The blood red fortress of the night

Crossing North Bridge (which spans the deep valley between Edinburgh’s Old Town and the Georgian-era New Town) a few nights ago I noticed that the Castle was illuminated in this deep red shade – as it turned out it was to mark the annual Poppy Appeal leading up to Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday, although given it was the week leading to Halloween the colour scheme worked quite well for that too… I was going from work to my book group, so didn’t have the tripod with me, so improvised, setting up a long exposure on the camera, setting the timer then sitting the camera on the parapet of the bridge. Not ideal – it is angled and with double decker buses rumbling over it frequently it vibrates, not what you want when trying to take a long exposure night shot, took three or four but only this one came out reasonably (click to see larger versions on my Flickr):

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month…

Remembering the Fallen 01

I usually try to take some photos of the annual Garden of Remembrance which is around the towering stone structure of the Scott Monument in Princes Street Gardens each year. This year I decided to try for some night shots again as I was pleased with how they came out last year, I thought somehow shooting this scene at night (well, early evening, street nearby still very busy, but sunset is by half past four now so you can start ‘night’ shooting at a reasonable hour then be back home in time for tea – there is an upside to the long, dark nights of winter). added something to the atmosphere, so went in with tripod and left camera lens open to drink in what little light there was till they came out, then since I had the tripod I walked my way back home, pausing to take more night shots of the city as I did, but those will be for another day.

Remembering the Fallen 03

Remembering the Fallen 06

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Serried ranks of small crosses, drawn up neatly as if on drill parade, a poppy on each to remember the Fallen, many with hand-written messages from old comrades, friends and family

Remembering the Fallen 09

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month…

fallen, but never forgotten 01

… the day the guns fell silent on the unbelievable carnage of the Great War. Each year the fallen from that dreadful harvest of death are remembered by the nation on Armistice Day, and all those who have fallen since. The Garden of Remembrance in Princes Street Gardens, by the towering stone edifice of the Scott Monument, opens each November to honour their memory. Sadly recent years have seen too many new names added to the rolls.

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The smaller crosses frequently have personal messages written on them by family, friends and old comrades, some from long ago (the other year I saw one which simply read “Uncle Alex, HMS Hood – gone some seven decades, but someone still remembers Uncle Alex and his 1400 odd shipmates who were annihilated in an insant on the pride of the Royal Navy), some from far too recent losses in Iraq and Afghanistan. When I zoomed in to take this one I saw that one of the crosses in the section for the Scots Guards that read “we miss you so much, dad and mum. We think of you every day”; some poor soul’s heart is broken, someone in power makes the decisions and sends the troops but they themselves never make any sacrifice, that they leave to families like that one. Perhaps it the sacrifice came from their own blood they would be less swift to send our forces into harm’s way.

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One of the crosses on the left here was dedicated to a father and son – the father lost in 1918 at Arras, his boy lost in the war that followed that one, falling at El Alamein in 1942. The sheer bloody waste of life, the father dying in a war, perhaps he thought at least if we win I will save my wee boy from ever having to endure the same…

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Above all I am not concerned with Poetry.

My subject is War, and the pity of War.

The Poetry is in the pity.

Yet these elegies are to this generation in no sense consolatory. They may be to the next. All a poet can do today is warn. That is why the true Poets must be truthful.” the war poet Wilfred Owen.

Remember…

The Fallen Remembered 04

Improvised night shots taken on the way home from work, the Garden of Remembrance in Princes Street Gardens, with the above shot taken by balancing camera on short fence post (restricted the angle but a freehand shot wouldn’t work in the dark!), this side of the Scott Monument is regiments and units mostly, the opposite side of the Monument (below) the small crosses that people can write names and messages on to remember old comrades and loved ones, very touching. Funny to think on this side of an iron fence, a quiet, dark park, serried ranks of poppies and crosses, other side the pavement of a hugely busy city, commuters and shoppers coming and going – I was glad to see quite a few paused for a moment though.

The Fallen Remembered 03

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Laurence Binyon, For the Fallen

The Fallen Remembered 02

I took this shot hunkering down to the base of the iron railing, lens pointed between them and used the flash, which normally I wouldn’t as I don’t like the quality of light you get with a flash. But somehow it still has something – as one commentator said on my Flickr it lights up the foreground leaving the crosses behind to fade away into the dark night.

