musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Category: World War 1

Return to West Park

My very first war grave photography for the South African War Graves Project happened in 2005 according to the file information that I got from the images that I took. 

It is hard to believe that so many years later I would be standing in front of the CWGC Plot in West Park Cemetery ready to do it all again. 

I was never really happy with my original images, my camera back then was not the world greatest, and to be frank I messed the first row up badly and ended up redoing it at least twice. I now have over 10000 war graves to my name and am probably much better at taking war grave images now.

The layout of the plot has not changed and my map from back then is still relevant today.

The major difference was that I was going to photograph the whole plot in a morning instead of over a few days. 

L/Cpl Lucas is grave number one in the plot.

And once the first image is taken it is really a continuous process that is only interrupted when a shrub gets in your way.

The plot is looking very beautiful, the grass is cut and the beds are planted and tended, and that is very different from when I was first here in 2005. Back then the grass was dry as it was winter, whereas it is now April and heading into Autumn in South Africa. Make no mistake, it was a hot day! In fact the weather on this day was very similar to that predicted for the rest of the week, although by Friday I will hopefully be back in the UK.

There is something about the symmetry of this plot that I find fascinating,  

There is also a cremation memorial behind the Cross of Sacrifice and it commemorates those who were cremated.

And behind the plot is a small SADF/SANDF plot where a number of soldiers are buried. You can see the memorial to the right of the big tree. There are quite a few Border War casualties that are buried elsewhere in the cemetery, and I spent many hours over the years looking for them. 

You can see the original graves as well as the newer additions to the plot of graves of members of the SANDF. Once the graves were photographed I moved across to the Police Plot which is a bit deeper into the cemetery. Sadly there have been a few new additions to the plot, and that is never a good thing, especially when a the policeman is killed in the line of duty.

However, before I photographed the war graves, I had stopped at the “Heroes Acre” area of the cemetery to see if there had been any changes, and of course I was curious to see the grave of Ahmed Kathrada and Joe Mafela. They had been buried 3 days prior to this so the odds of a headstone were small.

Admittedly, many of the names on those headstones are not known to me, but some are, and a number of them touch a chord. None more so than Nkosi Johnson. At the time of his death, he was the longest-surviving HIV-positive born child, and the furor that was created when he tried to attend school really opened many eyes in South Africa.

Right opposite that area is the Westdene Bus Disaster Memorial and graves. In 2012 I had photographed them all and was saddened to see how they had been vandalised. It was the anniversary on 27 March and yet there is still a very raw wound around the disaster. I was able to get new images and shall process them and pass them onwards to eggsa for updating. 

The last bit of graving that I did in West Park was to re-photograph some of the graves in the EC section (English Church). It was really a case of having better quality images because my early images were not as good as they are today. Does a new camera make a difference? certainly, and of course the right lighting does help too. Unfortunately I now struggle with getting down to take the image, actually, I struggle to stand up. 

It was time to go home and I bid the cemetery goodbye and drove out the gate. I have 800 images to process, and they will show the difference between 2005 and 2017, assuming that there is one. Will I return one day? if I am in the country and I have transportation I probably will. It is important to monitor the condition of the graves, although CWGC does tend the graves under their care, and City Parks does look after this large space. And while the cemetery does have its moments it is not a great one like Braamfontein and Brixton where the weight of ages is heavy. In the almost 3 years I have been away quite a few open spaces have been filled, and technically the map that I drew many years ago has changed quite a lot since I started it. 

Maybe one day I shall complete it, but not today. 

© DRW 2017. Created 02/04/2017

Updated: 06/04/2017 — 06:21

Return to Worcester

On 13 March I returned to Worcester as I had some free time. It was a spur of the moment thing though because the weather was wonderful and Spring is in the air. Unfortunately the trains were not. Somewhere something had broken and Ashchurch had one at the platform and one in the distance and none of ours in sight.

The train was delayed by 20 minutes and in an effort to make up the schedule was only going to Worcester Shrub Hill Station.  It is also a larger station than Foregate, but seems to take very little traffic compared to Foregate. Last time I was in Worcester I spotted the semaphores again and the set at Shrub Hill is much larger than the one I had seen previously

Here you can see the split in the rails (Shrub Hill sits on the vertical leg of the T junction, with Foregate on the line to the left and Birmingham to the right). I asked a conductor about them and he said that they are still in use and they do not know when they will be replaced. There is signal box located at the south end of platform 1, and two signal boxes at Henwick (west of Foregate Street), and Tunnel Junction to the north of Shrub Hill. 

