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End of Empire

One of the lessons of history is that all empires come to an end. The Roman Empire, the Holy Roman Empire (“neither holy nor Roman, nor an empire,” as Voltaire once quipped,) the Mongol Empire of the Golden Horde, the muslim Caliphates, the Spanish Empire, the Portuguese Empire, the Mughal Empire, the Ottoman Empire, the French Empires (Napoleon’s and the later colonial empire,) the Empire of Brazil, the German Empire, the Russian Empire and the later Soviet one, the British Empire – whose last vestige apart from dribs and drabs of territory around the world surfaced in the “Empress of India” proclamation at the funeral of the late Queen Mother – all gone to dust along with so many others.

This Wikipedia list gives only the largest empires.

US President Harry Truman’s Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, once said that Britain had lost an empire and not found a role. I wonder if part of the Brexit vote – not all, just part – was a reaction by older voters to that lack of a role as they can by and large remember when a political map of the world was liberally strewn with pink. I would venture that young people don’t have that feeling.

As for myself I long ago came to the conclusion that empire was a thing the UK was better off without, a delusion of grandeur no longer sustainable. After all, the British Isles constitute a relatively small mass of land off the northwest coast of Europe, not too significant in the grand scheme of things. That the British state should “punch above its weight” in international circles struck me as an increasing anachronism. And why should we be punching anybody anyway?

Membership of the European Union made perfect sense; a close collaboration with neighbours of a broadly similar outlook and goals.

But maybe this was actually a Scottish perspective as there seems to be a streak of belief in the southern parts of these islands – perhaps more prevalent the further south you go – in English exceptionalism coupled with a desire to have as little to do with foreigners as possible. As a newspaper headline supposedly once had it:- “Fog In Channel. Continent Cut Off.”

Scots do have the saying, “Wha’s like us?” (To which the answer is “Gey few and they’re a’ deid.”) But that was always more of a joke, a whistling in the wind, than an assertion of superiority.

That loss of empire (and of the sense that superiority can no longer be assumed) may well have been a factor in the Brexit vote. Clearly, for some in the southern portions of Britain at least, being part of a larger association in which you are neither the top nor the most numerous dog and therefore cannot condescendingly lord it over others (as they historically have done abroad and do still within the UK) is not a role in which they feel comfortable. Some of them still seem to think the UK can be (or even still is) a force on the world stage. Former (is there any other kind?) Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said sonorously on the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, “This is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” in the context of what he called “bullying” by the EU as if that assertion still carried a degree of clout. (I note Marr made no attempt to disabuse him of his belief in innate worth. The fact that Raab had been made Brexit Secretary in the first place – and Boris Johnson Foreign Secretary – is an indicator of how impoverished the British political system has become in terms of elected representatives.) Sometimes I could wish that they would get over themselves.

Maybe a period of irrelevance as a North Atlantic offshoot of a more powerful trading block – a truer reflection of the UK’s standing – is just what they need in order to wake up to their reduced capacity to influence world affairs (consider: does anyone in Spain still hanker for the empire they once had?) – but perhaps even that would not jolt their certainties. Indeed, it may even inflame their resentments.

It may be that some of that losing a role sentiment, a sense of imminent decline, is an explanation of why US voters turned to T Ronald Dump two years ago. Decline has not come yet but will eventually – all empires fall in the end – but for now the US is still a preeminent superpower (though facing economic challenge from China in particular.) Quite how a real fall from that state will affect a polity which is used to strutting its stuff on the world stage is now being rehearsed in a compelling but worrying way, as a farce presaging a tragedy.

Let Me Take You Down ….

…. because I’ve been to Strawberry Fields. (Or more correctly it seems Strawberry Field.):-

Strawberry Fields, Liverpool

Behind these gates was apparently a children’s home and though Wikipedia has John Lennon climbing into the place to play with them the guide on the bus tour our friends had booked said he would play truant from his own school hoping to catch a glimpse of girls beyond the trees behind the gates.

The present gates are replicas:-

Strawberry Fields

When Lennon’s parents’ marriage fell apart he was taken in by his Aunt Mimi.

