Sunday, 31 August 2014

Special Operations Executive memorial, London

Memorials can tell us a great deal about aspects of history that were not well known or which may have been forgotten. When returning to our hotel in Lambeth Road we passed, on the Albert Embankment outside Lambeth Palace, a memorial to the S O E.
Reading the plaque, the S.O.E was the Special Operations Executive which 'was secretly formed for the purpose of recruiting agents, men and women of many nationalities who would volunteer to continue the fight for freedom by performing acts of sabotage in countries occupied by the enemy during the Second World War.'

The woman featured on the memorial was Violette Szabo who grew up in London, the daughter of an English father and French mother. When her husband was killed fighting in North Africa she volunteered for under cover work in France. On her second mission she was captured by the Germans, tortured and killed. Violette was only one of many women and me who were involved in S.O.E resistance operations in Europe.

The secret unit operated from London  between 1940 and 1946. There is a plaque in Baker Street designating one of the buildings from which the operatives worked.

Further information:
Special Operations Executive - IWM
Churchill's heroines - book review in Sunday Express 25 March 3013
Secret agents' memorial unveiled - BBC News 4 October 2009
Special Operations Executive 1940-1946 - BBC History
Special Operations Executive - Wikipedia

Friday, 29 August 2014

Memorial at Church of St Mathieu

In the village of Oingt in the Beaujolais region of France can be found the Church of Saint Mathieu - its history  dating back to the eleventh century.
Inside the church is a memorial to The Children of Oingt who Died for France 1914-1919.

War memorial at Belleville

Most towns have a war memorial. Some are in prominent places in the town while others are not so easily discovered. We found this memorial in Belleville, France.
Like most memorials it was erected as a memorial for the First World War but was later altered to also be a Second World War memorial.

Traces of War I

When looking for information about war memorials in Europe, I came across the website - Traces of WWI.
Type the name of the city or town in the search box and it will provide information about memorials in that locality.

It is designed as a finding aid for those who might be planning a trip to battlefield sites but includes the sites of World War I memorials throughout the world.

Traces of War does the same thing for World War II memorials.

As many memorials commemorate both major wars, images of them will appear in both databases.

War memorial of Tournon

Like many towns on the Rhone River in France, Tournon has a castle. On the wall of the castle, facing the river, is a war memorial created by the sculptor Antoine Sartorio (1885-1988) and inaugurated on 19 June 1922.
The memorial shows a figure of Victory bringing two laurel wreaths to those who died. Names of those who died during the Second World War were added later below the sculpture.
Measuring more than 11 metres in height, it is a most impressive monument.

Antoine Sartorio was a French soldier during the First World War. He had studied art at the Beaux-Arts de Paris and after the war was commissioned to work on a number of war memorials, including the memorial at Tournon.

Viewing the monument on 4 August 2014, the centenary of the day that war was officially declared in Europe, made the experience even more significant.

War memorial at Avignon

A short walk from the Palace of the Popes in Avignon is a park called the Rocher des Doms which is on a hill providing views of the river and beyond from the lookout. As you enter the park from the cathedral entrance you will find a memorial to those from this area who died during World War I and World War II.
The memorial was originally dedicated to those who died during the First World War however an additional section on the sides was added after the Second World War.

Continuing up the path you come to another memorial, this time to Jews from the Vaucluse area who were sent to Nazi extermination camps between 1942 and 1944.
This memorial was unveiled on 23 April 2010 to remember the 422 Jews, including 54 children, sent to the camps.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Imperial War Museum

While in London we visited the Imperial War Museum, particularly to view their new World War I display.

The Imperial War Museum was opened in June 1920 with the intention of collecting and displaying material relating to the First World War. The collection now extends to the Second World War and subsequent conflicts. The new First World War Galleries were opened in July this year and were a major reason for the visit. Fortunately we arrived at the museum well before the opening time of 10.00 am as there was already quite a long queue ahead of us. It was not long before the queue was out of the gate and growing in the street. About ten minutes before the doors opened a staff member began handing out tickets for the First World War exhibition for the first group of people to be admitted.

Viewing the exhibition is a moving experience. The exhibition investigates a variety of topics including the lead up to and causes of the war,events that took place during the war, the involvement of countries from the British Empire, recruitment, experiences on the battlefield, life on the home front, role of women, logistics of feeding and looking after the soldiers on the battlefield, the advent of new machines and technology in warfare as well as Armistice and the Peace Treaty. You really need more than one viewing to take it all in.

There is a constant hum of the sounds of battle. In one section you walk through what appears to be a trench. One confronting moment is turning a corner and finding yourself face to face with a tank. A large number of artefacts and photographs help to portray the story. Fortunately the IWM has published a book by Paul Cornish to accompany the exhibition.
The IWM also has smaller displays relating to the Second World War and other military conflicts in which the British have been involved.

Upstairs there is a galley exhibiting some of the artwork produced relating to the First World War.

We also visited the library where Robin looked for information about his grandfather who died during the First World War.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Poppies in London

The centenary of the commencement of the First World War was commemorated on August 4. In France on August 5 we watched a report on Sky News about a project at the Tower of London where a display of ceramic poppies is being prepared in memory of the servicemen from Britain and the British Empire who lost their lives during World War I.

Additional information about the Tower of London Remembers project can be found on the Tower of London website.
 Two days later, on our first day in London, we walked to the Tower of London to visit the display. It was a spectacular sight and when complete, later in the year, it will be a moving memorial to the men who died.
The display of poppies continues around three sides of the Tower of London. Cascades of poppies fall from two windows on different sides of the tower while a third cascade appears over a garden wall.
In some sections there are only two or three rows of poppies but we watched the many volunteers adding additional poppies to the display.