Winter always makes me think of the Soviet experience in World War II. The severity of the Russian winter made what was already a brutal and difficult war even worse; and there must have been some unimaginably bleak days for the soldiers who were trying so desperately to defend their Motherland.
Artillery defending the vicinity of Moscow. Attribution: RIA Novosti archive, image #46802/ Temin/CC-BY-SA 3.0
Last night I wrote this poem, with the 1941/42 defense of Moscow in mind. For me, the Soviet Union’s Great Patriotic War was defined by great suffering and tragedy but also an omnipresent determination to go on. Even while being routed by the invading Wehrmacht in the first months of the war, people remained defiant and resolute in their cause. I hope you enjoy the poem, and its accompanying photographs of winter on the Eastern Front.
Here, Soviet aircraft overfly German positions near Moscow. Attribution: RIA Novosti archive, image #2564/ Samaryi Guraryi/ CC-BY-SA 3.0
A wonderful poster boldly stating, “We will defend Moscow!” By unknown author, via Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
On the Winter Wind
The winter wind is coming,
A wraith riding on his wings
Coming, closer, coming
And the wraith unearthly sings;
Its song not yet known to man
Harsh and fierce, it fills the sky
And now, now I understand
It sings a battle-cry.
The winter wind approaches
And on his wings is War
From homes and fields and trenches
We hear the cry once more
The cry of conquest, ages old
They come as men and leave as bones
Forgetting that we are Russian souls;
More stubborn here than stones.
Winter’s breath cannot break us,
Nor can War’s fatal song
Triumph will not be denied us;
When we see these frosty spirits gone.
The winter wind shrieks above
We sense the wraith’s most vile lure
But their assault is not enough;
We are Russian, we endure.
© Adair Jacobs, 2016
A tank of Germans with what appear to be Soviet civilians, perhaps displaced. Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-B15686/ Gebauer/ CC-BY-SA 3.0
On November 7, thousands of fresh troops marched through the heart of Moscow on their war to the front. Attribution: RIA Novosti archive, image #429/ Oleg Ignatovich/ CC-BY-SA 3.0
German soldiers retreat through the snow and winter wind. From Druhá svetova válka strucné dejiny, nakladatelstvi Svoboda Praha via Wikimedia Commons, unknown author, public domain.
Tankers go to the front with hope; their tank displaying the words “Happy New Year!”. Attribution: RIA Novosti archive, image #266/ Alexander Kapustyanskiy/ CC-BY-SA 3.0
Two major events are occurring at the moment in my life… my parents recently returned from a three-week trip to the UK; and since Remembrance Day is coming up, it is Veterans’ Week here in Canada. Are these events unrelated? They certainly seem to be, but actually their simultaneous occurrence could not have been more fortunate.
My parents brought back some souvenirs for me, and I am so glad they know me so well and that their trip was so close to Remembrance Day. No I Love London t-shirts or tacky keychains here… instead, they brought me back some fantastic military artifacts and Poppy Appeal products just in time for this special week of remembrance.
On my trips to the UK, I’ve commonly seen these simple wooden crosses laid against war memorials and memorial plaques. My remembrance cross, in honour of my great-great uncle William Edward Jones killed at the Somme, stands here in my mum’s living room garden
Unlike in Canada where the only products commonly sold are lapel poppies, the UK’s Poppy Appeal offers a wide range of products. One of the most unique is a large plastic poppy for affixing to a car grille. My brother and I each got one of these poppies; and since we are both dedicated petrolheads with a great love for our cars, there could be no better way to show our respect than with our automobiles.
These car poppies really stand out and are very beautiful.
I think it’s very fitting that my car, an ex-police vehicle used to serve and protect, is now showing respect for those who sacrificed in that same mission of service and protection.
I think it’s very important to buy and wear a poppy every year. It’s a simple display of respect which is easily overlooked, but the purchase of poppies funds help for the people who have selflessly helped us, often to their own detriment. And the wearing of poppies demonstrates not only to veterans and serving members, but also to ourselves and our peers that we recognise the contributions made- even in vain- to the security and peace of this country and the world at large. Poppies don’t condone war; they simply acknowledge the sacrifices made by people in terrible circumstances as they attempt to make the world a better place.
This year I am wearing a Canadian poppy at work, and a British poppy (seen here) in all other situations.
My parents aren’t the only ones who know how much I appreciate military stuff. My church’s former vicar is well aware of my interests, and he recently gave me a bunch of deactivated WWII-era ammunition! There are some .30 cal rounds, two .50 cal rounds, some smaller pistol rounds, and one 20 mm round. 20 mm rounds are often used in aircraft cannons, so this is quite a magnificent artifact to have!
The weight of these bullets, although their entrails have been removed, is quite something
My parents also brought back these Royal Marines badges from the UK. My collection grows!
With Remembrance Day quickly approaching, there is certainly a lot that reminds me to remember. These souvenirs from the UK are some of the most special I’ve got, and the timing could not have been better. I am remembering this Veterans’ Week, and I hope that this post inspires you to as well.
