Friday, 31 August 2012

Robin Hood Festival

We have been in England going on 4 years now and haven't made it to Sherwood forest.  My kids have read the stories of Robin Hood but every time a festival was happening we were out of town.  Just recently we went to the famous forest and had a great day seeing where Robin hood lived.

Lots of fun activities being held
What Sherwood forest looks like:)  Lots of Oak trees, ferns and stinging nettles.

My Robin Hood and Lady Marion

Statue of the famous fight between Little John and Robin Hood

There was a small museum there telling the history of Sherwood forest and debating whether Robin Hood was real or a myth:)

Lots of re en actors walking around the park
Lots of silly shows to watch

Juggling act

The famous Oak tree that supposedly Robin Hood and his Merry Man hid in.  We read that Oak trees can live up to 600 years.

Tons of fun games for the kids to play

Princess was excited that she was picked to play Robin hood in a play where the kids re enacted the story of the silver arrow
We also saw falconry and jousting, but I have no pictures as my camera battery died.  We had a lovely day out,  pretending to be living the life of Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

WWI stories

While studying WWI we learned about two stories of American tenacity and bravery.  While doing our travels we made it a point to visit to these two sites.

First we heard the amazing story of Sgt A. York

I encourage you to read this amazing story in the link above.  However a brief synopsis of the story:  this young man killed approx 25 (depends on the story) German officers and soldiers and captured over 130 during a firefight in the Meuse-Argonne Campaign.  He was a national hero but had a hard time with the guilt of killing and spent his life trying to do good with his life by helping War veterans.  There was a movie made about this man's remarkable life  in the 1930's and it won several awards.  I am trying to locate this movie so the family can watch it.

We were told an American Boy Scout help to put this trail together for his Eagle Scout project.  There are several markers to give details of Sgt York amazing accomplishments in the area where he fought and captured German soldiers
 The story of the Lost Battlion 

We found the marker where the battle took place.  Over 600 Americans were caught behind enemy lines and less than 200 emerge after 5 days of intense fighting.

The Battalion was trapped on the lower ground while the Germans where on the upper ridge (across the street) shooting at the men. 

A bit further along the road was this monument saluting the brave men who survived.

the men who earned the Medal of Honor awards.  The top officer was Major Whittlesey and after the war  he suffered from survivors guilt over the men he lost.  He committed suicide several years after the war.

There is a movie based on this group of men, that my husband and I watch but I did not show it to the children.  I will when they are a bit older.
My daughter, Princess was so taken with this story when we returned home the next day she drew this poster, without any prompting from me:).  The bird represents the carrier pigeon "Cher Ami" sent by the Lost Battalion to rest of the army letting them know the lost Battalion position and to halt the bombing that was being done on their positions.  Cher Ami was shot through the breast, lost an eye and had one leg hanging by a single tendon but was successfully able to deliver the message and save the Battalion.  She was honored with several medals and served as a mascot for the army.  She can be found in the Smithsonian museum

I am sure there are many more stories from both sides of this war, but unfortunately the stories are being over shadowed by the stories of WWII.  Our family have been honored to have visited both sites and I felt great sadness that the WWI sites are less visited.  While Normandy has busloads of visitors, the Meuse Argonne and other locations  are very quiet with few visitors.  There are so many stories that are being forgotten and that is such a shame!

Lastly I wanted to show you a German war cemetery what we stopped at to pay respect to.  This cemetery and others that we past along the way were very simple.  The graves stones are either made of wood with a metal plaque with the soldiers name on it or in this cemetery the grave markers were made of metal.

Very simple and the small memorial in the center was damaged and needed work.  We were very surprise to see that there were up to 4 names on the crosses.  Two names in front and sometimes two names on back.

On the right side of this cross is an unknown German soldier.  My children without prompting found a wild flower and laid it down at this marker, which is what they do at other cemeteries.

There were so many Jewish German soldiers who fought bravely during the First War and were honored with German medals, only to later be persecuted by the Nazi 's during the second world war.