Bailing out at Shrub Hill messed with my plans because I had planned to head off to St John’s Cemetery in Henwick, and then return via the cathedral. Now it made sense to go to the cathedral first, take my pics and then go to the cemetery. I could see the cathedral from the station so really just had to head in the general direction. 

Actually I am glad things did work out like that because I saw more of Worcester as I wobbled along. 

Presumably this was the local Great Western Hotel associated with the station. The station building is quite impressive and was designed by Edward Wilson and built in 1865. It is a Georgian-style building mainly of engineering brick with stone facings, but situated where it is you cannot get a decent image of it from the parking area beneath it.  

To the right of the hotel was what seems to be an “Industrial Park”, what it was before I do not know, but it is large and very impressive. 

It is really a large warehouse type structure, and at the far end is one of those wonderful clock towers that seem to pop up in the strangest places.

Then I crossed over what I suspect is the Worcester and Birmingham Canal that eventually comes out at a set of locks into the Severn River. If you follow the Severn there is a good chance you may end up in Tewkesbury.

Just look at that sky! I had not brought my parka with today and eventually had to remove my hoodie because I was getting decidedly overheated. 

I then threaded my way through the maze of streets towards my end destination.

Finally ending up at the Guildhall. 

And if you know where to look you will spot Cromwell above the door, with his ears nailed to the wall (theoretically).

While Edward Elgar looked towards the traffic and probably lamented the lack of Pomp and Circumstance.

At this point I went to the cathedral to photograph the “Woodbine Willie” plaque and window, and those will be covered in my “Connections: Woodbine Willie” post. Suffice to say I did take some new cathedral images and you can view my original Cathedral post on its own page.

After finishing the cathedral I then headed to the right of the image above into what is known as Deansway Street, passing the Ducal Palace 

Until I detoured to the remains of the Medieval Church of St Andrews. 

The structure is also known as “Glover’s Needle”. The plaque inside gives more information, unfortunately it is affixed to the far wall of the spire and not readable from the locked gate. Thank goodness for optical zoom. Click on the image to read the plaque. 

It is a very pretty spot and it overlooks the river close to the bridge. It must have been a fine looking church and today is a very easily recognisable landmark in the city. 

This is the road bridge over the Severn, while the railway bridge and viaduct is in the image below.

Once across the bridge I entered into Cripplegate Park.

And then through the park and onwards to my destination: St John’s Cemetery in Henwick. 

As far as cemeteries go, this one is reasonably uninteresting, there are 33 CWGC graves in the cemetery and I would photograph those that I saw, my final tally being 29. My real aim was to photograph this grave.

Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, also known as “Woodbine Willie” would gain fame through his work on the Western Front during the First World War, and his devotion to the poor. He was an orator and a poet who drew crowds to hear him speak. He was also the vicar of St. Paul’s in Worcester (next on my bucket list).

This grave really closes a chapter for me, one that started in London in 2016, and which led me here in 2017. Read about the strange chain of events at “Connections: Woodbine Willie”

Then it was time to head back. I had 2 choices. I could increase speed and make the 13H03 train, or dawdle and make the 15H06 train. Given how wonky the trains were the former seemed like a better idea and I rang down for full ahead. 

Back along the path I had come, passing over the railway line with it’s signal cabin that was mentioned above,

Past St John’s Church,

Through Cripplegate Park with its really nice ornate non functional fountain,

Over the bridge, pausing to take a photograph,

Up Broad Street and past All Saint’s Worcester,

along Foregate Street, pausing to take an image of Lloyd’s Bank and the former church alongside. Now called “Slug and Lettuce”  it was the former St Nicholas Church that dated from the 18th Century. It is a Grade II listed building but is no longer an active church.

I snuck a peek inside and it was stunning. 

Leaving slugs and their lettuce I finally arrived at  the station with 6 minutes to spare.

That was not my train though, mine was the next one. And, while it left on time it tarried before Shrub Hill and did not rush to Ashchurch either. 

Worcester was in the bag, although there are enough reasons to return one day, It wont be anytime soon though because I have an even bigger trip ahead of me, but that is another story for another day. 

© DRW 2017. Created 13/03/2017. 

