Crowborough Conservation and ‘The Lost World’

This year Crowborough Conservation is involved in the planning for Crowborough Community Festival which will run throughout May in 2017. Crowborough Conservation Lost World Group will be organising ‘Walks and Talks’ events on behalf of the Festival Steering Group.

Those of us living in Crowborough appreciate its position high on the Weald, and delight in the beauty of the Ashdown Forest as well as the wonderful green spaces around the town. Crowborough’s unique appeal has attracted not only those who enjoy the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, but also writers and artists inspired by the surrounding countryside.

dino-trackSir Arthur Conan Doyle moved to Crowborough in 1909 and lived here for over 23 years. Whilst at Windlesham Manor, he wrote his most famous adventure story ‘The Lost World’, an exciting tale of exploration, danger, dinosaurs and survival. It is said that a fossilised footprint of an Iguanodon, found in a quarry near his home fired Conan Doyle’s imagination and ‘The Lost World’ was the result. True or not, the book became a worldwide success and generations continue to be enthralled by dinosaurs.

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For details of all the events planned, including The Lost World Fun Day which will kick off the Festival on Bank Holiday Monday, 1st May, follow the link to Crowborough Community Festival website: http://www.crowboroughcommunityfestival.org/

Professor Challenger challenges YOU to undertake one of the guided nature walks:

“You are in a land which offers such an inducement to the ambitious naturalist as none ever has since the world began, and you suggest leaving it before we have acquired more than the most superficial knowledge of it or of its contents. I expected better things of you.”

(Extract from The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle)

Exploring Eridge Rocks with Michael Blencowe

Thursday 4th May     Time: 2.30 – 5.00 pm

This ancient woodland with towering sandstone rocks looks like a scene from the Lost World. Join Michael Blencowe from the Sussex Wildlife Trust on a wildlife walk around Eridge Rocks; a nature reserve rich in wildlife and atmosphere.

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“…we were within seven miles from an enormous line of ruddy cliffs, which encircled, beyond all doubt, the plateau of which Professor Challenger spoke. Their height, as we approached them, seemed to me in some places to be greater than he had stated – running up in parts to at least a thousand feet – and they were curiously striated, in a manner which is, I believe, characteristic of basaltic upheavals…. The crags above us were not merely perpendicular, but curved outwards at the top, so that ascent was out of the question… we determined that our best course was to continue to coast around the plateau in the hope of finding some other means of reaching the top.”

(Extract from The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle)

Guided walks through Crowborough Country Park with Martin Allison

This walk is offered on: Wednesday 10th May, Saturday 13th May and Tuesday 16th May                  Start at 7:30 am (approx. 2 hrs)

Crowborough Country Park is a sixteen acre local nature reserve. It’s the perfect place for a peaceful walk or a family picnic. An undulating circular stone track meanders through the site amongst tall trees, ponds and a picnic area. The deep rocky gorge is a main feature of the site.

A diverse mosaic of habitats are present in the park including dry and wet woodland, remnant ancient coppice, wet marshy areas, streams, grassy and heathy glades, ponds, rock outcrops & slippages. The main stream on site runs through a steep rocky gorge before flowing through areas of ancient hazel and ash coppice and there is also a carpet of bluebells in the spring. These habitats form homes for a wide variety of flora and fauna including the nationally rare moss Discelium nudum.

Listen to bird song and identify birds as you stroll through the park guided by Martin Allison a local naturalist, who for many years worked for the RSPB and was instrumental in the purchase and restoration of the RSPB’s Broadwater Warren reserve.

Wildlife Walk at Old Lodge Ashdown Forest with Michael Blencowe 

Wednesday 10th May             Time: 10.30 am – 12.30 pmMeet in the Old Lodge car park off the B2026 north of Duddleswell (nearest postcode TN22 3JD)

Join Michael Blencowe of Sussex Wildlife Trust on a circular walk as we search for butterflies, birds and other wildlife at the Trust’s heathland reserve on Ashdown Forest.

“An enormous three-toed track was imprinted in the soft mud before us. The creature, whatever it was, had crossed the swamp and had passed on into the forest. We all stopped to examine that monstrous spoor. If it were indeed a bird – and what animal could leave such a mark? – its foot was so much larger than an ostrich’s that its height upon the same scale must be enormous.”

(Extract from The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle)

Attend one of the fascinating talks (you never know what might happen…)

“It was at this point that the sensation of the evening arose – a sensation so dramatic that it can never have been paralleled in the history of scientific gatherings…. All sound had hushed in the audience and everyone was absorbed in the spectacle before them.”

(Extract from The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle)

‘Lost Birds & Lost Worlds’

Thursday 4th May Time: 7.30 – 9 pm    Venue: Millbrook Garden Centre Loft Room

An illustrated talk by Michael Blencowe telling the story of extinct birds, heroic naturalists, whistling Maoris, Hawaiian Kings and feather thieves. Join Michael on his search for the beautiful Huia, the clumsy Spectacled Cormorant and other lost birds we’ll never see again.

