Wednesday, 3 August 2016

My Lutyens Day (including poetry about the Somme and thoughts on Brexit)

Friday 1st July was my Lutyens Day!

On the morning of Friday 1st July 2016, I was watching the televised events to commemorate the Battle of the Somme. François Hollande, David Cameron, Princes Charles, William and Harry were all wearing blue cornflowers for France and red poppies for Britain. They were surrounded by European and British dignitaries, watched by a large, reverent, silent audience as the Welsh Guards and a similarly elite French Military Band performed against the backdrop of Sir Edwin Lutyens great memorial at Thiepval. Moving poems and diaries were read by the Prince of Wales, David Cameron, Charles Dance, Sol Campbell and many others. I was engrossed and lingered longer than I should before clicking 'off' with the remote control and heading for the car. Less than fifteen minutes later I walked into the Free Church in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Lutyens again. It was as if I'd been able to walk inside the Thiepval Memorial, surrounded by the same colours, the same great curves, the same vision.

The occasion was an organ recital as part of 'Proms at St Jude's', which is an annual music festival based in yet another towering Lutyens masterpiece, the magnificent church of St Jude on the Hill. The spire of St Jude's can be seen for miles. St Jude's and the Free Church, together with the former Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute building (now the Henrietta Barnett School), form the centrepiece of Dame Henrietta Barnett's dream of an egalitarian community, living, studying, worshipping  and growing their own food, in a green leafy enclave  close to the Northern Line (which had just reached Hampstead, Highate, Finchley and Golders Green). Sadly Henrietta's dream of the poor cohabiting with the wealthy was destroyed in the middle of the 20th Century,  when the houses in the suburb were sold into private ownership and became too expensive for all except high earners or those with inherited wealth. Nevertheless some of Henrietta's cultural legacy of good works lives on, the biggest demonstration of which is the annual Proms at St Jude's. Proms earns vast sums for the North London Hospice and for youth work at Toynbee Hall in Spitalfields where Henrietta and her husband Canon Samuel Barnett served the community of East London, before moving to Hampstead.

This Proms free lunchtime concert was special for me, as it included two short pieces by my son, the British Composer David J Loxley Blount. Sadly the violinist was indisposed, so his glorious specially commissioned duet, 'Hampstead Suite', could not be played. This treat will have to be saved for a later date.  'Hampstead Suite' incorporates snippets of 'Greensleeves' and other folk tunes associated with Cecil Sharp, father of the folk music revival, who lived and worked in Hampstead.

David's next public performance is 'Dark Somme Flowing' which forms part of the Nation's commemoration of the Tragedy of the Somme. It was  commissioned by the Cathedral of Rochester and is a setting of a WW1 poem 'The Farmer Remembers the Somme' by the Australian Vance Palmer. 'Dark Somme Flowing' will be sung by the girls and men of Rochester Cathedral Choir, accompanied by the Cathedral's Director of Music, in a special commemorative service of Evensong at 3.15pm on Sunday 10th July.
Everyone of all faiths and none is invited to this very special event.

On Friday evening, I returned to St Jude's to hear the Tallis Scholars sing, amongst other pieces, Sir John Tavener's 'Funeral Ikos' and his 'Song for Athene' (which grew to public prominence through the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales). These pieces, bouncing off Lutyens domes and arches, seemed especially appropriate for a day of commemoration of those who died during the Battle of the Somme.

I got home just in time to catch the 10 o'clock news with more pictures from the Lutyens memorial at Thiepval, rounded off by a heart wrenching five minute reflection by Michael Morpugo, which included music from his highly successful 'War Horse'. This was yet another connection to my Lutyens' day, as a few minutes earlier I'd stopped to look at St Jude's much loved memorial to the horses, who died alongside their menfolk in the First World War.

I wondered what a difference there might have been if the Referendum had been held next Thursday, following the cornflowers and poppies for the commemoration of the Battle of the Somme and when sports lovers are excited by the start of the Tour de France and the internationalism of Wimbledon, instead of a fortnight earlier when many streets were bedecked with Union Jacks for the Queen's Birthday and flags of St George for the European Football.

I am not someone who wishes to glorify or sentimentalise war, but when my children were small we had a family friend with a house in Normandy, close to the D Day beaches. We found ourselves there unintentionally at times of commemorative events, so we learned something of the pride of the coach loads of old British Soldiers in their best suits, with their medals and their wives with neatly set hair and smart outfits. We witnessed the gratitude of the French villagers who stopped to salute them. On wet days, when we couldn't go to the beach, we visited several of the small D Day museums. We've seen some of the war cemeteries in Normandy and later we visited more graves in Picardy (partly because of the Lutyens connection).

Most memorable of all was the Son et Lumière at the Pegasus Bridge, which told the story of fragile but determined members of the French Résistance, waiting with hope and anticipation for theIr British Liberators. We could hear them whispering to each other in the convent near the bridge and we heard the sounds of the reconstruction of the British glider, landing at dead of night in a nearby field and of its crew making their way to seize the Pegasus Bridge from the Germans. This was the only way to allow the British, American and Canadian troops, arriving next morning on the D Day beaches, to cross the Caen Canal and advance towards Paris. Without the capture of Pegasus the D Day landings would have been futile.

I have spent the last week in shock and mourning. I just can't believe that this country and France, who have such an important shared history in two wars and in the peace and prosperity which have come from our close bonds, are to be separated because of the lies told to the British population by Boris, Gove and Farage. It seems to me to have some resonance with the soldiers in the battle of the Somme who were told to march to their untimely deaths.

The Farmer Remembers the Somme

Will they never fade or pass!
The mud, and the misty figures endlessly coming
In file through the foul morass,
And the grey flood-water ripping the reeds and grass,
And the steel wings drumming.

The hills are bright in the sun:
There's nothing changed or marred in the well-known places;
When work for the day is done
There's talk, and quiet laughter, and gleams of fun
On the old folks' faces.

I have returned to these:
The farm, and the kindly Bush, and the young calves lowing;
But all that my mind sees
Is a quaking bog in a mist - stark, snapped trees,

And the dark Somme flowing.

Battle of the Somme centenary: How is it being commemorated and why was it so important?

Sir Edwin Lutyens

Cecil Sharp

Henrietta Barnett

Saint Jude-on-the-Hill: The War Horse Memorial

D J Loxley-Blount | Events

Services & Music - Rochester Cathedral

Very Best Wishes Jan.

I didn't vote for Brexit

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