Tag: Southampton

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

Remembering the Titanic 2019

Every year in mid April we commemorate the loss of the Titanic.  It is a well known story that has been analysed, filmed, written about, speculated on and done to death. My own interest in the ship came about when I read about the spot where she had gone down, that ships avoided for fear of encountering bodies. In later years I would raid the local libraries for books about the ship and try my best to obtain a model of her.  I have however lost my interest in the ship and now concern myself with other things because realisically there is not much more that I can add to the story of the ship and its people.

The last interesting discovery that I made was in Liverpool where the Transatlantic trade was dominated by the Mauretania and her sister. Titanic and her sisters would not use that city as a base, but rather use Southampton. However, Titanic was registered in Liverpool and there is a memorial to her in that city. 

The memorial commemorates the 244 engineers who lost their lives in the disaster. It was designed by Sir William Goscombe John and constructed circa 1916 and is a Grade II* listed building.

The memorial is inscribed:

IN HONOUR OF

ALL HEROES OF THE

MARINE ENGINE ROOM

THIS MEMORIAL WAS ERECTED

BY INTERNATIONAL INSCRIPTION

MCMXVI 

and

THE BRAVE DO NOT DIE

THEIR DEEDS LIVE FOREVER

AND CALL UPON US

TO EMULATE THEIR COURAGE

AND DEVOTION TO DUTY

More images of the memorial are available on the relevant page at Allatsea

While it is easy to remember the passengers who lost their lives in the disaster; the crew tend to get forgotten, especially the men who remained at their posts right up till the end. Irrespective though, over 1500 people lost their lives on this day in 1912 in a disaster that has somehow become the “poster boy” for maritime disasters, and the only North Atlantic liner that almost everybody knows about. 

DRW © 2019. Created 15/04/2019

Updated: 15/04/2019 — 05:59

Remember the Mendi

HMT Mendi (21/02/1917)

On 21 February 1917, South Africa lost some 607 African volunteers en route to the battlefields of France when their troopship; HMT Mendi, was in a collision with the SS Darro off St Catherine’s Point on the Isle of Wight. The resulting death toll was high; of the 802 SANLC troops on board some 607 men of the South African contingent perished, as did 30 members of her crew.  The 4230 GRT Mendi (Official number 120875), was owned by the British & African Steam Navigation Company Limited. which was part of Elder, Dempster and Company. She was 370 ft long with a beam of 46 ft and was built by Alexander Stephen & Sons, Glasgow. She was fitted with triple expansion steam engines that gave her a maximum speed of 13 knots.

Model of the SS Mendi by Buddy Bacon, in Simonstown Naval Museum. Used with permission.

On 10 April 2013, while I was in Southampton I decided to visit Hollybrook Cemetery and the Hollybrook Memorial to the missing. 
 

 
This particular memorial at Hollybrook commemorates by name almost 1900 servicemen and women of the Commonwealth land and air forces whose graves are not known, many of whom were lost in transports, torpedoed or mined in home waters. The memorial also bears the names of those who were lost or buried at sea or who died at home but whose bodies could not be recovered for burial.  
 
Sadly, all that is left of their lives is their names on a plaque. And I think that in this case, there is a small piece of England that is uniquely South African. They were men that came from the tip of Africa, to participate as non combatants in a war that they knew nothing about, and they died far from their homes, never reaching their destination, but remaining here, far from the sunshine that was now fading as I took my last few photographs. But if I do think about it, these men were never really forgotten, their families remembered them, and their comrades, but they too have passed on, and  that duty has been passed on to us, a generation of ex-servicemen who also served their country. 
 
However, in a shocking newspaper article on the 17th of February it was revealed that “The department of military veterans has withdrawn support for an “imperial” commemoration of a World War 1 shipping disaster in which 646 mainly black South Africans died” 
A retired senior military officer this week described the department’s decision as “abominable and a disgrace”. He said: “This means no military band or guards in fact no formal military presence at a memorial for South Africans who died on service in war.”
(Article in the Sunday Times 17 February 2019 Front page.) 
 
The stance has drawn severe criticism from veterans and organisations, and sadly the Mendi is once again just a porn in a game called political correctness and white washing of history. 
 

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning

We Will Remember Them.


DRW © 2019. Created 18/02/2019. 

Updated: 24/03/2019 — 13:58
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