Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The First Freedom Fighters...

It doesn't really matter where you are in the world so long as you look deeply enough, for everywhere and everyone has a story.  Sometimes you just have to look for it.  So last weekend when we heard about a Bermuda Historical Society sponsored boat trip around the islands in the Great Sound, we just had to go.

View from the hill on Long Island over Marshall's Island and the Sound

Moreover the guide was a friend's husband, Andy, whose passion seems to have become the more obscure bits of Bermuda history and in particular the part played by Bermuda in the Boer War 1899-1902.

One of the only things I know about my grandad is that he served in the Boer War but as he died in WWI in early 1915 before my mum was born and could ask about it, I know nothing about it (or him actually -- not even his name).  So I've always had an interest.

The tour started at Albuoy's Point and went slowly through the islands turning around at Morgan's Point (formerly Morgan's Island and Tucker's Island respectively) before wending our way through Hawkins Island, into Paradise Lakes and to the destination -- the Boer POW camp on Long Island.

The creek in Morgan's Island where today a new resort is being built.  In 1775 it was the scene of the Gunpowder plot when Mr. Morgan stole some powder from the Redcoats and shipped it through here to the Rebels in the US... who promptly wasted it.  That bit isn't the romantic part of the story though!

The stories were great.  Every island had at least one.  Take Darrell's Island for instance.  In the 17th through 19th centuries, the islands had one similarity -- they were used to house inhabitants who had one of the fell diseases that periodically culled the population.  Things like yellow fever, small pox, leprosy, and any number of other wonderful ailments.  One particular outbreak of yellow fever killed one-third of the population of Bermuda.  Thank goodness that's all over.

Memorial on Ports Island for the 14 members of the crew of a French naval vessel who died of yellow fever in the 1850's. The shape of the memorial is traditional French freemasonry symbolism apparently.  

And then in 1795, the Royal Navy asked for the assistance of one of the local pilots named Gilbert Darrell who showed the way through the reefs for the first time into the Great Sound.  As a reward Gilbert was freed and had an island named after him (he must have been a slave).  Initially the Navy thought about building the main base on a combination of Hawkins, Nelly's, Hinson's and Darrell's Islands but in 1807 rethought things and plumped for Ireland Island, then a far away region in the island.

However these other islands weren't going to be left alone for long for the nascent Empire fought a LOT of wars and soon found the need to house a LOT of POW's.  Where better than a speck in the middle of the ocean?  Nobody was ever going to escape.  And so Bermuda's islands became military prisons starting with 1,400 or so Americans in the 1812-14 War and moving forward therefrom.

It was the Boer War though that had the most POW's following 2 years of generally miserable warfare (from the British side that is) that had degenerated into guerilla warfare that suited the Boers far more.  So the British responded with a scorched earth policy of burning all farms and imprisoning all Afrikaans (and their sympathizers) in 'concentration camps' in South Africa.  Conditions were apparently dreadful so 28,000 died in these camps but the menfolk of fighting age were sent 2,000 miles away to other bits of the Empire including Bermuda.

History buffs on Long Island

Ultimately more than 4,000 POW's ended up in Bermuda starting in 1900 housed on a variety of islands but split up according to their status.  There were the 'hands uppers' who'd surrendered and probably would have pledged allegiance to the Crown if asked... but they were sent to Bermuda too.  Then there were the 'bitter enders', those who'd fight on until the end and would not surrender.  After the end of the war in 1902, only 4 bitter enders refused to pledge allegiance and stayed in Bermuda until 1925, 1926, 1927 and 1928 respectively... they all died here.  There were also young boys who were housed alone and then a mixture of POW's in communal camps.  All were administered from Ports Island.

Amazingly only 35 POW's died in captivity with each buried in the cemetary on Long Island next to the traditional yellow fever cemetery.  It is beautifully maintained (or was on the day we visited).  It is well worth a visit.

