musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Category: War

Loving Liverpool (8) Western Approaches Command

As I was saying…

The war at sea was a brutal one, lasting from the first day of the war right through till the last. To make matters worse any person serving on board ship faced an even worse enemy than the Axis forces, and that was the medium which they sailed in. The convoys that plodded along between the United Kingdom and the United States were shepherded by escort vessels of all shapes and sizes, and overseeing the area of ocean between the two continents was Western Approaches Command.

The Western Approaches Command may be found at the Liverpool War Museum at 1-3 Rumford St, Liverpool. Do not expect this to be one of your normal museums geared towards children, it is mostly undergrond in the former bunker that used to serve as the operational nerve centre of the Western Approaches. I knew more or less where it was situated but came from a different direction so ended up making a wrong turning and that proved to be quite beneficial to me as I discovered two more War memorials in the process.

There is an open square behind the City Hall that is bounded by a large building that seems to have been called “Exchange Flags” but is now called Horton House and Walker House; recognise those names? 

The first memorial was dedicated to “the Men of the Liverpool Exchange Newsroom”

While the other is dedicated to “Men from the Liverpool Cotton Association”

There is a third monument in the centre of the square and it is known as the Nelson Monument. 

Nelson Monument

However, I am not going to cover these in this blog but will do so later at allatsea. My main interest here is the Western Approaches facility underneath this vast space. 

Walker House (formerly known as Derby House) was adapted during its construction to include a reinforced bunker that housed the Western Approaches Command Headquarters.  Construction of the main building was completed in 1939 but the construction of Walker House was interrupted by the war. The inclusion of the re-enforced bunker to house the command centre for the Battle of the Atlantic meant that Walker House wasn’t finished until 1941. The bunker was closed on 15 August 1945 after the end of WW2 but was re-opened as the Western Approaches Museum. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exchange_Flags)

The museum entrance is almost unassuming, but beneath it is another world in another era.

Please show your pass to the guard at the door (he has stepped out for a moment). 

This is not some glitz and glass museum, you really need to remember it in the context of what it was like between 1941 and 1945, it is one of those places that is stuck in time. 

I am following the file numbering of my images so hopefully they will be in some sort of order as I passed through the museum, although I did backtrack on a few occasions.

I am not in a position to explain the Battle of the Atlantic as it it really did not consist of a single event but rather a whole sequence of events, milestones, disasters and victories.  The men who bore the brunt of it were the men from the Merchant Navy who manned ships that were often one step away from disaster without the enemy even being close. They faced submarines, aircraft, weather and public and official indifference just to keep the lifelines of commerce open. 

Those who served on the escorts initially faced an uphill battle to keep the convoys safe but slowly a combination of factors turned the tables on the U-boats of the Axis. Even Churchill feared the submarine menace but at the end the battle was won and Western Approaches Command  had a vast role to play in that victory.

Communication in this labyrinth was via wireless, telex, telephone and messenger. 

Radio Room

These were often manned (womaned?) by a staff of naval ratings and WRENS who often had to deal with the emotional trauma of knowing that a convoy was sailing towards a disaster and being unable to do anything about it. They had a job to do and they did it with excellence. 

The operations room was the nerve centre of the command, a large plotting wall was used to keep tabs of the situation at sea and of course track the convoys and known enemy forces. Information coming in through all means of communication available. 

The Plotting Wall

Those involved had to really keep tabs of the big picture as well as a localised view of the situation on the ground. The course of a convoy’s often painfully slow progress was tracked by means of  colour coded elastics that followed its track across the Atlantic. 

The needs of the job sometimes meant that staff slept over at the bunker and limited sleeping accommodation was available. Even back then your bed had to be square.

The reality was that it was a totally enclosed bunker with limited ventilation and considerable stress; smoking was also common back then and the air quality must have been terrible. A four watch system was in place 7 days a week with only two 15 minutes rest periods during a watch. It was a not a very pleasant place to work, but then the men on board ship probably would not have swapped with them if they were given the chance.

The “Hot Line” to the War Office in London was able to connect directly to 10 favoured lines. It was housed in a sound proof booth and it is possible that Winston Churchill was heard in it a few times. It was a standard telephone but was modified especially for this purpose. There are only 2 of these instruments known to survive.   

The man in charge of the Western Approaches Command was Admiral Max Kennedy Horton, GCB, DSO & Two Bars, SGM (29 November 1883 – 30 July 1951). A former decorated submariner,  he was appointed Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches Command on 17 November 1942.

As a successful former submariner he was able to understand the limitations of submarine warfare and instituted a number of tactical changes in the way the escort ships were to be used. 

Staff often saw him appear at the window overlooking the operations room clad in his pyjamas. As a keen golfer who may have had golf balls on his desk or clubs nearby. Given how much stress he was under golf this was his favourite way of unwinding.

He died in 1951 and there is a memorial to him in Liverpool Cathedral. 

He was one of the major reasons that the tide was turned in the Battle of the Atlantic, and of course his staff contributed to the success of this little known nerve centre. 

One of the stranger things to see was a film projector that was used to screen footage of the war. Originally the Gaumont Kalee Dragon projector was up in in London.  It is a fascinating piece of machinery. 

I trained as an apprentice in the telecommunications industry and quite a lot of the equipment on display was telecommunications related so it really interested me. This room housed the switchboard and probably part of the telex equipment.

Have you shown your pass?

 Below it was Naval Telex Station

And switchboard

As well as the cipher station.

And then it was time to head upwards to sunlight.

There was a mockup street on display too, and it was really quite poignant because the reality was that once staff emerged from their bunker they would often end up finding a city that had been bombed. Liverpool was the second most bombed city outside London, the first raid taking place on 28 August 1940. Roughly 80 raids were conducted between August 1940 and January 1942, and over 75000 people were left homeless as a result of the bombing which mostly targeted the docks and warehouses on the Mersey. 

And then it was over. (my visit and the war). 

It was an extremely interesting place and it had an “otherness” about it, definitely a latent aura was present. It is very difficult to comprehend what it was like during the war, and the euphoria when it was all done and almost everybody got to go home. Sadly too many never did see that victory so this is really a part of commemoration. The men and women who worked here have all passed into history, they will however be remembered for the part they played, they were unsung heroes. 

