Saturday, November 18, 2017

5th November 2017 - Return from WWI battlefields trip

On the 5th of November 2017 we headed back to England.  I felt I had honoured my father's memory by learning something about his experiences fighting in WWI.

As the ferry came into Dover I could see the white cliffs.  This symbolised to me what my father had fought for.

4th November 2017 - WWI battlefields trip visiting Ypres and Passchendaele

Our second day of visiting WWI battlefields started in Flanders around the Belgian city of Ypres. Here, one in three of Britain’s Western Front dead fell by 1918 and it has been a place of pilgrimage ever since. The Ypres Salient is the area around Ypres in Belgium which was the scene of some of the biggest battles in WWI including the First Battle of Ypres in which my father fought.

The first stop was at the preserved trenches at Sanctuary Wood Trench Museum, some of the last original WW1 trenches still surviving in Flanders. Seeing these trenches was very moving. I wouldn't have liked to have spent an hour in them let alone years under fire.

We then went to see the battlefield around Hill 60, one of the most fought over corners of the Ypres area, and viewed the war underground, seeing craters that still scar the hill today. The pictured crater belowis called the Caterpillar crater.  This crater was formed by a mine exploding under the German position on high ground south of the Ypres-Comines railway.  Unfortunately the rain started coming down heavily so we didn't stay here as long as intended.

Our next stop was Tyne Cot Cemetery which is the resting place of 11,954 soldiers of the Commonwealth Forces. This is the largest number of burials contained in any Commonwealth cemetery of either the First or Second World War. It is the largest Commonwealth military cemetery in the world.  It also includes a memorial to the missing.

I was very much moved by the fact that many of the soldiers buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery were around 19 years old.

At Vancouver Corner our guide explained the use of gas in the trenches.  My father had been gassed when he returned to the WWI battlefields after having recovered from being wounded on the Somme.

We also saw the ‘Brooding Soldier’ memorial to the Canadians who defended Ypres in 1915.

At the Langemarck cemetery we saw how Germany commemorated her dead.  The German cemetery was very sombre in comparison with the British and Commonwealth cemeteries I had visited.

Our day ended in Ypres where we attended the Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate Memorial.  This ceremony is held at 8pm each evening.  The Last Post was played followed by some people laying poppy wreaths then the Last Post was played again.  This ceremony was very moving and made a fitting end to our tour of the WWI battlefields.

It had been another 12 hour day but some of us went to the hotel bar after getting back.  I didn't stay long.

3rd November 2017 - WWI battlefields trip visiting the Somme

The Battle of the Somme began on a summer’s day in July 1916 and ended in a snowstorm four and a half months later.

We started our day in the Somme at Peronne where we visited the Historial de la Grande Guerre museum which set the tone for our two days touring the WWI battlefields.

I had made some notes from my father's war record which I showed to our guide Tim Thurlow.  As a result Tim very kindly made a small detour through Ginchy which is where my father was wounded on the 15th September 1916.  I was told that Edward Tennant, the nephew of Prime Minister Arthur Balfour, also in the Grenadier Guards, was killed in the same battle on the day my father was wounded.  This day was also when the British introduced tanks into the war.  The following map shows the location of Ginchy.

We then visited Delville Wood, known as Devil’s Wood, where the South Africans fought their deadliest ever battle in WWI.  Delville Wood is now the resting place of the South Africans who gave their lives in order to preserve freedom.  This cemetery was special to me as I was born in South Africa.  Delville Wood is also the grave of thousands of British and German soldiers.

Newfoundland Memorial Park was our next stop.  The site was purchased by the Dominion of Newfoundland after the First World War. It was named after the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, which had provided one battalion of 800 men to serve with the British and Commonwealth Armies. It's tragic part in the action of 1 July 1916 is remembered through this memorial park. The site is also a memorial to all the Newfoundlanders who fought in the First World War, most particularly those who have no known grave.  It also preserves the memory of the men of the many other regiments from the French, British and German Armies who fought and died on this part of the Somme battleground from September 1914 into 1918.

Newfoundland Memorial Park became a province of Canada in 1949.  Here there were grassy mounds which were the remains of trenches.  Seeing the Newfoundland Memorial Park was also special to me because of my links with Canada.

