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  • 02/22/12--03:43: The Reluctant Nazi
  • When I was studying at Columbia University in New York, a fellow student started a conversation with me saying: “So, you’ve made soap out of my aunt.” He meant it as a joke, but I could only run away to hide my tears. I was shocked and hurt without, however, at that time feeling implicated in the horrors of the Nazi regime. Growing up in post-war Germany, the Third Reich hadn’t been part of my world. Then over 60 years later I made two discoveries which changed everything. The first brought the war back to me in terrifying detail. The second opened the floodgates to a torrent of questions about my family and the Nazi era.


    After my mother’s death, my husband and I were vacationing in her Vienna apartment when I discovered two green notebooks hidden at the back of a book shelf. Flipping through them, I immediately recognised my grandfather’s tiny precise lettering. I had spent the happiest years of my childhood with him. My father had been killed in the war, shot down over England in his single engine fighter plane and my mother had to work full time. I was moved around, sometimes in Kindertransports, ending up in a convent school in Vienna where I fell ill with scarlet fever. My grandparents, evacuees from Berlin, were squeezed into one and a half rooms of a farmer’s cottage without running water. The larger room also had to serve as my grandfather’s makeshift eye surgery. Nevertheless they gladly took me in and gave me a loving home. When my grandmother was hospitalized, my grandfather took me on calls to patients on the back of his bike, telling me stories along the way. Later he taught me Latin and built kites with me. As long as he lived, he was both father and grandfather to me.


    The diaries cover the time in 1945 between the fall of Berlin and the beginning occupation when my grandfather worked in cellars and bunkers of central Berlin, a stone’s throw from the Reichstag. Without water, light, or even bandages there was so little he and the other doctors could do to lessen the pain of the wounded and dying. “Corpses lie in a chapel of the Ziegelstrasse Clinic, for the most part without clothes, men and women together in layers. Over all hangs the stench of decaying bodies and excrement.” Reading on into the night I followed my grandfather as he scrambled over the ruins of fallen houses, through streets buried in rubble to reach a medical cellar. The acrid smoke that hung over the city made it hard to breathe. “Towards evening the sky to the east is a ghastly sea of smoke. I creep out at 10 o’clock at night to the clinic under whistling grenades and bombs, a wilderness of fire and dust, behind it, although already high in the sky, the blood red moon.”


    But then the diaries delivered another punch to my stomach. My grandfather had been a member of the Nazi Party. I had not known this. Sixty years after the end of the Third Reich I was confronted in a most immediate way with the problem of German guilt. Now at last I had to reach some kind of a personal accounting. I had to try to understand why a gentle and humane and deeply religious man like my grandfather joined the Nazi Party in 1933 although after that he was not active in it. The words of that student at Columbia came back to me and I experienced that the Third Reich has after effects that span generations.


    However, it took me many months to reach that point during which time I buried the diaries in the bottom of my desk and did not talk about them even to my husband Mike. After more than a year of silence, my secret finally burst out. Mike surprised me by urging me to write about this and show not only German guilt but German suffering and how ordinary people get caught in totalitarian regimes. So I began to tell my grandfather’s story and it became interwoven with my own.



    For more details, please click here.

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    During the Victorian era, medicine and health care increasingly improved, and with the development of anaesthetics, surgery became increasingly more advanced, as surgeons were able to take time and care with operations, rather than the previous method of performing them as quickly as possible before the patient died from shock.


    Glasgow Royal Infirmary, which opened in 1794, and was situated at the head of the city’s medieval high street, had some of the leading names in medicine working within its walls during the Victorian era. However, with all this expertise and the advancements in techniques, why was it that many previously strong and healthy people died after undergoing routine surgery?


    Operating theatres at this time were often crowded places, with students watching the procedures, and operations typically being carried out by surgeons wearing their ordinary clothes, and using instruments which had been used on previous patients with only a cursory cleaning in between. With a lack of understanding of infections and the need for cleanliness, hospitals in general were far from the sterile places we know today.


