Monday, 27 July 2009

Reality of War 2

Nurse Edith Cavell was shot by the Germans in 1915 for helping a number of Allied prisoners to escape from German-occupied Belgium. According to Wikipedia, countless newspaper articles, pamphlets, images and books publicised her story. She became an iconic propaganda figure for military recruitment in Britian to help increase favourable AQmerican sentiment towards the Allies. Cavell was a popular icon due to her sex, her nursing profession and her apprarently heroic approach to death. Her execution was represented as an act of German barbarism and moral depravity. The many biographies that surfaced of the late Cavell, in reality, were only fictional accounts.

Yesterday, I found an envelope with some three dozen postcards concerning her death. I am posting a small number here to show the propaganda aspect and then the reality of death.

Nurse Edith Cavell is pictured with here dogs in her garden in Brussels in 1915. Thousands of Britons purchased this souvenir postcard at the time.

Cavell's grave was covered in floral tributes. The photographer has captioned the postcard with the date of her death as 12 August 1915. She actually died on 12 October.

News reports of her execution were discovered to be true only in part. The American Journal of Nursing, at the time, repeated the fictional account of Cavell's execution in which she fainted and fell due to her refusal to wear a blindfold in from of the firing squad. Supposedly, while she lay unconscious, the German commanding officer shot her dead with a revolver. A printed account on the reverse of this propaganda card records: "The fiend takes his revolver and, leaning upon his victim, deliberately blows her brains out." I leave you to guess how many patriotic Britons rushed to the recruiting office to enlist for service at the Front . . .

After the war, many troops visited her grave. Here, two American doughboys pay homage.

After the war, her remains were recovered and transported back to England for reburial in the grounds of Norwich Cathedral. Here British troops load the coffin on to a gun carriage during the removal of her body from the Tir National. The Union Flag, the wooden cross from her grave and a host of other material is preserved at the Royal London Hospital. More details of the collection can be found here

Her simple grave, pictured here, is in the grounds of Norwich Cathedral.

So, here is her grave before exhumation. The reality is quite different.

Here is the exhumed body of Rammler, a German soldier shot (without trial -the card records) at the same time as Philip Baucq (who assisted Cavell) and Miss Cavell, for refusing to fire on this nurse. His coffin was found between these two patriots.

Many of you will remember my so-called 'ability' to spot things that are often unnoticed. Probably from my picture editing days. Please note the well-preserved uniform and the buttons on his right sleeve. Take a look at Rammler's left boot. The shape of it seems to indicate that his boots are on the wrong feet. I presume this must have happened when his body was prepared for burial? Perhaps the undertaker was in a hurry?

This final image records the scene shortly after officials carried out the exhumation of Edith Cavell. Thankfully, she appears to have been buried in a shroud. It provides a grim contrast to some of the sanitised photographs published elsewhere in this post.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Reality of War 1

A couple of days ago, the last British Tommy of the First World War, Harry Patch, died aged 111. I can remember meeting him on the Somme during an event to mark the 80th anniversary of that dreadful battle. In his latter years, he became very anti-war. It is perhaps apt that, today, I rediscovered another album of several hundred historical photographs and postcards showing not only the battlefields of France and Flanders, but also a little of the human cost of war. I make no apology for publishing so many images in one post, but stick with it. As you work your way through the images, you will notice the subject move from propaganda to reality - certainly very noticeable when compared to the - in my mind - distasteful, but allegedly morale-boosting propaganda postcard that starts this post . . . Remember to click on an image for a closer look.

A nurse offers comfort to a wounded officer in this propaganda shot. Note the unbloodied bandage around his head and how clean his uniform is.

A Christmas souvenir for these wounded soldiers in just one of several hundred military hospitals that were established in towns and cities across Britain. The two soldiers, front centre, have been encouraged to pull a cracker. No doubt, the popular wartime cry -" Are we downhearted? No!" was shouted here! The photograph was taken in the dining hall of the Colchester military hospital.

More wounded soldiers pose here in their 'hospital blue' uniforms. Look more closely and you will see a number of facial injuries have been patched up.

Anzac soldiers at an unknown rural location. The nurse and a soldier in the front are both holding kittens. A remarkably candid comment by one of those in the photograph is recorded on the back of the photograph - "Just a postcard - I look as if I had s--t myself!"

A group of nurses pose with wounded Tommies. Look closely at the soldier sitting to the right of the nurse in the front. Using a pistol carved from wood, he is pretending to shoot the nurse in the head . . . Sinister or what?

I am not sure who this is meant to encourage? This photograph captures the finish of a race between one-legged servicemen. There more I think about it, the more disturbing a piece of propaganda I find it.

More realistic is this snapshot of two convalescing servicemen in the grounds of Victoria House in Blaenan Festiniog, Wales. One has lost an arm, the other a leg. One of them is recorded as R O Hughes, but I don't know which. They could be Royal Marines as the man in the wheelchair looks to have a Globe and Laurel badge in his lapel.

The capbadge on the cap of the central figure looks to be that of someone serving with the British Red Cross and St John of Jerusalem organisation. The two men each side have each had both legs amputated. They are sat in special wheelchairs that were to prove such a common sight on the pavements of Britain after the war. There is a handle of each side that is pulled independently to propel the chair forwarde. I can remember seeing old men in such vehicles in the late 50s and early 60s, but they were a really rare sight by then.

Of course, with so many wounded soldiers losing limbs in the war, special factories were established to manufacture artificial limbs made from wood. This work is captured in this photograph.

