated Chapel of Remembrance where the Rolls of Honour are kept, and with its many memorials to the fallen.

I may do a separate blogpost about the memorials in this chapel and the windows in the Cloister.

On the 13th I was able to see inside the Chapter House, and it was magnificent, with amazing acoustics. My camera can’t really do justice to this structure.

 

Random Images

Space does not allow me to show all of my images, and I often cannot really describe what I saw which is why these images are here. They need no caption but just convey what I saw. They are places of great beauty and tranquillity.

   
   
   

The Cathedral from the bridge across the Severn

And that concluded my trip to Worcester Cathedral.  It is a beautiful building and so different but so similar to the others I have seen. Go back? of course, these structures have so much to see that each time is different. Besides, I hear there is another memorial to “Woodbine Willie” that I would like to see, I wish I had known about it at the time, or, maybe I did photograph it, I just have not seen it yet.

13/03/2017.

I did manage to photograph the memorial mentioned above, and will deal with it in my “Connections: Woodbine Willie”  post. 

© DRW 2017. Created 20/02/2017, edited and some images replaced 13/03/2017 

Updated: 15/04/2017 — 13:25

Let there be light

A gazillion years ago; when I was a wee lad, Christmas had a certain appeal because not only was it about goodies but because it was also about spirit. Part of the ritual would have been a trip into Johannesburg city to “look at the lights”. Way back then Johannesburg went over the top with decorating the town and transforming a mad place into something magical for kids such as myself. The OK Bazaars was famous for the display that they erected, it drew vast hordes of people and naturally must have cost a small fortune. But the irony was that after hours trading was not allowed so they could not tap into that captive audience. 

Then they scaled it down and stopped it altogether. 

This year I had a late afternoon appointment in town and because it gets dark really quickly now I would be in town when it was dark and I would be able to see the Christmas lights in Tewkesbury.

night-061

night-062

In the image below you can see the War Memorial, and barely 2 weeks ago we were standing at the memorial Remembering the Fallen. 

night-065

The lights were not very impressive because there was really a lack of colour in them. But! it was better than nothing. 

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 24/11/2016

Updated: 14/12/2016 — 19:55

Remembrance Day 13/11/2016

Following Armistice Day we commemorate Remembrance Day  and this year I spent it in Tewkesbury. Last year I had not been able to be at the War Memorial in person, but this year I did.

The service is held at the Abbey, and then everybody moves to the War Memorial at the major crossroads in town. I did not attend the Abbey service, but waited till it ended,  taking photographs in and around the graveyard while I waited. There is a very  poignant memorial to Major James Cartland who was killed on 27 May 1918 and it has been the focus of the Somme 100 commemorations.

While I was taking these images the service ended and the people started to leave the Abbey

I changed position to where the parade would be marching out from, and it was a long parade too.

Apart from the military there are a number of civilian groups in the parade, including military veterans, emergency service, scouts, school groups, and all shapes and sizes and colours and creeds. The problem is that by the time the front of the parade has reached the memorial the rear hasn’t left yet.

The area around the memorial is in the shape of a Y standing slightly skew, with the memorial in the centre on a small island. The through roads had been blocked off and just as well as the small area around the memorial was packed. 

I ended up close to the memorial, but nowhere close enough to see the base of it. I am sure that most of the town was there, and it is not a large town. The one thing I have seen in the UK is that people take the period around Remembrance Day seriously. 

It is hard to know how children process the events, certainly those in the parade must have known a bit about why they were there, and I am sure that some must have family connected to the armed forces. I do not think I ever attended one when I was young in South Africa, but I am sure my father did. It does not really matter though, what is important is that we were here with a common purpose. I dusted off my beret for the occasion, and was probably the only Bokkop in town. 

Unfortunately the low angle of the sun and the surrounding buildings cast dark shadows over the parade, but at least there was sun, sort of… 

And then the last post was played and there was 2 minutes of  silence.  The two minutes of silence originates in Cape Town; one minute was a time of thanksgiving for those who had returned alive, the second minute was to remember the fallen. Before the period of silence a bugler plays the Last Post and Reveille signals the end of the silence. It is a very moving moment, and the only noise was the occasional small child who may have been puzzled by the cessation of hubbub around them.

And then we reaffirmed our commitment to the fallen and those who survived:

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.

