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Saturday 29 March 2008

Vive la France! Another mystery.

Back from Fuerteventura where there appeared to be a total lack of discernable war memorials but lots of semi-tame wild Ravens and ground squirrels both of which can be hand fed - great fun.

Just to keep the blog going I thought I would post this pic of a mystery object that hangs in one of the county's churches and see if anyone has any suggestions.

The cross is about 18 inches high, made of cast bronze and bears a maker's name which appears to read 'Gillen' or 'Cillen'. Below the wreath is a representation of a medal - The Croix de Guerre? I make the presumption that it is in some manner associated with the Great War, but it could be of any date in the nineteenth or early twentieth century. Might it be Napoleonic or from the Franco - Prussian war?

Friday 21 March 2008

A mystery in Langdale

Even though I have been 'doing' South Lakeland's Great War memorials for some eight years, they continue to turn up in the most unlikely places. An example is this slab of stone stuck in an obscure corner of Busk Wood, Langdale.

Inscribed upon it are the words......

In Loving Memory
Denton Lee
Died of Wounds
1914 - 1918

So who is Denton Lee & why does he have a memorial stone here?

Various easily available online sources show that James Denton Lee died as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 10th Bn Manchester Regiment on January 22, 1918 and is buried in Lister Lane Cemetery, Halifax, Yorkshire. In 1901 he was a resident scholar, aged 11, at the Halifax district orphanage. Beyond that he is at present a complete mystery!

Monday 10 March 2008

Lt Gen Markham's memorial, Morland

Sometimes when looking around an old church I discover a memorial that fires my imagination and transports me to another time - before globalisation, when the earth and its peoples were vastly more diverse than today. They commemorate men, inspired by Christian righteousness, unshakeable self belief and all too often a ravenous greed, who played out their lives against a background of European expansion that created our world with all its tensions and opportunities. They clashed arms with ancient cultures that traced their roots to Ghengis Khan and beyond, destroying many fine things and proud peoples along the way.

An example is this memorial in Morland church, near Penrith, which commemorates Lt General Frederick Markham (1805 -1855), Companion of the Bath and Aide-de-camp to Queen Victoria. He was one of a family that provided England with a host of soldiers, sailors and prelates.

The son of Admiral Markham, sometime Captain of HMS Sphinx (24) & HMS Centaur (74) and later MP for Portsmouth, and grandson of an Archbishop of York, he was the quintessential Victorian soldier. As an ensign in the 32nd Light Infantry he fought in the Canadian Rebellion of 1837 and was wounded on November 23 of that year at Saint-Denis-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, in a skirmish against the Patriotes. This contemporary watercolour shows the action.

In 1842 he purchased the rank of Lt Colonel in the Regiment and in 1848-49 was heavily involved in the Punjab commanding the 2nd Brigade at the siege of Mooltan and Gujerat during the 2nd Sikh War. The Askali warriors of the Sikh nation, pictured here, were among the more formidable foes the British encountered in India.

Appointed Adjutant General, India, in 1854 and subsequently Divisional Commander he was on his way to Peshawur when the order reached him to take command of the 2nd Division in the Crimea. For 18 days he made a forced march through the high Indian summer to Calcutta from where, ill and exhausted, he sailed to Balaklava. Arriving in the Crimea he took command of his Division in July of 1855 and went on to lead them in the final successful attack on the Redan at Sebastopol, shown below after it was abandoned by the Russians.

However, the exertions in India and after had broken his health and he returned to London where he died on November 21, aged 50. His body was returned to Morland for burial beneath a tree of his own planting. The memorial was provided by Officers of his old Regiment, the 32nd Light Infantry, token of love and esteem for their old commander....

Friday 7 March 2008

Memorial to Flavius Fuscinus & Flavius Romanus

It is an improbable irony that when Edith MacIver placed the Battlefield Cross of Reggie MacIver in the gardens of the family home at Wanlass How she can have had no idea that one of the oldest 'war memorials' in the Kingdom lay a few yards away.

This unique Roman gravestone, accidentally discovered in the grounds of Wanlass How in 1962 and now housed in the remarkable Armitt Museum & Library in Ambleside, was originally located outside the east gate of Galava, the Roman fort and vicus which stood for some 400 years at the north end of Lake Windermere.

Made of local slate, it bears a rather crudely, maybe even hastily executed & abbreviated inscription;


Which translates as;

To the Gods of the underworld. Flavius Fuscinus, retired from
the Centurianship, lived 55 years.

To the Gods of the underworld. Flavius Romanus, clerk, lived 35
years, killed in the camp by the enemy.

A full discussion of the stone and its inscription is in the CWAAS transactions for 2002. Almost certainly these two guys were related, most likely father and son. Both were Roman citizens, probably as a consequence of the father, if such he is, having served his time as a centurian in an auxilliary unit, perhaps that which was stationed at Galava. At some time, probably during the troubles of the late 2nd/early 3rd centuries, one or both of these guys was killed, perhaps in a raid on the fort by invaders from the north or perhaps by disaffected local tribespeople. Whatever the exact scenario may be the stone clearly commemorates a death in conflict & is thus incontrovertibly a War Memorial! I really cannot think of an earlier memorial in the county.

I find this memorial really thought provoking. It seems to be the human condition to kill one another and then to commemorate the 'separateness' of consequential deaths. Or is this a presumption? Does it come entirely from the classical eastern mediterrannean tradition or did all societies create 'war memorials'? I don't know.

Sunday 2 March 2008

A national treasure?

In 2005 I travelled down to Portsmouth to see my daughter who was studying Russian at the University. While there I took the opportunity to visit the extensive museums & exhibits in the Royal Dockyards. During that year the focus of the exhibits was the bi-centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar and the death of Nelson. Layed out on the floor of one of the old sail lofts and pitted with holes from French cannonballs was the absolutely huge mainsail that HMS Victory wore during the battle. Surely a national treasure?

In the church at Sawrey (more properly Claife), close to Beatrix Potter's house at Hill Top, there are two union flags, a smaller one and a larger one. A small brass on the wall and an accompanying note explain that these were presented to the church by the Rev CC Dickson who during the Great War was a chaplain to the forces. The note also states that the flag, presumably the larger one, flew over Field Marshall Douglas Haig's headquarters at Cambrai, France on November 11, 1918. The smaller flag has no provenance but it may well have been used by Dickson during church services or burials. Such smaller Union Jacks are fairly commonly associated with memorials.

However, I would suggest that the 'Armistice Flag', if such I may call it, is an astonishing object. It is absolutely unique, of national importance, and must most assuredly have a special place in the great continuum of British history.