The yellow fever memorial on Long Island 

Back in the late 1980's still in the time of apartheid, a human rights group organised a conference in Bermuda and invited all South African political parties including the then government and the ANC, then banned and mainly living in exile outside South Africa.  Andy was in Special Branch and organized security for the trip and one of the excursions was to this POW camp.  One of the ANC leaders (one whose name I don't remember but was Nelson Mandela's number 2) told Andy that he had to come and give respect to the first freedom fighters of his country.  I hadn't thought of it that way before. Nicely put.

Andy doing his thing at the Boer POW memorial

But credit to Andy.  His dedication to Bermuda history and in particular this little part of it has made him something of a celebrity on the topic in South Africa where he has given presentations and led discussions on this particular aspect of our mutual history.

Back to the other stories.

Darrell's Island was the flying boat landing place and depot for the island serving New York for Pan American and the old Imperial Airways (forerunner of British Airways).

The flying boat terminal on Darrell's Island

During WWII Churchill met Roosevelt (FDR) for a conference and brought the battleship, HMS Duke of York, with him.  However he flew here on a flying boat and enjoyed it so much that he decided he'd fly back to England on the same plane instead of taking the battleship/safer route.  Flying at 190 mph for 3,200 miles in a plane with a 3,400 mile capacity may to some seem reckless but to Churchill, it was par for the course even though the Luftwaffe chased him for a while and the RAF thought he was an intruder and therefore fair game.  History shows he came through it all thankfully.

German POW's in both wars were housed in Bermuda too although those in WWII weren't housed on any of the islands.  They were housed on the US Naval Annex which was the old Morgan's/Tucker's Islands joined together by the 1940's US engineers.  The locals tell stories of waving to the POW's as they passed by on the train.  They didn't usually stay long though until U-505.

In June 1944 some US navy vessels captured U-505 off the coast of Senegal in West Africa and discovered when they stopped the crew from scuttling the U-boat that it had the newest version of the Enigma coding machine together with an up to date code book.  Because this needed to be kept a secret from the Germans, the US vessels towed U-505 to Bermuda, some 2,000 miles, where they became an official secret for 7 months until the entire Atlantic U-boat fleet was first disclosed and then destroyed (by January 1945) at which point the POW's were transferred to official camps.  The captain however was badly injured in the action, losing a leg, so stayed behind a while longer convalescing until he was well enough to be moved.  When he left in February 1945, he became the last POW ever to be housed in Bermuda.

In the words of Michael Caine, not many people know that.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A New Dawn

We were in England only 4 days yet this is my 4th blog post of the trip, this one nothing really to do with me.  Its just that from the moment we touched down we were immersed in the result of the amazing General Election.

May 7th had been election day in Bermuda too, but for the Corporations of Hamilton and St. George. But in England it was the real thing and what an election it was for after 5 years of Coalition between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, every poll suggested this one would be even more of a mixed bag.  The Tories would get 280-290, Labour a few less, the Scottish Nationalists would probably get most of Scotland and the rest would be shared around.  That meant no single majority and the probable need for either of the Tories or Labour to deal with at least 2 of the other groupings.

History shows that the pundits got it completely wrong!

The Tories won on their own whilst Labour and the Lib-Dems were hammered.  With the SNP winning 56 out of 59 seats in Scotland, this is likely to mean tough times ahead in Parliament for all parties.

But what joy in those smarty pants pollsters with all the technology and clever questions getting it so wrong.  Much of the drive from Gatwick to Birmingham was spent listening to these pundits trying to explain how it hadn't been their fault rather the electorate who didn't answer the questions properly.  But most of the rest was spent listening to the left leaning BBC enable ex-Labour MP's in explaining how they lost (not their fault nor Ed Milliband's) and how disastrous the next 5 years would be under the Tories.

The right leaning newspapers however gleefully reported the demise of every party but the Tories and the SNP going over in glowing, tiny detail how Milliband's menhir, Ed Balls' arrogance and Nigel Clegg's perfidy had ended up biting them in the backside.

