Valuing the past: how much for Old Oswestry Hill Fort?

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SIGN HERE: Change.org petition against developing land below the hill fort

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Last Sunday it made the national press – the campaign to stop housing development beside Old Oswestry Hill Fort. You can read The Guardian/Observer article HERE.

Recently I wrote about the Great War poet, Wilfred Owen. Oswestry is his birthplace, and I mentioned that the garden of his former home has planning approval for several upscale houses. All of which leads me to ask, who values heritage the more – the developers trying to cash in on its cachet  and so add mega-K to their price tags; or the rest of us, who too often ignore, or take for granted threats to the historic fabric of our towns and countryside? Or who only find out after the event when it’s too late to speak up? Of course, some of us may not care at all: what has the past ever done for me?

In Oswestry, however, they are rallying to the cause of their hill fort, and they have every reason to. It is one of the best preserved examples in Europe, built around 3,000 years ago. On its south side is another important monument – a section of the 40-mile long Wat’s Dyke, probably dating from the early post-Roman period.

Unusually, too, for a hill fort, Old Oswestry is very accessible, being close to the town; it is an important local amenity and landmark and currently in the care of English Heritage. This government funded body does appear to be objecting to at least some of the development plans, but not strongly enough in some people’s opinions. EH will apparently be meeting the developers to discuss matters in December.

Photo from: The Heritage Trust Old Oswestry Hill Fort Under Threat

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The photo above shows (along the top edge) how close the town is to the fort. The farm complex in the upper left-hand corner, nearest the hill fort, is one of the sites allocated for upmarket housing. Hill Fort Close, Multivallate Avenue anyone?

Below is the view from the other direction, showing the proposed developments. These sites (in pink) are outside the town’s present development boundary. Usually there can be no development outside a development boundary, unless a good case can be made for an exception site for affordable houses. On such sites, houses must remain affordable in perpetuity and are thus normally managed by a housing association or social landlord. So, you may well ask, how come the environs of this hill fort are suddenly under threat, and not from affordable, but from upscale market housing?

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SAMDev – who’s heard of it?

In Shropshire we have a thing called SAMDev (a nasty-sounding acronym standing for site allocation and management development). Shropshire is one of Britain’s largest counties, mostly rural and agricultural, but with light industry and retail zones on the edges of market towns like Oswestry. SAMDev is a response to National Planning Policy which enshrines the concept of presumption in favour of sustainable development. Spot the weasel word here.

Oswestry Map

For the last two years Shropshire Council has been ‘consulting’ (theoretically with the communities concerned) on areas of land outside existing development boundaries and identifying locations for housing and employment growth up to 2026. The final plan will be produced by the end of this year and it will be available for public scrutiny before going to an independent assessor.

As part of this process, land owners and developers have been invited to put forward their own development proposals. In other words, SAMDev is rather like a county-wide preliminary planning application. Developers are thus in negotiation with Council planning officers throughout this process. This usually happens anyway with any large development proposal.

This means that when a formal application is finally submitted, it is likely to be passed by the Planning Committee with little argument. The Planning Committee is made up of councillors, people who may have little understanding of planning matters. They rely on the reports presented to them by planning officers. It is the officers who are compiling the SAMDev document.

Although this entire process is available for public scrutiny (all draft plans including individual communities’ Place Plans are on Shropshire Council’s website)  I think it’s safe to assume that most people in Shropshire don’t know that SAMDev has been happening. They might have been invited to consult, but somehow they did not understand the invitation, or the implications of not responding. Most people have thus not participated in the consultation process.

The biggest problem is that most normal people do not understand the kind of words that planning  people use. I may be cynical, but is this not deliberate? What is clear is that inexplicable quantities of houses have been allocated for big and small towns throughout the county. SAMDev, through its provision of specific sites for specific purposes, is the means by which they will be realised.

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A case close to home – Much Wenlock

In my small town of Much Wenlock the local landowner has offered up farmland along the southern and western boundaries of the town. This has enabled Shropshire Council’s Core Strategy to make an astonishing allocation of up to 500 new houses in the next 13 years – this in a flood-prone, poorly drained town of 2,700 people, where employment opportunities are poor, and the mediaeval road system is not fit for purpose, either for traffic or for parking. In other words, the town is already full, and its ancient centre cannot be changed, short of flattening it.

