Saturday, 29 November 2014


I inherited a bound set of The War Illustrated from my paternal grandparents. One hundred years after publication I'm exploring its pages to discover the people and their times.
 "The average man soon grows accustomed to a strange environment.  This picture was taken in a vineyard of the Champagne region of France.  A few miles off, the heavy artillery of the contending armies was sending out thunder and death, and the air was reverberating with the din of war.  At the same time troops were marching past to the battle-lines, yet these peasants working in the vineyard pay little heed to the  world-shaking events close by.  Some of them do not even interrupt their work to look at what is going on around them" War Illustrated , 7th November 1914

The champagne produced in 1914 is considered the greatest vintage of the 20th Century.  Maurice Pol Roger famously said it was "harvested to the sound of gunfire but to be drunk to the sound of trumpets".  The weather that year had been perfect and by September 12th the grapes were ready to be harvested but with the men away fighting it fell to women, children and older people to harvest the vines (as can be seen in the photograph).  The schools even closed so that the children could be in the fields.  By October 11th the last accessible grapes had been picked but not without the cost of life (twenty children were killed by sniper fire or shelling).

Amazingly champagne was produced in every year of the war despite 40% of the vineyards being destroyed and fighting continuing in the area but it was 1914 that produced the once in a lifetime vintage.  Reims was also under continual bombarded and shelling so the Champagne houses opened their cellars as a refuge to the local population and also continued operating their businesses from the underground limestone crayères.

Recently one of the bottles produced in 1914 was taken from the Pol Roger cellars and has been auctioned for £5640, the proceeds will go to support the new World War One galleries at the Imperial War Museum.  The unusual longevity of the wine is attributed to the early picking of the grapes which initially gave it acidity but as it matured the flavour blossomed, just like the indomitable spirit of the French wine pickers and producers.     

Additional (with pictures)
1914:  Champagne's Violent Vintage by Tom Stevenson - Wine Searcher

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Talacre Lighthouse

The Talacre Lighthouse sits on the beach at the Point of Ayr in Flintshire, the northernmost point of mainland Wales. I was experiencing a breezy day on Talacre beach but I can't remember now whether the tide was going in, or out.
A lighthouse was placed here in 1776 after a storm wrecked two ships with a loss of 200 lives and cargo and it is considered the oldest lighthouse in Wales.  Around 1818 the original building was destroyed by the sea but Trinity House built this more robust structure in 1820. It stands 60 ft high with a 18 ft diameter.  The aim was to guide ships away from the sandbanks and provide a bearing for the Port of Liverpool and mark the rivers of the Mersey and Dee.  Deactivated in 1883 (and superseded by the Dee lightship) it is now in private ownership.
In the 19th Century the lighthouse would have had red and white stripes and it looks as though it could do with a lick of paint now, although when it featured at the end of the Dulux Dog advert in 2011 it was pure white and this was also the year when the owner put it up for sale (I believe it was eventually sold earlier this year).  The door is only accessible on foot at low tide and at high tide there are 40 yards of water to the beach however the buyer does get a residential ghost which  of course is a lighthouse keeper who stands in front of the glass dome.  It is said that dogs don't like the spooky vibes and run away, 
but this one was too busy enjoying the water to bother about that.  In 2010 as part of an art project a temporary stainless steel figure called 'The Keeper' was erected on the balcony, I wonder if anyone saw double?
The dunes the lighthouse was originally built on have since retreated and that is why it stands in the middle of the beach.  Today the sand dunes are protected and the perfect place for its residential Natterjack Toads.
The 870 mile Wales Coastal Path  runs through Talacre so perhaps The Smugglers Inn would be a place to stop off for a drink.  The sign says they serve Tavern Beers.   

An entry to ABC Wednesday, a journey through the alphabet this week sojourning at T here

