Posts Tagged ‘Film’

I Daniel Blake

Poster for the film I Daniel Blake

Advertising poster for the film I Daniel Blake

I watched the Ken Loach directed film “I Daniel Blake” Saturday evening.

Its first airing on BBC television. Probably one of the best British films ever made. Although the characters are fictional, their stories aren’t, the evidence haunts our streets. Our fellow citizens sitting on pavements, begging, hungry children at school and shopping trolleys in supermarkets collecting donations for food banks.

When I was an apprentice, my foreman, a Geordie told me of his family’s struggle to survive during the thirties, he was an apprentice himself then, having left school at fourteen. He told me about the visit by the “Means Test Man”, who forced the family to sell what few possessions they still had.

During my apprenticeship I attended Technical College one day a week, our English teacher gave another insight into the thirties. This man an old Etonian, an Oxford graduate and an economist, also taught economics to an evening class I attended. He was responsible for my wife and I being able to buy our own house. At the start of the college year in 1971, he walked into our English class, the first one of the new college year. Asking if any of us were thinking of getting married and buying a house? I replied I was thinking of it.

“Buy a house now”,  he said, “by this time next year they will have doubled in price”.

I asked if he was sure, he said he was absolutely certain, my girlfriend and I went out that weekend found a house under construction affordable for us we thought, the foundations were in. We secured it with a £25 plot deposit then struggled to get a mortgage, the cost of the house was £4150 in 1971, when we moved into our first home a year later the price was over £8000.

This English teacher told me of his in-laws a married couple; during the thirties, they were forced to live apart by the government. Made to work in different parts of the country as domestic servants.

He was probably one of the most left-wing people I have met also one of the most caring.

About this time Monetarism was being touted as an economic policy, he explained why it wouldn’t work and why its forerunner hadn’t worked in the thirties.

We all now know for most of us, the homeless and disadvantaged in particular that it doesn’t work.

To quote Glenda Jackson (Tribute speech to Margaret Thatcher), “greed has now become a virtue.”

Having known about the thirties and how it affected those suffering from the policies of a callous government, I had no desire to see the same horrors revisited.

I Daniel Blake is a commentary of what has happened to our society fictional only in its characters. A proper caring society should not accept the treatment of our fellow human beings meted out by an uncaring government, we the people are better than this even if our government isn’t.

 

The Gaspipe Cavalry

Have you heard of the Gaspipe Cavalry?

This nickname was given to The Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalions, (The Hunt’s Cyclists) a military unit raised within the county of Huntingdonshire.

As part of the Huntingdonshire History Festival Mr Martyn Smith, webmaster of http://huntscycles.co.uk/ gave a talk at the George Hotel in Huntingdon on the 26 of July.

His talk about the Hunts Cyclist Battalion was interesting and informative. Several of the audience had ancestors or other relatives who had served in our local unit. Many men then moved on to regiments of the line to fight in France or overseas. The Hunts Cyclist battalion was only allowed to deploy in the British Isles under the army regulations of the time.

Hunts Cyclists A Company Filey 1914

A photograph of A Company Hunts Cyclists at Filey in 1914

Most of us didn’t know but guessed at the high casualty rate; of those who joined, 25% were killed and 50% wounded in action. Many more carried hidden wounds until the day they died. Reliving unrelenting memories of horrors they had witnessed or grief for the loss of close, even boyhood friends. Post Traumatic Stress wasn’t identified as a problem then and no treatment was available.

This local battalion, a cavalry unit was started in 1908,  the Earl of Sandwich its honorary colonel. Because Huntingdonshire was a small rural county, there seemed little likelihood that the 1000 men needed to form an infantry regiment would be available. A cavalry battalion only needed 500 men. However instead of horses, their steeds were to be bicycles, the soldiers were described as wheelmen. As some of the bicycles were allegedly made from surplus gas pipes, they became known as the Gaspipe Cavalry.

The Hunts Cyclists spent their active service in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire protecting the coast from a possible German invasion. As Martyn pointed out their single shot rifles were no deterrent to the German Battleships which shelled some East coast towns. Their failure to deter the German navy led to ill feeling from the affected town’s residents who were disappointed in their failure.

The talk showed in great detail how the local Hunts community got behind their own men whether it was knitting warm clothing for them or converting vehicles to carry machine guns.

He detailed the development of the Gaspipe Cavalry’s mounts (originally the cyclists were expected to supply their own steeds). How rifle mounts were developed, the need for brakes, (very important in the hilly areas where they were stationed not so in the fens). There were many casualties caused by the cycles themselves until their design was improved

Another interesting feature was the billeting arrangements, bell tents for the unfortunate men, a hotel for the officers. He mentioned Charles Laughton, not from Huntingdon but a family member of the hotel owners in Scarborough where the HC. officers stayed. He was evidently recruited there. Charles Laughton became a famous actor in the twenties and thirties. Starring on both the stage and in films He went onto become a renowned film director and producer, dying in 1962 at Hollywood.

Mr and Mrs Richard Cumberland

Mr and Mrs Richard Cumberland. My grandad and grandma.

My grandfather Richard Cumberland served in the army during the First World War. Joining the Hunt’s Cyclist Battalion in August 1914 before seeing active service as a member of Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He was discharged wounded in February 1918.

His first posting was as a member of  A Company to Filey, I am not sure whether during the time he was there my grandmother joined him or not. I have a recollection of a story that Granddad helped out at the fish docks unloading the catches, whether this was at Filey or somewhere else in that area. This may have been as part of his duties or a bit of spare time private enterprise. When you are young you seldom ask the questions you should have done. Thinking that people will live forever you put off finding out information that will become so precious in later years.

War badge record showing Grandad's discharge record

War badge record showing Grandad’s discharge record

Martyn’s love of his subject, the tremendous respect and desire to make sure these men who sacrificed so much are not forgotten is something that will stay with all of us who were privileged to hear him speak, for a long time. He has made it his mission to track down every member of the Hunts Cyclists and commemorate each one, holding memorial services as he finds another grave or resting place. Honouring the men we owe our existence to

Thank you, Martyn, for a most interesting talk.

 

Moon River

For many years I have loved the song Moon River, vaguely aware that it was connected with the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I was browsing the DVDs at a local charity shop looking for Funeral in Berlin when I found a copy of Breakfast at Tiffanys. I bought it and watched it tonight for the first time. Those of us who grew up during the sixties, well me at least, always associate that time, that decade with hope and a feeling that things were improving, would continue to improve.

Breakfast at Tiffanys has that feeling about it. A journey leading the two main characters, played by Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard, away from dependency on those who sought to buy their souls to a hopeful better future. A film like all good films for me, with a happy ending. Most of us if not all us want happy endings, not always for ourselves but more importantly for those we love and care for.  A journey with our own Moon River perhaps.

 

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