Tuesday, 25 July 2017

A hundred years

I am always slightly surprised when there are large-scale (well, largish) events commemorating something that happened a century ago. I'm reasonably sure I would remember if there had been anything done to commemorate the Crimean War (battle of Balaclava, Florence Nightingale, the Charge of the Light Brigade) when the centenary occurred in the 1950's, but perhaps it is just that the Crimean War didn't leave such a mark on the hearts and minds of my fellow countrymen as did the First World War.

There are, I would suggest, two major battles from that war that are deeply etched into our consciousness: the Battle of the Somme in 1916, and the Third Battle of Ypres, commonly known as the Battle of Passchendaele, in 1917. Indeed, the centenary of the start of that battle occurs next weekend.

Briefly, Passchendaele is a small village a few miles from the Belgian town of Ypres, also spelt Ieper and known to the Tommies of WW1 as Wipers. It was considered vital to the war effort to capture the ridge on which the village stood. the attack was launched on 31st July, but it was until 10th November that Canadian troops finally captured the village. The weather was appalling, as can be seen in this photograph, and there are reports of many men drowning in the mud.

Australian gunners on a duckboard track, 29 October 1917. Photo by Frank Hurley.
The number of casualties is still a matter of controversy, but the official figure of British and allied losses is in the region of 250,000.  Many of those men have no known grave - and Belgian farmers still find human bones from time to time. The Menin Gate at Ypres was erected after the war as a memorial to the men who died and on it are carved the names of those who have no known grave.

The Menin Gate. Photo Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

When the memorial was finished, it was found to be too small to contain the names of all those who had no known grave so a cut-off date of 15th August 1917 was imposed. There are, nonetheless, 54,395 names inscribed. A further memorial at Tyne Cot Cemetery has the names of the remaining 34,984 UK soldiers missing. The names of the missing New Zealand and Newfoundland soldiers are on separate memorials.

One of the main roads out of Ypres passes through the gate, but every evening the road is closed while buglers of the local fire brigade play the Last Post.  The Last Post Association web site states:
Every evening since 1928 the Last Post has been played under the Menin Gate Memorial in Ieper at 8 o'clock sharp. This evening the ceremony will take place for the 30747th time.
In fact, that is not quite correct. The ceremony didn't take place while Ypres was occupied by the Germans during World War II, but on the day the German army retreated, the ceremony was reinstated. It regularly attracts considerable crowds, as can be seen in this video taekn only in April this year.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Blue sky thinking

We do get blue skies in Brighton - but not today!

This is possibly the best-known building in Brighton, the Royal Pavilion. It started life as a modest farmhouse, until the Prince Regent had it converted into his palace by the sea some 200 years ago. Can you believe that at one time there was a proposal to demolish it and build a bus station on the site?

Saturday, 22 July 2017

More on the daily photo

Some days ago, or just two blogs ago, I mentioned the City Daily Photo scheme. I had signed up to that - but my photos were more often of the countryside around the city than of the city itself. This is one such. I have just discovered that there are a couple of dozen (or maybe even more) pictures on the camera that I have done nothing with. This one, taken from the bedroom window early on an October morning back in 2013, was intended for that daily photo blog of mine, but obviously never made it.

I had long wanted to emulate those photographers who managed to capture early morning mist filling valleys, with perhaps a church spire poking through. This is the nearest I have ever got to it - and I didn't even have to leave the house!

Friday, 21 July 2017

It's the pedant in me

that objects and I have to struggle to keep my mouth shut when I hear:

"hopefully" instead of "I hope";
"was" instead of "were" (you/we was there too);
"can I get" instead of "may I have"
"should of" instead of "should have".

And there are others - but you get the idea!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

City Daily Photo

Some years ago I discovered the City daily Photo website and wasted spent a considerable amount of time each day visiting cities around the world. I even started my own daily blog with photos I took in and around Brighton.

This had all virtually (pun intended!) slipped from my memory until this morning. I had an outpatient's appointment at the hospital (no real problem, just a follow-up from an earlier consultation and no further action required) and on the way back to the car I walked past St George's church, the parish church for Kemp Town. I had photographed the church back in the 'old days', and here it is:

It doesn't look English to me!

Built in 1824-25, the total cost was £11,000. According to Wiki, "After Revd James Anderson became curate of the church in 1828, his close association with Queen Adelaide, the consort of King William IV, made the church very popular. The queen consort was popular with the British people and often spent time in Brighton. When in the town, she worshipped at St George's." Hence the Royal coat of arms above the door.

Sunday, 16 July 2017


One of our supermarket chain has been advertising this week:

"British cherries, strawberries, raspberries - £2 each"

And in the pub where Brighton Lions held their dinner meeting this week:

"FREE - function room for hire!"

But maybe it's just me.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

More about Will

As I inferred in my last post, the people of Gillingham knew nothing about Will Adams - and, for the most part, cared even less! But that we 60 years ago. Now I understand that there is a Will Adams NHS Treatment Centre, a Will Adams ward in the Medway Maritime Hospital, a Will Adams Pupil Referral Unit, a pub named The Will Adams - and even an annual Will Adams Festival! It seems that Gillingham's most famous son is at last becoming famous!

So who was Will Adams?