    However, Joseph Lister, who was working as Professor of Surgery at Glasgow University, was interested in learning about the nature of infection and decided to try out carbolic acid, which had previously been used for treating sewage. In 1865, Lister tried applying a piece of lint to the wound of an eleven year old boy in Glasgow Royal Infirmary, with great results. In the new Surgical House which had opened in 1861, Joseph Lister, further developed his use of carbolic acid in cleaning instruments and washing hands before and after surgery, revolutionising surgical procedures. Additionally, a student of Lister, William MacEwen, on becoming a full surgeon at the hospital in 1877, introduced the practice of doctors wearing white coats which could be sterilised. Prior to these advancements, it had been more common for patients to die from infection caused by the unhygienic conditions in which the surgical procedure would take place, than to die from the original ailment.


    For more information on ‘A Grim Almanac of Glasgow’ by Lynne Wilson, please click here. 

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    Last Tuesday over sixty guests attended in what was the official launch of Harry H. Corbett: The Front Legs of Cow. Held at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, the event included speeches from author Susannah Corbett, Harry Greene (who first met Harry sixty three years ago) and Murray Melvin (long term archivist of the Theatre Royal).

      Clockwise from top left:
    • Harry Greene, Shirley Dynevor (actor), Brian Murphy (actor)
    • Brian Murphy (actor), Susannah Corbett, Alan Simpson (script writer & creator of Steptoe & Son, and Hancock’s Half Hour)
    • Ray Galton (script writer & creator of Steptoe & Son, and Hancock’s Half Hour), Susannah Corbett , Alan Simpson.
    • Murray Melvin, Carmel Cryan (actor, widow of Roy Kinnear & mother of Rory Kinnear)
    • Harry Greene (actor & author, Welsh TV personality) Susannah Corbett (actor, author and daughter of Harry H Corbett)
    • Susannah Corbett
    • Susannah Corbett, Fenella Fielding
    • Murray Melvin (actor, author & archivist of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East) Fenella Fielding (actor)


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    In turning what began as a fascinating idea into the reality of a book I have visited or revisited almost all of the ‘other cathedrals’. Some seemed like old friends; others were new to me. Most rewarding in architectural and artistic terms have been those medieval churches fully of cathedral size and splendour and still in use today – such as Beverley Minster, Tewkesbury Abbey and Westminster Abbey. But many others are equally exciting. Some are mutilated but still in use. Chester St. John, though now only a parish church, began life as a Norman cathedral: the outside is battered and partly in ruins, but the inside is splendid. At Bridlington Priory only the nave still stands, but this is convincingly of cathedral scale and quality. Also wonderful are some of the successors to lost Anglo-Saxon cathedrals, especially the thrilling abbeys of Dorchester (Oxfordshire), Hexham and Sherborne.

    Rewarding in a different way are those that are now in ruin. Some, such as the famous Fountains Abbey, are superb and inspiring even in their roofless state. Others are much more ruinous: for example, though enough remains of Bury St. Edmunds Abbey to show how enormous and magnificent it must have been, one’s main feeling must be regret for what has been lost.

    A very different pleasure has been seeing the cathedrals of the nineteenth century and later. Many of these have been new to me; indeed, most are little known. Yet they are often a delight. An example is Portsmouth’s Anglican cathedral. From east to west it has first beautiful work of about 1180, then of the late 17th century, then the 1930s, and finally of 1991. Another is the Roman Catholic cathedral at Brentwood, most of which was built in 1989-91, remarkably not ‘modern’ but in an exquisite baroque style that might have been designed by Wren.

    Some visits have been memorable for other reasons. One took me deep into the bowels of Welbeck Abbey to see the surviving medieval parts of what might have been made a cathedral by Henry VIII. The abbey is now a vast mansion mostly of the seventeenth century and later. For sixty years it was used as an army college, but in 2005 it returned to being entirely a private home. As a house it is amazing; but equally so are the underground rooms and tunnels built round it for the eccentric Victorian fifth Duke of Portland. Some are dark and mysterious, but the ballroom, newly decorated, is a vast and wonderful room lit by skylights. Extraordinary in an entirely different way was a visit to the Central Church of the Catholic Apostolic Church. This once-important denomination now has no priests or services. The huge and splendid church stands near the British Museum in Bloomsbury; yet it is little known: it is normally inaccessible, and being unfinished it lacks its intended 300-foot tower and spire.

