A century ago today, on 31st July, 1917 the Third Battle of Ypres was begun, later to be known as Passchendaele, after the Belgian village some five miles away. It was to be a long, hard, miserable battle.
This push towards the German lines was mounted at the command of General Haig who was feeling confident following the success of the Messines Ridge attack some 6 weeks earlier.
Shelling by both armies over the previous days had turned the ground to mud and this was soon followed by the worst rain in over 30 years, causing conditions to become so horrendous that many men and horses drowned in the ensuing quagmire.
The battle was to rage for 3 months and casualty toll ran to 325,000 Allied troops and 260,000 German soldiers, or 22 men for every foot of ground traveled before reaching Passchendaele.
The churning up of so much land caused disturbed seeds to bloom in vast numbers following the end of World War I. This was especially true for field poppies, whose seeds can remain dormant for many, many years. Every time I see a field of poppies I think of the poor, brave soldiers from both sides of the war, whose lives were made miserable for a long period and then cut short, usually in terrifying and horrible ways.
The town of Harwich, situated on the mouth of the the Rivers Stour and Orwell has been an important port for centuries. The town’s name derives from the Old English here-wic, meaning “military settlement” and received its charter in 1238, although it is likely it was established long before this time.
The Royal Navy established a dockyard here in 1652 for around 60 years, and although there is no longer a navy presence here the port was important during World Wars and has been an important commercial port for “travel to the continent” for decades. There is a large area we used to simply refer to as “The War Department” as a kid which is filled with reinforced concrete bunkers, towers and gun emplacements and was a wonderful place to play as child. I recall stories being told of how the guns there shelled the German battleship Scharnhorst when it passed along the coast, although I cannot verify them.
There is also an older fort, simply called The Redoubt, that was built in 1809-10 to defend against Napoleon, which again emphasises the strategic position of the town over the centuries.
Harwich is also famous for being the birthplace of not only the Captain of Mayflower, Christopher Jones (c. 1570) but also the famous ship itself. The Mayflower, which went on to carry The Pilgrims to the New World, was likely built at Harwich and was certainly registered as being “of Harwich” in the 1609-11 Port Books.
A walk along the docks and port of Harwich to Harwich Green also reveals an unusual building – the treadwheel crane. Using mechanics that was largely unchanged since the Roman period this is a human-powered lifting device was built in 1657 in the Naval Yard. It was moved to the Green in 1932, and is the only double wheel treadmill crane in Britain. It fascinated me as a child, and seems to stand as a sort of testament to past labour associated with the town.
Trinity House, the official keeper of lighthouses and deep sea pilotage, has been an important part of the town for a long time with pilot boats guiding vessels into the ports and lightship and buoy maintenance being conducted here.
Unlike many coastal towns, Harwich never really became a seaside resort, maintaining its position as a “working town” and letting the neighboring town of Dovercourt take the tourists.
Nevertheless, it’s not all work, and there is fun to be had if you look for it…
It was a choice she never wanted to make. In fact, choice wasn’t really the word for it. She had to do it. No-one in their right mind would give up a family, home, lifetime of work, a successful career as an engineer and a middle class job. Unless they had no choice.
She thought back to the ones she had left behind, lost forever to the incessant bombardment. For what? A few square feet of a town that had been raised from the desert over a period of two thousand years, and now razed to rubble and would soon become sand again. That was why she had left. She had no-one left to save but herself.
How ironic that she was now standing on sand again, although this time with the sea foaming between her toes.
She looked up at the fence. So this was what salvation looked like?
Nestled on the Tendring peninsula on the east coast of England, and providing seaside entertainment for the masses for over 150 years, the town of Clacton may seem like any other British seaside town. Clacton came to prominence in 1871 when it was founded by Peter Bruff as a seaside resort, largely for Londoners to escape the city. He built the pier, which still stands today, and steamer was the main method of reaching the town until the road and rail system caught up.
The heyday of the town was really the middle decades of the twentieth century when there was a Butlins Holiday Camp and many hotels and guest houses to entertain the day trippers and summer holiday makers. Then along came cheap flights to more exotic locations and, like so many British resorts, there was a significant downturn in the economy.
