Friday, 29 June 2012

The Dedication and Unveiling Ceremony

My last post was about  the forthcoming dedication of the Bomber Command Memorial. Well, now it has happened. After a wait of almost 70 years, the families and comrades of the airmen lost during the bombing campaigns of the Second World War now have a permanent, national, reminder of the bravery and the sacrifce made by these men. The survivors are now old men, in their late eighties and nineties. The Bomber Command Association have estimated that they are losing, on average, twelve former crewmen a week. It is very sad that so many have passed away over the years without seeing a fitting memorial to all of their lost friends and colleagues.

The casualty rate was staggering. Out of a total of 125,00 aircrew, 55,573 were killed, 8,403 were wounded and 9,838 were made prisoners of war. These men were all volunteers and had an average age of just 22. Volunteers also came from Commonwealth countries and from occupied Europe. Many of the young men put in charge of a 30 ton, four engined monster of a bomber had probably never even driven a car before signing up. Yet despite supporting these crews and encouraging the principle of area bombing during the war, many of those in authority chose to protect their own futures as the war moved towards an end, and distance themselves from the destruction and large scale loss of life that resulted from those raids.

In September 1941, Winston Churchill said "The fighters are our salvation but the bombers alone provide the means of victory". In his Victory Speech in 1945 he made no mention at all of Bomber Command and it's contribution to the war. No campaign medal was issued  and although the bomber war was not written out of the history books, the men who took part in it were, to all intents and purposes, quietly forgotten.

All of that is now in the past and due to the tireless campaigning of the Bomber Command Assocoiation, the support of the remaining veterans and the fund raising power of the Heritage Foundation, the Memorial has been completed. On Thursday, in the presence of several thousand veterans, widows, family members and representatives of the nations whose young men volunteered to fight the common foe, the Memorial was dedicated and the sculpture of a seven man bomber crew was unveiled by Her Majesty the Queen. It was a dignified and fitting ceremony the highlight of which, for many of the old airmen, was the Lancaster of the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight showering Green Park wth poppies. It was a privelege for me to accompany my Dad to this long awaited event

I must give a very big thank you to the organisers of the event and especially to the cadets and the serving airmen and women who not only acted as ushers but who took the time to sit and chat with the veterans. They also spent a great deal of time handing out bottles of water, which was a lifesaver on what was an extremely hot day. A mention also for the St John's Ambulance crews who assisted those who found the heat just a little too much.

I apologise for the photographs accompanying this post. I had intended to cover the event quite extensively but on the day found that I could only do that by standing up and moving around. This would have resulted in me obscuring the view for others and as most of those others had more right to be there than me, I decided to content myself with grabbing the odd, sometimes partially obscured, shot here and there.

Others have covered it far better than me. Here

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Bomber Command Memorial

On Thursday (28th June) an important new memorial is to be dedicated in London.

Almost 70 years after the end of the Second World War, the 55,573 aircrew of RAF Bomber Command who lost their lives during that conflict are to finally have a permanent, national memorial. Located on the Piccadilly side of Green Park, at the junction with Hyde Park Corner, it has been dogged by a certain amount of controversy ranging from its design, its size, its location and even whether it should have been built at all. I suppose that the fact of the matter is that what you think of the design, size and location are all a matter of personal taste but whether, or not, it should have been built shouldn't really be up for discussion.

These young men, all volunteers and with an average age of just 22, died doing the job that was set for them by the military and political leaders of the day. Winston Churchill, the master of the soundbite, made several speeches throughout the war praising the job that they were doing and the sacrifices they were making in the effort to bring the war to an end. Sadly, as the war drew toward that end, some of those military leaders and most of the politicians, including Churchill, began to see that their support of area bombing and the resulting "collateral damage" could possibly have a detrimental effect on their peacetime careers. To reduce that effect they began to distance themselves from the bomber crews and their achievments.

Shamefully, Churchill failed to mention the contribution of the bomber crews in his Victory speech, no campaign medals were issued and no national monument was built.

Now, after a considerable fund raising effort by the Bomber Command Association, and the Heritage Foundation, the Memorial has been built. and it will be unveiled by the Queen at noon on Thursday. Importantly, the Memorial also commemorates the people of all nations who lost their lives in the bombing campaigns of 1939-1945.

I should declare an interest here. My Dad is one of the survivors.I will be with him,  along with a large number of other veterans, for what I expect to be a moving and very emotional ceremony which will end with a flypast of five Tornado GR4 aircraft and (weather permitting) the Avro Lancaster of the BBMF . Tears will be shed and some of those will be mine

The ceremony will be shown in "Bomber Command: a Tribute" on BBC2 at 5.00pm on Thursday (repeated at 11.20pm) and if you want to find out more about the events at the end of the war, a program called "Who Betrayed the Bomber Boys?" will be shown at 9.00pm the same night on the Yesterday channel.

A special mention should be made here for the late Robin Gibb, who was very much the driving force behind the Heritage Foundation's fund raising campaign. It is such a shame that he won't be there to see the final result of his efforts.

Finally, please remember that this is not a Memorial to war but it is a Memorial to those who were lost in war. Consider it accordingly.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Some Thoughts On A Scandal

The scandal of the day is that comedian Jimmy Carr has been avoding paying large amounts of tax. Really? Him and thousands of others!

