We returned to Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory. I had been here once before, but only for a few days. We didn’t spend much more time this time around either, but we did see the newly created Waterfront. Aside from apartments and restaurants, it has a tiny beach (patrolled for crocs) and a much bigger wave pool.
Most of the jobs in Darwin these days is in the resources sector, particularly gas. You can see the gas refinery across Darwin Harbour (the box-shaped structure on the horizon) from the city.
But Darwin’s history is very much tied up with two big events. The first was the bombing of Darwin in 1942, which was the climax of the film Australia. Above the shore was a modest war memorial dedicated to those from the region who died in service.
Last November, on Remembrance Day, our family gathered at Circular Quay on a breezy evening.
Not to take in the view, which was of course splendid…
But to see a banner of red poppies unfurl over the sails of the Opera House.
This was the work of my father-in-law, P, a former member of the Royal Navy and local RSL member.
He wanted to raise awareness of Remembrance Day, and the cause of current and past military personnel from all conflicts outside of Anzac Day.
Given that our more recent veterans come back with all sorts of physical and mental stresses and frequently face a lack of support, it’s a worthwhile cause to champion.
We’re on the final leg of our journey northbound through Europe. We’ve left coastal Oulu with Hubby’s friend W, and made our way north through more woodland, to Lapland.
On the way, we crossed many rivers. Not many signs of human habitation here, just the odd farmstead or country home like this one.
We visited a historical cabin deep in the woods. It was the hideout for the Finnish resistance fighters during World War I. There were eight men living rough in all weathers, trapping their food, while fighting against the Russians. The men must have been super tough to get through it all.
We visited a little country Lutheran church, where W’s parents got married in the 50’s.
This WWII memorial was very touching. Goes to show that people everywhere were touched by that conflict.
Our main reason for visiting Hannover though was to visit the grave of Hubby’s grandfather. In WWII his grandfather was an Englishman in a parachute regiment, meaning he was one of those soldiers who parachuted down behind enemy lines and fought there. He was killed in northern Germany a mere month before the end of the war, leaving behind a young wife and two small children. He was buried in this Allied War Cemetery, on the outskirts of Hannover.
The cemetery was easy to get to, and immaculately kept. The soldiers buried there came from all over the UK, different parts of the Commonwealth, as well as from all over Europe. All those young lives lost.
We found Grandfather’s grave quite easily. It was an emotional pilgrimage for Hubby, who had never visited before. We also found many other men who had died with him, from around the same period. There must have been carnage on both sides.
We were glad that the Germans have kept the cemetery is such good order, because it was a very special place. May they rest in peace.
From Prague, we made our way along the Elbe River valley to the city of Dresden. Although the trip was less than 3 hours long, it was a very scenic ride as we passed a narrow river valley with interesting sandstone formations and cute villages. It’s so pretty there that the locals call the area Saxon Switzerland.
Dresden itself was a mix of modern…
And not so modern.
The modern bits were the parts that were destroyed during the bombings in WWII, and the older bits were the parts that were spared. As you can see by the number of post-war buildings, the destruction was extensive. The city was quickly rebuilt post-war, and then upgraded after the end of the Communism. The modern parts now look like any other growing modern city in Germany, perhaps more well-kempt than most.
What we did not know at the time was that half of Dresden would be under water a mere 2 months later. The long winter caused the biggest floods in a long time and flooded both Prague and Dresden, as well as other places downstream to the North Sea. We were lucky to see both at its best.
Since was a very summery Friday afternoon, and the previous winter being very long and hard, it seemed as if every man and his dog was outside enjoying the heat and sunshine.
Prague, at least by the river, reminded us a lot of Paris with its canals and elegant townhouses.
But go back a block or two, and you’ll find evidence of other communities. This is the biggest Jewish synagogue in the city. It looked pretty new to us. Before WWII Czechoslovakia had a very large Jewish population of around 350,000. All that changed, and now there are just 4000 in the country, but there were still quite a few signs of what had once been.
Westminster is one of the most iconic areas of London, and one of the most visited.
I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed being jostled for the best view of Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, nor did I go inside Westminster Cathedral (it was a Sunday, and closed for services), but I visit somewhere worth it.
Around the corner from the mayhem of Big Ben is the Churchill War Rooms – the basement complex from which was Winston Churchill’s command centre during World War II. It’s now a museum and wonderfully intact. The meeting rooms, communication rooms, bedrooms, and most impressively, the map rooms, where every action in WWII, all across the world, were meticulously tracked.
The museum also includes the Churchill Museum, which follows the life of Winston Churchill, from his not-so-humble childhood, his pre-politics career as a Boer War journalist, as well as his political and family life. The exhibits are interactive, but there were also plenty of Churchill’s letters and personal effects to illustrate his colourful life. I do like that the museum placed great emphasis on his writing, especially his war time speeches – how he composed them on his typewriter as he went from one meeting to another, and how they were in stanzas, like a poem. He really was a man of his word.
I was in Canberra again over the weekend and visited the War Memorial for the first time since I was 12.
It’s a sobering experience to wander through the miles and miles of exhibits that meticulously catalogued every conflict Australia’s been involved in since the Boer War. However, the most interesting fact was a little display detailing the WWII massacre at Bangka Island, the place where my grandparents came from, and from which they had fled from probably just weeks before this took place.
The two long corridors that made up the Roll of Honour was a reminder of how many people were lost.
Some people in my group were surprised to see so many Japanese tourists at the Memorial, but I wasn’t surprised at all. After all, I have been to the Japanese musuems when I visited the Tokyo and Hiroshima. Hiroshima in particular was heartbreaking. It brought home to me that neither side got through unscathed.
War is crap whichever way you look at it.