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Shropshire Council’s Core Strategy states that Much Wenlock needs up to 500 new houses in the next 13 years, increasing the town’s footprint by another 50%. The town sits in a bowl with a river running through it. The development in the foreground is one of the newer ones. Its drains were apparently connected to the old town sewer instead of to the separate system for which it had approval. New developments like this have hidden costs for existing communities. This particular problem has not been rectified six years on from the 2007 flood that damaged up to 90 homes.

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Development = Sustainable Growth?

The ensuing development fest that will be enabled once SAMDev is passed is seen as a means to stimulate growth. The argument seems to be that communities will die if they do not grow in huge tranches. But this is only a point of view, not an absolute truth. There are other models for sustainability, perhaps more meaningful ones. Besides, every community has its particular characteristics that might suggest other narratives; strategies that enable them to grow without necessarily expanding all over the landscape. Of course it is always easier, and presumably cheaper, to build over new ground than it is to reclaim old buildings and clean up brown field sites within existing settlements.  Perhaps this is the reason why Councils do not take over unoccupied homes in towns, even though they have the powers to do so?

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Trading on the past

In places like Much Wenlock house prices are high because, to quote estate agents and developers, “everyone wants to live here”. People want the best of both worlds, a high-spec modern house with multiple en suites, but in close proximity to gentrified antiquity where people live in homes that be cannot double-glazed because of listed building regulations. The new-home dwellers perceive acquired value by association with the past, and are prepared to pay for it. The kind of properties envisaged for the upscaled farmyard site near Oswestry hill fort will doubtless command a premium for similarly nebulous reasons.

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Much Wenlock – view towards the town centre, a ‘60s development on the far hillside.

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In this way, then, developers trade on something that does not belong to them – the historic setting that is cared for and maintained by other people. Buyers buy into the connection, distracted by the ‘look of the thing’. It’s all rather Emperor’s New Clothes-ish. But then if student debt can now be sold on by banks as a commodity, perhaps heritage detraction can also be a tradable commodity. Communities should exact compensation directly from those developers whose poorly designed housing schemes erode the quality of their environment, whether visually or through added strain on existing infrastructure. (In places like Shropshire effective infrastructure provision does not precede any new housing development; nor, if Much Wenlock is anything to go by, does it follow it.) And I’m not talking here about the modest Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) that developers must pay to communities to build the small but useful things like playgrounds and car parks that councils no longer provide. But something far more substantial.

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How much for this ancient monument?

So what value do we set on a hill fort? Is it worth twenty million pounds say? Fifty? More? Perhaps august academic institutions around the world might invest in shares in our monuments for their scholarly worth, and provide us with the means to buy off developers, or at least keep them at a respectable and respectful distance.

And I am only half-joking here. It would not be so bad if developers in this country built wonderful, good quality eco-houses in versions to suit everyone’s financial capacity, but mostly they don’t. And in the case of Much Wenlock the cost of large new developments around the town has been high – homes flooded from backed up drains and flash-flood run-off.

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Standing up for heritage

But where does this leave Old Oswestry and all those  who are campaigning against developing the nearby farmland?

Since the Guardian article, support has been gathering from across the country and beyond. You can follow the campaign at Old Oswestry Hill Fort on Facebook. But the problem is that there are only so many arguments  you can make against unwanted development, and they have to comply with planning law and the Local Authority’s Core Strategy. They include loss of amenity value, visual impact, access, safety and sustainability.

At present, planning laws and high property prices give all the power to developers. If planning authorities cannot base refusal on the strongest case, then developers will opt for a judicial review to get their way. This costs local authorities a lot of money, and so us a lot of money.  Developers’ planning consultants write letters to planning officers threatening legal action. You will find such letters in Council files. This is one reason why authorities cave in without a fight.

The heritage consultant’s impact report on the proposed development near Old Oswestry concentrates on view, THE VIEW of the development from the hill fort, and of the development looking towards the hill fort. The impact is considered to be negligible, but this again is a point of view. Housing developments also come with multiple cars, parking issues, garbage storage areas, satellite dishes, and people living their lives as they  might expect to do in their own homes. There is also the future to consider. The Trojan Horse concept is a familiar one in development: approval of one development in due course setting a precedent for the next one alongside.

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So why protect our past?

One would hope that the land around the hill fort would remain as farmland; that the farm could be sold as a farm. Or it  might make a good visitor centre for the hill fort, using existing buildings. In reality there is no need to build anything at all in the vicinity of the hill fort. Better that Shropshire Council use its powers to take control of unoccupied dwellings in the town rather than sanction intrusion into the setting of a historic monument of  national importance.