Friday, 21 November 2014

O Canada

I inherited a bound set of The War Illustrated from my paternal grandparents. One hundred years after publication I'm exploring its pages to discover the people and their times.
"Signallers of the 1st Mounted Canadian Highlanders at their camp in England after their journey from Plymouth where they disembarked from their transports. The men are of the best physique th Empire can provide, solid specimens of hard muscles and iron sinew"
A Canadian bicycle battalion poses for the camera at Pond's Farm on Salisbury Plain where they would undertake training for their eventual journey into war.  I can find nothing about a 1st Mounted Canadian Highlanders and think they would be one of the many voluntary militia battalions who formed the 1st Canadian Division expeditionary force that landed in England in 1914.  The conditions in the Autumn of 1914 were of unpleasant cold and rain but as can be seen the War Illustrated has great confidence in their heritage of Scottish and Canadian genes and of course their nickname was the "Scotties".
 Here they are settling into a wet England with a shudder inducing open air water pump but the War Illustrated of the 31st October 1914 seems intrigued by the fatigue caps which would possibly be a more familiar sight in world war two when this Jaeger pattern from "Essentials for the Forces" was published in the 1940s.  
1940s Patterns to Knit from the Victoria and Albert Museum
   The Patricias shown on the left are one of the three regular infantry regiments in Canada who were originally raised in 1914 and arrived in France on 21st December 1914.  The Scottie cyclists would take a similar journey in 1915 and  the 1st Canadian Regiment would later suffer 50% a casualty rate at Ypres.  The nursing sisters of the Red Cross on the right would run rest homes and hospitals in England.
On the outbreak of war Canada had immediately offered 20,000 to 25,000 men of which this page pays tribute, however 630,000 would eventually serve on the 1914-18 battlefields.

"Canadian Command During the First World War" by Tim Cook - The Canadian Encyclopaedia
"Cyclist Battalion in the The Great War" forum - Canada At War
"Canadian Corps Cyclist Battalion" by John McKetny - Canadian Cycling Magazine (from which the photo below is taken)  


Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Severn

On the Severnway path in Bewdley there are many words in metal lettering along the walkway on maritime and riparean themes reflecting the river through time in words.  Here is written the original spelling of the river -  Sæferne (which I think is Anglo Saxon).  It doesn't show up in this photograph but all the lettering is embellished, the river's name has
fish scales 
which I think this old boy is waiting for a sight of as he sits fishing by the Severn.
We went into the Georgian town of  Bewdley for lunch at yes -  The George
and on the way back past a sleeping cat in a shop window.
On return to the riverbank the fisherman was still optimistically waiting for a bite while a swan sailed by
Four bridges have stood here crossing the Severn since 1447 but three have been destroyed by wars and flood.  The present bridge was designed and constructed by the great Thomas Telford (1757-1834) whose foreman mason was John Simpson and in the unusually dry summer and autumn of 1798 the bridge was built very quickly. Simpson was highly regarded by Telford and worked with him on many occasions. His trust was well placed because the bridge has stood up to many floods and heavier traffic than ever Telford could have envisaged.

The Severn starts in the Welsh hills and takes its 220 mile journey through many counties here passing through Worcestershire, it also has not just one but two deities in mythology, the nymph Sabrina (Hafren) who drowned in the river and Noadu who rides the Severn tidal bore on a seahorse at the Bristol Channel. 

An entry to ABC Wednesday, a journey to the alphabet this week sojourning at S here


Tuesday, 11 November 2014


This date of posting this week's ABC Wednesday of 11th November is Remembrance Day, the day the First World War officially ended at 11'O |Clock, then called Armistice Day.  The tradition of a two minute silence began in 1919 so as not to forget the millions killed, injured or affected by the war.  Towns, cities and villages all have their war memorials but unfortunately WW1 was not the the "war to end all wars" so the list goes on.  ("Only the dead have seen the end of war" Plato)

I inherited a bound set of The War Illustrated from my paternal grandparents, regular issues of this magazine were published throughout the war and contained reports, photographs and illustrations which not only give a picture of the conflict but those affected by it.  One hundred years after its publication I have been exploring its pages each week to discover the people and their times but this week in remembrance I'm looking back to an early issue of the magazine and the first month of the war.

A regular feature of the War Illustrated was their list of wounded, missing and killed.  They reflect the class structure of the time and seem only to feature officers but having said that the attrition rate of junior officers in World War One was high, the ethos of the ruling class at the time was one of obligation and duty to lead.  The Great War would cut a swathe of death through the scions of the landed classes.  The majority of casualties were from the working class ("When the rich wage war, its the poor who die". Jean Paul Satre) but in percentage terms the a junior officer was at higher risk of being killed (17% as opposed to 12%).

In the early weeks of the war the page shown above was typical in that it mixed pictures taken in civilian life and those in uniform.  The photo that took my eye on this page of the 19th September issue was the smiling youth in his cricket whites.   One imagines halcyon days on the cricket pitch in that warm summer of 1914.
With such a unique name it was easy to trace him, Archer Windsor-Clive, 3rd son of the Earl and Countess of Plymouth. A family one of whose ancestors was Clive of India (1725-1774) and indeed Archer's eldest brother died in India in 1908. Born on 6th November 1890 Archer Windsor-Clive was in the Eton XI of 1908/09 then continued on to Cambridge 1910/12. According to the Wisden Cricket Almanac where his name will be found amongst the 1908 Glamorgan Eleven he was considered a good batsman and a useful medium paced left hand bowler. (He played for the Glamorgan Minor Counties Championship 1908-1912).