    Equally exciting have been aspects such as the history revealed by these ‘other cathedrals’…

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    When the Georgians invented the concept of the seaside holiday, the tiny village of Weston-super-Mare was perfectly situated to develop into one of the earliest resorts – close enough to the cities of Bristol and Bath for travellers to reach by horse or stage coach, yet far enough away to present a pleasant mix of rural idyll (for wealthy townsfolk that is), coastal walks and sea bathing. When the railway was built in 1841 the town’s expansion was guaranteed. Further social changes, such as the introduction of Bank Holidays, brought ever-increasing numbers of people to the town and with it the associated infrastructure to feed, entertain and house them. From small beginnings as a village whose tiny population relied largely on fishing and farming to earn a living, Weston-super-Mare had become the tourism capital of Somerset by the middle of the nineteenth century. Of course this growth brought continual changes and there must have been times when the town looked like a building site, much as parts of it do today. I suppose the only difference nowadays is the seeming pace of change. Most noticeable over the last few years have been the improvements to the promenade and seafront. With the necessity to provide more robust flood defences, the opportunity was taken to add artistic touches at the same time, such as innovative seating and colour-changing lights. Together with the new pedestrianized area around the Coalbrookdale fountain it has certainly changed the face of this prime site for the better.

    Old photographs both record the appearance of a place at any one point in time, whilst also serving to illustrate the changes to the streetscape over the years. As a seaside resort, Weston has perhaps been luckier than many places in that cameras have been used to document the town almost since they were invented in the early nineteenth century. I love to pour over the old scenes, whether streets of artisan housing, avenues of elegant villas or buildings such as schools and churches. In particular I love shops – interiors and exteriors; I have no idea why they fascinate me so. Perhaps it is because I am of an age where I can just remember the old-style grocery stores with glass-fronted boxes of biscuits along the bottom of the counter, and shelves of colourful tins and packets behind; or the open-fronted fishmonger’s with its marble slabs of glistening fish and seafood amongst the ice and decorative greenery. One particular favourite of mine was Coulstings Bazaar, a very long narrow shop in Weston High Street. At the closing down sale, they had obviously dug out all manner of obsolete stock and it was a veritable Aladdin’s Cave. Sadly these shops are all now gone, existing only in photographs and postcards and people’s memory. That is why I feel it is important to allow these images to be seen by the wider world, to let everyone know what places used to look like so they can better understand how they grew to be what they are today. To contrast old and new images together is to not only step back into a bygone era but to almost unpick layers of history.

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    Henry ‘Birdie’ Bowers is probably best known as one of the four men who died with Captain Scott in 1912 on their return from the South Pole. Crossing the world from London via South Africa, Australia and New Zealand to Antarctica was not, however, his first experience of long-distance travel. When Henry joined Captain Scott’s expedition in 1910 he was an experienced mariner who had circled the globe four times and had, as a Lieutenant in the Royal Indian Marine (the ‘RIM’), recently served in India, Myanmar (then Burma), Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and the Persian Gulf.

    Burma was also an old haunt of Henry’s father, Captain Bowers, an entrepreneurial Scottish sea-captain. In 1868, the Captain took part in an expedition up the 1,000-mile-long Irrawaddy, the aim of which was to re-open an over-land trading route to China. At Mandalay, the royal capital of still-independent upper Burma, the expedition party boarded a ship loaned by the king, accompanied by armed guards, local guides and interpreters – and several elephants. From Bhamo, the highest navigable point on the Irrawaddy, they struggled through jungle and remote tribal areas towards China. When Captain Bowers returned to Rangoon he wrote a formal report full of facts and figures and descriptions of the countryside and tribes of upper Burma, illustrated by his own quirky sketches. During a short visit to Britain he talked about the expedition and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. In 1877, in Singapore, the Captain married an English missionary teacher – two daughters were born in the East but Henry, the couple’s first son, was born in Scotland in 1883, during another of the Captain’s short stays at home.

    Henry’s father soon returned to Burma. In 1887 the Captain became ill; his wife and young Henry set out to join him but by the time they reached India the Captain had already died in Mergui, southern Burma. The Captain left few assets but Henry inherited his father’s love of the sea and, like him, became a sailor at an early age, initially serving in the mercantile navy on round-the-world routes.

