The Kitchener Memorial and Marwick Head, Orkney

We were just driving along a very skinny road when we noticed a signpost saying Kitchener Memorial at Marwick Head, Orkney. Obviously we knew that Kitchener had drowned not long after the beginning of World War 1 when the ship he was on, HMS Hampshire, hit a German mine, but we had no idea it happened just off Marwick Head. This massive tower was built in his memory.

Kitchener Memorial from path

A view of the Kitchener Memorial at Marwick Head, Orkney.

Kitchener Memorial at Marwick Head on Orkney

Marwick Head is absolutely awash with rabbits as you can see, they aren’t at all bothered by humans it seems.

Rabbits

It’s a long way down and it was windy so I wasn’t going to go too close to the edge, some people are thrill seekers though.

More Cliff at Marwick Head, Orkney

It’s a beautiful area and there’s a lovely cliff path if you fancy a long walk. If you click on the photos you can zoom in to enlarge them.

Marwick Head, Orkney

Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport

Caught in the Revolution cover

Caught in the Revolution – Petrograd 1917 by Helen Rappaport was published in 2016, is non-fiction accounts of what people witnessed in Petrograd in the run up to the Russian Revolution. This is a subject that I’ve been interested in since ‘doing’ it in second year at Secondary School, so I knew all about the political details but this book focuses on what was happening out in the streets, how events were affecting ordinary people.

It seems that Petrograd was full of foreigners so there were plenty of people writing of their experiences in a chaotic environment. At the beginning the Tsar is still in power and the people (particularly the women) are having to spend hours every day in queues just to get some basic foodstuffs – if they are lucky.

There seemed to be an awful lot of foreigners in Petrograd, including Arthur Ransome of Swallows and Amazons fame although this is before he wrote those books, he was a reporter for the Daily News and Observer. The writer Hugh Walpole was reporting on events for the British Foreign Office, there were lots of people writing diaries, so I found this book to be a really interesting read.

There were plenty of British and American manufacturers there such as a Singer sewing machine factory, Thorntons woollen mill and Coats of Paisley threads company. The revolutionaries encouraged the workers to demand exorbitant wages for a much shorter working week. Basically everybody gave up working and everywhere was filthy.

Sadly of course after the Bolsheviks took over things got even worse for the ordinary people and food was even more scarce than before. Although I’ve read a lot about this period I don’t think I had realised before what an evil swine Lenin was – but he was a clever one.

The Tsar doesn’t really feature much in the book, but as ever I just wanted to grab him and talk some sense into him, but better people than me tried, such as the British Ambassador Sir George Buchanan. I find it bizarre that considering Tsar Nicholas was so close to the British royal family, and his cousin King George V in particular – he just couldn’t contemplate changing the Russian Imperial system to something similar to the British.

Other well known people who were eye witnesses were Somerset Maugham and Emmeline Pankhurst. Maugham’s experiences formed the basis for his Ashenden collection of short stories which were published in 1928.

There were quite a lot of newspaper photographers in Petrograd at this time but there are frustratingly few photos surviving. There are some in this book but nothing of great interest, the book is a great read otherwise.

Balbirnie Stone Circle, Fife, Scotland

Balbirnie Stones board

After visiting so many Neolithic standing stones and cairns when we were in Orkney I thought it was about time I did another short blogpost about the local ones near me in Fife, the Balbirnie Stone Circle.

Balbirnie Stones

I did blog about them donkey’s years ago and of course they don’t change although they now have a new and legible information board. There was evidence of 16 cremation burials as well as a flint knife, a jet button and beads and a complete food container when the area was excavated.

Balbirnie Stones

The powers that be decided to move this stone circle when a nearby road was being upgraded – which is truly sacrilegious, but at least they re-arranged them as they had been originally. They are now 125 metres to the south-east of their original location.

Balbirnie Standing Stones 3

There’s a burn nearby and I presume that that is why people settled in this area over 2,000 years BC. I must admit that I like to think of families living and working here all those years ago.

Standing Stones, Orkney

On this Summer Solstice I thought I would do a post about the Neolithic stones we recently visited on Orkney.

