Anyone who has been to London must surely know what an amazing, crazy, diverse city it is. Interspersed among the famous attractions that everybody knows and visits, there are unique and obscure things for one to discover. I’m convinced that every London street, park, and building has its own fascinating story and claim to fame- and the great part is that it would take a very happy lifetime to explore them all.
We began our final day in London by taking advantage of the sunshine, and went to see one of London’s most recognizable landmarks: Buckingham Palace. “Buck House” is such a beautiful building- stately, ornate but not overdone, and with an elegance perfectly befitting Her Majesty who calls the palace home.
The imposing facade of Buckingham Palace in the morning sun
The Victoria Memorial, situated in front on Buckingham Palace
Buck House’s striking gate
My brother and I were most fascinated by the guards on duty outside the Palace. We are both interested in military things so we tried to figure out what type of firearms they were carrying.
The red-clad guard looks to have an SA80, the standard-issue rifle for the British Army. The police officer carries a Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine gun
Moving on to the lesser-known features of London, Canada Gate is a fixture that is relatively unknown yet centrally-located and significant for me. Canada Gate was commissioned as part of the Queen Victoria Memorial scheme, after the beloved monarch died in 1901. It is one of several gates to Green Park that represent historically British-influenced countries.
Canada Gate, seen from just inside Green Park. The Gate faces the roundabout in front of Buckingham Palace
One of my very favourite unknown London gems is the Mandela Way T-34. Through research for my writing, I found out about it prior to this 2012 trip and immediately knew I had to see it. The Mandela Way T-34 is an old Soviet T-34/85 tank, used in WWII, which now sits on a small piece of private land in Bermondsey. The tank is a magnet for art and graffiti, and has been painted in many different liveries over the years. You can access Wikipedia’s Mandela Way T-34 page here.
The surroundings of this T-34 are so strange!
I loved visiting the Mandela Way T-34. I don’t get to see T-34s very often, and this example was so unique and memorable. It was sort of surreal to observe, since it sits at the edge of a nice residential area but is surrounded by graffiti, chainlink fencing, and scrubby vegetation.
The 85-mm main gun of the T-34 is pointed rather menacingly at some adjacent houses
Rear view of the T-34, seen through the charming chainlink fence that surrounds it
One piece of graffiti was particularly intriguing to me- I recognized it as a depiction of a fixture of Stalingrad in WWII! The Barmaley Fountain used to stand in the city, and showed a ring of children dancing joyfully. This fountain survived the Battle of Stalingrad, and some very evocative photographs were taken of it; contrasting the children’s cheer with the devastation of the surrounding area.
Nowadays, two replicas of the fountain stand in the city. One is in front of the railway station (sadly, the site of recent carnage of its own thanks to the terrorist bombing in December 2013), and the other is close to Pavlov’s House. When I someday make it to Volgograd, I will certainly visit these fountains, and I was delighted to see reference to the original in London.
Graffiti depicting Stalingrad’s Barmaley Fountain and a mushroom cloud
The Pavlov’s House replica in present-day Volgograd. Image from Wikimedia Commons, CC-SA 3.0. Attributed to Ufo Snake
Leaving the T-34, we went back to our hotel to pack our suitcases. I was a little sad to be leaving the T-34! But on our way back, we got a glorious view of the Shard in the evening sunshine, and it reminded me of how great London is and how lucky I have been to know it so well.
The Shard was stunning against the dark clouds and glimpses of the setting sun
London really does have something for everyone; all one needs to do is a little searching according to one’s interests. I wonder how many other amazing little-known things (like the Mandela Way T-34) are just waiting to be found!
Operation Barbarossa, Nazi Germany’s gigantic invasion of the Soviet Union, commenced on this day 73 years ago. June 22, 1941 was a grave day for every citizen of the Soviet Union, as unimaginable horrors were to follow in the monumental conflict of the Eastern Front. Hitler’s rationale for invading was to satisfy Germany’s perceived need for Lebensraum- or “living space”. In addition to coveting the vast territory and valuable resources of the Soviet Union, Hitler also regarded its Slavic inhabitants as sub-human; and because of this, millions of civilians and Soviet POWs were treated brutally or deliberately starved to death. The Eastern Front, which was begun by Operation Barbarossa, was defined by atrocities on a massive scale.This makes it a distinctly depressing subject to write about, but I feel a sort of duty to bring the Eastern Front to people’s attention. It is always at the forefront of my mind and I personally commemorate many of its anniversaries, and I think it is important to give people the knowledge that may encourage them to do the same.
