Paradise Lost – Better to reign in hell than serve in paradise! – Finding the tomb of Milton.

One of the perks of doing guided tours is coming across unexpected treasures.  Many of the places I visit are off the usual tourist-track but no matter how many times I go out on walks, I find new things almost every day.

A few weeks ago on one such occasion I was scouting out a tour route for my new John Wesley Methodist Walking Tour of London when I found myself with a little bit of time inside St. Giles Cripplegate.

This particular St. Giles has a long and torrid history, most recently heavily damaged in WW2 bombings and thus standing amongst what was the new post-modern Barbican estate.   It is a little unusual to find such an interesting church between what I at least would call ugly 1960’s era architecture and the remains of the old Roman Wall but such are the unique contrasts that make London interesting.

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St Giles Cripplegate amongst the Barbican estate.  The long history of the church is evident from the various building styles from repairs of various era’s.

In fact the Cripplegate part of the name comes from the fact that the church was originally built next to one of the old Roman gates into the City of London, namely the rather sorrowful sounding Cripplegate.

Amongst the many fine statues inside the church I noticed that there seemed to be something of a cult following to the writer Milton.  I’ve been a big fan of Milton for many years.  Firstly he is mention in Star Trek which is all I really needed to become interested in him but more objectively, he work was required reading in my classics and politics classes at University.

Of course I knew he had to be buried somewhere and if I really wanted to look up the place then I could easily have done so.  There are at least hundreds of churches in London (I’d expect thousands) and to look up everyone of interest to me would be an almost never ending job and so I don’t and instead prefer to happen across them almost accidentally or when I have reason to incorporate them into a new tour.

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John Milton

John Milton was born in 1608 and was educated at St Paul’s School in London before studying languages at Cambridge University for seven years. In 1638 he travelled to Italy – where he may have met Galileo and on his return to England  Milton became a fierce exponent of Cromwell.

In 1643 at the age of 33, he married the 17 year-old Mary Powell but their marriage lasted only a month after she paid a visit to her Royalist family and never returned. However, when the Royalist cause started to decline she begged to be taken back and Milton agreed. Mary died in childbirth in 1652. He also lost his second wife Catharine Woodcock in childbirth. He married his third wife, Elizabeth Minshull, in 1662.

By the age of 43 Milton was blind and as a result he was forced to dictate his poetry though it did inspire one of his greatest works.

Following the execution of Charles I Milton published The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates – arguing that power resided in the hands of the people. As a result he was appointed secretary for foreign languages to Cromwell’s Council of State. After the Restoration of the Monarchy, he lost his position and was briefly arrested.

For the last twelve years of his life Milton lived in Bunhill Row, Finsbury. It was here that he started his epic poem Paradise Lost and the sequel Paradise Regained. However, during the Great Plague he moved out to a cottage at Chalfont St Giles in Buckinghamshire – where the poem was completed.

Milton’s use of blank verse was hugely influential for subsequent poets and he was pretty much the first poet to write in non-rhyming verse.

Milton died of gout in 1674 and there is a commemorative window to Milton in St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey.

Milton was and indeed still is an incredibly well read writer and was read and appreciated across Europe which made him rich enough to ensure his children were able to concentrate on the Classics too.  Perhaps it was due to his wealth that during the 1790’s, while repairs were being made to the chancel, the coffin of John Milton was exhumed by St Giles’ historically unscrupulous verger.  The great poet on public display with the verger charging interested parties first 6d, later 2d, and finally the price of a pint of ale for a peek. This led to his teeth, hair and one rib being purloined for souvenirs before he was reburied, and the contemporary poet William Cowper wrote, ‘Ill fare the hands that heaved the stones, where Milton’s ashes lay! That trembled not to grasp his bones, and steal his dust away!’

Being dedicated to the cause, Milton is even said to be responsible for introducing certain words relating to freedom and liberty into the English language.    His most famous work is of course Paradise Lost.

The Devil (Satan/Lucifer) is the first major character introduced in the poem. He was once the most beautiful of all angels, and is a tragic figure who famously declares: “Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.” Following his failed rebellion against God, he is cast out from Heaven and condemned to Hell. Satan’s desire to rebel against his creator stems from his unwillingness to be subjugated by God and his Son, claiming that angels are “self-begot, self-raised,”and thereby denying God’s authority over them as their creator.

