Lest we forget

 

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Across the nation the 100th anniversary of the armistice which ended the Great World War is remembered throughout our communities, large and small – especially so locally where troops and munition works were based in SE London – and where young men flocked to join up.

Nowadays it is mostly the old that gather at various ceremonies throughout the Borough. At the Pleasance in East Greenwich, where the overflow were transferred to from their original graves at the Naval College – a gathering of civil dignitaries met in the corner of this vast burial ground in the late summer sun. Children and parents also use this open ground, and could be heard. Their play and laughter were in deep contrast to the solemn ceremony. The Salvation Army band bravely led the hymns and prayers in company with the great and good gathered in the warm sunshine. Similar occasions will happen throughout the UK and the Common Market in these autumn months.

In a recent break in Norfolk we were reminded of the great loss to the agriculture and fishing industries – each community being reminded by the plethora of monuments and crosses. We visited Burnham Thorpe, the birth place of Lord Nelson, where in the fine parish church two large white battle ensigns reminded us of the Battle of Jutland and, of course, Trafalgar.

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From my studio window I can see that the landlord of the Trafalgar Tavern has managed to obtain a unique ensign which is streaming bravely in the strong northerlies. I can also see the brilliant sunlit Royal Naval College – the venue for many Naval celebrations at which I have donned my dinner jacket and red poppy in remembrance. These traditional great occasions are in contrast to some of the more humble naval occasions such as a remarkable Art Trail in Canary Wharf – bravo one and all.

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A brand new booklet is being produced by Rob Powell which will contain the Old Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich’s Roll of Honour from WW1.

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About 1900 names of the fallen are included in the list which is being published for the first time – a fine way to remember!!  Rob is speaking to the Greenwich Historical Society on November 28th and will present his new photographic images of relevant memorials as well – be sure to be there at James Wolfe School in Royal Hill, Greenwich at 7.15 for 7.30pm

 

 

Historic Maritime Greenwich – Trafalgar Day 21st October 1998

Naval College001 lighterAfter a very close inspection of The Painted Hall ceiling, one recalls significant celebrations in The Painted Hall at Greenwich, when the Royal Navy lowered the White Ensign for the last time.  A full banqueting Hall, packed to the gunnels with the good and the great, bade farewell to The Royal Naval College for ever.

A tearful ceremony was enhanced by the Royal Marines’ Band echoing around the Great Hall and, finally, the lowering of the White Ensign in the Grand Square.  Each guest had received a rolled up print bound by a sailor’s hat ribbon – some 400 in number (I know because I created the drawing and signed every one!!).

Three years before this, a similar event was celebrated by the Friends of the National Maritime Museum in the great riverside room at the Trafalgar Tavern,  the ‘immortal memory’ toasted by Rear Admiral Richard Hill RN Retd., who thanked Judy and me for our overnight hospitality with a copy of The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy, just published by Oxford and edited by himself – a noted naval historian.

Other memorable Trafalgar Days were celebrated in Boston Mass. USA, when a party of Friends of the National Maritime Museum were shown the ropes of the USS Constitution ‘Old Ironsides’.  Her captain gave a cracking toast to Admiral Lord Nelson for the gathered company. A similar group (organised by Brian Lavery, a NMM historian recently retired to the Sussex vineyards) were shown over the historic naval dockyard at Portsmouth by one of the divers who discovered the wreck of King Henry VIII’s warship ‘Mary Rose’ 457 years after she sank off Southsea Castle in the Solent after action with a French fleet.  A personal tour in my wheelchair will never be forgotten.

Another never-forgotten ceremony was a reenactment at the Old Royal Naval College of John Richard Lapenotiere delivering news of the famous Trafalgar victory to the steps of the Old Royal Naval College Chapel by post-chaise from Falmouth.  This was followed by the reenactment of events from those same steps where the body, encased in rum, was delivered prior to a ceremonial flotilla up the Thames to HQS Wellington, then processing under the command of Admiral of the Fleet Alan Avest, to lie in state at St. Paul’s.

The farewell service in Westminster Abbey and the flotilla return voyage down to Greenwich Pier with a civic welcome was the first of many great happenings in Greenwich, with great musical events in our landmark churches and halls.  Bravo!!