For a few days prior to June 22, warning signs of the invasion abounded but were all brushed aside by a confident, or perhaps controvert, Josef Stalin. German warplanes were apparently flying a suspicious number of recon sorties over the Soviet border, and a lone Wehrmacht soldier even told his Soviet counterparts the exact date and time of the imminent invasion. The famous Soviet spy, Richard Sorge, also learned of the invasion plans and warned the Kremlin with time to spare. But all these warnings were ignored; and although Stalin himself both feared and denied the prospect of a Nazi invasion, troops at the front were completely caught by surprise when the Germans invaded.
Richard Sorge in 1944; he was arrested by Japanese authorities in late 1941 and then executed 3 years later for espionage. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1985-1003-121/CC-BY-SA
Three giant Wehrmacht Army Groups, their personnel numbering around 3 million men, rolled across the border in one collective, coordinated movement at 0400 hours on June 22. Capitalizing on the shock and disarray of the frontline Soviet units, the Wehrmacht moved quickly into the hearts of Belarus and the Ukraine. So momentous were the German gains, and so outclassed was the Soviet Union’s Red Army, that the Wehrmacht made gains of 500 kilometres in some places in the space of under three weeks. When this is considered, Adolf Hitler’s audacious proclamation does not seem so far-fetched: We need only kick in the door, and the whole rotten edifice will come crashing down.
This map shows the immense gains made by the Wehrmacht in only the first three months of war with the Soviet Union. Image from Wikimedia Commons. Attributed to Gdr. CC-SA 3.0
Many factors contributed to this calamitous state of affairs for the Red Army. In general, the Wehrmacht was far better-trained and better-equipped. Wehrmacht soldiers on the Eastern Front had been trained for this conflict, while Soviet training (especially in the chaos just after the invasion) was atrociously lacking. The German’s panzers were all meticulously maintained and boasted that famous “German engineering”- meanwhile, the bulk of the Red Army’s vehicles were obsolete and poorly-armoured specimens from the ’30s.
The extensive equipment of the Wehrmacht soldier is evident in this photograph. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-136-0873-20A/Cusian, Albert/CC-BY-SA
The Germans’ advance through the Ukraine was occasionally helped by sympathetic locals, who welcomed the invaders by offering them food and hospitality. Such actions are unsurprising, given that the memory of the horrendous Stalin-engineered famine was still fresh in the population’s mind. These civilians (and likely others, in all parts of the Soviet Union) were eager to escape their often cruel and authoritarian State, and they had no way of understanding the contempt and hate-filled plans that Hitler’s Nazism held for them and their country.
Soviet civilians offering their apparent saviours water. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-208-0031-07/Zoll/CC-BY-SA
Finally, the difference in German and Soviet tactics had a great effect in the early days of the war. Wehrmacht commanders were, quite simply, the best of the best; holding both experience and wisdom. But thanks to the Great Purge of the late ’30s, most of the Red Army’s most capable commanders were already dead. This gave way to young, inexperienced commanders who largely had no idea of how to successfully defend against the Germans.
Whereas the German forces had finesse and precision- utilizing many pincer movements to encircle Soviet Armies and cities with their panzers- the Soviets did not have enough training or coordination to employ such tactics. Unlike that of other WWII armies, a Soviet infantry attack usually meant a simple charge; everyone at once just raced over open ground towards the enemy. Such unfortunate and obsolete actions added to the early losses of the Red Army.
Note the encircling movements of German forces around Minsk and Smolensk. Such movements surprised the Soviets and resulted in enormous numbers of prisoners and captured equipment. Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Operation_Barbarossa.png via Wikimedia Commons. Attributed to Wailer
Photo of a striking, yet exposed, charge by Soviet riflemen. Attribution: RIA Novosti archive, image #613474/Alpert/CC-BY-SA 3.0
But despite the failings of the Red Army, Soviet soldiers exhibited a degree of resolve and courage that is nearly impossible to fathom. As I have explained in earlier posts such as this one, many individual Red Army soldiers were incredibly patriotic and nearly impossibly brave. German soldiers were surprised by the allegedly sub-human Slavs’ tenacity, and were shocked when their adversaries continued to fight to the death instead of surrendering. The cause for this courage and resolve is something that may be difficult to understand in today’s individualistic society.
Anyone who has seen Soviet wartime propaganda is familiar with the usual fanatic, State-sponsored exhortations that Soviet soldiers and civilians alike were exposed to. Most propaganda posters read things such as, “Glory to the Great Stalin”, or “Death to the Fascist Dogs!” or “Death to the Killers of Mothers and Children”- some even borrowed from Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov’s post-invasion speech, in which he proclaimed, “Our cause is true. The enemy will be beaten. Victory will be ours.” Each of these is aggressive, succinct, and suitably Soviet.