After all, why would anyone think that this was a good idea? These ancient places are resorts, and in all kinds of ways. They feed our imaginations and spirits; for children they grow understanding of other times, and other ways of living: all things that in the end make us wiser human beings. And isn’t this the kind of development we really need? People development? And before we carry on building all over the planet, shouldn’t we stop to consider what we already have, and see if some creative re-purposing cannot shape un-used buildings and derelict sites for our future growth requirements? Or is this approach too much to ask of our elected representatives and public servants?

Copyright 2013 Tish Farrell

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SIGN HERE: Change.org petition against developing land below the hill fort

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Find out about protecting your heritage at Civic Voice and Council for Protection of Rural England and join your local CIVIC SOCIETY

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Related:

Petition to Shropshire Council at Change.org

Oswestry 21 Community Voices

Oswestry Eye

The Essential Oswestry Visitor Guide

Old Oswestry Hill Fort on Facebook

English Heritage Old Oswestry

The Heritage Journal Oswestry Hill Fort Under Attack

The Heritage Journal Old Oswestry Hill Fort: a campaigner asks – “why aren’t EH entirely on the side of the Public?”

The Heritage Journal Old Oswestry Hill Fort Safe?

The Heritage Journal Oswestry Hillfort “top level talks”: will those who care for it stand firm?

The Heritage Journal Oswestry Hill Fort: is it a forgone bad conclusion?

@ShropCouncil on Twitter

@EnglishHeritage on Twitter

Undervalued in his home county? Great War Poet Wilfred Owen – a true Shropshire Lad 1893-1918

“It is fitting and sweet to die for one’s country” Horace, Ode III

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“Dulce et Decorum Est “ 
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under I green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie:
Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

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Wilfred Owen has been described as the greatest of the Great War poets.  He surely was, although in terms of the brutal brevity of his career,  it is a dubious honour. The young officer who wrote this poem  was killed  as he led his raiding party from the Manchester Regiment across the Sambre-Oise Canal on 4th November 1918. At the time, he was twenty five years old and only four of his poems had been published. One week later the war ended. His mother received news of his death in Shrewsbury, Shropshire, just as bells of the county town’s churches were ringing out in joyous celebration of peace. It is hard to imagine the pain of that moment.

Owen, though, believed it was the duty of a poet to tell the truth, to show how it was for the men – this “Pity of War”. He did not have to return to the front after being treated for shell shock in Craiglockhart Military Hospital in 1917. But  it was while he was receiving treatment here that he met fellow  inmate, Siegfried Sassoon, who became his mentor, and encouraged the young poet to write of the cruel realities of war.

In August 1918  Owen chose to return to the front. In the following October  he won the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the attack on the Fonsomme Line. And of course he did tell the truth, and in stark, excoriating detail.

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Wilfred Owen was born and spent his early childhood in Oswestry, Shropshire on the Welsh border, in a gracious villa, Plas Wilmot, owned by his maternal grandfather, Edward Shaw.  He was the eldest of four children. His father, Tom Owen, was a railway official, a job that took the family for a time to  Birkenhead on the Wirral in Cheshire.

Plas Wilmot, Owen’s birthplace. Photo: Oswestry Family and Local History Group

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In 1906 the Owens returned to Shropshire, this time to the county town of Shrewsbury where Wilfred attended Shrewsbury Technical School, now the Wakeman School. His last years of education were spent as a pupil-teacher as he struggled to study and win a scholarship to university. In this he failed, and although he won a place at Reading University his parents could not afford to send him. Instead, between 1913 and 1915 when he enlisted, he was went to work as a teacher in France.

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The Square in Shrewsbury c 1909

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The house of his birth is privately owned,  and it was only last year, after lobbying by civic groups and historians that it was also given a grade 2 listing by English Heritage; this amid fears of development on the site. In August this year the surrounding gardens were put up for sale with outlined planning permission for the building of seven detached houses on three sides of Owen’s former home. Many have urged that the house and its gardens should be left intact, hoping that one day there might be a museum here. For it is a sad fact that while Wilfred Owen is known of in Shropshire, he is given only scant commemoration.

Yet Wilfred Owen’s words speak to the whole world, for all humanity, a fact recognised at least in France where in the village of Ors, where Owen died,  they have commissioned Turner prize nominee, Simon Patterson, to transform La Maison Forestiere (The Forester’s House) into a wonderful place of contemplation and commemoration of Owen’s work. More than this, it is a place to acknowledge the futility of war. It was in this house on 31st October 1918 that Wilfred Owen wrote the last letter to his mother. A few days later he was dead, joining the millions of others lost in the vicious cull of youthful talent and potential.  Those of us who come after can only wonder if the full cost of this loss has even now been fully reckoned.

