Letter from Felixstowe: War, Peace and Living in Europe

'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ poppy exhibition (photo @HRP_Palaces Tower of London)

‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ poppy exhibition (photo @HRP_Palaces Tower of London)

This week marked the beginning of World War I in Europe.

Felixstowe, like many towns in the UK, hosted a series of remembrance events. The Tower of London unveiled an inspiring exhibit of ceramic poppies. Their number will grow to 888,246, one for each UK military fatality during the war.

We watched televised services on Monday night, first from St. Symphorien near Mons, Belgium, a cemetery I’d never heard of before. It moved me greatly to see this beautiful woodland site, established by the German Army as a final resting place for both British and German soldiers.

Later we watched a national service from Westminster Cathedral. From 10-11pm, we joined the country in turning off all lights and having only a single candle for illumination. We blew it out at 11pm as the country went dark, exactly 100 years after war was declared.

2 Globe

Of ‘my’ four countries — their flags depicted in Clive’s graphic above — two are in Europe.

Two short months ago, the country and the world marked WW II D-Day on the beaches of France. Since then, the shooting down of a passenger jet heightened awareness of another war here in Europe. And here in the UK, Remembrance Day, 11 November, is more than just a 24-hour event. For weeks leading up to it, thousands of citizens wear poppies on their lapel. I love this tradition and Clive and I both wear a poppy throughout the first half of November.

Europe has lost so many lives. The WW I numbers are hard to fathom. Of nearly 10 million military deaths, these among the Allies:

England – 888,246
France – 1,397,800
USA – 116,708 (including my great-uncle Alfred Ellis)
Australia – 62,081
Russan Empire – 2,254,369

and among the Central Powers:
German Empire – 2,037,000
Austria-Hungary – 1,494,200

Our former home, Manly Beach, Australia

Our former home, Manly Beach, Australia

My non-European countries – Australia and the U.S. – are peaceful, prosperous, and oh so young. The U.S. Civil War finished around 100 years before my birth. Before 9/11, the U.S. hadn’t experienced large-scale, externally-caused death and destruction on its own soil.

Recently, as part of my UK residency application, I prepared for the Life in the UK knowledge test. I was comfortable with most of the practice questions except for the history section, which I really had to study – thousands of years of history, war and peace.

(The official Life in the UK book, available on amazon UK, and accompanying book of practice tests contain interesting and useful information, even if you’re not applying for residency or citizenship.)

The UK’s long and often bloody history also impressed me on our first visit to Scotland, when I wrote about Kings and Kin in Stirling, and oft-seen words such as ‘massacre’, ‘slaughter’, ‘battles’ and ‘tragic’ on historic plaques.

Statue of Robert the Bruce, Bannockburn, Scotland

Statue of Robert the Bruce, Bannockburn, Scotland

On a much happier note, a month from now we’ll return to Scotland, this time with Clive’s daughter. History is always present there, but we’re also looking forward to exploring the Highlands, based in Inverness. More about this upcoming adventure in a future letter.

In the meantime, we’re perusing guidebooks, making lists, and dreaming of Highland walks and scenery, bagpipes, and the Loch Ness monster. I’ve also pulled from our shelf the best book about Scotland I read during our previous trip, Scotland, An Intimate Portrait, an affectionate, informative view by Geddes MacGregor.

Have you been to Inverness and the surrounding area? If so, and if you have any recommendations to share, we’d be most appreciative.

Not only is history so much closer here in Europe, so are the blessings of the present, which include being able to travel and see and learn more about these historic and beautiful places.

Near Glencoe, Southern Highlands, Scotland

Near Glencoe, Southern Highlands, Scotland

Thanks for visiting and cheers until next week.

3 Responses

  1. Glencoe is not to be missed, hopefully the weather will cooperate. The Highlands are so beautiful and no matter where you wander, you’ll find wonderful things. A visit to a distillery is always a good idea, too (we chose Cardhu).

  2. Carolyn,

    Thanks for your post about WW1. It truly was a horrific time. My great uncle Joseph Yocum was a surgeon, based for a time in Chateau Thierry ( forgive the spelling). I have some of his letters home, and one of his medals..3 years ago we visited several battlefields in France, and of course Verdun. Still a very haunting place.

    I envy your trip to Scotland..have always wanted to go there. So far the closest I’ve been is the tv series “Monarch of the Glen”! Please tell us all about it.

    Our best to you, Clive and your Mother


  3. Susan, hello and thanks so much for your comment. I’ve never done a distillery tour and it sounds fun — have to put on the list!

    Martha, thank you too — so interesting about your great-uncle and his time in France. My grandfather’s younger brother was killed over Panama in WW 1.

    Clive introduced me to ‘Monarch of the Glen’ and we actually watched a few episodes with his daughter on her prior visit. Such a wonderful series, and I hope to see some of that spectacular scenery in person!

    Clive also says he’s pleased to know the series made its way to the U.S. – that’s great.

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