Satan is deeply arrogant, albeit powerful and charismatic. Satan’s persuasive powers are evident throughout the book; not only is he cunning and deceptive, but he is also able to rally the fallen angels to continue in the rebellion after their agonizing defeat in the Angelic War. He argues that God rules as a tyrant and that all the angels ought to rule as gods. Though commonly understood to be the antagonising force in Paradise Lost, Satan may be best defined as a tragic or Hellenic hero. According to William McCollom, one quality of the classical tragic hero is that he is not perfectly good and that his defeat is caused by a tragic flaw, as Satan causes both the downfall of man and the eternal damnation of his fellow fallen angels despite his dedication to his comrades. In addition, Satan’s Hellenic qualities, such as his immense courage and, perhaps, lack of completely defined morals compound his tragic nature.

John Dryden described Paradise Lost as: ‘one of the greatest, most noble and sublime poems which either this age or nation has produced.‘  But Dr Johnson (do read my post on him through the link) was less enamoured by it and famously said: ‘Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again.

These days I sometimes think the famous quote has allegories to Brexit but Whatever your take on Paradise Lost, it can’t be disputed what an incredible influence Milton has had, all the way up to the 23rd century!!!  I was thrilled to be able to visiting his resting place after all these years.

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Samphire Hoe – The newest part of England

There are almost countless things to see in the county of Kent from Chartwell House in the north, Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral and all manner of Roman sites.  Of course what is perhaps more famous than them all are the impressive White Cliffs of Dover which on a sunny day are like nowhere else on Earth.  On a foggy day (for these cliffs are hundreds of feet high) it is quite possible to walk right off the cliff edge to your demise below. In fact Britains number one suicide spot is unsurprisingly nearby.

If you’ve never heard of Samphire Hoe on your visits to Dover Castle or your trip over to France then that’s quite forgivable as there is a very good chance that it wasn’t even there when you passed by.  For Samphire Hoe is the newest rural land in Britain and it was deliberately created using the dug out spoil from the construction of the Channel Tunnel.

On the 26th January 1843, 185 barrels of gunpowder were used to blow a large section of the cliff, to provide a platform that the Dover to Folkestone railway line could be constructed on. The sea no longer directly eroded the cliffs.

In 1881 Colonel Beaumont started digging from Shakespeare cliff using his compressed air boring machine, 2024 yards later the enterprise came to a halt, some say due to a lack of money, others from concern by the Department of War that the French would invade through the tunnel.

In the early 1970’s another attempt was made to reach France. A tunnel was cut through the cliff to reach the old colliery site and the boring machine put in place. By 1975 the Government had withdrawn support for the scheme. There was just money for an experimental drive which was successfully dug out 300m (about 900 feet).

As for what we have today, work started in 1988 when giant sea walls created a manmade lagoon which over the years was filled with the soil and chalk from underneath the English Channel.  This both created a useful spot to pile the debris but also allowed for a large and secluded spot for the vast amount of construction work to be based.

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Samphire Hoe is a great place for wildlife. It is home to more than 200 species of plants (including the rare early spider orchid with over 5,000 plants recorded in 2017), 123 species of birds and 30 of butterflies have been recorded.

Half of the Hoe was sown with wildflower seeds. This consisted of five mixes totalling 31 species, designed to suit the different conditions on the site. The rest of the site was planted with annual rye grass. This has since died out allowing plants from the surrounding areas to colonise. This newly developed vegetation has attracted a wide variety of wildlife.

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As it is new land then every year it offers scientists an almost unique opportunity to study the spread of species as the landscape matures.

Samphire Hoe also makes for a great spot for walking or fishing and of course getting to look up at the White Cliffs of Dover and around 110,000 people a year visited in 2018.  At 30 Hectares, Samphire Hoe has a walking path which makes a full circuit of 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) and when it was opened in 1994 by Queen Elizabeth II and President Mitterand of France.

You actually reach Samphire Hoe by going down a tunnel through the cliffs but above the Folkestone to Dover train line.

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Going to Samphire Hoe

 

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Looking up the White Cliffs which aren’t so white at this section as they have been protected from the sea for over a century.

As for the name, it is the result of a competition in the 1990’s. Gillian Janaway from Dover came up with the name. Having been an English teacher, she was familiar with Shakespeare’s King Lear.