It is a tangible link to World War 2, and one of those rare surviving places that we can see and experience. My only gripe was….  none really. I know that there is so much more that can go in here that is relevant, and I believe they are working towards it. It was well worth the visit and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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I shall leave you with my usual odds and ends pics.

DRW © 2018. Created 09/06/2018

Updated: 13/06/2018 — 07:03

Loving Liverpool (6) Ferry Across the Mersey

Continuing where we left off…

Naturally visiting any sort of harbour presents possible opportunities to get on a boat or a ship, or at least to see one (or two).

MV Snowdrop

Liverpool did not disappoint because there is a ferry that crosses the Mersey and I had her in my sights as soon as I spotted her (which says a lot for her dazzle camouflage).

At the time “Snowdrop” was working “River Explorer” cruises between Pier Head Ferry Terminal to Seacombe Ferry Terminal, and then to Woodside Ferry Terminal where the U-Boat Story was and then back to the pier head. When I first hit the ferry terminal my first consideration was queues. These were very long to get on board so I decided against it at the time, although did try a bit later in the afternoon but by then it was her last round trip so I gave it a miss. It would have been better to have taken that late sailing because the light was so much better that afternoon compared to the next morning.

The next day was a different story (as detailed in Loving Liverpool (5)) but by 10 am I was on board and ready to sail! Let go for’ard!

The vessel was built in 1959 for the Birkenhead Corporation as “Woodchurch” by Philip and Son, Dartmouth and was yard number 1305

Builders Plate

She was launched on 28 October 1959 and made her maiden voyage from Dartmouth to the River Mersey in 1960.   She is of 617 GRT, with a length of 46.32 m (152 ft 0 in), beam:  12.2 m (40 ft 0 in) and draught of 2.46 m (8 ft 1 in), as built she had a capacity of  1,200 passengers. 

Fortunately she was not too crowded so I was able to wander around taking pics of her decks and seating areas and just taking in the scenery. I was hoping to get close to the Stena Mersey but almost half way across the river I saw that she was getting underway so managed to get some pics of that happening.

(1500 x 476) heading back towards Seacombe.

I rode the vessel only as far as Woodside where I jumped ship and went to look at the U-534 exhibit.

I reboarded Snowdrop at 11H30. 

We puttered along towards the bend in the river and I was able to see the Royal Fleet Auxiliaries berthed at Cammell Laird of Birkenhead.

The vessel above is RFA Wave Knight (A389), while the vessel on the slipway is a Royal Research Ship being built at an estimated cost of £200 million, with the name RRS Sir David Attenborough and she is expected to be in service in 2019. The vessel below is  RFA Fort Victoria (A387)

RFA Fort Victoria (A387)

I was not sure how far you could get if you walked along the promenade towards those ships at Birkenhead, although I had been tempted to try that in the morning. Actually with hindsight Birkenhead may have to go to the top of my bucket list if ever I get back to Liverpool.

And then we were alongside once again and the queue to board was already looking long. I was happy because I had had my “cruise”. It was not much but was better than nothing. At least for that hour I was on the deck looking towards land and not vice versa.

The second trip.

On my last day in Liverpool I discovered that the cruise ship Saga Sapphire was in port so I decided to grab a short hop across the river to Seacombe and see about getting pics of her from the ferry,

Unfortunately the sun was really in the wrong place so the pics came out pretty badly.

Commuter services run between Seacombe departing at 7.20 am with a ten minute trip across to the pier head terminal and back until the last arrival at the pier head at 9.50 am.  However, this morning fleetmate Royal Iris was berthed at Seacombe so I was able to grab closeups of her, but it also meant that there was either a vessel swap going to happen or she was going to do a cruise too.

I stayed on board Snowdrop and rode her back to the pier head.

From there I strolled to the passenger terminal and took a closer look at Saga Sapphire before plonking myself on a handy bench to see what happened with Royal Iris; who had shifted from where I saw her earlier. 

Voila, she unberthed and started to head towards me and Snowdrop started to come into the shot too from behind Saga Sapphire…. this could be interesting, because I was hoping to get them both together and was rewarded for my patience. Royal Iris was already packed so I suspect she was doing a cruise, possibly down the Manchester Ship Canal?

Why the dazzle camo?

Dazzle camouflage was really the brainchild of famous artist Norman Wilkinson and the zoologist John Graham Kerr, and it consisted of complex patterns of geometric shapes in contrasting colours, interrupting and intersecting each other. the intention of it was to make it difficult to estimate a target’s range, speed, and heading.

How effective was it? It is certainly very strange to see and just maybe a few lives were saved as a result of it. However I have heard about the case of a WW1 destroyer sent to escort a large vessel that was dazzle camouflaged and her captain  admitted that he had to sail around the ship before he could work out which direction she was going in. The confusion of somebody trying to view a ship through a periscope could gain a potential target a few more seconds to evade a torpedo attack, and that was very important in the war at sea. False bow waves were also painted on ships too and I have seen images of a destroyer painted on the side of a passenger liner. 

The current mania for dazzle camo ships in Liverpool was really to draw attention to the war at sea and if it succeeded then that is a good thing. 

In January 2015 Snowdrop was given her unique new livery inspired by dazzle camouflage. Designed by Sir Peter Blake and entitled Everybody Razzle Dazzle.  She was one of three vessels commissioned to carry a dazzle livery, the others being Induction Chromatique à Double Fréquence pour l’Edmund Gardner Ship / Liverpool. Paris, 2014 by Carlos Cruz-Diez on the museum ship Edmund Gardner also berthed in Liverpool.

Tobias Rehberger’s Dazzle Ship London was created on HMS President in the River Thames. Unfortunately she was not in London in 2016 when I was there as she had been shifted to Chatham to make way for sewerage works. Her future was looking very bleak and it is unknown whether she will survive her cash crisis or not. She does need dry docking and funding is needed to get her through to her new berth in 2018. Images of her in dazzle camo are on her website

I do not know what Snowdrop looked like before she became so hard to see, but Royal Iris certainly looked much better in her normal livery.

As for Royal Daffodil, I was hoping to see her too, but she was nowhere that I was familiar with, at one point she started to sink at her mooring and I suspect she had been moved since then. I have since heard that she is laid up at the east float next to the Duke Street Bridge in Birkenhead and no real firm plans had been made about her future.

And that was my fun with ferries.

When next we return I will be dealing with Western Approaches Command and three large memorials that I found in the same area. Space permitting I will also visit the church on the waterfront

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DRW © 2018. Created 05/06/2018

Updated: 16/06/2018 — 08:06

Loving Liverpool (2) Pier Head

In which we continue our exploration of Liverpool.