You can see more about La Maison Forestiere in the links below, and a brief biography in the short video at the end.

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La Maison Forestiere. Photo: Hektor Creative Commons

© 2013 Tish Farrell

FRIZZTEXT’S ‘UUU’ CHALLENGE

Related:

Elecommunication: so many connections

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Elephants: “The animal which surpasses all others in wit and mind.” Aristotle

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Do you remember when you first discovered there were such things as elephants? And didn’t childish intuition tell you at once that these animals were among the world’s most wonderful creatures?

Over the last few decades scientists have proved that they are in fact wonderful – and in all sorts of ways, not least their ability to communicate over large distances. Then there is their highly developed matriarchal society. They are also one of the most intelligent species on earth. They are good at problem solving. There are many cases of their altruistic acts. For instance they have been known to help wounded humans in the bush, even going so far as placing exposed individuals in the shade, and then keeping guard over them against predators.

But proof apart, it is probably anyway beyond most people’s comprehension that some forms of humanity see elephants purely as a resource – killing them for ivory, or a trophy head to brag about to their shooting chums.

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The word elephant, I’ve just read somewhere on Google, comes from the Greek word elephas meaning ivory, so already we have a clue as to the literate world’s  (one hesitates to use the word ‘civilized’ here)  once primary relationship with elephants. But then this is not the only kind of man-elephant relationship. The killing of elephants is not always about the pursuit of luxury goods. Indigenous African peoples, such as the small-statured Mbuti hunters of the the Congo forests, have long hunted elephant for food, and also possibly scavenged dead ones. One beast, killed once in a while would keep a hunting band going for many days as well as providing large amounts of meat to trade with farming neighbours for other goods.

The fact that there have always been hunters like the Mbuti who will tackle an elephant, makes them in turn desirable allies and trading partners to less brave outsiders who crave only the ivory. In East Africa, from at least the start of the first millennium AD, Arab dhow merchants relied on locals like the Akamba people to bring ivory to the coast to trade. In the nineteenth century the Swahili slavers set off into the interior to grab for themselves a combination haul of humans and ivory, the poor human captives being forced, while they still lived, to carry the elephant tusks hundreds of miles back to the coast.

There are far older stories too.  The tomb biography of Prince Harkhuf of Elephantine records that four thousand years ago this Ancient Egyptian general headed at least four major expeditions into the African interior. One objective was to test the waters for a take-over of the neighbouring Kingdom of Nubia. But there were also valuable resources to garner: ivory, leopard skins, ebony, precious stones. One expedition went beyond the Mountains of the Moon, the Rwenzori Mountains on the borders of Uganda and Eastern Congo, and so into the territory of Mbuti hunters.

The tomb account includes a letter from Harkhuf’s Pharaoh, Pepi II Neferkare  who, on becoming Egypt’s ruler at the age of six, longed for nothing more than his own pygmy,  he “who danceth like the god”. The letter contains strict instructions as to the pygmy’s care, and especially on the voyage back down the Nile so that he does not fall in the river. Anyone who has read Colin Turnbull’s The Forest People, will know that the Mbuti are renowned for their performances of complex polyphonic singing and energetic dancing conducted in praise of their Forest Creator. Neferkare’s letter would suggest that the Mbuti were already well known to the Egyptians thousands of miles away, and the primary source of this relationship was mostly likely to have been the Mbuti’s provision of forest produce including ivory.

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But the biggest assault on elephant-kind has all to do with the arrival of the gun. A major killing spree began in the late 1800s in the Congo – then a private fiefdom of Leopold II of Belgium (think Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the Congo River stations set up especially to export ivory and wild rubber from the forest hinterland). In East Africa the slaughter began at a similar time under British colonial rule – first British and European aristocrats out to make their fortunes, then by hunters,like John Hunter,  employed by the colonial administration to protect settler plantations from elephant damage. The ivory hunters of course always sought out the animals with the biggest tusks. So much so, that when the likes of Denys Finch Hatton and aviator, Beryl Markham began scouting for ivory from the air, the big bulls of Tsavo were reputed to hide their tusks in the undergrowth whenever they heard a plane.

What was taking place, then, was a most unnatural selection. The biggest and best elephants had the biggest and best ivory. The gene pool of present day elephants has thus been ravaged by a century of mass killing. After the colonial era, the armies of civil war conflicts across the continent, continued the job started by colonial sportsmen and administrators. After the Idi Amin regime in Uganda when much wildlife was decimated, the tusks of the elephant population that gradually re-established itself were either puny or did not develop at all. And an elephant needs his tusks – not least for rearranging the landscape (clearing trees to favour grass growth) and mining for water sources and essential mineral salts.