“There is a cliff whose high and bending head looks fearfully in the confined deep… The crows and choughs that wing the midway air scarce so gross as beetles; halfway down hangs one that gathers samphire, dreadful trade!”.

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At the time that William Shakespeare was writing King Lear he was said to have travelled regularly through Dover. It was his familiarity with the cliffs that may well have inspired his descriptions. To this day the first cliff on the West side of Dover is known as Shakespeare cliff.

Rock samphire was once collected from the cliffs. Its fleshy green leaves were picked in May and pickled in barrels of brine and sent to London, where it was served as a dish to accompany meat.

 

 

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The tragic tale of Gelert the trusted hound of King Llwelyn The Great

These days people travel to Snowdonia in North West Wales for the incredible old castles and villages and particularly the rugged, wild landscapes and outdoor pursuits.

It was a lot different in the thirteen-century when as with much of Britain and indeed the world, anywhere outside the city walls was seen to be a devilishly dangerous place full of highway bandits and fearsome wild animals.

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A fine statue of King Llwelyn The Great

Though there are plans to bring them back, wild Bears and Wolves can’t be found in the British Isles and the most dangerous predator you might find in Wales might be an overly amorous sheep.

Gelert was the faithful companion of Prince Llwelyn The Great.  Llwelyn through his feats in battle and clever diplomacy went on to dominate much of Wales for around 45 years and was so important he was one of those that brought about the the famed Magna Carta with bad King John which was signed in 1215 in Runnymede, near Windsor Castle.

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The areas in yellow were directly ruled by King Llywelyn the Great whilst those in great were tributary.

However Llwelyn wasn’t entirely infallible and one day Prince Llywelyn the Great departed from his palace at Beddgelert in Caernarvonshire to spend a day out hunting.  Like most royalty and noblemen then and now,  the Prince was a keen hunter and he enjoyed spending his time in the surrounding countryside. Llywelyn had many hunting dogs, but one day when he summoned them as usual with his horn, his favourite dog Gelert didn’t appear, so regretfully Llywelyn had to go hunting without him.

On his return from the hunt, the prince  was greeted by Gelert who came bounding and leaping towards him and his jaws were dripping with blood.

The Prince was appalled and instantly feared the blood covering the dogs face belonged to his baby boy. Rushing in to the nursery room,  his worst fears were realised when he saw in the child’s nursery, an upturned cradle, and walls spattered with blood.  A quick search around for his son and heir revealed there was no sign of him and naturally  Llywelyn was convinced that his favourite hound Gelert had killed his son.

Distraught and angry with grief, Llywelyn  took his sword and plunged it into Gelert’s heart and as the poor hound howled in agony,  Llywelyn heard a child’s cry coming from underneath the upturned cot. It was his son, and he was totally unharmed!

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Llywelyn with his baby boy and poor Gelert.

Next to the crying child though lay the dead body of  an enormous wolf.  Brave and faithful Gelert had saved the baby and killed the wolf in a terrible battle to the death.

Overcome with grief and regret, Llywelyn went outside and buried Gelert with honour and majesty so that we could all remember his faithful and innocent hound for the rest of time.

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A bronze statue of Gelert on the path to his resting place.

You can still go and see the cairn of rocks under a small copse of trees amongst the beautiful green countryside.

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The grave of Gelert

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If you look closely then you can see an account of the tragic events in both English and Welsh.

There is a further twist on this story and that is that it may not be entirely true.  The account of Llywelyn and Gelert goes back through the ages but  in 1793, a man called David Pritchard came to live in the Welsh village of Beddgelert. He was the landlord of the Royal Goat Inn and knew the story of the brave dog and created the burial site as we see it today to benefit his trade at the inn.  Probably wrongly believing that the village name is based upon the the name of Gelert… whilst possible is thought by specialists not to be the case.

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Nevertheless it’s a spiritual place to visit and one can’t help but feel sad for Gelert even if his final resting place may not be as it seems.

If you think Welsh dogs are brave then check out my old post on when the last French Invasion of Britain was foiled by a small group of Welsh lady villagers and one in particular armed only with a pitchfork.

And in the interest of equality, here is a post about those brave old men of Harlech and the film Zulu commemorating the Battle of Rorke’s Drift which is comparable in British history to The Alamo.

