musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Category: World War 2

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. Created 22/04/2017

Updated: 27/04/2017 — 18:07

Navy Day

My Triang Minic collection has been quite a popular subject on this blog, in fact there are a number of pages related to my 1/1200 and 1/1250 scale waterline ships.  This page is really about some of the naval vessels that I have accumulated. Let me get this straight, modern warships do not really interest me, however, I do have a fondness for WW2 vessels as well as those strange pre-dreadnoughts that were in service when warships were a hodge podge of ideas with no real direction.

To start the ball rolling, I have managed to pay my hands on a few vessels of interest to me.

The first pair are members of the Daring Class of Destroyers: HMS Dainty and HMS Daring.

HMS Dainty is in front. Both these have been given a custom paintjob by their previous owner, and they made a great job of it too. 

The other pair that I acquired are: HMS Vigilant and HMS Virago

This pair are “V” Class frigates, Vigilant is the ship in front.  

I picked up HMS Whitby awhile ago, she is a Type 12 “Whitby” Class anti-submarine frigate.

as well as HMS Alamein, a “Battle” Class destroyer.

The modern Royal Navy does not have too many ships that make me want to swoon, but I really like the Duke Class frigates of which HMS Sutherland (F81) is one.

I have seen her one sister in real life, 

HMS St Albans

and HMS Westminster (F237), seen here alongside HMS Belfast in 2013.

I am in the market for an HMS St Albans and will look for her when I am bored. 

I also bought 4 “steam” tugs that were from the original Triang range. These had also been “customised” as naval tugs. 

One of my current projects is to convert a “modern” Triang steam tug into something else. I am not too keen on the looks of the modern tugs, but they do make interesting bases for conversions.

The middle vessel is a “modern” iteration and it is very different from an original tug, my conversion is the vessel on the left. When/if I finish it I will paste a pic of it.

My other acquisition is the former SS Australis in 1/1250 resin cast. She has been on hiatus because her sizing is wrong, but I decided to start work on her anyway. I was toying with converting her into another iteration but never did. It is early days for her still.

This afternoon I started to paint funnels and decks, and tomorrow will give a second coat to the hull.

Progress so far. First coat of funnels is done although I may lighten them a bit, sports deck is done and mast is mounted, however, I may have to redo the hull because the sheer line is not where I have painted it so will have to redo the hull. The problem with the ship is not only her length, but her hull height too, dropping the sheer line may leave very little grey hull below. And of course I hope that the white will overcoat the grey.

I have established the sheer line on this side of her, but must wait for it to dry before doing the other side and of course then straightening any bumps. Hooray for trimline! I must also make an “X” for each funnel, easy to do but difficult to get right.  I may end up redo-ing those X’s as they are not quite the way they should be.

I also acquired a Liberty ship 

as well as the famous WW2 Tanker Ohio, of Operation Pedestal fame 

The other ship that I dredged out was the Flower Class Corvette that gave me so many problems. I don’t see her in any of the posts that I have made, but in short the kit was a disaster and I eventually just finished it and put it on the shelf because I was really no longer interested in it. The paint job is half done and probably will never be completed. This is what she looks like.

However, I did not haul out the ships to take a few random shots, instead I sent them all back to their harbour and took some pics.

It was Navy Day today and the fleet was in.

Even HMS Vanguard was alongside, possibly to get her mast straightened? 

The blue cruiser is HMS Swiftsure 

and HMS Ark Royal was alongside too.

And then all of a sudden the fleet put to sea and we get a rare glimpse of HMS Bulwark and her escorts.

and a final battle group with HMS Ark Royal in it. 

Their manoeuvres complete, the fleet sailed back into their display case leaving me to clean up the mess.

However, there was still a coastal convoy to push through before lunch time…

The Flower Class Corvette in the image above I got from Mick Yarrow Miniatures

My real interest is in passenger ships and I did a diorama of them awhile back, so any more ship movements will not be happening until I have the energy to pack and unpack them all again.

© DRW 2017. Created 04/02/2017

Updated: 26/02/2017 — 11:53

A Honey of a Tank

A few years back, in 2011 I did the rounds of the usual haunts, hunting down plinthed and preserved tanks, there were three models that fell into my research, namely Crusaders, Shermans and M3 Stuarts. This post deal with one Stuart in particular.  I will not go into the history of these M3’s, suffice to say they were popularly referred to as “Honey’s”.

