Posts Tagged ‘honour’

Westminster Abbey to honour music of the Nazi camps

January 25th, 2015

Sir Andrew told The Telegraph his poem, Finis (see below), was an attempt to recognise both the difficulty and necessity of creating art in the face of the Holocaust.

“I tried to convey the struggle of adequately expressing one’s feelings about what happened, to make sure we don’t forget and to honour the lives that were lost there,” he said. “Adorno [German sociologist] said that after Auschwitz poetry was impossible, but you have to try, because if nothing gets said it increases the chances it will happen again.”

Among the music being performed at the service will be Ani Ma’amin, a religious song attributed to Reb Azriel David Fastag, a Chassidic Jew and renowned singer and composer from Warsaw, who is thought to have composed the melody on the train taking him and thousands of other men, women and children to their deaths at the Treblinka camp, in Nazi-occupied Poland.

Musician Viktor Ullmann (Holocaust music archive, Rome)

Contemporary accounts suggest that as he sang the words, others near him took it up the song and it spread from wagon to wagon. One young man managed to escape from the train, eventually making his way at the end of the war to the newly founded State of Israel, where his memory of Fastag’s tune and words were transcribed. Fastag died at Treblinka in 1942, along with an estimated 700,000 to 900,000 Jews and 2,000 Romani people.

Also being performed is an excerpt from a string quartet composed by Viktor Ullmann in the Theresienstadt concentration camp, in the Czech city of Terezín, in 1943. Conditions at the Theresienstadt enabled Ullmann, a composer and conductor, to remain active musically. Here he played piano, organised concerts and carried on composing. writing at the time: “By no means did we sit weeping on the banks of the waters of Babylon. Our endeavour with respect to arts was commensurate with our will to live.”

Szymon Laks and his wife in Nice in 1948

Ullmann was later transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he died in the gas chambers on October 18, 1944, aged 46 – three months before its liberation on January 27, 1945.

One of the most moving pieces of music to emerge from the experience of the death camps was a song written by Ullmann’s fellow Auschwitz detainee Szymon Laks.

Laks was only able to survive Auschwitz-Birkenau by serving in, and later conducting, the orchestra of Auschwitz II and after the war wrote the song about his experiences of the camp, where 1.1 million were killed as part of Hitler’s so-called Final Solution, around 90 per cent of them Jewish.

The song was originally composed for voice and piano, and the Westminster Abbey performance will be its first in the UK.

A reworking of an old Yiddish folk-song written by Martin Rosenberg for a secret choir in the Sachsenhausen camp, before his death at Auschwitz, is also being performed. The song was written down from memory after the war by Aleksander Kulisiewicz, a fellow-prisoner in Sachsenhausen, who went on to become a respected scholar and performer of the music of the camps.

The service will also see the singing of the stirring Zog nit Keynmol (Never say this is the final road for you) – often referred to as the Hymn of the Jewish partisans. The melody comes from a Soviet song composed by Dmitri Pokrass, but the words were by written Hirsh Glik, a young Lithuanian Jew who wrote many poems in Yiddish.

Hirsh Glik

He wrote the song’s lyrics while captive in the Vilna ghetto, in the Lithuanian city of Vilnius, where he took part in the 1942 ghetto uprising. The song, inspired by the bravery of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, was adopted by Jewish resistance groups fighting alongside Soviet partisans. Glik himself disappeared – probably killed by German soldiers – following his escape from a concentration camp in Goldpilz, Estonia.

Leading representatives of the Jewish faith and of other groups persecuted at Auschwitz, together with descendants of those who liberated the camp, will form part of the congregation, including Baroness Julia Neuberger, who will be giving the Address, and three survivors of Auschwitz,; Renee Salt, Anita Lassker-Wallfisch and Ziggy Shipper.

Reverend Dr James Hawkey, Minor Canon and Precentor of Westminster Abbey, said: “To create or perform a work of beauty in the context of such unbearable horror, is itself a refusal to allow the victory of death and destruction. It is a testimony that life is stronger than death, and that light will always overcome darkness.”