The pub sign. Photo Brian Curtis

Will was born in 1564, he was apprenticed to a Limehouse shipyard owner and learned shipbuilding, astronomy and navigation before entering the Royal Navy, where he served under Sir Francis Drake and saw action against the Spanish armada. In 1598 he sailed in a convoy of Dutch ships for the Dutch East Indies via the Magellan Straits, the west coast of South America and Japan. After many disasters, Adams was one of the few men to reach Japan, the first Englishman to have reached that country. He was forbidden to leave Japan, became a samurai and was forced to take Japanese nationality. He died in Japan in 1620.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Will Adams

Will Adams is proclaimed as the most famous person to have been born in my home town. not that I, as a boy in Gillingham, ever knew anything about him. Nor, I suspect, did many other residents. All I knew was that there was, standing on the grass verge on the Top Road, a dusky pink clock tower that, as I had been told, was the Will Adams Memorial.

Copied from geograph.org.uk
It seems almost incredible now, but when I was about 8 or 9, our entertainment on summer Sunday evenings would be a walk along the Top Road to the Will Adams and back. But the walk was incidental; the real entertainment came from gawking at all the coaches stuck in the traffic jam.

The Top Road - as we called it - was Watling Street, the A2, the main road from London to Dover. Some miles to the east, a side road left Watling Street and headed for the seaside destination of choice for hundreds, maybe even thousands, on people from south London: Margate.

Back in those days, before even television was commonplace, few people possessed cars and a trip to the seaside involved a coach trip. As they headed back to London after a day on the sands, the Londoners (in my mind almost a strange race from a distant galaxy) would find themselves stuck in the traffic as it approached the bottleneck on Chatham. Indeed, many of the coaches would be standing in Chatham already as the boundary between Gillingham and Chatham ran along the centre of the road for some of this way.

We had very simple tastes in those days.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Ton up!

My thought processes are always meandering, frequently meandering in ever increasing circles until I have absolutely no idea how I end up where i do, nor even where I started! but this time I can actually follow the convoluted trail from the beaches of Dunkirk (or Dunkerque, as the French would have it.) to the city of Chicago.

(As a diversion, many people are unaware that Dunkirk is in England. It is a village in Kent, not far from Canterbury!)

I mentioned the Dunkirk evacuation yesterday in connection with the paddle steamer, the Medway Queen. It was, of course, immediately after that defeat-seen-as-victory that Churchill made what is possibly his most famous speech:

What I have only today discovered is that, although the speech was made in the House of Commons in 1940, Churchill only recorded it in 1949! You can read about it here. But I digress again.

It was only a matter of three or four months after Churchill gave that speech that the Blitz began. Much of London, especially the docks and the East End, was flattened. When men of the Canadian air force saw the conditions in which people were living, and especially the lack of food, they wrote home. Lions Clubs in Canada responded by sending food parcels.

After the war, the Queen (later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother), who had been very much impressed by this generosity, sent an equerry to Canada to find out about Lions Clubs.  As a result, Canadian Lions established Lions Clubs in England. Indeed, it was a Canadian who was responsible for establishing Brighton Lions Club. A short quote from Diamond Geezers, the history of the first 60 years of Brighton Lions Club:
Why Brighton was selected as the place in which to form a new Lions Club is not known, but some years later Dennis Venning, one of the charter members, was to recall how it came about:
A representative of Lions International headquarters in Chicago, a Canadian named Murray Huggan, came to Brighton in the late summer of 1950 following the successful formation of a Lions Club in London. He had been advised to get in touch with Dick Pockett, and Dick, who was a great pal of mine, got in touch with me and we decided to meet up with this Murray Huggan and see what it was all about. We got hold of four other persons who I thought might be interested and we had a meeting in the Old Ship Hotel to hear all about it. We were all a bit dubious at first and I remember that one thing we asked for was a copy of the latest annual accounts of the Association; our friend had not got such accounts available and so he had to send to Chicago for them. Anyhow, they arrived pretty quickly and we were quickly satisfied as to the credentials of the International Association of Lions Clubs.
Oh dear, I'm wandering again! But we now have a mention of Chicago. That is where the first Lions Club was formed back in 1917, and that is where this year's international convention is being held right now.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Medway Queen

I don't really remember my paternal grandfather. he died when I was 9 years old, having lived in the house next door all my life, so I find that lack of memory rather surprising. My brother - two years younger than me - does remember him, so why can't I? What i do remember is that he took both of us boys to the cattle market in Chatham on more than one occasion. Having said that, all I can remember of those trips is the squealing of the pigs as they had tags inserted in their ears!

I also have a memory - although I still can't picture Granddad in it- of him taking me on a trip aboard the Medway Queen.  The Medway Queen was a paddle steamer that ran from Sun Pier, Chatham, to Southend.

Built in about 1924, she served as a minesweeper during World War II but her real moment of glory was in 1940 when she made seven trips to the Dunkirk beaches, rescuing about 7,000 men and shooting down three German aircraft. returned to civilian use after the war, she was taken out of service in 1963 before being used as a night club on the Isle of Wight. She was eventually restored (rebuilt?) and is now back on the River Medway, moored at Gillingham Pier.

All this was brought to mind as I see there is a programme about the Dunkirk evacuation on television tonight.