Called the “Ode of Remembrance”,  it is taken from Laurence Binyon‘s poem, “For the Fallen“, which was first published in The Times in September 1914.

And then it was over, the parade marched out from around the memorial to form up once again.

and the memorial was once more visible.

The parade then marched past the memorial, presenting their salutes and under the command “eyes right”. I would hope that those who marched past today will one day stand where I was and watch servicemen and women from the future march past too. 

and while the front of the column was smartly turned out, things became slightly more ragged as we reached the back.

But, if amongst those kids just one takes this parade to heart and becomes a greater part of Remembrance then I acknowledge their salute. 

I took a short walk down the road to check out a building, and when I returned to the area of the memorial things were almost back to normal with traffic restored and families were heading home and people in uniform going wherever they went after a parade like this.

The poppies will slowly disappear from the shops and clothing, although some of us will keep them visible for much longer. The wreaths will fade and and the red dye will run in the rain, frost will cover the memorial and once again clouds of exhaust fumes will envelop it. I always thought it was a stupid place to put a war memorial, but if you really think about it, everybody that drives past here has to see it, and maybe that is a good thing after all.

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 13/11/2016 

Updated: 14/12/2016 — 19:56

Armistice Day 11/11/2016

Shortly after October ends we enter the period where we remember “The Fallen”. That encompasses mostly those who lost their lives during the First and Second World Wars, as well as conflicts that may have affected your own country or yourself. In the case of South Africa it is mostly “The Border War” and to a lesser extent the Korean Conflict. But often we forget those that get caught up in these conflicts, and who suffer the results of the madness that we get caught up in.

Millions of civilians have lost their lives in the last century through bombing, occupation by the enemy, being used as hostages, deliberate extermination and all manner of other things that are too horrible to contemplate. That continues to be true even as I peck away at this keyboard. Civilians are really the pawns stuck in the middle.

And then there are those who lost siblings or parents, or friends or neighbours. Those stories of suffering never really came out, and sadly in many cases the families never really came to terms with their losses. Just as many of the combatants came home with horrific wounds or PTSD.

War does not only touch soldiers, but almost everybody around them. The only group that is seemingly unaffected by war seems to be those who send the troops off in the first place, the politicians and their governments very rarely see the front line unless it is to inspect rows of smartly turned out squaddies who were really canon fodder for the puppet masters.

The recent election in the United States is going to have interesting consequences for the world as it totters once again on the edge of a potential World War Three. Will we step back from the brink? will the troops be sent home leaving the battlefield that is Syria and the Middle East simmering and imploding after so much meddling by “superpowers”? I cannot answer that. 

If/when peace breaks out will the people of Syria remember their dead? will anybody mourn their innocents? Mothers probably will, but the powers that be? probably not. 

Cross of Sacrifice: Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol.

This year I will wear my poppy with pride and remember those who I can relate to. My Grandfather, my Father, my Uncle, the boys from Bravo Company, the boy from Echo Company, the crews of merchant ships, the men of the navy, the soldiers and airmen, the nurses and VAD’s, the civilians, the animals, the children, 6 million Jews, the Men of the Mendi, the conscience objector, the policemen, the mothers, daughter and sisters, and so many more that I could be here till next year and never cover them all. However, we must always be mindful to remember: 

‘When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.’

 

I do not however remember the politicians and dictators who create this horror, they are not worth remembering. 

©  DRW 2016-2017. Created 11/11/2016

Updated: 14/12/2016 — 19:56

100 Years of Delville Wood.

The Battle of Delville Wood lasted from 15 July – 3 September 1916, however, South Africans commemorate the portion of the battle where the 1st South African Infantry Brigade was involved in, and that runs from the 15th till 20th of July.

My late grandfather was one of the men who entered that wood on the 15th, and today, 100 years later I cannot quite picture him with his mates digging shallow scrapes in the tree root entangled earth  of the wood. I cannot imagine him experiencing the bombardment that the Germans threw at that small portion of France, at times as high as 400 shells a minute. I cannot imagine him fighting hand to hand with Germans, and most of all I cannot even begin to imagine what the wood looked like when his comrades staggered out of it on the 20th. He was luckier than most because he was evacuated on the 18th with a shoulder wound, and as a result I am here today.

