Category: World War 2

Merchant Navy Day

The 3rd of September is commemorated as Merchant Navy Day in the UK, and as such we commemorate the men and women of the Merchant Navy who lost their lives in the service of their country. Their contribution to the war effort is often forgotten but it was a vital one. Sadly the records that are held barely identify them and we often know very little about their service and their lives.  The main Merchant Navy Memorial is the Tower Hill Memorial in London and it commemorates more than 35,800 casualties from both World Wars who have no known grave. 

Tower Hill Memorial, London

That is why it is very important that on this day we fly the Red Duster in their honour.

The images below are all taken at the National Memorial Arboretum.

Hospital Ships Memorial

SS City of Benares Plaque

Arctic Convoys Memorial

The Liverpool Merchant Navy Memorial

DRW © 2019. Created 02/09/2019

 

Updated: 10/09/2019 — 08:37

Visiting Winston

While doing the navigation for Oxford I realised that it was not too difficult to visit the grave of Sir Winston Churchill in Bladon. He is buried in the churchyard of the Parish Church of St Martin in Bladon (Google Earth co-ordinates 51.830287°, -1.349588°) and the closest station to the church is Hanborough which co-incidentally is the stop before Oxford. By my estimates it was about a 1,8 km walk and I could do a round trip to the grave in 2 hours. The problem was: the trains to Oxford and back only run one per hour and they are typically 25 minutes apart. I could bail at Hanborough, do my graving and head back to Evesham, or I could continue onwards to Oxford depending in the time. It was something that I would only be able to decide when I was there.

I decided to do the trip on the 24th and it was a stinker of a day, with temps of 29 degrees and upwards. I caught my usual train and it was reasonably full, and got even worse when we arrived at Hanborough at 10.11.

Hanborough Station

I was hoping that there would be a taxi at the station but I was out of luck and I would have to hoof it. Fortunately there is a pavement so I did not need to do any bundu bashing.

Roughly at the midpoint the road crosses the River Evenlode and runs parallel with the River Glyme too although you cannot see the latter.  The Evenlode was originally called the Bladene and the village is named after it, although it appears in the Domesday Book as Blade.

River Evenlode

And then I started to approach houses, and in the distance the spire of the church showed me the way.

The church is on a rise with a steep path leading from the road. A lychgate is at the entrance to the church grounds.

and there she is. The Parish Church of St Martin, Bladon.

The Churchill family plot is on the other side of the church and there are quite a few members of the family buried in the plot (you can actually see it on Google Earth).

Sir Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace in 1874. Grandson of the 7th Duke, he was also a close friend of the 9th Duke and Duchess. Winston spent a considerable amount of time at the Palace throughout his life and proposed to his wife Clementine in the Temple of Diana at the palace. Both are buried in the family plot below.

And the grave of Sir Winston Churchill. 

Unfortunately there were other people at the plot and I wondered around waiting for them to leave. The churchyard is quite large but legibility of the graves is very poor. I did not really hunt down any military graves, but just walked through the burial area before returning to the plot which was still not cleared of people.  

I was thinking on the train about how I would feel about seeing this grave, I am somewhat of a fan of Sir Winston for his actions during the Blitz, but am no fan of his disastrous Gallipoli campaign  in the First World War. He was also not very popular with Afrikaners for his participation and capture in the Anglo Boer War, but then they hate anything English anyway. As it turns out I did not spend time at the grave as time was my real deciding factor. The church was open for visitors and I strolled inside, only to be confronted by the same people. The organist was also busy playing although he did seem to hit a few wrong notes.

The present building appears to have been considered around 1802 when the Bishop of Oxford was petitioned by the villagers of Bladon to grant them a new church as the old one was dilapidated and falling down. The new church was opened in 1804 and the building materials were paid for by the fourth Duke of Marlborough. It was extensively reconstructed in 1891 and the lychgate was built in 1893.

There is a small display about the burial and life of Sir Winston, and it appears as if he had a very strong connection to the church. A stained glass window commemorates the 50th anniversary of his death and it was unveiled by the Duchess of Cornwall on 09 June 2015

And then it was time to leave as I needed to plan my return to the station and I still had at least a 25 minute walk ahead of me. 

In earlier year the village of Bladon was involved in glovemaking and the quarrying of stone, much of which was used in the construction of the buildings in Oxford, and nearby Blenheim Palace, the principal residence of the Dukes of Marlborough. Bladon does appear in the Domesday Book too.