This vehicle I photographed in 2011 while visiting the Roll of Honour at the Cosy Corner MOTH Shellhole in Brakpan.

The history of this particular vehicle is not known, but it is likely that she was a gate guard at a former MOTH Shellhole somewhere in the Springs area and she is currently situated at Google Earth co-ordinates: -26.252307°,  28.446881°. This is a former park, but sadly it is more of the remains of a park. The tank when I photographed her was not a total wreck yet.

Those open doors at the back set off alarm bells in my mind when I saw her, sooner or later somebody was going to get in there and remove parts off her engine, assuming that it had not been done already.

Wind forward to 2017, and Joe Borain from Cosy Corner went to see whether she was still intact or not. rumours were that she was not looking good.  I will post the images more or less in the the same order as the “before (2011)” images.

As you can see, the engine compartment has had lots of attention from the scrap metal thieves.

It also appears as if the open viewing slits have been used to “post rubbish” into. It is only a matter of time before they get organised enough to go after her tracks and idlers. The scrap metal industry is not averse to assisting those who decide to remove steel from monuments and memorials. Remember, watched a whole collection of steam locomotives systematically stripped by illicit scrap thieves in 2010. Anything can happen.

What can be done? According to Joe site has been fenced, although he did manage to get in. And, a local garage was supposedly keeping an eye on her too. But, what really needs to happen is they need to weld the front viewing ports and rear engine doors shut. And ideally get her moved from the spot where she is now. Who does she belong to? probably the SANDF, and getting permission to move her will be quite a rigmarole. Springs city council were supposed to have renovated the derelict war memorial by mid 2015 and that too stalled so there is not much hope of help from them. But the way things are, one day that honey of a tank will be no more. 

© DRW 2017. Created 08/01/2016. 2017 Images are by Joe Borain and are used with permission.

Updated: 18/02/2017 — 12:52

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

GWR War Memorial, Paddington Station.

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

The statue features an Unknown Soldier reading a letter….

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

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

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

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

© DRW. 2016-2017 Created 11/06/2016. 

Updated: 15/12/2016 — 07:19

The Sinking of the Bismarck

As the 27th of May approaches I could not help but think of what it was like in 1941 when the events surrounding the sinking of the German battleship KMS Bismarck were announced.

KD Bismarck. 1/1200 scale (Triang Minic)

KMS Bismarck. 1/1200 scale (Triang Minic)

As a child I was enthralled by all things naval, so her demise was probably amongst my favourite wartime moments, although viewed through the eyes of a child who did not understand the mechanics involved in naval battles such as this. Neither was there the wealth of information that is available now so a lot of what we read as children was skewed from the British point of view with no input from the German. 

The first time I really understood the last days of this ship was when I read Dr Robert Ballard’s book “The Discovery of the Bismarck” about the rediscovery of the long lost battleship. My viewpoint was also enhanced by reading “Battleship Bismarck” by Burkard Baron von Mullenheim-Rechberg, who was gunnery officer on board the vessel when she went down.  I do recall watching the TV special about the discovery and it was strange to see this floating fortress in her dark underwater world. It is hard to believe that it is the same ship that gave the Royal Navy a run for its money.

There is no doubt that Bismarck and Prinz Eugen were tough opponents, and had they been given a free hand they would have not only sunk HMS Hood but probably HMS Prince Of Wales too. And of course, had she come across a convoy the carnage would have been horrific. 

It is difficult to write about something like this so many years after the fact. I am not a naval historian, and there are others much more qualified to expound on what is now known as the Battle of the Denmark Strait. As I have said so often, I only photograph what is left over and view things like this with some sort of hindsight. I did do some thinking about the events that occurred on 24 May 1941 about how I could present my own small tribute to these ships and men that fought battles at long distances in an environment that was even more deadly than the shells that they fired from their large calibre guns,

15" Naval Guns, Imperial War Museum.

15″ Naval Guns, Imperial War Museum.