(Drawn by Frank Dadd from a description by a British Officer. The Graphic  Aug 19, 1916)

(Drawn by Frank Dadd from a description by a British Officer. The Graphic Aug 19, 1916)

I have never had the privilege of visiting the wood myself,  but I have had the privilege of sorting through over 113000 record cards from World War One and photographing nearly 8500 of them.  I would come across a lot of cards where the soldier in question had died in the wood and it was really a sobering glimpse at what we lost as a country in the month of July 1916. 

Image courtesy of Brian Roberts

However, when compared against the overall slaughter of The Somme, our casualties are mere drops in an ocean of dead soldiers. And once the last survivor had passed on Delville Wood seemed to have been finally forgotten by South Africa. The Delville Wood Memorial in France is really one that very few South Africans will visit, although I believe it is a very beautiful place.

Image courtesy of Brian Roberts

Yet, there are still many who ask about those who fought in that hell of a battle, they ask the same questions as I do, and possibly cannot picture the same things that have plagued me over the years. 

In fact Delville Wood has always been contentious in our national psyche, it is untouchable because of the blood that was shed and that small part of France that is really a small part of South Africa now. Many of those who died in the wood have no known grave, they are names on a memorial, their physical bodies vaporised or smashed to pieces in the barrage of steel:  the wood is still the real cemetery for Delville Wood.

In 2014, the remains of Private Myengwa Beleza, a black soldier, was re-interred at the memorial and in 2016, a new Roll of Honour was unveiled to honour all those South Africans who lost their lives in the First World War, and to ensure that the role played by South Africans of all races in the First and Second World Wars was accorded the necessary recognition. A new Garden of Remembrance was to be created for those who fell but whose remains were never recovered.

The list of of all South Africans who died during the battle of Delville Wood 15/20 July 1916. It lists all those who died in France. Of note, many of them are listed as having a date of death (particularly the 3rd Regt. SAI) of 1 August 1916. It wasn’t until that date a roll could be completed. Many of the prisoners taken by the Germans at Delville Wood were originally on the roll until the Red Cross could determine who had actually died in the battle. 

A SOLDIER’S SONG

Lt Frederick Carruthers Cornell, S. Africa Native Labour Corps

In Delville Wood – in Delville Wood,
The German foe in thousands lay,
And no-man’s land, with British blood,
Ran red as wine that summer’s day
We’d sworn to take it – and we would!
 

God help the Bosche in Delville Wood!
To Delville Wood – to Delville Wood,
We faced his fire, and forced our way
To where his grim machine guns stood,
And where he fiercely turned at bay –
We’d sworn to beat him – and we would!
We’d turn him out of Delville Wood!
 

In Delville Wood – in Delville Wood,
As inch by inch the ground was gained,
With bullet, steel, and smashing butt.
We fought and fell, till few remained;
But Boer and Briton steadfast stood,
For Freedom’s sake – in Delville Wood!
 

In Delville Wood – in Delville Wood,
Midst splintered trees and shattered wrack,
From morn till night we still made good
Gainst shot and shell and massed attack,
We’d sworn to win, so firm we stood –
Or died like men – in Delville Wood!
 

In Delville Wood – in Delville Wood,
The shattered trees are green with leaves,
And flowers bloom where cannons stood,
And rich the fields with golden sheaves –
Sleep soft ye dead, for God is good –
And Peace has come to Delville Wood!

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 15/07/2016. 2 Images by Brian Roberts, “In Vlaandere se Velde” courtesy of Karen Dickens.  

 

Updated: 14/12/2016 — 20:09

Remember the Somme

The Battle of the Somme; a name to remember with sorrow because of the huge cost in human life. The campaign has long been picked part by historians and soldiers, and as always there are those who criticise the plan, the generals, the artillery, the weather, the Germans, the French and everything in between. Who is to blame? it is not my task to apportion blame, I am only here to remember those who never returned.

As with my Battle of Jutland post, I am using the Somme 100 toolkit provided by the Royal British Legion. I am afraid I could never explain the battle myself because I do not have the ability to describe such a monumental slaughter. Remember, I only photograph the graves. The Toolkit uses “The Battle of the Somme” From an original work for The Royal British Legion by Professor Sir Hew Strachan FRSE FRHistS. I am only going to reproduce excerpts from it.