And why did this killing begin? Because humans thought that ivory re-fashioned into billiard balls, piano keys, and objets d’art was more valuable than embedded in living, breathing elephants. Some people still think this.

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But back to the elephants and those extraordinary things that scientists have been discovering about them. For one thing, the infra-sound throat rumbles that vibrate through the earth can convey information to other elephants at least six miles away. It would appear, too, that they can pick up seismic movements over far greater distances than this. Researchers have observed that when it started thundering in Angola, thus signalling the start of the rains and fresh browse in that quarter, elephants one hundred miles away in Etosha National Park, Namibia, set off there. Apparently the tips of trunks, toes and heels are especially sensitive to vibration. Working Asiatic elephants have also been known to detect tsunamis and make for higher ground, thus saving any humans who happened to be riding on them at the time.

When it comes to communicating amongst the immediate herd or with potential predators, elephants have a whole range of calls and gestures, depending on the circumstances. These include ear-splitting screams and trumpeting, rumbles and grunts, crying and barking, head shaking and ear-flapping, trunk slapping, dust-kicking, throwing missiles, ear spreading, standing tall, and making mock and real charges.

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While their eyesight is not acute, and especially in bright light conditions, they have a keen sense of smell. An elephant will  thus continuously read its environment and, using the tip of its trunk like an antenna, decode all manner of messages by scanning urine, faeces, saliva, and the secretions from their fellows’ temporal glands (found on the side of the head mid way between the  eye and ear). Also, when it comes to acts of aggression from humans, elephants will remember these and continue to identify such aggressors by their smell.

And that’s the other marvellous thing. Elephants do remember. For much of the year the males and females live separately usually only congregating for mating purposes. The females roam in small family groups led by an old matriarch. Within that matriarch’s head is a lifetime’s accumulated wisdom that she uses to manage her daughters, granddaughters and their offspring, and so keep them healthy and safe. Elephants left bereft of their elders through culling or poaching, are known to flounder and panic without the old ones’ guidance. 

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As you can see from some of these photos, mostly taken outside the national park  in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, elephants are not only highly sociable, but also very tactile. They spend much time wiggling against each other and touching each other with their trunks. Even older elephants like to play, and there are a whole range of gestures that they use to invite general romping. As the work of Daphne Sheldrick has shown at her Nairobi elephant orphanage, an orphaned elephant will die, not so much because it is short of food, although the right infant milk formula is very important, but because it does not have a continuous show of affection and reassurance from family members.

Sheldrick has learned how to provide for this vital need by assigning a human keeper-parent to every baby; duties, apart from feeding and playing, include spending the night with their charges. When the time comes to repatriate adolescent elephants to the wild, the lack of matriarchal knowledge creates a considerable challenge to making a viable transition. This was well shown in the BBC series The Elephant Diaries.

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The Elephant Orphanage, Nairobi

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More sobering to learn is the fact that elephants, not only have a similar life-span to us, but they also do understand death. In the past, conservationists have found to their cost that elephants are utterly traumatized by witnessing culling events. Where elephants have been wounded by poachers, their comrades will stay beside them and try to lift them or feed them grass. Once an elephant has died, the herd may remain with the corpse of several days. The young ones have been seen to cry. The survivors will then cover the dead one with branches, leaves and grass. During colonial times, a Kenyan district officer once confiscated a poachers’ stash of ivory, only to find that in the night, the local elephants broke into the store and carried off the tusks.

There is, though, another side of the elephant-man story, and especially where they compete for the same territory. In a single night’s  foraging, elephants can wipe out a whole season’s crops in a farmer’s smallholding, and that means starvation for the family concerned. They will also kill humans if they consider themselves provoked. Bulls in must are quickly irritated and are especially dangerous at such times, as are mothers with small calves.  In poor communities poaching ivory can become an attractive proposition where local bigwigs and foreign buyers seem to be offering them a small fortune to do so. The only way to protect both elephants and would-be local poachers is to give communities reasons to protect elephants. That means a fair cut of tourist dollars to provide for schools and clinics and a a better standard of living all round.