Even in the 21st century the town still has a significant number of visitors and people enjoying the sandy beaches, and going on the rides and other amusements on Peter Bruff’s original pier. When we were kids there were dolphins and orcas kept in the swimming pool on the pier, but thankfully that’s gone now.
The landscape has also changed a bit with the offshore wind farm on Gunfleet Sands but all in all a pretty standard town that has had its ups and downs…
… Or is it?
Well, there are two things that are also uniquely interesting about this town, so let me explain.
Firstly, Clacton was the site of the first civilian casualties in World War II when Frederick and Dorothy Gill were killed by a Heinkel bomber that crashed into their house on May 1st, 1940. Little is made of this fact, although I clearly recall a plaque on a bench on nearby Skelmersdale Road detailing this tragedy when I was a teenager.
Secondly, although Clacton is primarily known as a typical Victorian seaside town, the area slightly inland at Great Clacton was inhabited by the Celts and there is some evidence of Roman involvement too at the coast. The most amazing fact though is that during the paleolithic period, the area was used for flint mining and tool manufacture. And in 1911 there was uncovered the “Clacton Spear” a wooden yew spear which, at 420,000 years old is the oldest known wooden tool created by man. It is, in fact, even older than Homo sapiens and was carved by our pre-ancestors Homo erectus. An entire period of human development, Clactonian, was named after the town and describes the fascinating industry of flint working and tool making.
I lived in Clacton during my teenage years and was totally unaware of this significant piece of our history. Sometimes it truly amazes me how understated the British people can be. In many other places in the world both these events would have been used to develop another aspect of the town, with museums and themed activities, but not in this corner of Essex.
It’s been over 7 years since we last visited the UK as a family and I thought our recent visit would be a great opportunity to write something about good old Blighty for a few posts. It will motivate me to process my photographs and also is relevant to promoting the art group I run at Quintessentially British, which now contains over 11,000 images of “Britishness” by more than 700 artists. Ironically, I haven’t posted that many images of my own to the group since I set it up 5 years ago, so this trip was an opportunity to get some more images to post!
So, I’ll start with our first port of call – literally – Southwick, in West Sussex.
Southwick is a small coastal town situated on the River Adur on the south coast of England. There have been settlements here from at least the Roman times and the town is first recorded in the Domesday Book (1085 AD). Like many nearby towns, it was the extension of the railway lines in the 19th century which really caused the town to expand becoming a popular place for tourists to visit and take the sea air.
Although largely eclipsed by Shoreham-by-Sea to the west and Brighton & Hove to the east, Southwick still has a thriving commercial port (called Shoreham Port, even though it’s really in Southwick and Fishersgate), serving both commercial and navy vessels in docks on the River Adur.
There is a nice village green with traditional pub on the edge, railway station and a couple of new windmills placed adjacent to the pebble beach, almost as an advance guard to the huge wind farm that is being developed off the coast in the distance.
A bit of something for everyone, perhaps? Certainly a nice place to sit in the sun and enjoy a “99” (soft ice-cream cone with a chocolate flake).
Wow, it has been over a month since I posted a blog! I am appalled with this failure of what started out as a rebooted daily discipline, back in Jan 2016, but there’s been a good reason for this.
In mid-June I was fortunate enough to have taken an extended family vacation back to England and include a brief 2-night sojourn to Paris too. I had grand plans of writing blog entries and posting images as we traveled but, to be honest, I was too busy enjoying myself “in the moment,” as they say these days.
And that’s how it should be.
I will play a bit of catch up over the next few weeks and months as I process the hundreds of photographs I did take that will jog my memory. And I’ll start off with the first three that I worked on yesterday evening, from Brighton, Paris and Amesbury.
The time went very quickly and we saw family, several friends, and many of our old stomping grounds and tourist attractions. We were even fortunate with the notoriously unpredictable British weather.
It would have been nice to have stayed longer and spend more time with even more friends and family but, alas, time caught up with us and it was with mixed emotions that we returned to our home in Pennsylvania. After a day or so I admit that it’s good to be home and to appreciate the life that we have here.
That’s the philosophical part of traveling, perhaps!