10 days in England. Four in London, one in Cambridge, two in York (pronounced Yawk), three just outside of Oxford. I have been to England before, and I have loved it every time. This was Emma’s turn. Her sisters got to go many years ago ( Must keep things equal. Kinda.)

Some things I learned this time:

• All of Europe goes on vacation in August and London is one of their destinations.

• There is no one map of London that serves all of your needs. You need two: one detailed city, and one tube and bus.

• A trip in the summer requires almost two different wardrobes because you just don’t know what kind of weather you may encounter.

• People eat dinner late in Europe. If you go to a restaurant between five and six in the evening, you will have no problem getting a table, and the restaurant/pub will not have run out of Sticky Toffee Pudding yet.

• Airbnb is a mixed bag. Reviews can be misleading because your idea of a comfortable bed may not be everyone else’s. On the other hand, you may end up someplace that is really great (see The Nook in Oxfordshire).

• I thought I liked Cambridge more than Oxford, but I was wrong. Oxford is a beautiful city. Cambridge is quaint.

• WWII was hell for the British.

We went to a couple museums/memorials about the war and went on a walking tour of York where we learned even more about that period of time. I knew the country was bombed by Germany and that Hitler intended to invade, but the exhibits we saw really helped me better appreciate what it must have felt like to be British at that time. It is a short 20 miles from the continent. The country is about the size of the state of Alabama. There they were, minutes from Hitler’s army.

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Göering overlooking cliffs at Dover from France.

60,000 civilians were killed. It must have been so frightening to live through. The thing that helped me understand the best was our stop in Coventry. Coventry is….ugly. Much of modern architecture in England is truly hideous – it looks like communist Soviet cement blocks. (Prince Charles called some of the modern architecture “monstrous carbuncles”.) Coventry had the snot beat out of it and it looks it. Years ago we visited Vicksburg Mississippi. We could see that the city had never really recovered from the Civil War. It was a poor and depressing place. Well, Coventry is not poor or depressing, but it does not look like other English cities that sustained damage during the war. Coventry Cathedral, like many other stately building, was utterly destroyed. The damage was too extensive to rebuild, so the ruins were kept as a memorial.

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Unlike most other British cities that enduring Nazi bombing, Coventry had a hard time keeping that famous “stiff upper lip”. They had sustained such damage that people were utterly demoralized. Churchill understood how important it was to keep up morale. For that reason the government created the Ministry of Information which was given the responsibility of boosting morale. That is the origin of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster.

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Keep Calm and Carry On was the third in a series of posters. The first two were Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory and Freedom is in Peril. The third poster was printed and ready to use when the Nazi’s invaded. It was only a matter of time.

But! We know that Hitler made a Napoleonic mistake. The RAF managed to maintain control of the air over southern England and Hitler turned his attention to Russia. He figured he could come back and get England later. Fatal mistake. So the poster was never used. Copies were found decades later and today we are the happy recipients of the reminder to prevail with equanimity.

People have co-opted the “Keep Calm” slogan. They trivialize it by turning it into such silly things as “Keep Calm and Buy Stuff” and “Keep Calm and Eat Cake”, or worse. Only a people ignorant of history and lulled by ease and imagined security could play such games. For my part, I am grateful that Churchill helped bolster a people already known for their fortitude.

This is no time for ease and comfort. It is a time to dare and endure.

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