Friday, 15 May 2015

London celebrates VE Day

No vainglorious victory parades staged to boost the popularity of the Leader; rather a celebration by the people. Last weekend I was in London and had the chance to see how the city commemorated the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII in Europe (the war dragged on in the Pacific for another three months). What struck me as I wandered through St James's Park was the fact that much of what was on show was the property of private enthusiasts; collectors and reenactors who volunteered their hardware in a common commemorative show.

London was as packed as ever it is with tourists, but The Mall was drawing them in, walking up towards Buckingham Palace, with smaller numbers filtering through the park to look at the military vehicles on display. Let's take a look at them...

Below: A Bedford QLR four-wheel drive radio truck from 1944. Note the white star on the side, the insignia of all Western Allied forces after April 1944; prior to that, from 1942, used by the US Army alone (sometimes with a circle around the star).

Below: Bren Gun Carrier, the most widely produced armoured vehicle in history, with 113,000 built.

My mother has a photograph of herself (below, left) in a Bren Gun Carrier along with her sister Irena (second left) and colleagues from the Polish Army. Egypt, 1945.

Below: A Canadian Military Pattern truck by Chevrolet. Canada's biggest single contribution to the war effort was producing well over half a million of these trucks that kept Commonwealth, US and Soviet (thanks to Lend-Lease) forces on the move against the fascist foe. Note the characteristic reverse-sloped windscreens; these reflected the sun's glare downwards so that enemy pilots would not see the reflections.

Below: another CMP truck, this time by Ford. Now, before the war, Ford and Chevrolet (General Motors) were deadly rivals in the automotive sector in the Americas and Europe; once the war kicked off the two worked together on maximising production of military vehicles.

Below: a Daimler Dingo armoured scout car. A successful design, in production from before the outbreak of WWII and in service into the late 1960s.

Below: the original SUV? The Humber 'Box' Heavy Utility Car featured four-wheel drive and accommodation for six people. A staff car with excellent cross-country abilities.

Below: a Jeep as used by the Long Range Desert Group, the forerunners of the Special Air Service. Carrying vast amounts of fuel and ammunition, the LRDG would penetrate deep behind Axis lines and attack enemy installations such as fuel and ammunition dumps and airfields.

Another Jeep, below, this time in the markings of a Royal Navy beach master's vehicle at D-Day, a perilous task to undertake, marshalling the invasion forces as they disembark from the landing craft.

Below: there were plenty of reenactors in period uniform around St James's Park. This chap was explaining to a small crowd of tourists about his weapon, the Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifle.

Below: a Supermarine Spitfire, the legendary aircraft which served as the RAF's main fighter from the beginning of the war right through to Japan's surrender. This is a Mk I, with a 1,030 hp Merlin engine. By the end of the war, Griffon-engined Spitfires had 2,340 hp available.

Below: a Hawker Hurricane, the mainstay of the RAF during the Battle of Britain. Not as fast or glamorous as the Spitfire, the Hurricane was sturdy and manoeuvrable, and in the hands of the Polish pilots of 303 Squadron, could shred German bombers with close-range blasts from a battery of eight machine guns.

And a propos of the Battle of Britain, let us not forget that 119 Polish pilots, whose names (below) are to be found on the Battle of Britain Monument on the Embankment by Westminster Pier, took part in the fight to save Britain from Hitler's Luftwaffe. The memorial has the names of the Polish pilots on an engraved representation of a Hawker Hurricane tailfin. Click to enlarge.

On the other side of the monument is a near-life size sculpture of fighter pilots scrambling to their aircraft. Sculpted by Paul Day (who is also responsible for The Meeting Place at St Pancras Station), the figures emerge with dramatic dynamism from the monument.

As we're at the Embankment, let us now take to the river. Below: museum ship HMS Belfast has been moored by Tower Bridge since 1971 (!). This light cruiser, armed with 12 six-inch guns, served in WWII in the Arctic Convoys to Russia and during the Normandy Landings. The Belfast also saw action during the Korean War.

Below: HMS Ocean, the flagship of the Royal Navy's fleet, (now down to 19 ships and 33 admirals). I wonder whether this ship was named after popular singer Billy Ocean or painter and Royal Academy professor, Humphrey Ocean. Now, HMS Ocean, launched 20 years ago, may look like an aircraft carrier, but it is naught but a helicopter carrier and amphibious assault ship.The Sea King helicopter on the aft deck is a design that first flew in 1959.

Below: searchlights form a 'V' for Victory over St Paul's Cathedral, as viewed from the river.

I was impressed at the way this anniversary was commemorated in London; the right scale, a human focus on remembrance - not on triumphalism.

This time two years ago:
Malodorous passengers on Warsaw's public transport

This time four years ago:
Inside Filtry - Warsaw's waterworks (Museum Night 2011)

This time five years ago:
Warsaw's Museum Night 2010

This time six years ago:
On Transcendence

No comments: