I have been to … Upnor Castle, Kent

Sue and I are both members of English Heritage, and over recent weeks we have visited several of their properties, including Lullingstone Roman Villa and Eynsford Castle. One property that we had not visited was Upnor Castle, which is situated on the River Medway near Strood on the opposite bank of the river from the former Chatham Naval Dockyard.

The drive to Upnor took us under forty minutes, and we parked in the village car park. From there we walked along a short path through some trees … and out into the High Street.

We walked down the High Street towards the River Medway, passing some wonderful examples of local building styles.

Where the road ends there is a house with a unique gazebo at the end of the garden …

… opposite which is the entrance to Upnor Castle.

A brief history of Upnor CastleThe building of the castle began in 1559 when the newly-crowned Queen Elizabeth I ordered that a bulwark be built at Upnor. The original fortification was designed by Sir Richard Lee (the foremost English military engineer of his day) and the work was overseen by his deputy, Humphrey Locke, and Richard Watts, a former Mayor of Rochester and subsequently paymaster, clerk-of-the-store, and purveyor of Upnor Castle.

The work took some time to complete, and it was not finished until 1567. BY 1587 England was at war with Spain and at the suggestion of the castle’s master Gunner a chain was stretched from the castle across the River Medway to the other bank of the river. This was to prevent any enemy ships sailing up the river in order to attack English ships that were moored at Chatham. At the time of the possible Spanish invasion in 1588 the castle’s garrison included a Master Gunner and six gunners, and by 1596 it had expanded to include eighty trained men … who cost 8d per day in pay.

In 1600 a wooden palisade was erected on the seaward side of the castle to protect the bastion and the defences were further enhanced by a the digging of a ditch on the landward side. The was 18′ deep and 32′ wide. At the same time extensive repairs were carried out to the Castle. the stone being ‘robbed’ (i.e. salvaged) from the derelict Rochester Castle.

During the English Civil War the castle was held by Parliament and served as a prison for captured Royalist officers. It was temporarily captured by Royalist forces during the Kentish Rising of 1648, but was soon recaptured … and more repairs were undertaken. Even more repairs were required after a serious fire broke out in the Gatehouse in early 1653.

When the Second Dutch War broke out the castle’s garrison was brought up to strength even though the English Government felt that the Dutch Navy had been neutralised after a series of naval victories. A significant number of Royal Navy ships were therefore moored in the River Medway in and around Chatham rather than being kept at sea, relying upon the coastal and river defences to protect them.

In June 1667 the Dutch fleet, under the command of Admiral de Ruyter, sailed up the River Thames as far as Gravesend. They then attacked and destroyed the unfinished fort at Sheerness at the entrance to the River Medway. They followed this success up with an attack on on the Royal Charles, which was moored behind a chain that had been stretched between Hoo Ness and Gillingham. The chain failed to stop the Dutch advance up the river, and on the following day the Dutch sailed upriver again, this time to attack the ships at Chatham.

By this time the Duke of Albemarle (the former General Monck) had arrived to take command of the defences, and he ordered several artillery batteries to be set up along the River Medway, including an eight-gun one alongside Upnor Castle. Fire from the castle and these batteries did not prevent the Dutch from setting fire to several ships moored at Chatham, but it did prevent them from making any further progress upriver.

In the aftermath of the Second Dutch War Upnor Castle was seen as a vital part of the Chatham defences, but as newer fortifications were built, its importance declined, and by 1668 it was no longer regarded as suitable and was converted into a store and powder magazine. In 1827 its role changed again and it became an Ordnance Laboratory, and in 1891 it was passed from the War Office to the Admiralty. During the Second World War the castle was part of the Royal Navy Magazine Establishment,and in 1945 it became a museum.

Our route around Upnor CastleWe entered the castle …

via the Gatehouse.

We entered the Courtyard, and to the right we could see a large oak tree that is reputed to have grown from an acorn that was brought back from the Crimea.

To our left we saw the stump of a matching oak tree as well as the tiny entrance to the Sallyport to its left.

We then entered the Main Building …

… which contained a number of cannon barrels, …

… some examples of powder barrels, …

… several small artillery pieces (including a small calibre quick-firing gun mounted on a very unusual pole carriage …

… and a 7-pounder Rifled Muzzle Loading Mountain Gun), …

… and a display that tells the story of the 1667 Dutch attack using lighting techniques and a recorded commentary.

The display includes a very nice model of Upnor Castle which appears to be garrisoned with 15mm-scale Essex Miniatures.

We then made our way down a very steep wooden spiral staircase …

… and out onto the Bastion.

Two smooth-bore cannons were emplaced on the bastion and gave a good idea as to how the castle’s guns commanded this narrow stretch of the River Medway.

We then walked through a gateway at the bottom of the North Tower, …

… along a bricked-lined passageway …

… that took us out through a further gateway …

… and outside onto the North Platform.

From there we made our way back through the gateway in the north wall of the castle and into the Courtyard.

Between the North Tower and the Main Building two more smooth-bore cannon were on display …

… and these were matched by a further cannon that was emplaced between the Main Building and the South Tower.

During our visit to Upnor Castle we also climbed up to the top of the gatehouse and up to the second floor of the Main Building. There was not a great deal to see in the Gatehouse except for the clock mechanism that powers the castle’s clock, and the second floor of the Main Building was set up for use as a wedding venue. (The castle is licenced for use as a venue for civil weddings.)

We would certainly recommend a visit to Upnor Castle. There is lots to see, it is not too difficult to reach by car, and it is close to other tourist attractions such as Rochester Castle, Rochester Cathedral, Chatham Dockyard, Fort Amhurst, and the Royal Engineers Museum.

I have been to … the Resistance Museum, Bangsbo Estate, Frederikshavn, Denmark

The Resistance Museum occupies part of a large, single-storey building that has been constructed along the lines of a traditional Jutland barn.

(The Resistance Museum deals with a dark period of recent Danish history, and almost all the walls and display cases are painted matt black and dimly lit to reflect this. As a result it was difficult to take photographs inside the museum, and many may not be as clear as one would have wished them to be.)

As you enter the exhibition, the first exhibit you come to is a 20mm Oerlikon Gun.

The next section examines the occupation of Denmark after the invasion of 1940, the part played by Danes – particularly seamen – in the Allied war effort, and the early days of the resistance.

This is followed by a recreation of the main living areas of a typical Danish house during the German occupation …

… as well as examples of the rations that were available and the propaganda and newspapers that were published.

A separate corridor tells the stories of some of the resisters and the measures taken by the German security services to crush them.

The next two exhibits deal with collaboration …

… and the role played by the King of Denmark during the German occupation.

An important aspect of the work done by the Danish resistance movement was the spreading of accurate news and information clandestinely, and one of the secret printing presses is on display in a recreation of a typical workshop.

The largest section of the museum deals with the growth of the Danish resistance movement, the role of SOE (Special Operations Executive), and the work done by the radio operators and saboteurs.

The final part of the museum examines what happened to Denmark’s Jewish population …

… and the events leading up to the liberation of Denmark in May 1945.

I have been to … Bangsbo Fort Museum, Frederikshavn, Denmark

The Bangsbo Fort Museum occupies a position south of the major port of Frederikshavn in Denmark. It comprises a complex of over fifty bunkers, most of which date from the Second World War.

During our visit we were able to go into two of the restored bunkers.

The first was an artillery bunker, whose entrance was guarded by a machine gun port.

Inside was the ready-use room for the gun’s shells …

… from where we went down a short flight of narrow concrete stairs …

… and into the gun casemate. This had a commanding view of the Baltic Sea …

… and was protected from enemy artillery fire and bombs by an concrete overhang.

The 15cm (5.9-inch) gun inside the casemate was Swedish in origin, and had been removed from the Danish warship Niels Juels after it had been seized in 1942.

Above ground a further pair of guns that had formed part of the fort’s armament were on display. These were a Danish-built 12cm (4.7-inch) gun …

… and a German-built 7.5cm PaK gun on a coastal defence mounting.

