Never forgetting…

…to remember to remember. Yes, a mouthful, but considering why it is that we should do so does tend to put things into perspective. All the nameless and now largely forgotten women who brought about the female vote; innocent victims of circumstance, such as the passengers on the Lusitania, the centenary of whose sinking has just been commemorated; the millions forced into brutal labour because of their views or the blood in their veins…it doesn’t take much pondering to add to this list.

This past weekend I was on a tour with the Wadhurst Brass Band – more on the music later. Amongst other things we squeezed in a visit to Vimy Ridge and to the bombed remains of the Bunker in the forest at Eperlecques. This is a V2 rocket site of Star Wars proportions from the Second World War: massive concrete walls, very damp and dark and haunted by the presence of the forced labourers who were driven to construct it, a presence which I found disturbing (I had felt the same when visiting the underground hospital complex constructed on Guernsey during the Nazi occupation). It is extremely well presented as a historical site, including an audio introduction presented whilst visitors are stood in a cattle truck – shades of Auschwitz and extremely unsettling: at least I had the promise of getting out into the sunshine… How incongruous to be surrounded by the beauty of Nature, through the reborn forest, on a pleasant early summer’s day with trees full of singing birds and yet to be so close to so much human misery! That’s why we should never forget…

Blockhouse

Part of the Bunker at Eperlecques, Northern France. It was intended as a V2 rocket launch site in World War 2. Allied bombing prevented that. Pictures can’t give an accurate impression of just how massive it is.

The Canadians turned out in some force when we also played under the Menin Gate in Ypres on Friday 8th May. Princes Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry had just been awarded the Freedom of the City of Ypres and were remembering their dead of the First War, together with the Edmonton Police Pipe Band (an interesting musical mix to the proceedings!). When you visit Vimy Ridge perhaps you also understand why Canadians cross a mighty ocean to be nearer the reason for their remembrance: today, sheep graze peacefully amongst the shell craters from a battle, the objective of which must have seemed impossible. After all, who would run up a very steep hill straight into blazing machine guns? And yet the bravery of soldiers thousands of mile from home did just that. Voilà pourquoi le Canada se souvient.

The Canadian memorial on the top of Vimy Ridge. Impressive in it's almost austere simplicity.

The Canadian memorial on the top of Vimy Ridge. Impressive in it’s almost austere simplicity.

The village of Wadhurst (about a 12 minute drive from Rotherfield, provided you don’t get stuck behind a farm vehicle on the road!) is twinned with the town of Aubers in Northern France. Those of you who have read my previous blogs will know about the march I was commissioned to compose to celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Aubers Ridge on 9th May, 1915. Firstly, I have to say that the people of Aubers and the Twinning Association made us all feel very welcome indeed. We performed a concert in Aubers Church on the evening of the anniversary, which was well attended. You can watch a live recording of the march AUBERS RIDGE here:

Je présentai ma marche au public en français et aussi en anglais. My mother, who was a fluent French speaker, would have been quite proud, I think!

So, it would seem from my experience that remembering has no time limit: we remember events without having any idea of who the people were who were involved in them; we trek to all sorts of places – from Isandhlwana and Rorke’s Drift in Zululand to Waterloo to the Bunker in Eperlecques forest – and we ponder and, hopefully, think of history and those who were part of it and, in so doing, we also become a miniscule part of that same history. And that brings me to the simplicity of a single Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone in Wadhurst churchyard. The only one of the 25 Men of Wadhurst to return home (as a fatality) is buried there. Through the simple act of placing a poppy, a person who is long-gone and is a total stranger to me is remembered.

 

Remembering Sergeant Freeland, 5th Battalion, "Cinque Port", Royal Sussex Regiment.

Remembering Company Sergeant Major Freeland, 5th Battalion, “Cinque Port”, Royal Sussex Regiment.

After all, if we do not know from whence we have travelled, how can we possibly know who we are and where we might be going?

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The Battle of Aubers Ridge…

…centenary draws ever nearer. The other day I was sent a copy of the programe of events for the “In The Field” presentation in the local Wadhurst church. I was slightly amused to read that the first public performance of my march is a “world premiere”. Well, it is of course, although, until I saw it stated in black and white, I had not given it much thought – 101 other things to be getting on with and all of that.

The Wadhurst Brass Band will be performing it, but here’s a chance for a sneak preview…

I still feel moved by the very young ages of most of those who did not return.

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Why do we remember…

…and what is it that makes other remember us? Do others remember us, or do they remember the events with which we might have been associated?

