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 © 2017-2020 Created 22/04/2017

I wear a Poppy To Remember….

I wear a Poppy To Remember….

my Father: a signalman; who was captured in North Africa during World War 2

my Grandfather, a rifleman, who was wounded in Delville Wood

my Uncle: an air mechanic, who died in Egypt during World War 2, and who is the reason for my war grave photography

 

I remember the soldiers that I served with and who never completed their national service in South Africa.

Lionel Van Rooyen, Johann Potgieter, Peter Hall,  Hennie Van Der Colf

I remember those men of the South African Native Labour Corps who lost their lives in the sinking of the Mendi

I remember all of those other African and South African soldiers who have been largely unrecognised for their service

 

I remember the dedicated  nurses, VAD’s and other women who served in medical disciplines during and after the wars, many never returned and were victims of the conflict.

 

I remember the merchant seamen who faced not only a determined enemy, but the sea in all its fury, often in coffin ships that were only one screw turn away from the breakers yard. 

 

I remember those who have no grave, and who are just names on a memorial

I remember the soldiers, sailors, airmen, civilians, children and animals who lost their lives in the folly we call total war 

I remember the 6 million Jews who were exterminated
 
 
And the millions of other casualties who were caught up in the madness
 
I remember those who were left behind

and those who will die tomorrow, or next week, or next year, defending their country, their comrades, and their families; often for a cause they do not understand.

I remember them all because it is important to never forget them and to never drag the world down into the horror of total war, and I curse those who sit in positions of power and who create the conflagration but who never die in it, for they are a curse upon mankind. May they have to answer for the monsters that they unleash and may their punishment be eternal. 

 

When you go home
Tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today

 

Postscript.
Words do not adequately describe the feelings that I have around about this time of the year,  I served as a national serviceman in 1980/81, and when I first went in I did not think that at the end of 1981 I would have 4 names in my memory that would be with me until I die. My grandfather was a soldier, my father was a soldier, as was my brother, and so was I, my father and grandfather were volunteers, my brother and I were conscripts.  

It is difficult to quantify all of those who I have omitted, I could probably fill reams of paper with groups of people who were affected by warfare, and of course who continue to be affected by warfare. The images on this page are my own with the exception of the image of the grave of my late uncle Robert Turner who is really the reason I photograph war graves. I never knew him, but my mother did, and she still mourns him to this day. 

The National Memorial Arboretum

This morning, while on our way to the Tramway Museum we paused briefly at the National Memorial Arboretum in Alrewas, near Lichfield. It was more of a reconnaissance as opposed to a dedicated visit, and I was forced to use my phone as my camera is now sans its full compliment of batteries (which I lost somewhere).   
It is a mighty space, housing a large number of memorials, and places to remember those who never came home. We only really explored what is known as the Armed Forces Memorial. 
 

It is probably the first place people gravitate too, and it is also the place that “….honours those members of the Armed Forces (Regular and Reserve) who were killed on duty while performing functions attributable to the special circumstances and requirements of the Armed Forces, or as a result of terrorist action, and those who died while deployed on designated operations“.

It is a large open space, with a circular wall full of the names.

 It is also a stark and powerful place, and tragically there is space for even more names.

Two statue groupings are found on either side of the central laurel wreath. These were created by Ian Rank-Broadley.

The grouping on the left features four men holding a stretcher aloft with a figure on it while on either side others seem to question and mourn the tableau.

The other sculpture has 5 figures in it, a male and female seemingly moving a nude male figure, with a male figure chiseling words on the wall in front of him. Another figure indicates an opening in the wall, which is inscribed “Through this space a shaft of sunlight falls at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day of eleventh month”.

 

 

The sculptures represent Loss and Sacrifice, but each figure on its own could be interpreted differently depending on how they are viewed, I found them very powerful, and the one image that really struck me was the woman with the child. The images are graphic and strong, and somebody had left a red flower in the hand of the nude figure. The redness of the flower contrasting sharply with the stark bronze that held it, and the grey clouds overhead.

 

And with the Falklands Conflict anniversary at the moment, it is fitting to remember the many casualties that are inscribed on this wall. I wonder if there is something similar in Argentina?

Admittedly I was sceptical about the Arboretum, but having seen just this single memorial I now understand it better, but I am afraid that by its nature it is a solemn and sad place.

There are over 50000 trees here, on a 150 acre sight, with over 300 memorials, there is probably something for everybody here, and for families of  servicemen and women, it is a place of remembrance and healing.

My session only explored a small part of the whole, I am hoping to go back one day, although hopefully in better weather and armed with a full compliment of battery power.

Auxiliary Territorial Service Statue 1938-1949
Auxiliary Territorial Service Statue 1938-1949
Women’s Land Army, & Women’s Timber Corps

That brought my visit to an end, but I did not come away empty handed, these images are something to work at, to try to understand the emotions involved in those  bronzes, and to ponder the names on the walls.

 
I did return to the NMA and it was quite an experience. Read all about it here. 
 
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