The second bunker that we visited was one of the command bunkers, which contained examples of the myriad of equipment used to control some of the fort’s guns and to provide living accommodation for the bunker’s personnel.

In the fort’s visitors centre there was a small shop as well as a model of the fort …

… as well as examples of the ammunition used by the fort’s guns.

I have been to … the Grenen Bunker Museum, Skagen, Denmark

The Grenen Bunker Museum is a privately-owned museum situated in the beach area of Grenen on the northern tip of Denmark.

On entering the German-built bunker a display board explains that the bunker was originally built to act as a first-aid post for the surrounding complex of coastal defences.

The explanation is accompanied by a plan of the original bunker.

Two display cases contain mannequins dressed in typical uniforms worn by the soldiers who would have occupied the bunker during the Second World War.

One of the bunker’s rooms has been set up to show what it would have looked like when in use as a first-aid station …

… whilst another has been used to recreate a typical sleeping area in the bunker.

A third room contains a detailed model of the bunker complex at Grenen …

… as well as a map of the area.

A fourth room contains a display about the Second World War, …

… the human cost of the war, …

… and the building and function of the Atlantic Wall.

Of particular interest to me was a display that featured images of all the ships of the Kriegsmarine.

There were also numerous displays of artefacts and memorabilia from the time when the bunker was occupied and used by the Germans.

I have been to … the World War II Event at Dover Castle, Kent

Sue and I are members of the National Trust and English Heritage, and have been members of both organisations for quite a long time. Now that we are retired, we hope to spend more of our time visiting the various places that these two bodies help to maintain … and yesterday we visited Dover Castle.

Sue had spotted that English Heritage was hosting a World War II event at Dover Castle over this Bank Holiday weekend, and we decided to go yesterday (Sunday) as we expected that it to be less crowded than it would be on the Bank Holiday Monday. It took us less than ninety minutes to drive to Dover, and after parking in one of the nearby overflow car parks, we arrived at the entrance just before 11.00am. Thanks to having bought tickets online before we left home, we were able to avoid the queues at the ticket office and walked straight in.

We entered the Castle via the Constable’s Gate …

… and turned right towards the sea. As we walked along the pathway towards the NAAFI Restaurant, we had a magnificent view over the port and town of Dover.

Away from the ferry port, we could see a cruise liner moored alongside the Cruise Terminal. (The ship was the AIDA Sol).

A number of re-enactors had set up displays next to the path. They were from a group called Das Heer and represent member of the 27th Infantry Regiment of the 12th Infantry Division.

We decided to have a drink outside the NAAFI Restaurant, and whilst we were there we had to opportunity to spend some time looking at a group of re-r actors who were depicting life on the Home Front during the Second World War.

We had intended to visit the wartime tunnels and the Operation Dynamo exhibit, but the queue was so long (it was estimated that we would have to have queued for between one and two hours to get in) that we decided to move on towards the Admiralty Look-Out and Coastal Artillery Fire Control Station. Along the way we were passed by a group of re-enactors dressed as members of the Essex Regiment.

We also passed a statue of Admiral Ramsey (the man who organised and commanded the evacuation of Dunkirk and helped to plan Operation Overlord) that was situated looking out across the English Channel …

… and a 3-inch anti-aircraft gun.

The Admiralty Look-Out and Coastal Artillery Fire Control Station was very impressive, and made an interesting comparison with similar German bunkers we have visited on Jersey.

The view from the top of the building was very impressive, and it was interesting to see the White Cliffs from a somewhat different angle from normal.

We then made our way up the steps towards the old Officers Mess …

… and along the roadway that passes around the mound on top of which is the church of St Mary-in-Castro …

… and past some old artillery casemates.

Das Heer was mounting a display in the natural amphitheatre between the Great Tower and the church mound. They demonstrated the various weapons used by the Wehrmacht…

… and despite warnings a lot of people were taken aback by the noise generated by blank-firing weapons.

