Although I’m not an outgoing person and have, for this as well as other reasons, chosen to pursue the lonely craft of writing, I really enjoy going out and doing things. By “things” I mean attending car shows, farmers’ markets, antique shops, or even just going for a drive on a pleasant day. Whenever I go out, interesting things tend to show up; and I’m always fascinated by new and unusual things.
A few weeks ago, my mum and I went to an antiques market in nearby Orillia– markets like these seem few and far between in the area. Given that, I wasn’t expecting anything huge or sophisticated; I was just excited to attend a celebration of everything antique and vintage! But the market was a surprise, it was far more varied and extensive than I expected.
Some of the first antique stalls, selling everything from midcentury furniture to 19th century hat pins
There were dozens of stalls, but as my mum and I arrived fairly early in the day, we didn’t have to compete with too many other customers!
My experience at the market was wonderful– everything was so lively and exciting! Antiques offer a glimpse into the past, and thanks to technological advancements and changes in lifestyle over the years, one is bound to find things that just aren’t seen anymore. Those things, like pretty floral chamberpots or antique washboards, are fascinating; but of course all I really look for is anything pertaining to Russia, the Soviet Union, or the military. I never thought that an Ontario antiques market would be a hotspot for such things, but I was very wrong.
I came away from the market with empty pockets, but a handbag full of no less than three Soviet military hats plus about two dozen Soviet pins! I got a great deal for them, and now I have a fabulous collection of pins which I am looking forward to adding to in the future.
All of these pins came with the hats I bought
The pins are so cool, and I’m slowly trying to research what they all signify. My humble knowledge of Russian has come in handy with that! I do have some favourites, however…
The BT-7 pin at top left is one of my favourites, and it pays homage to a tank that featured heavily in the Spanish Civil War and Great Patriotic War.
I got several Victory Day pins, such as this one at the top right, which was created for the 30-year anniversary of the end of the war in Europe in 1945
My very favourite pin is the gold one at the top, due to its unusual design and the beautiful badge in the centre which reads “USSR” and below, “Victory”
Now onto the hats. I chose one peaked cap with a camouflaged emblem out of a collection of eight or nine brighter versions, because although the others with their red piping and embellished emblems were more attractive, this one could be worn safely anywhere due to its dull colours.
Usually I only see hats like this in museums, but now I have one of my own!
According to the label inside, my peaked cap is from Leningrad (now St. Petersburg)
The second hat I got was a real pilotka. It’s like the sidecap utilized by countless militaries across the world, and for me the simple green pilotka is a symbol of the average Russian soldier during the Great Patriotic War. Vainly, I’m quite pleased with my pilotka since one of my novel’s central characters always sports one!
This is such a beautiful piece of headgear, with the red piping and bold emblem on the front
Last, I got a hat which the seller believed to be from Poland or Eastern Europe, instead of specifically Russia. Nonetheless, it came with the distinctive Russian coat of arms on the front and Russian badges on the side. It’s a very functional hat as the flaps on the top fold down over the wearer’s ears; and it looks very familiar to me. I may have seen it in a book somewhere!
The camouflage pattern and style of the hat makes me think it may be from around the ’60s or ’70s
When I go to antique shops and markets, I’m always excited to see vintage rhinestone jewellery and the like– but in the back of my mind, I’m just waiting to find something military. Usually it happens, but it’s still always a surprise, and I’m so grateful to have found so many treasures so close to home!
The Grey Ghost
I see him, grey and silent
Creeping like a ghost
He’s proud, like an island
And that’s what I admire most–
That he is strong, though an enemy
He lives the same as me
Fate pits him against me
If not for that, I’m same as he.
But here is fate, and so
I raise my gun and peer
Towards the grey ghost in the snow
Without angst or fear.
The case of brass is in my hands,
As soon his life shall be
With the solemnity the job demands
I slowly count to three.
My shot rings out like thunder
Its aim true and perfect
He falls at once, and I wonder
If he even heard it.
I go to inspect my trophy
He’s a fine one, to be sure
I add another German to my tally
And begin my search for more.
I wrote this poem last week, after pondering how Vasily Zaitsev (one of the Soviet Union’s most prolific and talented snipers) was a successful hunter before his wartime service. The Grey Ghost compares the experience of a sniper to a simple wolf-hunt; in doing this, it strives to illustrate the detachment and irony which often stem from war.
As Part One of this series attests, the Churchill War Rooms in London are a fascinating attraction for history buffs, Churchill admirers, and families alike. I particularly enjoyed them because of their focus on a distinctive and important historical figure, and– as you’ll see in this post– their enduring atmosphere of the Forties.
The War Rooms remain almost exactly as they were at the height of the war; with bare yet practical fixtures and few decorations even in the bedrooms prepared for various politicians and government workers. But I love the practicality of ’40s interior design, and seeing these rooms made it easier to imagine what the atmosphere of war must have been like.
Many important calls must have come through on this telephone…
There were many bedrooms like this in the War Rooms, which would have housed politicians safe underground in the event of German attacks
Most of the bedrooms were essentially identical, with simple wooden furniture, a navy blue bedspread, and no unnecessary luxuries whatsoever. But one bedroom had a bit of individuality– it was the room set aside for Clementine Churchill, the wife of Sir Winston.
Clementine Churchill’s bedroom had charm reminiscent of an English country house, with chintz and traditional furniture
The rest of the rooms were for work, not relaxation. The conference room for the Chiefs of Staff was unadorned but had an imposing atmosphere. Amazing to think of the plans and discussions that must have occurred in this room!
It was here that the Chiefs of Staff would make plans in the midst of German air raids and general chaos
One of my favourite rooms was the map room. As you would expect, it contained maps– they plastered the walls, and the maps themselves were plastered with pinholes and strings to denote the location of various fronts, convoys, and units over the progression of the war. The maps were very beautiful, and it was rather breathtaking to see all the events of the war represented in one single room which was so important in WWII.
This section of the map shows Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union– significant to me because of my writing!
I made sure to find Stalingrad on the map, since it was at Stalingrad that the Germans went no further.
A detailed tally of flying bombs was kept in the map room– the War Rooms were really on top of everything!
The authentic atmosphere, kept so close to what it was 70 years ago, really made the Churchill War Rooms something special. It was quite moving to be there in the corner of an old-fashioned room once all the audioguide-led tourists had passed by; and to just think of the history that came to pass there. I loved the War Rooms, and would go back there any day!
A representation of part of the map room at the height of the war