The Standing Stones of Stenness are well worth going to see although it can get a bit busy. We were lucky, there weren’t too many people around and we did get them to ourselves for a wee while. You can see the Ring of Brodgar and Maeshowe from this location, and when you go for a walk around you are literally tripping over settlements which haven’t been excavated yet, there are just too many of them around and presumably not enough resources to start digs.

Stones of Stenness Information Board

This area was well populated 5,000 years BC, in fact Orkney was the centre of the Neolithic world apparently! Unfortunately I didn’t notice the electricity pylon sticking above one of the stones in the photo below.

Standing Stones on Orkney

It’s a great location near the banks of the sea loch the Loch of Stenness and the freshwater Loch of Harray.
Stones of Stenness

Just to give you an idea of how big the stones are, below is a photo of me beside one, somewhat windswept!
Stone of Stenness and me

St Mungo’s Churchyard Penicuik, Midlothian

We were driving through Penicuik a couple of weeks ago when I spotted a Commonwealth War Graves sign on some old churchyard gates. There was a car park just across the road so we were able to stop for a mooch around the graveyard which is a really old one and has the remains of an ancient church in the middle of it, as well as the large replacement Victorian church which is still in use.

Penicuik St Mungo's

Penicuik St Mungo's

Penicuik St Mungo's 7

The photos above are all of the original St Mungo’s. The photo below shows part of the Victorian replacement.

Penicuik St Mungo's 4

Some of the gravestones are really ancient. There are the usual warning signs of danger from unsafe stones.

Penicuik St Mungo's 6

This is one from the sixteenth century, back and front – the best I’ve ever seen of that type.

Penicuik St Mungo's

Penicuik St Mungo's

From what I can make out it’s of Annie Melrose, spouse of John Hodge. In Scotland women are (or were) reverted to their maiden name after death. It makes sense because often men went through three or four wives what with women dying in childbirth or whatever.

St Mungo – or St Kentigern as he is sometimes called – is patron saint of Glasgow but was apparently born Culross which is not far from us in Fife.

Another Trip to Edinburgh

Last week we decided to have another jaunt over to Edinburgh, mainly to visit the J.M.W. Turner watercolour exhibition which is on every January and then disappears for the rest of the year.

So we made our way along Princes Street to The National Gallery where we met up with a couple of family members who had never seen the watercolours. You can have a look at the collection and watch a wee video here. It’s a bit of an annual pilgrimage for us, but this time it was busier than usual, it serves us right for going on a Saturday!

After that it was time for lunch so we crossed Princes Street and went up South Saint David Street (I think – I’m not good with Edinburgh’s geography), turned left into George Street to have lunch at The Dome. It’s a fabulously ornate building in Edinburgh’s New Town (which of course is quite old by now, Georgian in fact.)
Dome

The Dome

The Dome was indeed originally a bank, it definitely has that feel about it, very opulent, all of our poshest buildings seem to have been built by banks – nothing changes does it?

The Dome

The Dome

You can see more images of The Dome here.

After that we went back up to Princes Street, really so that we could sign up to become ‘friends’ of The National Galleries.
Princes Street

Princes Street

Then we walked through the Christmas market, I thought it would have been cleared away by now but it’s still hanging on. It is really incongruous to see these fairground rides sitting cheek by jowl with Sir Walter Scott’s monument. I must say that they do get a great view of it from those swing seats but you won’t catch me up there!

Princes Street Gardens Christmas 7

Armistice Day

Jack photographs any war memorials that we come across on our travels and we also visit cemeteries which have a Commonwealth War Graves plaque on the gates. Most recently we visited a local one at Leslie for the first time, it’s always the same – you tend to overlook the places on your doorstep.

An awful lot of cemeteries have just a few war graves, presumably those poor men were repatriated after being wounded or gassed. They had got a Blighty one – a wound that meant they would be sent home. But sadly they often died of their wounds – eventually.

As you can see the poor soul in the grave below didn’t die until 1920, even if he was wounded right at the end of the war that is still a long time to linger.

War Grave Leslie, Fife

The Somme Centenary

Today is the centenary of the beginning of The Battle of the Somme.
Quite a few years ago we visited part of The Somme Battlefield, unfortunately it was before digital cameras. My maternal grandfather was at the Somme and survived so I was glad to be there and see just a wee bit of the area. It was wet when we were there and so we got a bit of that muddy experience and disconcertingly the mud at the Somme is very red, it must have a very high iron content.