Updated: 06/04/2017 — 06:21

Connections: Woodbine Willie

Many years ago there was a programme on local TV called “Connections” and it dealt with how things connect to form a link between one action and a result. It was fascinating watching it and I have often tried to link things like that in my own life. Yesterday I found a perfect example. The connection between a ship and an Anglican priest and poet.

It starts off like this:

In March 1986 I went to see the QE2 in Durban for the first time.

I did not see her again until 1991. At that time there was a small ship called Avalon in Durban harbour. Formerly the RMS St Helena, she was now seeking a new career doing cruises to the Indian Ocean Islands.

We managed to wangle a short trip across Durban Harbour on board her as she vacated the berth where QE2 would be the next day.  

Both QE2 and the former St Helena were Falklands veterans. In 1992 I sailed on the Canberra, also a Falklands veteran, and when we arrived in Cape Town the new RMS St Helena was alongside and I photographed her from the Canberra.

I mentally set a goal to see whether it was possible to get a trip on board the St Helena, and I wrote away for a brochure. As luck would have it there was a voyage to Tristan da Cunha coming up in 1993 and I was fortunate enough to book a cruise on this mini mailship

Many years passed, and the RMS St Helena ploughed her lonely furrow between Cape Town and St Helena while they constructed an airport on the island. Once it was completed the announcement was made of the St Helena’s last voyage in June 2016. Of interest to me was her visit to the Pool of London, where she would berth alongside HMS Belfast. I decided to head down to London and watch her arrive and say my goodbye to her.

Upon arrival in London I went to see the RMS arrive on the 7th of June, and it was quite an emotional moment for me. 

On the 8th I revisited Kensal Green Cemetery, and afterwards headed into London once again to see the ship. I first visited St Pauls Cathedral, before heading towards the Thames. In the maze of streets I somehow ended up in Lombard Street, and saw one of the many churches in London, it was now the home of the London Spirituality Centre, or, as it was formerly known: St Edmund, King and Martyr.

During my visit the person manning the front desk showed me a number of wall memorials in the church, and she was very proud of a memorial to somebody called “Woodbine Willie”.

 

I had to admit that I had never heard of him before, but the nickname stuck in my mind because Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy was way too much for me to remember at once. Apparently he was the Rector of this particular church at one time. He got his nickname for his habit of handing out cigarettes to troops (Woodbines being a favoured brand).

I continued my walk down to the Thames to say my goodbyes to the RMS and the next day I returned to Tewkesbury to post my blog and recover from my short but exhausting London jaunt. 

Yesterday, I visited Worcester Cathedral, and after seeing the cathedral walked through Worcester, and while I was walking I discovered a number of small bronze statues in the area. I did not pay too much attention to them, just read the names and took the pic. At the one statue I did a double take because the one statue was of Woodbine Willie! 

I was even more amazed to discover that there is a memorial to him in Worcester Cathedral, 

as well as an engraved pane on the Window of the Millennium.

“Woodbine Willie takes the light of Christ to the Troops”

On the 13th of March I returned to Worcester to close the chapter a bit more, walking to St John’s Cemetery where I photographed his grave.

As strange as it seems, this sequence really revolves around how things connected to each other, from the QE2 in 1986 to a forgotten and reluctant war hero in 2017. The key to it is really the RMS St Helena, without seeing Avalon the chances are I would not have recognised the name on the statue. Had I taken a different route in London I would not have seen the church, had I not stopped to look at a statute I would not have read that it was Woodbine Willie. Come to think of it, it is all really the fault of the QE2.

 

There is a stained glass window dedicated to him in St Paul’s Church in Worcester, that will be the last step of this journey. 

Connections, they are all around us if we know how to tie them together.

© DRW 2017. Created 21/02/2017, updated 13/03/2017 

Updated: 06/04/2017 — 06:23

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

3 Ships Month

It was brought to my attention that apart from the HMT Mendi and the SAS President Kruger there is one more naval loss that really made February a month of disasters at sea. 

HMSAS Southern Floe was one of the “little ships” that worked behind the scenes during both wars, often as minesweepers, convoy escorts, anti-submarine or any other number of crucial jobs that  did not require a specialist vessel  or a glamorous warship. In my meanderings I have encountered the memorial to HMSAS Parktown, and to be frank I had never really considered HMSAS Southern Floe until recently.

The ship was a  Southern Class whaler, one of four ships taken over by the Navy from Southern Whaling & Sealing Co. Ltd., Durban. The four ships were renamed  HMSAS Southern Maid, HMSAS Southern Sea, HMSAS Southern Isles and HMSAS Southern Floe. 