This is her house. They had a reasonably comfortable existence here you’d think:-

John Lennon's Aunt Mimi's House Liverpool

Note the notice on the gate post and the blue plaque on the house:-

Aunt Mimi's house

In Liverpool reminders of the Beatles are never far away. Sgt Pepper flower bed:-

Sergeant Pepper Flower Bed, Liverpool

Memorial plaque:-

Beatles Memorial Plaque

The Beatles: Strawberry Fields Forever

Age Shall Not Weary Them

As an addendum to yesterday’s busy day we watched the film They Shall Not Grow Old shown on BBC2 last night.

The colourisation of the archive black and white footage brought an immediacy to some familiar images, a more visceral appreciation of the conditions the war was fought under, a greater humanisation of its participants; bringing it home that they were exactly like us, even at a distance of one hundred years.

I only wish though, that the film’s title did not embody a misquotation of Laurence Binyon’s poem For the Fallen.

He of course did not write, “They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old,” but rather “they shall grow not old,” a more poetic rendering but also one that implies a different sort of growth, that the remembering would increase as time passed.

(I note in passing that the Lord Lieutenant of Fife made the same misquotation at Fife’s one hundredth anniversary of the Armistice Remembrance Service in Dunfermline Abbey on Friday 9th.)

Binyon’s poem is also almost always misquoted in its next line as “nor the years condemn.” He in fact wrote, “nor the years contemn,” a stronger meaning – and one borne out by the commemorations occurring during the last four years.

Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres (Ieper,) Flanders

Essex Farm Cemetery is located on the banks of the Ypres-Yser canal by the site of the Advanced Dressing Station where Lt Col John McCrae was serving as a medical officer when he wrote his famous poem “In Flanders Fields.” I have blogged about him previously in connection with the McCrae Memorial at Eilean Donan Castle in Lochalsh, Scotland.

The cemetery contains more than 1,000 graves. Unusually for a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery its Cross of Sacrifice is located right at the entrance:-

Essex Farm Cemetery Ypres, Cross of Sacrifice

Graves from northwest:-

Graves at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

From southeast. Note Yorkshire Memorial on the canal bank:-

More Graves at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

From northeast:-

Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres, Graves

From south. Again note Yorkshire Memorial (which I shall come back to):-

Graves at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Graves from Yorkshire Memorial:-

View of Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Graves from north, Yorkshire Memorial to left:-

Graves at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

A tree trunk has grown round the gravestone of Private J MacPherson, Seaforth Highlanders, who died on 5/7/1917, aged 33:-

Commonwealth War Grave, Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Symbolic of the fact they fought and died over the same ground the cemetery holds a German grave, Franz Heger, RIR, 238, 7/8/1916:-

German Grave, Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Grave of Rifleman V J Strudwick, The Rifle Brigade, 14/1/1916, aged 15, said to be the youngest British Empire casualty of the Great War. (There may be some doubt about this.) It is nevertheless a focus for remembrance:-

Youngest Casualty, Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

John McCrae Commemoration stone. Written in four languages, French, Flemish, English and German, with the poem itself also inscribed on the memorial along with a facsimile of the handwritten manuscript:-

John McCrae Commemoration, Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

The bunkers at Essex Farm Cemetery where John McCrae worked as a medic:-

Bunkers at  Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Bunker interior:-

Interior of Bunker at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Another bunker interior:-

Another Bunker at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Bunkers, looking back up to Essex Farm Cemetery grounds:-

Bunkers at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Information board with a photograph of how the bunkers appeared during the war:-

Information Board Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Lest We Forget:-

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The Cavern Club, Liverpool

Opposite the Cavern Club, Liverpool, is a Wall of Fame:-

The Cavern Wall of Fame

The statue of a Beatle (John Lennon from the looks) lounges by the Wall of Fame, here accompanied by two tourists:-

Beatle Statue and Fans, Liverpool

Each brick has inscribed on it the name of an act which has performed at the Cavern Club. Wall of Fame plaque:-

Cavern Club Wall of Fame Plaque

Some of the commemorative bricks:-

Commemorative Bricks Oppsite Cavern Club, Liverpool

The internal walls of the club are covered by memorabilia. Not only of the Beatles:-

The Cavern

Beatles Memorabilia

Beatles Memorabilia

but also other rock and rollers:-

Chuck Berry Memorabilia

Four Liverpool Lads

In my last “Art Deco in Liverpool” post I mentioned John Lennon.

He was of course one of the four Liverpool lads who were probably the town’s most famous export. (Export in the sense that their music went all over the world.)