    In 1907, two years after joining the RIM (which ranked only after the Royal Navy in prestige), Henry was posted to Burma. By then the last King of Burma had ceded authority to the British and Henry dealt with all levels of British Empire officials, from Viceroys to harbour-masters. He learned to navigate the famously treacherous sandbanks of the Irrawaddy and ferried troops and their animals as well as the ‘great and good’ and their sometimes demanding spouses and offspring. In his spare time Henry traced part of his father’s route from Bhamo towards the Chinese border, admired magnificent temples, found traces of gold in rivers and clambered down torrent-filled gorges. As he travelled, he sent long descriptive letters and brief postcards to his mother and sister in Scotland – one colour postcard, of a beautiful Burmese girl in native costume, remained tucked inside the pages of Henry’s copy of Captain Bowers’ report on his 1868 expedition, unwritten and un-posted.

    When Henry left Burma in 1909 Rangoon felt like a second home to him but he had already set his sights on new postings – and on securing a place on Captain Scott’s recently-announced Terra Nova expedition. In April 1910 he received the longed-for summons from Scott to travel to Antarctica, a largely unmapped continent which had fascinated him since the age of seven – it was time to leave extreme heat and monsoon rains for ice and blizzards.

    Lieutenant Henry Bowers RIM, aged 26, was about to become ‘Birdie’ Bowers, Captain Scott’s marvel.

    Anne Strathie’s new biography of Henry ‘Birdie’ Bowers, Birdie Bowers: Captain Scott’s Marvel (The History Press) is published in September 2012.

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    This true story takes place over twenty-eight years and involves a novice writer, Holocaust survivors, the Stalinist leader of East Germany, a Nobel Prize Laureate, a private school on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, the head of a German-Jewish institute in London, and an internet discussion group devoted to Nazi Germany.

    It is not every day that a writer has his first book published. Especially one that was twenty-eight years in the making. That’s right. Twenty-eight years.

    It was in 1983 that I started research on a project that took me from Soho and later Riverdale in the Bronx, New York, to New Jersey, Baltimore, Florida and eventually East Berlin barely a year before the Berlin wall was opened up in 1989. My goal was to contact and meet survivors (or relatives or friends) of the Herbert Baum group, a resistance group in Nazi Berlin composed mostly, but not exclusively, of German Jews. I had no idea whether or not I would find any but I was going to do my best.

    I contacted Aufbau, a German-Jewish newspaper, as well as the Leo Baeck Institute, which is devoted to research German-Jewish history, both of which were located in New York City. Hermann Pichler, the associate editor of Aufbau at the time, was kind enough to write a few articles and a query about me and my search for survivors of the Baum group. Shortly thereafter I began to receive letters (this was before email) from survivors, friends, and relatives of the Baum group. It was Dr. Sybil Milton, chief archivist, as well as librarian Diane Spielmann, who were very helpful to me at the Leo Baeck Institute. The entire staff there were wonderful and became ‘colleagues’ during my time working at the Institute.

    To my surprise I met survivors of the group, among them the late Alfred Eisenstadter of New York, who fled Berlin in early 1941, as well as the late Ellen Compart of Boca Raton, Florida, who survived underground in Berlin until liberation. Most of the Baum group survivors that I met had emigrated before 1939 and returned to East Berlin.

    I wanted to get to Berlin to do research so I wrote to the leaders of the two Germanys: Helmult Kohl (West) and Erich Honecker (East) requesting sponsorship. A representative of Kohl’s politely rejected my request for assistance, but I was contacted by the press and culture head of the East German embassy in Washington, D.C., who arranged to meet me in Manhattan at a Chinese restaurant. My letter and articles to Erich Honecker were translated and he wanted to help me. The East German leader personally arranged for a visa for me through the head of the German Democratic Republic Anti-fascist Committee to visit East Berlin and meet survivors and do research. A little over a year later, there was a revolution in East Germany and Honecker was swept from power.

