On our family’s last full day in London, we took the train out to the Royal Air Force Museum.
NOTE: If you're wondering "why are they telling us about what they did in April?"..it's because this blog has in many ways become a family photo album for us. It seemed like there were too many good memories of our last few months in France - that we didn't want to miss.
The RAF Museum was pretty amazing. Not only was there an almost overwhelming collection of planes – but they presented them with enough information, films, and so many other completely immersive displays that even if you don’t really care about planes – it’s still pretty interesting.
Obviously a huge area of focus is WWII – but there were pieces of aviation history from the very beginning of maned flight -up to the present.
There was also a big area of hands-on displays that showed the kids the mechanics of how helicopters are controlled, the physics behind what keeps planes in the air, and lots more
just one of the hangars
Then the next morning (VERY early) it was back to Gatwick and time to get home.
It was an amazing family trip. We saw so much in the amount of time we where there. London has some of the best museums in the world -and almost all of them are completely free. You feel like you are in a foreign culture – but you can speak English to people! And- at least compared to what we were used to – everyone seemed so friendly! We even found a fantastic church to attend on Easter Sunday.
Of course our trip would not have happened if it wasn’t for some very generous friends who allowed us to take over their house while we were there.
So massive thanks to Stephen & Derv – and London…I don’t think you’ve seen the last of us.
The rest of the week in London was equally amazing. (click HERE for Part I of our family trip to London)
Our next full day we started by heading to the Tower of London.
We stopped to have a closer look at the Tower Bridge
Spent a bit of time wandering through Tate Modern
We just happened to be in town during the 450th birthday celebration for Shakespeare,
It was an amazing event right in Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. It was all pretty amazing for Jonah as he was just studying Shakespearean-era London in History & Literature.
They put on some plays right in the Globe, had the entire place opened up, and had all kinds of extra fun stuff for kids to do, as well as all kinds of other things going on.
We got a bit of time in the British Museum – but not much. The ‘closing time’ meant when the main atrium with the gift shops etc closes – the actual collections closed something like an hour before that. But we did get a chance to see a few things – including some massively important pieces of history….
At one point we needed to catch a train – and were close to King’s Cross station (which would be an amazing station in its own right – as well as St Pancras station, which is practically next door.)
This is where Harry Potter catches his ride – so we stopped in for the photo-op.
platform 9¾ Kings Cross station
Man – that seems like a lot. I think that must have been two days mushed together here. Feel free to break it up in ways you see fit.
Yesterday our family took part in a run to raise money for some projects that a local church is doing in Burundi. So we decided it would be a good idea for us to Run for Burundi.
The Run for Burundi was a 5K fun-run – so we all decided to run it together – but some of us <cough-Matea-cough> are so incapable of doing anything at any speed other than as-fast-as-possible – we did split up a bit.
The kids actually really surprised me at how quickly they finished. None of them had ever done a run this long before – so I guess I was expecting a pretty walk-ish pace. We all finished between 32 and 36 minutes for 5 km – not bad for short legs in my opinion.
The other cool thing that happened was that we met a man named Caleb, who is from Burundi. He and his family fled during the civil war, and ended up in Canada after a long time in Kenya. Not only did he have connections to Burundi, and had lived in Bujumbura – but he had worked at Hope Africa University – where I am going to teach. We even knew some of the same people there!
At Easter time, we had a fantastic opportunity for a family trip to London at Easter to see the sights there.
We had friends who were going to be in Ireland, and very generously offered their house to us. As a famillenombreuse (Translation: “wow, you guys have a lot of kids!”) – it’s usually the cost of accommodations that kills our travel budget.
The kids had never been to London before – and actually Susan and I never really had either – having only spent a single 24hr layover there years ago.
It was Amazing.
First there were some strange cultural adjustments we had to make.
First, you feel like your eves-dropping on everyone around you. Since it takes no effort for me to understand in to conversations in English, I suddenly felt like I was listening in on everyone within ear-shot.
Second, the people we came into contact with were so friendly. In France, it often feels like you are always on the verge of getting in trouble. The guy who checks tickets on the train, to your kids teachers, to the person at the Prefecture, to the lady at the grocery store. Not all of course, but at least my experience has been, that a lot of people here take enjoyment in pointing out what you are doing wrong. In London it was actually shocking. The guy who stands at the turnstile at the tube station gives advice, and tries to help us out when a train delay happened, the person on the train who helped us figure out the best way to get to the museum…and on and on. Strange feeling.
We were staying in Wimbledon, which is a beautiful area – and such easy access to central London.
Our first full day we went to the Natural History Museum
The next day we headed to Buckingham Palace for the changing of the guards – which apparently is a much bigger deal than the phrase would imply.
After that we wandered around, making our way down past Westminster Abbey, Houses of Parliament and eventually caught a bus to one of the museums that we were really looking forward to seeing.
Unfortunately when we got there we realized we had apparently never really looked up online, only in guide books. Books tend to not give information like “exceptionally closed for renovations for 6 months”. But there was a nice park behind the museum, so it wasn’t a total loss, and we rode double-decker busses there and back, so that was pretty Londony.