There are many thousands of elephants still roaming African, but they are always under threat. Most nations’ wildlife parks are under-resourced when it comes to vehicles, equipment and manpower. Much protection of wildlife is in fact done by owners of private game reserves in conjunction with local communities.  In the meantime, we need to thank those African rangers, men and women, who daily risk their lives for often little pay, to protect their countries’ wildlife from human rapine. They are indeed true heroes.  We might also stop to ponder on whether some of the resource grabbers funding the poachers  might not have closer connections to our own lives than we care to admit.

Ailsa’s Travel Theme: connections

© 2013 Tish Farrell

For more about ivory poaching:

Dear Kitty. Some blog Ivory trade legal in the USA

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For more about elephants in general: Elephant Voices

Related posts:

Elephants, E-books and Enticing Reluctant Readers  #amwriting

Thinking of Gallipoli

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Giles (Victor) Rowles

1896-1915

Ninety nine years and one month ago, my great uncle, Giles Rowles enlisted with the 14th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force in Melbourne. He was an English sailor, born in the Old Red Lion Inn, Hollins Green, near Manchester. He was eighteen years old. By the time he enlisted, both his parents, Charles and Mary Rowles were dead, and for reasons unknown he had changed his name to Victor. When he enlisted he gave his next of kin as Aunt Louisa Rowles of 10, Despenser Gardens, Cardiff. She was his dead father’s widowed sister-in-law.

This photo from his mother’s locket is the only known photograph of Giles. He was the only child of my great grandmother’s second marriage to Manchester Ship Canal pilot, Charles Rowles. There were four older step siblings. He was thirteen when his widowed mother died, and it seems he then went to live with Aunt Louisa in Cardiff. The 1911 census return lists him as a trainee shipping clerk. His older cousin John, who was still living at home, was a shipping agent. The next record I have of him is when he enlists in Melbourne in October 1914.

The National Australian Archives have made all the war records available on line, and it was from these that we have been able to piece together a little of Victor Rowles’ last year on earth. It is noteworthy that he writes his signature on the enlistment form with a confident flourish. It is the clear hand of someone who has been a clerk. But the details are sparse, and all the more disturbing for that. The Medical Officer at Broadmeadows, where initial military training took place, lists the following: he was eighteen years and seven months, 5 feet 5 and a quarter inches , weighed 135 pounds. His complexion was ruddy, his eyes green and his hair brown. His only distinguishing marks are two vaccination marks on his left arm. I don’t know why I find it upsetting to know that his eyes were green.

On 22 December 1914 he embarked for Egypt on the HMAT ‘Berrima’, arriving there for further training in January 1915. On the 25th April  the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) landed at Gallipoli together with troops from New Zealand, Britain, and France. This began a campaign that ended with the evacuation of troops on 19 and 20 December 1915. 

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Anzac Cove, 4th Battalion landing 25 April 1915. Photo: copyright expired

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The Australian and New Zealand forces held out for months on the narrow beachhead that became known as  Anzac Cove. Quite apart from the sniping and shelling from the hills above, conditions there were terrible. From the start, it was a quite pointless campaign with much digging in, and little or no ground gained. Then on 6th August, having survived one nightmare, the 14th battalion took part in the final British attempt to wrest control of the Gallipoli Peninsula from the defending Ottoman Turks. This involved the Anzacs moving up the coast to take Hill 971, a beetling, rugged ridge known to the troops as The Sphinx.  From an account in the official war diary,  the advance uphill and across impossible terrain that only gave great advantage to the enemy was courageous if chaotic; there were many casualties.

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Anzac Cove. Great War Primary Document Archive: Photos of the Great War

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On  8th August Victor Rowles was taken aboard the hospital ship Devanha where he died of gunshot wounds. He was buried at sea on the 10th August, two miles east of Mudros Harbour on the island of Lemnos. His few effects, including a handkerchief, manicure-set, letters and photos, were later sent to his Aunt Louisa, as were the memorial scroll and plaque. All these items are lost now, along with his three medals.  Nonetheless, now that I have found out these few fragments of his life, I will surely remember him, along with the many thousands of brave, but needlessly lost ones on both sides of the Gallipoli campaign.

© 2013 Tish Farrell

Related post: Looking for Giles AKA Private Victor Rowles

#nogloryinwar

 

Frizz’s weekly challenge: TTT

You can see the marvellous full-length film Gallipoli here. It movingly covers both sides in the conflict.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqqFMRcl_Q8

Songs from an Inland Sea: “On Wenlock Edge”

This week’s Word Press writing challenge, with its musical theme, has set off a whole host of notions. In fact this may just be the post where all the strands of my  ‘writer on the edge’ blog come together. This, though, is only a proposition and by no means a promise.  One thing I can promise:  there is some very fine music at the end. And for those of you who do not know the  English composers Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)  and George Butterworth (1885-1916), then please consider this an early solstice gift. And if by chance you do not care for it, or indeed anyway, by all means pass it on.