“Professor Challenger… stopped suddenly and pointed excitedly to the right. As he did so we saw, at a distance of a mile or so, something which appeared to be a huge gray bird flap slowly up from the ground and skim smoothly off, flying very low and straight, until it was lost among the tree-ferns.

“Did you see it?” cried Challenger, in exultation. “Summerlee, did you see it?”

His colleague was staring at the spot where the creature had disappeared.

“What do you claim that it was?” he asked.

“To the best of my belief, a pterodactyl.” “

(Extract from The Lost World by Arthur Conan Doyle)

Holocaust Memorial Day

As we mark 27th January as Holocaust Memorial Day, I am inspired to revisit an article I wrote in 2007 when I had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. I include the article here, along with a poem Broken Dolly:

Ten years ago, in March of 2007 I was invited to accompany two sixth form students from Weald of Kent Grammar School on a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The visit was organised by the Holocaust Education Trust as the focus of its ‘Lessons from Auschwitz’ project. Since 1999, over 30,000 students and teachers have had the opportunity to see for themselves the site of many of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust.

The course is run over three non-consecutive days. The first session is a seminar, preparing participants for what they will see. This is followed by a day trip to Auschwitz-Birchenau in Poland. The last part is a post-visit seminar to share experiences and to plan what ‘follow up’ will occur in the individual schools.

I was impressed by the level of engagement from the students throughout all three sessions. Many of the participants had to compete within their school for a place by submitting an article – ‘Why I want to go to Auschwitz’. There is an expectation that all participants will carry out some follow up work in their own school.

The highlight of the first day was the opportunity to hear from Mr Zigmund Shipper, a Holocaust survivor, Zigmund (Ziggy) was ten years old when the Nazis invaded his home town of Lodz, where he lived with his father and grandfather. He told us of his life in the ghetto, having to wear a yellow star, being rounded up and taken to Auschwitz and how he survived there as a teenager.  He described his liberation in 1945 and how he was finally reunited with his mother in England. He had not seen since her since he was five years old. Despite all this he declared that he had lived a ‘wonderful life’. He proudly told us he has two daughters and six grandchildren. When asked what should happen as a consequence of the Holocaust, he replied “never hate” but he cautioned his young audience with “the only thing that can be done is for you to make sure that it never happens again.”

The day of the trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau required careful planning. We had to be at Luton airport in the early hours, so this necessitated an overnight stop at a hotel. The return flight landed back at Luton a little before midnight and so it was a long day for students and teachers, especially on a school night.

We were accompanied by various visitors, including MPs and the media. The visit was well documented on local and national news.

pic_02_470x353Our first stop was the cemetery in Oswiecim. It was bitterly cold and snowing and, as we stood among the grave stones, we were asked to reflect on the question ‘where does the story start?’ Before the war, this was a thriving little town with a Jewish population of 60%. During the war the grave stones of the Jewish dead were torn up by the Nazis and used to pave the roads. In 1947 as many of these as possible were returned but there were no records and so it was impossible to match grave stones to grave sites. There is a memorial to Mr Shimshon Klueger, the last Jew in Oswiecim, who died in May 2000.

We travelled on toshoeheap Auschwitz One, which has become a museum to the atrocities. Our guide gave us a factual account of the events that took place, and we were shown enormous glass cabinets containing ‘a field of hair; a sea of shoes; a mountain of suitcases’. There was a respectful silence as we filed through the gas chamber and past the incinerators.

 

Strangely Auschwitz Two, Birkenau was an even more emotional experience. Although there is less to see, the sheer scale of the atrocities is suddenly apparent. Standing in the watch tower, the rows of huts seem to go to infinity. We stood by the railway track at the point of ‘selection’ as we were told the story of David, the young Jewish boy who argued with his mother and sister on the journey to Auschwitz, and of his last haunting words to his mother which were, “I wish you were dead!” The outlines of the gas chambers, destroyed by the Nazis just before the liberation, are still evident.

The focus of the trip is extremely well balanced, with the focus on the lives of the Jewish people and their loss of identity, rather than just an exploitation of the horrific and the macabre.

During late afternoon we had a period of reflection in front of a wall of photographs of the Holocaust victims. This was followed by a service by the memorial, where the Jewish prayer was sung in Hebrew and the sound of the Shofar echoed through the dusk. Each student was then given a candle to place on the railway track and as we made our way to the coaches, the only sound was the trudging of our feet in the snow. As we walked back through those gates I am sure the same thought was on many minds – “Thank God I am free to leave.”

The post visit seminar was productive in terms of sharing ideas for follow up work. Many schools are organising Assemblies to share what was experienced. My own students and I planned three lessons for our year ten students. These were themed as Loss of identity, The Story Unfolds and Hard Choices. We made use of a DVD of survivor’s recollections, provided by the Holocaust Education Trust, which was extremely useful.

