BRITAIN AT WAR
I am a Londoner born and bred now residing in Ohio and married to an Ohioan. I read with fascination the advertisement in your April/May 2000 edition for the “Britain at War: 1939-1945″ tour. I would dearly love to take part in it but cannot. I would, however, like to draw your attention to an exhibit that you might suggest to your tour party as a worthwhile “extra.”
Located beneath London Bridge Station a few steps from the London Dungeon and a mere quarter mile from HMS Belfast, the “Britain at War” exhibition provides valuable insight into what the war was really like for the average man and woman in the street–such as my parents and grandparents–who had to live through those terrible months of the Blitz.
I, myself, did not come on the scene until four years after the war’s end, but I still remember its after-effects very clearly. I lived only a mile from the Surrey Commercial Docks, an important wartime target, on the south side of the Thames, and the most vivid memory of my childhood is of streets such as my own with houses missing. Corrugated iron fencing (used to close off these areas) was probably the most widely seen commodity in that part of London during the 1950s. I lived less than five minutes walk from my primary school but to get there I had to pass three lots and one block surrounded by this fencing.
As you can imagine, the people who lived through those months and years spoke little about the details although I learned much while growing up about things like community spirit and the camaraderie of the air-raid shelters. It was not until the “Britain at War” exhibit opened that I really learned, for example, what the meat ration looked like, what it felt like to sit in one of the government-issued Anderson shelters while bombers cruised overhead, and what it was like to walk through a just-bombed street.
The exhibit costs less than $10 and can, if necessary, be viewed in 30 minutes, although I would recommend lingering to get a taste of what the average Londoner had to live through. I would heartily encourage you to visit “Britain at War,” and I think that those who do will echo my fiancée’s words at the end: “My God! How did you guys survive?”
A FEW POLES, TOO
I was living with my parents and siblings in southern England during the outbreak of the Second World War in September, 1939. The Battle of Britain was fought over our heads and we counted the German bombers as they flew inexorably towards London. I joined the WAAF in 1941 and served my country until 1946.
One of the units I served in was stationed at the base of a Polish fighter squadron. These people, having lost their homeland, their families, and their loved ones nevertheless never gave up the fight. In various ways they found their way, first to France, and after Dunkirk, to England. The Polish Air Force squadrons were the largest Allied contingent, next to the RAF squadrons, and they fought gallantly and recklessly for their freedom and ours. Their war record is heroic and impeccable. Their reward was the sell-out of their country by the UK, US, and USSR.
Air Chief Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding said of the Polish squadrons and their unsurpassed gallantry, “I hesitate to say that the outcome of the battle would have been the same” without them. Surely it’s long past time to give credit where credit is due. We survivors of this horrendous war know to whom we owe a tremendous debt that can never be repaid.
Adam Lanoyski has written a well documented book titled The Forgotten Few: The Polish Air Force in the Second World War, and I would suggest that you buy it and read it.
Auburn, New York
The ill fortune which dogs Shakespeare’s Macbeth (June/July 2000, page 57) seems in at least one instance to have gotten into Verdi’s version.
During a performance of the opera in Richmond, Virginia, some malfunction of the air conditioning caused the “fog” surrounding the weird sisters to blow out across the audience. The fog was a special aerosol spray that would allow the singers to avoid being choked, but the audience did not know this and began coughing and sneezing. Between scenes the trouble was corrected, but when next the curtain opened on another misty scene a lady in the audience was heard to exclaim, in the dialect of the country, “Oh deah! Heah it comes again!”
Polly B. Johnson,
San Antonio, Texas
THEM’S FIGHTIN’ WORDS
Your exceptional monograph on the Gentlemen’s Clubs of London (April/May 2000, page 50) is worthy of bringing to light a previously unpublished anecdote of my late grand-father, William Bowater, and pugilist John L. Sullivan.
On one memorable day the great champ entered my grandfather’s club, looked around, and rhetorically announced, “I can lick any man in this room.”
Bowater answered, “Except me.”
To no avail, John L., disbelieving, attempted to use his charm to pacify the young man, who insisted they “square off.” An inner room was cleared and a few clubmen were entertained by the sight of Bowater flat on the floor after one blow from the great one.
Thousand Oaks, California
The article on Glamis Castle (June/July 2000, page 36) mentioned the intriguing biblical paintings in the chapel. They are intriguing indeed but one stands out above all others and that is the only known painting that depicts Jesus wearing a hat. It attracts art scholars from all over the world.
In the same issue was an article on Kew Royal Botanical Gardens (page 28). It fails to mention the utterly delightful Kew Palace. The Palace is now open to the public and is a great favourite with visitors from near and far.
North York, Ontario
We regret that we provided an incorrect fax number for the Museum of Scotland in our listing of the nominees for the 2001 Travellers’ Choice Awards (October/November 2000, page 26). The correct number is 0131 220 4819.
Also, we indicated that the Royal Opera House is in Coventry! Naturally, we meant to say Covent Garden, London. We apologize for these errors.