The next year after my Indian trip I went on the Transmongolian Railway to England. I flew from New Zealand to Hong Kong then caught the train in Canton, China.
The year was 1989. What a turbulent year it was.It was thought China was heading for an internal revolution. While the world watched via the media of TV the students caused an up rising, it was centred in Tiananmen Square. Who can forget the image of a lone student in front of the tank as it weaved to avoid him and he kept pace with it, not letting it pass. It made world-wide headlines.
The Berlin Wall came down.
Gorbachev was the premier of Russia and the buzz word was “Peristrioka”, democracy.
Chekoslavakia was holding the first democratic elections for many years.
It was an amazing period to travel through these regions. I have many memories of events and people I met but the one that stands out most is when I was allowed the very rare privilege of watching the last Victory Day celebration in Red Square in Moscow. It was the first time tourists had been allowed to witness this special day when Russia would show its military strength to the world. We were given a pass with our name on it and had to go through 6 check points. At the time I was so impressed and moved by the atmosphere that I wrote a poem/prose about it…
The Last Victory Day Celebrations
To the accompaniment of drum and bugle they marched and halted in rows six deep around the massive square.
Thousands of fresh-faced Russian youngsters, dressed in uniforms of death.
The political walls of the Kremlin loomed on the right
St Bazils domed and turreted presence, a caricature of religion, in gaudy bright array,
backed by the red bricked façade of Gum, department store of communism, half empty to this day.
Atop the tomb of Lenin the dignitaries assemble, Gorbachev surrounded by decision-making men
A wave of solid sound reverberates around the ranks of soldiers as three loud cheers were commanded.
The crisp air of winter caused tendril breath to rise, and the wind whipped flags, cracked in the lull.
The clock above the Kremlin struck ten……
Then the boom of a dozen cannons shattered the momentary stillness and reverberated around the square. The acrid tang of cordite hung in the air.
From the distance a rumble, like thunder, grew and the cobblestones trembled beneath our feet as the military advanced.
The old tanks of the Crimea slowly trundled into sight. Then faster and faster the machines of war came by.
The squadrons of ever-sophisticated weapons roared across from right to left.
For an hour they kept coming, the senses numbed by their procession.
Overwhelmed, as we were meant to be, by this show of Russian, sabre rattling superiority.
From the guns of Crimea to the deadly accurate missiles of the future. Juggernauts of destruction.
Looking round I saw a frail old man,with medals on his chest, standing rigidly to attention, with tears of remembrance in his eyes.
A woman clutching a young child to her side.
A chill brushed my skin and a lump rose in my throat. I thought of all the horror depicted by these machines of war and uniforms so drab.
Now it is all over, never to be repeated, with military pomp and style the soldiers march away to the beat of drum and bugle.
All that is left is the vibration of their passing, the mournful, staccato flapping of the flags and the pervading smell of cordite.