HMSAS Southern Maid. (SA Museum of Military History)

Each was approximately 344 tons and were converted for anti-submarine operations and were  armed with a 3 lb gun for’ard as well 20mm canon and machine-guns.  The four little ships, with their complement of 20-25 men,  “went up north” in December 1940. In January 1941, Southern Floe and her sister ship Southern Sea arrived at Tobruk to take over patrol duties along the mine free swept channels and to escort any ships through them.

On 11 February 1941, HMSAS Southern Sea arrived at the rendezvous two miles east of Tobruk,  but there was no sign of Southern Floe; after all it was common for ships to be delayed by weather or mechanical difficulties or even enemy action. However, a passing destroyer notified the vessel that they had picked up a stoker from the vessel, clinging to some wreckage. The stoker, CJ Jones RNVR, was the sole survivor of the ship, and he explained that there had been a heavy explosion on board and he had barely escaped with his life. There had been other survivors but they had not been picked up and Stoker Jones had spent 14 hours in the water. Although never confirmed it is assumed that the vessel had struck a mine.  

Some months after her loss the ship’s badge was picked up in the desert, possibly by a German or Italian soldier and had been kept as a memento. The badge was donated to the South African Naval Museum in Simon’s Town.

After the war  Stoker Jones placed a memorial notice in the Cape Town newspapers. He continued to do this for many years until he also passed away 

Roll of Honour. HMSAS Southern Floe 

 ANDERS, John, Steward, 69637 (SANF), MPK
 BOWER, Robert, Stoker 1c, 69935 (SANF), MPK
 BRAND, Leslie A, Able Seaman, 69828 (SANF), MPK
 CAULFIELD, Patrick, Steward, 69802 (SANF), MPK
 CHANDLER, Charles R D, Cook (S), 69613 (SANF), MPK
 CHENOWETH, Richard, Stoker 1c, 67420 (SANF), MPK
 FAIRLEY, Alexander E, Sub Lieutenant SANF,  MPK
 FRIEDLANDER, Cecil A, Able Seaman, 114703 (SANF), MPK
 GARDINER, Elliott, Able Seaman, 67260 (SANF), MPK
 GREENACRE, John H, Leading Seaman, 69677 (SANF), MPK
 HEASMAN, Gratwicke E E, Engine Room Artificer 4c, 69784 (SANF), MPK
 HOGG, Roy S, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK
 INNES, Ian Mck, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK
 MARSH, Reginald H Y, Able Seaman, 69911 (SANF), MPK
 MITCHELL, William N, Able Seaman, 69787 (SANF), MPK
 NEL, Eloff R, Able Seaman, 69635 (SANF), MPK
 NICHOLSON, Douglas O, Able Seaman, 66833 (SANF), MPK
 PUGH, John R, Able Seaman, 66877 (SANF), MPK
 RYALL, David R, Able Seaman, 69999 (SANF), MPK
 SHIMMIN, William, Leading Stoker, 69661 (SANF), MPK
 SIENI, Joseph F, Able Seaman, 69788 (SANF), MPK
 SNELL, Harold W, Leading Telegraphist, 69827 (SANF), MPK
 STANLEY, Gordon J, Able Seaman, 66963 (SANF), MPK
 WALTON, Dudley N, Sub Lieutenant, SANF, MPK

Sources:

http://www.saspresidentkruger.com/hmsas-southern-floe/

http://www.naval-history.net/xDKCas2540-SANF.htm

© DRW 2017. Created 18/02/2017

Updated: 11/04/2017 — 18:44

Blundering around Bushley

The winter weather was decidely pleasant when I set out for the village of Bushley in Warwickshire, I had one CWGC grave to photograph so it was worth the walk to get there.  However, this was really a test to see how well I could cope with an extended walk like this. Unfortunately I have been suffering with unspecific hip and back pain and that has really curtailed my meanderings in the countryside. The church of St Peter is just over 3km away via the Mythe Bridge, which is not really far until you factor in the return walk and the gallivanting I had planned for my return trip. 

The route encompasses the magnificent Mythe Bridge that I had photographed last year, 

crossing the River Severn

and then following the signs until you reach the village which is in Warwickshire as opposed to Gloucestershire.

The church is easy to find too, it is the highest point there.