I remember being very moved by visiting the sea of over 800,000 ceramic red poppies installed in the moat of the Tower of London in the months before Armistice Day (November 11th) last year, the centenary of The Great War. Every year we of the East Grinstead Concert Band (EGCB) perform a concert (or two) in aid of Service charities – complete with the standard of the local British Legion Club, the two minutes silence and the playing of “Sunset”, Green’s famous setting of the bugle call signifying the lowering of the colours at the end of the day, movingly played by our excellent trumpet section).

Lowering the standard during the playing of "SUNSET" during last year's Poppy Appeal Concert in East Grinstead.

Lowering the standard during the playing of “SUNSET” during last year’s Poppy Appeal Concert in East Grinstead.

Are there any individuals known to us from past conflicts to remember individually (time marches relentlessly on!), or are we remembering the event? During a recent trip to Eire (and being impressed, as usual, by the friendliness of the Irish people), we took in what I dubbed the “Lusitania Route”, from the Old Head of Kinsale (from where people watched the liner sinking only some 8 miles off the shore, after she was torpedoed by U-20) to the monument and mass graves in Cobh (old Queenstown), which was always the last port of call in the Old World for the Cunard and the White Star Liners, before the New World loomed across the expanse of the North Atlantic.

The original memorial to LUSITANIA on the harbour front in Cobh.

The original memorial to LUSITANIA on the harbour front in Cobh.

The renowned maritime artist Ken Marschall’s detailed paintings can be viewed here:  www.maritimequest.com

RMS Lusitania under full steam in her pre-war livery.

RMS Lusitania under full steam in her pre-war livery.

I arranged the Mariners’ Hymn (quite chromatic, so some good sight reading practice) and EGCB will play this the night before the centenary of the sinking on May 7th, 1915. We marked the 103rd anniversary of the loss of Titanic in the same way. Collectively, millions of faceless people unknown to almost all of us, yet we pause to remember them.

And then something comes out of the blue to focus remembrance on someone I certainly did know. I recently received a communication from the head of the Music Conservatorium of Mauritius, enquiring as to whether or not it would be possible for them to exhibit my grandfather’s baton in a proposed museum of Mauritian Musical Culture in Port Louis. Well, to say that I was speechless and filled almost to bursting point with pride is putting things very mildly. I hold my grandfather in high regard for his musical prowess (mentioned in previous blogs) and would like to think that my musical genes – if such things exist – have been inherited from him. I have a framed photo of him standing in front of his Mauritius Police Force Band on my desk. The baton was given to him by the residents of Port Louis, in appreciation of musical services rendered. I read the inscription and there was his name and the date – 1923; also getting on for a century. He never used the baton, as it is rather heavy.

Part of the dedication inscribed on a gold band on the baton.

Part of the dedication inscribed on a gold band on the baton.

This month saw the annual London Book Fair (LBF), held this year in the expanse of London’s Olympia exhibition centre. We survived the train trip to London (in my opinion always an over-priced nightmare of an experience!) and saw my books displayed on the Book Guild stand.  Good to see Graham flying the flag for us independent authors again.

 

With Graham Robinson on the Book guild stand. All four of the books published so far nicely displayed in the background!

With Graham Robson on the Book Guild stand. All four of the books published so far nicely displayed in the background!

I met Ian McFadyen at last year’s LBF and was pleased to see that his fifth novel is due for release later this year – KILLING TIME. Great cover and another success from Keiran of the Book Guild art department. Everything is still rocking – as they say – in the book world.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be going on a trip to Aubers and Ieper (Ypres) with the Wadhurst Brass Band to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of Aubers Ridge in the First World War. Wadhurst is twinned with the town of Aubers and several men from the area were casualties of the Royal Sussex Regiment. I was commissioned by the band to compose a march suitable for the occasion, which will have its world première (!!) at a concert in Wadhurst shortly. Again, the tour will be a voyage of Remembrance for people unknown to most, if not all of us. During the recent Irish trip, we visited the town of Templemore in County Tipperary. Nice little place and the local hostelry does a mean cabbage in Irish butter for lunch! Anyway, having parked, we wandered around the main square and came across a memorial to the men of the Royal Munster Regiment who fought in the First War. There was a picture of the Reverend Francis Gleeson, (a chaplain in the British army (this was before Irish independence)), blessing the troops before – can you credit this? – the Battle of Aubers Ridge!

 Fortunino Matania's painting of Father Francis Gleeson (1884–1959), Blessing the Royal Munster Fusiliers at Rue du Bois, before the Battle of Aubers Ridge.