    At the time I finished my first draft of the book, 1989, I was teaching history at the Lenox School on East 70th Street in Manhattan, New York. I hand-wrote most of the manuscript and typed it on a Commodore 64 computer with a dot-matrix font. I wanted to get feedback and begin developing some kind of buzz about my book, which at the time was called, Red Flags and Yellow Stars. I began to reach out to people who had some influence within the Holocaust research field. Therefore I contacted Michael Berenbaum, who at the time was the director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. I sent him the manuscript of my book. He replied that he would be happy to write an introduction for Red Flags and Yellow Stars. Through a contact, I got an address for Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and writer, and wrote to him. He wanted to read my book so I mailed it off to him.

    Some time later I received an invitation to meet with Mr. Wiesel at his apartment in Manhattan. It was an honour to sit down with him for an hour or so to discuss my work. This was during the early 1990s, so I only remember snippets of our conversation. He offered to write an introduction to my book. Now I had two experts willing to put their reputations on the line for my work! Publication could not be that far off. Or so I thought.

    Armed with letters from Elie Wiesel and Michael Berenbaum, I brought my thick manuscript to a copy shop and had ten or twelve sets of Red Flags and Yellow Stars ran off. I sent them off to combination of university, major, and small publishers. Little by little the letters began to arrive. All of them, however, were rejection letters. By the time I was done submitting my manuscript, I had a nice, neat pile of around 35 rejection letters. I was not happy. In fact, I was considering setting my work to the match. Instead I stuffed it into a top shelf of a closet to gather dust.

    In 1992 I received a letter from someone in Berlin named Michael Kreutzer. He had read two essays that I had written on the Herbert Baum group and wanted me to come to Berlin to collaborate with on a historical exhibition called “Juden im Widerstand” (Jews in the Resistance). I had written pieces for The Leo Baeck Institute Year Book of London, which was edited by Dr. Arnold Paucker, who became a friend and mentor on this project, as well as the Jewish Quarterly (also in London). I visited Berlin three times during 1992 and 1993 to work on the exhibition with Kretuzer and attend the official opening. It was a thrilling time. I was able to go to Berlin because the good people that I worked for at the Birch Wathen Lenox School allowed me the time to travel during the school year. I shall always remember that. It was when I worked on “Juden im Widerstand” that, for the first time in my life, a had a little bit of clout.

    I arranged for two people to become involved in the project due to my insistence. They were Dr. Margot Pikarski, an East German communist writer, who wrote the first complete book on the Baum group, and Dr. Arnold Paucker, who published my first essay on the Baum group in the Leo Baeck Institute Year Book in 1987. Both of these people were experts on the Baum group and I wanted them involved.

    I had always enjoyed my time with Dr. Arnold Paucker. A Berliner who did pioneer research on German-Jewish anti-fascist resistance, he took me under his wing. Publishing my first essay, he championed my work in his own writing. So after a few years of mounting frustration about my unpublished manuscript, I wrote to him in 1997. I told him that I was going to prepare the manuscript for publication and asked if he would review and critique it. He agreed. To this day I regret that.

    I contacted a publisher in Europe who agreed to publish my work. The problem was that they would not provide an editor and would not pay me any money. I added big chunks to my book, which were supposed to be background and context for the story of the Baum group. To make a long story short, I wrote some quite idiotic chapters that Dr. Paucker ripped apart for good reason. At the time, however, I was quite upset with him. I felt completely lost. My mentor hated my work and my publisher was not providing an editor; I withdrew it from publication and stuffed it into a file cabinet. I never contacted Dr. Paucker again and never intended to submit my manuscript for publication again. That was 1998.

    Thirteen years later I signed up for an internet discussion group on World War II called the Axis History Forum. I looked at the topics on the forum and saw one labelled ‘Resistance.’ I wrote two brief sentences saying that I had written a manuscript on the Herbert Baum group of Berlin. Within a day or two, I began getting messages from the The History Press in the U.K. They wanted to read my manuscript! No editor ever wanted to read it before; they just rejected it! At first I could not find it. Then I found a floppy disc covered with dust in my garage. I blew the dust off and read ‘Baum group book’ on the disc. I spent most of 2011 preparing it for publication. Now it is a few months away from publication. That is the story of how Berlin Ghetto: Herbert Baum and the Anti-fascist Resistance took twenty-eight years to finish.