This is a very worthwhile project and, following a grant from the Treasury, it will expand to offer every secondary school in the country the chance to participate.

The question of ‘what lessons can be learnt’ is a complex one. It is clear that the students return with an increased knowledge of the Holocaust and an understanding of what can happen if prejudice and racism become acceptable. However, when you hear of the atrocities taking place around the world today, it is also apparent that the risks are still very real.

Holocaust denial, the revisionist movement that seeks to argue the Holocaust did not occur on the scale claimed, is a movement that has the potential to grow in strength over time. It is important that future generations see the evidence of what happened so that they can work towards ensuring, as Ziggy requested, that it never happens again.

Holocaust Education Trust

Pushing a Pram at Birkenau

This article was written for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It was published in the University of Brighton Anthology ‘Reflections’ in 2015.

Pushing a Pram at Birkenau

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This photograph of my baby in her pram always makes me smile. I close my eyes, thirty five years disappear, and I stand again in my cottage garden in Kent. The breeze tugs and snaps at the crisp, clean squares, making the rotary clothes line creak. I’m so very proud of those terry nappies – their whitey brilliance dazzles me. My lips quiver as the smell of Daz tickles my nostrils. I tilt back my head to feel the warmth of the sun on my face. A blackbird is singing.

Then I hear a giggle. I open my eyes and turn to where my daughter is propped up in her pram just a few yards away. It is a second hand green Silver Cross, with a rather fancy canopy. My daughter is wearing a yellow and white gingham romper suit and a wide brimmed sun hat. I can see two pearly teeth in her cute gummy smile.

I remember how it felt to push that pram. I would wheel it proudly down the hill to the village – it didn’t matter a jot that it was second hand. The pram would glide and bounce, even when laden with shopping for the walk back. With my daughter facing me, I would keep up a constant stream of nonsense which seemed to amuse her.  Now, when I push my granddaughters in their double-decker phil&teds stroller, the girls face away from me and conversation with them is more limited.

Back in the seventies it was predominantly the woman’s role to look after the baby and it was the woman’s job to push the pram. Of course her husband might help her on occasions – lifting it down steps or pushing it up a hill if no one was around to see. But generally the wife pushed the pram. Most of us had proper prams back then – coach built, big wheeled with a nice bouncy suspension. A pram built to keep baby safe and secure. Often second or third hand – there was no shame in that. Of course men are happy to push the modern day equivalent with all the gadgets: four wheel suspension; telescopic handle height adjustment; one handed fold; cup holder for your latte…

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But now I am looking at a second photograph. It’s a little boy I think, in a beautiful old wicker pram. Perhaps it’s a family heirloom passed down mother to daughter? It was always considered good parenting to give your baby a daily airing in the pram. Look at him, with his curly blond hair. My daughter’s hair was blond too. He is trying to pull himself up, curious to see what is going on. Is he leaning towards his mother?

It’s a sad fact that no one knows who this little boy is. If he were alive today he would perhaps be in his eighties, but he is un-identified. His picture comes from an archive of photographs smuggled out of Auschwitz. Prisoners were instructed to sort the prized possessions of the incoming – jewellery, glasses, ornaments, and, of course, photographs of loved ones. They were told to destroy the photographs, but a brave handful of prisoners, at great risk to themselves, decided to smuggle some out. A collection of these photographs became ‘The Last Album’, a book written by Ann Weiss.

Re-reading this treasured book on what is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I can’t help but reflect on the terrible suffering of those held there. Just last week 300 survivors returned to the camp. It is likely that this will be the last year that a significant number of survivors will be alive to attend one of these special commemorative dates. Now it is up to us to remember for them.

I came across an account by Giuliana Tedeshci, recorded in ‘There is a Place on Earth: a Woman in Birkenau’. She recollects that, on Sunday 25th June 1944, she was commanded, along with 49 other women, to push empty prams from just outside the gas chambers to a storage area two miles away, ready for reallocated by the Reich. This was a task that was repeated daily over many months.

I wonder who decided that it should be women who did this job? But, of course, pushing the pram is a woman’s work.

What must it have felt like to push those empty prams in prescribed five row formation across the rough terrain of the camp? Was a wicker pram amongst them? Did those women paint on a face of steely resignation and wheel the prams as if they were no more than a trolley or wheel barrow?

No. I think they rested their hands lovingly on the push bars, counterbalancing the bounce of the wheels. I think they closed their eyes and imagined pink cheeked babies asleep under pastel blankets, lovingly knitted by their grandmothers. I think they carefully lifted the front wheels over any loose rubble to avoid disturbing their absent charges.

I think other women stopped what they were doing to stand in silence as the prams rumbled by. Perhaps those who had lost children in the crematorium, felt their breasts swell with phantom milk – the urge to nurse their dead babies overwhelming them. No word was spoken and no sound heard, but for the odd squeak and rattle of the empty prams.

I think this was the day the birds stopped singing at Auschwitz Birkenau.