Moments in history

You can blame John Zande for today’s post!

John left an intriguing question as a comment to yesterday’s post.

Oh to have a time machine!

Tell me, Paul, if you did have one, a time machine, what three moments in history would you visit?

It really grabbed Jean and me and we spent quite a few minutes during the day kicking around ideas. At first, it was easy just to do a web search on epic moments in history and see if any of them related to me. But that seemed too easy. So I have picked three that do connect with my life.

  1. May 8th, 1945

I was born on November 8th, 1944. I was born in North London (Acton). It was the period of the Second World War when the V2 rockets were landing all around. Take, for example, the incident just eleven days after my birth, when on the 19th November, 1944 a V2 landed in Wandsworth causing much damage and many fatalities around Hazlehurst Road and Garratt Lane. Spend a moment reviewing who died, and their ages, in that bombing.


So I was precisely six months old when the armistice was announced on May 8th, 1945. As Wikipedia describes it:

Victory in Europe Day, generally known as V-E Day, VE Day or simply V Day was the public holiday celebrated on 8 May 1945 (7 May in Commonwealth realms) to mark the formal acceptance by the Allies of World War II of Nazi Germany’s unconditional surrender of its armed forces.[1] It thus marked the end of World War II in Europe.

On 30 April, Adolf Hitler, the Nazi leader, committed suicide during the Battle of Berlin. Germany’s surrender, therefore, was authorised by his successor, Reichspräsident Karl Dönitz. The administration headed by Dönitz was known as the Flensburg Government. The act of military surrender was signed on 7 May in Reims, France and on 8 May in Berlin, Germany.

I would have loved to witness, by being in the crowd that day, the King and Queen acknowledging the end of the war in Europe.

May 8, 1945: King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, with Princess Elizabeth and Princess Margaret, are joined by Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

Nevertheless, that day in May, 1945 has been memorable for me for all of my life. Because my mother, who is still alive today, aged 96, (still living in London but spending Christmas with my sister in Cape Town, by the way), held me in her arms and said aloud: “My dear Paul, you are going to live!” I grew up with those loving words deeply rooted within me.

2. Stonehenge – too many moons ago!

For reasons that I am not entirely clear about, I have always been fascinated by the stars. From the point of view of using the stars to help me navigate strange parts of the world, both on land and at sea. I grew up regarding Polaris, the North Star, almost as a companion. Later in my life when sailing solo from Gibraltar to The Azores, a distance of just under 1,150 nautical miles, on a Tradewind 33 yacht, despite having an early GPS unit it was backup to me using a sextant to maintain (some) awareness of my position.

Tradewind 33 - Songbird of Kent. My home for five years.
Tradewind 33 – Songbird of Kent. My home for five years.

(Reminds me of a anecdote when I was crewing on a privately-owned East Coast Essex fishing smack. I was asking Bill, the owner, why he always laid his thumb on the position on the chart in response to the question, “Where are we?” Bill’s reply: “That’s as accurate as anyone can be!”)

In 1969, when I was driving across the desert plains of Australia, often with inhabited places more than a 150-mile radius away (the Simpson Desert especially coming to mind) the Southern Cross seemed to keep me grounded and remind me that I was making progress.

Back when I was living just outside Totnes in South Devon, my frequent drives up to London along the A303 took me past Stonehenge in Wiltshire.

The December solstice happens at the same instant for all of us, everywhere on Earth. This year the solstice occurs on Tuesday December 22nd at 04:49 GMT (Universal time) with the sun rising over Stonehenge in Wiltshire at 08:04.
The December solstice happens at the same instant for all of us, everywhere on Earth. This year the solstice occurs on Tuesday December 22nd at 04:49 GMT (Universal time) with the sun rising over Stonehenge in Wiltshire at 08:04.


It is possible that features such as the Heel Stone and the low mound known as the North Barrow were early components of Stonehenge,[3] but the earliest known major event was the construction of a circular ditch with an inner and outer bank, built about 3000 BC. This enclosed an area about 100 metres in diameter, and had two entrances. It was an early form of henge monument.[4]

Within the bank and ditch were possibly some timber structures and set just inside the bank were 56 pits, known as the Aubrey Holes. There has been much debate about what stood in these holes: the consensus for many years has been that they held upright timber posts, but recently the idea has re-emerged that some of them may have held stones.[5]

Within and around the Aubrey Holes, and also in the ditch, people buried cremations. About 64 cremations have been found, and perhaps as many as 150 individuals were originally buried at Stonehenge, making it the largest late Neolithic cemetery in the British Isles.[6]

Taken from here.

I would have loved being present at Stonehenge when the builders finally were able to stand back and see the Sun “speak” to them at the first Solstice after that point in its construction.

It seems to me to be a most magical place yet Stonehenge offers a mathematical and rhythmic foundation to that magic.

3. First man into space – 12th April, 1961

It was, of course, Yuri Gagarin, who made the first complete orbit of Planet Earth in space.