So to return to the notions.  Those of you who  have read my past posts will probably know that I live on the edge of  Wenlock Edge, a twenty-mile limestone scarp that bisects the county of Shropshire from the River Severn above the Ironbridge Gorge, to Craven Arms on the borderland with Wales. Aeons ago this now wooded, much quarried ridge was once a shallow tropical sea lying somewhere off East Africa. Today, and especially now through bare wintery trees, you can look out from its summit and scan a great panorama – the farm fields, villages and hills of Shropshire.

View towards Eaton Manor & Wenlock Edge

Looking up to Wenlock Edge. Photo: Eaton Manor

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As I’ve said in other posts, there is a lot of history in this place – over 400 million years’ worth. Too much to embrace. But in the recent past (geologically speaking), you might have looked out from the easterly end of the Edge onto the smog-laden valley of Coalbrookdale as the Quaker ironmasters stoked their blast furnaces and helped fuel an industrial revolution. Travel back a further 1500 years and to the north you would have gazed on the impressive public buildings and sprawling settlement of the Roman city of Viroconium. Or in earlier times still you might have witnessed the building of the great Iron Age hill forts on the Wrekin and in Mogg Forest, or perhaps glimpsed some Bronze Age smiths plying the ancient ridge-top trackway en route for Wales.

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The Edge, then, is full of spirits, and  it is not surprising that it has long inspired artists, writers and composers. And so we come to the music, or rather, we come first to the work that inspired the music – A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad.  This collection of sixty three poems has been described as a gift for composers. The poems are written in the style of traditional ballads. And if at first they seem too obvious in their rhyme and rhythm, then look again. These are songs of loss and fleetingness – lost youth, lost love, the soldier’s death. That they are set against some scene of suggested rural perfection only heightens their poignancy. The work, too, somehow anticipated the bleak waste of the Great War, and so it was that, when the time came,  A Shropshire Lad went with many a soldier into the trenches.

Housman’s  sense of melancholy and loss stem from his own life: his mother died when he was twelve, his brother Herbert was killed serving in the Boer War, and his deep love for another man was unrequited. Nor did his work A Shropshire Lad have a very good start. Although it has remained in print since publication in 1896, in the beginning Housman could not find a publisher and had to pay to have the first five hundred copies printed. At first, too, there was a lukewarm reception. But within a few years, and much to the writer’s surprise,  its popularity suddenly grew. This in part was due to the fact that several composers seized on some of the poems and set them to music.

In 1909 came Vaughan Williams’ song cycle On Wenlock Edge. The work’s title is taken from the opening line of poem XXXI: On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble. You can hear the storm-driven trees in the opening of the first video clip where English tenor, Ian Bostridge goes on to talk about his recording of the work with Bernard Haitink.  You also see him in rehearsal singing one of the most moving poems. It is written in the voice of a ghostly young ploughman returning home to see how his girl is faring. Here are the first two stanzas.

XXVII

“Is my team ploughing,

That I was used to drive

And hear the harness jingle

When I was man alive?”

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Ay, the horses trample,

The harness jingles now;

No change though you lie under

The land you used to plough.

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The entire Vaughan Williams song cycle sung by Anthony Rolfe Johnson is performed in the third video below. Other composers inspired by the poems include Samuel Barber and Ivor Gurney (The Western Playland and Ludlow and Teme). I could not find clips of these works but I did find George Butterworth, who was a friend of Vaughan Williams. He set eleven of the poems to music including Is my team ploughing. He also composed the orchestral rhapsody A Shropshire Lad. It is yearning, elegiac piece, performed in the second video and accompanied by Shropshire scenes. Butterworth himself was killed on the Somme in 1916, his composer’s career barely begun.

So,  you may ask, how does this all fit with ‘Tish Farrell – writer on the edge’? Well I suppose it comes down to this. As a fiction writer, or indeed a blogger, my focus is ever on the evocation of place (both through time and space) and how it resonates through the lives of the people and events I write about. And so I love the fact that the place where I live and have known most of my life has inspired so much creative work. And, indeed, continues to do so. In fact, I’m planning to feature more of it on this blog – the artists of the Edge. I am, anyway, fascinated by the process by which, in wonderful synergy, one person’s work inspires another’s creative response, thus building into a  body of cross-referencing works. See what good things we can make when we listen in good faith to each other.

