Monthly Archives: January 2017

The Sunday after

The Sunday papers all told of the story – this one is from the Sunday Express – it says:

‘Sometimes a baby’s cry broke the stillness’: Kings and Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers, Princes and Chancellors from 111 nations joined a countless throng of humble people yesterday in the final massive act of homage to Sir Winston Churchill.  It was an occasion of pomp and pageantry, pride and sorry, which will not be equalled in the lifetime of any who saw it.

And yet what there was to say could be said simply.

The thoughts of those who stood in the windswept streets and the millions who watched on television were summed up in one message.  It was from the Queen, and was in the circular wreath of white flowers – freesias, arum lilies, gladioli, and lilies of the valley – which she sent to the interment at Bladon Church.  It was written in her own hand and said:

“From the nation and the Commonwealth:
In grateful remembrance.
Elizabeth R”

No one can say with certainty how many people stood and shivered in the bitter east wind to honour Sir Winston. Probably there were around half a million.

A day when Britain stood still

This Saturday, 30th January 1965, saw one of the largest assemblies of world statesmen in history when Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral was held – regarded by many as a day when Britain ‘stood still’.

The following is based mainly on BBC reports with personal memories included:

‘Thousands of people had paid their last respects to Britain’s greatest wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill who was buried today after a full state funeral. A total of 321,360 people filed past the catafalque during the three days of his lying-in-state.

Silent crowds lined the streets to watch the gun carriage bearing Sir Winston’s coffin leave Westminster Hall as Big Ben struck 09.45. The procession travelled slowly through central London to St Paul’s Cathedral for the funeral service.

Many millions around the world watched the funeral procession at home and abroad as television pictures were beamed from 40 BBC cameras placed along the route.

The mourners were led by Sir Winston’s wife, Lady Clementine Churchill, his son Randolph and daughters Mary Soames and Lady Sarah Audley. The Queen and other members of the Royal family; the Prime Minister Mr Harold Wilson and representatives of 112 countries packed into the Cathedral for the service.

The funeral cortege was accompanied by a 19-gun salute and an RAF fly-past as it began the journey to Sir Winston’s final resting place. At Tower Hill the coffin was piped aboard the launch ‘Havengore‘ for the voyage up the Thames and then toWaterloo Station where the coffin was placed onto a train drawn by a Battle of Britain locomotive named Winston Churchill.  Thousands gathered to pay tribute at wayside stations as the coffin passed while, at many football matches, a two-minute silence was observed.

Sir Winston was finally laid to rest in the Oxfordshire parish churchyard of Bladon, close to Blenheim Palace where he was born 90 years before.  Only family members were present at his internment.

 

 

A late Friday night/Saturday morning

The night of Friday, 29th January 1965, was one of bitter rain and snow but that didn’t stop many men and women from taking up their positions for the following day’s state funeral.

While they were taking their places in the cold and wet the the Earl Marshal, Duke of Norfolk, was rehearsing the pallbearers duties inside St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Throughout that day and night there was a steady drumbeat, beating out the minutes in that day-long final flurry of rehearsals for the nation’s last tribute to Sir Winston Churchill.

The sound of 65 beats to the minute on a black-draped drum started in the pre-dawn darkness and echoed eerily through empty streets as 5,000 Servicemen escorted the heavy gun carriage and a lead-weighted coffin in a ghostly parade along the funeral route.  Come the morning daylight that will carry Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill in the first stage of his final resting place.

The troops left Westminster as Big Ben struck 04.45 a.m.

Rifles and more surprises

As I said last time – it wasn’t just the guns that made us stop – it was the men themselves.  Both could have stepped from the pages of a history book. They were short, stocky men with black, pointed beards. Each wore knee breeches and a white lined shirt open at the neck. One wore a broad red fabric belt; the other wore blue. On their feet were heavy leather shoes with large silver buckles. Neither wore a hat and their black hair was swept back and was just long enough to touch the collar. As they reached us I saw their guns clearly. Each had a wisp of smoke coming from it. They were holding match-lock muskets. No one had used those since the middle of the seventeenth century!

We faced the two men – each pair unsure of the intentions of the other. My father was the first to act.  “Buenos días, señores, he said, taking a step forward, his right hand held up, palm outward in the universal sign of peace.  Blue Belt lifted his musket at father’s movement. Red Belt just eyed us both and then returned the greeting – “Buenos días.”

