Lest we forget….

We live in a dangerous time. When superpowers are run by dictators. When the far right is gaining ground across Europe and in Latin America. When pipe bombs are being delivered across the USA and Jews are again slaughtered in their synagogues. In a time when war is but a sound bite on the news, happening somewhere else to someone else. 

We live in a world of Brexit. Of turmoil in Europe, where the very political establishments that have secured relative peace on the continent for some 70 years are being torn down, or are looking the other way.

Now more than ever it is our duty to remember them. Lest we forget. Lest we make the same mistakes again. I wear my poppy for them. I wear it with pride.

My grandad, Albert William Jones, was an engineer and volunteer who landed in Gallipoli on the 5th or 6th May 1915 under heavy artillery, rifle and machine gun fire from the Turkish forces dug in in the heights above the landing beaches. 673 sappers, friends and comrades were lost in that landing. Alone. This was Albert’s welcome to Gallipoli.

The Turks were waiting for Albert and his friends. They had already inflicted heavy losses on the first allied force of British, Anzac and French troops that had landed. Those had been professional soldiers. Albert and his friends were not. This was Albert’s first exposure to an all-out onslaught. Imagine his terror. He was just 21 years old. The Turks were heavily dug in – artillery covering every approach, barbed wire waiting in the shallows and on the beach.

Despite this, a general advance was ordered. The men and boys, many away from home for the very first time, walked into a barrage of machine gun fire. Albert and his fellow sappers were soon thrown into the thick of it, working under the cover of night to reinforce the trenches, but only after clearing the many dead and dying comrades.

Conditions were terrible. Clean drinking water was hard to find. Paradoxically, dirty water lay in abundance just below the surface and trenches would often flood if dug too deep.

Even nature was against them. Sleep was often disturbed by the noise of frogs and the threat of scorpions and tarantulas. These things reminded the young Lancastrians that they were far from home. As did the distant call to the Faithful from the Turkish Immans, every morning and evening. It must have felt very alien to my grandfather. 

British and Indian forces stood their ground for three weeks under constant shelling, machine gun and sniper fire. Many men were killed with head wounds  – the high water table made it difficult to build deep trenches.

Rations consisted of bacon, bully-beef and biscuit with jam and cheese, Maconochie’s vegetables. Not ideal in the heat and arid surroundings. Even downtime was grim and unrewarding.

Ration cases were often broken open and their distasteful contents abandoned – more precious was the wood crate, a source of firewood in a land of cold nights and very few trees. The rifle butts of dead comrades were also a valuable source of kindling. There were many of those. 

At the beginning of June 1915, one whole month after landing, the allies attempted to break out from the beaches. After a heavy bombardment they moved forward en masse. Albert moved with the main force. His primary job was to disconnect mines and reversing captured trenches as the Turks withdrew. 

But, after the collapse of a French attack to the British left, and the failure of inexperienced British naval forces to their right, the Lancastrians were soon forced to retreat, with heavy losses inflicted. 

Trench warfare followed, with Turkish forces launching regular bayonet and bomb (grenade) attacks in an attempt to recapture lost ground. This was hand to hand warfare. The 42nd Division of volunteers, of engineers and miners, of friends and family, of pals, fought without rest for three days and nights to hold off the fierce Turkish counter-attack.

After weeks of stalemate a second push was made in early August. The fighting was fierce. The 42nd Division’s first Victoria Cross was awarded to Lieutenant W. T. Forshaw, who fought off a large group of Turks for two days. He was not the only hero. On 13th August the following Special Order was recorded: “the Division has…..displayed a dash in attack and a spirit of determination and endurance in defence which is worthy of the best traditions of the British Army.”

Casualties had been heavy and the Division was much diminished with few reinforcements arriving from home or from the Empire. Dysentery, jaundice and an epidemic of septic sores did even more damage than the enemy. Water was sparse. Lice fed on the living and flies fed on the dead. Albert was surrounded by death and horror.