I refer to The Beatles. A (larger than life size) statue of the four stands near the Liverpool waterfront:-

Four Liverpool Lads

It is difficult to move in Liverpool without stumbling over something to do with the four. This is the entrance to Matthew Street wherein lies the Cavern Club where they had a residency back in the day. (Note the establishment known as Sgt Pepper’s to the right):-

Matthew Street, Liverpool

The club is not the same as the one The Beatles used to play in. Part of the original no longer exists and the entrance has been moved. Below is the old Entrance to Cavern Club. The Cilla Black statue to the front commemorates her stint as a cloakroom attendant at the establishment:-

Old Entrance to Cavern Club, Liverpool

New entrance:-

The Cavern new entrance

Entering the venue proper requires going down a fairly steep set of stairs:-

The Cavern stairs

The arched interior is a little claustrophobic:-

Interior Arches, Cavern Club, Liverpool

I have more photos of the Cavern Club but this is enough to be going on with.

Wilfred Owen

One hundred years ago today, only one week before the armistice which ened the Great War, perhaps the most resonant of that war’s poets, Wilfred Owen, was killed leading his troops across the Sambre–Oise Canal.

Wilfred Owen

On my trip down to Oswestry for the Challenge Cup semi-final in February I discovered his name is on the Great War Memorial inside Shrewsbury Abbey.

The Abbey:-

Shrewsbury Abbey

The War Memorial. Owen’s name is marked by a poppy:-

Shrewsbury Abbey War Memorial

Closer View:-

Shrewsbury Abbey War Memorial Detail

In the Abbey grounds there is a memorial dedicted to Owen. The text in red this side reads, “Wilfred Owen Poet 18/3/1893-4/11/1918.”:-

Wilfred Owen Memorial, Shrewsbury Abbey Grounds.

The memorial is titled “Symmetry” and was designed by Paul De Monchaux and erected in 1993:-

Wilfred Owen Memorial Title

Three other information stones surround the memorial. Birth and life:-

Wilfred Owen Memorial Information Plaque

Death:-

Wilfred Owen Memorial Plaque

Line of Poem:-

Wilfred Owen  Memorial Explanation

The memorial is in the form of a pontoon bridge. You can read more about it here.

The red writing on this side is the quote (line 40 of “Strange Meeting“) “I am the enemy you killed my friend.”

Wilfred Owen Memorial Reverse View

A Piece of Rocketry History

What a piece of nostalgia this is. This is a what a space rocket ought to look like – and in all those 1950s SF story illustrations always did. (It’s a pity it’s based on a V-2, though.)

From Astronomy Picture of the Day for 1/10/2018, the first ever rocket launch from Cape Canaveral.

First Launch from Cape Canaveral

Rochdale Co-operation

Rochdale is the home of the modern Co-operative Movement, through the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers

The original site of their first shop, in Toad Lane, is now a museum:-

Co-operative Museum, Rochdale

Side view with Co-op Tea painted on the brick:-

Rochdale Co-op

The museum extends into the modern building you can see on the left in the first photo.

Just up Toad Lane are two shopfronts which are Victorian in appearance with lovely stained glass:-

Old Shop Windows, Rochdale

More Old Shop Windows, Rochdale

On the other side of the entrance to Toad Lane is a memorial to the Kobe earthquake, which, from its inscription, seems to have something to do with the Co-operative movement:-

Kobe Earthquake Memorial, Rochdale

Buildings in Rochdale

Apart from the Town Hall there are several fine buildings in Rochdale town centre, a few of them banks or former banks.

Royal Bank of Scotland, RBS:-

Royal Bank of Scotland, Rochdale

This has “bank” inscribed in the stone above the door but is somewhat anonymous now:-

Old Bank Building, Rochdale

Lloyd’s Bank (the rounded building):-

Lloyd's Bank, Rochdale

If you look closely at the above picture you can see a blue plaque. It was once the Union Flag Inn. In 1745 a confrontation between the Jacobite forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the town authorities took place here:-

Union Flag Inn as was, Rochdale

Beside Lloyd’s Bank is the very modern Beales and behind and above both a building with faded writing on the brick. “Rochdale (something I can’t make out; equitable?) Pioneer Society (something I can’t make out.)” The Co-operative movement started in Rochdale (see later post):-

Above Beales and Lloyd's Bank, Rochdale

This building has a fine cupola:-

Cupola'd Building Rochdale Town Centre

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