And for those who made the ultimate sacrifice, work continued for years after the war to find the remains of the missing and rebury them in War Cemeteries around the battlefields. Here, a graves registration team exhumes human remains at Lagnicourt on June 23, 1920. I wonder why the photographer has recorded it as a re-exhumation? Note the skull at the feet of the figure on the right. There is a second balanced on the side of the excavation, just to the left of the middle figure in the trench.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Writing in the Sand!

I think most of us have, at least once in our life, picked up a piece of driftwood on the beach and written or drawn something in the sand. I once had the grand [for grand, read particularly stupid] idea of writing my name in 50 foot high letters. I gave up half-way through . . .

Later, I tried to write the name of my beloved Jack Russell, Bert, in the sand, but he thought it was a game. As fast as I wrote it, the quicker he dug up the letters! Tell me, what is the most interesting thing you have written in the sand?

Dandelion Clock - how it works

A number of you have asked how the dandelion clock works. It used to be a sort of rite of passage for parents to teach their children about this custom - probably less so now, but I still see it being 'taught' from time to time.

So, imagine the scene - a very, very long time ago when the sun shone brightly every day from June through to August. My mother was taking me on a nature walk - another custom that is sadly dying out - and she picked a dandelion seed head. She said it was a clock and I should blow on it to make the seeds fly away. I was to keep count of the number of blows it took to remove all the seeds and each blow was an hour. For example, ten blows was ten o'clock and five blows would be five o'clock. There, easy when you know how!

That said, sometimes - no matter how hard you blew - two or three seeds remained and it was probably because the fairies were taking a day off - it also being known as a 'Fairy Clock'.

It was as well known as a parent holding a buttercup under your chin to see if you liked butter. If there was a yellow reflection on your skin, then you did! A fellow blogger has reprinted a victorian story that mentions the dandelion clock and it can be viewed by clicking here

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Poppy in Detail

I was looking at a very ornate poppy [name unknown] recently and marvelled at nature's wonderful design work. A closer look at the centre reveals more of its beauty.

Dandelion Clocks

Taking a stroll recently, something prompted me to look over a fence and I was amazed to see a field full of dandelions. Here is close up of the dandelion clocks which were such a joy for everyone when they were children and - if they care to admit it - in adulthood too! Now, when was the last time you blew on dandelion heads to find out the time?

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Where's Laurie?

Well, I guess a number of you will have been wondering why there had been no posts from me for more than a fortnight? At least - I hope so? One or two regular followers might have thought I had pushed my luck once too often with those trees and been been caught by the branches or got dangerously to close to more of those stone lions I have been photographing recently?

Actually, it's a bit more than that. My current job had come to an end and I needed to find another. I applied for a post and travelled to the faraway lands of the north for an interview. A couple of days later, I heard I had been successful and the past few days have been a bit of a blur. Yesterday, I said farewell to my colleagues and am now on two weeks holiday before taking up my new post on August 3. Is it going to be an easy transition to make? I don't know yet, but what I do know for certain is that my new office is 223.8 miles from home!

I will be based in Blackpool - home of the famous Tower and the amazing seafront illuminations - and within sight of the peaks of the Lake District across the bay. Have any of you ever seen the surreal 1995 black comedy Funny Bones starring Jerry Lewis and Lee Evans? It features a cast of fascinating and frightening locals (shiver!) and you've guessed it - it is set in Blackpool.

Eventually, we will need to move there and that will take some coming to terms with, as those of you who remember my post on Paradise Garden where I live. However, in blogging terms, it will lead to my discovering new subjects for my imagination and take me two hundred miles closer to the fantastic Tiddles, star of Jumble Sale Rabbits, and the same distance further away from the remarkable Mr Toad of the Magic Lantern Show. Tomorrow, hopefully, I will return to blogging.
Best wishes

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Spider adds Mystery to Stained Glass Window

One of two chapels in the Perrymead RC Cemetery contains some seriously stunning stained glass windows and as the city of Bath's chapels were specially opened for the day, the public were able to view them. I was so impressed and took some photographs to share with you. When I looked at the second photograph, I noticed a spider on the left sleeve of Mary. Indeed, when I looked at the third photograph, an intentional close-up of the hand, the spider is very clear to see. I think perhaps, it is a real spider that didn't want to be left out of the shot? Maybe a regular follower of this blog, the fantastic stained glass artist Joanna Dover can advise? Remember to click on the images for a closer view!

Angel Watches Over Child's Grave

I was struck by the quiet serenity of this young child's grave in the Roman Catholic cemetery in Bath today. An angel can can be seen atop the the gravestone, watching over this young child's grave in perpituity. At the foot of the grave, a small toy is perched in company for young Sienna. I found the whole scene very, very moving and am still affected by my visit.

Fearsome Creature set in Stone?

I felt a bit uneasy when clambering around in the furthest corner of an RC cemetery this afternoon and more so when I took a closer look at this gravestone I photographed. Is it just me or can anyone see the face of quite a fearsome creature? I won't describe what I can see, but I would appreciate your interpretation of it . . .

American Centenarian in Bath Cemetery

In the past twenty-four hours, I have done three cemeteries. Now that sounds awful - done! It's a figure of speech, I know, but what I meant was that I have visited three cemeteries and taken hundreds of photographs . . . So self-criticism over, I thought I would publish a photograph taken this afternoon of the grave of an American who died at the age of 101. My reason? Just because it is the Fourth of July!

Frederick W Cole was born in Constantia, New York in 1885 and he died in Bath in 1986. Quite why he was in Bath, I don't know. I was surprised to see the name of someone else on the headstone - another elderly man named Alan Walter Elphick who died on 17 October 2003 aged 92 years. The grave is in the Perrymead Roman Catholic Cemetery.