This year was an exciting one in the Canadian airshow scene, thanks to the return of Airshow London! Growing up, I always heard stories from my parents about London’s legendary airshow, which was huge in the ’90s and which attracted aircraft from both Canada and the US. I remember seeing photos my parents took of aircraft like the F-117 Nighthawk, a stealth bomber developed by the secretive Skunk Works, and beasts like the F-4 Phantom. Aircraft like these just aren’t seen in Canada; yet they could be seen at Airshow London. However, due to one reason or another, the airshow that was so popular and exciting in the ’90s came to an end, before I even got to see it. At every airshow my family has attended since, my parents have reminisced about the incredible experience Airshow London offered. It became quite legendary in my family, and my brother and I were always jealous. Imagine our elation when we heard that in 2016, Airshow London was to return!
Although we were initially skeptical, as the airshow drew closer and more performers were confirmed, it was clear that Airshow London 2016 was indeed to be a return to the glory of the ’90s! Dozens of planes were to be on show, including the USAF’s most precious and high-tech jet; the F-22 Raptor. Needless to say, nothing was going to stop us from seeing this airshow!! My mum and I spent the weekend at a campground nearly bordering the airport– which turned out to be the best accommodation ever. Planes began arriving at the airport on Friday night, and some even seemed to do impromptu routines before the show began.
A CT-114 Tutor of the Snowbirds right over our campsite.
It was so exciting to hear the jets overhead and try to catch sight of them through the trees!
My mum and I sat in our tent and were reading each other trivia as it got dark; and we could hear commercial and airshow traffic still coming in to the airport. That added to the excitement– I couldn’t wait to see all these aircraft that I was hearing! Around 22:00, we heard something new. It was the sound of rotors. It was quite loud, and we were sure it must be overhead but it only got louder and louder! Soon it was deafening and we could feel the ground shaking– it must have been a huge helicopter, and it must have been low! Whatever it was came overhead a second time, and it was actually quite scary because we couldn’t see it; we could only hear and feel the power coming from it.
There were a few choppers at London, but they were small and not terribly loud (relatively speaking!). This MH-53E Sea Dragon of the US Navy has to have been what flew over us late on Friday!
The Sea Dragon is a less-common variant of the Super Stallion; America’s largest helicopter. It is also related to the Pave Low helicopter, which those of younger generations may know from Modern Warfare 3. The Super Stallion and its variants are often used for heavy-lift duties; with an external payload of 36,000 lbs they can easily transport pairs of Humvees and even CH-47 Chinooks– which are not exactly small helicopters themselves!
The main rotor assembly of the Sea Dragon. At work at Mitsubishi, I get to see plenty of cars disassembled which is very cool. I only wish I could get a closer look at the mechanical parts of an aircraft like this!!
This chopper is the definition of imposing. It was incredible!
I also got to see some old favourites on the tarmac– like the Harvard. Used as a trainer during World War II, the Harvard has always been my favourite plane. I adore the distinctive yellow livery, the snubbed nose, the growling sound… Someday I am going to fly one of these!!
The Harvard is just so nice!
Along with the familiar planes, there were many which were much more exotic. One was a B-1 Lancer bomber from Texas! The B-1 is a really elegant aircraft; nothing like the monstrous B-52 Stratofortress it was originally meant to replace. It is a supersonic variable-geometry aircraft which during the Cold War was capable of carrying nuclear ordnance; and although its role has changed greatly throughout its life, it remains a reliable and versatile heavy bomber.
Although the B-1 is a large aircraft (its extended wingspan is 137 feet), it’s also very beautiful
Close-up of the variable-sweep wing where it meets the fuselage. Here the wings are unswept; a configuration which is better suited to low speed performance.
The Americans really pulled out all the stops for Airshow London– without them, it wouldn’t have been half the show it was. The USAF, US Navy, US Coast Guard, and US National Guard were all represented. At the static displays, the aircrew were on hand to talk to visitors about both their aircraft and their own personal experiences in them; which gave the airshow a human side.
A US Navy E-2C Hawkeye, quite an unusual-looking plane.
The radar dome mounted on the Hawkeye’s fuselage is what gives this aircraft its unique early warning capabilities. The multiple vertical stabilisers are another unusual distinguishing feature.
A compact yet deadly F-16 Fighting Falcon; developed in the 1970s but still an extremely common fighter in air forces around the world.
Many of the static displays brought back memories– there was a KC-135 Stratotanker, of which I’d seen a few in Maine several years ago. There was also a US Navy T-45 Goshawk, which is a modified version of the BAE Hawk. Hawks are used extensively as training aircraft in the UK (they’re also used by the famous Red Arrows), and I have great memories of seeing them flying over the fields and valleys of Yorkshire.
My dad and brother admiring the long-lived Stratotanker. It’s been in service for over 50 years, and is still the workhorse which refuels the jet fighters so essential to the USAF.
This plane would look nicer with RAF roundels on it, but it’s a lovely little aircraft!
And of course there were jets galore. The Royal Canadian Air Force only operates one fighter jet (the CF-18 Hornet), and it was so cool to see the array of fighters brought by the Americans. Although they’re all built on the same premise, they’re all so different and so beautiful!