Are we losing the ‘Old Royal Naval College’ branding?

As I write, the ever-recognisable noise of paddle wheels echo around the sunset as the Clyde steamer ‘Waverley’ heads upstream after a day out in the estuary, passing Royal Greenwich in great style!  (signs of another teardrop too!!)

However, the rumour that the powers-that-be are abandoning the ‘Old Royal Naval College’ branding from their marketing is somewhat disturbing – another ‘Brexit’!!  The proposal is to replace this with the branding: ‘The Royal Palace and Greenwich Hospital’. Remember that the present Old Royal Naval College is a comparatively recent institution – it moved here from Portsmouth in 1873.  But the buildings remain that occupied the ruins of one of the most historic of English palaces and the best-known of Tudor courts – the Palace of Placentia (of which very little remains). Sadly, there is only the so-called Tudor Undercroft left to tell us of its greatness (see ‘Royal Greenwich’ by Olive and Nigel Hamilton).trafalgar001 lighter

Be reassured that Frank Dowling has opened his refurbished Trafalgar Tavern where the greatest show of Thameside maritime paintings abound – a great celebration open for all to see and toast ‘the immortal memory’ of Admiral Lord Nelson on October 21st.

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Greenwich is also a hub of Nelson memorabilia, what with the NMM and Warwick Leadlay’s collections at their market-side gallery.  Frank Dowling of the Trafalgar Tavern – an American with a love for Greenwich and, of course, Lord Nelson, will demonstrate his newly-arranged collection of paintings in his magnificent newly-restored riverside tavern, upon which he surely must be congratulated.  I am sure visitors will love to visit this much-enhanced attraction, especially as the Naval emphasis of the Old Royal Naval College is being steered away by other attractions in need of more obvious income generators from Joe Tourist.

I can well remember the government enquiries into the proposed departure of the Royal Navy from this hallowed site, when both the NMM and University of Greenwich gave evidence at the formal presentation.  As a neighbour, we were invited to attend after discussion with the Commanders, one by one. The added attraction of Trinity College of Music moving from Marylebone, Central London, into the original Palace block was pure genius as its benefits have been applauded ever since.

 

Oh no!  What a shame…

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I was saddened to see ‘another piece of history’ reporting the sad loss to the maritime scene on Deptford Creek.  ‘The Greenwich Visitor’ often reports on Thameside matters and recorded the fiery death of the last of the working cranes once gathered on both sides of the Creek and nearby Thameside.

I write from Crane Street, named after the nearby site of a Tudor crane that served the Palace of Placentia and later the import of stone for the construction of Wren’s masterpiece.  Of course, ship building which abounded hereabouts required machinery to hoist masts and rigging and to export goods around the world.

Priors Brewery Wharf is the last of the working wharves and a pair of coasters still plies to and from Denton in Kent with freshly dredged aggregates for the busy concrete making plant.  A mobile crane has now been allocated to do the job by day and by night, according to tides.

Towards the end of our Empire

Towards the end of our Empire – Private Kent S/23179244 recalls his National Service in the early ‘50s

The troopship ‘Empire Fowey’ plunged her way across the wintery Bay of Biscay bound for the Far East.  She entered a calm, blue Mediterranean with much relief for a thousand or so reinforcements on Her Majesty’s Service.  A two-day refuelling break at Gibraltar gave the opportunity to overview the defined difference between the Atlantic and the emerald blue Mediterranean and check that the famous Apes still held sway and the traditional Gibraltar  comfort stations were still open to all.

During the month-long voyage, the captain issued a clear cut, day by day guides to what could be spotted by the lower deck squaddies as well as our superiors on the upper deck.  The Sunday morning service in the Grand Ballroom gave us a hint of the grandeur of this captured German liner compared to the head-to-toe three-tiered bunks in the troop accommodation of the lower decks.

The refreshing morning breeze was enhanced by the delightful smell of crisp white rolls issuing from the bakery, and the sight of flying fish as they skimmed the billows of the tropical oceans.  Our passage through Suez was as expected, with Arab traders trying to free last week’s payday pittance before the Naafi swooped up the duty-free Indian Pale Ale.

