The connection between Bloemfontein, the RAF and Hammersmith Bridge may elude you. If you walk across the bridge on the upstream side you will find the answer.

In the centre of the bridge is this plaque, easy to read but hard to photograph.

Hammersmith Bridge, January 2018.

The inscription reads:

Lieutenant Charles Campbell Wood RAF of Bloemfontein South Africa  dived from this spot into the Thames at midnight 27 Dec 1919 and saved a woman’s life. He died from the injuries received during the rescue.

His gallantry is beyond doubt, assuming he didn’t push her in. Did she want to be saved? Were his fatal injuries received at her hands? One question that I can answer, because it puzzled me, is that the RAF was formed in 1918 by merging the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service.

Another question left hanging in the air in this post (published on my birthday in 2016) was solved recently by Jeremy Paxman in a column in FTWeekend. The inscription beneath the statue of John Franklin in Waterloo Place reads:

To the great arctic navigator and his brave companions who sacrificed their lives in completing the discovery of the North West Passage. A.D. 1847

This is not true but Paxman writes that Lady Franklin insisted on the wording and watched the unveiling from an upper window of the Athenaeum. I can believe the first part but did the club really allow a woman through its portal?

The passage of time desensitises emotion over tragic death. Lt. Charles Campbell Wood and John Franklin died so long ago that it is hard to grieve. But look just a few feet further along the handrail on Hammersmith Bridge and you will see this.

Hammersmith Bride, January 2018.

The inscription reads:

In loving memory of MNE Sam Alexander MC. Born Hammersmith 1982, died Afghanistan 2011. One of the bravest of the brave, who died for you. Still whispers in your ear: “now, you, be brave too!”

Sam Alexander served with the Royal Marines and was awarded the Military Cross on his first posting to Afghanistan in 2009. His small memorial moves me more than the ostentatious ones that are so prevalent.

One thought on “Inscriptions”

  1. If one wishes to perpetuate a myth cast it in stone. Lady Franklin was indefatigable in promoting her husband’s cause even roping in Charles Dickens to help her out. Franklin is now generally reckoned to have been incompetent and was known as ” the man who ate his boots”.
    The remarkable doctor and explorer John Rae discovered Franklin’s fate. Rae is buried in the churchyard at the cathedral of St. Magnus, Kirkwall.

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