|Tangmere. History makes me cry. (bbc.uk.co picture)|
Reading my good friend, Joanne's wonderful blog (Cup on the Bus: Old Stories, Old Things), reminded me of something . . .
My Husby worked for Alberta Culture. Specifically building the great museums for which Alberta is famous.
The last two museums had been announced.
One to house a collection of cars and trucks and thing that go. Or fly.
The other to showcase the horse-drawn vehicle era.
Both having to do with transportation.
In preparation for this, my Husby was sent to the UK.
They have museums.
They could offer insight.
Thus, twenty-five years ago, he went.
It was a wonderful, informative, exhilarating, exhausting, emotional trip.
We saw farm museums. Transit museums. Air museums. Automobile museums.
We even went to the mews at Buckingham palace and got up close and personal with the gold coach.
But one visit stands out above all of the others.
Oh, we had seen exhibits expertly assembled.
Cunningly and beautifully displayed.
Extensive, professional artwork in beautiful buildings.
And trained, informed staff.
But none of them could compete with the (then) little museum, Tangmere.
Near Chichester, England, on the site of the old RAF Tangmere Airfield, this museum was almost exclusively manned by airmen who had served there during WWII.
Perhaps that is what made the difference.
The displays came to life when your guide, who had known the showcased men personally, described them.
He had many stories to tell.
And no few tears were shed in the telling.
One, in particular, I remember most vividly.
The worker/veteran described a gentleman entering the museum.
This man wandered from exhibit to exhibit, reading the hand-lettered cards and information.
Studying the artifacts.
Finally, he approached the desk.
"Have you a cemetery?" he asked in heavily German-accented English.
"Why yes, sir. It's just through there." The worker pointed towards a door.
"Thank you." The man went outside.
I'm not sure if it's still there, but there used to be a small cemetery directly behind the main building.
It housed everyone lost during the August 16, 1940 raid on Tangmere during WWII.
The visitor stayed outside for a long time.
Finally, he re-entered the building and returned to the front desk.
"Please excuse me, but I couldn't help but notice that you have buried the German dead with the English."
The man telling the story got a bit teary-eyed at this point.
"Why yes, sir," he told the man. "They were each and all someone's son."
The German visitor began to cry. Finally he whispered, "I was in the wave of German fighters who bombed you."
The Englishman put out his hand.
"Well it's nice to actually get to meet you!" he said heartily, shaking the other's hand. "And I should tell you that you and your boys made one hell of a mess!"
The worker looked at us. "I don't know what we were when he came in, but we parted friends," he said.
I cried all of the way back to our hotel.