Sunday, May 29, 2016

An American Military Cemetery Abroad

Brookwood American Cemetery, Surrey England
Oh, the luscious indulgence of a three-day weekend! The late sleep and languid sprawl over coffee, with no reason to shower until noon. Then comes the promise of grilled dinners and big salads, cold beer and cake. Such is the custom of any Memorial Day Weekend.
Since we were unable to spend this year’s with friends and loved ones (and I sorely miss good barbeque!), we chose to do almost the exact opposite and visited a cemetery instead. 
About an hour’s train ride from our flat, the Brookwood American Cemetery is one of the few outside the US where our fallen WWI soldiers lie.
One of several dozen graves for unknown soldiers.
"Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God"
Nearly every state is represented among the 468 graves, of which 41 are unknown soldiers. Inside the columned chapel, carved into its marble walls, are the names of 563 missing service members, mostly navy and coast guard, whose remains were never recovered.
But our veterans, these young men and women far from home, are more than numbers and deserve to be remembered as something other than parts of a sum.

I wondered, as I walked among their graves, what these young men had thought of. What they had longed for.  Did Private Charles Powers from Virginia close his eyes and let the smoke from wood trench fires carry him back to his beloved Blue Ridge mountains?
Did Private Irvin McKenzie lay dying that September of 1918 knowing his family in Michigan was out picking apples as they had done every year for as far back as he remembered?  

Laying of Poppy Wreaths
Maybe California native, Private Noble Marchbanks, missed home and the cracking  of golden walnuts under his heel. Maybe he remembered the rich musky smell and let it fill his nostrils before he - and so many of his comrades - died that early October day.
Did he wonder if his young life was ever worth anything to anyone?         
         They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
         Age shall not weary them nor do the years condemn.
         At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
         We will remember them.
                                                                 -- Lawrence Binyon
Side by side, they fought and died.
Nearly 100 years later, these brave men and women are still remembered. In the beautiful calm setting of Brookwood, veterans, local dignitaries, and international guests gathered to pay tribute to our courageous service members. There was music and solemnity, poppy wreaths and gratitude. And tears. Still there were tears.
                               “When you go home tell them of us and say,
                                For your tomorrow, we gave our today.”
In recent years Memorial Day has become the unofficial opening bell to summer and all its food, family and fun. But maybe this year it could be something more.  Please be respectful of all who died serving our country. And give thought to those who could not kiss their loved ones one last time, those resting so far from home.

For more pictures of our visit to Brookwood American Cemetery, click here.


Brookwood American Cemetery is one of more than 50 locations beautifully maintained by the American Battle Monuments Commission at home and abroad, please click here.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Castles, Kipling, and Churchill

There's no panic like the last-minute panic and with fewer than 50 days left in the UK the  panicky games have begun. We've long since resigned ourselves to the fact we'll never - EVER - see everything this good country has to offer. But that didn't mean we wouldn't go down swinging. As the early-May bank holiday beckoned, we headed south east to the English county known for it's history, castles, and beauty: Kent.
For thousands of years the English fought off invasions from Europe, beginning with the Romans, then the French, the Spanish, and Dutch. With that in mind, it's no wonder so many strong holds and castles sprang up in this hilly area closest to Europe. Of the 30+ castles still in this one county we visited four:
Hever Castle - The family home of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII and one of two wives to be beheaded. The castle dates back to 1270, the Boleyns occupied it in the early 1500s. It comes complete with drawbridge, portcullis, and some original pieces belonging to the family. Unfortunately, no photography was allowed inside the rooms. But the exterior setting is beautiful and is surrounded by unbelievably stunning gardens and walks. (Side note: after Anne's beheading, Henry VIII took possession of the castle and gave it to his 4th wife, Anne of Cleves, whom he divorced for several reasons, not the least of which was that she had "a face like a horse.")
Leeds Castle - Billing itself as the loveliest castle in the world may not be too far of a stretch, but this medieval defense also has the benefit of being updated in the 1800s and has become an entirely livable castle within. Henry VIII visited often and even made improvements. In addition to the castle itself, there's a fantastic hedge maze on the grounds as well as a great 3-D  depiction of King Henry V's exquisite victory at the Battle of Agincourt.  As Shakespeare put it in the greatest underdog speeches of all:  

  "We few, we happy, we band of brothers;
  For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
  Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
  This day shall gentle his condition:
  And gentlemen in England now a-bed
  Shall think themselves accursed they were not here."

Scotney Castle - This handsome old fellow is now in ruins and intentionally so. It served as a home to several families but eventually fell into such disrepair that its new owners decided to build a second home on the property in 1837. The old castle here was allowed to crumble (roof removed, etc) and thus became a very fashionable "folly ruins" to be enjoyed on walks, picnics, and the like. It also has secret hiding places built in that were used to hide at least one Jesuit priest in the 1600s.
Bodiam Castle - If Hollywood's central casting needed a classic castle for a movie set, they'd call up Bodiam. I mean seriously. This one just looks the part. It's one of the many medieval fortresses designed to deter French advances during the 100 Year War. It never actually saw combat. But it's so impressive, no one really cares. (And for those of you scoring at home, this castle is actually in East Sussex, not Kent.)
Easy to imagine Sir Winston painting near this koi pond

We also found time to visit Chartwell, the family home of Sir Winston Churchill, set high overlooking the breathtaking Kent Weald. It's a lovely home with beautiful gardens and picturesque settings where the Prime Minister would often set up his easel and oils when he needed a "joy ride in a paint box," as he put it. The home is decorated in 1930s style and has several rooms devoted to housing all the gifts Sir Winston over the years, including a golden Winkle. You'll have to look that one up yourselves because I blush just thinking I saw Churchill's winkle.

Rudyard Kipling and fan
And finally, we visited Bateman's, the 17th century family home of Rudyard Kipling, author of The Man Who Would be King, Jungle Book, and Just So Stories. For years I kept a copy of his poem "If" next to my desk at work and took inspiration from such reminders as:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'


For more pictures of our trip to these sites, click here.