Blitzing through London

On Sunday May 7th, 2017 I was dropped of at the Detroit airport and began my journey to London. Upon arrival I got my first taste of the tube. To my surprise, Professor Steigerwald was right, one can master the tube in the day. After settling in at the Lancaster Gate Hotel, we took a trip to Westminster. Upon exiting Westminster tube station, Big Ben is front and center. For those of you who have never seen Big Ben, it is most certainly not as tall as you might think. It’s actually quite small. Westminster Abbey is absolutely beautiful. The history surrounding it even more so. My first day in London ending with a traditional fish and chips dinner.

The next day we visited the Churchill War Rooms. Winston Church served as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during WWII. If in America WWII was known as the Good War, in the United Kingdom it was the People’s War. Britain united together as one in order to achieve victory. Churchill gave some of the most inspiring speeches of the time. His goal was to rally the people, to show that he was not afraid and neither should they be. Churchill worked an average of 18 hours a day during the war pushing his staff hard and himself harder. What sticks out to me most about Churchill’s speeches is that he never promised victory. He simply promised to give all he had. One of my favorite quotes from Churchill is “If we fail, all fails, and if we fall, we all fall together.”
That afternoon I took a walk in Hyde Park, and visited Kensington Palace, a royal residence set in Kensington Gardens. I also stopped at the historic Sunken Garden, which is currently transformed into a White Garden as a memorial to Princess Diana. That night we had a group dinner with a wonderful guest speaker, Michael Hanscomb.
Wednesday was a free today. I started out at The British Museum. The Rosetta Stone is held there. The Rosetta Stone, found in 1799, was the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The National Gallery was stunning. My favorite painting was Salome Receives the Head of John the Baptist by Caravoggio. This painting depicts one of the variations of the death of John the Baptist. Next, I ventured off toward the London Bridge and stopped by The Monument, which commemorates the Great Fire of London (1666). To finish off my day I took a walk through Green Park, stopped at the Buckingham palace and saw the Queen Victoria Memorial.

The next day we caught a train from Euston Station to Bletchley Park. Bletchley Park was the central site for British codebreaking during WWII. The Enigma machine, developed in the twentieth century to protect commercial communication, became the main form of protection for diplomatic and military communication used by the Nazi regime, as it failed in the commercial market. In the 1930s the Poles succeeded in building their own Enigma machine, called Enigma doubles. As the Nazi regime conquered Poland, the Polish government gave their knowledge to the British. This allowed the British to go on and break German codes, giving way to the birth of ULTRA intelligence. ULTRA was extremely important to the Allied war effort. It is said that ULTRA intelligence shorten the war by two years.

What really caught my attention was Allan Turing’s involvement at Bletchley and the story involving around his death. Turing was an English computer scientist and mathematician. During WWII he worked at Bletchley Park in Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis. Turing played an important role in cracking German coded messages. In 1952 Turing was found guilty of “homosexual acts”. His punishment was chemical castration. In 1954, Turing died from cyanide poisoning. His death was ruled a suicide. It was not until 2009 that the British government made an official public apology for his sentence. In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II granted him a posthumous pardon. Turing’s suicide and the events that surround it are horrible and saddening. Turing was condemned because of simply who he was – no one should be punished for living their truth.

Our last day in London consisted of a trip to the Imperial War Museum. The three areas I was most interested in were the WWI, WWII and The Holocaust rooms. The understanding of WWI is an important step to the understanding of WWII. The wounds, not yet healed, from the Great War greatly influenced the course of WWII. The Holocaust area was one of my favorites. I am a strong believer in studying past mistakes in order to avoid repeating history. I also believe that we need to understand the horrifying actions humanity made. The Nazi regime nearly annihilated the Jewish race, and killed others (the Gypsies, elderly, mentally and physically disabled, etc.) en masses. Their stories deserved to be told. This horrifying time in history should never be forgotten – God forbid it be repeated.

After spending a few hours at the Imperial Museum I made my way to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The church was stunning. I wish I would have gone in, but the cost was a bit out of my budget. I finished the day with a Jack the Ripper tour. It was very cool. Our tour guide was clearly passionate about the subject, which made the tour all the more interesting.

Hyde Park

The White Garden

Salome Recieves the Head of John the Baptist by Caravoggio

St. Paul’s Cathedral


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