New ways of fighting were evolving. The Turks obtained better, German-made artillery which was more powerful, more accurate and more deadly. The Turks deployed aircraft to drop bombs and morale-sapping pamphlets. Both sides resorted to mining each other’s trenches. The Turks also began to use gas. Thankfully the gas was “only” corrosive to the eyes, and not the lungs. And, winter began to set in with heavy rain and occasional frosts. Storms often resulted in severe flooding with many supplies and bivouacs and horses and mules and men being lost. 

On 27th November a particularly bad storm caused much flooding and the trenches were waist high in water. Many men were killed by sniper fire while trying to escape the deluge. The storm included thunder and lightning and soon turned into a snow blizzard. A hard frost followed and many men froze to death or lost limbs to frostbite. 10,000 sick and injured men had to be evacuated. Once the frost abated, all that was left was mud. Across the front line at this time the enemy trenches were never more than 125 yards apart. Albert would spend his waking days staring death in the eyes, a few brief if muddy steps away.

After a visit by Lord Kitchener, the powers decided that the position was hopeless and on 16th December 80,00 men, 5,000 animals, 2,000 vehicles and 200 guns were ordered to be withdrawn from the peninsula. But, Albert and his fellow engineers would be among the last to leave. 

Christmas Day 1915, Albert’s second Christmas away from home in Beeston, consisted of a daylight lull in the fighting and a meal of roast beef, plum-pudding with rum sauce, and a pint of beer for each man. Carols were sung. The fighting was put on hold until but only until the moon rose when a heavy barrage of the enemy lines began. No Silent Night for granddad.

Albert and the 42nds were withdrawn on the 29th December 1915. They had been defeated. They were tired, wet, sick. They were evacuated. 14,000 Lancastrians had landed in Gallipoli in May. Barely 5,000 Lancastrians left some eight long months later despite the number of reinforcements that had arrived during the period.

Lest we forget – 28,200 young men had been killed. 89,349 had been wounded or were missing, with a further 96,683 men submitted to hospital.

This was Albert’s Gallipoli.

But this was not the end of his war. Grandad went on to fight in the Third Battle of Krithia in June 1916 and the battle of Romani in August. Albert fought in the first battle of Gaza in March 1917 and the second battle in April. Albert fought at the Battle of Beersheba.He was part of the force which occupied Jerusalem was occupied in December 1917.

He faced his second defeat in the first Battle of the Jordan in March 1918. And, there were still many battles to be fought. Berukin and the decisive battle of Megiddo (or Armageddon). Albert saw the surrender of Damascus together with Lawrence of Arabia. Albert marched into Constantinople in November 1918.

While we do not know for sure, it is likely that Albert was mentioned in despatches for gallantry as a result of brave action during the Battle of Armageddon, being the last major action he is likely to have seen before the end of the war. The certificate reads as follows: The War of 1914-1918; Royal Engineers, 72094 Spr. [L/C.] A.W. Jones, “N.A”. Cable Sec. was mentioned in a Despatch from General Sir E. H. H. Allenby, G. C. M. G, K. C. B dated 23rd October 1918 for gallantry and distinguished services in the Field. I have it in command from the King to record His Majesty’s high appreciation of the services rendered. 

It is signed by Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for War and dated 1st March 1919.

Lest we forget. I wear my poppy for him. I wear it with pride.

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November 7, 2018 at 5:20 pm Leave a comment

Incroyable!

Clearly I am much loved by my French work colleagues. So much so that not one of them thought to mention it was a holiday in Paris today.

They didn’t mention it when I sought approval for my travel weeks back. They didn’t mention it when I booked my tickets and they didn’t mention it when I was in the office in Paris on Tuesday (I was in Vienna yesterday).

I discovered it was a holiday in Paris today when I was checking out of my hotel this morning and commented that it was unusual to see so many families at breakfast. Apparently it is because it is a holiday.