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Taking a ride on the Shields Ferry

Last summer when I was walking Hadrian’s Wall on my fundraising trip, I took a brief diversion on the way to see Bede’s chapel at Jarrow and the ancestral home of of George Washington in the aptly named Washington Hall.

In order to do this, I took a trip on the Shield Ferry that crosses the River Tyne about 2 miles from the mouth of the river.  There have been ferries across the Tyne since the 14th century, and this is the only service that remains.

The ferry service makes just under 25,000 journeys a year and carries nearly 400,000 passengers a year. Two vessels currently operate the service, Pride of the Tyne, built in 1993 and Spirit of the Tyne, built in 2007. Usually, only one ferry is in operation at a time, although both are used during peak periods. The service typically operates every 30 minutes with a 7 minute crossing time.

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The ferry is even included on the Tyne and Wear Metro and so as I have a connection to the area and like exploring places that aren’t necessarily touristic then I thought I would find a way to incorporate the ferry into my day.

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You can see the route I took from the North Shields Metro down to the river with a brief diversion to the splendidly named Liddell Street.  Incidentally Stan Laurel used to live in North Shields at the top of the map near where there word Lighthouse is.

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Stan Laurel statue in Dockwray Square where he lived.

The famous Laurel and Hardy Piano scene is said to be inspired by the steep steps that go down to the Quayside.

Above is the view of the first third of the Quayside stairs .

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Above is the view of the first third of the Quayside stairs

Generally the Shields Ferry service is used by commuters mainly from North Tyneside and South Tyneside. The ferry provides a viable alternative to travelling via Newcastle city centre on the Tyne and Wear Metro or driving through the Tyne Tunnel. The Shields Ferry can be used by cyclists and is part of the 1,695-mile-long (2,728 km) National Cycle Route 1 from Dover in the South East to Shetland in the North East.

It was a hot week when I was doing the walk so this short trip across the River Tyne provided a welcome a welcome breeze as well as being able to watch the waters and the ships go by.    I hope you like my Youtube video I put showing what it was like.

 

 

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National Sickie Day – Good and stupid reasons to take a day off work.

According to national statistics the first Monday in February is the day when people are most likely to pull a sickie.

One of the factors attributed to this is the first payday since Christmas, meaning people have been out celebrating all weekend with a particularly heavy one. Another theory is that people have a tendency to re-evaluate their career path in January, meaning that a lot of these sickies are actually to attend interviews. These factors combined have been linked to the estimated 350,000 absences from work on the first Monday of February last year.

According to Hyper Recruitment Solutions, a quarter of February’s interviews take place on this day. This is because many people re-evaluate their life after Christmas and spend January planning any new career changes ready for February interviews.

The figure this time around is predicted to be higher than previous years thanks to a combination of factors.  These include it falling after Super Bowl Sunday, the first weekend after Dry January, the first post-Christmas pay day and the recent snowy weather.

It is predicted this will cost the UK economy around £45million, thanks to lost hours, wages and overtime.

I don’t know about you but I’ve never taken a sickie but wherever I’ve worked, there were always certain people who we knew were prone to using the slightest excuse to avoid coming in to work.

With the odd exception, before I started my own company, I’ve worked for mostly terrible managers or organisations in general.  Even when it was a good place generally, I’d be one of the unfortunate people who work for the one horrible and generally inept personality in the building.

I remember one time of being accused of both planning to be ill and making up the fact that I’d been ill despite being obviously ill for a week or two after I couldn’t come in one day.  I went to see my doctors that day and I was told I really should be intensive care and he was amazed when I told him what was going on at work.

Happily most workplaces have managers that are slightly down the scale from the Hitler types that I’ve worked for and according to a survey by AXA PPP, flu satisfied four out of 10 bosses, followed by back pain and injury caused by an accident when calling in sick.

Although eight per cent of managers were not convinced by any of the nine ailments listed below.

Good Excuses

1. Flu
2. Back pain
3. Injury caused by accident
4. Stress
5. Elective surgery
6. Depression
7. Anxiety
8. Common cold
9. Migraine
10. None of the above

Of course we all know of people who are less than ethical with their approach to work and below is a list of actual and yet totally pathetic reasons given last year by people who couldn’t come to work.