I was a little bit saddened to see that this cemetery had not been as well maintained as all the other countries cemeteries we have visited on this trip.  While Germany gets the blame for much of WWI, from what I have learned and read there was enough blame to go around, and these soldiers deserve to be remembered for their service as much as the other soldiers.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Meuse Argonne WWI

Our last stop before heading home was to visit the Meuse Argonne forest where the Americans fought.  However, on the way out of Verdun we stopped to visit what the French call a "Destroyed Village".  There were nine villages in the Verdun area that ceased to exist after the First World War.  The village we visited was Fleury Devant Douaumont which as a community of 422 people mostly of agriculture and woodworking.
The village was completely obliterated and so much unexploded ammunition was in the soil that it was too dangerous to rebuild the village.   It was also decided that the ground could not be recovered for agriculture use.  So the French planted trees and left it as a reminder of the war.  It might be hard to see but the ground is littered with shell craters.  There were signs everywhere telling people not to venture off the paths.  It was extremely sobering to see how the artillery had first reduced the buildings to dust, and then churned the soil into a lunar landscape of mud and bodies.

A memorial church was built.  Although the villages were not rebuilt, the French still keep them on their roster of actual villages, and all nine villages have a "mayor".

There are sign posts and paths telling the names of the streets in town

markers to point out where homes and business once existed

One of the pathways representing a street and a marker identifying someone's home

Before and after image of the town

Our first stop was to an American Monument Montfaucon.

Montfacon was the highest terrain in the Meuse-Argonne region, and was a key objective of the American assault.  Most people do not realize that the Meuse-Argonne battle was the largest, longest, and most bloody battle ever fought by the United States military.  The Americans claiming some 27,000 American lives in 47 days of fighting, with six separate days having a death toll greater than the well-known D-Day assault.  The saddest thing about this fighting is that this was part of the "Hundred Days Offensive" that drove the Germans to the point of capitulation, so most of the Americans who died in this battle died within weeks or days of the war.

I have always associated the red poppy for WWI but in our travels and learning about the War we discovered that in France the blue cornflower is the symbol for remembrance.  I looked everywhere for this little flower and on the last day I finally found it on our way to this monument.

An amazing monument.  There are 234 steps to reach the top and you get amazing views of the surrounding countryside

Behind this monument is a ruin church.

I loved the juxtaposition of these two pillars.  One of the old ruined church and the other of the American monument

Church grounds and there is evidence of German fortification throughout this area.

An old shelter that is unsafe to enter was just on the outer ridge of the church.
Our Next stop was the American Cemetery at Meuse Argonne
The cemetery is 130 acres and holds over 14,000 American graves...It is a beautiful place

View facing away from the cemetery towards the visitor center

Tree lined path between the grave sites

The rows of crosses lining the cemetery.

Kids putting down the blue corn flower we found at one of the graves.  We usually do this at an unknown soldier grave but we couldn't find one.  Later we found out we were in the wrong section and not only do they have a unknown soldier cross they also have a unknown soldier Star of David grave.  Since approximately one in six soldiers who were killed in the war were Jewish, one in six of the Unknown Soldier graves are marked with Stars of David.  In addition, the WWI Unknown Soldier who rests at Arlington National Cemetery originally was one of the unknown soldiers resting in this cemetery.

We always look out for the Medal of Honors and then read about them in the visitor center.  Freddie Sowers was an Afircan-American corporal leading his men on an attack on a hill.  Despite being wounded and under machine gunfire encourage his men to continue the fight to take the hill until he died.  Unfortunately, he was not awarded the Medal of Honor until 70 years after his feats of bravery, but his sister was still alive to receive his medal from President George H.W. Bush.

The main cemetery building

Inside the chapel

We noticed there were several graves with the dates of Nov 10 or 11th the day the war ended.  We asked the visitor  center why this was.  We were told that there were still many skirmishes held the last hours of the war with both sides trying to get rid of ammunition that they had, and for recently-arrived soldiers to get their chance for the "glory of battle".

One story told to us was a German officer looking over the trenches seeing an American group of soldiers getting ready to attack.  He rode across no mans land with a white flag and told the American officer that he and his men did not wish to engage in battle and that in less than 5 hours the war would be over and the Americans could have the trench without bloodshed.  However should the American decide to fight, the Germans would defend their position, and more men would die.  Thankfully the Americans decided not to attack.

We also saw numerous graves from well after the war ended.  It was explained to us that many men also perished in the Spanish Influenza Outbreak that struck near the end of 1918, killing more people than the war had in four years of fighting.

From the Visitor center looking onto the main portion of the Chapel.  
 The gentleman at the visitor center was a wealth of knowledge and took time to answer our questions.  He recommended that my husband and I read (which we are doing) the book "To Conquer Hell" by Edward Lengel.

Throughout our trip I read the book "The War to End All Wars" by Russell Freedman to the children in the car while driving to the various battlefields.

I can recommend both books to you if you are interested in more information about WWI