Another re-enactment group was also present at the display but we’re not taking part. They represented the French Army, and included members who were dressed as North African troops.

We retraced our steps around the church mound, and made our way through Peverell’s Gate …

… and into the area that is usually used as a car park for Disabled Blue Badge holders. This contained a number of stands and exhibits, amongst which was an RAF exhibit that included a replica Supermarine Spitfire.

We then walked back past The Constable’s Gate towards the entrance to the Medieval tunnels. Two re-enactment groups were situated there, one of which represented the Essex Regiment …

… and the other recreated the German Home Front.

As it was past midday and the Castle was getting increasingly crowded we decided to call it a day and return home. A minibus took us back to the car park just in time to see a Hawker Hurricane perform a display overhead. (It was actually a Hurribomber as it was specially equipped to act as a fighter-bomber rather than as an interceptor.)

Our journey home took just over ninety minutes, and both of us felt that the event had been very interesting and very entertaining … and an excellent way to spend a sunny Sunday.

I have been to … Tøjhusmuseet (The Royal Danish Arsenal Museum), Copenhagen, Denmark

Sue and I visited Tøjhusmuseet (The Royal Danish Arsenal Museum), Copenhagen, Denmark some years ago, but at the time of our earlier visit the Museum was undergoing a lot of building work and reorganisation. By the time of this visit, most the work had been completed, and the display area had more than doubled in size.

Rather than repeat the coverage of the exhibits that were included in my earlier blog entry, I am going to concentrate on the new exhibits … although I could not resist photographing some of my favourites, which include a model of the building that houses the Museum as it was when it was used as an arsenal, …

… a Carden-Lloyd Tankette, …

… and a mobile armoured pillbox … which bears a striking resemblance to a Dalek on wheels!

Denmark did not take part in the First World War and 2014 marks a very different anniversary for the Danes; it is the 150th anniversary of the war with Prussia that ended with the area of Europe controlled by the Danish monarchy being reduced to almost half of its former size. As a result, the Museum has mounted a small display to mark this anniversary.

The Danish Armed Forces in Afghanistan
This exhibit was undergoing revision and expansion the last time we visited the Museum. It is now open, and gives a very realistic idea about the conditions under which members of the Danish Armed Forces operated in Afghanistan. It combines photographs, recreations, and sound to do this … and both Sue and I were very impressed by it.

(Please note that the lighting inside the exhibit was designed for dramatic effect and not for photography, hence some of the odd colours that appear in some of the following images.)

Arriving at Camp Bastion

Front-line Accommodation

Leaving Camp Bastion to go out on patrol

Afghan house

Patrolling the countryside

The impact of an IED (Improvised Explosive Device)

An Afghan polling station

An Afghan Market

Denmark’s Wars
On our previous visit the upper floor of the Museum had been close for renovation, but on this occasion it was open and housed a gallery entitled ‘Denmark’s Wars’.

To the right of the entrance to the upper floor was a collection of modern helmets displayed in the way that ancient armour is often displayed …

… as were a number of modern automatic rifles.

The exhibits included a number of sets of armour for horses …

… and men, …

… including some Japanese armour.

There were several display cases full of early weapons …

… and nineteenth century Russian uniforms.

There were also collections of military headgear, …

… examples of uniforms that were worn by various Norwegian monarchs, …

… military medals, …

… and models of artillery pieces.

The middle of the nineteenth century was also featured, and included two cabinets containing typical military uniforms of the period as worn by ordinary US soldiers.

The latter part of the nineteenth century was covered …

… as was the First World War, during which Denmark remained neutral.

There were several cabinets devoted to Denmark’s involvement in the Second World War …

… and the Cold War.

The role of the Danish Air Force was not forgotten, and there were two display cases full of large-scale models of aircraft used by the Air Force.

I have been to … the Military and Flying Machines Show, Damyns Hall Aerodrome, Essex

After spending quite a lot of time sorting out the now-defunct shed and its contents, Sue and I decided to have a break yesterday … and went to the Military and Flying Machines Show, Damyns Hall Aerodrome, Upminster, Essex.

