Posts Tagged ‘World War’

If Joe and I were alive a century ago we would find ourselves with a 1/3 chance of being dead by this time today; and if not likely within the last six weeks of our lives. One-hundred years ago marked the 1st of July 1916; the First Day of the Battle of The Somme. You can read about the tragic events that lead to the deaths of well over a million young men in plenty of places, but in short boys occasionally as young as 12, who might never have ventured outside of their own village, found themselves far from home in a place that looked, sounded, and smelt like hell itself. Trench warfare was a war of attrition – no fancy tactics, no clever firefights; just two sides squaring up across the fields of France firing upon one another until one side was entirely wiped out. I always feel that history allows us to gain a sense of distance from the atrocities of the past, but an event that saw people living lifestyles similar to our own being shipped off into the meat-grinder cannot be dressed up. This is why I chose to say 36,500 days rather than 100 years; to shorten the distance.

As harsh and inelegant as the First World War was it is an area of history which has always fascinated me. The diabolical experimentation of the weaponry, completely misguided way of combat, and resultant transformation of the landscape into something very dark and alien fascinates me as I think about what it must have been like to have first arrived at the battlefields of the Somme. The romantic lull of Edwardian Britain had been bombarded, and Europe found itself thrown into a passionless conflict caused by a two-sided complex of alliances splitting Europe. Like a board game of Risk gone wrong, millions of people on both sides had to pay the price. To make matters worse, this was a time when previously only single-shot firearms, coupled with bayonets, had been used to fight battles. Harking back to the age-old pitched battles of the Middle Ages and beyond, the two sides lined themselves up to shoot at one another. It was this war which taught us how to firefight using careful manoeuvres – rather than sheer destructive force, in order to gain ground. This of course came at the cost of a generation.

I have been fortunate enough to visit the battlefields of the Somme and Belgium twice. The first was a school trip in 2011, and the second was organised by the Bay Museum, Canvey Island. Whilst the landscape has now returned close to the idyllic French countryside we all imagine, the scars of the destruction are unmistakable. It is hard to realise how the green rolling fields were transformed into acres of mud, blood, and burnt tree stumps by the fighting, but this shows the scale of the destruction. Not a patch was left unharmed. Great gouges from shelling and trenches alike still litter the enormous lawns; such as the massive Lochnagar Crater which clocked in as one of the largest ever non-nuclear man-made explosions. I remember walking the trenches – looking over the top and picturing how the battles took place from the eyes of an individual. We also visited the numerous memorials – each adorned with an unimaginable number of names. The very quantity of memorials is a tribute to just how many we lost. I have included photographs I took of the battlefields in 2011. Of course these aren’t quite as sharp as the images we take nowadays but at least it gives you an insight into the sites of the First World War today.

To put trench warfare in a first-person perspective I recommend the incredible book Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. One of the few novels that I have ever found moving enough to finish, I have read this on two occasions and each time it put me in the very shoes of a soldier and his emotions in the trenches and how it changed their lives. For something a little more interactive I would praise the shooter game Verdun which allows you experience what it was like to fight as one man against the battles of the First World War, taking historical accuracy into account heavily – something rarely seen in the genre.

This Saturday head down to Hadleigh Old Fire Station at 7:30pm to watch the film of the Somme created in 1916 to document what it was like. Admission is free, courtesy of Hadleigh & Thundersley Community Archive in cooperation with the IWM Centenary Partnership. If you can’t make it, head down to the Bay Museum on Canvey any Sunday and handle some Great War artifacts for yourself!

 – Sewage Works Remains
– Second World War Pillbox

Two Tree Island was reclaimed from the Thames in the late 1700’s and was used as farmland until 1910 when a sewage works was constructed on part of the site. These sewage works were used for the majority of the 20th century. During the North Sea Floods of 1953 two of the sewage workers had to be rescued by boat from a shed roof on the Island. From 1936 the entire island was used as a landfill site and continued until 1974, when only a smaller section was used for landfill. It is believed the sewage works stood there roughly up until this time. Soon after it was capped and re-seeded with grass. Like Canvey Heights, once also a tip, and Canvey Wick, once an oil-refinery, it is land which saw former use by man which often becomes the most appealing to wildlife.

Little is known about the sewage works and its structure on the island, so please contact us or comment below if you have any useful information or even photographs.

 Geograph contains several photographs of the Island in 1987 when it first became a nature-reserve

For a long time, the site was known as Leigh Marsh, although more recently, the site has been known as Two Tree Island as it was less-commonly known historically. Today the site is a nature haven and country park. At the peak of the Second World War, a pillbox was constructed on the eastern edge of the island, looking out across the Thames. This survived the war and is still there today for fellow explorers to visit, although over the years it’s become a victim to severe weathering. Since our first visit in 2011 its roof has nearly entirely caved in.

Shortly before writing this, I began reading the book ‘Southend at War’ by the excellent local author Dee Gordon. Beyond the Point’s affiliation with the Imperial War Museum Centenary Partnership meant that it would be both appropriate and useful to create a short documentary on Southend in the First World War inspired by the first section of the book. As no real physical evidence exists of the damage done by the numerous bombings that Southend suffered, the 5-minute documentary focuses on familiar locations where destruction, and aid, occurred. 

Did any kind of destruction occur on the home-front in the Great War to the degree of World War Two?

Indeed it did, but unlike during the Second World War and the Blitz, only some places were hit. Southend was one such place. The most notable affair concerning the Great War and Southend-on-Sea was that it saw 100 bombs dropped on it during air-raids from German Zeppelins on the 10th of May 1915. The first of these to find a target landed here in York Road, damaging a house that a soldier was billeted in at the time. Numerous houses along the London Road were hit also.

