Thinking about Armed Forces Day, veterans, and The Cenotaph

It’s Armed Forces Day this coming Saturday. Sadly there’ll be no outdoor events for us to attend. As with everthing else nowdays, celebration events will be online.

I wonder if there will be armed forces veterans at The Cenotaph to ensure nothing untoward happens to it. Talking about veterans, our local veterans help group has changed its name to Veterans & Familes – Listening Project, same focus on helping to improve the day to day lives of veterans and families, now with a wider reach than just Surrey Heath.

Now, a dreadful admission from me about my knowledge of the Cenotaph. I didn’t know the word ‘cenotaph’ derives from the Greek for ‘empty tomb’. The Cenotaph has a closed empty tomb at the top  surmounted with a large laurel wreath.

With the decision not to repatriate the war dead of World War 1, and to bury them close to where they fell, a national memorial was needed as a focal point to the nations’s commemoration of those killed and affected by war. Hence the Cenotaph, designedby Sir Edwin Lutyens. English Heritage, who look after the memorial, say of its design,

Lutyens’s austere and dignified design for the Cenotaph rejected imagery, bombast and religious symbolism. Its timeless, non-denominational form has ensured its relevance to all the dead of the Empire and to audiences ever since. Its message was one of the universality of grief and the human cost of victory.

The memorial is regularly cleaned, and every 10-15years goes through a period of conservation. A feature of Lutyens design is that it does not shed water well at its top, resulting in the empty tomb and wreath becoming saturated with water, attracting biological growth. The Cenotaph was last given a renovation in 2013, such that the Portland stone at the top is now of a light colour.

Here are a couple of historic photos, and a couple more recent ones, where the difference after conservation can be clearly seen.

The Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph in 2010.

Finding stuff in my photo library No.2 – Frimley Park Mansion

Frimley Park Mansion is one of Surrey Heath’s largest and most important local buildings. It’s Grade II listed, building begun in 1699 for the Tichbornes, and later owned by the Lawrels and Tekels. When the estate was divided up in 1860, part was added to the Royal Military College Sandhurst, and the rest became part of the newly developing town of Cambridge Town – now Camberley.

The building and grounds are now home to Frimley Park Cadet Training Centre (CTC), the national centre of excellence for Cadet Forces training.

The interior of the Mansion has 18th century work, a 17th century staircase, and imported Jacobean panelling. It acted as a war-time maternity hospital, and since 1959 Frimley Park has been home to the Army’s Cadet Training Centre, teaching almost 2,000 officers and Instructors annually to train their cadets safely.

I visited Frimley Park for the September 2007 Heritage Open Day. Guides were especially proud of its association with the Thai royal family, as in 1898 the Crown Prince of Siam [now Thailand] lived at Frimley Park. His room was at the top of the Mansion – I think attic was mentioned – as Thai royal tradition had it than no one should be able to look down on the Prince.

Some of the rooms were open for visitors, as were the grounds, which are lovingly tended. There were flower beds at the front and side of the Mansion, a walled garden, lake, and specimen mature trees. The groundman, with whom I chatted was particularly pround of their topiary.

Again, the purpose of this post is to show the photos I took of my visit. Apologies for the poor photo quality.

Seeing what’s been hidden for over 40 years

At the beginning of July I wrote about our taking a mini-adventure to the Isle of Thanet and hopefully to see some sound mirrors up close.

How lucky we were, the weather was fine, and we saw much that was new to us. We based ourselves in Ramsgate, which has a busy little harbour, plenty of eateries, and has attractive regency and Victorian buildings that have so often been demollished elsewhere in the country.

One of the main items on our agenda was to visit the recently uncovered first World War sound mirrors on the White Cliffs near Dover.

Built as aircraft and airship early warning devices for coastal towns between 1915 and 1930, parabolic sound mirrors concentrate sound waves enabling detection of incoming enemy aircraft. They were developed from sound ranging experiments during WW1 to fix the postion of enemy gun batteries by plotting the sound of gunfire.  Many of the 20 or so sound mirrors survive being located in quiet and out-of-the-way places. They became redundant as the speed of aircraft increased such that the amount of early warning time became so small as to be of little benefit, and the arrival of the more efficient radar.

Two sound mirrors at Fan Bay near Dover were covered up by Kent County Council in 1970’s along with all evidence of adjacent three coastal gun batteries to rid the coast of unsightly redundant wartime buildings and tunnels. In 2012 the National Trust acquired a stretch of the White Cliffs coast and knowing that gun emplacement, searchights and tunnels existed at Fan Bay decided to open them as a tourist attraction. These are the photos of our visit to the Fan Bay Deep Shelter and Sound Mirrors. [More info about sound mirrors can be found HERE, and HERE and HERE].


A Portsmouth Harbour tour reveals the state of the Royal Navy

In sunny Portsmouth last Saturday we decided on a tour of the harbour, along with many other sightseers. Less crowed on a weekday, but then it possibly wouldn’t have been such a lovely warm and sunny day.

The announcer, on the boat, said that we’d missed seeing th HMS Queen Elizabeth, which had recently sailed to America. I know it was a weekend, but there didn’t appear to be any activity in the Naval Dockyard that we could discern from our tour boat.

It’ll not need saying, but yours truly knows little about naval matters, these are my observations, that’s all. I’ve written about what I’ve seen in Portsmouth Naval Dockyard, HERE, and HERE. Photos follow of Saturday’s visit.