The fact that it was a holiday in Paris today was reaffirmed when, on arriving at the office, I found it dark and locked with my pass unable to get me in. I was stood outside like a stranded muppet with a suitcase as locals ambled past enjoying their day off.

So, back in a taxi and off to the airport at 08.00 am for a 4.10 flight on a ticket that cannot be transferred. At least le Peripherique was quieter than last night when I endured a stop go (mostly stop) two hour taxi ride back to my hotel after my trip to Austria. If I was grumpy then, you should see me now….

And, the airport was chaos and very busy. Presumably this was because it is a holiday in France. The queues at security were long, even by the usual French standards. And, I had to endure a full bag search (they found nothing) from a surly security guard who was clearly pissed off that the airport was so busy, and the queues were so long, and because he was at work while everyone else in France was on bloody holiday. Excuse my French….

I even got cursed by a Lebanese guy before security. He approached me and asked if I spoke English. When I said yes he explained that he was from Lebanon. Where they speak French. He explained that he was “in difficulty for the sake of €40”. I told him I had no cash. I lied. He told me he did not believe me. I told him I did not believe him. He then cursed me. Perhaps the bag search was my instant karma…..

So now I have parked my Anglo-Saxon work ethic in the British Airways lounge where it will sit for six hours before my flight. Unless the curse remains. What chance on a delay…

Incroyable!

November 1, 2018 at 9:29 am 1 comment

Shopping frustrations….

I’ve just had a very frustrating trip to Waitrose. 

Now some might say that this was a very generous thing for me to volunteer to do on the weekend. A rare two-day sojourn away from the stress and strain of corporate politics and commercial cut and thrust. Especially as tomorrow, weather permitting (and it can be very dangerous to base one’s social life on the whims and unreliability of the percentage chance of precipitation according to the BBC weather app) I will be spending my second “day off” applying Danish oil to our newly installed garden gate and trying to avoid cutting the grass….

But, rather than an act of selfless domestic generosity this was my way of getting out of accompanying C on a Guildford shopping trip. But not just any shopping trip. A shoe shopping trip.

Now, I think I have adequately covered the stress and strains and the different approaches to the procurement of footwear of men versus women in an earlier post. 

So, it was an easy choice. The prospect of eating something other than a Charlie Bigham meatball, the potential for domestic brownie points, and an afternoon on the sofa with Radio 5 versus being dragged around every shoe shop in Guildford, some more than once.

But, I must admit that my own shopping trip to Waitrose Dorking was a tad frustrating….

It was a glum Autumnal morning in the Surrey Hills. It was drizzling. It was foggy. It was dark. And, the leaves were beginning to drop. And yet the sunken lanes were still awash with MAMILS on a mission to block all other forms of traffic. These cyclists were apparently on a suicide mission, confident in their ownership of the road, dressed in materials that would put a stealth bomber to shame, like black-clad ninja in phallus-shaped helmets AND NO BLOODY LIGHTS. Causing havoc on the single track, sunken lanes, in the depth of the Surrey Hills forests. 

And, if I wasn’t avoiding suicidal, spatially unaware cyclists, I was avoiding suicidal, spatially unaware Landrover Discoverys “driven” by peroxide blonde, sunglasses-wearing (see earlier description of climatic conditions) with the road awareness of an out of control horsebox intent on cleansing the world of the scourge of black-clad idiots on bicycles.

But I made it to Dorking Waitrose without a traffic incident. No MAMILS were hurt in the making of this blog.

But, my frustrations did not stop there. There was one old lady……one old lady clearly beyond working age and, therefore, with no good excuse to be out shopping on a weekend, who was even more challenged in the spatial -awareness spectrum than your average middle-aged cyclist or female Discovery driver. 

She insisted on misdirecting her trolley against the established norm of shopping flow and blocking the aisles by parking said trolley at 90 degrees to the rows of produce. I “bumped” against her on 3 or 4 separate occasions. My pleas of “excuse me” were met with a vacant stare. These pinch points were particularly bad around the pet food, pharmacy, tinned soup, and Baileys sections.

