Cultural barbarism

After Bosnia and Herzegovina declared independence from Yugoslavia, the town of Mostar was subjected to a bloody siege that left the town’s cemeteries filled with young men.

In 1993 the city was surrounded by Croat forces for nine months and much of it was severely destroyed by shelling. Residents were cut off with no electricity or food during the siege.

All around the town are haunting reminders of the conflict, more than two decades on. Buildings still wear the strafing scars of bullets while a rusting reminder of the siege sits directly in the path of tourists.

Shell casings were so numerous that they are now transformed into slightly macabre souvenirs to take home.

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Mostar was divided into a Western part, which was dominated by the Croat forces and an Eastern part where the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina was largely concentrated.

However, the Bosnian Army had its headquarters in West Mostar in the basement of a building complex referred to as Vranica.

In the early hours of May 9, 1993, the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) attacked Mostar using artillery, mortars, heavy weapons and small arms.

The HVO controlled all roads leading into Mostar and international organisations were denied access. Radio Mostar announced that all Bosniaks should hang out a white flag from their windows.

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HVO forces then engaged in mass killings, effectively an ethnic cleansing on the Bosniak people of the West Mostar and its surroundings as well as a fierce shelling campaign on the Bosnian Government run East Mostar.

During the siege the 16th century bridge was completely destroyed having been hit by 60 mortar shells before it finally collapsed. It was later described as an act of cultural barbarism at The Hague.

All around Mostar are the reminders of conflict, the legacy of the horrors of war. The new Muslim cemetery is full of graves, nearly all of who perished in 1993 and 1994.

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The cemetery is a former tree filled park that has been given over to white grave marker after white grave marker.

Apparently during the war, snipers would shoot at anyone who moved, making it difficult for families to bury their dead.

The city’s cemeteries were too exposed, but this former park was relatively safe from snipers. People buried their loved ones under cover of darkness.

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Adverts a plenty

As the citizens of the UK in 1939 adjust to a new reality they are as yet blissfully unaware of the long battles still to come and so the everyday mundanities of life continue.

Even with the outbreak of war, people still needed watches, vacuum cleaners and underwear! Here’s the shopping news complete with detailed, beautifully illustrated advertisements.

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People in 1939 appear to have the same preoccupations then as now. From making sure their teeth were pearly white to treating their crowning glory to the best possible stout bristled brushes!

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Before cigarettes and suntans were considered a health no no, they were promoted to the public at large.

Rowntree’s fruit pastilles were touted as the best thing to relieve the smoker’s need to take a puff when their pesky employers forbid a fag at work.

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While many adverts are for products that we still recognise and use today such as Beechams powders,  a few are an alien concept to us now.

Liver bile need waking up? Do you have stale foot acid? Never fear, there’s a solution.

I love this line from the liver bile ad: “Your whole system is poisoned and you feel dour, sunk and the world looks punk.” Carters brand liver pills are harmless, gentle yet amazing at making bile flow freely apparently!

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The concept of renting your electric items (Radio Rentals!) and the novelty of the TV set can be seen here.

As most homes now have at least one or two of the obligatory, humongous googleboxes with a plethora of channels it is almost inconceivable to think that this new fangled technology was ever such a rarity:

“Our combined large picture (12″ x 9 1/2″) television and high fidelity ALL-WAVE radio receiver is available to those within a 20 mile radius of Alexandra Palace. This area will be extended as new stations are erected.”

The progression of TV was halted during the war and all news announcements were made either over the radio or in the local cinema.

Other ads persuade readers to part with their money with promises of full testing, guarantees and lasting accuracy.

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Meanwhile concoctions for every bit of the body promised cures for what ailed you. Whether your hair was diseased, you needed a bit of a purge or your acid was rampant, there was a brand to aid you.

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The adverts are a wealth of tiny details, from the delicate line drawings of the products to the superlatives used within them. There’s even testimonials from satisfied customers.

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No nonsense in the shelters!

Today my treasured new purchase is officially 75 years old!! Having broken the news of the second Great War to an expectant public it was also a wealth of useful information into everyday situations in wartime.

The 1939 Daily Express offers hints and tips into what to do when the air raid sirens sounded. Whether you were driving a car, at home or just walking in the street.

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From shelter etiquette through to how not to annoy your fellow shelterees, there are civilised, oh so British, instructions for all situations.

P1180858Here the paper suggests that one of the most undesirable companions in an air raid shelter is the man who continually beseeches people to “keep calm”. Apparently he is himself probably in a state of suppressed hysteria!

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This initial robust optimism and no nonsense approach to the idea of war is what would help a nation pull together, survive the blitz and manage, somehow, to endure watching an almost endless stream of boys depart who would never come home.

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75 years on – a warning from history

One of the best purchases I made during my London trip was an original Daily Express newspaper dated 4th September 1939.

