Sculpture Saturday: Cyprus

This group of bronze statues shows the release of Greek Cypriot prisoners, peasants and clergy, from British colonial rule during the fight for independence on the island of Cyprus. The statue is in Nicosia but I was unable to find a date for it. I photographed it sometime in the 1970’s and I think it was fairly new then.

EOKA and the fight for Independence, Cyprus

Linked to Mind Over Memory who hosts this challenge.

Sculpture Saturday

And now, for something completely different (thank you Monty Python).

 (this was still in my Drafts folder so I’m re-posting it as I’m unsure what is happening. Another mix-up with Blocks?)

Les Braves by Anilore Banonon on Omaha Beach, Normandy

Commissioned by the French government on the 60th Anniversary of WWll and erected in 2004 as a monument to the Americans who helped liberate France, this moving sculpture stands at the centre of Omaha Beach.

The beach today is an place of calm and tranquillity but 76 years ago it was an inferno of noise, smoke and slaughter. Here, along a five-mile stretch of shoreline, the men of the American 1st and 29th Divisions, caught off-guard as they had not expected to meet such opposition, battled their way through fierce German defences.

Thousands of Allied troops were killed in the D-Day battle of Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, but it was perhaps the single greatest turning point of World War II.t.

ARRAS: Wellington Quarry

The underground memorial site at Arras, the Wellington Quarry – Carrière Wellington – should be high on the list of things to see when visiting the historic town in northern France.

Most people are familiar with the Somme Battles, Passchendaele and Ypres, but fewer are aware of the sacrifices that were made at Arras:  France alone lost 30,000 men.  A visit to The Wellington Quarry, which is in the middle of the old city of Arras, reveals a little-known story of World War I and is a good place from which to try and understand the horrors of World War I.

Pill Box with Cut Out at Wellington Quarry

First, a little bit of history to set the scene. 

The battles of Verdun which involved the French, and the battles of the Somme which involved the British and Commonwealth in 1916 had been disasters with terrible loss of life.   Arras was strategic to the Allies and, uniquely in World War 1, was under British command from 1916-1918, but was under continual bombardment from German troops.  To create a new offensive on the Vimy-Arras front, the Allied High Command decided to tunnel through the chalk quarries under Arras which had been dug out centuries before to provide building material for the town.  The plan was to construct a sort of barracks, a series of rooms and passages in which 24,000 Allied troops could hide in readiness for the planned attack and for the tunnels to go right to the edge of the enemy’s front line which would allow them to burst out and surprise them.

The Wellington Quarry Museum tells this story of this quarrying, the lives of the townspeople and the troops, and the lead up to the battle of Arras on April 9th, 1917 and a walk through the tunnels lets you experience something of what it was like to live in these depths for two years.

In March 1916 the first of the skilled men required for this job arrived on the Western Front – 500 miners of the New Zealand Tunnelling Company, mostly Maori and Pacific Islanders, gold miners from Waihi and Karangahake, coal miners from the South Island and labourers from the Railways.  Discouraged from enlisting due to the essential nature of their industry, they were now plunged right into the thick of it, working alongside experienced miners of the Royal Engineer tunnelling company, miners from the Yorkshire mines and tunnellers who had worked to dig out the London Underground.

Welling Quarry - The Tunnels

The first task was to create primitive underground living-quarters, and with superhuman effort they dug 80 metres per day to construct two interlinking labyrinths.  They worked only with pick axes and shovels as the Germans were just above them so no explosives could be used . Conditions were primitive and dangerous and although the temperature was a regular 11 degrees, it was continually damp:  there were many deaths, many injuries.

By April 1917 they had created a working underground city with running water, lighting, kitchens and latrines: a rail system and a hospital were up and running and space for 20,000 soldiers was found even if it was cramped.   Completed in less than six months 25 kms of tunnels eventually accommodated 24,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who, as with the battlefields above ground, gave their sectors the names of their home towns. For the British it was London, Liverpool and Manchester, for the New Zealanders it was Wellington, Nelson and Blenheim.  Nowadays, Wellington is the only one of the quarries that can be visited, the others now mostly lost or covered over by buildings and car parks. 

