Showing posts with label war. Show all posts
Showing posts with label war. Show all posts

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A miracle of deliverance

"A miracle of deliverance" is how Winston Churchill described the evacuation of British and French troops from the beaches of Dunkirk between 26 May and 4 June 1940. More than 330,000 men were stranded, driven back to the coast by the advancing German army.  Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay  masterminded Operation Dynamo, a plan to rescue as many men as possible.

A fleet of cargo ships, passenger ferries, barges and coasters was assembled at Dover and Southampton, with Royal Navy minesweepers, corvettes and destroyers for protection. However, the shallow slope of the beaches of Dunkirk prevented the ships from getting close to the shore, so smaller craft would be needed to ferry the soldiers from the beaches out to the ships waiting a mile off shore. 800 pleasure boats, lifeboats, Thames barges, tugs and fishing boats set off with volunteer crews, many of whom had never sailed outside coastal waters. Under attack from German fighter planes and bombers, dodging mines and submarines and under fire from coastal defences, they picked up soldiers from the beaches, took them to the waiting ships and went back for more.
 About 338,000 British troops were rescued and, on the last night, some 26,000 of the French rearguard were picked up by British, French ,Belgian and Dutch vessels.

 The 70th anniversary is being commemorated by a smaller fleet of small boats  making that same journey under very different circumstances. Many of them took part in Operation Dynamo and have been proudly restored for this occasion. Sometimes I am very proud to be British!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Hallma..... oops.... Valentine's Day

I hope you all had lots of tokens of affection from your nearest and dearest and/or a few secret admirers.

Whether or not valentines should be anonymous was the topic of conversation in the local greetings card shop when I went in a few weeks ago. I wanted to buy a birthday card but there were very few on display as the whole shop was filled with cards, teddy bears, balloons and other items - all red and heart-shaped - devoted to Valentine's Day.

The shop owner, a young man around 40 years old, sighed as he looked around at the displays of cards to husbands, wives, partners, lovers, friends, mothers, step-mothers, neighbours, grandchildren, great-grandmas and every other title it had been possible to think up. "I don't think of myself as old but I'm sure that when I was a boy, valentines were given anonymously to girls you fancied. I didn't give my mother or sister one." This from a man who makes a living from selling cards.

So, is it all the fault of Hallmark? I decided to
look a little further and, in fact, I didn't have to look very far. I have a collection of postcards that my grandfather, Michael John Graham, sent from France during the Great War and there I found three cards sent for 14 February 1917. I love these embroidered silk cards with their muddy smudges. I wonder where he was when he wrote them, what he had seen and heard and endured. He would never talk about the war years.

Some of the cards have little pockets with even smaller cards inside, some have lost these personal messages as has this one addressed to my grandmother, Mary Anne
, although there is no subtlety about the identity of the sender.
This one is addressed simply to 'John', my father, who would have been approaching his fifth birthday in February 1917. I bet he loved the colours which are still vivid ninety-two years on.
My favourite is this card with a mixture of embroidered and dried flowers, sent to his two year old daughter. The cards addressed to Katie are the only ones in the collection with personal messages. I find them very moving, as my memories of my grandfather are of a very quiet, brooding sort of man who never spoke to us children.
Well, it looks as if Hallmark are not to blame for the commercialisation of Valentine's Day after all. Do you think it was those French embroiderers?

Sunday, November 09, 2008

We remember them

Therefore is the name of it called Babel

And still we stood and stared far down
Into that ember-glowing town
Which every shaft and shock of fate
Had shorn into its base. Too late
Came carelessly Serenity.

Now torn and broken houses gaze
On the rat-infested maze
That once sent up rose-silver haze
To mingle through eternity.

The outlines, once so strongly wrought,
Of city walls, are now a thought
Or jest unto the dead who fought…
Foundation for futurity.

The shimmering sands where once there played
Children with painted pail and spade
Are drearly desolate, - afraid
To meet Night's dark humanity,

Whose silver cool remakes the dead,
And lays no blame on any head
For all the havoc, fire, and lead,
That fell upon us suddenly.

When all we came to know as good
Gave ways to Evil's fiery flood,
And monstrous myths of iron and blood
Seem to obscure God's clarity.

Deep sunk in sin, this tragic star
Sinks deeper still, and wages war
Against itself; strewn all the seas
With victims of a world disease.
- And we are left to drink the lees
Of Babel's direful prophecy.
Osbert Sitwell, January 1916

Fellow bloggers have marked this Remembrance Sunday with other poems and novels: on 60 going on 16, D has chosen Wilfred Owen's Anthem for Doomed Youth; Brit has linked to Siegfried Sassoon's Everyone sang on Thought Experiments; over on Read Warbler you will find Cath's review of All Quiet on the Western Front and on Bread and Roses, you will find another Wilfred Owen poem: Dulce et decorum est.