On one occasion I was pleased to help another vertically challenged southern pensioner who asked me to pass her a jar of sun-dried tomatoes off the top shelf. 

This brought back fond memories of Pies and Prejudice in the days when I was a proud Northerner, but only to,the point that I realised that this item was immediately next to the jar of chargrilled peppers that were an essential part of my chicken fennel ragout (my Charlie Bigham alternative). I am assimilating. I was then somewhat surprised when she was joined by her seven-foot tall husband. Surely, I am not of the age that I am being hit upon by vertically challenged Southern pensioners….

I was further frustrated by the unavailability of lamb gravy. But pleasantly surprised by the choice of key ingredients for tomorrow’s brunch, inspired by the Danny Baker Sausage Sandwich Game I had listened to on the car radio on the way in.

But, I was absolutely horrified by the number of people piling their trolleys high with pumpkins – we were a whole three weeks away from the festival of Hallowe’en – and the conglomeration of senior citizens looking for bargains around the Christmas Bakery section. It’s October…..and the weekend.

Maybe I am just feeling the side-effects of Stoptober. Five days free of alcohol and counting….

C isn’t back yet.

October 6, 2018 at 12:43 pm 1 comment

Off to university…..

A few days ago C and I were in the Nespresso shop in the swanky new Tunsgate Centre in Guildford. We were buying our stock of Vivalto Lungo before heading up to the Ivy for a spot of brunch. We are so Surrey Hills these days….

While we were in the coffee shop I noticed a couple of young people looking at coffee machines to buy and it suddenly dawned on me that this was Generation Z, getting ready to go off to university in just a few weeks.

And watching these bright, yellow, young things preparing to temporarily leave home (they will be back….until their mid-thirties at least) it dawned on me how much my life had changed since being a pale-faced and pimply 18 year old freshman on his way up to the Queen’s College, Oxford all those generations ago. And, how different the experience of going to university might be for this current wave of early starters with their high expectations, digital footprints, social media followings, and, Nespresso machines.

In 1984 I was packed off to university with a duvet, a kettle, two mugs, two plates, two bowls, cutlery for two, two glasses (all acquired from Lakeland) and a rather damning insight into my parents’ expectations of me making any friends. I went with four A levels, a full state grant, a college scholarship, a housing allowance, one brand new and tailored suit (my first and my last) for formal dinners, and a knot in the pit of my stomach. I was scared and lacking confidence. Young, immature, and naive.

Generation Z heads off with their smartphones and laptops, wearing oversize, gender-neutral athleisure wear with a sneer at those clinging to the Abercrombie & Fitch and Gap of their Millennial parents and elder siblings. I had gone off with a top-loading CD player (I’ve always been an early adopter), a complete secondhand set of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and instructions to phone home every Sunday. 

Back in my day the public school sneer had been reserved for my denim and donkey jackets, my blue jeans and trainers, which betrayed working-class roots and solidarity with the striking miners, in a world full of tweed jackets, corduroy trousers and shiny Oxford brogues. My white socks and accent betrayed me as being from Birmingham in a world full of Price Charles voices from Ampleforth, Pocklington and Eton.

The world is very different now. At eighteen I was thrown into an older, ancient world of wood-panelling, privilege, initiation ceremonies, beer, hand-written essays, books from libraries, beer, the loss of virginity, sweaty bops and kebabs on a Friday night, and a cold, cold toilet at the bottom of a fourteenth century stone staircase. We stood under the gaze of paintings and statues celebrating our racist, colonial, imperial past without any guilt, fury, or protest. Protest was reserved for Margaret Thatcher. We were all too worried about avoiding AIDS  and nuclear annihilation to be tearing down statues or being offended.

But in many ways I think it was an easier time than that awaiting the new student intake, Snapchatting its way through digital references, expecting to be treated like an individual, demanding value for money in return for their student debt, and safe in the knowledge that they are going to change the world……and go home to mom and dad.

