musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: Anglican Cathedral

Loving Liverpool (8) Western Approaches Command

As I was saying…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nelson Monument

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

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

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

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

I am following the file numbering of my images so hopefully they will be in some sort of order as I passed through the museum, although I did backtrack on a few occasions. I am not in a position to explain the Battle of the Atlantic as it it really did not consist of a single event but rather a whole sequence of events, milestones, disasters and victories.  The men who bore the brunt of it were the men from the Merchant Navy who manned ships that were often one step away from disaster without the enemy even being close. They faced submarines, aircraft, weather and public and official indifference just to keep the lifelines of commerce open. 

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

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

Radio Room

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

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

The Plotting Wall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He was one of the major reasons that the tide was turned in the Battle of the Atlantic, and of course his staff contributed to the success of this little known nerve centre. One of the stranger things to see was a film projector that was used to screen footage of the war. Originally the Gaumont Kalee Dragon projector was up in in London.  It is a fascinating piece of machinery. 

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

Have you shown your pass?

 Below it was naval telex station

And switchboard

As well as the cipher station.

And then it was time to head upwards to sunlight.

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

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

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

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

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

DRW © 2018. Created 09/06/2018

Updated: 19/06/2018 — 13:00

Loving Liverpool (4) The Anglican Cathedral

Continuing where we left off, this post deals with Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool and not the Catholic one.  I have also merged images from both visits that I made to the building.

Where to start? the building is huge and I felt the exterior gave it a very gloomy and brooding look. Make no mistake though, it is so big you can see it from the waterfront. 

The cathedral seen from the ferry terminal at Birkenhead. (1500 x 358)

From close up it is even bigger and does not easily fit into the lens when you try to photograph it in it’s entirety.

Contrary to what you would think it is a relatively new building, having been built in the last century between 1904 and 1978. It is correctly called the Cathedral Church of Christ in Liverpool (as recorded in the Document of Consecration) or the Cathedral Church of the Risen Christ, Liverpool, being dedicated to Christ ‘in especial remembrance of his most glorious Resurrection’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liverpool_Cathedral)

To say it is big is somewhat of an understatement. The total external length of the building is  189 m,  making it the longest cathedral in the world; while in terms of overall volume, it ranks as the fifth-largest cathedral in the world. it is also one of the world’s tallest non-spired church buildings and the third-tallest structure in the city of Liverpool. The cathedral is a Grade I listed building, and it is the largest Anglican Cathedral ever built. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liverpool_Cathedral)

Map from the official guidebook

 

The interior is incredibly difficult to photograph because of the sheer size of the building, so everything is just so much bigger or further away. Unfortunately I was unable to get into the Lady Chapel as it was closed off during my visits. 

The High Altar (# 6 on the map)

The building was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott and the foundation stone was laid by Edward VII in 1904.

Looking towards “the Well” (# 3 on the map) from The Central Space (# 1 on the map)

Unlike so many of the ancient cathedrals I have visited, this one does not have a lot of wall memorials, and I suspect not too many burials beneath its floors. There is however, a memorial commemorating Giles Gilbert Scott set into the floor under the tower.

The architect is buried outside the building in a grave very close to it. 

While affixed to the one wall is a memorial to Francis Chavasse, the second Bishop of Liverpool from 1900-1923, and father of Noel Godfrey Chavasse VC* MC. 

Even the organ is large, and is the largest pipe organ in the UK. It was built by Henry Willis & Sons, and has two five-manual consoles, and 10,268 pipes.

The War Memorial Chapel is not marked on the map but is on the left hand side just before the organ (# 5 on the map). I did not really think much of it and found it really bereft of memorials and really very plain.

The Altar in the War Memorial Chapel

The Roll of Honour is placed in a glass topped cabinet in the front of the chapel, and it is opened on the page with the Victoria Citation of Noel Chavasse, while a bust of the Captain is affixed to the wall close by.

I was really battling to photograph in the cathedral which tended to be dark in some area’s and of course trying to avoid including people in my images was sometimes impossible.

And talking of towers…

The ceiling under the bell tower

The bell tower (aka Vestey Tower) is  named after its benefactors, the Vestey family, and has a floor to top height of 101m (331ft).  The bells housed in the tower are the highest and heaviest ringing peal in the world. There are two lifts (thankfully) and only 108 stairs to the top.  The peal proper consists of thirteen bells weighing a total of 16.5 long tons. They vary in size and note and all thirteen bells were cast by Mears & Stainbank of Whitechapel in London.

The bells from the forth floor platform in the tower

I went up the tower on the 2nd day of my Liverpool visit as it was too late to do on the day before (although I should have done it considering what the weather was like on my 2nd trip) . The two lifts can only take 6 people at a time so it can take some time to ascend or descend. Fortunately there are only 108 steps. Had they only been steps I would not have climbed the tower at all!

It was miserable outside though so the view was not as far as I would have liked, or as good as it could be.

And then it was time to descend. There was a young woman wearing very high heels tottering around the tower and I did not want to get stuck behind her while she went down the stairs in them. It was also time to leave the cathedral. 

There is no doubt that it is a mighty space, it is a very overpowering building and well worth multiple visits because there is so much more that I have not covered due to constraints on the blog platform. I have surprisingly few photographs of the interior simply because much of the interior is too large to photograph without proper equipment. The amazing thing is that the building is not as old as some that I have seen, and it will probably be around long after I am gone. What will people 100 years down the line have to say about it? will it even exist? given how long lived cathedrals tend to be I am sure it will be. 

And that was the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool, I created a post about the Catholic Cathedral which was totally different.  As usual I will close off with some random images.​

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DRW © 2018. Created 03/05/2018

Updated: 08/06/2018 — 12:29
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