  1.  I can’t come in today because my flatmates took my door handle off and I can’t get out.
  2. All of my work clothes are wet so I can’t make it in today.
  3. I’ve managed to secure a parking space outside my house and I can’t risk losing it.
  4. Goats got into my garden.
  5. I’m stuck in the bathroom. (These pesky doors!)
  6. My mum was hoovering the stairs and I couldn’t get past.
  7. My hamster’s poorly.
  8. Death of a distant relative (often found out later to be very much alive).
  9. My trousers split on the way in.
  10. I swallowed a hot sausage last night and it burnt my throat so badly I can’t breathe today.
  11. “My only pair of work trousers is in the wash”
  12. “It’s my dog’s birthday and I need to arrange a party for him”
  13. “The dog ate my shoes”
  14. “I got arrested”
  15. “I lost my PPE”
  16. “I stayed out partying last night and haven’t had any sleep”
  17. “My friend is on annual leave so I can’t get a lift”
  18. “I have no way to get to work”
  19. “My wife earns more than me so I have to look after the kids”
  20. I need new tyres on my car, so it would be illegal to drive to work
  21. I can’t afford to put petrol in my car to get to work
  22. The weather is too bad to cycle to work
  23. I am too tired to cycle to work 
  24. My grandfather has died (the company’s HR manager bumped into the grandfather, who was very much alive and well)
  25. My dog has chewed my shoes
  26. I’m trying for a baby
  27. I am still over the limit
  28. I have to move house today and only found out last night
  29. There’s a mouse in my kitchen 
  30.  The sun is making me feel sick
  31.  My dog has heatstroke
  32.  I’ve got indigestion
  33. I’m too sunburnt

I must say, if I received one of these excuses then that person likely wouldn’t have a job in my office for much longer.  Employers are perfectly entitled to challenge the authenticity of an absence; if an excuse seems too far-fetched then ask for evidence if appropriate.

Many workers pull sickies due to the weather, tiredness or “they just don’t feel like it”

Over half aren’t asked for proof of sickness (57 per cent) and of those who were, consequences were as diverse as getting fired (one in 10), a formal warning (one in five) or no implications at all (one in three).

When asked how they communicated this to their managers, one in five said they’d simply email, 80 per cent called and 16 percent WhatsApped – an average that’s slightly higher in London and Manchester at around 25 per cent. However, only eight per cent said they would log it into their HR reporting system and some would even go as far as reporting their sickness to their managers over Facebook Messenger.

44 per cent of those surveyed believe the ‘sickie’ culture may be heightened by employees who have a zero work ethic and are abusing the system. After all, nearly one in 10 of those who were asked for proof of sickness last year faked it and nearly a quarter believe having an awful relationship with their managers and/or colleagues may be a key reason why this behaviour arises in the first place.

On the flip side, nearly half of those polled believe the reason why employees pull sickies is because they are unhappy, depressed and overworked in their current jobs or in their private lives.

You can read more about the downsides to being in an office here 50 Top Grumbles From Working In An Office.

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A peek inside a Medieval Book Coffer

Lot’s of people seem to think that reading on the go is a modern phenomenon using electronic devices to snatch a few minutes of solitude on a busy train to work.  I must say, I just don’t get it though I accept almost everyone else does.  Long before I was born, books have been inherently portable.  In fact barely anything is more portable, convenient or hardwearing to take on your travels than a good paperback and I know my books usually sell better in paper form than electrical.

However long before people would carry a book to the park or slip one in their bag for a day trip to the beach or a long train journey, most books were larger, heavier and more inflexible.  They were also incredibly precious but that didn’t mean that people didn’t still want to take their books with them when they went, especially as journeys could take many weeks, months or even a year.  Those rich enough to own books and were able to travel were usually one and the same and so it made sense that such people would look after their expensive belongings in what could be said as being a book box.

Despite there being many thousands of medieval books and manuscripts, there are only around 100 book coffers known to be in existence and one of these has recently been acquired by the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

The French gothic book box, is the first of its kind to enter the libraries’ collection of medieval manuscripts, is made of wood covered with leather, with a metal lock and fittings as well as leather straps threaded on to the sides for carrying. Inside the lid, a woodcut of “God the Father in Majesty” is attached, derived from a liturgical book printed in Paris in 1491 and pointing to the coffer’s place and date of origin. The Bodleian said the print would have been intended to provide “spiritual protection to whatever mixture of books, money, documents, and even medicines the coffer may at different times have contained”.