The biggest shock of the battle was the loss of HMS Hood in one cataclysmic explosion that left 3 survivors out of a complement of 1418 on board.  

HMS Hood. 1/1250 scale. (Atlas Editions)

HMS Hood. 1/1250 scale. (Atlas Editions)

1384 Members of her crew are Commemorated at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. They are however not listed under their ship, but rather in order of rank for 1941.

Portsmouth Naval Memorial

Portsmouth Naval Memorial

HMS Prince of Wales was fortunate enough to escape with reasonably minor damage, 

HMS Prince of Wales. 1/1250 scale (Atlas Editions)

HMS Prince of Wales. 1/1250 scale (Atlas Editions)

but she too met her end on 10 December 1941 along with HMS Repulse by Japanese air attack off Kuantan, in the South China Sea. Of her crew are mentioned on the Chatham Naval Memorial

As for the Bismarck, the one machine that really brought about her end was an insignificant biplane from HMS Ark Royal, possibly flown by pilot John Moffat that delivered a torpedo that critically damaged her rudder, leaving the ship sailing in circles, thereby ensuring that she would not be able to flee to a safe haven, but would have to face up to the might of the Royal Navy that was closing in on her for the final battle.

 

The age of the battleship was drawing to a close, no more would the imposing firepower of these floating fortresses dominate all within range, the Second World War was really the final gasp of the big gun ship.  From now on the aircraft carrier and submarine would reign supreme. 

Bismarck however lives on our memories as one of the ultimate war machines of her era, and as we remember her sinking so many years ago, let is not forget those who went down with her, and those who died on HMS Hood and the brave pilots in their biplanes that went forth and crippled the pride of the Kriegsmarine.

Remembered on the grave of his mother. A sailor from HMS Hood.

Remembered on the grave of his mother. A sailor from HMS Hood.

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 26/05/2016.

Updated: 15/12/2016 — 07:24

It is war I tell you!

Wartime in the Cotswolds played itself out this weekend, and I decided to share in the fun by visiting the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Steam Railway that runs between Cheltenham and Toddington. I have travelled with this heritage operation twice before and they run a very professional operation.  I had also encountered a very similar day on the Great Central Railway in 2015  so it would be interesting to see how this weekend played out. The weather was also very kind to us on this day, and apart from a chilly wind it was quite an enjoyable day weatherwise. I was also going to test my new camera on this trip and was very wary about running out of batteries, although I do have 3 batteries that I carry and if push comes to shove can still use my cell phone camera.

Of course being wartime you do have to be wary of surprises around every corner, so listen very carefully, I will say this only once… War is hell! 

The first train to leave Cheltenham Race Course was not a steam engine much to my dismay, instead it was the Class 117 diesel railcar. I have been on it before and it is somewhat of an odd vehicle. 

 

I managed to snag one of the front seats so was able to see the drivers controls and the view of the rails behind us,  This is a composite of 3 images. 

Driver sits on the left.

And then we were off, the train packed with people in period civilian outfits and military uniforms. It was amazing because they took so much effort to look the part, some of the women were truly stunning in their hats and gloves and seamed stockings, and for the first time I saw children in period clothing along for the fun too. They are the ones who will be doing this in 20 years time and it is great to see that the spirit will be carried forward with them. 

Our route takes us from Cheltenham Race Course Station to Gotherington, 

Through the Greet Tunnel,

To Winchcombe

Where we would wait for the next train to come past us heading towards Cheltenham Race Course. This train was headed by the immaculate 2807, a ’28xx’ class heavy freight locomotive, built in 1905. and owned by Cotswold Steam Preservation Limited and, after a 29 year restoration, is one of the GWR’s resident locomotives.

And then we were off again, heading to our final stop: Toddington. The station is really a destination on its own and in this case it was really a microcosm of Allied Servicemen and Women with a smattering of old civilian and military vehicles, although American equipment was dominant.

I bailed off the train, pausing to watch 4270 with the next train. She is a “42xx” class tank locomotive and made her debut at the 2014 Cotswold Festival of Steam and is now a regular performer on the GWSR.