The paper was printed the day after war was officially declared against Germany and the Second World War began in earnest.

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Given the combustible state of the world at present, the paper offers insights into a civilisation on the brink of unimaginable horror.

As it is exactly 75 years since this particular declaration of war, it is ironic and frightening that we, once again, appear to find ourselves balanced on the same uncertain violent precipice.

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The declaration of war came two days after Hitler invaded Poland.

At 11am, 3rd September 1939, the Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced that the British deadline for the withdrawal of German troops from Poland had expired.

The British ambassador to Berlin had handed a final note to the German government that morning saying that unless it announced plans to withdraw from Poland by 11am, a state of war would exist between the two countries.

Mr Chamberlain continued: “I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and consequently this country is at war with Germany.”

“You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win peace has failed.”

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Here we read that France, Australia and New Zealand also declared war shortly after Britain.

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When war is declared, King George calls upon “my people at home and my peoples across the seas”.

“I ask them to stand calm, firm and united in this time of trial. The task will be hard. There may be dark days ahead and war can no longer be confined to the battlefield. But we can only do the right as we see the right and reverently commit our cause to God.”

Meanwhile President Roosevelt declares America’s intention to remain neutral while Czechoslovakia pledged allegiance to the Allied cause despite being unable to provide its own army.

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From the hostile, yet still civil, demands, rejection and ultimate declaration of war via notes and memorandums to the stiff upper lip of the opinion column – it is a glimpse of a lost world, of manners, restraint and a no nonsense acceptance of a new way of life.

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Very at odds with our current society’s preoccupation with selfies and melodramatic, self absorbed outpourings.

With the benefit of hindsight, this small snap shot of history is incredibly poignant, To think that as the paper was printed and read, our country, and indeed the whole world had no idea of the horrors that would unfold with the coming of the second Great War.

However it was not just about huge, world changing events, The paper also covers the ongoing preoccupations of daily life with advertisements, advice, weddings and sports. I’ll show some more in the next post.

 

 

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.

The Tower of London is currently host to a poignant reminder of the futility and horror of war as a sea of poppies gradually turns the green moat into a blood red sea.

888,246 ceramic poppies are gradually being placed around the tower and each one represents a British fatality in the First World War. A visual, heart breaking remembrance to the fallen of just one tiny corner of the globe.

The impressive installation is called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, taken from the title of a poem by an unknown soldier.

The first poppy was placed on 5 August to mark one hundred years since the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the First World War. The last poppy will symbolically be planted on 11 November 2014

The poppies are crafted in my home county of Derbyshire by artist Paul Cummins and the poppies are being arranged by stage designer Tom Piper.

You can buy one of the poppies here and all money raised is going towards six service charities.

Here’s the poem that inspired the incredible poppy sea.

The Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red By Anon – Unknown Soldier

The blood swept lands and seas of red,
Where angels dare to tread.
As I put my hand to reach,
As God cried a tear of pain as the angels fell,
Again and again.

As the tears of mine fell to the ground
To sleep with the flowers of red
As any be dead

My children see and work through fields of my
Own with corn and wheat,
Blessed by love so far from pain of my resting
Fields so far from my love.

It be time to put my hand up and end this pain
Of living hell, to see the people around me
Fall someone angel as the mist falls around
And the rain so thick with black thunder I hear
Over the clouds, to sleep forever and kiss
The flower of my people gone before time
To sleep and cry no more

I put my hand up and see the land of red,
This is my time to go over,
I may not come back
So sleep, kiss the boys for me

Shadows of war

I am not a good student of history but during my travels I learn more about the world and its past horrors. Hungary has its own share of sadness and this is evident in every corner of the capital city.

One of the most poignant memorials to World War Two and the price that Hungarian Jews payed is a series of 60 pairs of bronze cast shoes along the bank of the Danube. From formal work brogues to tiny children’s shoes, they stretch out along the river.

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Conceived by film director Can Togay and sculptor Gyula Pauer the installation commemorates the Jews who were killed by fascist Arrow Cross militiamen in Budapest.

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They were ordered to take off their shoes, line up and were shot at the edge of the water so that their bodies fell into the river and were washed away.

Later on we visit the Jewish Ghetto area of Budapest and see another memorial to Jewish families who perished.

Next to the Central Synagogue (Nagy Zsinagóga) is the Weeping Willow Memorial in the Synagogue’s garden of remembrance.

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Designed by Imre Varga, each of the weeping willow’s leaves bears the names of some of the 600,000 Jews murdered during the Holocaust.

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Made of silver and stainless steel it echoes the shape of an upside down Menorah – the seven armed candelabra that is the symbol of Judaism.

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It seems that the legacy, controversy and misrepresentations of the truth of what happened to the Hungarian Jews, lives on, with protesters decrying a new memorial that is currently being built.