I finished up the previous post in the waterfront area and was heading into the Albert Dock Area. However, the view across the Mersey looks something like this…  (images are 1500 wide)

(1500 x 291)

There was a lot to see around here, and I have to admit that a lot of it did not interest me, although some stuff made me scratch my head. For instance, take the Superlambanana….  

(This is a different one from the one on the last page). What amuses me is that no matter how many signs are pasted on it prohibiting people from climbing on it, there will always be kids hell bent on getting into the saddle. The sculpture is really an ironic comment on the dangers of genetic engineering, but it also acknowledges the many bananas and lambs that passed through Liverpool’s bustling docks. Personally I thought it was quirky, and I like quirky. 

The dock area where I was now is reasonably simple, although distances can be long. Each is connected to each other via large gates and that helped when ships were sailing into the river, bearing in mind that during low tide the docks were a self contained system that would carry on working even when there was no access to the outside. It has now become the preserve of yuppies and private boats, and ships are a distant memory.

Quite a number of items and buildings have survived the many changes wrought over the years, and of course the bombing campaign during The Blitz did not help either, although I am sure it sparked a bit of a redesign shortly after the war ended.

Most of the docks were closed in the 1970’s, while others were “repurposed”,  but the days of cargo ships coming and going from this area had come to a close. The passenger liner business also collapsed as the jet aircraft became more popular and plummeting profits sent many well founded ships prematurely to the breakers. Southampton is probably the biggest cruise ship destination in the UK, but Liverpool is slowly picking up its own share of arrivals. There was only one arrival during my days in Liverpool and I will deal with her separately. 

There were 2 drydocks in the Canning Dock area that interested me and both we occupied. The first by the MV Edmund Gardner, a former pilot cutter that was launched in 1953. I was hoping to look around her but she was fenced off and painted in dazzle camouflage. 

The other dock was occupied by De Wadden, a three-masted auxiliary schooner built in the Netherlands in 1917.

One poignant item in this area is one of the propellers from the ill fated Lusitania. 

On the right hand side of the image is the steam tug/tender Daniel Adamson, Built as the Ralph Brocklebank in 1903, she was renamed in 1936. and served with the  Manchester Ship Canal Company. She was restored by the Daniel Adamson Preservation Society and entered passenger-carrying service under steam on 22 April 2017.

If you stood on board the Daniel Adamson and looked across the dock the view would be something like this..

The tall chimney belongs to the pump house and the buildings on the right house the Maritime Museum which was my next destination. There was also a very strange cat/rat combo that drew a lot of attention. I had no idea what the significance of it was, but apparently it was created from around 1,000 reclaimed milk containers, cut up by hand by the artist and then stitched on to chicken wire. There were supposedly similar rat statues but I never saw them. The artist was Faith Bebbington.After a quick bite I went to the Maritime Museum. It was on multiple levels and much to my dismay one level dealt with the Titanic! Fortunately they also dealt with the Merchant Navy so I didn’t have to read all that rehashed material. To be honest I really preferred the Museum here to the one in Southampton. This one had more ship models for starters! Lusitania is probably more relevant to Liverpool, Titanic may have been registered in Liverpool but never called there, whereas the Lusitania and Mauretania would have used this as their home port.  

Suitably satiated it is time for some of my famous random images in and around the docks

There were a number of statues in the area too, and two of them caught my eye. The first I thought was Elvis, but it turns out that it was Billy Fury (17 April 1940 – 28 January 1983).

Billy Fury

The other is called “The Crossing” and it is a very poignant one.  It shows a young family migrating from Liverpool to the new world. 

The plaque reads:

In commemoration of an estimated 85 000
Latter-Day Saints, who sailed from Eurpoe to
America, from 1851 to 1900

We thank this city for cradling our ancestors.
Donated by the 2001 Sea Trek Foundation
and James Moses Jex Family

The sculptor is Mark DeGraffenried and it shows the one child stepping forward at the front, symbolising migration to the unknown world whilst the child at the back is playing with a crab and symbolises a deep association with the sea. 

The Crossing

It was time for me to head back to the hotel to check in and have a shower and plan the balance of my day.   So far it had been a very enjoyable day, I had almost done the ferry trip but it was only running at 4 pm and I did not really want to wait that long so decided that tomorrow was another day.  I strolled back to my hotel, but detoured at James Street Station and caught the underground to Lime Street. It is a short hop, but it saved me a longish walk. 

I can chalk one more up to my list of experiences as a result.

After the break… 

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Finding Abercromby Park, and the Anglican Cathedral

DRW © 2018. Created 02/05/2018

Updated: 14/06/2018 — 07:59

Four Ships Week

Regular readers will know that I have slowly been adding in reminders about important dates in South African naval history. The most prominent being in February when I commemorate Three Ships Month. Sadly though, it does not all end with those 3 disasters (although technically the Mendi was not a naval vessel as it sailed with a civilian crew while doing trooping duties). 

There are however four more ships that I am adding into these reminders, and they were all lost in April of 1942.  The men killed in these sinkings were seconded to four British warships that were lost in what has become known as “The Easter Sunday Raid“. 

I am not in a position to elaborate about the disasters that befell these ships, as there are others who have done a much better job than I have. I am heavy reliant on Wikipedia for the information below.

HMS Cornwall, was  a County-class heavy cruiser of the Kent sub-class built for the Royal Navy in the mid-1920s. Cornwall was transferred to the South Atlantic in late 1939 where she escorted convoys before returning to the Indian Ocean in 1941. she was transferred to the Eastern Fleet in March 1942 and  was sunk on 5 April by dive bombers from three Japanese aircraft carriers during the Indian Ocean Raid. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Cornwall_(56)

HMS Dorsetshire, was a County class heavy cruiser  and a member of the Norfolk sub-class, of which she was one of two ships (HMS Norfolk was the other).  Launched in Portsmouth in January 1929, she was completed in September 1930.  After a long and varied career she was transferred to the Eastern Fleet to support British forces in the recently opened Pacific Theatre of the war.   On 5 April, Japanese aircraft spotted Dorsetshire and her sister Cornwall while en route to Colombo; a force of dive bombers then attacked the two ships and sank them. More than 1,100 men were rescued the next day, out of a combined crew of over 1,500. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Dorsetshire_(40))

HMS Hermes, was the world’s first ship to be designed as an aircraft carrier, her construction began during the First World War but she was not completed until after the end of the war.  She  was commissioned in 1924, and served briefly with the Atlantic Fleet before spending the bulk of her career assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet and the China Station.  When the Second World War began she was briefly assigned to the Home Fleet and conducted anti-submarine patrols in the Western Approaches  before being  sent to patrol the Indian Ocean. She was refitted in South Africa between November 1941 and February 1942 and then joined the Eastern Fleet at Ceylon.