“You give us a strange welcome,” my father continued. “Are visitors always met in this way?”

The two men exchanged glances and muttered something to each other. Blue Belt nodded and stepped to one side, motioning with his match-lock that he wished us to walk through.

“Better do as they wish, Juan,” father said in a low voice. “I don’t know who’s more surprised and nervous – them or us.”

I nodded, too frightened to speak. The two men fell in behind us, guns still held ready for use. As we drew level with the cottage, a voice from behind bade us stop. We stood in silence.  Then we both jumped as a single clear bugle note sounded from just behind us. The sound echoed and re-echoed around the valley. I turned to look and was just in time to see Blue Belt handing a silver bugle to an elderly woman dressed in clothes as dated as his.

He saw me looking and gestured with his musket. “Walk. Follow the road.” Their Spanish was unmistakable, with a distinctive soft, lilt I’d never heard before.

Father started to move. “Come on, Juan. That was obviously a signal to the village. My guess is that there’ll be a reception committee waiting for us when we arrive.”

He was right. When we reached the village there were people lining the streets, watching us walk ahead of the two men. The watchers all appeared to be men, and were dressed in the same outdated style as our escorts. I also noticed that there were no children around. In any other village in Mexico a pavement gathering would bring children all around. But in this strange village of men with ancient muskets and old-fashioned clothes, there were none to be seen.

Our cottage escorts were replaced by two new men as we were guided onward.

Facing us when we reached the square in the middle of the village was a large building with a pitched roof, an impressive façade, and a pair of huge carved doors. The doors were reached by a broad flight of snow-white stone steps. On each side of each step stood a man wearing a shiny metal breastplate, holding an ornate pike. They stood to attention, facing forward, but I could sense their eyes as they watched our every step. At the top of the steps stood three men dressed in distinguished uniforms.  As we reached the foot of the steps the three men turned and went through the doors. Our new escorts motioned us up the steps, indicating that we should follow the vanished dignitaries.

As we entered the building both father and I stopped. After the bright sunlight the darkness inside was absolute. Our escorts evidently realised our difficulty and waited as our eyes adjusted until we could see the three uniformed men seated at a large table across the far end of the hall. From each end of their table extended longer, narrower tables. At each sat six men facing the centre of the three sided box. Our escort – Blue Belt – was among them. It was obviously a gathering of the village elders and councillors.  The hall was cool and quiet. The high roof was supported by massive wooden beams. Narrow windows, set high in the very eaves, let in light, though not direct sunlight. The walls themselves were decorated with flags, standards and pennants, interspersed with polished breastplates and decorated armour; all of sixteenth century design.

I felt a nudge in my back and was pushed forward to stand with my father.

The death of a great man

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was one of of the great men of British politics in the 20th century.  Over the coming days I’ll tell more about his very varied life but today is the day his life ended.

He had been involved in two world wars – being Prime Minister in the second of these conflicts.  After the British general election of October 1951 he had become Prime Minister of Britain for the second time.  In 1953 he suffered a serious stroke but remained in the role of Prime Minister until 1955 when he retired from that role.  However, he didn’t leave his place in Parliament – remaining a Member of Parliament until 1964.

On 15th January 1965 he suffered a severe stroke and died at his London home nine days later, aged 90, on the morning of Sunday 24th January 1965, 70 years to the day after his own father’s death.

Following his death Queen Elizabeth II granted him the honour of a state funeral.

Spanish style houses come into view

Juan and his father had come to an amicable agreement with their porters and on the next morning the porters had prepared their rations and stood and watched as the two headed south.  Juan picks up the story:-

On the second day we started to climb through the foothills of the Sierra Madre. Father continued taking his readings every hour, and I prepared our evening meal while he wrote up his notes.

It was on the morning of our sixth day alone that we topped another scrub-covered ridge and stopped in amazement. Every other ridge we had breasted had presented us with another in the distance. This one walled a cultivated valley. Through a quirk in the geology the valley had steeper sides than any we had seen. Instead of being a dip between ridges it had a finite shape. The far side was a distinct wall of rock. To the east a small river gushed down a steep incline, almost a waterfall, and then meandered gently across the flat valley floor to a lake that lay glistening in the sun away to the west. The banks of the river flanked neat fields. On each side of the river a white road wound through the fields, joining near a small bridge to become a single road leading into a village of white, flat-roofed, Spanish-styled houses.