My grandfather was one of those crazy lads who lied about his age to volunteer for the war and I was only two years old when he died in 1961, having lived his whole life dealing with ill health due to being gassed. But one thing has been handed down from him to me and that is the fact that he told his family never to believe any British government, and I certainly have always heeded that warning. In fact I would go further and say – never trust or believe any British politician.

Thiepval Memorial

The Thiepval Memorial has 72,246 names on it of missing men who were killed in the Battles of the Somme and have no known grave.

Remembrance Trees, Ypres, Belgium

Remembrance tree

I think they started planting these Remembrance trees just outside Ypres in 2014, to commemorate 100 years since the beginning of World War 1. As you can see there is a framework around the tree and it has a map showing you exactly where the tree is and the trench lines as they were in 1914 with the British marked in blue while the Germans are in red.

I had always known that the trenches were close together but I had imagined them being maybe around 50 yards (metres) apart at the closest, but if you look carefully at the above photo you can see another tree with a framework around it, that was the British trench. So it’s just at the other side of a very narrow road, supposedly 20 metres away but I don’t even think it is that far. It looks to me like the soldiers could have almost leaned forward and shaken hands with each other, had they been so inclined. They wouldn’t even have had to raise their voices to speak to each other.

There’s something really crazy and awful about it, there couldn’t be anything anonymous about killing someone under those circumstances.

The Hooge Crater Cemetery is just across the other side of the road, and as it is just a two minute walk from our hotel we went there straight away to have a walk around it. We counted up the graves and the rows and thought that there must be over 1,000 men buried in it, but when we went to sign the register at the memorial it said there were nearly 6,000 men laid to rest there.

Often they have no names and say Known Unto God and often it says five soldiers rest here. Presumably they could only find bits and pieces of the poor souls who had been blown up.

Hooge Crater Cemetery Communal Graves

It’s not exactly an enjoyable experience but if you are interested in that period of history then it’s something that you feel you must do. Looking at the graves made me think that we really can’t afford to leave the EU – flawed as it is (what is perfect) – if only to stop anything like that war ever happening again. You have to jaw jaw as Churchill said – not war war.

If you’re intersted you might like to click over to Jack’s Menin Gate post.

Ypres (Ieper) in Belgium

Ypres Buildings

In Britain we say Ypres (Eeprr) in the French fashion, I’m not very good at that French ‘r’ rolling thing. Anyway, that was how it was pronounced locally at the time of World War 1. The British troops of course decided that it was much easier to call the place Wipers. After the war the Flemish people of the region decided that it was about time they dropped the French way of doing it, after all it isn’t in France it’s Belgium. So now it’s called Ieper (Eeyeper) well that’s what it sounds like to me. The whole town was flattened as it was right on the front line, and it had been such a lovely mediaeval town too.

Ypres Building

After the war there was a discussion about what should be done about the place. Churchill was keen to keep the whole area in ruins as a memorial to the dead. Understandably that didn’t appeal to the locals who just wanted to get back home and get on with normal life. So the decision was taken to re-build as close as possible to what had been there before, and I think they made a good job of it.

Cloth Hall fountains

The fountain above is obviously modern, I love fountains, there aren’t enough of them around, in Britain anyway. It was hot while we were there and in common with lots of old places Ypres has now and again a whiff of old drains but the town also smells of chocolate, very enticing.

If you go to Ypres be sure to visit The Flanders Field Museum. It’s one of the best museums I’ve ever visited – and I’ve visited a fair few in my time. Give yourself at least three hours to go around it.

Ypres is just a small town surrounded by farmland, interspersed with many cemeteries and memorials. I read somewhere that the farmland had been very poor prior to the war, but afterwards it was the most productive farmland in Europe. I don’t know if that’s true but it is an undeniable fact that it was certainly very well fertilized, what an awful thought.

It’s a dangerous job driving a tractor on these fields as unexploded shells are ploughed up all the time and sometimes they explode when they’re disturbed, killing or maiming the poor driver.

tractor

If you’re interested you can see some images of The Wipers Times here.