Centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele

The centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele was commemorated today in Belgium. This battle lasted from 31 July to 10 November 1917 and was the third and largest of the battles of Ypres. Overall, 800,000 soldiers from both sides of the conflict died at Ypres from 1914-1918. My grandfather, Will Mathers and his brother Tom served in the Australian Army Medical Corps in France during World War I and were at the Battle of Passchemdaele. They carried the wounded out of the battlefield from around 20 September 1917 until 7th October, when both were gassed. Will was hospitalized for 8 days.

Left: Will Mathers 1915, Right: Will and Tom in Salisbury, 2 September 1916.

Will and Tom had two cousins John and William Melrose who both died at Ypres. Their uncle Robert Melrose lost both his children in 1917. John died on 7 June 1917 at Messines, a day on which 6,700 Australians died. The battle of Messines commenced in the early hours of 7 June with the detonation of a million pounds of explosives packed into tunnels dug under German positions on the Messines Ridge. The explosion was heard in London and Dublin and killed approximately 10,000 German soldiers, the deadliest non-nuclear manmade explosion in history. Five months later, his brother William was also killed on Oct 12, 1917 in the Battle of Passchendaele. John Melrose was the first husband of my (great-) Auntie Annie, who lived until 1989 and was like a second mother to my father. She was married to John for only two weeks before he left Australia for France.

Left: William and John Melrose, Right: Annie Melrose (née Gammie)

Rare footage of 1989 jujutsu training

I came across a video recently posted on youtube of my former jujutsu teacher, John Bear Shihan demonstrating futari kata in 1989.  Was surprised to see that I was the main receiver, joined partway through the video by Neil Phillips.

At that time, I was a shodan (1st Dan black belt) and Neil was probably 3rd kyu brown belt. This kata was a training exercise for 5th kyu purple belt level.

 

Méribel mountain views

Some photos of the French Alps from the Saulire on the mountain ridge between Méribel and Courcheval. The Saulire is at 2738m and has spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, including Mont Blanc in the distance 63 km away. And then a thousand metre descent which made for great skiiing.

Looking west over the Méribel valley towards Val Torens

Dent du Bergin seen from Saulire

A traverse along the ridge before dropping over the other side to descend to Méribel.

A week skiing at Méribel

We went to Méribel in February for a week skiing. It is a resort in the French Alps about halfway between Grenoble and the Italian border. Last winter was not a great year for snow, but it snowed heavily just before we arrived and there was lots of fresh powder. The entire week until the last day was clear blue skies.

At 2275 m on the Col des Lozes between Méribel and Coucheval

Looking down towards Méribel village in the valley. We could ski from here down to the door of our hotel.

We were skiing on one day with eagles,owls and a condor. One large eagle, 2m wingspan, was flying down the piste with us. It was just behind Alex some of the way, then flew over his head. His handler was waiting at the bottom, but the eagle decided to take a sandwich from a man having lunch with his family. A fight for the sandwich ensued, the eagle won, leaving the man with cut fingers.

The eagle came up on the chairlift ahead of us, in the white container. Its sitting on the foream of the woman behind.

Eagle taking off. It flew down the piste between Alex and me.

And won the fight for the sandwich. The man in orange has fallen back clutching his cut fingers.

The handler eventually got the eagle under control.

At 6.15 pm on 15 February, the international space station passed directly over Meribel with a French astronaut aboard. 500 skiers with flaming torches formed a giant heart on the piste visible from the space station. We saw the lights in the distance, but didn’t find out what they were until later.

The next day we went up to the highest point on the mountains between Méribel and Courcheval. The Saulire is at 2738m and has spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, including Mont Blanc in the distance 63 km away. And then a thousand metre descent which the boys loved, and insisted on doing again the next day. To get to the top we skied to the bottom of the valley and caught this cablecar all the way up.

One of the boys starting the descent.

 

Snow on the pines

Thanks to the President of China, I spent a day in January skiing at Les Houches near Mont Blanc. Xi Jinping was visiting my organization, and we were told to avoid coming to work if possible, as the security arrangements were extreme. Juras and Swiss Alps were forecast to have low temperatures, low visibility and strong wind, so I headed up towards Mont Blanc where it was sunny and no wind. The temperature was still low at about -10 degrees C.

Mont Blanc seen from Les Houches

Mont Blanc seen from Les Houches

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Hot and cold: from New Year in heatwave Australia to mid-winter Geneva

Somewhat belatedly, a few photos from a quick trip to Australia in the New Year break 2016-2017 to visit my family in Noosa on the Queensland coast.  Flying from the midwinter Geneva around zero C to heatwave in the middle of summer – middle 30s C and then back to a cold spell at -4 C. Around 35°C temperature drop from my last Saturday on Sunshine Beach to the first day in Geneva.

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Even though it was hot, there were some stormy days and some dark clouds on Noosa Main Beach. It was much more crowded when the sun was out.

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Parapente flight from France to Switzerland

Yannick has combined parapente (paragliding) with alpine climbing and has a tandem harness. He told me he could arrange two more pilots and my boys and I could do a flight over Mont Salève, in neighbouring France near Geneva. The boys were very excited, my older boy had been lobbying for several years to do a parapente flight. And Yannick is very experienced and I know he does not take risks. So around the end of August, off we went. All three of us launched from the grassy slope on top of the Salève out over the cliffs. I cruised around the cliffs and above them. Saw the boys from time to time, though they ended up going up to around 1700 m altitude, much higher than me. Guess I am a bit heavier.

Below is a short 2:30 video of my flight. In the second half of this video, I flew the wing for a while, then Herve did some acrobatics before we landed back in Switzerland.