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin
Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin

I would have given anything to be in his seat (and suit). For to look out and see our planet as a small object in an enormous outer space would have to change one’s perception of almost everything; for evermore.


My wish for the New Year is that we recognise our place both in history and on our Planet Earth, and care for it as the sole, beautiful home that we have.

Now that global recognition would be a moment in history that I would want to experience before I die!

(Thanks John for inspiring me to jot down these thoughts!)


20 thoughts on “Moments in history

  1. Navigating by the stars – there always seems to me to be something magical in that Paul. My father was a pilot in the RAF and I would sometimes ask him about his experiences outside of the war years, which same he never wanted to talk about. He would, though, tell me of flying an aircraft back to Norfolk from, what was then, Malaya, guided only by the stars and the competence of his navigator, as well as other such tales, all of which I found compelling. Ah yes, the A303, a road we have both travelled many times it would seem, as I continue to do to this day. All best wishes to you, Jean and the animals for the holidays Paul.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Apologies, I was unthinking in talking to Paul, an Englishman there. No, Norfolk on the East Anglian coast of Britain, where there is a large military base known as RAF Marham, a few miles south of the town of Kings Lynn. Dad was a Squadron Leader in what was then called ‘Bomber Command’, and was based there in the immediate post-war years. Norfolk Island would have been a much easier destination to reach when flying from Malaya of course, even when guided by the stars; though going halfway ’round the world by that means seems almost inconceivably abstract to my hugely impractical mind. Have a great Atheistmas John!

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Hariod, that recollection of your father sounds like the introduction to a wonderful story. What an incredible flight that must have been! Oh, and give my love to the A303; what’s it like these days?

      Your kind wishes gratefully accepted and returned lovingly to you and yours.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The A303 has thus far survived it being turned into a major arterial into the West Country by virtue of the Blackdown Hills – a very beautiful region of East Devon as you know. They would have to scar it unacceptably to dual the road through there, and tunnelling beneath the hills is out of the question now that the money’s run out. It’s still my preferred route down to Devon from here in Glastonbury, even though it’s slower than the M5. Thankyou for your best wishes Paul – gratefully received!


  2. Wow, what a great topic for conversation!
    On a lighter, non-historical note, it would have been interesting to be present at my own birth. Which of course I was, come to think of it. Hmm. But in those days, (1953), no one filmed the event. Many young people today are able to watch their own birth on film.

    Seriously though, I agree with you Paul, that my first choice would have to be outside Buckingham Palace watching the Royal family and Winston Churchill appear on the balcony to celebrate the end of WW2. After 5 hard years of the deadliest conflict in history, the atmosphere would have been electric! ( How sad it was to read all those names of individuals and families that were killed on that street in the London bombing.)

    The second place for my time travel would be Dealy Plaza, Dallas, on 22nd November, 1963. I would have a movie camera trained not just on the motorcade but particularly on the grassy knoll.
    Thirdly, as an Australian, I would have liked to have witnessed Captain James Cook’s arrival in Botany Bay in 1770 when he officially claimed the continent of Australia for the British Government. But I wouldn’t have wanted to be on the boat. I would like to have been with the aboriginal people as they watched nearby. Their 50,000 year long way of life was about to change forever.
    And, if I can sneak in a 4th – the coming down of the Berlin Wall, now regarded as the official end of the Cold War. Every time I see the film of people just walking through to the other side without hindrance and the obvious elation on their faces, it gives me goosebumps.
    Paul, Jeanie or anyone – do you remember that old US TV series called “Time Tunnel”, about these 2 science guys who were rocketing around in time in this time machine. Couldnt get back to their present time, and kept getting caught up in great events of the past.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And what a great addition from you, Marg. As with the Aborigines so with the native North American Indians. Loved your Berlin Wall recollection. Yes, that was a turning point in modern history.

      I don’t recall that TV series but will ask Jeannie when she comes back with our second cup of tea in a couple of minutes. (Having a late breakfast as we had neighbours round for dinner last night.)

      Stay cool where you are – we have snow coming down from a local Winter storm!

      (And Jean doesn’t remember that TV series.)


  3. I like your choices!

    I was thinking about mine, and have another contender: the death of our parent star, that super massive star which went supernova probably about 5.5 billion years ago and inside who’s remains were this solar system, you, me, and every one.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks John!

      But must say your latest could hardly be called a “moment” in history! How long would you have had to hang around waiting for the final outcome? Seriously, an epochal time. Season’s greetings to you and all your loved ones.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Just a further reflection from this silly old emotional fart!

    That is that I found it wonderful that, like chums chatting across our garden fences, here we all were exchanging pleasantries: Brazil; Glastonbury (SW England); Tasmania; Philadelphia (but another ex-pat Brit; well a Scot but it’s nearly the same!), and Merlin in Southern Oregon.

    Thank you everyone, and many more, for keeping me grounded in this otherwise crazy world!

    Liked by 1 person

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