    Eric Brothers has an MA in History from Herbert H. Lehman College (City University of NY); he has contributed (as author/curator) to a historical exhibition called Juden im Widerstand (Jews in Resistance) in Berlin (1993);he taught History for ten years in New York and New Jersey and is an author of over 250 published articles, essays, and reviews. Berlin Ghetto is the result of decades of research. He lives in Lake Park, Florida, USA.

    Original post taken from Eric’s own blog.

    Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The History Press.

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    In my diary for 6 August 2007, I recorded the following discovery: “..late afternoon while Googling on the internet I found that one of my great-great-grandfathers, Chief Inspector George Clarke, was tried at the Old Bailey on a conspiracy charge but was acquitted. Need to check this out – watch this space!”

    At the time, I had been undertaking research for a book on the First World war experiences of my grandfather, and this had led me to investigate my family tree. It came as a shock, however, to realise that one of my ancestors had spent time in the Old Bailey dock in a sensational trial. From that moment my research interest shifted to George Clarke. I soon discovered that Clarke had been a senior member of the small Metropolitan Police Detective Department located at Old Scotland Yard during the 1870s. Extensive searching of the Metropolitan Police and Home Office files at the National Archives, complemented by the newly-digitised newspaper databases that were becoming available online, revealed a fascinating story that I felt had to be published.

    From 1864 onwards, Clarke was involved in many of the major criminal investigations and trials of the mid-Victorian period. These included: the hunt for the perpetrator of the first murder committed on a British train; the investigation of a headless corpse at Plaistow marshes; the policing of Irish terrorism (including Clarke’s role in the arrest of a leading mercenary and a Fenian arms organiser); thefts at Windsor Castle and the Earl of Cardigan’s residence; providing evidence that contributed to the conviction of that greatest fraudster of his era, the Tichborne Claimant; pursuing investigations into baby farming; eventually bringing to justice, in an Austrian court, the murderer Henri de Tourville; leading the 1876 police inquiry into the death of Charles Bravo; and many other cases. Trusted by his superiors, Clarke was highly regarded until two ruthless and clever fraudsters sought to offset their heavy prison sentences by claiming that corruption existed within the Scotland Yard detective team.

    While some other authors have concentrated on the generic role of detectives in Victorian times, or have published books on individual cases, ‘The Chieftain’ (a reference to one of George Clarke’s nicknames) explores new ground in evaluating the entire career of one of Scotland Yard’s most senior and trusted (yet little-known) detectives, and the social and political history behind his investigations.

    A feature article on Chris Payne’s research into his detective ancestor is published in the June 2012 issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine.

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    Click below to view a free sampler of our upcoming title Armies of the Seven Years War.


    Drawn from many international sources, many not seen before in English-language publications, Armies of the Seven Years War is the definitive reference work for students, readers and enthusiasts of the period. It details the senior commanders, uniforms, weapons, equipment, artillery, strategy, tactics and combat involvement (military and naval) of the forces that fought for survival and world supremacy from 1756 to 1763. States covered include Austria, Bavaria, Britain, Brunswick, Denmark, Hanover, Hessen-Darmstadt, Hessen-Kassel, Holland, France, the Palatinate, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Württemberg and the minor contingents of the Holy Roman Empire. The colonial struggle in North America is included.

    Coverage of the intricacies of the uniforms, colours and standards is in unprecedented depth, many details of which are previously unpublished. The tactics of the ‘horse and musket’ era are examined, as is Frederick the Great’s abilities as a war leader who led his armies against the rest of Europe. With over 280 illustrations and maps and drawn from wide-ranging research, Armies of the Seven Years War is an invaluable resource.

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  • 05/31/12--23:57: Memories of Coronation Day
  • Reminiscences of the Queen’s Coronation in 1953

    Taken from ‘You’ve Never Had It So Good!‘ by Stephen F. Kelly

    Joan Matthews

    And then of course there was the Coronation the next year. I went up to London with three of my college friends and we sat out in the road and watched. It was the first time that I had left Josephine in the charge of her father. I was convinced I was going to come home and find her ill. We sat in St James’ Street to watch it, which is fairly close to the Palace.We chose it particularly because it is narrow and we thought we’d get a good view, but it poured and poured with rain. In the morning, when people and carriages started making their way to the Abbey – the whole place was police lined of course – it was such a dull miserable day that anything that walked down the road got cheered. The men sweeping the road got cheered and a dog wandering down the road also got cheered. And one or two men who must have been lords or something, they got cheered and looked very embarrassed. It was quite funny really.