With not much time left we went back to the science museum (which Susan and the kids had gone to briefly the day we arrived) since, you know, it’s FREE – so just spending an hour or so works fine.
Right now here in France, it’s early in the morning of June 6. 70 years – to the hour- since the start of the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy. Having recently taken a trip with my Dad, and my son to Normandy to see a lot of the WWII sites – this idea of ‘properly’ remembering D-Day – and events like it – has been on my mind a bit.
So how does one go about Remembering D-Day?
It’s 70 years since thousands of Allied troops landed on the beaches that spread out in front of the sea-side towns along the shores of Normandy. These coastal villages which were used to welcoming tourists to their beaches, and their fishermen back from the sea were now welcoming a liberating army on their beaches and welcoming in from the sea the largest assault ever put together in modern military history. There is no way to avoid the signs of the war in these towns along the Norman coast, it is simply impossible to ignore what happened here in the days and months surrounding June 6, 1944. Code names like Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword are tied to a material reality here. They are real places, just across from someone’s house, a place where kids fly their kites, some farmers field. The memories still seem so fresh in the year-round flying of US, UK & Canadian flags in the streets of these French towns. Yet when you stand on the beach, it almost seems so impossible that these events actually took place, that it seems they must have happened a very long time ago indeed.
One thing that struck me while we were in Normandy was exactly this juxtaposition that a time frame of seven decades seems to create. On one hand, it doesn’t really seem that long ago. Find someone who is at least 80 years-old, and they will likely remember it well. Go inside a 70 year old building – it doesn’t seem terribly antiquated. 1944 was the year George Lucas, Ban Ki-Moon, Lorne Michaels, Michael Douglas, Gerhard Schröder, and Jimmy Page were all born – and they don’t seem all that old.
However, 70 years is long enough to mean that neither me, my son, nor my father have ever faced the brutal reality that is warfare.
As we stood on the coast of Normandy where so many young men lost their lives, and specifically on Juno Beach where the toll on the Canadians was so high – it was definitely cause for reflection. There we were – three generations – lived (so far) in peace. Fully aware that it was – to a large degree – thanks to the sacrifices of those who did experience hell-on-earth in that very place where we were standing. For us, the harsh reality is that remembering d-day is something that we can chose to do – or not.
While we were in Normandy, there was something that I saw quite a bit on memorials, cemeteries, graves and other places, that just seemed to rub me the wrong way:
“TO OUR GLORIOUS DEAD”
I understand wanting to honour the sacrifice of those who felt compelled to put their own lives on the line for what they believed was the struggle of their nation, their society. However, I’m not sure I feel that a teenage boy having his body blown apart by a farm-kid from the neighbouring country is really “GLORIOUS.”
Then I decided that I should- perhaps just this once- know what I’m talking about. So I looked up the word for the real definition:
glorious |ˈglɔːrɪəs| adjective ~having, worthy of, or bringing fame or admiration
So perhaps, glorious is an appropriate word – even if it doesn’t feel like it is.
So, how does one properly ‘remember’ an event like D-Day?
How do you balance respect for the individual, order-following soldiers who died fighting on the winning side, without demonizing the individual, order-following soldiers who died fighting on the losing side?
How do you recall battles fought, won and lost, lives saved and ended, and the absolute struggle of human conflict when it has been elevated to the level of armed hostility – without glorifying war itself?
Love the soldiers – hate the war?
When we were in the Juno Beach centre, we were wandering through, taking in the exhibits, and an older gentleman was sort of just standing next to me, saw Jonah and asked if ‘the lad was interested by the war.’ I think I replied something like, “well, not interested in the war, but I feel that he needs to learn about it.’
The man said something like “well that’s good – because we can’t ever let it happen again” and then he turned and continued on.
We finished up with the museum and went outside as we had signed up for a guided tour of a bunker which had (fairly recently) been discovered under the beach. The tour was lead by a Canadian university student who was working at the Juno centre, and as we started he said “I just want to give a special welcome to Mr Hyde, a veteran of D-Day.”
Thatman was in the Royal Air Force. He had manned the guns onboard an RAF bomber that came in to support the Canadian and British troops who landed at Juno. It was very strange to think about what this place must mean to him. What memories does he hold, that he can never forget, even the ones he wants to? We were touring a bunker that was used to collect intelligence and co-ordinate the counter-attack on the plane he was in. For me, D-Day is an event in modern history. For him, it was probably the one day – the few hours – of his life that will stand out for ever. For him, remembering d-day, is not an option, because forgetting it is not possible.
When I look at the pictures showing sunbathers lying on the beaches that a few generations ago were literally soaked with human blood, I must admit that it feels like poorly behaved kids yelling and playing in a graveyard. But then, I suppose in some way, that’s what they were fighting for. They sacrificed for us to enjoy the chance to sit on the sand and enjoy a day at the beach. They wanted their countrymen to be free, to live in peace and security. You can’t lay on the beach if you fear an invasion.
So how does one remember D-Day?
I guess I’m left with: let’s enjoy things like a day at the beach – but never forgetting what price was paid for us to be able to do so.
And perhaps more importantly, let’s honour the request of Mr. Hyde and all those like him – and never let it happen again.