But other posters boast slogans like, “Answer the Motherland with victory”. The latter group reflects the Russian concept of the Motherland and Mother Russia; Rodina or Rodina-Mat. Although this idea is too nuanced to really explain, the great patriotism and self-sacrifice it encouraged during WWII is often what influenced soldiers in their brave deeds. Fear of the State (or admiration of it, alternatively) could only do so much; but Russian soldiers’ love for their Motherland enabled them to do all manner of staggering feats.
Here, the personification of Mother Russia holds the Red Army Oath, taken by every soldier, in a poster by Irakli Toidze. Original image here
It is unfortunate that another contributing factor in Red Army soldiers’ unwillingness to surrender was the brutality from above. Throughout the conflict on the Eastern Front, Stalin issued many ultimatums to his generals- essentially, fight and succeed or be executed- and these trickled down to the regular troops. Even in the early days of the war, “cowards” who retreated or men who attempted surrender were sometimes shot by their comrades.
Regardless of State coercion or the bravery of Soviet soldiers, astounding numbers of prisoners were taken in the months after Barbarossa. The capture of Minsk yielded several hundred thousand prisoners, the majority of whom died within months thanks to the deliberately inhumane conditions of their Nazi imprisonment. Smolensk, which was encircled towards the end of July, spelled the end of several Soviet Armies and yielded another 300,000 prisoners.
A group of sombre Russians surrender. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-020-1268-36/Hähle, Johannes/CC-BY-SA
A column of Soviet prisoners captured at Minsk. Not many of these men would have survived their imprisonment. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1982-077-11/CC-BY-SA
As evidenced solely by the number of prisoners captured in the dawn of the German campaign in the Soviet Union, there was no shortage of resistance for the invaders during Barbarossa. However, the land was vast; and even where resistance was heavier, it was crushed without too much difficulty. Particularly for a few days after June 22, some German units moved nearly unimpeded into Soviet territory.
German infantry, on the very day of the invasion according to the caption, walking into the Soviet Union. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-186-0199-10A/Springmann/CC-BY-SA
Some Germans, apparently from a motorized unit, sizing up the vast terrain of the Soviet Union. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-2007-0127/CC-BY-SA
22 June of any year is always a sober day for me. As I’m writing these words, I can hear fireworks outside as my neighbours are no doubt celebrating the return of summer and the longest day of the year. But to me, the fireworks bring no such jubilation- instead, they sound like the artillery and gunfire that bombarded the unwitting frontline troops of the Red Army exactly 73 years ago. For these troops, this day was perhaps the longest and most arduous of their short, scarred lives; and I hope that you will take a moment from your happy summer day to remember them with the gratitude they deserve.
A Russian village, burning and abandoned. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-137-1032-14A/Kessler, Rudolf/CC-BY-SA
One of the many thousands of dead during the first few weeks after Barbarossa. Attribution: Bundesarchiv B 145, Bild-F016196-06/CC-BY-SA
A lone German soldier observes one of his dead adversaries, against the backdrop of a blazing Soviet BT-7 tank. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-020-1268-36/Hähle, Johannes/CC-BY-SA
Bethell, N. (1977). Russia Besieged. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books.
Fowler, W. (2004). Barbarossa: The First 7 Days. Havertown, PA: Casemate.
I was absolutely shocked and delighted when I started up my laptop this morning and discovered that I have been nominated for the Sunshine Award! What an unexpected honour this is- and I can only thank my readers and followers for enjoying and supporting my blog!
And of course, a special thanks goes to Cameron Goodwin from Threads. He was the wonderful blogger who nominated me- a high compliment, since I really enjoy his posts on fashion and style. His attention to the history of fashion especially interest me, such this recent post on Louis Vuitton. Be sure to check out Cameron’s blog here.
Now, to move on to the Sunshine Award Rules:
- You must display the above Sunshine Award logo on your blog
- You must acknowledge the blogger who nominated you, and provide a link to their site
- You must share seven random fun facts about yourself
- You must nominate up to 15 other bloggers you admire for the Sunshine Award, and inform them of their nomination
Seven Fun Facts:
- I have two brothers- one is two years my junior, and is my general partner-in-crime and best friend. I count it an enormous blessing that my brother and I share many of the same interests (aviation, Formula One, hockey, British humour, etc.) and that we have always gotten along so well. The other brother is a dog named Crumpet; and is the sweetest-tempered animal I have ever met. My canine brother has an endearing personality and is always there to cheer me up and make me laugh.
- I (along with my human brother) was homeschooled from kindergarten through high school. Although sometimes I wished I could go to regular school like many of my friends did, I loved being homeschooled and I believe it’s thanks to homeschooling that I have such a positive relationship with my family and that I so enjoy learning (and writing)!