What surprised me though was to hear so many people say that the result was the end of democracy in Britain.  But then again that was the BBC asking the 'right' people.  If they'd asked the 'wrong' people, the answer would have been different.  At least everyone had the chance to vote.  Its nobody's fault that it didn't turn out how everyone wanted.  Someone always has to lose after all.  Ask Nigel Farage. UKIP had 3 times as many votes as the SNP but only won 1 seat, not 56.  That's the Westminster System for you.

Milliband, Clegg and Cameron at the VE+70 service at the Cenotaph.  Perfect timing!

What was it Churchill said?  "Democracy is the worst form of government ... apart from all the others".

Warwick, Bermuda or Warwick, England...?

We only had one full day between the wedding and moving on so decided to spend it in Warwick, a charming old town or in particular Warwick Castle which everyone we'd spoken to had said was very beautiful and more importantly in good condition.

Warwick is pretty much in the middle -- if you can really call it that given the country's unruly shape -- of the country.  It is in the old kingdom called Mercia and in the early 10th century was the dividing line between the unruly Vikings to the North and the Saxons to the South.

The Vikings had touched down on Lindisfarne off the Northumbrian coast in the late 8th century and had returned to terrorise and ultimately colonise the country ever since.  At this point in time, the Saxons were hanging on for grim death after the death of King Alfred but his daughter Ethelfleda stepped up in this neck of the woods and built the first encampment -- you couldn't really call it a castle in those days but it was effective enough for the Vikings.

Not so for the even more unruly and rather more effective and determined (and very nasty) Normans for after Hastings in 1068 the bas***d set up shop in Warwick (this was William I's nickname by the way.  Not something you said to his face of course but you certainly thought it).

William I was in the process of 'harrying the north' -- i.e. massacring, looting and generally being thoroughly unpleasant and violent -- and felt he needed to build a series of fortified castles around the country to control his new realm.  Warwick therefore became a real castle with the traditional Motte and Bailie structure -- you can still see the Mound upon which the Motte was built (the Keep in modern parlance).  The entire area was surrounded by wooden stakes which in the absence of cannons did the job pretty well.

A while later William realised Warwick wasn't so strategically smart after all so he created the Earldom of Warwick (one of his comrades named Henry de Newburgh) and moved to London... rather like so many did to seek their fortunes after him.

The family held onto the castle and title for 5 generations and started to get a stony demeanor during which it endured several sieges -- some successful -- but the market town outside grew and thrived not least due to it becoming a centre for jousting.

The Kingmaker's horse in the Great Hall

The family ran out of male heirs in 1242 and it wasn't until 1268 when the interim earls -- useless to a man according to our guide -- were succeeded by William de Beauchamp, a good earl whose family would stay in charge for 181 years.

The de Beauchamps were enormously clever, brave, lucky, connected and immensely wealthy -- our guide said that due to the 100 Years War early victories for the English and consequent ransoming of wealthy French nobles captured along the way, Thomas and later Richard of the same name became the wealthiest men in England with a fortune equivalent to GBP34 billion... which they used to build the castle in the shape of how it is today.

Their line rather petered out though and the earldom passed to a son-in-law, Richard Neville, in 1449.

This was the kingmaker!

He was quite simply the most powerful man in the country able to both crown and remove a king (either Henry VI or Edward IV) as he felt.  Yes, he changed sides a couple of times but with reason.  He'd crowned Edward IV but the new king decided to marry someone Neville didn't like -- and with good reason for the lady in question was married and had children of her own.  The Kingmaker wanted Edward to make a good marriage and secure the line with some heirs of his own but Edward just went ahead and did it.  So Neville took him prisoner and recrowned Henry VI... sadly only for just over a month as Edward's supporters were able to raise an army and defeat him rather rudely at the Battle of Barnet in 1471.  Neville was also rather unfortunately hacked to pieces in the process with the vengeful Edward (a Yorkist) taking the castle and lands for his own.