The British folk memory of the Battle of the Somme is dominated by one moment: 7.30am on 01 July 1916. It was a bright summer’s day, the sun well up, and falling from the east on the backs of the German defenders and into the faces of the British. Officers sounded their whistles, and their men scrambled up ladders to get out of the trenches and into No Man’s Land. Sergeant R.H. Tawney, with the 22nd Battalion, the Manchester Regiment near Fricourt, recalled that:

“[We] lay down, waiting for the line to form up on each side of us. When it was ready, we went forward, not doubling, but at a walk. For we had 900 yards of rough ground to the trench, which was our first objective.”

By the day’s end 19,240 British soldiers had been killed and nearly twice that number wounded: the total of 57,470 casualties was and remains the highest suffered by the British Army in a single day. This single fact ensures that for most Britons the Battle of the Somme defines what they mean when they talk of the ‘tragedy’, the ‘waste’ and ‘futility’ of the First World War. Apart from the war’s opening and closing dates (for Britain 04 August 1914 and 11 November 1918), 01 July 1916 was the first day picked out for national observance when plans for the commemoration of the centenary were being drawn up.

On 01 July 2016, it will be 100 years since the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. This was one of the largest battles of the First World War fought by the British and the French against Germany. It took place on both banks of the River Somme in France, and is remembered as one of the most tragic episodes in human history. 

  • The Battle of the Somme is synonymous with the United Kingdom’s Remembrance of the First World War and the futility of trench warfare.
  • Fighting at the Battle of the Somme began on 1 July 1916 and lasted four and a half months.
  • In total, 60 nations from across the British Empire and Europe were involved in the fighting across a 25 kilometre front.
  • There were almost sixty thousand British and Imperial casualties on the first day of the battle, of which nearly twenty thousand were killed.
  • At the start of the battle, most of the British Army had been an inexperienced mass of volunteers.
  • Going over the top at the Somme was the first taste of battle for many men, as a large number were part of “Kitchener’s Volunteer Army” which was formed by Pals battalions, mainly recruited from the North of England. The Pals battalions were made up of groups of friends, team mates in sports clubs and colleagues, who had joined together expecting to fight together. The heavy losses in one battalion had a profound effect on Britain and were felt locally and nationally.
  • Of the approaching half a million British and Imperial casualties suffered in the 141 day-long battle, a third died. When the offensive finally came to a halt on 18 November 1916, the Battle of the Somme had claimed a million casualties; 430,000 from Commonwealth countries, with a third of this number killed. 
  • On 15 July the South African Brigade took Delville Wood, a thick tangle of trees, and held it against successive counter-attacks and under shellfire that shattered the forest. Of their original strength of 3,153, just 143 left the wood five days later.
  • 19,240 British soldiers had been killed by the end of the first day. It was and remains the highest suffered by the British Army in a single day. In comparison, the French Army had around 1,600 casualties and the German had 10,000–12,000 casualties.
  • The Battle of the Somme lasted 141 days (from 01 July – 18 November 1916).
  • 1,700,000 shells were fired on to the German lines by 1,600 pieces of British artillery during the eight-day preliminary bombardment.(est)
  • The first tank to engage in battle was designated D1, a British Mark I Male, during the Battle of the Somme on 15 September 1916. 49 tanks of the Heavy Branch of the Machine Gun Corps of the British Army were sourced and were to reach Somme by September 1916. However, due to mechanical and other failures, only 36 of them participated at the Battle of the Somme.
  • 5 Miles was the furthest advance of any allied force during the whole battle.
  • During the Battle of the Somme, 51 Victoria Crosses were awarded – 17 of them were awarded posthumously.

The Battle of the Somme did not produce a ‘decisive victory’ of the sort that was alleged to have characterised earlier wars, but the Somme could be seen as a waypoint on the route to winning the war in 1918. Certainly the Somme redefined modern industrialised warfare, and was fought as a battle of attrition. Within the ‘battle’ of the Somme were scores of other battles – the battle of Albert, the battle of Flers-Courcelette, the battle of Ancre; by the standards of the previous century, the Somme was a war within a war.

“As day breaks through wind and rain we form a line on rough terrain, to face a foe we’ll never know, we will fall and die where poppies now grow. Remember us the chosen ones, the lads the dads and someone’s sons. Be not sad, just be glad, knowing we gave all we had. As you walk on our fields of doom, places where our bodies were strewn, we will gaze on you through heaven’s door and hope our words stay for evermore. When you leave save a tear, for here we stay year on year, the lads the dads and someone’s sons, the boys who fell before German guns.”