While berthed in Trincomalee on 8 April a warning of an approaching Japanese fleet was received, and she sailed that day for the Maldives with no aircraft on board. On 9 April she was spotted by a Japanese scout plane, and she was subsequently attacked by several dozen dive bombers shortly afterwards.  Without air cover she  was quickly sunk although most of the survivors were rescued by a nearby hospital ship, but 307 men were lost in the sinking. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Hermes_(95))

HMS Hollyhock, a Flower-Class Corvette, was laid down on 27 November 1939 and launched on 19 August 1940. She was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 19 November 1940. Hollyhock was bombed and sunk by Japanese naval aircraft on 9 April 1942 east of Ceylon in the Indian Ocean, along with the aircraft carrier Hermes, the Australian destroyer Vampire and two tankers.  53 men lost their lives in the sinking.  (http://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-20Cor-Flower-Hollyhock.htm)

64 South Africans lost their lives as members of the crew of these 4 ships.  Unfortunately these losses were conveniently shunted aside in the quest to sanitise history, but slowly we are recognising that there is much more that we need to discover and commemorate.  

Further Reading:

The major inspiration for this post is The Observation Post, a  blog that was set up to keep contemporary South African Military history alive and reveal the truth – because historical “truth” in South Africa is so often skewed to some or other political agenda.

Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Dorsetshire

Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Cornwall

Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hermes

Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hollyhock

DRW © 2018. Created 02/04/2018.  The Observation Post is created by Peter Dickens 

Updated: 09/05/2018 — 12:47

Armistice Day 11/11/2017

Somebody in the crowd remarked that it would have been considered a nice day in the trenches with its fine drizzle, grey sky and low temperature. But, it was not 1917, it was 2017 and we were all gathered at “The Cross” in Tewkesbury to commemorate the end of the First World War and the 100th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Passchendaele. Today is Armistice Day while tomorrow is Remembrance Day.

The build up to the Remembrance Day commemoration has been very evident in Tewkesbury, and every other town and city in the UK. It is taken seriously in the United Kingdom because of the strong connection with this island and the many who are buried in foreign fields. The red, green and black of the Remembrance Poppy is to be seen everywhere, and the people wear theirs with pride. Unfortunately the PC mob is hell bent on destroying this tradition because somebody may be offended, but they can really take a running leap off a short cliff.

I was determined to be at the cross when the short service would be held, and I was not the only one.  

If you open the image above you can see the War Memorial that is the centre of the cross marked in red. If you close the streets leading to the memorial you effectively bring the town to a halt.  Unfortunately, as you can see the weather on this day was not as good as that in the image above. 

But, roughly 5 minutes from 11 am. The police blocked the roads and for these brief few minutes the town ground to a halt. Banners were raised and the ceremony commenced. 

There is a sequence of events for these commemorations:

  1. At 11am, the Last Post is played
  2. The exhortation is then read 
  3. The Two Minute Silence then begins
  4. The end of the silence is signalled by playing the Reveille

The Exhortation:

“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.”

Response: “We will remember them.”

Great Britain still believes strongly in remembering not only those who fought in the two World Wars, but also the more than 12,000 British Servicemen and women killed or injured since 1945, and I see that each year as I participate in the commemorations. Tomorrow the town will stop once again and many more people will gather to pay their respects, and I am proud to be a part of it. 

This year I was finally able to plant a poppy cross that I had been carrying since I arrived in the UK. The Field of Remembrance was not a large one, but that doesn’t really matter because the intention is what counts. 

South Africa is slowly reawakening to the importance of this Act of Remembrance, long after it was downplayed by the previous government.  It is up to the young to carry these acts of remembrance forward, and many are out there are the time of writing this, collecting for charity and wearing their poppy with pride 

Sunday 12/11/2017.

This morning when I got up it was seemingly clearing but not for long, and by the time I left home at 9.50 it was drizzling very softly.  Town was deserted but that could be because High Street was barricaded closed.

I headed down to the Abbey to waste some time and take a few pics and by the time the service was finishing the sun had arrived too and was shining brightly. It was however cold and I regretted not wearing my parka.  

The nice thing about the deserted streets was that you could get some pics of some of the buildings that were usually blocked out by cars.

I think we need to close off the roads more often so that we can just admire these old timber framed beauties from close up.

I started to head towards the War Memorial but ended up trying to help somebody that was hopelessly lost and trying to find their way to Swindon. Unfortunately that is almost impossible from Tewkesbury, unless you go via Cheltenham.  

By the time I was able to find a spot the crowd had swelled considerably, it was decidedly full! 

Last year I had sited myself on the left of this picture, but this year I had not been able to get there in time so took what I could get. The parade would enter from the left, encircle the memorial and then would start once the long crocodile had all arrived. There are a lot of people in that parade, ranging from old to very young. 

And then we were all there and the Service of Remembrance could start shortly before 11 am. I do not know how many people there had a connection to the military, but it did not really matter, the fact that there were so many is encouraging. The chilly weather did not help much and I know I was cold and some of those kids in the parade were probably even colder in their inadequate uniforms. The sun was behind me which does explain the heavy shadows. 

And then there was two minutes of silence and reflection, followed by the wreath laying.

Unfortunately a PA system was not in place so all we heard was a murmur in the distance and we sort of followed the proceedings as best we could. After the wreaths had been laid the parade marched back the way it had come, turned around and then headed back towards the memorial, passing it on the left and up towards the Town Hall where the Mayor would take the salute. 

We all stood on the sidelines watching the parade pass, doing an “eyes right” as they approached the memorial. Leading the parade was the Tewkesbury Town Band. Not only do we have a town band, we also have a Town Crier!

The column became more ragged as it neared the end as many service, civic and school groups were marching too, doing their level best to keep in some sort of step. And then the future of Remembrance made their approach. Many probably wished they were at home in bed, or elsewhere, and I am sure many did not realise the significance of what they were doing. But, the fact that they were here today was because of those who took up arms over 100 years ago. 