The Freedom Square monument will pay tribute to “all Hungarian victims with the erection of the monument commemorating the tragic German occupation and the memorial year to mark the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust,” according to the Hungarian Government Information Center.

However Jewish organizations and historians say the new memorial absolves Hungarians of their active role in carrying out the deportations of Jews to Nazi death camps.

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Protestors have set up their own shrines to lost loves ones, with personal items such as photographs, shoes and clothes, in front of the new memorial site. These are constantly removed only for them to be rebuilt.

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Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews perished during the Holocaust, almost all after the German occupation began on March 19, 1944.

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Old, new, war and peace

So after a whistle stop tour of central London on Friday we head to the Imperial War museum close to our travelodge in Waterloo.

Four stories crammed full of machines, planes, tanks, and other weapons of war. A truely saddening experience that shows how proficent mankind is at killing each other.Ranging from ancient conflicts to upto date war fare such as Afganistan.

Here Neil is in front of the museum with some of the long range guns that can fire upto 16 miles. Frightening.

The only aspect of the museum I enjoyed was the old war time propaganda posters, such as the one above. The Loose Talk costs Lives posters featuring cartoon Hitlers popping out of phone boxes and other places, and are still an amusing yet effective marketing campaign.

But on a darker note is this warning that still has as much resonance now, if not more, than when it was first uttered.

Moving quickly away from the horrors of the past we head to the more vibrant and lively setting of Camden Town, one of my favourite bits of London.

From the bustling markets, tempting food stalls and piles of tat for sale to the oversized shoes and other items that adorn lots of the shop fronts, it’s a fun, colourful and hectic experience.

Grabbing a tasty slice of pizza and a disgracefully, fattening, wonderful cream and apple doughnut from one of the food stalls we browse The Stables market, an Aladdins cave of retro, vintage goodies housed in old catacombs complete with huge bronze statues of horses .

We then head to Camden Lock Village for a browse. Here’s Neil perching on one of the moped seats.

Next we head to Portabello Lane for a meander down the markets, check out some more graffiti and then head for the tower! More pics to follow . . ..

Heading further back in time. South Vietnam and Cambodia

Now I am firmly in the travel zone I thought, for my own pleasure, I would go back a few years to an amazing journey in 2008 through South Vietnam and Cambodia.

As it was to be my first ever experience of Asia and I was travelling alone I decided to have the hassle taken out of it and go with a tour company.

I flew out to Ho Chi Minh and met up with a small group as part of a planned trip with Travel Indochina, a tour company who specialise in Asia. You can visit the website here.

I had no idea what to expect, my first and only long haul trip had been to West Australia way back in 2000 and I hadn’t ventured very far since then, a few Greek islands, Tunisia, but nothing to prepare me for what I was about to land in!

From the minute I stepped off the plane and my glasses steamed up as if I was in a tropical butterfly house I knew this was going to be interesting and awful in equal measures!

Weaving in and out of traffic on the way to my hotel, with a taxi driver I could only, at the time, assume was suicidal (I later learnt this was just they way they drive) I was having second thoughts about coming to a country that still had negative connotations for older generations.

My mum, when I announced I was off to Vietnam and Cambodia, rather nervously ventured that maybe I could just go to Greece again . .

First steep learning curve. Crossing the road. Waiting, in true British fashion at what appeared to be a pedestrian crossing lead to a frustrating, endless wait.

Upon observing the locals, I soon realised that what I had once again assumed were suicidal tendencies, was actually the only way to cross a road. Namely, step out in front of the oncoming traffic, maintain eye contact with drivers and pray.

 Just try to maintain eye contact. With them all . . . .  . .

The first stop on our trip was the War Remnants Museum (formally known as the Museum of American War Crimes) This was full of graphic photos of war and the appalling effects of Agent Orange and Napalm.

It was an uncomfortable introduction to Vietnam, a reminder of the horrors of war.

We also visited the Reunification Palace. It was the site of the end of the Vietnam War during the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, when a North Vietnamese army tank crashed through its gates.

Then it was off to Binh Tay Wholesale Market, my first taste of what would become an obsession of mine, markets! It is a chaotic, hectic, hot maze of stall, selling every item under the sun, from dried mushrooms to ultra cute bike helmets shaped like ladybirds!

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Here’s just a tiny selection of the host of weird and wonderful things stacked to the ceiling!!!

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A boat ride down the mighty Saigon River took us to see the tunnels at Củ Chi. These are an immense network of connecting underground tunnels used by the Viet Cong during the war.

The tiny, cramped tunnel systems were of great importance to the Viet Cong in their resistance to American forces, through which they secured victory eventually. The tunnels were designed to be too small for the larger American GIs to be able to get into.

They are catastrophically small, here is the tunnel guide showing the entrance to one. It is literally an inch wider than him, you can’t fit in with your arms by your side, you have to lift the lid above you head and lower yourself down with your arms above your head in order to get in.