I wish them all the very best. But, I also hope that, as I did, they leave in three or four years time with the best friends in the world, having got laid, and maybe, with an appreciation of beer…..

Oh, and a degree.

August 29, 2018 at 5:04 pm Leave a comment

Baby, it’s hot outside….

 

Baby, it’s hot outside. 

And, England struggles in that heat amid a shortage of lettuce and CO2, which is causing our supply of crumpets and lager to run out. The Mail is blaming Johnny Foreigner and immigrants bringing their hot-weather ways with them, while Boris is promising there will be bumper crops of Iceberg and bubbles once we have Brexited. 

We are awash with warnings not to lock our pets in cars or to walk them on hot pavements. Indeed, we are advised not to venture outside at all without the benefit of factor 50, a gallon (a good post-Brexit measure) of still spa water, and a floppy hat.

To be fair it’s not because of a CO2 shortage that the lager is running out but because people are drinking it, at alarming rates. Driven not by a collective anguish due to the lack of a crumpet or midget gem, but by the absolute certainty that England is going to win the World Cup now that Germany, Argentina, and Spain have all crashed out. 

Our village greens have become village browns as hosepipe bans abound. Red-faced Morris dancers drag themselves wearily around the maypole in a vain attempt to summon some ancient pagan god of rainfall and cricket. And, we are all encouraged to shower only once a week, preferably sharing with a good friend or neighbour. 

As a result, the air is heady with the aroma of deodorant and dry shampoo and the neighbours have gone underground, hidden away behind heavy curtains to block the sunlight and huddled around their Dyson Hot and Cold or sitting in the light of an open freezer door.

A plague of horseflies of almost biblical proportions threatens to wheedle out the weakest of us that dare to venture out in between football matches in search of more lager, Green and Black Belgian White Chocolate ice cream (this is the Surrey Hills, darling), Pimms, and absolutely anything to throw on the barbecue. 

At least Murray has done the decent thing and retired ahead of Wimbledon starting. So, we are spared the constant reference to his Mound and whether he has the bottle for it. And, there should, at least, be enough strawberries to go round. And, we’ve already trounced those cheating Aussies at the cricket. (Don’t mention the rugby).So, all we have to stress ourselves about now is whether the football team has been practicing their penalties and Harry Kane’s fitness.

Well that is not ALL we have to worry about. The hot air, combined with the lager and the stress of the football is causing tensions and domestic violence to rise. 

There are demonstrations every weekend for and against this and that. And, that twat Trump is visiting next week to play golf with the Queen. Some are predicting riots in the street.

And there is an infestation of Mamils (middle aged men in Lycra) taking advantage of the long dry days to abandon their children and dog-walking duties, to take to their peddle bikes to slow traffic, and to terrify pedestrians and walkers while eating flap jack and drinking real ale (no CO2 required) while having conversations about how real men play rugby, shave their legs and vasolene their intimate bits. 

And yet, if you listen very carefully, amid the sound of hot birdies panting in the arid hedgerows, and the faint sound of horseflies gently sucking the blood of some unfortunate that fainted on the way to Waitrose, you can hear a quite murmur slowly growing in volume and building in intensity – “It’s coming home. It’s coming. Football’s coming home…….”

NB. This blog was written ahead of England’s game against Colombia. If we lost, especially if we lost on penalties, please ignore the above but still feel free to vent your fury when Trump arrives or whenever Boris stands in front of another bloody bus. 

Fifty two years of hurt. But there’s always Qatar…..

July 2, 2018 at 5:46 pm Leave a comment

The Mother-in-Law….

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Well, my mother-in-law has returned to her home in Royston Vasey after a week long stay. 

Unfortunately (sic), I managed to miss most of her stay. I was in Spain on business (sic) for two days; and, had a couple of long days in London. The rest of the time I spent taking frequent and long trips to the bathroom; or hiding in the airing cupboard (she hasn’t found me yet); drinking; or sobbing silently into a cushion.