“The Valley of Quetzalcóatl,” I heard my father murmur. It was then I noticed something else: although the fields looked well-tended, there was no sign of movement anywhere in the valley.

I mentioned it to my father.

He shrugged his shoulders and looked up towards the sun. “The people will be taking siesta now. It will be warmer in the valley than here on the ridge. Come, let’s go down and see if we can meet the dwellers of Quetzalcóatl’s valley.”  With that he hitched his rucksack onto his shoulders and set off down the slope.

After a few moments’ hesitation I followed him. As we walked through the fields we could see stone-lined irrigation channels leading water from the river to every field. “This is the work of skilled men,” father said as we walked. “No Indians I’ve ever known would do this.”

We turned a bend in the road and saw ahead of us a white cottage with orange trees in the garden and a vine with bright yellow flowers growing all over the veranda. Almost as soon as we saw the cottage a man appeared in the doorway.  As he looked around he saw us. For a long moment he stood still; then he went back into the cottage.

“I have a feeling we shall soon find out what sort of people live in Quetzalcóatl’s Valley, Juan,” my father said. “Just stay calm. I have my rifle and pistol if we need them – just pray we don’t have to use them.”

We kept walking and were within twenty metres of the cottage when the man reappeared, closely followed by a second man. Father and I stopped in our tracks – both were carrying guns. “Easy, Juan,” my father warned.

But it wasn’t just the guns that made us stop – it was the men themselves.

The Strange Story Continues

Last week we left Juan Jaime Domenech and his father with a trail that had vanished, leiving them in unchartered territory. Juan Jaime continues his story:

Our measurement stops were now every hour. At each stop my father set up his equipment and took readings from the four points of the compass. Temperature was checked and altitude calculated. He made notes of the type of country through which we passed and the plant and animal life we could see. At night when we made camp he would write up all the notes in his big survey journal, while the Indians prepared the meal.

We were into our third week of the survey when one of the Indians came to see my father. He asked him a simple, direct question: “Señor, where are you leading us?”

When my father indicated the way ahead, still due south toward the rising mountains, the Indian became quite agitated. “‘Señor,” he said, “we are employed to follow you and work for you. To do as you wish of us. But we would prefer it if you would turn aside from this route you show us. If you do not, I fear many Indians will leave and return to their homes.”

Father was surprised at this. It was totally against the Indians’ nature to threaten mutiny. “Why is that?” he asked.

“Señor Domenech, this route we follow will take us to the sacred Valley of Quetzalcóatl. To approach the valley is to invoke the wrath of the great white god.”

My father did not laugh. Quetzalcóatl was a god of the Mexican Indians who reigned during the Golden Age before the Aztecs. He had disappeared, leaving a promise to return. When Hernando Cortez and his 600 Spaniards appeared in 1518, they were welcomed as the return of Quetzalcóatl. Father knew that fear and respect for the god was bred deep in the Indians, and that they would do nothing to risk his anger.

“I understand,” he said. “My son and I will continue this part of the survey alone. You will all wait here for our return. I shall return within 14 days and then survey the area to the west of here.”

The Indian was pleased at father’s decision. Next morning they prepared our rations and stood and watched as we headed south.

My other Blog

Hello

After a rather quiet 2016 I’m intending to get back on track with my two blogs in 2017. You will be aware of ‘beejaytellingstories’ but have you had a look at my other post that is posted on ‘talkinghistory2013’?
This came back to life in last December.  Since then there have been 17 postings with many more to come.

Have a look and feel free to sign in – it costs you nothing, honest!

Brian J

A Strange Story

Hello – welcome to 2017.  I hope you enjoyed the story of Snow White, her friends and, of course, her lover. Perhaps we’ll have a look in on them later this year but, in the mean time, I have a few other tales to tell.  As with Snow White’s story, this first one of the New Year will be bit by bit and will be posted from here every Thursday.  As you can see above, this one is A Strange Story.   Enjoy!