 

 In dim light, a lift takes you 20 metres underground, during which the guide starts the extraordinary story of the Wellington Quarry tunnellers against a recorded background of men talking, pick axes hitting stone and the occasional explosion.   In breaks in the tunnels small screens pop out with black and white images of soldiers working or at ease and disappear just as quickly.  

Wellington Tunnels - Projected Image on Wall - CopyYou’re told about the one bucket of water to a dozen men.  You feel the presence of the soldiers, and you hear voices. “Bonjour Tommy” says a Frenchman against footage of civilians and soldiers chatting in the streets.  You hear letters written home, and poems from the war poets, like Siegfried Sassoon’s The General.

“Good morning. Good morning” the General said 

When we met him last week on our way to the line.

Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ‘em dead,

And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.

“He’s a cheery old card”, grunted Harry to Jack

As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack

.         .           .               .              .              .               .

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.

Artefacts left behind by the soldiers are on display, helmets, dog tags, bottles, boots, electrical fittings, railway carts, bullets.  Pictures scratched in the chalk of the walls are pointed out, names of sweethearts, and humourous signs like “Wanted, Housekeeper”. 

Wellington Quarry - Map projected on Wall
Projected map on the wall of the tunnel

You are almost lulled into a false sense of normality as you listen to the sounds of men talking and laughing.  Then you reach the end and your guide points to where the exits were dynamited to enable the men to go up the sloping passageway that led to the light, over the top and into battle at 05.30 on the morning of 9th April, 1917.  It was snowing and deathly cold when the order was given to burst out of the quarries. It was Easter Monday.

Wellinfgton Quarry - Steps to Battlefield
Light at the end of the tunnel – up and over the top to the Battlefield

24,000 men erupted from the earth: initially the assault was a success.  The Canadians seized Vimy Ridge; Monchy-le-Preux was taken; the soldiers of Australia, Britain and the Commonwealth fought hard and the Germans, taken by surprise, were pushed back 11 km.  But then the Allied troops, on orders from above, were told to hold back, during which time the Germans, who had retreated, re-formed and called up re-inforcements.   Every day, for two months after that, 4,000 commonwealth soldiers died, before the offensive was eventually called of. 

Brass figures inside the 'cut-out- bunker
This is part of a brass surround that is inside the Pillbox above.

The film of the battle (which those in charge considered a success by the standards of the time) can be seen upstairs as you exit.

Facts:

Wellington Quarry,

Rue Deletoille

Arras

Tel.: 00 33 (0)3 21 51 26 95

Entrance adult 6.90 euros, child under 18 years 3.20 euros

Open Daily 10am-12:30pm, 1:30-6pm

Closed Jan 1st, Jan 4th-29th, 2016, Dec 25th, 2016

Wellington QuarryWellington Q - Cut Out Pill Box

Is it me? WP? Or gremlins?

Just to say that I’ve heard nothing from any of you lovely bloggers out there whose posts regularly pop into my Inbox to cheer me up. Finally, feeling both frustrated and cross, I approached WP for a reason as I knew you would all be posting and they suggested I check my Notifications page.

So I did. And guess what. A gremlin, or something, or somebody, had been in there an ticked the box to block all notifications. I am at a loss to account for this as I’ve never even seen this page to my knowledge.

But anyway, just so you know why you haven’t had any comments from me. I’m still here, not able to post due to pressure of things, but hoping to start soon, and meantime, I shall try and catch up with everyone’s recent posts.

Mari

Saint-Symphorien Cemetery World War 1

I read in the news that Theresa May, Prime Minister of Great Britain, is to travel to France to lay a wreath on the graves of two young British soldiers who were killed during World War 1.  One of them was the first man to die in that ‘war to end all wars’ and the other was the last man to die.   It reminded me that I had visited Saint-Symphorien cemetery where they are buried, a couple of years ago and I thought I would re-post my original piece but to my surprise either I hadn’t posted anything about that particular battlefield or I had somehow deleted it.