The Fallen Remembered 01

“They shall not grow old…”

For Armistice Day, one of Edinburgh’s smaller memorials, a little plaque in Edinburgh’s Waverley Stations, probably passed by and largely ignored by thousands of people every day as they go around their busy journeys, a tiny reminder of the past, of maimed and injured soldiers coming home from the War to End All Wars, resting here on their way, hopefully cadging a brew-up and a fag from some Red Cross volunteers. A little corner of history, if you care to look for the echoes of the past that still sound in the present.

Great War memorial, Waverley Station

As they at last comprehend all their sacrifice, all their pain,
All their sorrow, all their suffering, all the death,
Did not change or alter a thing, was not a lesson learned
Nor an experience not to be repeated..
Realizing their friend’s painful, brutal, ultimate sacrifice
Was only a necessary evil of Mankind’s political process
Which has never changed, and never will,
For each generation brings anew to the world
Its own self-styled madness of universal death, tragedy and suffering,
In wars to be fought by the young, bright-eyed children of the world
Unknowingly raised as sacrificial lambs of slaughter,
To be killed and gone forever, for nothing.
That is why, all Veterans cry.

In this hallowed place of the dead
The lonely graves of war’s youthful victims
Who died for a thought,
an idea, for a cause
Promulgated by selfish, insane men in power
These war graves and cemeteries are Harbingers
Of the eternal, mindless death cycle of war.
Young men killed by politicians’ words and mindless acts,
Their promise and existence forever ended too soon.
Now, forever sleep beneath the green muffled grass
Sharing the earth with the youth and victims of past wars,
Too numerous to count, to numbing to contemplate,
The dead, as powerless and impotent as the now living
To change or alter, or detour the inexorable course of madmen,
They patiently wait for the next generation to join them
.”

a fragment from Harbingers, a poem on the occassion of the Normandy landings anniversary by Curtis D. Bennett

The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month

Do not despair

For Johnny-head-in-air;

He sleeps as sound

As Johnny underground.

Fetch out no shroud

For Johnny-in-the-cloud;

And keep your tears

For him in after years.

Better by far

For Johnny-the-bright-star,

To keep your head,

And see his children fed.”

For Johnny, written by John Pudney on the back of an envelope as the bombs fell on London in 1941.

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The Remembrance Garden in Princes Street Gardens, right in the shadow of the Scott Monument; in the background were some anti-war protesters, although I should say they were quiet and not at all disrespectful; in fact I saw some talking to some old veterans. I don’t think they had anything against the soldiers or those paying respects to the fallen, just against the concept of war, and its hard to disagree with that.

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remembrance 1

Some of the markers in the Remembrance Garden are plain, many have names or regiments or ships or squadrons marked on them. This one touched me the most – it simply read “to dad”. I have no idea if the dad in question fell in one of the recent conflicts or half a century ago; I doubt it matters, the pain and loss and grief will still hurt as much.
remembrance 2

This one was marked to ‘Uncle Alex’ on HMS Hood; the Hood was a famous, huge Royal Navy battlecruiser. During a duel with the German pocket battleship Bismarck she was completely destroyed; its thought a lucky hit penetrated the weaker upper deck armour and set off a magazine. She exploded and sank almost instantly taking hundreds and hundreds of men with her to the bottom of the ocean; only three sailors from this enormous ship survived. Some say one of her turrets fired a last salvo as she sank. The comedic actor and former Doctor Who Jon Pertwee also served on the Hood and had transferred off her just shortly before the battle to train as a chief petty officer, or he may never have lived to become a famous entertainer.
remembrance - for all in Afghanistan

Not just historical battles remembered here but also the here and now as someone marks a cross for the men and women serving in Afghanistan right now.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons. No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells, Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs, – The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; And bugles calling for them from sad shires. What candles may be held to speed them all? Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall; Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Anthem for Doomed Youth, Wilfred Owen

Probably the best known of the poets of the Great War, Owen was treated for shell shock at Craiglockhart, just a few moments from where I live in Edinburgh, where he met fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon (events fictionalised in Pat Barker’s novel Regeneration and the film adaptation of the book). Owen was killed on November 4th, 1918, just a week before the Armistice. He was 25 years old; much of his poetry was published posthumously.


(the eternal flame and the tomb of the unknown soldier under the Arc de Triomphe; the legend reads “ici repose un soldat Francais, mort pour la patrie, 1914-1918. It stands in stark contrast to the more bombastic militarism of the Arc de Triomphe above it and the triumphant, processional way of the Champs Elyssee in front of it; the larger version is on my Flickr)