    It was pouring with rain and the poor old Sultan of Zanzibar was sitting in the same carriage as the Queen ofTonga and he was looking so miserable and there was this huge, great lady next to him gracefully waving in the pouring rain. After Elizabeth had been crowned we went to Buckingham Palace and watched it all. I’m not a royalist but it was a spectacle.

    Stephen Kelly

    I do have some stronger memories of the Coronation. We didn’t have a television, in fact we didn’t have one until about 1960, but my granny bought one for the Coronation, or rented, I don’t know which. She lived at home with three of her grown-up children, none of whom were married, but a couple of them were working, so they had a little bit of spare money. Anyhow, it was a whole-day event. We arrived early enough to see the future Queen emerge from Buckingham Palace in her carriage to make her way to Westminster Abbey. I have a suspicion it was raining as well. We stayed at granny’s all day. Neighbours and friends were piled into the house and would come and go. I vividly remember that we had lunch, sandwiches and cakes in front of the telly, and then more tea in the afternoon and more cakes later on. And so it went on, all day with granny and my aunts popping into the kitchen all the time to make more pots of tea and produce more sandwiches. But what everybody was talking about was the Queen of Tonga. She was a rather stout lady if I remember, who smiled and laughed throughout the proceedings despite the pouring rain. She made a rather cutting contrast to our own sour-faced royal family. We also got a commemorative Coronation mug. I think we were given it at school and I think my mum bought a book with the order of the Coronation service in it.

    Mary James

    I remember the Coronation well. At church we had a pageant and I was Queen Elizabeth II! My mother made all the clothes and was very involved. And we had a street party. We were one of the few, maybe the only people in the area to have a television. My father was always interested in new things. We were the first in the area to have a washing machine as well. David, my brother, was a great supporter of the missionaries and he got out his missionary box and made people who came to our house pay to watch the Coronation, and he made some money for the missionaries. Then we all got dressed up and had a street party. I was a Welsh woman, all dressed up, and one of my brothers was a herald. Everyone was dressed up.

    Trevor Creaser

    In 1952, the year the King died, I was in Leeds parish church choir and I was picked out of thirty choirboys to go to Westminster Abbey, along with another lad, to sing at the Coronation. I was his understudy in case he got ill. Anyhow, he didn’t get ill or anything but I still sang in Westminster Abbey. I sang at the practices but not actually at the Coronation itself. During the Coronation ceremony I was in the choir vestry at the back in case anything happened, listening to everything that was going on. It was very exciting being at the Coronation. I stood there, in the background; I saw the Queen and everything.

    Chris Prior

    On Coronation day, the whole family went to my aunts, my mother’s sister. She was the only member of the family who had a television. They had a tiny house with a tiny television set. I don’t really remember watching it though. What I do remember is that we had cold lamb with mint sauce. The cat got so agitated by all the people there that it ran up the chimney then fell down and there was soot everywhere. The Coronation to me is cold lamb and mint sauce and the smell of soot.

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    Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The History Press.

    Argentina’s claim on the Falklands Islands is based on a bloody rampage by a serial killer. Also involved were gauchos, convicts, dodgy businessmen and mercenaries. It is a violent, sordid and almost forgotten story which undermines Argentina’s claims of sovereignty over what they call the Malvinas.

    The first clash of arms on the remote, wind-lashed Falklands occurred in 1833, almost 150 years before Mrs Thatcher’s much larger conflict. It was not a war, rather a brief outburst of butchery involving a handful of men, but the passions unleashed had vastly bloodier echoes many generations later. Like the 1982 war it involved sea voyages across huge distances, diplomatic bungling and a power struggle over specks in the ocean once thought worthless.