Finis, by Sir Andrew Motion

Bare facts and staggering multitudes: what hope,

what possible hope left for language with finish?

Light. Knock. Road. Engine. Rail. Truck. Cold. Night.

Whatever these words meant they no longer mean.


A conductor’s baton twitches to the left or right:

this one has been selected to die, this one not yet.

Clothes. Belt. Shoes. Watch. Ring. Gold tooth. Hair.

Silence is singing instead from the corpse of a violin.


Not to go mad, or to go mad and understand madness,

to gaze steadily on the world with the eyes of Lazarus.

Lager. Barracks. Bunks. Kapos. Musselmans. Chimney.

The mind cannot skip the air and mingles with smoke.


Buried in each, the appearance they still remember

but transparent, with no existence in the others near.

Work. Soup. Mud. Work. Snow. Work. Soup. Gone.

The body is murdered over and over devouring itself.


A white plain outside under the flight of the crows

and men standing like a spinney of withered trees.

Sky. Cloud. Earth. Grass. Bird. Field. Hedge. Wheat.

Prayer rising and God’s spittle falling on bare heads.


What hope, what possible hope for finish? My father,

I wanted to tell you something, but I did not know what.

Language, the tip flickering to and fro, threw out a voice.

A wavering flame…like a speaking tongue…So I set forth… .

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Final leap to honour Arnhem's fallen

September 22nd, 2014

The battalion was led by Lt Col John Frost, whose character was played by Anthony Hopkins in the Richard Attenborough film A Bridge Too Far, which was based on the battle.

However, having been unable to defend the bridge, Cpl Bloys was among many paratroopers captured by the SS and taken to a prisoner of war camp in Germany.

He managed to escape but was captured once again. He then managed to escape for a second time with another soldier and the pair stole a car in which they managed to make it to American lines.

He last visited Arnhem in 2004 with his wife Doreen, who died six years later. Before his own death in February he described how the horrors of the fighting at Arnhem were still “fresh in my mind”.

“You can never really get it across to people about the horrors of battle. You are speaking to people one minute and then two minutes afterwards their life is finished. It was a terrible battle and was not well planned.”

On Saturday dozens of veterans of the assault, most of them in their nineties and either wheelchair bound or walking with the aid of sticks, watched as around 500 Allied troops jumped out of planes to commemorate the seven-decade anniversary of the Second World War operation.

Cpl Bloys was one of a number of veterans whose ashes were scattered by British paratroopers landing on Ginkel Heath, in a show of respect and camaraderie towards their predecessors.

This weekend his daughter-in-law Rita, who watched the jump with her husband Ian, among a crowd of around 40,000 people said the gesture was first suggested by a paratrooper who attended Cpl Bloys’s funeral in March. Cpl Bloys had died a month earlier aged 90.

Mrs Bloys, 65, said: “It is just an unofficial thing that they offered to do for us. My father-in-law was very fond of the area. In his later years he said he felt that the fighting had destroyed the area, but he came back here often.

“We just thought it would be fitting to leave a bit of him here. It seems like the final thing we can do for him. We are very emotional.”

Mr Bloys, 66, a former electrician for Ford from Hornchurch in Essex, said before the jump: “He never expressed a wish for what he wanted done with his ashes. But especially in the early days he used to come back here. The last time was on the sixtieth anniversary in 2004. He appreciated the way the Dutch people treated him. He was there for a few days and all the young children were asking for his autograph. It was like being a movie star.

“He was in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and then Arnhem but Arnhem was the one he mentioned the most.

“We want to do the right thing by him. This will be his last jump – I think he would appreciate that.”

Operation Market Garden saw more than 40,000 British, US, Canadian and Polish troops dropped behind the German lines at Arnhem in September 1944.

The attack was conceived by Field Marshal Montgomery to inflict a fatal blow on the Germans and bring the war to a close by the end of the year.

The aim of the operation was to capture a series of river crossings in German-occupied territory to allow Allied tanks to cross the Rhine and sweep into Germany.

However, despite early successes, strong resistance prevented troops from capturing the final bridge at Arnhem.

The British unexpectedly found themselves up against the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions, leading to one of the most devastating and bloody battles of the war.

