Posts Tagged ‘Remembrance’

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Last Saturday we went to the Tower of London to view the much heralded installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, commemorating one hundred years since the start of the First World War.

This extraordinary art work by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, in collaboration with stage designer Tom Piper, has captured our nation’s imagination and as we emerged from the underground station at Tower Hill it was apparent that we would not be alone. The place was heaving but well organised, good natured and almost quiet. As we stood on the steps gazing at the spectacle I was able to take a few snaps which I later edited to remove the tops of people’s heads in front of me.  During the summer and until today, 888,246 ceramic poppies have been planted in the moat – each one commemorating a British life lost in the conflict. Now complete, hardly a blade of grass can be seen between this ceramic sea of red: it’s a wonderful yet sobering sight.

The poppies were sold, raising millions of pounds for British service charities, and will later be distributed to their owners once the installation is removed. Originally it was due to be dismantled the day after Armistice Day on 11th November but it’s now rumoured that because of unprecedented public interest part of the display will remain until the end of the month.

Later on the same day, once home and in front of the television, we watched the annual Remembrance Service from the Royal Albert Hall in London. Included this year was a folk song, written and sung by Jim Radford, a veteran of the D-Day landings. Jim was a fifteen year old galley boy on 6th June 1944.  His song is a poignant reminder of the terrible events of that day seventy years ago which helped to turn the tide of war.  It sums up the whole theme of remembrance and is well worth a listen, if you can spare seven minutes.

 

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Motoring through the sleepy ruralness of France’s Limousin region with its gently rolling hills, mile upon mile of wheat fields, crops of sunflowers interspersed with oak and beech woodland you’d be forgiven for thinking that life here has been much the same for hundreds of years.

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And to a certain extent it probably has but an occasion in its recent history has left a scar so deep that is unlikely to ever recover. For a small town just north-west of Limoges memories from seventy years ago are still raw; events shouldered alone while the attention of the allied world was focussed on the major battle raging in the north of the country meant that no-one shared the agony of this small, tight-knit community.

On the 10th June 1944, just four days after the Normandy landings Oradour-sur-Glane, a prosperous little market town, was razed to the ground by the German S.S, its inhabitants brutally massacred.

Women and children were rounded up and locked into the church which was then set alight; men were rounded up into smaller groups, machine-gunned down, covered with hay and fuel and their bodies burned. Some were burned alive.

 There were very few survivors. On that fateful day, 642 inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane lost their lives.

After the war, a new Oradour-sur-Glane was built nearby but, on the orders of General de Gaulle, the original town was to remain exactly as it had been left after the atrocity as a memorial to its fallen.

Today there is a sombre visitor’s centre which leads you through a tunnel under the road to the original town where you are free to roam along the streets and view the devastation. There is no charge.

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Rusted cars remain exactly where they were torched seventy years ago; tram lines are still visible, running the length of the main street; an old sewing machine, battered yet still recognisable, has been left in the charred ruins of the tailor’s shop. Patterned ceramic tiles, fallen from the wall of the butcher’s store lay heaped on the floor while where the old garage was, an enamel placard advertising Renault Cars is still just visible.

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The butcher’s shop

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The Girl’s School

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The Church

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The Post Office with tram lines in front

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The main street leading up to the cemetery

At the top of the town, you cross a grassy flower meadow to the old cemetery. Only here is there evidence of human intervention – the place is kept respectfully neat and tidy while the ornate headstones provide testament to the truly shocking reality that so many families perished on the same day. There is a newly built underground memorial hall to the inhabitants of Oradour-sur-Glane. Every name of those who died is engraved on its walls while encased in modern, light-filled  vitrines are some of the artefacts taken from the victims or discovered amongst the wreckage. Spectacles, pocket watches (with the hands stopped between the hours of five and six in the evening – the time of the massacre), pots, ceramics and the metal handles of handbags – all serve as reminders that this atrocity happened to ordinary people just like us.

As you pick your way carefully back towards the visitor’s tunnel along the cobbles separated by mosses and self-seeded wild flowers the atmosphere in the ruined town is one of reverence – people walk quietly around the shattered buildings each with their own thoughts, taking a few poignant photographs.

The preserved wreckage of Oradour-sur-Glane is a very powerful memorial.

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