Our trip to Belfast has been in the calendar since we went to Cardiff last September for the National Police Memorial service, and this year didn’t disappoint. We flew into Belfast on Saturday and had a rush around to book into the hotel and get back to the Grand Opera House to see Blood Brothers which was fantastic and very moving. What a good start to our stay.
Our Sunday started with a trip to the RUC George Cross memorial garden. What a brilliant place. It told the story of the RUC from their formation in 1922 right up until they became the PSNI in 2001. During that time they suffered troubles unlike those faced by the rest of the police in the UK. I hadn’t realised that Ireland didn’t split into the North and South until 1921.
A brief amusement for me was a 1960’s advert for women offices describing “the section offers an interesting, active and healthy occupation to the vigorous girl who wishes to do a worthwhile job in varying and challenging circumstances. Promotion prospects are good; she must, however, relinquish her service on marriage.” I wonder how many females would consider themselves ‘vigorous’ or whether it’s used in any job adverts nowadays! How things have changed.
The gardens were beautifully kept with statutes including the George Cross statue that celebrated the Queen awarding the George Cross to the RUC as a tribute to the acts of gallantry and sacrifice made by officers and their families. There is an area of reflection that has the names inscribed of all officers lost whilst serving over the history of the RUC, including over 300 that died due to acts of terrorism. It is shocking to see the vast number of names that were killed in these circumstances in the 70’s and 80’s. I spoke to the volunteer guide who was a retired RUC officer. She explained how officers didn’t even tell their children what they did for a living as it was too dangerous, and their distinctive green shirts were never hung on the line, but always dried inside due to the risk of exposure. It’s a sharp contrast to how we operate in the rest of the UK where for the most part we are not at risk of personal attack because we’re police officers.
Sunday afternoon saw us gather at the Waterfront Hall for the National Police Memorial Service. This is attended by serving and retired officers, together with friends and relatives of those that had passed. During the service four candles are lit in memory of officers from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Relatives of deceased officers light the candles to represent the four nations. 2014 marks 30 years since WPC Yvonne Fletcher was murdered at the Libyan embassy and her sister was there to light the English candle. For me the highlight of the service is when the last post is played alongside the hymn Abide with me as rose petals drift down from the ceiling and we remember all those that have fallen. Such a poignant moment as we remember those that made the ultimate sacrifice for their communities and their colleagues. It makes me very thankful to have not only survived my service but to have loved almost every moment of it.
After a circuitous route home, via Durham and Sheffield to see our young ones we got home on Tuesday afternoon, ready for our trip to London on Wednesday. We headed to the Tower of London to plant poppies as part of the commemorative installation called ‘Blood Swept Lands And Seas of Red.’ It will comprise of over 800,000 ceramic poppies, each one beautifully handmade which will turn the moat entirely red. This is to commemorate the outbreak of the First World War. It was absolutely stunning to see the impact of the poppies that had already been planted, and apparently they have planted about half of them so far. It is stunning to think that each individual poppy represents an individual British military fatality during the war. We were a large group of volunteers who constructed and planted until all our allotted poppies had been planted. We are very proud to have had the opportunity to be part of this project and to have seen first hand from the moat the installation.
Our day in London was completed by a visit to the Theatre to see Miss Saigon which is this year celebrating its 25th anniversary. This was a stunning performance and one that we didn’t know the story before we went. It was absolutely brilliant and so well performed. A fine finish to a fantastic week.
Our next adventure commences tomorrow with a trip away to Peru. We’ll have no IT with us during this trip, so hopefully a full update will happen on our return.