I then ambled over to the exhibits, pausing to admire a really nice restored M4A4 Sherman that was formerly a “range wreck”

Behind the tank was Toddington Narrow Gauge Railway, and I had read that they would also be running trains on this day. There is a South African connection to this railway, and to Tewkesbury. But that was assuming the train was running. We had passed their loco shed and I had seen a steam loco in steam at their shed, so I was hopeful. 

Until then I walked around, looking at interesting exhibits, especially the military vehicles. 

Then there was movement and I headed down to the platform where the narrow gauge train was uncoupling, unfortunately it was a diesel as opposed to the steamer I had hoped for, The problem was that the train would not leave unless it had enough passengers, and so far I was the only one.

I drifted off to go look at the well armed half track that was parked nearby. Oh wow, I am so sorry they did not let off a few bursts with that quad browning.

And then there was movement at the narrow gauge railway and I headed back to it, boarding the small coaches en route for California Crossing where the steamer shed was.

The line is a short one, only 3/4 of a mile, and there is not much to see, However, the shed has 4 narrow gauge loco’s.

Chaka’s Kraal No 6 spent all its commercial working life in the South African sugar cane industry being delivered to Gledhow Chakaskraal Sugar Co. Ltd. for use on their estates in Natal. It was purchased by a group of members and returned to the UK in 1981. It had originally been built in Leeds in 1940.

My loco spotted, it was time to shake my head at the station name plate. 

Meanwhile, things were afoot back at the main station with the imminent departure of 7820- Dinmore Manor. 

Now which loco was at Platform 1?  

Talking about Loco’s I also went to the running shed viewing area hoping to get a decent pic of 35006 P&O, but once again a decent pic evaded me. I wish they would turn her to face the other way so that I can see her from the front.

The shed lines were surprisingly empty, but there was still a lot of trains and rolling stock in place.

It was time for another round of photography, and the images below are of various vehicles on display.

Unfortunately I was starting to tire a bit and decided to see what I could see at the station. Another loco was now waiting its turn and it was 2807, a member of the ’28xx’ class heavy freight locomotive, built in 1905.  I was considering heading back down the line to Winchcombe, and this train was not too far off from departure

Besides, the wartime music was driving me crazy. I still have “..it’s a long way to Tipperary….”  going around inside my head some 4 hours later!

I crossed the footpath in front of the loco and headed down to the field behind the station, it was jam packed with cars and was almost a mini military camp in itself.  In fact, there was even a sodding BREN there to torture me.

Fortunately I no longer have to worry about whether it is clean or not. My timetable said that the next train was about ready to leave in 10 minutes so I ambled across the footbridge.

The loco had moved to the head of the train so I decided to join this one and head back towards Winchcombe. It felt good to get a load off though. I was really pooped.

Departure was due to happen at 12.20, but nothing happened, instead the conductor came around and announced that we were delayed due to an “unexploded bomb” at Winchcombe. This delay threw my plans out because we would not budge until the train at that station was here. so we waited. It was now touch and go whether I would head fro home of bail at Winchcombe. Eventually the up train arrived and we were given the token to leave. 

It is not a long ride to Winchcombe and I did not really feel up to spending an hour at the station, it was bad enough that it looked like the whole cast from Dad’s Army and ‘allo ‘allo was standing on the platform.

Then we were off again, next stop: Gotherington.

 

And the other train was standing at the passing loop over there, being serenaded by a very nice lady with a magnificent voice who kept on telling us the “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when…

And finally we arrived back at Cheltenham Race Course. The war was over for another day. 

The loco moved to the back of the train (making it the front), and I headed for the exit. I still had a long walk to the bus stop and then once in Cheltenham I still had to catch the bus back to Tewkesbury. 

It had been a long and busy day but I had enjoyed it. I am amazed at how the English go headlong into something like this, the amount of people in uniforms and costumes was amazing. I also saw a number of old men who were obviously veterans from WW2, and their numbers are dwindling too. But as long as there are those who are willing to go to the expense of acquiring a uniform then days like this will give us all a taste of what wartime Britain was like. I see a lot of evidence of it, the war is still remembered, it has not faded from the national psyche, it is still a part of the people of this country.

V for Victory, and may we never tread that path again.

© DRW 2016-2017. Created 23/04/2016 

Updated: 15/12/2016 — 07:25
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