Wenlock Edge of course has its own music. I hear it most when I’m working on my allotment – the windrush in the woods, the mewing buzzards, the calls of rooks and jackdaws, and through it the chiming of the church clock. I screen out the traffic sounds of course. So here we have it: the rural idyll that never was, the music of Vaughan Williams and George Butterworth evoking the peculiarly human need to long for something we cannot have, and finally Housman’s  own words from poem XL:

   Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

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And now, courtesy of Gutenberg Press, here is your copy of  A E Housman’s A Shropshire Lad.

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Frizz’s S-Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Moved by Music

© 2013 Tish Farrell

Two by Two in Maine: too many reasons not to go

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Two whooshes of spray Portland Head

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Two  yellow gables in Ocean Park

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Two windows on the Downeaster – Boston to Portland ME

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Two azure light streaks on Portland Library

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A bear and her bucket, Boothbay Botanical Gardens

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The Farm 31a

Two ‘Ls’, a Bean and a Boot in Freeport

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Two spans over the Kennebec River, Richmond

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Pumpkins two by two with a few extra ones, Portland

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Two blurry men or is it the photographer?

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Two fences with dangling bits, keeping the beach tidy at Orchard Park

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Beach house supper: lots of things in twos

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Two watch the sea on Old Orchard Beach

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Two embrace, Ogunquit Museum of American Art

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Two zinnias and a monarch

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Two chairs and another chair in Ocean Park

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Portland Head

Two promontories on the way to Portland Head

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Two armchairs with art by Matt Hausmann, family collection, Richmond

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Related:

Only One Ogunquit: the little gallery by the sea

Marvellous Multicoloured Maine

Posted in response to:

A Word A Week Challenge: Two

More twosomes here:

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Elizabeth Krall

Woolly Muses

Ese’s Voice

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Steve says…

 

Island of Old Ghosts

Weekly Photo Challenge: Eerie

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There are ancient, bloody-minded spirits here on Ynys Môn, the island where the Celtic druids made their last stand during the Roman conquest of Britain. This place, otherwise known by its Viking name of Anglesey, lies just off the coast of Wales, the narrow Menai Straits between. One Christmas morning we came here to Penmon on the island’s north-east tip. The light was very strange that day, darkness already gathering at noon. Then across the Straits, above the mainland, the sun bore down like a searchlight.

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Penmon is the site of an early Christian monastery, founded in the 6th century by St Seiriol, but the roots Ynys Môn’s sacred, and now mysterious practices, are far older than this. Across the island there are Neolithic and Bronze Age chambered tombs, and then there is the spectacular Celtic Iron Age hoard from Llyn Cerrig Bach, a seemingly sacrificial lake offering of weapons, chariots, slave chains, and highly crafted regalia. The Romans claimed that in their groves the druid priests made human sacrifices, but little is known of these people beyond the gory account in the Annals of Tacitus. What is known is that the Romans conducted a ruthless campaign against the Celtic clans of Wales. Anglesey, with its powerful druid priests, was the last bastion of British resistance. Here is how Tacitus describes the Menai Straits battle of nearly 2,000 years ago. Suetonius Paulinus, Governor of Britain, was in command.

“He therefore prepared to attack the island of Mona which had a powerful population and was a refuge for fugitives. He built flat-bottomed vessels to cope with the shallows, and uncertain depths of the sea. Thus the infantry crossed, while the cavalry followed by fording, or, where the water was deep, swam by the side of their horses.

“On the shore stood the opposing army with its dense array of armed warriors, while between the ranks dashed women, in black attire like the Furies, with hair dishevelled, waving brands. All around, the Druids, lifting up their hands to heaven, and pouring forth dreadful imprecations, scared our soldiers by the unfamiliar sight, so that, as if their limbs were paralysed, they stood motionless, and exposed to wounds. Then urged by their general’s appeals and mutual encouragements not to quail before a troop of frenzied women, they bore the standards onwards, smote down all resistance, and wrapped the foe in the flames of his own brands. A force was next set over the conquered, and their groves, devoted to inhuman superstitions, were destroyed. They deemed it indeed a duty to cover their altars with the blood of captives and to consult their deities through human entrails.”

Annals of Tacitus translated by Alfred John Church and William Jackson Brodribb 1884.  XIV chapters 29-30. You can read the original work by following the link.

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For more about Anglesey

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SIX DEGREES PHOTOGRAPHY

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My journey with depression

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KELLY LOVE’S PHOTOGRAPHY

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