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The French gothic coffer acquired by the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

“The coffer is a remarkable item that is both utilitarian and devotional and preserves an exceptionally rare woodcut in its original context,” said Dr Christopher Fletcher, keeper of special collections. “Among other things, it shows us that our preoccupation with carrying information around with us in mobile devices – including texts and images – is nothing new.”

It is not known what texts the coffer would have contained. The Bodleian suggested it could have held an illuminated Book of Hours alongside other Christian devotional books. Whatever it held would have been protected by a red canvas lining that has survived mostly intact.

According to the Bodleian, although there are thousands of surviving medieval manuscripts and printed books, only around 100 book coffers are known to be in existence, the majority of which date to the 1500s. Only four impressions of the woodcut in this coffer’s lid, which dates from the earliest days of European printing, are currently known to survive. The woodcut also features a Latin prayer – a chant for the Feast of the Trinity beginning: “Te inuocamus, te laudamus, te benedicimus …

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Cristina Dondi, professor of early European book heritage at Oxford, said: “Very few original woodblock prints from this period survive and each is rich in meaning, complex and exceedingly rare. So, to be able to study one still attached to a physical object of this nature is truly exceptional. This coffer dates to a time when devotional materials were at the crossing between the medieval and the modern period, between art made by hand and by mechanical means.”

The coffer, which is part of a new display at the Bodleian’s Weston Library, was acquired from a private dealer who had bought it at auction in 2007. The Weston exhibition, entitled Thinking Inside the Box, features a selection of boxes and bags that have been used to carry books through the centuries, from specially designed satchels for Qur’anic manuscripts to a palm-leaf manuscript from West Java kept inside a carved, lacquered and painted box.

If you want to see some even older literary treasures then check out my recent post on The Anglo-Saxon exhibition at the British Library  or for an almost ancient blog post from 2012 then do have a peek inside The Mappa Mundi and the chained library at Hereford Cathedral.

 

 

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The Royal Air Force Bomber Command Memorial

Last week I mentioned in a post about the vandalism of a number of memorials in London which made me realise that I should actually write a positive post about one of them in particular,

The Royal Air Force Bomber Command Memorial is a memorial in Green Park, London, commemorating the crews of RAF Bomber Command who embarked on missions during the Second World War. The memorial, located on Piccadilly near Hyde Park Corner, was built to mark the sacrifice of 55,573 aircrew from Britain, Canada, Czechoslovakia, Poland and other countries of the Commonwealth, as well as civilians of all nations killed during raids.   Queen Elizabeth II unveiled the memorial on 28 June 2012, the year of her Diamond Jubilee.

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Serving in Bomber Command was possibly the most dangerous and deadly thing to do in active service in WW2 with 44.4% of the airmen involved being killed, usually over Germany.

The controversy over the tactics employed by RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War meant that an official memorial to the aircrews had been delayed for many years. Despite describing bombers as “the means of victory” in 1940, British prime minister Winston Churchill did not mention Bomber Command in his speech at the end of the war.

The Bomber Command Memorial is perhaps my favourite war memorial in London, if it is possible to have such a thing.  It’s an incredibly beautiful and moving spot but why did it take until 2012 for it to be installed?   Despite their unmatched bravery and countless missions impossible, many of the missions over Germany involved not just the destruction of German military and industrial targets but also the mass bombing of German cities in the full knowledge this would kill civilians and particularly those of the German city of Dresden.

Desden Bombings

Beginning on the night of February 13, 1945, more than 1,200 heavy bombers dropped nearly 4,000 tons of high-explosive and incendiary bombs on the city in four successive raids. An estimated 25,000 people were killed in the bombings and the firestorm that raged afterward. More than 75,000 dwellings were destroyed, along with unique monuments of Baroque architecture in the historic city center. The scale of the death and destruction, coming so late in the war, along with significant questions about the legitimacy of the targets destroyed have led to years of debate about whether the attack was justified, or whether it should be labelled a war crime.

Of course, this was in response to the Nazi initiated bombings of almost every British town and city with Coventry in particular being almost wiped off the map.  It was by no means a universally popular tactic even at the time but in a fight to the death with a ruthless enemy, Churchill decided it was warranted if it would bring the war to a swifter conclusion. In effect, it was a necessary evil but for decades after the men of Bomber Commander was consistently overlooked despite everyone knowing that no group did more for the war effort than they.