Skip a few kings and Henry VII came to the throne launching the Tudor dynasty which continued the vengeful ways for over 100 years ignoring the castle to the point where it was starting to fall down at which point in 1604, the new king James I now of England gave the castle as a bribe to someone he wanted to impress named Fulke Greville.

Fortunately Fulke loved the place and rebuilt virtually everything to an amazing standard including the private apartments and gardens we enjoy today.  His successor survived a Royalist siege in 1642 during the Civil War and after Charles II's restoration redid the entire place and turned it into the best party place in the entire country -- if our guide is to be believed.

Canaletto was commissioned to paint the Castle in 1742 -- not bad either!

The Grevilles were great collectors of art, military paraphernalia and endless other stuff until they realised they had to pay for it, so in 1815 they opened the castle to tourists -- the first castle to do this in the country (and probably the world).

It was death duties that finally did for the Grevilles who finally sold up (to the Tussaud Group) in 1978 with the current earl moving to Perth in Australia to make a fortune and declare he wouldn't return to England until the tax regime changed.  I think he won't be returning any time soon!

Gorgeous castle though.  Mind you I left feeling we had just had more of an 'experience' than a historical visit by the time we left several hours later.

PS -- the dungeon visit was well worth it.

PPS -- Most of the family were buried in a church called St. Mary's Church in Warwick.  We have always lived in Warwick since we've been in Bermuda and the local Anglican parish church is St. Mary's Church in Warwick.  Coincidence??

"Boing", said Zebedee

The first place we stopped in the Midlands, actually just outside Redditch, was the hotel we stayed at for Rupert's wedding and in chatting with the lady receptionist I was immediately hit by the accent.  To the outsider (like myself) all Midlanders talk with a Birmingham or Brummy accent.  Its sort of flat and nasal and doesn't have much of the up and down sibilants that make it easy to understand and follow what is being said.

More than that though, it reminded me of a children's show that was very popular in the 1960's and 1970's that aired just before the 6 o'clock news called the Magic Roundabout.  This was one of the first children's series that was written, billiiantly I may add, to appeal both to children and to grown ups because of the sub-texts written into the script.

I read only last night on Wikipedia that this all came about because the BBC were too cheap to buy the storyline from the French creators of the show, so they hired someone to write an all new one.

Why Birmingham though, you ask?  Well one of the characters to my mind -- a snail called Brian -- was portrayed as a little less complex a character -- alright then, a country bumpkin if you really want to know -- and he had a Brummy accent.

Or so I thought at the time for as I'd not been to Birmingham, I thought that was what they sounded like.  But he actually doesn't.  Take a look at this You Tube link and see for yourself.

However a comedian I liked very much named Jasper Carrott did.  And he did a very funny rendition of the Magic Roundabout that I will also share.

What does this have to do with anything?  Well, not much actually but we did drive through the centre of Birmingham a couple of days ago to find the Cadbury Factory in Bournville (an essential for all chocaholics incidentally), and I was taken with the place and the accents!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Wedding Daze

There isn't many of us in the family.  4 for me and the same for my brother, Jan.  Fortunately there are 5 young 'uns in the mix so a good possibility for expansion exists.  Admittedly there are 2 girls that may change their surnames in the near future but a good solid number of sturdy males that would be the envy of Henry VIII, say -- I am in the midst of watching the new Wolf Hall series so am again interested in that most over rated of English monarchs.

Talk about royally messing things up, Hal managed it in spades all because of syphilis he'd acquired at an early age that prevented him from being a successful parent.  Not that he didn't try hard in that respect.  He ignored almost everything else and succeeded in losing all the overseas possessions and bankrupting the country, even after stripping the old church bare and looting evrything lootable. And in the process alienating just about everyone of importance in Europe and destroying the entire English line of monarchy for after his final daughter died, the throne passed first to the Scots and then when they died out, to the Germans.

So just why is he considered the most iconic king of England?

Naturally my family's progeny has none of these traits starting from a complete lack of noble blood and moving on ticking no boxes at all from there.

