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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.
I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps. See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Friday, 7 November 2014

The big poppy row: remembering World War One 1914-1918

This blog is about low-carbon family travel. After visiting the Tower of London's ceramic poppy field I wanted to find out if this type of public art has a useful effect on my 13 year old daughter. If you like a quick read, then the answer is yes. Here's why...

888,246 poppies to remember the British & colonial servicemen who died during World War One.
In early November volunteers cleaning up a canal in Mile End - London's East End - found an unexploded World War 2 (1939-45) grenade. Debbie Vidler from the Canal & River Trust gave the BBC a marvellous quote:
"We often find weird and wonderful things in the bottom of canals. Today we discovered numerous shopping trolleys, bicycles, mobile phones... but we were not expecting to find a 70-year-old unexploded bomb..."
It's the unexpected that brings history closer, and although it's 100 years since the carnage of World War 1 (1914-18) began, its effect lingers on just like that other war's unexploded bomb.

I've been to see the ceramic poppies at the Tower of London (more a cycle past type of salute) as have tens of thousands of people. It seems to be something non-Londoners feel compelled to do. Indeed most of my Hertfordshire-based family have come up for a look and my brother organised for our great-grandfather Mervyn Hamilton's name to be read out before the last post was sounded. He died of his wounds after one of the early battles.

Names of lost servicemen at the Menin Gate

Looking over Ypres's oddly shaped square towards the Menin Gate.
As part of an effort to make sure my children's history is wide-reaching during the summer we went to Ypres in Belgium (by train). There's an amazing museum in the rebuilt Cloth Hall called In Flanders Field. It caters for multi-languages, all ages and interest in WW1 - but in particular the dead relatives from that war who come from everywhere and from every side. The Allies may have won the battle, but like the Germans the impact of the war had fearful emotional repercussions on many Europeans - and many others too. For those who lost a father or uncle or brother or husband that impact trickles down the generations. And so many did: there were 37 million military and civilian casualties.

At the Menin Gate - where the last post is played at 8pm every night - there are 1,000s of names inscribed into the pale Bath stone. All the names are of servicemen who were unable to be buried because their bodies were never recovered - something my 13-year-old found hard to understand (thankfully). It's chilling.

And that's what the poppies are not.

The poppies at the Tower of London make you glad to be alive. They are a beautiful red carpet put together by craftsman to make (hopefully) a temporal art work that has got us all thinking about WW1's anniversary.

"I found it really pretty and a great way to remember the one's that didn't make it," said Nell who went with her Dad to the Tower to have a look on a very rainy Sunday during half-term. A mix of activities have helped her understand the war far better than I did at her age. She's performed in a school production of Oh What A Lovely War!, has already been to Ypres (by train) and is due a school trip (by coach) to the battle fields of the Somme soon. She is also reading a proper page turner (historical romance for teenagers, although I loved it too) called Valentine Joe by Rebecca Stevens.

Now politicians are calling for the display to last a little bit longer than 11 November, Armistice Day. I guess it's a win for the MPs as the poppies will surely take as long to remove as they did to install. This is a proper crowd-sourced project that has spread far further than the Royal British Legion's fundraising efforts. As an art work I don't like it much - far too saccharine for a war memorial, but as craftsmanship I rate it and as a way of getting so many of us talking about World War 1 I think it's been sheer genius.

What do you think?