It took until the 21st Century for nn appeal to be made for £5.6 million to build the memorial, and funding came from donations made by the public, as well as substantial amounts from Lord Ashcroft, businessmen John Caudwell and Richard Desmond. Robin Gibb, the singer from the Bee Gees became a key figure behind the appeal, working alongside Jim Dooley to raise funds and have the memorial built. Liam O’Connor designed the memorial, built of Portland stone, which features a bronze 9-foot (2.7 m) sculpture of seven aircrew, designed by the sculptor Philip Jackson to look as though they have just returned from a bombing mission and left their aircraft.

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The inscription on the roof of the memorial is the motto of the RAF… Per Ardua ad Astra; Through Adversity to the Stars

Aluminium from a Royal Canadian Air Force Handley Page Halifax of No. 426 Squadron that had crashed in Belgium in May 1944 was used to build the roof of the memorial, which was designed to evoke the geodetic structure of the Vickers Wellington. The Halifax, LW682 OW/M, had been removed from a swamp in 1997 with three of the crew found still at their posts. They were buried with full military honours in Geraardsbergen and the remains of the aircraft were sent to Canada. Some of the metal was used for the restoration of a Halifax in Trenton, Ontario, and the rest was melted down by the Bomber Command Museum of Canada in Nanton, Alberta. The Museum provided ingots for the memorial to commemorate the 10,659 of 55,573 Bomber Command aircrew killed during the war that were Canadian.

The plinth of the memorial is inscribed with the following text by Pericles: “Freedom is the sure possession of those alone who have the courage to defend it.”

There had been controversy in the lead-up to the official opening, with a lack of forthcoming funds to pay for the projected £700,000 cost of the ceremony. A number of veterans put forward their own money as security for the event, making them liable for the costs if donations did not cover the total. The Ministry of Defence drew criticism for not providing any money, in particular the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, who would be attending. A number of veterans had also missed out on applying for tickets in the early stages, although many other parties returned theirs to allow them to attend. Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the memorial on 28 June 2012, unveiling the bronze sculpture. The ceremony was attended by 6,000 veterans and family members of those killed, and the Avro Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight dropped red poppy petals over Green Park.

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6,000 people assemble for the official opening of the Bomber Command Memorial in 2012.

In October 2012 it was reported that some of the trustees of the charity set up to fund the construction and opening of the Bomber Command Memorial would be liable for a shortfall of £500,000. In May 2013, less than a year after its unveiling, the memorial was vandalised. The word ‘Islam’ was spray-painted on the Bomber Command Memorial and also on the Animals in War Memorial nearby and since then the memorial has been damaged on a number of occassions.

In March 2015, Les Munro, one of the last surviving members of the Dambusters Raid, intended to sell his war medals and flight logbook at auction to raise funds for the upkeep of the RAF Bomber Command Memorial. The auction was pulled after Lord Ashcroft donated £75,000 to the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund towards the upkeep, with a further NZ$19,500 donated by the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland, New Zealand, where the medals will go on display. Munro died a few months later in August 2015.

Avro Lancaster PA474 carrying 800,000 poppies, taking off from RAF Coningsby on 28 June 2012 for the opening ceremony Photo: SAC Graham Taylor/MOD

Avro Lancaster PA474 carrying 800,000 poppies, taking off from RAF Coningsby on 28 June 2012 for the opening ceremony Photo: SAC Graham Taylor/MOD

If you have a few minutes to spare and you’re near Buckingham Palace or the West End then it’s well worth visiting the Bomber Command Memorial or you can join me on my War Memorials of London Walking Tour with Ye Olde England Tours.

When I did my most recent memorial talk on Armistice Day in 2018, I was sure to make mention of the deaths incurred for all nations, friend and foe alike, something I’d never witnessed before in those 40 odd years that I have witnessed since the centenary of the end of WW1.  I was glad that I judged the mood correctly and everyone present thought it the right thing to do.

Similarly with this  beautiful and thoughtful memorial, it’s not just to these brave men of the RAF but also a reminder of the horrors of war that civilians faced too and why everything possible should be done so that similar events never have to happen again and that’s just one of many reasons why it is wrong to vandalise this or any other war memorial.

 

 

 

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