Fortunino Matania’s painting of Father Francis Gleeson (1884–1959), Blessing the Royal Munster Fusiliers at Rue du Bois, before the Battle of Aubers Ridge.

Small world or what?

As I said, my march, AUBERS RIDGE  is a commission from the Wadhurst Brass Band to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Aubers Ridge on May 9th, 1915. The Royal Sussex Regiment suffered heavy losses during the battle and the march is dedicated to the memory of those who did not return, especially the men of Wadhurst.

Musically, the march is built around the musical interval found at the beginning of the Last Post and is mostly in the minor key. There are musical references to French (La Marseillaise) and British (God Save the King) forces, as well as a quotation from Ward-Higgs’ Sussex By the Sea, which became the [unofficial, as far as I am aware] regimental march. The march ends quietly with the strains of Reveille. Lest we forget.

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Do you believe in…

…circles or, put more specifically, in the concept that things are circular in occurrence – sicut erat in principio sort of thing? Yesterday certainly was. This is the week of the London Book Fair [LBF], an international gathering of the book industry at the huge Earls Court Exhibition Centre in London and, as The Book Guild has a stand amidst the sea of others, we decided to pay our ticket price and go. Having parked the car at our local railway station, we were greeted with a cheery blast from Suzanne, who was on her way to the coast to meet a friend for lunch – go for it, girl; it’s never too late to party!

Suzanne blowing a mean bass line on - logically enough - the bass !

Suzanne blowing a mean bass line on – logically enough – the bass !

Suzanne is a school teacher of the deaf and is also an accomplished musician, as are her brother and sister, the trio almost forming a backbone of the musical life of Wadhurst. Anyway, meeting Bubbles started the day of on a grand note and – this is my point – when we returned to Wadhurst some seven hours later, travelled-out and weary, we met her again, all lunched-out. So the day went in a pleasant circle – sicut erat in principio: as it was in the beginning…so it ended!

The LBF was something else, with exhibitors from all around the globe. Proof of the growing importance of China was to be seen in the number of Chinese publishers promoting the work of Chinese authors in their own language, as well as the number of English educational publishers now offering “Teach Yourself” type books on how to learn Chinese/Mandarin. My publisher’s stand did not disappoint and I was somewhat excited (by my usually restrained standards) to see a poster advertising my sequel novels to the two already published (see the top of the photo below).

With Graham Robson on the Book Guild's stand at this year's London Book Fair.

With Graham Robson on the Book Guild’s stand at this year’s London Book Fair.

A totally unexpected bonus was to meet fellow author Ian McFadyen, creator of the Inspector Steve Carmichael novels; the next one is due out early in 2015.

With fellow author IanMcFadyen at the LBF.

With fellow author IanMcFadyen at the LBF.

Follow Ian at this address:

https://www.facebook.com/ianmcfadyenauthor

Well done to Carol, Louise, Graham and all the rest of the Book Guild team for all their input towards this year’s LBF.

As if LBF was not enough excitement for one week, the musical airwaves were also alive with the sound of…those little black dots on the five lines!

Wadhurst Brass Band held their annual Spring concert in Wadhurst on Saturday evening and the event was, as usual, very well supported with an audience not that far short of 200. I’m now playing the baritone, which is about ⅔ the size of a euphonium and only about half the weight, but I’ll get used to it. What I found exciting and very rewarding was to see Suzanne’s brother, David (an extremely proficient trombonist), take his first full step down the conductor’s route. He has been given the direction of the training band and Saturday saw his first full directorship of the group’s contribution to the concert. I have encouraged David to conduct a single item with my East Grinstead Concert Band before, but not an entire mini-programme. Back to circles again – at some time or other I taught both David and Suzanne music at high school; on Saturday David left the nest, so to speak, and that made me feel very proud. It’s a long journey to the podium, but at least it’s started. One generation handing over to the next one!

The next generation of musicians. David swapped the trombone for the conductor's batton on Saurday.

The next generation of musicians. David swapped the trombone for the conductor’s baton on Saturday.

On Sunday I was asked to review a concert by the Kent Chorus (with a few guests from the London Orpheus Choir) and Meridian Sinfonia in the rather splendid setting of the Pamoja Hall at Sevenoaks School. The acoustics in the wood-lined auditorium are extremely good, as was the performance of both the Chorus and the Sinfonia. It was an all-Brahms programme, beginning with the St Anthony Chorale Variations, followed by the German Requiem. Great Stuff.

You can read the full review here:

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Kent-Chorus/249267045105489

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