- Music is very important to me, and as a child I often played the piano and sang in the church choir. Nowadays, I enjoy music from many genres, from classical to ’60s British Invasion tunes. But my favourite type of music is ’80s rock- although the fashions and hairstyles were often cringe-worthy, the ’80s served up some fantastic rock bands! I especially love the Scorpions and Def Leppard. Both of those bands have brilliant vocalists and some crazy guitar!
- One of my favourite pastimes (although perhaps a strange one) is driving around the city. I love to just drive with the windows down and music blaring, and I don’t even care if the roads are jammed because I just love being out when there’s loads of things going on!
- I am very proud of the fact that I have fired a 50 cal sniper rifle. That was two years ago at a firing range near Hamilton, and my brother and I each purchased one round for the 50 cal (at the cost of something like $20 per round!). I was very nervous about firing it, especially after the range attendants looked surprised and stayed worryingly silent when I told them I would be firing one of the rounds! But it turned out to be an unbelievable experience. I fired at a steel target from 200 yards (hitting it, of course), and this lone shot was something I’ll remember forever.
- My favourite foods include all the British classics, such as Cornish pasties, steak & chips, cheese & onion sandwiches, and pork pies. But one of my especially beloved dishes hails from Russia, and is a boiled dumpling with a pork and beef filling. Called pelmeni, these dumplings are absolutely delicious with sour cream and a light salad, and I’ve had them many a time on my birthday!
- I have a great love of tumultuous weather. Although I don’t like plain old depressing rain, thunderstorms are fascinating and I love blizzards as well. The power of nature is quite astounding, and whenever lightning or strange meteorological effects are about, I take time to observe them.
There are so many amazing blogs and interesting people on WordPress.com, and since signing up in February, I’ve really enjoyed finding other individuals with similar interests to my own. Here are some of my favourite blogs:
What a neat idea this Sunshine Award is- I hope that it gives my nominees the same thrill and appreciation that it gave me!
From the rainy environs of Greater London, we now move to the (still-rainy) area of central London. Tower Bridge was our destination, and it is an attraction, not simply a landmark. One can take a trip inside the bridge’s distinctive neo-Gothic towers, and even across the walkways which are suspended 143 feet above the Thames at high tide. Touring Tower Bridge is a fabulous experience, and I would recommend it to anyone (who isn’t afraid of heights, that is)!
Exit from Tower Hill Tube station, with the Tower of London situated imposingly across the road
The 800 year old Tower of London juxtaposed against the futuristic and brand-new Shard building
I love the area around the Tower of London and Tower Bridge- it’s close to the River, so there’s always a beautiful view, and the architecture is steeped in history. For example, All Hallows-by-the-Tower is a nearby church; the crypt of which contains fragments of an ancient Roman building. As well, just outside Tower Hill station is a surprisingly large part of a Roman wall which used to surround the town of Londinium.
Although the day of our visit was quite foggy and rainy, with a bunch of low cloud and no shortage of wind, we enjoyed visiting the Tower Bridge area very much. The colourless sky made the crenellated façade and bright blue spans of Tower Bridge stand out wonderfully, and the view from the Bridge’s pedestrian walkways was dreamy and amazing.
Tower Bridge, with its distinctive blue accents
Butler’s Wharf, home to posh flats and restaurants, from the top of Tower Bridge
View across to Tower Bridge’s second pedestrian walkway
The sky-high walkways of Tower Bridge are now home to part of the Tower Bridge Exhibition, which tells about the bridge’s construction, purpose, and history. Thus, there are many films, plaques, and photographs telling of fascinating facts from the bridge’s past.
The bulbous exterior of London City Hall, the towering Shard, and the WWII-era light cruiser the HMS Belfast
The dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral just visible in the fog
The Gherkin and the White Tower of the Tower of London
Giant wheels, part of the bridge’s mechanism
Part of the massive steam engine housed in Tower Bridge
One of Tower Bridge’s giant vertical counterweights
After such a chilly and rainy morning, we were hungry- not to mention tired, from climbing the stairs in the towers of Tower Bridge! So what better way to fuel up and warm up, than with a good plate of fish and chips? The Golden Hind in Marylebone was our place of choice, as we had heard rave reviews of its fish and chips. It did not disappoint, with delicious fish, thick cut chips, and perfect mushy peas. The owner was also very friendly and welcoming, asking us where we were from and making sure our meal was enjoyed.
The Golden Hind, home to some of London’s best fish and chips
In what was a nice surprise, our next (and final) day in London was sunny and pleasant. But don’t underestimate the comfort of some pub grub and indoor sightseeing on a rainy London day!