However, it is still in my mind now so I thought I would just put up a few photographs of the cemetery because it is so different from all the others in France, being in woodland, and having a more peaceful appearance.  It is also the only cemetery, I believe, in which both British and German soldiers are buried together.  My visit to Ypres last year was very different.   There massive cemeteries like Tyne Cot just filled one with a deep, deep sadness as the ranks upon ranks of white gravestones spreading across the fields could not but remind one of the carnage of that war.

First though, the gravestone of the young James Parr of the Middlesex Regiment who was the first man to die, on the 21st August 1914.

First British Man to die in World War 1

And the gravestone of Private George Edwin Ellison of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers who was killed on the outskirts of Mons at 9.30 a.m. just 90 minutes before the Armistice came into force.

Headstone for G.E. Ellison, last man to die in WW1

The cemetery:

German Grave in Saint-Symphorien Cemetery
A German Grave in Saint-Symphorien Cemetery, near Mons

And just to finish on, not far from here is the spot where the first shot was fired in that war.

First shot in the Great War was fired here

And the steely grey canal over which many battles were fought in this area.Le Conde Canal with Storm Clouds

Journey’s End at Ypres – In Remembrance

I thought my first post after my trip to Belgium last week would be about my walks around the battlefields of Ypres, but my mind is so full of the experience of seeing R.C. Sherriff’s play Journey’s End, performed in an Ammunition Dump in that Belgium city, that I want to talk about that instead.

flyer-front

This particular run of the play finishes on November 12th, so I urge anyone in that area or anyone who can reach it easily, to book quickly to see the play (details below).

Journey’s End is the only drama about the First World War written by a playwright who actually fought in the war.

r-c-sheriff_2
R. C. Sherriff

 

Exactly one hundred years ago, Sherriff fought at Passchendaele in the 3rd Battle of Ypres and approximately 90 years since the play was first staged in London (with Laurence Olivier in the lead) it is being staged by the UK based MESH Theatre Co. in an old restored ammunition dump with 3-metre thick walls made to resemble the dugout in which the play is set, in Ypres, the town that was razed to the ground and re-built.

The action takes place over 4 days prior to the disastrous battle of St. Quentin and deals with the physical and mental ordeals of trench warfare experienced by a group of British officers during the run-up to the battle, the changes wrought by the war on one officer in particular (an alcoholic at just 21 years old, a causal effect of the war) and the effects of shell-shock on another.  Only a few forward-looking medics took much notice at that time of what we would now call PTSD but which then was often considered cowardice, or if you were lucky, shell shock (after being named such in 1915).

Ramparts Walk 3
A Walk on the Ramparts at Ypres  © Mari Nicholson

The ‘Theatre’ is accessed through a couple of hessian sacks serving as a doorway to the dug-out, the setting is atmospheric, lighting restricted to a few candles and two or three oil-lamps which barely illuminate the smokey trench.  Seating is limited to about 80 seats which surround a centre space on which the action takes place, the acting is powerful and emotional and being immersed in the atmosphere of the trench makes for a very moving experience.

The current run extends to November 12th with tickets at €15. Matinees 3.00 Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays with evening performances at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, the performance running just over 2 hours.

If you don’t manage to see it this year, make a note in your diary that the company will be performing it again in 2018, the centenary of the end of the Great War, at Thiepval, France from 18th September – 8th October and at Ypres, Belgium from 10th October to 12th November.

Menin Gate at night
Waiting for the Last Post to be Played at The Menin Gate  © Mari Nicholson

 

 

 

A CRETAN VILLAGE WITH 2 MUSEUMS

Crete is the largest island in Greece, a place of dramatic mountain ranges and gorges dotted with ancient ruins and architecture from the medieval period onwards.  Known as the cradle of civilisation and the birthplace of Zeus, the island provides the backdrop for many of the Greek myths and legends we are familiar with.