This show has been running at its current for eight years, but this is the first time we have not been on holiday when the show was on. As I know the area around Damyns Hall Aerodrome very well (my home from 1958 until 1973 was just over a mile away in Corbets Tey, and my father lived there from 1958 until he went into a care home), we had no problem getting there by the time the show opened at 10.00am. We had pre-booked entrance tickets, and by 10.15am we had passed through the show entrance and were looking around the show.

Please click on the image to enlarge it.

Flying MachinesAlthough the show is devoted to both military and flying machines and takes place on an aerodrome, the majority of the displays were military. There were, however, some interesting flying machines on show.

Whilst we were waiting to enter the show, a Boeing-Stearman Model 75 trainer flew overhead and landed at the aerodrome.

This aircraft is regularly flown from Damyns Hall, and specialises in wing walks … hence the apparatus above the upper wing!

Around midday a Bell UH-1 Iroquois (unofficially known as a Huey) also flew into the aerodrome.

By the entrance to the show was the engine and cockpit of a late model Supermarine Spitfire …

… whilst just outside the hanger was a scaled-down flying replica Spitfire.

On display was a semi-scale replica of a World War I-era Bristol M.1 Monoplane Scout.

Military MachinesThe show had a very large display of static vehicles, only a small part of which is shown below.

Please click on the image to enlarge it.

Please click on the image to enlarge it.

Please click on the image to enlarge it.

Please click on the image to enlarge it.

There were some particular vehicles of interest including a Belgian-built Minerva Land Rover, …

… a Jeep with a towing bar attached to its front bumper, …

… an Alvis FV101 Scorpion, …

… and a Caterpillar D7 Armoured Bulldozer.

Some vehicles were being driven around inside the display area, including two Daimler Dingo Scout Cars …

… and a Kettenkrad.

Re-enactor GroupsAs you would expect, the re-enactor groups were out in force. The largest number were dedicated to re-enacting various units of the German Armed Forces, including Panzer Lehr, who had their replica StuG III with them …

… as well as a Skdfz 251, …

… a Citroen truck, a PaK 36, and a motorcycle.

(This group was raising money for the Royal Marines Association. If you had your photograph taken aboard the StuG III you were asked to give a donation to the Association. People seemed to be being quite generous whilst I was there.)

Some of the other ‘German’ re-enactors had dug trenches and seemed prepared for a enemy attack …

… whilst others seemed to be in a more off-duty mode …

… or were receiving training.

British Airborne Forces were also represented by 2nd Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (the ‘Ox and Bucks’ AKA – according to my late father – as the ‘Ox and Jocks’) …

… and the Airborne/Parachute Field Security Section … who were doing what soldiers so often did when not in action … playing cards! (The Medical Officer was winning when I walked past.)

A group of Red Army re-enactors had constructed a trench system, that was defended by two female snipers …

… and a Russian-built Maxim Machine Gun.

The Spearfish Creek Wild West Group had a large contingent at the show. They specialise in depicting life in and around the mining town of Spearfish Creek in South Dakota during the nineteenth century.

The only group of re-enactors who depict the Croatian Army during the Croatian War of Independence (1991 to 1995) was also present at the show.

They are only a relatively new and small group, but they were very enthusiastic and more than willing to talk to anyone who stopped to look at their trench.

Classic VehiclesOne particular exhibit caught our eye as we walked around this section of the show … a Matchless motorbike.

These were built less than a mile away from where we live in a now-gone factory in Plumstead. It was nice to see such an excellent example of this British-built motorbike on show.

This was a very interesting and enjoyable way to spend our Saturday, and we were both pleased that we went. The show was well organised and there was more than enough to see and do. The entrance fee of £10.00 each (there were lower prices for children, serving military personnel, and OAPs) was good value, especially as it included free car parking.

Next year’s show takes place on 1st and 2nd August 2015, and is billed as being the V.E. Day Anniversary Show. If we aren’t on holiday at the time, we may well be going.