The church of St Peter was rebuilt in 1843 by Canon Dowdeswell and consists of chancel, north and south transepts, nave and west tower and spire, it is a Grade II listed building and was designed by Dr Edward Blore & Sir Gilbert Scott.

The graveyard is in a reasonable condition and I spotted a number of 1700’s graves in it, which means that there was a church here for many years before the current building was erected.

My CWGC grave was easy to find, and I also found one private memorial.

The War Memorial is affixed to the outside wall of the church and covers both world wars.

I am always curious as to what these parish churches look like inside, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the church was unlocked.

The building inside is much smaller than it looks from the outside, but it is a very beautiful church on the inside.

There are a number of wall memorials to members of the Dowdeswell family and a few floor memorials but I could not get a clear image of those.

 The Font may date from the late 12th century, while the organ was erected in 1908.

Time was trickling away and I needed to start making tracks out of here, I paused at the Nativity scene in front of the pulpit. Christmas was upon us, and it is a very special time in any church.

I returned to the churchyard and took more photographs.  

As can be seen the churchyard is higher than the surrounding pavement, which ties into the fact that there are more people buried here than reflect in the 177 memorials in the churchyard with a total of 352 names.

The registers for the church go back to 1538, and the oldest date on a memorial is 1633.

The churchyard does have an extension next to it, although that is nowhere near full.

Then it was time to head back to the Mythe Bridge for my next bit of exploration.

On the right hand side of this image is the sealed off entrance to the tunnel that runs underneath this road. 

It was part of the former Upton-upon-Severn to Tewkesbury line and I had been looking for the other end of the tunnel half heartedly for some time. I now had a better idea of where it was, I just had to find it. There is a footpath that runs along the bank of the Severn and by the looks of it I would be able to reach the general area without doing too much bundu-bashing.

The footpath was muddy and there was not much to see in the bush, hopefully at some point I would at least find a clue as to where the tunnel entrance was. Eventually I reached a crossroad with gates in 3 directions, the bush had thinned a bit but was still quite thick, but after checking the gps I was probably close to where I suspected the tunnel was. I walked around the one gate and voila… there it was.

It was bricked up and the entrance door had no visible hinges or lock so was probably fastened from the inside.

Sadly the local graffiti artists had expounded on his occupation, but I was kind of cheesed off that they had found this spot before I had, To see inside that tunnel I would need a long ladder and that would not fit in my slingbag.

There was an interesting little brick hut next to the tunnel with a pipe leading to the roof, but I have no way of knowing what it was in aid of, although I suspect it may have had something to do with signalling.

Then it was time to leave this remnant of the railways and head off towards town and lunch. I had achieved what I had set out to do and that was great. I could now plot that railway almost to Ashchurch Station, I just had to find one more illusive item. 

I crossed to the bank of the Avon and took a quick pic of the King John’s Bridge which was commissioned by King John in the late 12th century.

and a strange dredger called Canopus. 

and finally a gap in the former railway embankment that leads to the tunnel. 

and then home was in sight. 

It had been a long walk, and I am tired and sore. I am afraid I will have to stop taking these extended walks because recovering from them is long. Fortunately tomorrow is a bank holiday so I can take it easy, but I may just head out to….

DRW 2016-2017. Created 26/12/2016

Updated: 11/04/2017 — 19:17

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

Merchant Navy Day 3 September 2016

When I was young I wanted to go to sea in the Merchant Navy, however. South Africa did not have much of a merchant navy or otherwise to go to sea with so I never did. I regret that even so many years down the line. However, given my poor eyesight and lousy maths the odds are I would not have been able to join up anyway, albeit it in the deck department. As a result the I have always considered the Merchant Navy to be a very special breed of people: “They that go down to the sea in ships….” 

Because of the peculiarity of living in South Africa I really relate more to the British Merchant Navy than the South African one, and as a result this is partly why I am posting this today on Merchant Navy Day, and flying “the Red Duster” 

The Merchant Navy suffered appalling losses during both World Wars, often going to sea in coffin ships which could only plod along at the slowest speed conceivable; floating targets for an enemy strike and crewed by men who returned back to their ships time and time again, in a service that was largely forgotten by the civilian population and that was vitally important to the survival of Britain and her allies.

The thousands of casualties are commemorated at Tower Hill Merchant Navy Memorial in London, and the statistics for the casualties are frightening. By the end of World War One, 3,305 merchant ships had been lost with a total of 17,000 lives. In the Second World War, reached a peak in 1942. In all, 4,786 merchant ships were lost during the war with a total of 32,000 lives. More than one quarter of this total were lost in home waters.   