 

And then it was over and Tewkesbury returned to some sort of Sunday normality. I am always left looking at my photographs and trying to find ones that can really explain the importance of holding a Remembrance Day service, and it always comes down to 2 groups of people: the veterans and the young. When I grew up we were literally surrounded by men (and occasionally women) that had served in one of the World Wars and in my case it was my father and my grandfather. And we thought we knew the whole history and reasons behind the two wars. But looking back now we did not know them, or understand why our family members went to war. Eventually my brother and I would both do our national service and would join the brotherhood of those who took up arms. But, our service was regional, whereas the two world wars had a global reach, affecting the whole world and causing reverberations that we still feel today. But over the past 4 years in the United Kingdom I have come to realise that the war effected the United Kingdom much more deeply. In fact I doubt whether this island ever got over the slaughter of the trenches, and each time I see my images I can see that the wound will never heal, and every year they will continue to march and sell and wear a poppy in commemoration of those who were a part of the institutionalised slaughter of warfare. And if we could ask those gone before what lessons were there to be learnt? they would all reply: Never let it happen again. It is a pity our world leaders never seem to understand that, if they did we would not need to have a Remembrance Day in the first place.

 

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

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 11/11/2017 and 12/11/2017.

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 17:04

Lives of the First World War

Regular visitors to the blog may be thinking that I have given up on the blog. Be rest assured I have not, and this post will explain why.

Recently I started submitting images to “Lives of the First World War”, and it is a lot of work. I have over 8000 images of war graves, and a large number of War Memorials  in my collection. The majority of graves have been photographed in the United Kingdom and most have been submitted to the British War Graves Project. This is really an opportunity to marry up a grave with a record, and it is really a decision  that I decided to take seeing as I had all these images that have never really seen the light of day. 

Lives really is a series of templates that are populated from a variety of records, ranging from CWGC right through to British Census records up to 1911. However, there is no real consistency as to what records will be available for each casualty. In some cases even the CWGC record is missing, which is odd considering that technically there is a CWGC record for every casualty. Lives does not only touch on casualties, but on survivors too, and in that department I am totally clueless as my photography has been about casualties and not survivors. The one thing I do like is that many of the private memorials that I have photographed can now be linked to an individual and that record can be further fleshed out with the data on the private memorial. Unfortunately these can make for very sad reading. The one PM I did yesterday involved three brothers that were all killed in action, they were able to be linked because of a simple typed piece of paper stuck to a tree above the grave of one of them  (Sgt Evan Victor Joseph DCM, MM).

The other PM I have found today concerns Ernest Lute and Alfred Morgan. The latter had a sister called Amy who married Ernest Lute, who was killed in action on 25 October 1918, while Alfred died on 05 October 1918 in a Berlin hospital after being a POW for 4 years. Amy did not live long after that, as she passed away on 15 December 1918. The war ended on 11 November 1918, and she was the only one to see it, although having lost a brother and husband it is possible that she died from a broken heart. This particular memorial sums up a lot of what the war was about for those who were left at home. 7 people were involved in this case, and they are all remembered on this forgotten memorial. Whether Albert or Doris are still alive I cannot say, but loosing their parents within such a short period of time must have been very traumatic and life changing.  

At the time of writing I have “remembered” 1958 individuals and have created 53 “communities” where I have my images sorted into. The biggest being for Netley Military Cemetery with 528 “lives” in it. The nice thing about the project is that I am revisiting those places that I photographed in 2013 and 2014, seeing pictures that I had really forgotten about completely. 

Unfortunately the project is not that great a design, in fact I could rip it to shreds given how rigid it can be in the way it does things.  A good example would be the cause of death field that does not include a “died at sea” option. With so many naval casualties you would think that it would have occurred to them to have that option available.

And on the subject of naval casualties, it is shocking to see how poor the records are for the merchant navy men. Trying to find the correct record for a “John Smith” who served in the merchant navy is almost an impossibility. Just out of curiosity, there are potentially 113007 occurrences of the surname Smith, of which 1917 served with the merchant navy.  The merchant navy has always been an odd many out amongst the many services and corps that served in both world wars, and that is true even today. They lack the glamour of a uniform, but when courage was handed out they stand right near the front.

Amongst the Dominions; Canada, New Zealand and Australia stand out, with the Canadian records being the easiest to make sense of. There are lamentably few South Africans to research. I know from our time doing the record cards way back in 2012  the military records are sparse for our men and women, and even sparser for those who served in the South African Native Labour Corps.  The only real sources for information about our casualties is the CWGC and of course the South African War Graves Project

There is a community for those who drowned in the HMT Mendi and that constitutes the biggest grouping of South Africans in the project. I was recently able to have 151 South Africans added that are buried in Brookwood Cemetery, most of them died of Spanish Flu in 1918, although amongst the millions who were taken by the epidemic this is really a small group. Unfortunately only certain people are able to add in new lives, and that really leaves me with no real way to increase the coverage of our men. 

I will be busy with this for a long time; looming in my future are 778 naval casualties in Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery, and I am currently busy with Arnos Vale in Bristol and the 363 casualties commemorated there. I can do roughly 20 in a day, although I am having a lot of fun with private memorials in Arnos Vale and they tend to take more time. I dread Haslar though because even the Royal Navy tended to confuse everybody with how they did things. One of the biggest problems in my opinion is that the British Army did not allocate service numbers to the officers, and you can realistically only search with a surname and a service number. 

So, if things are quiet that is why. I do get some sort of enjoyment out of something like this, one day they will probably start a World War 2 version, but the odds are I won’t be alive to see it.

View this as part of my legacy for the future, I may not have achieved much worthwhile in my life, but I have certainly ensured that a small portion of those who never came home are remembered.

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

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 17/09/2017

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 17:03

The Mud of Passchendaele

On 31 July 1917 the third battle of Ypres started. but it is more commonly remembered as the Battle of Passchendaele. A name synonymous with mud, wasted lives and no gains for the high cost in human lives. The battle took place on the Western Front, from July to November 1917, for control of the ridges south and east of the city of Ypres in West Flanders, and was part of strategy decided by the Allies at conferences in November 1916 and May 1917.

An estimated 245,000 allied casualties (dead, wounded or missing) fell in 103 days of heavy fighting. many of those killed were buried in the mud, never to be seen again. 