  • The first nval vessel we encountered was M921 Lobelia, a minehunter of the Belgian Navy.
  • Next we saw HMS Medway P223.  She arrived in her home port of Portsmouth for the first time only a few days ago. She is the second of the new River class offshore patrol vessels.
  • Next we passed HMS Defender D36, one the six £1billion Daring class air defence destroyers, back in service having completed an almost 2 year refit.
  • Then we passed HMS Dragon D35, which had not long returned from a six month tour of duty in the Middle East.
  • Inside the dockyard we saw three Daring class destoyers in various stage of readiness, HMS Daring D32, HMS Dauntless D33, HMS Diamond D34. That’s five of the six destroyers not on patrol. Two of the six Dauntless and Diamond are not capable of deployment, Dauntless is classified as a training ship, and Diamond suffering from mechanical issues.
  • In various parts of the Naval Dockyard, were two redundant RFA Fleet Tankers, and survey vessel.

I appreciate that ships require replenishment, maintenance, and the crew home leave after an overseas deployment. My conclusion is that we need all of the Daring class destoyers to be operationable. With shortly to have two Elizabeth class aircraft carriers who will need to be accompanied by capable warships, not ageing frigates.


The worthy winners of the 2019 World Pace Sticking Championships

Following on from the previous article about pace sticking, and the World Pace Sticking Championships held this month at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, here’s a video of the championship winners – the Pakistan Army collecting their prizes.

Lifting their legs above their heads, a truly amazing feat. I asked the two RMAS Colour Sergeants, mentioned in my previous article about this, and they explained how they achieve the high leg kick, but said, they’re not sure they could do it.

Below the video is an article from Forces network on Pace Sticking: What is it really all about.

Great to meet the pace sticking Royal Military Academy Sandhurst Colour Sergeants

I’m repeating myself as I wrote, in detail HERE with a couple of videos, about the pace sticking demonstrations at the RMAS.

We both look forward to the pace sticking demonstration at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst Heritage Day. We enjoy the precision in unity of marching with a pace stick, the perfection of smartness in the uniforms, and the approachability and affability of the soldiers.

I made a short video of the pace sticking demonstration, which is not that good I’m afraid as I wasn’t close enough to the action. We were pleased to talk to a couple of the Colour Sergeants in the pace sticking demo, both of whom were in the World Pace-sticking Championships in the Army video below. My inferior video follows.

The Colour Sergeants were proud to be at the Academy for their two year term, and we were delighted to talk to them – two top men.

A feast of bands and drums at RMAS Heritage Day

We return from a week away in a hot climate to attend the Heritage Day at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst on a typically cool summer’s day.

Attendance at the Heritage Day seemed lower than in previous years. It can’t have helped that the day started with light rain, which thankfully soon passed, such that it remained dry for the rest of the day. There were fewer attractions this year, made up by a feast of band performances on the Old College square.

We enjoyed a Gurkha Bhat meal, always a treat at the Heritage Day, which we ate while watching a succession of bands and drums. Sadly the Royal Logistic Corps Silver Stars Parachute Display Team show was cancelled due to the windy conditions. Here are our photos of the day. There’ll be an article following about the pace sticking demonstration.

At last I got to visit HMS Belfast moored by Tower Bridge

Just over a week ago I corrected a personal failure, never having visited HMS Belfast when I worked in London in the 1970’s, nor on the hundreds of visits to London since then.

After a luchtime event, a friend and I, took a river taxi to the World War II warship, and enjoyed every minute of our visit, such that, my friend and I, were, I’m sure, the last to leave.

We ventured down into the Engine Room, and further down into the Boiler Room. We marvelled at what it was like for the sailors, when underway, and when at action stations, who negotiated the walkways, steps, numerous trip hazards, and chances to bang one’s head.

There were plenty of reminders of the actions she was involved in. She is moored in a great location, just up river from Tower Bridge, and opposite the skyscrapers of the City of London. The views of these and the river traffic added to the pleasure of the visit.


An almost forgotten London wartime defence structure revealed

This may seem an arcane topic. Well, it is, I admit. While idly reading items on Twitter, which is something that I really should stop doing. I blame Brexit for taking over my reading habits.

Anyway, onto the story.

Mark Wallace – @wallaceme – a Kingston on Thames resident having studied archaelogy, and a regular walker in his area, spotted a piece of of Second World War defence fortification. Not at all obvious to anyone walking by the Nail Bar in St James’s Road.

Mark in his interview by the Surrey Comet, describes his uncovering of the fortified wall.

The structure at the Nail Bar is hangover from the defences created for the WWII  London Stop Line. These were hastily created fortified defences. The outer wall of the Nail Bar has three loopholes in it, now bricked up, which were firing positions, part of the protection of the bridge over the River Thames.

There are many such quirky such fortifications around the country. Mark Wallce used the Archaeology Data Service to verify his finding.

Answer to Photo Quz No.53: Duke of Wellington statue in Aldershot

I feel sure many of you will know it’s a statue of the Duke of Wellington on a horse. Though perhaps some may not know that it is located on a hill in Round Hill Park, Aldershot, next to the A325.

If you haven’t seen the statue you’ll be surprised by its size; it’s 30 feet (9.1 m) high, 26 feet (7.9 m) from the horse’s nose to tail, and 22 feet 8 inches (6.91 m) in girth.

It weighs 40 tons, and wonderfully it is mostly of solid bronze, made from the melted down French cannon captured at Waterloo. Sad to say the horse is not of Copenhagen, Wellington’s charger, although when you get up close to the statue you can see blood vessels and such.