The F-15 Eagle is an awesome-looking plane, built for air superiority and one of the most successful planes of the modern era.
Two CF-18s, on the tarmac preparing for a flight to the nation’s capital.
There are always unique, specialised aircraft to be found at airshows. At London we got to see a Red Bull Air Racing plane, which has to be the most manoeuvrable thing around. And there was also a Jet Provost, which is essentially the trainer version of the ground-attack BAC Strikemaster.
This racer is flown by Pete McLeod, a home-grown pilot who competes with the greatest aerobatics pilots in the world.
Although retired now, the Jet Provost was an important jet trainer for the RAF during the Cold War.
Based on the static displays alone, Airshow London was a spectacle! But of course, airplanes are built to fly and that is the focus of my next Airshow London post. I hope you enjoyed this one and will watch for the next!
I often hope that whatever I create, whether novels, poetry, or blog posts, will live on as a memorial to the past. Memorials stand all over the world in bricks, metal, and stone; but I know that memorials can exist in the written world as well. Remembering the sacrifices of the past is of utmost importance to me, and I hope that I am doing my part to see it through.
For awhile now I’ve been wanting to publish a post focused on the status of war memorials today. For many of us, war memorials are simply a block of stone in the centre of town that we drive past every day; and gather round every May 9 or November 11 when it is time to remember. But upon examination, war memorials are much much more. The multitude of names inscribed upon them represent hundreds of thousands of hours of courage and sacrifice; hours dedicated to the owners’ fellow man. War memorials commemorate the darkest hours of history; hours which many people feared would never come to a happy end. As you will see in this post, war memorials are infinitely more than monuments we only notice once a year. They represent entire lives given in sacrifice, and they live just as much today as those men and women lived for us so many years ago.
Here, civilians march past the “Motherland Calls” statue on Mamyev Kurgan, site of some of the fiercest fighting during the Battle of Stalingrad. Copyright Sputnik/Kirill Braga https://sputniknews.com/photo/20160509/1039314582/russia-victory-day-celebrations.html
Some of the nicest moments of remembrance are spontaneous ones. It’s great to have the dedicated day of November 11 where the world makes a concerted effort to pause and remember, but unplanned moments are wonderful too. Throughout my travels in Canada, America, and Great Britain I’ve come across many memorials that weren’t on my radar; and those memorials are usually the ones which have the greatest effect on me.
Huge thanks are in order to Michael from Forties Photos for offering me this and the following two photos! While visiting the (Canadian-run) Juno Beach Centre in Normandy recently, he noticed some maple-leaf clad cyclists passing by and convinced them to pose for a picture with the Canadian memorial sculpture. What a photo op!
I love the surreal yet evocative feel of this sculpture.
The Canadian memorials at Juno Beach appear to be well-remembered, even today.
I expect that there are similar traditions in other countries as well, but at the Remembrance Day service in Canada’s capital of Ottawa, the custom is to place one’s poppy on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after the service. Although it happens every year, it’s still a very beautiful sight to see the grey and sombre tomb slowly become covered by a blanket of red poppies.
We don’t know his name, but we remember him nonetheless. Fred Chartrand/ The Canadian Press http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/in-photos-canadians-honour-fallen-soldiers-on-remembrance-day/article5173239/
Ottawa’s remembrance service is always broadcast nationwide on TV, and it’s always exceptionally well-attended in person too. Image from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to Mikkel Paulson. Public domain.
I am personally quite transfixed by the Soviet Union’s part in World War II; and consequently in Russia’s continued remembrance of it. Russia is a deeply patriotic nation, and her citizens both young and old are eager to remember and demonstrate their remembrance. On May 9 (Victory Day), young people hand out flowers to veterans and everyone turns out in patriotic garb to commemorate the event. One of my favourite examples was one I discovered while doing a high-school project on wedding traditions around the world. I read that many Russian brides lay their wedding bouquets on a war memorial after their wedding ceremony. This is akin, of course, to the Queen Mother’s gesture in Westminster Abbey back in 1923; but what I love about the Russian tradition is that it is embraced by the masses. Masses of Soviet citizens fought to the death from 1941 to 1945, and it is beautiful that newly married couples of new generations recognise the sacrifice that afforded their futures.
Here in Stavropol, two young Russians light memorial candles for the 70th anniversary of the Great Patriotic War. Reuters via http://www.telegraph.co.uk
Even inside the Arctic Circle, this Memorial for the Defenders of the Soviet Arctic has been laid with flowers and wreaths. This region is nearly forgotten by civilisation; yet its memorials are remembered. Image from Wikimedia Commons, attributed to Vincent van Zeijst. CC-BY-SA 3.0
I wanted to close with one of my favourite photos ever. It can’t exactly be substantiated, and so often Internet finds are not what they profess to be, but regardless this photo makes me emotional. It makes me wonder what surviving veterans must really feel when they look at memorials today. So many years have passed, but I doubt that their memories ever will.
Countless Russian towns and villages employ WWII tanks as gate guardians; reminders of the battle that was waged 70 years ago. And still- note the flowers atop this T-34- they are remembered. Image from englishrussia.com