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Throughout the island are scattered hamlets and villages and high in the dramatic White Mountains not far from Chania, lies the village of Therissos, which has not just one, but two museums.  One would be unusual in a place of this size (pop. just over 100) but to find two is extraordinary.

The-Modern-Resistance-Museum-at-Therissos
The Modern Resistance Museum

I visited the village two years ago when I was staying at Malarme on the coast, mainly to visit the Museum dedicated to the Greek resistance in World War II which I had heard about in the course of my studies in war history.

Saviour-of-Crete

Home-of-the-great--Eleftherios-Venizelos
Home of the great patriot Eleftherios Venizelos

Sadly, my interest in the wars in which my own country had been involved had led me to neglect local Greek history.  I had a lot to learn about the resistance of Therissos over many decades, centuries one might say.

Talking to local people, I soon realized that the important museum for them was the one dedicated to the great Greek patriot and politician, Eleftherios Venizelos who fought for Cretan independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1887, who became the island’s first independent Prime Minister in 1905 and then Prime Minister of Greece in 1910.   Of more importance to the locals, however, was the fact that Venizelos was actively involved in the drafting of the Cretan constitution, that he took part in the armed uprising in 1905 which deposed Prince George, and that he negotiated the unification of Crete with Greece.

He lived in Therissos and his house is now a museum dedicated to Venizelos and other local people who were involved in the struggles for freedom from the Ottomans.

The other museum, one dedicated to World War ll, is a purpose built modern space with few artefacts but many pictures and letters.  Unfortunately, not many of these are translated but sometimes a volunteer is on hand who can help with this.  Entry is so cheap I felt duty bound to leave a large donation as it is purely self-supporting.  It is very local to the young men who died fighting the Germans in the mountains, a bloody conflict that is known for the savagery on both sides.

Photo from Resistance Museum in Therissos

Some of the pictures are harrowing and deal with the war on the mainland as well as the war on Crete, pictures of starving children, scenes from the village of Kandonos which was burned to the ground in retaliation for the killing of 50 Germans, and pictures of the terrible life lived by the villagers during the harsh winters.

The savagery on both sides was legendary, from the locals shooting parachutists out of the sky in cold blood to the occupying forces, shooting whole families and villages on what often seemed a whim. It is difficult to take all this in, surrounded as one is by a landscape of such beauty.

War Memorial in Maloliopoulo

The-Dotto-Train-navigates-the-Therisso-Gorge I journeyed up from the coast on the little ‘Dotto’ train with which most of us are familiar in cities and resorts, but in this case, it traversed the famous Therisso Gorge.  It surged up the hill in under an hour, through magnificent scenery, the air heady with the scent of herbs, great swathes of wild thyme, rosemary, pine, marjoram, oregano, and fennel. Many of the olive trees along the side of the road are hundreds of years old and behind the rocky caves can be glimpsed walnut, almond, hazelnut and chestnut trees.

p1140493.jpg
Mountain Goats

In the village itself, red, white and pink oleander trees bloomed, the scent mingling with the smell of cooking from the little tavernas that were operating, some with open wood fires and all serving delicious Greek salads and fresh fish, alongside local dishes infused with the scent of pine seeds, olive oil and fennel.

The little Dotto train allowed about two or three hours for a visit, long enough to wander around the village, have some lunch and still have to time visit both museums.

I enjoyed the trip so much I went back a second time a few days later and spent more time in the museums, reading the letters with the help of a student and trying to come to grips with what had happened here where the resistance hid out for many years during the second world war, harried and hunted like animals, during bitter winters of extreme cold, and parched summers of unbearable heat.

The photographs tell a tragic tale and I am haunted by them still.

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Best books on the history of the Battle of Crete:

Crete:  The Battle and the Resistance by Antony Beevor (John Murray, Paperback – a division of Hodder Headline (1991).  Still regarded as the best history of Crete during WW11

The Cretan Runner by George Psychoundakis (trans. by Patrick Leigh Fermor):  John Murray, Paperback (first published 1955).  A first-hand account by one of the partisans from the mountains.