No, to be honest it hasn’t been all that bad. We had other guests to share her amongst last weekend – my baby sister-in-law, her long-suffering husband, and our adorable two year old niece. And, these days the mother-in-law rarely has the stamina to stay up beyond 9.30 in the evening, especially if you’ve plied her with a drink or two.

And, believe me we did.

And at times she can be “entertaining “….. Like the time we caught her eating her breakfast cereal, sloshing with milk, off a plate. Because she couldn’t find a bowl. Despite being stood between the dresser (where the bowls live) and the dishwasher (which contained all the cleanly washed bowls).

And she comes with a running commentary. “I am just going to the toilet.” “I am now entering the lounge.” “I would like a glass of Baileys now.”

And in restaurants she announces her arrival in the same tone and manner as the proud, defiant remnants of the gladiator and slave army at the end of the movie Spartacus “I’ am Gluten Free!”, wielding it like some super power or a threat of imminent legal action against the serving staff….

But she has gone now. The house is quiet once more. And, C and I have been reclaiming our home space. I have been stroking the remote control which I have not let leave my side, and I am refusing to budge off the sofa having reclaimed my spot, which was denied me for a week – I was literally sidelined. 

And, we have returned the best glassware, and bowls, to their places of glory and restored all sharp items from their hiding places. And, I can now freely take a banana from the fruit bowl without being made to feel that I am stealing food from her mouth.

But I mean she has “gone” only in the sense that she isn’t here. A quick, rudimentary check would suggest that all of our valuables remain intact and have not been squirrelled away to Royston Vasey, where she lives. And, surprisingly, the spare room cupboards and drawers seem to be clear of forgotten secret stashes of drugs and gluten-free pecan pie tarts.

But, there is also worrying evidence that she is moving in. Slowly. Piece by piece. Visit by visit. She has left a pair slippers. A dressing gown. A cupboard full of Voltarol, Steradent, corn plasters, and other strange cosmetic ranges.

So, she clearly intends  to be back.

Sob.

Miss you already, Pat.

June 23, 2018 at 5:47 pm 1 comment

To crack a nut….

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I have acquired a sledgehammer.

While we do not really have a gun problem here in the UK, not one like in America at least, I am aware that many in our biggest and baddest criminal fraternities are not averse to carrying weapons as they ply their nefarious trade. Knives, baseball bats, pick handles and the like.

Thanks to the Daily Mail and the Express, we also know that many of these criminals are immigrants such as Polish , Romanian, Gypsy, or the Irish and, as such, will have ready access to “heavier weaponry “ such as heavy wrenches, tyre levers and sledgehammers…..

We know from our American brethren that is important to be able to fight fire with fire. To be able to defend oneself, loved ones, and one’s property against such miscreants, or against a similarly well-armed neighbour or casual labourer with a mental health illness; or, with a temper and a six pack of strong lager.

Of course, I considered a concealed weapon option first. But, I felt that my Swiss Army Knife just wouldn’t do it. It lacks the gravitas and deterrent factor. And, I feared that if I panicked in the event of a home invasion or a road rage incident, I might be slow or confused in my panic. I might inadvertently find myself defending myself with little more than a tiny plastic magnifying glass or an inch-long crosshead screwdriver and an adrenaline rush backed up with a very hard stare.

I did try a concealed claw hammer for a while but got fed up wearing the same coat – the one with the big pockets – and I almost did myself a mischief once when I sat down too quickly on a hard surface….

So, now I have my very own sledgehammer and I am fully prepared for invasion by those Europeans (bloody Brexit), Islamists, zombies or the federal government (if Surrey ever gets devolved power…..).

I did worry for a while about where I should keep. C wouldn’t allow me to keep it under my pillow and I was worried about burglars breaking in, finding it and using it against me. So, I’ve locked it in the shed. So, let’s hope we get a good five minute warning ahead of any zombie invasion…

#GunControlNow

February 25, 2018 at 6:29 pm 1 comment

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