Image courtesy of Natalie Long
Image courtesy of Natalie Long
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m a big fan of holidays. Not just the trips themselves, but I absolutely love the process from the moment we start thinking about the perfect destination to pick and, much to Mike’s frustration, can frequently be found thinking about where we should travel next, even before we’ve left home on the next one booked. We haven’t done too much travelling since our trip back to Canada last summer, but no sooner had G and I got home from our fantastic day out at the Strictly tour, than it was time to finish the packing and zip up the suitcase for our 5 day half-term break.
Our holiday was perhaps not what people expected, in that we weren’t chasing the sun with a few days at the beach, even though both G and M are desperate to go back to Greece and mention it every time they can possibly shoehorn it into any conversation. Instead, we had taken inspiration from G’s GCSE history syllabus and her learning about Superpower relations, the Cold War and Nazi Germany during the inter-War years, subjects which also happen to tie in quite nicely with M’s focus on World War 1 in his history lessons this year; and so headed to Berlin. As the children have got older, we try to involve them more and more with planning our activities whilst we’re aware from home and this trip was no different. G spoke to her history teacher just after Christmas as the school had taken a group of their A-level students to Berlin a few weeks earlier and came home with some recommendations of the best places to visit to help solidify her learning and understanding of these eras.
Armed with that information as well as the additional research Mike had carried out in the preceding weeks, we had plenty to do to fill our time and couldn’t wait to get started. I had found what looked like a great place to stay: the Citadines Kurfürstendamm Berlin apart-hotel, meaning that we had access to a full kitchen which always makes life a little easier when travelling with food allergies. We were ideally located not too far from the main retail street and within easy walking distance to not only shops and restaurants, but also the Berlin U-Bahn, or Underground rapid transit system.
Our first day started, as it so often does when we travel to a new city, with a “Hop-on, hop-off” bus tour, although we weren’t as impressed with the City Circle Tour offering as we have been with other tour companies we’ve chosen in the past. However, it gave us a great introduction to the city of Berlin itself and helped us work out how to get to the various sights on our list as well as ticking a few of them off without too much hassle. Both G and M were fascinated by their first view of the few remaining remnants of the Berlin Wall, the Brandenburg Gate and the bombed remains of the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, all of which really brought their history lessons to life.
2018 is an important year. This year marks the centenary of the end of World War 1 and there are a number of events planned across the UK to commemorate the occasion, including the ambitious plan to recruit 1,400 new bell-ringers – the number of ringers lost during the war – to allow church and other bells to ring out on November 11th, just as they did to mark the end of WWI in 1918. Nearly two years ago, young men across the UK remembered the start of the Battle of the Somme in an incredibly heartfelt way and I am certain that this year will see similar shows of respect and passion as we remember those who sacrificed so much for us all.
However, today marks a different centenary, one that is just as significant and whilst not many of us would argue to know much about the passing of the Representation of People Act 1918 per se, I’m certain we all understand what that Act achieved – allowing women to finally have the vote. This Act was an important first step in the journey to equality for men and women and whilst there continued to be a number of restrictions on which women could vote until the passing of the Equal Franchise Act in 1928, when finally all men and women over the age of 21 had the vote, 1918 was the recognition of the hard work of the Suffrage movement, both Suffragettes and Suffragists, and the irreplaceable contribution of women during the years of WWI.
G spent time studying the Suffrage movement during her History lessons last year at school and I was delighted to discover that she was asked to research and learn more about this fascinating era of UK History. She had to explore the arguments for and against the actions of the two groups fighting for women’s votes: the Suffragettes, those who were prepared to fight hard, sometimes through violent demonstration; and the Suffragists, a group who fought just as hard but through using non-violent tactics; and then consider which group she would more likely have joined.
I cannot stress how important I think it is for girls today to be taught about the battles fought, both figuratively and literally, to achieve women’s votes. Since I turned 18, I have actively made an effort to vote in every local and national election and will encourage G to do the same when she reaches her majority. It is a 100 years since women won the vote in the UK, which may seem like a part of the dim and distant part to my 14-year-old and her friends, but the reality is that, even during their lifetime, there have been other women fighting this battle and the women of Saudi Arabia only achieved that right just 7 short years ago.
