2017 - what we did that year!
What a year we had in 2017! We had two visits – a day in ‘Cosmopolitan London’ which ended up in the first traditional Hindu Mandir [temple] built in Europe. We turned the corner from a very ordinary road where mums were collecting their children from school, to find this wonderful marble temple. It really is breath-taking, both inside and out. The marble blocks were carved by craftsmen in India and brought to Neasden where the assembly was done by more than 1000 volunteers. The people there were very welcoming – we had a short film to show us how the temple came into being and then were free to wander, wonder and marvel. Our second visit was more adventurous!
In October a group of us, plus friends from the Travel Group, Weekenders, and a Reading Group set off for the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire. It was an early start but we were pleased to see we had a brand-new coach [with an excellent driver]. On our arrival we were met by a group of NMA volunteers. The volunteers were marvellous – enthusiastic and knowledgeable with an obvious love of the Arboretum. There was time to get some lunch before meeting together for a ride on the land-train for a journey round the site.
Then it was time to explore – there is so much to see. Many of us went to see the Shot at Dawn memorial and heard the very moving talk. The memorial commemorates 306 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were shot for desertion or cowardice during World War I. Most were sentenced after a short trial at which no real opportunity for defence was allowed. Today it is recognised that many of them were underage and suffering from shell-shock.
After a busy afternoon we set off for our hotel, less than 30 minutes away. We met in our own area for dinner and the next morning for breakfast. One of our group commented that it was the best hotel breakfast she had had!
We set off for the NMA giving ourselves plenty of time to settle into the Millennium Chapel for the daily Act of Remembrance which incorporates the Last Post, Silence and the Reveille. This was followed by a very interesting talk by one of the volunteers about the history of the NMA. In the chapel are carvings by Essex Woodcarvers and we were told that the very first memorial – a large polar bear was also carved here in Essex, and that when it was moved to the NMA the travel bulletins included the fact that a large polar bear was on its way from Essex to Staffordshire!
The rest of our time there was free and some went to the far end of the NMA on buggies with drivers who gave their own interesting commentaries.
Then back in the Reading Rooms we met some speakers who were to become our favourites - Alan Pamphilon who leads walks around Chelmsford with a talk about Moulsham Street; Mike Brown with 'The Real Dads Army; and Graeme Cooper with a professional presentation by about his father – Johnny – one of the original SAS soldiers. We visited the Galleywood Heritage Centre for lunch and a very moving talk by Wendy Cummins about 'her boys' - the men of Galleywood who died in WW1.
We also had films - ‘Essex Past – the county our parents knew’; and a 'Who do You Think You Are' film about Amanda Redman's family.
We had meetings when we talked about our own families with some fascinating stories. We had so many bigamists, some keeping two families and one of whom was court martialled for marrying an Indian lady, when serving in India. Our most unusual story was of the spinster aunt who was found to have been married with three children.
In December we enjoyed talking about Christmas family traditions - posting letters to Father Christmas up the chimney, silver sixpences in the Christmas pudding, 'stir up Sunday' [named for the collect of the day - "Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people"], walnuts, carefully opened into two halves and a tiny present put inside, roasted chestnuts and 'sacks of coal' for naughty children. Then there are modern 'traditions - the elf on the shelf, Christmas Eve Boxes, Santa-cam, and stencils for Father Christmas's foot-prints!!