South Africans generally recognise the Battle of Delville Wood as our “definitive battle”, and as such we do not commemorate it the way Delville Wood is commemorated, and a quick search for 31/07/1917 at the South African War Graves Project website will only bring up three pages of names, of which at least one page may be discounted as not occurring in the battle. However, from 31 July 1917 many families in the United Kingdom would be discovering that they had lost a father, or a son, or a husband. My current project is called “Lives of the First World War” and there I am encountering many of the casualties from that battle. I was particularly struck by a private memorial that I photographed in Reading Cemetery in 2015.

Serjeant Charles Stewart MM. lost his life on 31 July 1917, probably in this very campaign. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate like so many of his countrymen and comrades who would loose their lives tomorrow, 100 years ago.  He is also remembered on this overgrown gravestone that I found by chance. 

The sad reality is that  little, if any, strategic gain was made during the offensive, which was in fact a total of eight battles.  It increased the soldiers distrust of their leaders, especially Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, and left many soldiers utterly demoralised, shell shocked or badly wounded. The often atrocious weather just made things that much worse for Tommy on the ground, whereas the Generals, far behind the lines could condemn the lack of progress safely in the dry map rooms of their headquarters.    

The French lost 8,500 soldiers. while estimates for German casualties range from 217,000 to around 260,000. Bearing in mind that each one of these casualties had parents, possibly wives, occasionally children. A single death would have repercussions that would affect many more people.

World War One is really a series of disasters, The Somme battlefields, the icey sea of Jutland, the slaughter of Gallipoli, the mud of Passchendaele, the horrors of chemical warfare, the rattle of machine guns and the cries of the wounded and the dieing.

There were many heroes in these battles, and many wore the uniforms of nurses who had to drag extra strength from within to deal with the flood of blood in the casualty clearing stations as the wounded were brought in. Their story is often overlooked amongst the khaki uniforms, but their sacrifice was equally important. A light of sanity in a world of blood soaked madness.

We commemorate the battle from the 30th of July, but for those caught up in the trenches the hell would continue right through until November.  The only light on the horizon was that it would all stop a year later on the 11th of November 1918. 

Unfortunately, we never seemed to learn those lessons from the First World War, because a second war was looming in the future, and that war would define our world from then onwards.  

Remember the Dead.

“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.”

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 30/07/2017. The “Ode of Remembrance” is from Laurence Binyon‘s poem, “For the Fallen“, which was first published in The Times in September 1914. 
Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:56

Bad teeth no bar

Many years ago when I was photographing the WW1 Record cards for the South African War Graves Project I was puzzled by the notation on some of the cards “May be rendered dentally fit in 7 days”.

When I first saw “Discharged: Dentally Unfit” I thought there was typo on the card, but later on I found more like it, and on a few occasions servicemen being discharged for refusing dental treatment. 

That phrase stuck in my head because I could not really fathom what was going on. I do remember that prior to us going up to the Border in December 1980 our whole infantry company was marched off to the dentist up the road in the military hospital, and those who had dodgy teeth had them treated before we flew out to South West Africa (now Namibia) .

This past week revealed another link in the chain when a recruiting poster for WW1 popped up on facebook. Emblazoned in a largish font at the bottom was the advisory “Bad teeth no bar”.

Jokes abounded about how you cannot have a bar if you have bad teeth or can only visit a bar if you have good teeth.

Each time I was called up for a camp we visited the military dentist in Potch too and he noted the condition of your teeth, the reason being that if you were a casualty identification may be possible through your dental records. There was method in that madness after all. I do not know whether this was also true way back 1914,  or if it was just a ploy to gain more cannon fodder for the generals to throw into badly planned and executed attacks. I do suspect that the military back then was more concerned about not having their soldiers all going on sick leave with dodgy teeth. Dental hygiene was quite poor back then, a cavity would not be given a temporary filling followed by an even more expensive permanent one. The dentist just grabbed his biggest set of pliers and let rip! 

Military dentists were not known for their compassion, and for that matter the same could be true of some “civilian dentists”. They were doing a job and they probably saw some horrible things during the course of their day, although a mouth of rotten teeth on a living soldier was much preferable to that of the corpses that were left after a bloody battle. I believe in earlier wars the teeth of dead soldiers became the source of many pairs of false teeth. There were people who picked through the corpses and extracted teeth which they then sold off to the dodgy false teeth creator. It was a perfectly respectable way to earn a living.

My current reading matter is all about Victor/Viktor Capesius, a Romanian who served at Auschwitz and who was put on trial for his part in the “selections” alongside “men” like Josef Mengele. Mention is made in the book of the inmates who were given a pair of pliers and sent to extract the gold filled teeth of the dead, and how Capesius allegedly stole of that ill gotten gold. Given how many people died in Auschwitz the amount of gold obtained from fillings was a large amount, and while most ended up in the coffers of the Third Reich, the unscrupulous nature of the perpetrators of the horrors of genocide in the camps certainly extracted their cut too.  (The Pharmacist of Auschwitz: The Untold Story, by Patricia Posner)

My curiosity is suitably satisfied for now, but you never know what else will pop up in the future. 

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 07/07/2017. Image of the military dentist was taken in Winchombe during the Wartime Weekend on the GWSR,and he most certainly was a decent fellow just doing his bit. 

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:57

Shot at Dawn

In April 2015 I visited the National Memorial Arboretum and one of the many Memorials I saw on that day was the “Shot At Dawn” Memorial. 

Shot at Dawn Memorial

I commented at the time:

“The subject is a difficult one to read up on, because of the controversy of so many of the hasty decisions made by those who endorsed the executions. It can be argued that in many cases the sentence delivered did not take account of the circumstances of each individual, and the age and maturity of so many of those who were executed.
It is true that there were executions for offenses that were not related to cowardice or “lack of moral fibre”, some men were executed for murder. However, the fairness of the court martial process is often questioned, and those high ranking officers who sat on these tribunals were often seen as being totally out of touch with the reality of the situation of soldiers on the ground. It could also be argued that in many armies, the benefit of any sort of hearing did not exist, and the men were shot outright, often on the field of battle.”

Each wooden post that has been driven into the ground represents one of those who had their lives taken from them by the court martial process. 

The statue is fronted by 6 similar pillars, representing the firing squad who had to do the deed. A target was pinned on the person to be shot, and supposedly none of the squad knew whether his bullet would end the life of the accused. However, if blanks were used they would easily know whether their rifle fired a blank or a live round.   

This past week I read a book entitled For the Sake of Example, by Anthony Babington, first published 1983. It is an oldish book, but it is the first one I have read that dealt with the issue of those who were “shot at dawn”. It made for very sad reading because many of those deaths were not necessary in the first place. The common thread I saw in the book was the phrase “setting an example”. I also read a lot between the lines, and there was evidence of very perfunctory “trials” (Field Court Martial), with a swift verdict and the case would be “shoved upstairs” for some higher up to agree with and so on until it reached the desk of Field Marshall Haig or whoever was the end of the chain.

Once they rubber stamped the verdict and passed it back downwards the sentence would then finally be read out to the person who had been found guilty and often he would be shot the next day. It is doubtful whether anybody of high rank gave those meagre findings more than a glance and probably muttered “setting an example” before passing the buck to the next person in the chain. Many of the cases I read about were the result of poor decisions made by the man who was about to be shot. No real account of domestic circumstances was taken, and neither was much attention paid to the mental health of the soldier apart from a brief lookover by the closest doctor.  Many of the men who lost their lives were suffering from what we call today “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (aka PTSD)” , and given the horrors of the typical First World War battlefield it is understandable why so many ended up with the symptoms of PTSD.

One comment was made quite often: “unfit to be a soldier” and it was used in negative way, irrespective of whether the soldier was a success in civilian street, or a good father or dutiful son. The career soldiers with their rubber stamps did not give a hoot. Would we be able to say the same thing about them if ever they ended up on civvy street? would we condemn them as being “unfit to be a civilian” and take them outside and shoot them?

It is an incredibly difficult decision to take a person’s life, although if you were used to sending off complete battalions to their death in nonsensical attacks surely one more wouldn’t make you loose any sleep. I get this feeling that the Tommy on the ground was really just a number, irrespective of whether he was a regular soldier, a conscript or even a volunteer. Let’s face it, many of those who flocked to the colours were under the impression it would all be over by Christmas and they got a rude awakening when it carried on until November 1918 instead. A large number of those who flocked to the colours were young, often under 20, as were some of those who had their lives brutally ended by a squad of men from their own side. The shooting of a soldier often propelled his dependants into poverty as they no longer had the income that was sent home by the soldier, and if my memory serves me correctly a least one solder was shot shortly after he got married, widowing his bride even before he got to know her properly.  

The First World War did bring about many changes to the military, and fortunately the practise of shooting somebody for taking a stroll down the road to visit a girlfriend or local tavern was not as prevalent in that war. It could be that many who had served in the first slaughter avoided the mistakes that were made back then. Political pressure was also used to change the way these situations were dealt with, although it was way too late for the 20,000 who were found guilty of offences carrying the death penalty. 3000 soldiers received the death penalty and 346 were carried out.

In 2006 the British Government agreed to posthumously pardon all those who were executed for military offences during the First World War, but that was too many years too late for the families of these victims of officialdom. The irony is that even though a pardon has been granted, the pardon “does not affect any conviction or sentence.”

*Update 09/08/2017*

While uploading images to Lives of the First World War,  I encountered a private memorial to Arthur James Irish who was “executed for desertion” on 21/09/1915, although the grave (and CWGC record) states he was killed in action in Loos, Belgium. He is buried in Sailly-Sur-La-Lys Canadian Cemetery

This is the first time I have encountered a grave connected to one of those who was executed by firing squad, and I will do some more reading about the case. It could be that the information is incorrect, or it may be a genuine case of mistaken identity. In any event it does not excuse those who rubber stamped these executions without looking into individual circumstances. 

Executed for Murder.

There are three interesting cases in South Africa that need mentioning, although none are from the Western Front during the First World War. 

The first being that of “Breaker Morant” and Peter Handcock.

Lieutenant Harry Morant was arrested and faced a court martial for “war crimes”. According to military prosecutors, Lt. Morant retaliated for the death in combat of his commanding officer with a series of revenge killings against both Boer POWs and many civilian residents of the Northern Transvaal.

He stood accused of the summary execution of Floris Visser, a wounded prisoner of war and the slaying of four Afrikaners and four Dutch schoolteachers who had been taken prisoner at the Elim Hospital. He  was found guilty by the court martial and sentenced to death.

Lts. Morant and Peter Handcock were then court-martialed for the murder of the Rev. Carl August Daniel Heese, a South African-born Minister of the Berlin Missionary Society.  Morant and Handcock were acquitted of the Heese murder, but their sentences for murdering Floris Visser and the eight victims at Elim Hospital were carried out by a firing squad  on the morning of  27 February 1902.  Morant’s last words were reportedly “Shoot straight, you bastards! Don’t make a mess of it!”

They are both buried in Church Street Cemetery in Pretoria.

The next incident is the case of a Veldkornet, Salomon Van As who was executed by firing squad on 23 June 1902, against the back wall of the jail in Heidelberg, having been found guilty of the murder of Captain Ronald Miers at Riversdraai 12 miles south of Heidelberg.

On 25 September 1901, Captain Miers approached a party of Boers under a white flag most likely with the intention to convince them to surrender. What exactly happened is not known, the British claim the Captain was shot in cold blood which made this a war crime, however Van As claimed he acted in self-defence. 

Today the bullet holes from that execution can still be seen on a stone that has been picked out in white paint on the back wall of the building. 

Two years after the war the British authorities apologised to his parents and offered compensation after admitting that false witnesses had been used against him during the case. He was buried in a shallow grave close to the old cemetery (Kloof Cemetery) but reburied on 13 October 1903.    

 

Executed for Rebellion.

Our next example is equally interesting because of the emotions that it raises.  Josef Johannes “Jopie” Fourie was executed for his part in the 1914 Rebellion in protest against the decision to invade German South West Africa as part of the international war effort against Germany. Fourie was an Active Citizens Force (ACF) officer in the Union Defence Force at the time and had not resigned his commission. As a result he was tried under court martial and was sentenced to death. This quirk also means he is eligible for commemoration as a casualty of war by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and his name has been put forward for consideration.

He is buried in Pretoria’s Church Street Cemetery. The same cemetery where Breaker Morant and Peter Handcock were buried. 

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 02/06/2017, updated 09/08/2017

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:58

Curse this war!