After nine days of street fighting between 17 and 25 September, and running out of food and ammunition, British forces were overwhelmed and forced to withdraw. An estimated 1,700 British soldiers lost their lives.

Yesterday Brig Nick Borton. the commander of 16 Air Assault Bde, whose paratroopers carried out yesterday’s commemoration jump, said the event had given serving troops the opportunity to highlight the “humbling exploits” of the Allied airborne forces 70 years ago.

This weekend Les Fuller, 93, who served as a private with 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment, told the Sunday Telegraph the commemoration at the site of the battle bought back “Massive memories. Memories I could hardly tell you about.”

Mr Fuller was badly wounded as he tried to make his way to the bridge. He said: “We had to detour around Oosterbeek and I finally finished up at the Rhine Pavilion where a fellow who had a howitzer across the other side of the river in a brick field spotted me (I didn’t spot him) and that’s when it came to an end for me.

“A fellow named Sgt Robinson, who was the Sgt medic of the 3rd Battalion, happened to come across me and he went up and got the crew of a tank that was parked just up the road to come and pick me up and hand me over for medical attention which I badly needed.”

Saturday’s event also included a commemoration service at a memorial at Ginkel Heath and a moment of silence as the Last Post was played, before both veterans and serving soldiers laid wreaths to remember the fallen.

The previous day thousands of cheering residents had lined Arnhem’s streets to look on as 83 British and Polish veterans walked or passed them in wheelchairs as part of a week-long commemoration of Operation Market Garden.

Alec Hall, 92, who was a medic during the battle, said of the commemorations: “It brings back so many memories. It’s like it was yesterday. I often think about those few days.”

Bill Carter, 90, who served as a private with the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment, saluted the landing paratroopers as he watched the drop from his wheelchair, accompanied by three generations of his family – the youngest of which was his 15-year-old grandson William Wilding.

Mr Carter said he was proud to return to the site, adding that the event brought back “a lot of good memories” of the men he served with but also “a lot of sad memories” of the battle.

Tom Hicks from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was another of the veterans attending Saturday’s drop, which was carried out using mainly Hercules aircraft as well as a Dakota from the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The 95-year-old said that Dutch locals had initially thought that they had been liberated from the Nazis when he and his fellow paratroopers landed.

“They brought milk out and flowers and thought the war was over. They thought they were liberated.

“And we knew there was a long way to go before they were liberated. Children [were] holding your hand and skipping… thinking ‘oh, back to normal life’.”

The retreat by Allied forces meant that it was another eight months before they secured a victory which ended the war in Europe.

Mr Hicks added: “I think the message is that even though you are beaten, you never give up, even against all odds.”

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Honour plans for veteran escapee

June 10th, 2014

Mr Fitch said he met Mr Jordan, who will celebrate his 90th birthday next Monday, and presented him with two bottles of Normandy cider and took him out for lunch.

He said: “People were cheering him in the streets, shaking his hand. I think it is a wonderful thing he has done and I want to honour him for it.”

Mr Fitch said Mr Jordan should also be honoured for his 40 years of public service as a councillor, and for his work as council leader and as mayor of Hove.

Mr Jordan, a former Royal Navy officer, hit the headlines when he left The Pines nursing home in Hove last week after he had been told he would not be able to attend the anniversary events in Normandy.

He set off with a grey mac with his war medals on underneath and made his way to France anyway, determined not to miss out. His disappearance led to Sussex Police launching an investigation to ensure he was safe.

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The pioneering surgeon who healed men scarred by war, a new monument created in his honour – and the remarkable twist of fate that links them

May 30th, 2014

In the end McIndoe and his team in West Sussex “fixed up” 649 servicemen – men who underwent such innovative treatment that they rakishly dubbed themselves The Guinea Pig Club.

Their disfigurement meant the possibility of being shunned by sweethearts and friends, their lives blighted. So McIndoe not only treated them, he also stood up for them. “He had enormous battles with the authorities,” says Montfort Bebb, now 86. “He said, ‘You treat my boys properly.’ He even had a keg of beer for them in the ward. He had to give them the odd dressing-down, they were young men – they did misbehave – but they loved him.”