Dave Callaghan. Taken from the wall of remembrance at www.somme-battlefields.com

 

 
© DRW 2016-2017. Created 30/06/2016. Period images are sourced from the Somme 100 Toolkit of the Royal British Legion, and they originate from the Imperial War Museum.  Most of the text in this post is copied from that toolkit and Remembrance pack. Some images are from my own collection.
Updated: 15/12/2016 — 07:10

Return to St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery

I had last been in Kensal Green in March 2013, and had never been too happy with the pics I had taken. To exacerbate matters, when I went “next door” to St Mary’s I had been caught in a snow storm and had had to abandon my expedition without finding the VC graves I was looking for originally. Kensal Green is an impressive place, and it is the sort of cemetery that you need a lot of time in because there is just so much to see. 

Getting there is not too difficult. You grab the Bakerloo Line, change trains at Queens Park, then travel one station to Kensal Green. The cemeteries are both not even 200 metres away. Because St Mary’s Roman Catholic cemetery was more of a priority I headed there first. There were 3 Victoria Cross graves that I needed to find; these were the graves I had not found in 2013, and now I was armed with a description of each grave on top of the map I had gotten from Kevin Brazier in 2013.

The cemetery is a Roman Catholic one and it can be quite overpowering with the many mausoleums and statues. It is however quite large, but I did not venture too far from the main gate and chapel area.

The road from the entrance leads to this split, the building on the right is the chapel and one of the mausoleums is next to the pole. The Belgian War Memorial is on the path leading left.

The Chapel

The Chapel

There are enough mausoleums to fill a blog post, and some of them it is possible see inside because of clear or broken windows. Some are really beautiful inside, but I often wonder how many people actually go into them so many years after they were erected.  Some are in a poor condition, but generally they seem to be in a sound condition.

 

Looking at my images now it is difficult to imagine a Victorian era funeral taking place here. It was established in 1858 so the funerals were not only a time of mourning but often a social event.

My personal favourite has to be this one. 

My VC grave search went well and I was able to find all three graves in short order, although I kept on being distracted by statues and small details on graves. I cannot help it, that is how I am.

 

I have to admit she is beautiful, but I do wish I had photographed up into her face.

There are 318 CWGC casualties buried in the cemetery, although I did not go deliberately hunting them down as the cemetery has already been photographed;  naturally now I regret not doing it. But, it is always a reason for returning one day.

 

The weather, which had been warm with slightly blue skies was changing, and I decided that I really needed to get next door and see what was going on there. So I made tracks for the exit, and will leave you with some random images.

Random Images

 
 

And then it was time to head next door to Kensal Green (All Souls) Cemetery. I bade my farewells and walked down the lane, I felt much better now that I had had a chance to explore a bit of this place, unlike last time when I was more interested in keeping snow off my lens than anything else. Who knows, maybe one day I will return.

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 10/06/2016.   

Updated: 15/12/2016 — 07:18

GWR War Memorial, Paddington Station.

The War Memorial to the Staff of the GWR  may be found next to platform 1 against the wall and close to the statue of Paddington Bear.

The statue features an Unknown Soldier reading a letter….

A campaign was launched some time ago for people to write a letter to this soldier and it eventually resulted in a book called “Letter To An Unknown Soldier. If you could write a letter to a First World War soldier, what would you say?” by Kate Pullinger and Neil Bartlett. Published by Harper Collins. It was a very interesting campaign that raised a lot of awareness of the 100th anniversary of World War One. However, it appears as of this statue was not the one that was the “Unknown Soldier” but rather, a copy of this one. 

The reality is, the memorial is really to the staff of the Great Western Railway; Paddington Station being their terminus in London.

It was unveiled on Armistice Day 11 November 1922 by Winston Churchill, and dedicated by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The sculptor was Charles Sargeant Jagger.  

The Roll of Honour is contained inside the plinth in a sealed casket which was made at the GWR’s Swindon Works. It lists the names of all 2,524 employees who died in the First World War

© DRW. 2016-2017 Created 11/06/2016. 

Updated: 15/12/2016 — 07:19
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