Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Memories

poppy

A two minute silence was observed at 11.00 am GMT across the country today. The silence is observed at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month and marks the moment that four years of war ended with the signing of the Armistice Treaty by Germany and the Allies.This year was particularly poignant as it also marks the passing of a generation. The last of the British World War I veterans died during the year.

Today in Westminster Abbey a special Armistice Day service was held following the deaths of Bill Stone who was 108, Henry Allingham 113 and Harry Patch, 111.

I was wondering whether whether any other countries mark this signing of the armistice with a two minutes silence. It certainly seems to be increasing in the UK with shops, offices, factories, schools etc falling silent. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq perhaps make us realise how peace is never really with us and also how grateful we should be that people gave up their lives so we can live in freedom.

Dame Vera Lynn singing We'll Meet Again is probably the most memorable World War 2 song in the UK and the Commonwealth. The Forces Sweetheart was only 22 when she first recorded it and is now the grand old age of 92.She toured Europe and The Far East during the Second World War providing a much needed boost to the morale of the forces. The song was popular not just because it was a great tune and she was a wonderful singer, but because it lifted people's spirits in a very dark and frightening time.

I was born towards the end of World War 2 and when I was little, this was still a very popular song. We had very little money to go on holiday and so I used to go on bus day trips with my grandparents to York, Edinburgh, Scarborough, The Lake District and other popular places in Scotland and the North of England. On the way back the people always used to sing popular songs of the day and some from the Wars. We'll Meet Again is one I always remember and it brings back lots of happy memories of those times.

Dame Vera stopped performing in 1999 so at the Festival of Remembrance on Saturday in The Royal Albert Hall, Hayley Westenra performed the song with the Fron Male Voice Choir. You can see the performance below. At 2 mins 49 seconds the video screens show Vera Lynn singing and some wartime film of Allied troops. She attended the Festival and you can see her right at the end of the video. She is still very popular.




Surprisingly sales of a CD she released last month, - The Very Best of Vera Lynn made history as she became the oldest living person to top the UK album chart. Not content with that, her record company is releasing a new single of We'll Meet Again for Christmas. They've used the original version of her vocals and added the Fron Male Voice Choir to it. She'll be going head to head with the single of whoever wins X Factor. Normally that single wins because of the music downloads generated by the programme. However we'll see!


It was good to see that this year Hayley Westenra and Dame Vera Lynn jointly launched the Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal which aims to raise £31 million to support the Afhgan War's generation of wounded and bereaved.

Post 129

Thursday, 5 November 2009

National War Museum - Valletta Post 128

Fort St Elmo

Main Entrance to Fort St Elmo

The National War Museum is situated in a building known as the Old Drill Hall in Lower Fort St Elmo at the tip of the Valletta peninsula. It was originally built in 1553 to protect the entrance to The Grand Harbour of Valletta. The Fort was destroyed during the Great Siege of 1565 and reconstructed in 1567, there have been some modifications since then.

It now houses the Police Academy and a small part is occupied by The National War Museum. In more recent times, part of it was used as a film location jail for Midnight Express. It did look a little bit sad when we were there and in need of a bit of work to tidy it up but the entrance to the Museum has been renovated.

I visited the National War Museum about twelve years ago but it was completely renovated earlier this year and the change is amazing. Shame they haven't renovated The Fort, it's looking very neglected. Given its historical importance in the two sieges it really should be a big tourist attraction.

The Museum's collection focuses on the two World Wars 1914-1918 and 1939-1945. It recounts the story of the events which led to the two wars, their development, major actions and consequences locally and abroad.

Special reference is made to the role of Malta in the theatre of war and the contribution of the Maltese population to the war effort especially during the incredibly difficult conditions of 1942.

The visit begins with the origins of the First World War, the outbreak, major battles on land and sea and Malta's role as naval base and Nurse of the Mediterranean. Artifacts on display include German machine guns, trench mortars and a torpedo.

Searchlight

Motor bike

Husky

Gun

The fighter force defending Malta was a very small force of British-operated Gladiators, three were named Faith, Hope and Charity. Have to say Faith and Hope were very apt names for these planes. You can see more about them on this website and here's a photo of Faith on display in the National war Museum. I was amazed at how small the plane was.



Faith

I found an amazing piece of video on Google. It's an e
xcerpt from a rare WW11 Italian colour documentary showing shows Italian and German air forces from an air field in Sicily on a bombing mission over Malta in 1942, with scenes of air battle against RAF Spitfire interceptors. It's really awful watching the bombs drop.



Here are some photographs of the various Armed Forces uniforms on display

Royal Navy Uniforms

Royal Navy

This is exactly what my Dad would have been wearing when he was in Valletta During World War 11. I remember him talking about his bell bottoms which traditionally had to have the creases horizontally across the trouser legs as well as vertically because they had to be kept folded in their kit bags. Apparently the sailors wore bell bottoms so that they could roll the bottoms up when they were working in the rigging. Obviously not during WW11!

Love those "whites"!

Pilot

Army Uniforms


I really loved this Air Raid Precaution first aid kit. Note the old Boots the chemist logo!

Boots first aid case

ARP First Aid Kit


It's a great museum and has lots of personal memorabilia and awards.

This is one awarded to Carmelo Zammit who was killed when HMS Louvain was torpedoed by the U-Boat UC22 on 21 January 1918 in the Aegean Sea.

Award First World War

Here's another from World War 11 awarded to Frederick Neville Riley of the Merchant Navy.



There were lots more materials which have been donated to the museum by servicemen and women's families. One of the saddest was a letter notifying a Royal Navy seaman's wife in England of his death. It was written in what seems an absolutely callous way and included information on how she could claim for him. There was a photograph of him in uniform and a lovely postcard he had sent to her. It was so sad.

On Friday 15 April 1942 the entire island of Malta was awarded the George Cross, the highest civilian award for gallantry. The award is not given lightly and was unprecedented in British history.
For more information about The Cross and its recipients take a look at The George Cross Database .

The importance of the award was keenly felt by the Maltese people at the time and provided a much needed boost to the morale of the country whilst it was being constantly bombed and its people were starving.

The George Cross is mounted in a simple wooden frame with the letter from King George V1 and is housed in the National War Museum.

George Cross

I've just bought a copy of James Holland's book Fortress Malta - An Island Under Siege 1940 -1943. So I hope to find out lots more about this amazing island and its people during that time.

Post 128

Favourite Places

Durham Cathedral There are some places you visit and they stay with you, they're so special.  This is mine! I've blogged abo...