Such devotion suggests that few men more richly deserve being immortalised in bronze than Sir Archibald McIndoe. But by the time, two years ago, that Jacquie Pinney, chief executive of the medical research charity Blond McIndoe, began a campaign to erect a statue to McIndoe, his name and reputation had faded from the public eye.

The charity was founded in 1961 by the industrialist Neville Blond, who lived near East Grinstead and saw McIndoe’s work there first-hand. He admired how McIndoe had taken existing, primitive, plastic-surgery techniques and pioneered new methods that transformed not only the lives of his patients, but also the whole field of reconstructive surgery.

But despite McIndoe’s achievements, there were no statues or monuments to his honour, even in his native New Zealand. “There was nothing,” says Pinney. “I felt it was long overdue.”

Hence when she called Martin Jennings, the acclaimed sculptor of the much-loved John Betjeman statue in St Pancras station, she was worried that he would not know who McIndoe was: “I assumed he would think, ‘Who are these weird people calling from East Grinstead?’”

When she got through to him, he went quiet on the line, apparently confirming her worst fears. She need not have worried. “It was amazing,” says Jennings now. “She imagined that I would never have heard of McIndoe. But in fact I knew all about him.”

Over the course of the ensuing conversation, Martin Jennings related how his father, Michael, had been a tank commander in the war. On the afternoon of October 17 1944, with the Allies bearing down on the Maas canal, he was leading a troop of four tanks from the 15/19 King’s Royal Hussars on a push through heavily fortified German positions east of Eindhoven, in the Netherlands.

Suddenly his Cromwell tank was hit by a shell. The driver was wounded but, determined to press on, an undaunted Jennings switched to another tank and continued the advance. He was less lucky second time round. The shell that hit his commandeered tank killed its driver. As the armoured vehicle erupted into flames, Jennings himself was badly burned. He had little time to reflect on his condition.

“In his diary he recorded that the Germans were ‘coming on a bit’,” says his son. “I think that’s a euphemism for large numbers of them trying to kill him.”

Under heavy machine-gun fire, he made it back to his own lines. From there he was evacuated to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, where his head and his hands were entirely bound in bandages. He was 23.

His sisters visited and fed him grapes through a mouth?hole in the wrappings. But he also received another visitor – Archie McIndoe, who was on one of his regular tours of the country to see if there were patients that he might be able to help.

Michael Jennings was unusual for a Guinea Pig, in that he was not an airman. None the less, he was transferred to East Grinstead and, over the course of the next two years, underwent a host of skin grafts and reconstructive procedures at the hands of McIndoe and his fellow surgeon, Percy Jayes.

At the outset, Michael Jennings’s morale could hardly have been lower. His sisters found him staring into a mirror, repeating: “I’m burned to a crisp. I’m burned to a crisp.”

But, as his son notes, “McIndoe had this remarkable capacity to transfer his confidence to his patients.”

Jack Perry can remember that golden touch: “He sat on my bed and kindly spoke to me. He said: ‘I see you play a lot of sport. Well, you’re going to play again. Maybe not as well, but you certainly will play.’”

That ability to lift spirits was an essential part of the McIndoe therapy. “His patients, like my father, were such young men,” says Martin Jennings. “They were hoping to get married, have children and a normal life. Suddenly they were plunged into the prospect of a life of passivity and victimhood. But McIndoe was so upbeat. His ethos was that these terrible injuries did not mean that their lives were over.”

Michael Jennings was one of those who, with McIndoe’s help, refused to accept that his life was over. In 1952, he got married, and he and his wife had 11 children.

Today, Martin Jennings describes his family connection and the call from Jacquie Pinney as “an astonishing coincidence”. She had found in the sculptor a man who had long nursed the idea of creating a monument to the man who had cared for his father and overseen “significant improvement to the lower half of his face – to his nose, mouth, lips”.

Indeed it is a hardly a stretch to suggest that without McIndoe, Michael Jennings might never have married, and his sculptor son might never have been born.