We then went to La Boisselle where we saw Lochnagar which is the largest British mine crater surviving on the battlefields.  My picture does not do the size of this crater justice.

The last stop of the day was at the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing which commemorates more than 72,000 missing soldiers on the Somme in WWI.

After this we left France and went back to our hotel in Belgium.  The day had been very fulfilling but also tiring because we had spent twelve hours touring round.  I kept thinking about my father and all he had been through.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

2nd November 2017 - WWI battlefields trip

My father fought in World War I but never spoke to me about his experiences except once when he showed me the bullet-holes from when he was wounded.

At 19 years old my father joined the Grenadier Guards in 1912.  

WWI started on the 28th July 1914.  My father was sent to France on the 22nd November 1914  where he took part in the Retreat from Mons.

Following this my father took part in the First Battle of Ypres.

After this my father fought on the Somme.  He was wounded on the 15th September 1916 at Ginchy on the Somme.  My father's wounds were as a result of gunshot to his legs and chest,  He was evacuated home on the 19th September 1916.

My father was transferred to another regiment on the 7th August 1917.  This was apparently normal after a soldier had recovered from being wounded.  Sadly I do not have any record of the regiment my father transferred to but am still looking.

On the 2nd of November 2017 I travelled out to a hotel in Belgium ready to learn what I could about WWI.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

5th March 2017 - Fulton's Sugar Bush

A sugar bush is a wood in which sugar maples predominate. Fulton's Sugar Bush farm maple syrup and make associated products.

Andy, Ruth, Dariel and I went for a trip to Fulton's Sugar Bush. We started with a breakfast of pancakes and organic maple syrup. Then we went round the maple woods on a horse sleigh ride.

It was so cold I couldn't bear to take my gloves off so Andy kindly took the day's photos for me.  It feels weird to be colder in Ottawa than Antarctica despite wearing thermal underwear.

Andy took a photo of Dariel, Ruth and me on the sleigh ride.

In years gone by the maple tree sap was collected by buckets attached to the trees.

These days the maple sap is transferred from the trees by plastic tubing, in this case blue tubing.

I was surprised to see how much sap from the maple tree goes into the actual syrup.

27th February 2017 - The end of the journey home

Ruth and I landed at JFK in New York at 7.38am.  Our flight to Montreal was at 9am which was tight but theoretically possible.  This was until we discovered that we had to clear US immigration and customs with our cabin baggage.

Our Buenos Aires flight was met by a wheelchair attendant for me called Alma clutching an orange express connection containing new boarding passes for the Montreal flight.

Alma whisked us through the airport processes and we made it to the gate on time.  She was amazing.  Ruth was also a star dealing with the luggage.

After all that there was a technical problem with the plane which caused about a delay of about an hour in the flight taking off.

Ruth and I were relieved to arrive at Montreal airport and meet up with Andy who drove us home to Ottawa.

The temperature in Ottawa was much colder than in Antarctica.

26th February 2017 - Back to Argentina

The Silver Explorer docked at Ushuaia and we all disembarked.  This was a sad moment after all the adventures we had aboard her.

Ruth took this picture of me in Ushuaia, 'the end of the world'.

We then wandered around Ushuaia doing some shopping.

I came across some penguins who had escaped from Antarctica and who were deciding where to go next.

After this Ruth and I were taken to Ushuaia airport where we flew to Buenos Aires and then continued on an overnight flight to New York.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

25th February 2017 - The Bridge

As the Silver Explorer reached calmer waters nearing Argentina we were given the opportunity to go up on the bridge.

There were views of the nearing coast sadly meaning our Antarctic journey was coming to an end.  We will have covered 1877 nautical miles on our round trip abroad the Silver Explorer.

Watching the crew on the bridge made me think about all the superb crew of many different nationalities who have given us such an amazing voyage to Antarctica.  I was given much needed assistance with the expeditions.  It was also fascinating to hear from all the expedition experts.

My trip to the bridge included Ruth taking my picture with Captain Adam Boczek.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

23rd and 24th February - Goodbye to Antarctica

Unfortunately I had a bout of vertigo on the 23rd and 24th February so stayed in our suite,

Sadly this meant I missed the last expedition to Deception Island,

My only photo during this period was of a Chilean war vessel moored not far from the Silver Explorer.