I'm not here to either condemn or condone tax evasion, in fact is it actually tax evasion or simply creative accounting? Whatever.............the "facts" seem to be that the financial scheme in question was not illegal and Mr Carr's accountant was doing exactly what accountants are paid to do. If you have tax laws that are riddled with loopholes big enough to drive a truck through, then you shouldn't be surprised if individuals and major corporations load those trucks to the hilt with cash before driving off!

Whether it is morally acceptable or not depends on the state of your morals. Personally, I don't like paying taxes but I do accept that you don't get anything for nothing, and besides, I neither have the sort of money needed to make these schemes work or the sort of money required to pay an accountant to operate them, If I did, who knows which side of the moral fence I'd chose to lean against.

Was David Cameron right to name Jimmy Carr? Absolutely not, technically at least, he has done nothing wrong. If the PM chooses to close the loopholes in the tax laws and make such schemes illegal, only then should he be allowed to name names.

Of course the press feeding frenzy has already kicked in, Gary Barlow has been named as being involved in a different, but presumably, equally lucrative scheme. In his case, however, his user friendly image seems to have protected him from the PM's wrath. Watch out for more names to hit the tabloids over the next few weeks.

Interestingly, it has also been reported that the Cameron fortune was founded by his father who headed up a company that specialized in creating and managing this type of tax scheme!

The pots and kettles are getting decidedly darker day by day LOL

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Peacocks and Tortoises.

My last post concerning the 60th anniversary of Holland Park had at least one glaring omission. I failed to mention the park’s most distinguished residents. You can often hear them before you see them. Sometimes you see them watching from the tops of walls, or roosting in the trees but more often you see them strutting around as if they own the place, which in a manner of speaking, they do!

I suspect that there have been peafowl  living here since the earliest days of the estate. They have always been valued for their decorative qualities, as well as occasionally ending up on the dinner table. Originating in India, it has been suggested that they were brought to Europe by Alexander the Great. Who knows, but what is certain is that they were to be seen on the great estates well before the Tudor period.

There have been other exotic birds in the park. A few years ago we had crowned cranes, an emu and even a very bolshie turkey, who huffed and puffed around, inflating his wattles and flushing from an almost blue white to bright red in an effort to show  that he was the top bird around there! Sadly, all of those are long gone, leaving the peacocks to rule the roost, but let’s face it, if you want a living breathing show of colour and arrogance, a peacock is hard to beat. You just have to love them!

Something that had passed me by until quite recently is the fact that the offspring of a peacock and a peahen is known as a peachick. Logical if you think about it, but funny all the same!

However, there is something else lurking in a far corner of the park. A little off the beaten track and probably missed by the majority of park visitors there are a pair of giant tortoises. Admittedly, they are cast in bronze rather than living flesh, but they are no less impressive for that. Created as part of a giant sundial titled Tortoises with Triangle and Time (2000), they were sculpted by Wendy Taylor (who is also responsible for Timepiece, the sundial by Tower Bridge) and were commissioned to mark the new millenium. You will find them on the western edge of the park, adjacent to Abbotsbury Rd.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Going Dutch

The Queen's Diamond Jubilee isn’t the only 60year old thing to be celebrated this year. 1952 was the year that my favourite London park opened its gates to the public for the first time. Since being wheeled around it by my Mum in pram and pushchair in its early days, to sitting with a coffee and a book, listening to the birdsong and contemplating early retirement in 2012, it’s always been part of my life.

At 54 acres, Holland Park is the only remaining fragment of the original 500 acre estate of Sir Walter Cope which, in modern terms, stretched from Holland Park Avenue to Earl’s Court tube station. The house was built in 1605 and was originally known as Cope’s Castle.  It is known that the castle was visited by King James the First on several occasions.

The next owner of the estate, was Cope’s son in law, Henry Rich, 1st Earl of Holland, who came to a sticky end. His Royalist activities resulted in him losing his head, after which the house became an army headquarters at which Oliver Cromwell was a frequent visitor.

At the time of the Restoration the estate was returned to the Rich family and it was then that the name Holland House was adopted.

During the 19th century, whilst in the hands of the 3rd Lord Holland, the house became a noted meeting place for the prominent social, political and literary figures of the day, including Byron, Macaulay, Disraeli, Dickens and Scott. In the latter part of the 19th century, the land began to be sold off for development until the estate was finally reduced to its present size.

Shortly before the outbreak of World War II the house hosted its last great ball which was attended by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Then in September 1940 the house was largely destroyed by enemy bombing, never to be rebuilt. The estate and the ruins of the house were purchased by the London County Council from the 6th Earl of Ilchester and is currently under the stewardship of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

There are still signs of the estate’s former grandeur to be found in the park. The remains of the house are now part of the YHA hostel and also form the backdrop to the annual Opera Holland Park. The Orangery is a gallery and event space. The adjoining summer ballroom, the Belvedere, is a restaurant, and the Ice House is another small gallery. There is a formal garden, a Japanese garden, a sports field, a decent cafe and best of all a large wooded area which is a haven for a wide range of flora and fauna. 

As I said, I have been enjoying the park all of my life. From a baby in a pram, to a boy at Holland Park School, right through to the grey haired sixty year old sitting here tapping out this nonsense.

Check it out for yourself. Visit and enjoy.