I WILL TELL YOU A STORY, one I have told no one before. It’s something that happened to me over 60 years ago, when I was just fifteen.  Let me introduce myself first. I am Juan Jaime Domenech.

The story concerns myself and my father, a surveyor like his father before him. I was intending to follow the same profession. His father, my grandfather, had left Spain to live and work in Mexico, and my father had stayed on after he died. My story starts when my father was hired to survey an area in Mexico from the coast from the Gulf of Campeche south across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec toward the southern Sierra Madre mountains. He felt the trip would be quite straightforward so he took me along with him, “To get a feel of the real thing,” he told me.

We took a steamer from Veracruz and travelled south perhaps 100 miles, to a small coastal town. There we made our final preparations. Father fixed the route of our survey, due south from the town, and drew it on a large map. The area around the town had been mapped but the interior on the map was blank. It just showed the highlands of the Mexican Plateau and the southern Sierra Madre mountains. It was this blank area we were to survey. He pinned the map on a board in the only hotel and let it be known that we wanted a team of porters to come with us on the survey.

Early that following morning there were more than twenty Indians outside the hotel, all wanting to be part of the survey. Father selected twelve and began the last stages of our preparations.  I couldn’t wait for morning to come – but, of course, it did!

Soon after the sun had risen above the hills the following day we set off. My father and I carried the survey equipment while the Indians carried our stores for a ten-week trek. At first we followed a clearly-marked trail leading south from the town. We travelled through country that was wild and varied. Sometimes it was green and lush. Then it would become rocky and dry, the hot sun reflecting from the barren rocks.

Our porters worked well and we made good time. Sometimes father stopped and made readings and notes, but this was just to check the map details that existed. It was not part of our survey. For the survey he ensured that we kept going due south.

By the end of the first week we had travelled many miles but now the trail had vanished, and we were into the unchartered territory.

And we shall be back to tell you more!

A Very British New Year is with us

Well – it’s Tuesday 3rd January 2017 here in Great Britain and England & Wales are back at work after the joys of the traditional New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day celebrations and the additional Bank Holiday/Day off yesterday, Monday.  Our Scottish counterparts also have today off!

So, what is a British Bank Holiday?

It is a public holiday format that has been recognised as such in their present form since the ‘Bank Holiday Act’ of 1871. The ‘Bank Holiday’ term comes from times past when banks were shut on certain days and no trading could take place.  Although the Banks closed, based on the 1871 Act, there was, in fact, no automatic right to take time off on those days.  However, the majority of the British working population was – and still is granted – time off work or extra pay for working on these days, depending on their individual contracts.

So, how has this all come into place one might ask?   Following their foundations began in 1694 Britain’s Banks had been privately owned by stockholders and, in each year, would observe over 30 ‘Saints’ Days and religious festivals as holidays.
In 1834 that number was reduced to four: – 1st May [May Day]; 1st November [All Saints’ Day]; Good Friday and Christmas Day.
It was in 1871 that the first legislation relating to these ‘Bank’ holidays was passed when the Liberal politician and banker Sir John Lubbock introduced the Bank Holiday Act.
That specified that under the Act ‘no person was compelled to make any payment or to do any act upon a bank holiday which he would not be compelled to do or make on Christmas Day or Good Friday, and the making of a payment or the doing of an act on the following day was equivalent to doing it on the holiday’.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland these days were Easter Monday, Whit Monday, the First Monday in August and St. Stephen’s Day {Boxing Day}.  The 1871 Act listed just these four specific days and did not include Good Friday and Christmas Day as bank holidays in England, Wales, or Ireland because they were already recognised as common law holidays: they had been customary holidays since before records began.

The English, Welsh and Northern Ireland people were so thankful that some called the first Bank Holidays St Lubbock’s Days for a while.

Scotland was treated differently because of its separate traditions – the recent New Year’s Day celebrations are the perfect example. The other ‘special’ Scottish days are Good Friday, the first Monday in May, the first Monday in August and Christmas Day.

By the time you read this most of you will be back at work – but don’t fret.
Good Friday/Easter Monday is 14th/17th April; the Spring holidays are 1st and 29th May;
the Summer Sunday ‘day off’ is on 28th August with
Christmas and Boxing/St Stephen’s Day on 25th /26th December.

In the meantime – have a great year