We then had to leave early for Ushuaia due to an impending storm.  We missed the storm but the Drake's Passage was not as calm as on the way out.

Friday, March 3, 2017

22nd February 2017 - Paradise Bay and Port Lockroy

In the morning we set out on a cruise of Paradise Bay which is also known as Paradise Harbour.

Our first sight was an Argentinian camp which is deserted most of the year.  Occasionally some staff come to do maintenance in order to keep claim on the area.

We then thought our Zodiac cruise was going to come to an end due to an apparently stranded Zodiac.

All turned out well in the end as the apparently stranded Zodiac was actually a source of champagne cocktails and cookies.  Ruth is shown enjoying a mimosa.

The following three pictures concentrate on reflections of the true beauties of Paradise Bay.

After the Zodiac cruise Ruth and I decided to treat ourselves to some external bubbles by having a dip in one of the hot tubs at the rear of the ship.

We returned to our suite to find an alternative penguin species had found a home with us.  Our cabin staff were certainly inventive.

The afternoon's expedition was to visit Port Lockroy.  In 1944 the British established "Base A" on Goudier Island, the earliest example of a British scientific research station in the Antarctic Peninsula.  "Base A" is now a museum.

We visited the museum and posted postcards.  The postcards may take some time to reach their destinations.  They could not return with the Silver Explorer to Argentina because of current international tensions.

After visiting the museum I found myself a rock to sit on and watch the birds.  I was finding the terrain very difficult to walk on and had needed quite a bit of assistance from the crew to make it from the Zodiac landing point to the museum.

We were limited as to where we could walk at Port Lockroy by blue cones.  This was in order to avoid extra stress to moulting Gentoo penguins.

Some other white birds were in evidence.  My ornithology experience enables me to identify penguins but there my limits lay.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

21st February 2017 - Petermann Island, Pleneau and the Lemaire Channel

I did not undertake the morning's expedition to Petermann Island as I felt unable to cope with the rigours of the rocky landing.  This was disappointing but sensible as there were many other expeditions to come.

Instead I watched the Zodiacs coming to and from the ship.

Thankfully I was able to take part in the afternoon's Zodiac cruise of Pleneau. Pleneau is sometimes known as an iceberg graveyard. Icebergs from many areas are trapped in the shallow waters of Pleneau having been brought in by wind and currents.

Our temporary home of the Silver Explorer was rather dwarfed by the surrounding icebergs and mountains.

Ruth and I are pictured here together on the Pleneau Zodiac cruise with a typically droopy seal for a backdrop, again no camera tricks.

This trip was the one time I felt bitterly cold while in Antarctica.  It had been snowing during our Zodiac cruise.

Once all the Zodiacs had returned the ship began making its way down the Lemaire Channel.  There was much ice in the channel and it wasn't a given that we would make it through to our next destination.  Most people went up on deck to watch the Silver Explorer captain find a route through the ice in the channel.

19th February 2017 Mikkelson Harbour and Cierva Cove

Today was the day we left our ship the Silver Explorer and headed for land for the first time.

The landing point chosen was Mikkelson Harbour which is surrounded by such beautiful scenery.

Rubber Zodiac dinghies transferred us from the ship to Mikkelsen Harbour. Getting in and out of the Zodiacs was quite a personal challenge. Thankfully I received one or more helping hands.

Mikkelsen Harbour is the home of many Gentoo penguins and has remains from the whaling era. I had been warned there might a strong fishy smell where penguins live but, on this occasion, there was barely a whiff. The penguins are absolutely delightful to watch. I even saw one penguin do a projectile poo.

We were told that we had to keep a minimum distance of fifteen feet from the penguins. The penguins were not given the same instruction. Ruth took a photo of me exchanging the time of day with one of the penguins.

In the afternoon we were taken on a Zodiac cruise around Cierva Cove which has spectacular scenery. We were also looking for wildlife such as the colony of penguins below.

There were many little icebergs occupied by leopard seals not doing very much at all. To my mind penguins are much active and entertaining creatures.

What stunned me most about Cierva Cove were the ice structures. The blue ice continued to amaze.

We spent 90 minutes cruising round in this dream world. I felt like pinching myself to check I was not dreaming.