Tag Archives: Remembrance

ANZAC Day

Flags

“The Gallipoli peninsula curves like an elegant forefinger over the Dardanelles, the thirty three mile waterway which through the centuries has linked the rulers of Constantinople with the Mediterranean world… The forts commanding the Dardanelles were… the key defenses for the Ottoman Empire, protecting the capital, 120 miles to the east.”

From chapter two of “Kemal Attatürk”, by Alan Palmer, 1991, Sphere Books ltd, London

A century ago today, an expeditionary force of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and other Allied units set out to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula in order to secure the passage to the Black Sea. Their ultimate objective was to capture Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. Terrible losses were suffered by the allied forces as they fought together against the Turkish Army, commanded by the Grey Wolf – thirty four year old Mustafa Kemal Attatürk of Anafarta, appointed a full Colonel only two months previously.

Such was the loyalty, bravery and fortitude of the forces who fought in the nine-month long campaign; a year later, on 25 April 1916 – while the First World War still raged – the Gallipoli campaign was commemorated for the first time as ANZAC day. Marches were organised in London, Australia and New Zealand. A London newspaper headline dubbed the combatants “The Knights of Gallipoli“. Later, in 1934, Attatürk himself described the allied fallen as heroes.

And in 1933 journalist and travel writer HV Morton wrote, in his book “In Scotland Again”:

“There is one grand virtue in a stormy night. If you are late enough you are at once admitted to that snug little room which exists at the back of every Scottish hotel, where a vast fire is always burning and where a glass of special whisky waits for favoured guests.

“The landlord was a young Scotsman who had fought in Gallipoli. We talked of Chocolate Hill and Suvla Bay and then, of course, we became local, and I was told the legend that Burns wrote ‘Scots wae hae’ in this hotel…”

This was the first book of Morton’s I had ever read and all those years ago, sitting infront of a peat fire in a cottage in Ellary on the west coast of Scotland, as I looked at his words they transfixed me with their immediacy and gentle understatement. I was so moved I determined to find out more about this author who had so eloquently brought the world around him to life by the deceptively simple trick of portraying it through the eyes of ordinary people, unaware they were living in extraordinary times.

Today we commemorate, with thanks, those who fought at Gallipoli, the heroes of Chocolate Hill and Suvla Bay and the rest.

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England, 25 April 2015

This article was originally distributed as HVM Society Snippets – No.182

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D-day recollections

Originally distributed as HVM Society Verses – No.27
on 6 June 2014

Supermarine Spitfire

… like an angel’s shining sword, the sylphine Spitfires wait…

During some of the darkest days of world war two, HV Morton was on look-out duty from the church tower of his local village of Binsted, Hampshire, where he commanded the Local Defence Volunteers, when he wrote:

“… it is a still night. And now the clouds part and the moon shines through, casting green shadows so that I can see the little hamlets lying below among haystacks and fields. The lime-washed cottages shine like snow in the moonlight, little cottages with front gardens bright with Canterbury bells, geraniums, and poppies; and I think that a more peaceful bit of old England could not be found than this village of ours. Yet every cottage holds an armed man. If I rang the bell now they would come running out with their rifles, ready to defend their homes. Such a thing has not happened in Britain since the Middle ages… My own point of view, and, indeed, it is that of all the farmers, the farm labourers, and the cowmen who compose our local L.D.V., is that, should the rest of Britain fall, our own parish would still hold out to the last man.”

(with grateful thanks to the Trove archive)

Later, in 1944, the tide was beginning to turn, and seventy years ago today the largest invasion fleet in history sailed from Southern England, during a fortuitous break in the weather, to establish a series of beach-heads in Northern France – the Battle for Europe had begun.

HV Morton Society member Mike Bassett, of South Africa, has written a series of poems about the war years he spent on the Isle of Wight, when young, as he witnessed events which included the Battle of Britain and VE Day, as well as the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Mike recalls, “… what a sight it was to see the Solent absolutely jam-packed with warships etc., and then – come June 6th – not a single ship in sight. It was eerie and utterly memorable and I am proud that I was a witness to it all.“.

I thought I would share one of them with you on this, the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings.

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor, Glastonbury, Somerset, England

§

VIGNETTES OF BOYHOOD
1 – 1940 and on

by Mike Bassett

Portsmouth: Sunday, Sept., 15th 1805. At day weighed with light airs Northerly”. Extract from Nelson’s Diary written aboard the Victory before Trafalgar.

Units of the Home Fleet put into Spithead – August, 1940.

A clear, full moon and cloudless sky,
And in the gathering gloom,
Across the still and limpid sea
The silent warships loom.
The signals flash from bridge to bridge,
Like tiny, glowing sparks:
The mighty turbines slowly die –
The giants rest in the dark.