The Gotha bomber was a German bi-plane capable of longer-distance missions and greater accuracy than previous technology had allowed. Twenty of these hulks were spotted cruising to London on Sunday the 12th of August, 1917, when they unexpectedly made a bee line for Southend. In fifteen minutes, 40 bombs were dropped near the Southend Victoria railway station. Over forty innocent people were injured, and the fire brigade were called in not only to tackle the blaze, but to drag the blasted corpses from the scene as horrified civilians looked on.

 What part did Southend play in the war effort?

The Palace Hotel was built in 1901 and served great use in the war effort. Messrs Tolhurst; the owners of the hotel, were generous enough to offer the building up for free as a naval hospital for the rest of the war. Its glorious five star interior would’ve been quite bizarre with hospital beds placed amongst its lounges and ballrooms. It held possibly the world’s first purpose-made x-ray department. It recently underwent refurbishment by Park Inn to bring it back to its former glory.

In the renown Victorian ‘Kursaal’ amusement centre, Lord Kitcheners’ famous ‘Your Country Needs You’ recruitment campaign enlisted over 1,000 men to be sent off to France. However, between August and November of 1914, 22 Southenders had been killed. Down Victoria Road, captured German officers were held in a prisoner of war camp set up in the building which would later become Westcliff Highschool for Boys in 1920. The school moved to its current site at Kenilworth Gardens in 1926.

To commence Beyond the Point’s coverage of the First World War Centenary, in partnership with the Imperial War Museum, we thought we would visit the museum itself. The museum itself spans Duxford, North London, Cardiff, the HMS Belfast, and the Churchill War Museums, which I must say is a clever way of housing locations themselves as museum artifacts on a large scale. Not only is the museum a vital contributor to historic research, but its roots relate to the First World War. It was founded in 1917 in response to the First World War, as an attempt to record the sacrifice and war effort. It was opened in 1920 within Crystal Palace, moving to the Imperial Institute in South Kensington in 1924. This was a close shave considering the palace burnt to the ground in 1936. The IWM again moved in 1936 to the early 19th Century building of Bethlem Royal Hospital, where it remains today. This displacement saw the hospital demolished except for its central section; the rest becoming the surrounding park.

We took a short walk to the premises from our visit to Big Ben which you can read about here. After admiring some of the more recent architecture,a nd also posing for some grungy tunnel shots in our suits, we entered the museum. The most impressive thing they had here initially was the sheer scale and number of the artifacts suspended in the central lobby. From Spitfires, to V1 & V2 bombs (which landed on Britain in the late Second World War), all the way down to Russian T34 tanks, we felt a sense of awe both at these huge weapons themselves, and at how they had been displayed; some suspended from the ceiling by wire alone. We also payed homage to their poppy display.

There was a large exhibition holding artifacts and information about the First World War. I was pretty good but absolutely packed so it was difficult to have a thorough look. There was everything from very ghastly gas masks and camouflage suits; which captured the peril of the front, down to the hand-painted trench signposts which stood bizarrely in the 21st century environment; looking as if they belonged in hell. We also saw nuclear missiles suspended from the ceiling, an ROC post ground-zero indicator, and a bio-hazard observation shelter; like a modern-day nuclear ROC post. It was certainly time well spent.

We recorded a video of our trip that day to Big Ben, the poppies at the Tower of London, and of the IWM. Much of it focuses on Big Ben although it still compliments this article on the IWM.

What did you do this year for the annual International Holocaust Remembrance Day this year? January 27th, is an international memorial day for the victims of the Holocaust, the genocide that resulted in the murder of 6 million Jews, 2 million Gypsies, 15,000 homosexual people and millions of others by the Nazi regime. 27th January is the date, in 1945, when the largest Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, was liberated by Soviet troops.

About the Holocaust

Hitler had made it perfectly clear in “Mein Kampf” what he thought of the so-called “untermenschen” (the sub-humans) but to most people, these were the thoughts of a madman and not ones to be taken seriously. However, during “Krystalnacht” in 1938 the Nazis had shown their desire to persecute the Jews and in the war Hitler had the opportunity to carry out his plan to rid Nazi-occupied Europe of all undesirables (from his point of view) and he concentrated his efforts in Eastern Europe. After the attack on Russia, murder squads from the SS moved behind the army and systematically wiped out towns and villages containing Russian people (the same people who had welcomed the German Army into Russia as liberators against the Russian leader Stalin). However, the process was slow and the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, was concerned that the men doing the evil deed were becoming demoralised shooting innocent civilians and he looked for another solution. The lead to the Final Solution decided at the infamous Wannsee Conference in 1942 when it was ordered that all Jews in Europe be killed in extermination camps. With due speed, German industrialists were required to design and produce ovens and gas chambers that would enable the mass murders to be carried out quickly and cleanly without involving German personnel too much.

The most infamous camps were at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka. Here Jews, Eastern Europeans (many of whom were also Jewish), gypsies and the physically and mentally handicapped were brought and murdered.For many years there has been an accepted figure for the number of Jews murdered – six million. As a result of recently found evidence, this figure is now being upgraded and some historians have put the figure as high as 7 to 8 million. To this day mass graves are still found in Russia of Jews murdered by the Einsatzgruppen (SS) and so the final figure may never be truly known. The gypsy community claims that 50% of all gypsies in Europe (21,000 out of 23,000 at Auschwitz, for example) were murdered while the number of handicapped people murdered is not really known. I haven’t been to Auschwitz-Birkenau but I’ve heard that no flowers grow there; surprise surprise. Beyond the Point will be remembering the tragic events of the Holocaust year after year.

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