Pictures from Messines and Bullecourt to mark ANZAC Day

25 April is ANZAC Day, the day for remembrance of the thousands of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps who crossed the world from Australia and New Zealand to fight in the two great wars of the 20th century.

I choose two places for that. The first is the New Zealand Memorial at Messines, dominating the entrance to the Messines Ridge British Cemetery. The battle for the Messines–Wytschaete Ridge took place between 7 and 14 June 1917. It began with the explosion of 19 mines below the German front line, and ended with the capture of Messines village and much of the ridge from which the Germans had been able to survey the Allied trenches to Ypres.

There were nearly 5,000 New Zealand casualties and over 6,000 Australian casualties. I visited the Messines Ridge Cemetery in October 2016 when these pictures were taken.

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Network Rail industrialises the Oxford landscape

The railway lines from Oxford to Birmingham and to Worcester run between my house and Oxford’s Port Meadow. Beside the railway line lie the Trap Grounds allotments.

On 20 February, I took this photograph of the allotments from the Aristotle Lane railway bridge:

This one was taken on 13 March:

It was just as well that I took them when I did, because when I next went there, on 25 March, a hideous railway gantry had been built across the view: Continue reading

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Contrasting stories of brothers killed in the First World War

This is about the stories behind plaques commemorating two brothers who both died in the First World War. The plaques are at Canons Ashby in Northamptonshire. Something about their wording made me want to find out about them.

I am always drawn to the war memorials in churches, particularly those of the First World War. They often carry more than names and dates, reciting the place of death and perhaps other biographical detail, adding a human element to the narrative of campaigns and battles. I read a fair amount about those battles, tracing trench names on military maps and occasionally going to see the places they describe. Names inscribed on village war memorials convert those muddy, bloody stories into human terms – I picture the telegram boy pedalling along the lanes outside the church, bringing news which alters families for ever. Continue reading

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Turrets and chimneys – a visit to Tyntesfield

Staying in Bristol recently, we went to Tyntesfield, a Gothic Revival house remodelled in the 1860s and 1870s by the Gibbs family. The Wikipedia page about it is reasonably informative. It is now owned by the National Trust, whose page about it is here.

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Viewed as a whole from the side from which we approached it, the exterior is a mess:

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What ancient monsters lurk in Trap Grounds swamps?

A walk on a dull afternoon. The entrance to Port Meadow is flooded, so I go instead to the Trap Grounds, an area of trees and ponds in which the relics of a wartime factory can be seen beneath the undergrowth.

More on that another time. In the middle of the Trap Grounds is a long pond. A notice, presumably aimed at dog walkers, warns that the drawbacks of plunging in include the smell which, I imagine, would stay with you for a while.

Trees living and apparently dead overhang it. The mud has helped ensure that even the most rapacious of spiv developers has been kept at bay and that the dim little creatures who infest Oxford’s planning department have left it alone. Dedicated volunteers rescued it and work tirelessly to keep a balance between wildness and accessibility.

One always thinks this kind of scene will photograph well. It rarely does. I had a go today; no great works of art resulted but the pictures do at least show the place:

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Port Meadow horses, a balloon and a microlight on an evening walk

Few of the horses and ponies on Oxford’s Port Meadow would win prizes in an equine beauty parade. Some of them, however, have character. This one caught my eye on this evening’s walk:

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Going out to Port Meadow and back in the evening

It was still quite light when we went out to Port Meadow at 5:25 on 13 March:

By 6.25 it was nearly dark:

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