 

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The heat really hit us squaddies as we tumbled off a ship-to-shore dhow onto Aden’s dusty delights – the obscure memory of a dawn approach with a replica Big Ben welcoming us to this colony and crater city.

However, in sedate Colombo, one was able to take tea in the palm-lined Settlers’ Club Room, very aware of our recently-issued tropical calico uniforms which gave the game away – our nude un-suntanned knees for all to mock.

The magic of a tropical evening on deck well away from bingo, and deck sports as towering cloud formations rose into the heavens high above, with the flash lightning dramatizing the tropical scene.  The magic quickly vanished as the ‘duty party’ later scrubbed the sticky floor with Izal (or some other foul-smelling detergent).

The Straits of Malacca gave us a hint of what was to come in ambushes in the Malayan plantations and crowded China downtown with the threat of riots never far away.

Then a dramatic dockside arrival in Singapore, lumbered with kit bags and prams, awaiting one’s turn and clutching a posting chitty (which was a mystery to customs military police).  Eventually I was the only soul left behind – until I was dispatched under escort to G.H.Q.  F.A.R.E.L.F – a lush, partitioned campus alongside the Botanical Gardens.  After a 2-day wait I was picked up by an ancient Humber staff car and driven through Singapore’s many diverse and multi-cultural settlements, then out towards the Straits of Jahore and the RAF base at Saletar.

Sunderland flying boats – amazingly still in service – Meteors and Vampires lay around awaiting scrapping prior to the Brits’ departure.  My work place was in a concrete bunker alongside the main runway where I was asked to interpret aerial photos taken at first light to catch the sight of bandit activity hidden away in the jungle.  I was to check the flight path in order to record the exact location for military action by Commonwealth forces.  This demanding intelligence gathering was essential to keep roads and railways bandit-free.  My interservice unit demanded numerous and speedy sharp-eyed talent working on demand, except when conditions were foul and flying limited; then we were off-duty – free to explore and to enjoy the social life on which colonialists thrived.  This was a shade embarrassing as, being non-commissioned, one wasn’t welcome everywhere!  Generous leave permitted sea travel to Hong Kong and Malaya – the Life of Riley as we had to pay only for messing!

By the time of our return voyage to the UK, we had learnt the ropes of avoiding the most arduous duties.  The ‘Asturias’ arrival at Southampton was most emotional as a military band let loose on ‘When the Saints Came Marching In’ – hardly a dry eye to be seen, no doubt because we had traversed the desert unscathed.  The Suez action was played out well before and after our memorable 18-month detachment!!

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Far from the madding crowd into Kent – bucolic today, but imminently severely endangered

 

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This unobserved peninsula can be viewed from the Sportsman Pub perched on the junction of Faversham and Oare Creek, and the Hollow Shore Yacht Club.  The access lane runs from the western end of Faversham (just opposite the village school).  Its curious course runs alongside a disused gravel pit which is now a fishermen’s lake with open pasture, viewed from the Saxon Shore Way footpath much loved by bird watchers on their way to Faversham where the Creek can be crossed by the town bridge.

 

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The return Creekside path passes the town’s sewage works but soon is lost in Creekside pastures all the way to the Sportsman Pub, now a Michelin 2-star restaurant, and a bevy of beach huts with stunning views over the Swale as it flows into the sea – with its extensive oyster beds – and Horse Sands where knowing yachtsmen run ashore to prepare and paint their hulls.

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Inland, the charming orchards and undulating pastureland is attracting nurserymen who bring in guest labour to supplement UK students.  Locals live in bucolic locations and a network of public footpaths provide opportunities for the curious to explore.  Graveney, where a Saxon boat was discovered, has a village school and historic church, and is an interesting settlement which borders acres and acres of open country, providing us townies with a space to breathe in the salty air.  A series of hillsides give travellers panoramic views.

In the last year or so, new residential developments are adding hundreds to the peaceful Victorian town which now boasts a fast train link into Stratford, St Pancras and imminently Crossrail.

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The very nature of this historic settlement with its ancient original street patterns and markets, once a medieval port with cross-channel links and trade far beyond in wool, hops, beer, fruit… once the garden of Kent… is about to be trashed and lose its very character – as has already happened in the rest of North Kent, a planners’ nightmare.

