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Unveiling of the Violette Szabo mural at Stockwell

Gosh, what a day !!

It's been a scorcher of a day (30C ~80F) humid, with a high grass pollen count.

Just the perfect day to be standing outside all afternoon :)

I keep telling people, I'm a North European Celtic type, I'm not built for hot weather !!

I didn't go to the picnic at the Violette Szabo museum on Saturday. I couldn't enthuse anyone else enough to go with me and a 300 mile round trip seemed a little excessive for a picnic.

But a lot of them, including Rosemary Rigby, the lady that runs it, came to the unveiling of the mural so that was all right.

It was apparently all paid for by the local council (Lambeth, is that your area Nicky?) so we had to hear a few speeches by the local politicians (who kept referring to someone called Violet Szabo at first).

But then there were a few nice words from some people who knew what it was all about, including a nice man from the War Museum and then Virginia McKenna who introduced Tania Szabo & together they unveiled the mural.

It's quite a piece of work all together. A lot of it is based on a project in a local school where the children drew things to represent the wide cultural diversity of the area. These were then tidied up & painted onto the mural by local artists.

The panel about Violette has a few different images of her. One is one of the classic images that I instantly recognised and which so surprised me I almost drove into the traffic lights when I saw it.

Others include Violette & Etienne Szabo on their wedding day & Violette, armed with a sten gun & a bag of ammo clips, holding off the Das Reich Panzer Division (well, the scouting column anyway)

Then there's a little one of Tania, aged 5, in all her finery, at Buckingham Palace, getting the George Cross that was awarded posthumously to her brave mother.
Tania didn't know they'd included that one :)

Then we processed (led by the British Legion contingent) back to the Stockwell Community Centre for tea & sandwiches - and lots of cold drinks.

Chatting to various people there I approached one tall, imposing gent and said "I have to ask, are you you or your brother?" He's a famous South Londoner with a twin brother. Yes it was Sir Henry Cooper - the only boxer to seriously worry Mohammed Ali in his prime.

I chatted to the artist in charge, Brian Barnes, to the mayoress, to the local police inspector (they'd stopped the traffic as we processed) and many other people. An interesting mix of people.

Virginia confirmed a lot of the things that they'd put in the Press Book of the film that I found (& donated to the museum) such as :-

The director and producer both wanted a double to be used for the jump from the parachute training tower, but Virginia insisted on doing it herself. Slowed slightly by a wire (as are all trainee parachutists) she landed with a professional-looking roll on the mat below. Picking herself up she smiled and said "That was fun; I'd like to do it again."

And that she only had 2 days off in the 92 days it took to make the film - to marry Bill Travers (himself a member of SOE)

But she denied that she lost a lot of weight during filming. She told me "At that age I didn't have the weight to lose" :)

And so down to the Clapham Picture House to see Carve Her Name With Pride. I asked Virginia if she was joining us but she said she never watched herself on screen.

Just before we left a message was read out from the director, Lewis Gilbert, still alive & well and currently working on a film in the Isle of Man. He wished us all well, especially Virgina & Tania and said what an interesting time they'd had making the film and what an amazing, inspirational lady Violette was.

At the Picture House, before the film started, Tania read out a poem - no, not THE poem, but one written by Violette's father when he heard what had happened. Even though it was based on the initial, official report where she was said to be fighting house to house rather than in the open, it was a very moving piece. I'll try to get a copy.

It's an odd thing, to watch a biographical film with a lot of people from the locality ("Oh yes, that's ... road", "There's Mrs. Wilson") and the daughter of the doomed heroine sitting a few seats away.

We laughed, we cried, we hugged, we all had a very moving but wonderful time.

Now I just got to drink about 20 gallons to make up for the sweat that poured off me & then I'll get the photos developed.

One last comment, the little girl who played Tania in the film (Pauline Challoner) did apparently appear in a few other films, but nothing noticible and is now working for the Passport Office.


Here are some photos we took at the unveiling. (click on the image to see a full size version)

First, a few from Veronica, the lovely lady that accompanied me ...

Virginia at unveiling Virginia signing books Virginia unveiling the mural
Virginia McKenna listening to the introductory speeches Virginia signing some books & chatting to people Virginia unveiling the mural

And a few that I took as well ...

All is in readiness Awaiting the guests of honour The crowd gathers around
All is in readiness Awaiting the guests of honour The crowd gathers around
Virginia gives an introduction Tania is introduced Brian, Rosemary & Tania
Virginia gives an introduction Tania is introduced Brian, Rosemary & Tania
The plaque on the mural (shakey) The mural in all its glory Plaque to Lilian Baylis
The plaque on the mural (shakey)
I'll go back & get a better one
The mural in all its glory A plaque to Lilian Bayliss
Just around the corner in
Stockwell Park Road.
My shot of Violette's plaque
didn't come out.
See also Tania Szabo's site about Violette

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