  • Hundred: Wootton
  • County: Oxfordshire
  • Total population: 28 households (quite large).
  • Total tax assessed: 5 geld units (quite large)
  • Taxable units: Taxable value 5 geld units. Payments of 0.5 miscellaneous.
  • Value: Value to lord in 1066 £6. Value to lord in 1086 £6.
  • Households: 8 villagers. 18 smallholders. 2 slaves.
  • Ploughland: 7 ploughlands (land for). 2 lord’s plough teams. 3 men’s plough teams.
  • Other resources: Meadow 14 acres. Woodland 1 * 0.5 leagues. 2 mills, value 0.7.
  • Lord in 1086: Adam (son of Hubert).
  • Tenant-in-chief in 1086: Bishop Odo of Bayeux.

(Domesday Book images are available under the CC-BY-SA licence, and are credited to Professor John Palmer and George Slater )

I discovered the village War Memorial just past the church and quickly grabbed some pics of it while I could. 

and then a quick look to the left…

and a turn to the right and I was on my way again. 

I had 3 choices ahead of me. It was unlikely that I would make the 11:11 train to Oxford, but would be in time for the 11.33 train back to Evesham. I could also catch the 12.33 train back to Evesham and use the spare hour to look over the Oxford Bus Museum that was next to the station. (assuming it was open). However, as things turned out I arrived at the station at the same time as the 11.11 train so I decided to grab it and continue onwards to Oxford where we will continue our exploration of that great city. 

DRW © 2019. Created 23/08/2019. Domesday Book images are available under the CC-BY-SA licence, and are credited to Professor John Palmer and George Slater

Updated: 26/08/2019 — 06:57

Remembering D-Day, 75 years ago

Today, 75 years ago the Allied Forces landed on the coast of Normandy, the first step in the removal of the Axis powers from continental Europe. I was sitting thinking this morning about the courage of those who stepped into the unknown when the ramps of the landing craft dropped, leaving the path open onto the beach. That scale of  invasion had never been attempted before, and the book had to be written on how to do it long before the actual event.

The same level of courage was shown by the 23400 airborne troops who boarded the gliders and their tugs to cross the channel and get in harms way. In fact everybody had a role to play and it was through all their efforts that so many saw the 7th of June. There were 760 gliders and 1370 transport aircraft in use, protected by 3950 fighters. In total  129710 men were involved, supported by 1550 tanks and 12500 other vehicles.  It is not my place to describe the events on the beaches on that day, in fact the only people who could really describe it are the ever dwindling band of men who were there 75 years ago.

D-Day is commemorated in many places in the UK, and this week has seen a number of services and gatherings, and a new memorial was unveiled in France although why it has taken 75 years to happen is beyond me. Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron attended the inauguration of the British Normandy Memorial, overlooking Gold Beach at Ver-sur-Mer. The memorial  honours the more than 22,000 soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who died fighting under British command during D-Day and the Battle of Normandy.

The National Memorial Arboretum  commemorates the invasion at the Normandy Veterans Memorial (301) where there are 5 stones dedicated to each of the landing beaches in Normandy (Gold, Juno, Sword, Utah and Omaha). 

UTAH Beach

JUNO Beach

GOLD Beach

SWORD Beach

OMAHA Beach

Footnote: it is possible that there are other memorials at the NMA pertaining to the invasion since my visit 2015.

The problem that we face today is that history is being watered down so as to not offend some person who seemingly is offended at anything that is not politically correct. In 25 years time will we still commemorate this event? or will we be commemorating something that is unrecognisable as being related to D–Day? The veterans of the event grow fewer each year. All are over 75 years old, and many were in action before they were 20.  

Over the years D-Day has tended to be seen as an all American event, whereas there were men and women from 12 nations participating. We really have Hollywood to blame for a lot of that misunderstanding, sadly it is unlikely that the definitive Normandy Invasion movie will ever be made. 

The one tangible link with the invasion is HMS Belfast that is berthed in London on the Thames. History was made on that ship, and her guns were part of the naval bombardment on the beaches. I have never really found out how much damage was done by the naval bombardment, but I do not think I would have liked to have been a German Gefreiter on the receiving end of a 16″ shell. 

The forward guns of HMS Belfast

The naval contingent was huge and 120 warships, 1260 merchant vessels,  250 minesweepers, 3500 troop carriers, 100 smaller warships and 600 specialist craft took part.

Finally I wanted to make mention of the Port of Southampton.

The acres of harbour and its facilities were vital in the logistical operation of the invasion, and while much is written about the invasion very little is written about the harbour from where so many ships set out from. 

 

The fact remains that so much had to happen to get the men onto the beaches, the fact that they did is testament to the many who contributed to the success of the invasion. The vast cemeteries in France each has a story to tell, and the graves in it are those of real men. Some would loose their lives almost immediately the ramps dropped, others would die later in the drive from the beaches. But once that foothold was made there was no turning around.

On this day we commemorate the success of the Normandy Invasion and the Allied Forces who made it happen. 

 DRW © 2019. Created 06/06/2019. Statistics are sourced from the BBC. 

Updated: 07/06/2019 — 05:30
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