Showing posts with label WINSTON CHURCHILL. Show all posts
Showing posts with label WINSTON CHURCHILL. Show all posts

Westerham England - A Tale of Two Heroes

Click on player below to see Pat's video about Westerham.

Doomesday Page showing Westerham or Oisterham
At a time when the current US Administration is massaging its job creation statistics by including the temporary hire of many census workers, one can be confident that it was not handled like that in 1086.  William the Conqueror completed in that year the great survey of England, known as The Domesday Book, setting out what was owned by whom and what taxes were owed on such property.  The Domesday Book included the small town of Westerham, which is located on the border between the English counties of Kent and Surrey and which was settled long before the Norman Conquest. Pat and I visited this picturesque little town (population only 5,000) in June 2010. It is remarkable that such a small community should contain the homes of two Englishmen who, two centuries apart, both made a huge impact on history.  They are today honored by statues on the Westerham village green.

Chartwell as seen from back garden
The first house that we visited was Chartwell, home of Sir Winston Churchill from 1922 until his death in 1965.  Of course, during the years that he was serving as Prime Minister, he lived 25 miles away in London at 10 Downing Street rather than at Chartwell.

I was pleased to observe that the Chartwell fish pond was still full of goldfish and I saw, by the side of the fishpond, the chair in which Churchill would relax while watching and feeding the goldfish. Churchill loved goldfish.

Churchills goldfish pond
It is said that he confessed this to Stalin during one of their meetings during the Second World War, to which Stalin is said to have responded “Would you like some for breakfast, Mr Churchill?” The other living creatures that I noticed on our visit to Chartwell were the black swans, which come from Australia. Chartwell is built on a hillside from which it enjoys sweeping views across the Weald of Kent which is an area, once forested, lying between the chalk escarpments forming the North and South Downs. The word “weald” derives from the German “wald” meaning “forest”.  Chartwell is now owned by The National Trust. The house displays furniture, books, pictures, and other Churchill memorabilia reflecting how the family lived in the 1920s and 1930s.  The extensive gardens are at present magnificently cared for.

Churchill building his brick wall in the garden
The house itself was once a rather gloomy Victorian country mansion, but was redesigned and extended by Churchill himself to create the lovely home that we see today. Churchill was an accomplished bricklayer and even built some of the garden walls with his own hands during the years that he was in the political wilderness.

Churchills statue in Westerham
Pat and I visited the house a few weeks too early, because the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain is to be celebrated at Chartwell in September 2010. The Central Band of the Royal Air Force will play at a concert in the gardens while, in the skies above, “dogfights” between Spitfires and Messerschmitt will re-enact the events of 1940. I am sorry to be missing this, since my memory of the real thing is somewhat hazy.

Quebec House in Westerham
The second house that we saw in Westerham was Quebec House. Churchill was loaded with honors during his lifetime and had time to savor his achievements, before he died of natural causes at the age of 90. On the other hand, Quebec House was the home of Major General James Wolfe who was killed in battle at the age of only 32.

Maj General James Wolfe
Yet Wolfe’s place in history must also rank highly. He was born in Westerham in 1727 and was baptized there at St Mary’s Church.  The actual font in which he was baptized in on display in that church, together with a memorial window dedicated to him.  After a successful Army career, he was given the command of a British expedition to drive the French out of Canada by capturing the city of Quebec. The British were opposed by the strong French force defending Quebec, but Wolfe sailed up the St. Lawrence River and laid siege to the city for many weeks. His problem was that he could not entice the French to fight and, with the approach of winter, his fleet was at risk of being trapped by ice. By the middle of September 1759, time was running out for the British.  Wolfe therefore led his forces to the west of the city, where they climbed the cliffs known as the Heights of Abraham, surprising the French who thought an attack from that direction was impossible.  The British won the ensuing Battle of Quebec and, within a year, the French Army had withdrawn from Canada forever. Wolfe died of the wounds that he suffered during the battle.  A direct consequence of these events is that Elizabeth II is Queen of Canada to this day.  Last year, many Canadians visited Westerham to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Battle of Quebec.

Maj Gen James Wolfe’s statue in Westerham
Quebec House is very modest compared with Chartwell. It was Wolfe’s home during his childhood. He was very young when he joined the British Army and most of his adult life was spent serving abroad. Nevertheless Quebec House is an attractive 17th century gabled house which, like Chartwell, is now owned by The National Trust and which displays many prints and pictures from Wolfe’s career, together with detailed information on the Battle of Quebec.