Its that time again… Wartime in the Cotswolds with the GWSR (Gloucester Warwickshire Steam Railway). The theme? The Battle of Britain. So grab your gas mask and tin hat and follow me….

Last year I attended a similar event and it was amazing and I was really hoping for the same on this day. The weather has been changeable this whole week, but there was the promise of sunshine for later in the day with no rain in sight. I headed out early in the morning to grab a bus to Cheltenham and another bus to Cheltenham Race Course station. On the way I spotted Captain Mainwaring on his way to the station too!

I just hope that Private Pike isn’t lurking in the bushes somewhere.

Although the Americans had set up camp outside the station and that can only mean silk stockings and chewing gum for the locals. 

ARP had set up their barricades too and were checking tickets and dishing out ID cards. Naturally they were looking out for Fifth Columnists too. 

Unfortunately our train was the class 117 diesel railcar  that I always seem to end up travelling on. http://www.gwsr.com/planning_your_visit/what_to_see_and_do/DMURailcar_1.html She is not my favourite rail vehicle. I would have preferred a steam engine, but this was wartime after all, we have to make do with what we have.

The train was full, and many of the passengers were dressed in period clothing or military uniforms, it never ceases to amaze me how the British tackle something like this with so much enthusiasm, and I would really like to thank them for paying homage to a bygone age with so much enthusiasm.

And then we were off….  Our destination: Gotherington

The view out of the window was Britain in Spring, it was really beautiful, especially the huge fields of Rapeseed.

Gotherington was like a military camp, and I expect will remain like that until tomorrow when the event finishes.

It is a very quirky place and one day I must really bail out and have a look around. 

The next stop on the line is Winchcombe, I had visited the town in May last year and I was considering doing it again today, although it really depended on train timings and my own energy levels.  At Winchcombe the train to Toddington stops and waits for the train from Toddington. It is single line working between stations and a token system is used to ensure that accidents don’t happen.

It too had been taken over by the military who were cleaning their rifles and doing what soldiers have done since the days of yore.

Curse this war! how much longer must it go on?

As an aside, there was even a military dentist in his own private rolling surgery, just ready to declare you dentally fit in 7 days!

And then we heard a whistle in the distance and the oncoming train appeared around the bend.

The loco in charge was 4270, a  “42xx” class tank locomotive. She was running bunker first to Cheltenham Race Course, and would carry on with her journey once we had departed. 

The next stop was Toddington, which is really the current endpoint of the GWSR, although they do run trains to Laverton halt further up the line, and in a few years time there will be another station on the line as they extend the rail network closer to the mainline all the time.   Toddington is also where the loco shed is and the majority of displays were being held. There were a few that I had my eye on too..

As usual there was a mixed bag of cars, military vehicles, squaddies, GI’s, airmen, sailors and all manner of uniform on display, along with the usual bag of stalls selling militaria or hobby-est items. There was even a tank just in case there was an invasion.

I had seen her last year at the Welland Steam and County Fair, and just in case I need a reminder, she is a M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer.

The jaw dropper however was the reproduction Spitfire that was on display. I am struggling to find a definitive identification of the aircraft, but it appears as if she is based on the aircraft that Johnnie Johnson flew (MKIX EN398). More information on the “Spitfire Experience” may be found on their website. 

And yes, the engine did run while I was there and it was awesome. Unfortunately it did not run at full power, but it was really something to experience.

Meanwhile, back at ground level, I strolled down to the workshops to see whether there was anything there that interested me. Fortunately it was not a wasted trip because there were a number of diesels in the yard.

GWSR has a number of heritage diesels and they are quite handsome beasties, although against a steam engine they are reasonably insignificant.

Class 47376 (D1895), a Brush Type 4.

Class 37 no: 37215

Class 26043 (D5343)

Class 45/1 45149 (D135)

At the Toddington Narrow Gauge Railway they too had a train at work, although I did not go for a ride this time around. They were using “Tourska” , a 1957 Chrzanow build with works number 3512.

There was still quite a lot to see so I did the rounds once again, hoping to find a few warships for my collection, but there were lots of distractions.

It was really time to head towards Winchcombe, the train at the platform was headed by the 1950 built 7820 Dinmore Manor, a Manor class light mixed traffic locomotive.

We were supposed to leave at 11.30, but somewhere along the line the timings of the trains went haywire and we sat for an additional 20 minutes. I know there is a war on but….  

Winchcombe was crowded, and our altered timing meant that we had to wait for the train from Cheltenham Spa to arrive before we could leave. 

Fortunately ENSA was at hand to provide some wartime melodies, but I think seeing Laurel and Hardy really made my day.

And then I got suspicious because I spotted Oliver Hardy on the cellphone!  It was another fine mess he got Stanley into.

I had decided to not continue into Winchcombe because the messed up times just didn’t fit in with my plans. Remember, Cheltenham Race Course is not the end of the line for me. I had to get back into Cheltenham, catch a bus to Tewkesbury and then hoof it to where I lived. It was a long stretch ahead of me and I was tired.

Then the air raid siren went off……

and once again I could not help think of what it was like living in wartime Britain. The ever present threat of aerial bombing, rationing of food, the long lists of casualties, propaganda, soldiers, aircraft overhead, overzealous ARP members, children being evacuated, family that never returned home. This was the reality between 1939 and 1945, this small experience that I had was nothing like the real thing, and I am fortunate that I did not experience it. When I see the people dressed in their period uniforms and glad rags I cannot help but think that these were the sort of people that took it on the chin and gave it back 100 times more. I suspect the British enjoy these re-enactment events because they are reminded of what their parents and families went through in those dark hours of war. It is their way of saying: “We have not forgotten, and never will.”

And as the Home Guard peddled along the platform on his way to the NAFI, I felt a tinge of pride because I understood what Churchill meant when he said….

“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and if, which I do not for a moment believe, this island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”

And then the train departed for Cheltenham Race Course with me on it.

The War was over, the Battle of Britain won. 

The event was great, although last years was definitely better, there was much more to see and experience than there was this time around. The delayed trains were an irritation because you do not want to be stuck in a place like Winchcombe of Toddington with no way of getting home. And of course my own stamina is not as good as it used to be. I tire very easily nowadays and that’s not a good thing at all. Still, sign me up for next year if I am still around. Now where did I leave my tin hat?  

© DRW 2017-2018 Created 22/04/2017

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:48
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