Now this is seen as a prime site for a vast solar park to join the estuarial wind farms in supplying the ever-growing population, no doubt attracting even more acres of prime countryside to industrial and distribution congested habitats.

A single set of power lines bestride the open countryside creeks, supplying the National Grid from cross-channel sources.

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Quietly, Cleve Hill Substation slid in behind a wooded hill in open land while we awaited the ramifications of this.  Now we know the secret of the planners’ dreams.

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The sands of time – did Trump ever visit his new embassy?

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Witness the contented chug of the crusty old coaster ‘James Prior’ as she slipped down into the tideway having navigated under the Deptford Creek Road lift bridge where she earlier had delivered to Brewery Wharf a cargo of freshly-washed sea aggregate from her base downstream of Gravesend.

A larger craft dredges this cargo out of the Thames Estuary to the end of Walshes’ Pier where it is scrubbed clean and loaded into this tiny coaster which has traded for 9 years, mostly out of Prior’s extensive sand pit on Colchester’s historic river.  Romans and the Dutch once traded here – my home town.  ‘James Prior’ follows the tradition of delivering the essential ingredient to concrete wharves up and down the tideway for their insatiable appetite.  Alas, their tall, elegant dockland crane has just disappeared to be replaced with a yellow painted mechanical grabber.

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Likewise up in Battersea and Cringle Wharf, new arrangements had to be made to accommodate Trump’s Thames Tower for the US embassy.  (The once twin cranes also have been booted out and shipped downstream to be refurbished and, hopefully, to be reinstalled).

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(Photo by PK when last in Manhattan – donkey years ago!)

Earlier this year I made my first sighting of the new US embassy built on the South Bank in a once-industrial and market area across the river from the Chelsea Embankment, with its palatial apartment blocks – many owned by Arab entrepreneurs around fashionable Pimlico.  The significant new US tower block provides excellent views onto elegant Chelsea and Westminster beyond, onto the New Covent Garden fruit market and a multiplicity of rail tracks.

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On the exterior, large sail-like screens obscure the office floors from public gaze and from surrounding buildings and sun glare.  My light-hearted sketches are based on images kindly supplied by visitors on an official tour.  The new building echoes the spacious layout of the previous Grosvenor Square edifice which I was privileged to view upon its opening back in the fifties.  I am told there is a north aspect viewing balcony for the Ambassador and those who wish to inspect Westminster and the MI5 HQs in nearby Vauxhall!

Did the President go south of the river?  (Not his style, perhaps!!).

Down by Waitrose the Vikings are back!!

As we all take in this tropical heat, it was a joy to take a breather yesterday lunch time at one of the spectacular new apartment blocks recently built overlooking the Thames a little further upstream from our quayside abode.  There we were entertained for a light lunch of fruit jelly and other high summer delights high up in a stunning penthouse apartment overlooking Greenwich Ship Tier buoys at the entrance to Deptford Creek and the River Ravensbourne – a favourite mooring point for visiting craft since Viking times, including pre-war German liners!!  Here deep water anchorage is for visiting cruise ships, aircraft carriers and the like.

From our lunch vantage point, alongside the PLA’s ‘Welcome’ pontoon, we watched passengers come and go via the speedy Thames Clipper to Greenwich Pier in a flash, or up to town to Central London.

Our panoramic view from Beacon Point took in historic maritime Greenwich down to the O2, Canary Wharf, The City and West End just minutes away, famous land marks including Highgate Hill which sparkled in the sunshine.  At night the flood-lit ‘Viking Sea’ looked spectacular against the glittering skyline of Canary Wharf and beyond.  Later we whizzed down to Waitrose store leve, with the biggest underground car park in the capital (one of the amazing hidden ‘gems’).

Our hosts, who just love their new style of high-rise living, are jointly facing the ignomy of legal action over the cladding of the new structure, just as many other Londoners are realising – to their cost.  Heaven only knows how many thousands who have chosen to live in similar riverside apartments throughout Docklands, rising like giant mushrooms throughout our neighbourhoods.  We were delighted to learn of a reassuring community spirit, also that newcomers just love our amenities established over centuries of caring folk who have volunteered to man and support our rich, cultural lifestyle.

(It is said that the Vikings attacked London Bridge in 1012AD while based in Deptford Creek