Then the wailing of the sirens,
And the deep, low drone of ‘planes,
The searchlights and exploding bombs,
And Portsmouth crowned in flames:
And etched against the ghostly light
Of a gently falling flare,
The Victory’s masts rise gaunt and black
In the brilliant, silver glare
Of another Trafalgar – here.

The stench of a burning city;
And the rolling banks of smoke,
As a tanker slowly settles,
And her clawing seamen choke,
And on the beach next morning,
‘Mid the charr’d and oily dross,
The body of a merchantman
Tattooed with a rose and cross.

The joy of search – and finding,
A burnt-out One-O-Nine,
The stab of fear as the Stukas struck (more)
Like screaming hawks in line.
Long vapour trails that smudge and fade
In the blue and lovely skies
Where, like an angel’s shining sword,
The sylphine Spitfires wait:
The swarming blocks of bombers,
That scab the sky with mange,
And stepped-up high in the warming sun
The glinting fighters range:
Or standing high on the roof-top,
By the “Grecian” statues tall,
To watch the raucous Flying-Bombs
In sudden silence fall.
Or diving, in a cricket match,
On coils of rolled-up wire,
As a Junkers roared at tree-top height,
Machine-guns blazing fire.

And later still, the exuberant Yanks,
Who came from “Over there” – “swell!”
The Memphis Belles who gave us gum –
And gave their lives as well.
The massed armada of shipping
On D-Day minus One;
And the heavy, foreboding silence
That descended when all had gone
To meet their fates on the beaches
And the white-hot cauldron of Caen.

And now and then, through tears and cheers,
“A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square”,
But where, O where have the people gone.
And where, O where the years? (end)

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Armistice Day

Armistice Day Commemoration

(This was originally posted to HV Morton members as HVM Society Snippets – No. 145)

In February this year, in King’s Lynn, Norfolk; Florence Green died peacefully at the age of 110. A modest woman, she had worked much of her life at a local hotel and during her spare time was heavily involved with the British Legion – knitting clothes, blankets and toys for children. Before her marriage at the age of nineteen, she had also served as a mess steward in the Women’s Royal Air Force and, with her passing, the world lost its last living link with those people who served in the forces during the First World War.

Remembrance day is approaching. A commemoration of the day when, after more than four years of continuous warfare and roughly 20 million dead, the guns fell silent across the battlefields of Europe and the World on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in the year 1918.

The hope at the time was that this had been the war to end all wars. Surely, after such madness, the carnage would never be repeated? We know now this was in vain, and, little more than two decades following the signing of the armistice at Compiègne in France, the conflagration ignited again. It seems the urge to warfare may simply be part of the human condition.

Twenty-six years after the excerpt below, in his 1951 book “In Search of London”, HV Morton, in somber mood, described post-Second-World-War London as a city “of jagged ruins and hatless crowds”. The bare heads of its populace were symbolic of a people who were, “graver and sadder”  than before – people, Morton wrote, whose courage had been “expended in many years of air warfare… the air raid wardens, the fire watchers, the firemen”. Knowing how the hopes for peace in the years following the Great War had been so thoroughly dashed, Morton briefly considered the possibility of yet another, third world war in the new atomic age.

The following contemplation of the Cenotaph in London is from Morton’s “The Heart of London” and was written only six years after the last shot of the First World War was fired:

§

The wind comes down Whitehall and pulls the flags, exposing a little more of their red, white, and blue, as if invisible fingers were playing with them. The plinth is vacant. The constant changing trickle of a crowd that later in the day will stand here for a few moments has not arrived. There is no one here.

No one? I look, but not with my eyes, and I see that the Empire is here: England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India… here — springing in glory from our London soil.

*    *    *    *    *

In a dream I see those old mad days ten years ago. How the wind fingers the flags…

I remember how, only a few weeks ago, as a train thundered through France, a woman sitting opposite to me in the dining car said, ‘The English!’ I looked through the window over the green fields, and saw row on row, sharply white against the green, rising with the hill and dropping again into the hollows — keeping a firm line as they had been taught to do — a battalion on its last parade.

The Cenotaph and no one there? That can never be.

§

With best wishes,

Niall Taylor (originally distributed 2nd November 2012)

HV Morton Society members who would like to, can read Morton’s 1927 account of a pilgrimage of 700 mothers of the fallen to the Menin Gate at Ypres in Belgium in the on-line archive.

For an explanation of the connection between the Cenotaph in Whitehall and the grave of the unknown soldier in Westminster Abbey, have a look at the British Legion website.

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