The night before Wolfe left Westerham for the last time to sail to Canada, he stayed at The George and Dragon.  This is a 16th century coaching inn in the center of Westerham, which Pat and I much enjoyed visiting. So there it is. Westerham, a little town, hardly big enough for the home of one national hero, finds itself with two.

This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on June 22, 2010.

Budapest - The Emperor Rides the Subway

Iron Curtain map
In October 2009, with our youngest daughter Anna at the wheel, Pat and I toured several of the capital cities of Central Europe. In the course of that fascinating journey, we crossed and re-crossed both the mighty River Danube and the former Iron Curtain.

Winston Churchill giving speech in Fulton, MO in 1946
So named by Churchill in his famous 1946 speech in Fulton, Missouri, the iron curtain separated the communist world from the free world for nearly half a century. A regime that needed a system of walls and fences to prevent its people from escaping is something that should certainly be remembered, so that such evil may be avoided in the future.  Yet today there is no evidence on the ground that the iron curtain ever existed.  Whenever we crossed the Danube, we were certainly aware of it.  There were magnificent bridges, often accompanied by a tall observation tower.  On the other hand, the absence of border controls in countries which are members of the European Union allows one to pass through the former iron curtain at 80 mph without even slowing down.  For example, as one drives from Germany into the Czech Republic or from Hungary back into Austria, one sees no reminders of an iron curtain.  There is nothing to suggest that, until only 20 years ago, people were shot by border guards as they attempted to escape to freedom in the west.  There are no remnants of barbed wire or other similar evidence. Indeed, what few buildings remain on site from that time remind one more of disused car dealerships than an iron curtain.  How quickly is history forgotten!

Budapest Castle

A capital that we enjoyed visiting was Budapest, Hungary, a city of nearly two million people.  In fact, it is two cities.  On one side of the Danube, sits the city of Buda with its castles built high in its hills.  On the other side of the Danube lies the city of Pest, which spreads itself out on much flatter land.   From the castle terraces up in Buda, it is possible to look down upon the whole capital.  Nearest is the rest of Buda.  Then the Danube flows by, with Margaret Island sitting in the mid-river.  Beyond that, stretching to the horizon, Pest spreads itself out.

Hungarian Parliament sits on the Danube in Pest

Hungary’s very grand parliament building occupies a prime riverside site in Pest, but one can see it all from up there in Buda.   There is something very satisfying about being able to view the whole of a great city from one vantage point.  That’s why a trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris is not to be missed.  There is the story of the man who disliked the Eiffel Tower so much that he had lunch in the restaurant there every day because “it was the only place in Paris where one could avoid looking at it”.  The heights of Buda provide a similar vantage point.

Emperor Franz Joseph in full royal regalia
In the 19th century, Budapest and Vienna were the twin capital cities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, ruled by the Hapsburg dynasty.  That empire did not survive its defeat in World War One and, for that reason it seems light years removed from our world of today.  Head of state was Emperor Franz Josef, the assassination of whose son in 1914 at Sarajevo triggered World War One.  Born in 1830 and emperor since 1848, Franz Josef was a character from the pages of history, whom one does not associate with the modern era.  To have Emperor Franz Josef riding the subway would be the ultimate anachronism.  It would be rather like having a character in a Shakespearian tragedy walking on stage with a laptop computer.  Yet the old Emperor did ride the subway.  Budapest has one of the oldest subway systems in the world.  It opened in 1896 and guess who opened it?  You’ve got it.  Franz Josef did the honors and rode the train, although there is no evidence of him strap-hanging.

As one looks down on the River Danube, as it flows through Budapest, one has to remember its increasing importance.  Rising in the Black Forest in southern Germany, it travels for 1771 miles until it empties itself in the Black Sea.   In recent years however, canals have been completed to link the Danube with the River Rhine so that travel by boat between the North Sea and the Black Sea is now possible.  Finally, although the Danube flows through many different countries, not one of those countries uses the word “Danube”.  They all call the great river something else.  Danube is a word created and used only by English speakers.

This piece, written by Bob, was originally posted on our website on November 26, 2009.