It has taken two years since that 2012 phone call for the project to come to fruition. On one research trip to East Grinstead, Jennings asked for records from the war. There he turned up a file featuring a familiar face. For 10 years after he was burned, Michael Jennings refused to be photographed. But there, in the hospital files, were images from that lost decade that McIndoe had taken to plan and perform his operations.

“That was very moving,” says Jennings. “I was looking at pictures of my father, and he was the same age in the pictures as my own sons were in real life. I found myself feeling a sense of paternal protectiveness to my own father. That was very much McIndoe’s spirit. He was a father to these men. This is a story of fathers and sons.”

With that same protective spirit, McIndoe would send the men under his care into East Grinstead, to stroll the town, drink in the pubs, attend parties – just like other young men. And the people of East Grinstead, to their immense credit, learned to welcome these disfigured men in uniform. Now it is known as “the town that did not stare”.

Jennings’s McIndoe memorial is, as a result, an arrangement of two slightly larger than life-size figures. Seated is a airman, his burned hands clawed together, his scarred face turned to one side. Standing behind him, resting a reassuring hand on each shoulder, is the figure of McIndoe.

They are framed by a stone bench. “When the local people sit on that long curved seat, they complete the monument,” says Jennings. “This is a tribute to Archie McIndoe and the Guinea Pigs, but it is also a tribute to the people of East Grinstead.”

Michael Jennings, like many of the Guinea Pigs, went on to outlive by far the man who had so helped him. He died in 2002, aged 82, after a long post-war career as a teacher. He too, will live on in the memorial. Although the figure of the airman is not based on any one man, Martin Jennings modelled the burned hands on those of his father.

The result, says Montfort Bebb, would have enormously pleased her own father, Archie McIndoe. Not that he subscribed to theories of “greatness”.

“He said that greatness is just hard work – attention to detail and a lot of hard work. He probably worked himself to death. But he never mentioned his own health. He was just devoted to medicine and patching up those poor boys.”

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War cemeteries: gardeners’ labour of love to honour the fallen

April 28th, 2014

Edge-trimming at a war cemetery

For David Richard this is quite a challenge, even with his team of 850 gardeners. Maintaining the gardens in England using outside contractors did not give the high level of finish and consistency needed, so using their own staff everywhere is thought to be essential.

The gravestones are kept clean, white and legible, quite unlike church headstones, which become covered in lichen with the engraving slowly dissolving. Their stones, often white Portland, are chemically treated to kill the moss. Other stone apart from Portland is now used to replace disintegrating headstones. This includes stone from Bulgaria, India and Italy.

The commission is becoming more conservation-minded and is considering whether the clean, stark look is still imperative. Where once all the grass was cut with cylinder mowers to give a strong stripe, these are being replaced with rotary mowers. To avoid grass collection, mulch mowers are being looked into where the cuttings are left in situ having been finely chopped. Picking up cuttings easily takes half as long as cutting again. Scarifying and fertilisation of the grass is rarely undertaken as it is extremely time-consuming and they find that unless you can change the structure of the soil it does not do a lot of good. Surprisingly, even after a hundred years in some places, the soil has not returned to normal structure after the massive compaction that took place in the war, especially in wet areas such as the Somme. Verti draining does help, though this uses tines to penetrate and aerate the soil.

Elsewhere, meadows and wild flowers are being used but not between the rows of graves.

The compaction and destruction of the grass by many visitors also can be a big problem. The Tyne Cot cemetery and memorial in Belgium gets up to 700,000 visitors a year, so the grass really suffers. They are researching ways to toughen the turf in collaboration with the Sports Turf Research Institute and are trying different techniques, such as reinforcing matting, putting rubber crumb substrate in with the soil and growth retardants.

In 1917, the director of Kew was on the board and it was the intention to use plants indigenous to the countries of the fallen to enhance the connection between place of origin and death. Plant material from Kew and Wisley was sent out to many places. This is no longer feasible, though certain exotic plants that are good performers are used. Olearias and eucalyptus may be used to commemorate Australians, for instance, in the Yokohama war cemetery in Japan. Acers are often used for Canadians in France, but generally plants selected have to really thrive in the area. In arid zones, such as Egypt, for example, cacti and succulents are used.

For planting borders choosing reliable plants is key and as every site is unique and different parts of the site have radically variable conditions, there is a wide range used. The headstone borders are 450mm (18in) wide, so there are miles of grass to be edged. They use edging machines (made in Australia) and edges are cut at every mowing to keep them sharp.

Care and duty: Gardeners for the CWGC chemically treat the stones

The ideal plants are indestructible: they must not need staking, they must flower for long periods and have a range of textures. Often they include a mix of alpines (frequently saxifrages) and other low plants that limit the rain splash that discolours the white headstones. Roses, usually red, repeat-flowering and compact so they do not swamp the headstones, are used frequently. Top repeat rose varieties are ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ (a great pink), ‘King Arthur’ (peach) and Remembrance, a scarlet floribunda – bred for the commission by Harkness. These are planted with mycorrhiza, routinely fertilised and sprayed to manage disease.

Good sustainable herbaceous plants are key too. For instance, phlox and arabis, Alyssum saxatile, dwarf campanulas and armerias are used in many of the Somme sites, such as Villers-Bretonneux. Other good, low- maintenance herbaceous plants for England and France include coreopsis, Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and alchemillas. Sourcing these plants in far-flung places is not easy and Richardson says they used to have their own nurseries in Belgium, France, Italy and Egypt, among other places.

Weeding is a large part of the maintenance. Mulches for the narrow headstone borders migrate too much but they are used in the peripheral borders. Pre?emergent sprays of residual herbicides are frequently applied in spring. These last for about six weeks.

For borders in Turkey and other farther-flung places, they are using many indigenous plants, but this is not straightforward since these plants are difficult to obtain commercially.

The gardeners are key and they have a lot of lifers – many stay tending the graves all their lives, maintaining the high standards required. Shortly they are starting to reinstate some of Gertrude Jekyll’s original planting plans on one or two French sites, such as at Corbie La Neuville (where she worked with Lutyens). She did not have headstone borders but had scatterings of iris and narcissus informally among the stones. In the outer areas there were plantings of lavender, shrub roses and wisteria.


Peter Francis of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission gives his recommendations

The commission’s aim is that in another hundred years we will not forget all those who tragically lost their lives.

Anyone interested in visiting the war graves should start by looking at Use the online searchable database to find the place of burial or commemoration for any of the 1.7?million war dead we commemorate. You can also search for cemeteries and memorials by name or country, access historical information about them and advice on how to visit them. Other significant dates this year include:

May 31

There will be an event at one of the CWGC’s most remote locations – Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery in the Orkneys – to mark the anniversary of the Battle of Jutland. Information panels at the site will use smartphone technology to reveal the personal stories of some of those commemorated.

June 6

The CWGC commemorates the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings and there will be a large event at our cemetery in Bayeux. Bayeux War Cemetery is the largest Second World War CWGC cemetery in France.

August 4

The British government will hold one of its opening events to mark the 100th anniversary commemorations of the start of the First World War at one of the CWGC’s cemeteries in Mons, Belgium.

St Symphorien Military Cemetery is highly significant as it contains an almost equal number of German and Commonwealth war dead. It also contains the first and last British and Commonwealth casualties of the war on the Western Front – Private John Parr and George Ellison respectively. Ellison was killed on November 11 1918 – the day the Armistice was signed. Ellison and Parr are buried just a few metres apart.

The cemetery also contains the graves of the first person to be awarded a Victoria Cross and the first German soldier to be awarded an Iron Cross.

Other graves to visit:

Brookwood Military Cemetery, Woking, Surrey

Harrogate (Stonefall) Cemetery

Oxford (Botley) Cemetery

Plymouth (Weston Mill) Cemetery

Cambridge City, Cambridge

Runnymede Memorial,

Egham, Surrey

Portsmouth Naval Memorial

Cardiff (Cathays) Cemetery

In France…

Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery, Saulty, Pas de Calais

Etaples Military Cemetery

In Belgium…

Tyne Cot Cemetery

And my personal favourite:

Ramparts Cemetery, Ypres

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