Archer left for France on 12th August 1914 with the Coldstream Guards who took part in the retreat and rear guard action at Mons

"At dusk a column was seen moving up the road.  The men were singing French songs and when challenged an officer replied they were friends.  However, although the troops at the front were wearing French and Belgium uniforms it was noticed the ones at the back were German.  The order to fire was given but the enemy rushed the Coldstreams...Eventually relieved in the morning of 26th August they withdrew to Etreux, the casualties were 12 killed, 8 wounded and 7 missing".

One of the two officers killed on 25th August 1914 was Archer Windsor-Clive who is buried at Landrecies Communal Cemetery.  His name is inscribed along with seventeen others on the War Memorial in St Mary's Churchyard in the village of St Fagans near Cardiff in Glamorgan, Wales.        

Find A Grave -  Lieut Archer Windsor-Clive
Hell Fire Corner - Remembering the Great War - St Fagans, Glamorgan (from which the italicised quote is taken)
Cracroft's Peerage - Earl of Plymouth
The Glamorgan Cricket Archives - Archer Windsor-Clive
The 12th Century St Mary's Church in St Fagans from Wikipedia
The war memorial can be seen to the right of the church.

An entry to ABC Wednesday, this week R for Remembrance

Friday, 7 November 2014

Pontoon Bridge

 On the 3rd October Belgians in Antwerp started to walk across the recreation of a World War 1 pontoon bridge. Calculations were made of the time it would take to walk across the 1,221 feet (370 metres) and tickets were issued in accordance with that number however people in real life don't behave in neatly predetermined way.  It was a beautiful day and they dawdled for indeed how often do you get a chance to stand in the middle of the Scheldt with your fellow citizens and perhaps cast your mind back a hundred years to think of the thousands who were fleeing the city in haste in 1914 and then take a photo or two.

I bemoaned the fact I couldn't find any photographs of the original 1914 bridge when I wrote about the retreat from Antwerp (here) but I only needed only to look further ahead in the War Illustrated who issued a 'Special Antwerp Number' on 24th October 1914 with articles from their war correspondents, drawings and numerous photographs which included the picture on the front of the dockside
The text says  "Antwerp's day of anguish. This photograph exclusively published here, shows the enormous crowd of despairing refugees on the North German Lloyd quay struggling to reach the floating pier (in the foreground) leading from the battered abd burning town to the temporary pontoon bridge. The escape of the soldiers was a matter of vital importance and some are seen crossing the pontoon bridge...One of the German liners disabled by the British before they left is shown"

"The last of the refugees to leave Antwerp as the Germans entered the city are seen crossing the River Scheldt - some of them by the river ferry-boat and some by the pontoon bridge, temporarily erected and afterwards destroyed to prevent the Germans following the retreating soldiers and fleeing citizens. The river was flowing with oil, run to waste so as not be of service to the invaders"
"A camera captures Belgium's last stand"

Personal stories:-
"Gathering century old memories of war time Belgium" April 2013  BBC News, Antwerp

Tuesday, 4 November 2014


Don Quioxote is a long way from La Mancha seen here in Clearbeck gardens on his old horse Rosinante.  Described as an 'eye catcher' the metal sculpture can be seen from many directions or glimpsed through greenery
I'm behind the Gunnera, a plant I'm attracted by because they always look spectacular in a  landscape garden and if I see one its usually accompanied by a click of my camera.  This one is just started its journey to  look like a giant rhubarb.  There are about 50 different species and the largest can be 8 ft high with leaves 4 ft across living up to its nickname of dinosaur food.. I don't know what species this one is , who knows it could even be Gunnera Quitoensis from South America. The Gunnera species like moist boggy ground so its quids in here high in the Tatham fells
Don Quixote can't find any windmills to tilt at so he will have to make do with a tree. The owners say the sculpture like his namesake is "ever ready to charge over the grass bridge at the sheep grazing nearby. He sets the mood for the garden as a slightly crazy quest"  Clearbeck is sometimes called the "Artists Garden" and indeed one could call it quixotic. The two dimensional steel creation is by Andy Kay and I wonder if over time it will rust like our poor gentleman of La Mancha's acquired rusty armour in Carvantes famous story.

An entry to ABC Wednesday, a quest to blog every letter of the alphabet this week sojourning at Q here