So when the first of the male line, Rupert, said he was to get wed, Viv and I were all over it.  Sadly Alex and Ali couldn't make it but we'd join the throng assembling in Redditch just outside Birmingham with a happy welcoming smile.

Neither of us had been to the Midlands so expected endless 'Dark Satanic Mills' as reported in that finest of English songs, Jerusalem.  However we were pleasantly surprised to find rolling hills and lovely countryside even though everyone had an accent like Jasper Carrott.

The other side of the family at Swizzle time
We brought rum swizzle from Bermuda to get things going with Jan's family and by the time we had finished them, we were all singing "19 hours to go" for Rupert's increasingly anguished benefit.  We carried that along to the dinner table where the number sequentially fell to the low teens guaranteeing all a slight dull ache behind the temples the following morning.

Breakfast and a forced smile
The big day dawned with a full English breakfast and a Rupert now less confident than the evening before wondering at least mentally what to do with his hands.  All men have this issue and I don't know why.  When confident and masters of the universe, there never seems any problem wondering what to do with them but when that disappears, we fidget.  We touch our ears, eyes and mostly our nose.  Flashman admitted to scratching the cheeks of his backside whenever he didn't know what to do but as Rupert was seated through breakfast, he didn't slip that far.

Fortunately his best man and best friend arrived around that point so the family were able to let someone else give moral support and went our own ways for the moment.

Around midday we began to re-assemble this time dressed up to the nines.  The groom's party wore tails and all looked very handsome indeed.

The drive to St Leonard's church was short and what a lovely church it was.  A lovely garden setting that would have been even lovelier had all the blossoms been out but it's been a lousy winter here so everything is a little late in coming to bloom.

The church itself was old with wooden beams inside and held the assembled throng quite comfortably.  Given our family numbers we were grateful for Rupert's mum Gilly's larger sized family to pad out our side of the church. Rachel's side (the bride) was full though so it was a pretty decent throng that waited expectantly for the bride to arrive.

Rachel was only fashionably late -- 8 minutes according to my camera -- and the pastor drove through the service entertainingly and engagingly.  Gabs did a lovely reading whilst Zophia stood as witness but the newly weds were the real stars of the show looking beautiful and handsome in turn.

The newly weds -- Mr & Mrs Melvin!!

The reception centre was in a small village called Southam some 40 minutes drive away so we'd found a B&B nearby and got a lift back to the hall called Warwick House.  There were about 70 attendees in all and included in the package was something called "Dove Release" -- the hall released a couple of white doves from Rupert and Rachel's grasp, hopefully they were homing pigeons!

After that excitement and the mass photo taking, it was dinner, drinks and dancing time.  Speeches came from Rachel's father Martin, Rupert and his best man.  All were fun and well presented.

Next after more dancing was the cake cutting -- a lovely, but huge cake with different cake varietals at each level.  I liked the fruit cake in particular.

Then more dancing and snack time with a hog roast -- visions of Indy's Bermuda hogge!

Great night!

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Minus 26

In February I went to Toronto for a few days on the way back from a business trip that took me to a gloriously warm Cayman -- this time of year is really lovely there.  Mid 80's fahrenheit and reasonably low humidity.  However as I was returning home via Toronto to visit my son, Alistair, I thought it prudent to pack a few winter woollies.

It was minus 26 when I arrived!

It had been in the minus 20's for a month!!

I had a pullover and a windbreaker.  At least I wasn't wearing my usual shorts.

Cold doesn't even measure how uncomfortable this was so last weekend when I visited the big TO again, I took a thicker pullover but the same windbreaker for surely it couldn't still be that cold.  Could it?

Fortunately not.  In the interim it had become a balmy minus 6 -- this is early April of course so summer is just around the corner!

The few days went by in a flash though.  Toronto really is a special city.  We managed some great food with friends at La Palette, the required great big steak at Barberians and some preppy Ramen Noodles at Mamafoku in the Shangri-La Hotel.

Oh yes, and it did get up as high as +11 celsius.

But what a beautiful sunrise we had one morning.