After a week of topsy-turvy political instability that continues to rock the UK, today has been a day to put the confusion to one side and spend time in silent contemplation. Today marks 100 years since the battle of the Somme and the selfless sacrifice made by thousands of young men as they fought to bring an end to World War 1.
Today, hundreds of young men have formed a fitting tribute to the fallen across the UK – London, Glasgow, Manchester, Bristol, Leicester and many more. Dressed in the military uniforms of World War 1, these men have gathered at train stations and city centres during the morning rush of commuters heading to work and have been silently handing out business cards bearing the name, rank, battalion, age and date of death of some of the young men who died at the Somme.
Below are just a handful of the photos flooding social media this morning, please take time to have a look at the others. These images are powerful; they are heart-wrenching; they are a poignant memorial. An emotional, sobering, thought-invoking reminder of the thousands who would leave loved ones at home and never return:
“When you get home, tell them of us, and say:
For their tomorrow, we gave our today”
– John Maxwell Edmonds
Having made the epic journey to Hastings to dip our toes into events of the past, we took full advantage of being near the South coast and decided a side trip to Brighton was in order. Our Sunday started at a slightly slower pace and once the unavoidable homework was out of the way, we jumped into the car to head an hour west to our destination. I achieved the ultimate moment of parenting success, entirely unplanned, when G spotted the infamous white chalk cliffs of the area. I hadn’t realised it was something she had learned a little about in geography this term and mentally gave myself a pat on the back for ticking the boxes for both her history and geography classes.
Following what seemed like an army of motorbikes of all shapes, colours and descriptions into Brighton, we found our way to a centrally located car park before heading out on foot. We had managed to park strategically close to the main shopping centre and started our short visit with lunch at what has become one of our all-time favourite allergy-friendly restaurants, Wagamama. As at our home branch, their service here was phenomenal, the attention to detail spot on and we all enjoyed food that we knew would be reassuringly safe for both M and G. Once the most critical part of our day was dealt with, we walked to our final destination for the afternoon, the Brighton Pavilion. A new experience for all of us, although I have seen it from the outside before; and what an amazing experience it was.
The children were astounded to see the Indian-inspired splendour of the Royal Pavilion buildings in Brighton – another big tick here as M will be studying India later in the year! – and keen to listen to the audio guides telling them more about the design, build and use of the Pavilion since it was first transformed from modest seaside villa to magnificent palace for King George IV in 1815. M fell in love with the Banqueting Hall with its impressive dragons, life-like lotus leaves and the 30-foot high chandelier, covered in over 50,000 crystals, hanging in the centre of the room. Equally amazing was the music room, which has been painstakingly restored, not just once, but twice since 1975 due to excessive damage caused first by fire and latterly by storm damage. G and M also loved trying to spot the secret doors, behind which were often hidden one of the multitude of toilets in the place or access passages for the servants so that King George wouldn’t see them as they went about their work.
There is currently a photo exhibition about the role the Royal Pavilion played during WWI and Mike and I were fascinated to read about the conversion of this once royal palace to a hospital for troops from the Indian Corps wounded on the Western Front in France and Flanders. As we walked from room to room inside the Pavilion admiring all the artefacts on display, there were often also photos showing how each room had been converted for use during the war. Huge efforts were made to not only protect the historical elements of the palace, but also to make these injured soldiers feel comfortable and “at home” during their convalescence. What struck me the most was a statistic about the number of patients treated during the 14 months it was open (though please forgive me if I misquote as my recollection is perhaps a little hazy): between December 1914 and January 1916, around 2,500 Indian patients were treated and only 18 died. Amazing when you think how horrific many of the injuries suffered by those troops were. Following the Indian military hospital, the Pavilion was then used for a further 4 years as a hospital for British amputees, who not only had wounds treated and prosthetic limbs fitted, but were also then rehabilitated to develop skills to help them in their later lives once the war had ended.
The Brighton Royal Pavilion is a truly captivating and beautiful place to visit, with a fascinating history and it delighted us all. We spent a great couple of hours exploring the rooms and admiring the architecture and I’m glad that we were able to make that stop before heading back home after our busy weekend.
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