Seafaring today is nothing like that of the past, crews are smaller, ships are larger and more efficient (although do not look as good),  the coffin ship owners and their accountants still exist though, squeezing every drop of sweat from those manning ships that often fly flags of convenience and with a mixed crew that often has no common language. The one thing about a ship is that once it is out of sight of land it is really a world of it’s own, and like those who sailed on voyages during wartime there is one common enemy that all seafarers face, that can snuff out their small ship with impunity and leave no trace behind. The sea is a fickle medium, it can kill and be kind, but is always to be respected. 

Merchant Navy
A war, a convoy, a letter through the door,
A wife that is a wife no more
Her children are called away from school
To be broken the news so terribly cruel
“Your father has sailed to a distant land
And can not be reached by human hand
No more shall we meet him upon the quay
He can not come back to you or to me”
Some days later, when tears have passed
Her children asleep and quiet at last
She sits down to wish of one more goodbye
And to ponder and puzzle and ask merely why?
The warships guard the convoys tight,
Prepared to stand, prepared to fight.
But they are not who the foe will attack.
They hunt the ones that cannot fight back.
“My husband has sailed to a distant land,
Following orders of higher command,
He sails his ship on a distant sea
Never again to dock on an Australian quay”
Who will remember the warships and crew?
The soldiers in trenches, the men who flew?
All will remember the forces of men,
Who left, never to return again.
But who will remember the brave men of sea
Whose ships were unarmed and could only flee?
Who shouldered the burden of feeding their land,
In ships with conditions fit for the damned
I will remember, with poppy and voice
To tell of the merchant ships and of their choice.
The tankers, the trawlers, the fishing boats too
I remember their sacrifice and say Thank You
Kerry Dainty (aged 17)

We have a large debt to pay to the Merchant Navy of the two world wars, and this day is theirs alone.

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 03/09/2016. The poem “Merchant Navy” was found on the Forces Poetry and Stories Forum. I am currently attempting to contact the poet to obtain her permisison to publsih this work.  It is also worth going to http://www.merchant-navy.net/forum/poetry-and-ballads/4449-merchant-navy.html

Updated: 14/12/2016 — 20:03

Photo Essay: The Sunday Blommie

As Winter changed to Spring and then to Summer I cannot help but watch the transformation of the area around me. The large field I go past on the cycle track is a mass of vegetation. The Brook is running low and the vegetation is becoming more thicker as time passes.

One of the oddities I have been watching are two plant species that I had never seen before. The first is associated with Scotland.

I had not noticed that there were Thistles on my route until they started to flower, and they are really very pretty. The dominant spikey plant I had been seeing is known as a Teasle and I was eager to see what they looked like when they flowered, 

Their bushes are over a metre high, with multiple heads that are huge. I was not sure what they would look like when they flowered though, I suspected it would by similar to the thistle; a head of purple flowers. I was wrong, and they turned out to be very different to what I expected.

I expect during this week all the remaining Teasles will start exploding in colour, and hopefully they will not get knocked down by rampaging children with too much time on their hands. 

On my way to the supermarket the other morning I nearly fell off my bike when I saw this huge member of the thistle family.

Known as a “Cardoon” it is also known as an the artichoke thistle. There were only the two flowers in bloom when I first saw it.

I have been keeping an eye on it each time I was in the area  and it is now in the closing stages of blooming by the looks of it, and last night (12/08) I shot this image

The whole area has become an eruption of colour as the seasons have changed, and while I am generally not a flower lover I have been taking photographs of some of the gardens and displays in the town. Frankly I have been very impressed. 

Flowers by the boat load

Flowers by the boat load

I usually post my “Sunday Blommie” pics to my friend in South Africa for her to admire. and what strikes me is I do not recall seeing such floral displays in South Africa because the houses  all tend to have these giant walls with electrified fences on them. This is however just a small selection of what I see as the seasons have changed. And appropriately I have also seen the flower the epitomises the many World War One posts I have been making lately:

The red of the poppy and the purple of the thistle. It tells us a lot about those many brave men who lost their lives fighting with the South African Scottish Regiments 100 years ago.

Postscript:

It is now almost the end of September, Autumn is raging, and the teasles? their time is over until next year.

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 24/07/2016

Updated: 14/12/2016 — 20:08
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