    The desolate, remote, beautiful islands in the South Atlantic have been the subject of controversy for centuries. No-one can agree who SAW them first from a distance, with claims made by the Spanish, British and Dutch. But there is no doubt that the first actual landfall was made in 1690 by the Plymouth sea captain John Strong. During much of the 18th century the islands were used as a staging post for British and French ships heading for the Horn and both established small communities there.

    The Spanish established a colony on the main western island, but on the eastern island British and American sealing and whaling crews made permanent encampments. In 1820 the Argentinian government sent an American, Captain David Jewett, to take possession of all the islands. He found 50 ships from as far afield as Liverpool and New York whose tough crews ignored his orders. He meekly returned to Buenos Aires.

    In 1829 the task was given to a Franco-German immigrant, Louise Vernet, told to establish a settlement at Port Louis on the eastern island. There Vernet found 70 English settlers and, with the help of a mercenary English sea captain, Matthew Brisbane, began collecting taxes while building a small town at Port Louis with the labour of imported blacks, gauchos, Indians and transported felons.

    Vernet had a supply of free labour, took a share of the revenues raised, was free to pursue his own interests in cattle, whale blubber and sealskins, and had a monopoly of imported goods. It was a lucrative, if dodgy, business which exploited both existing settlers and the imported labourers.

    Visiting ships were also required to pay a tax. An American vessel refused to pay the required levy and was impounded. Captain Silas Duncan of the USS Lexington retaliated, released the American vessel, took several prisoners and burnt the town. He also arrested Brisbane and took him for trial in Buenos Aires. Port Louis was still being rebuilt in 1832 when a sergeant, Jose Francisco Mestivier was appointed Governor of the Malvinas by the Spanish.

    Mestivier found a small army of colonists and imported settlers in rebellious mood, demanding the back pay that Vernet had promised them. Several score of them mutinied and the sergeant-turned-Governor was hacked to death. He was replaced by Jose Maria Pinedo of the Sarandi, a Spanish warship patrolling the jagged coastline, who promptly captured the main mutineers with his crew.

    No sooner had he done so when, on January 2 1833, Captain James Onslow of the newly-arrived HMS Clio told him he was claiming the islands for the British Crown. Pinedo, his own force weakened and demoralized, did not resist and the Argentine flag was lowered at Port Louis. Pinedo sailed home and seven mutineers accused of Mestivier’s murder were swiftly executed.

    Captain Onslow was 36 and had served off the coasts of Spain, Jamaica and South America. His ancestors included a former Speaker of the House of Commons. His father, Admiral Sir Richard Onslow, had been a doughty fighter in the Napoleonic Wars. After a period chasing smugglers off Great Yarmouth, the younger Onslow had been put in charge of the 18-gun sloop Clio as she was being fitted out for the South American station.

    Following his success in claiming the Falklands, Onslow ordered shopkeeper William Dickson, an Irishman not highly regarded by visiting British officers, to fly a Union Jack whenever a ship anchored off the colony. He called in the farmworkers and labourers employed by Vernet and offered them a deal: they would continue their work and if within five months no-one returned to pay them they could take the equivalent of their wages in cattle. Onslow sailed off, either unaware of or indifferent to the potential trouble had left behind him. His offer was effectively a licence to rustle. The colonists tried to return to normal. Brisbane returned to superintend Vernet’s business interests. Charles Darwin called for a few days on board the Beagle. The weather was appalling and the workmen grumbled about their unpaid wages.

    After five months the men tried to claim the cattle they had been promised, but Dickson stopped that happening, backed up in his business ventures by a maverick English officer. The mood in Port Louis, by now reduced to just 21 men and three women, turned ugly. Legitimate grievances spawned talk of violence. Eight men, led by 26-year-old Antonio Rivero from Buenos Aires, plotted to take forcibly what they considered their due. They were initially deterred by the presence of Captain William Low, a sealer and businessman, and his nine seamen who were awaiting repatriation after their ship had been sold.

    But at dawn on August 26 1833 Low and four of his crew sailed out of Berkley sound for a brief seal hunt. Rivero saw his opportunity and struck, leading two gauchos and five Indian convicts. Their targets were settlement leaders they believed had wronged them. They armed themselves with muskets, pistols, swords and knives. What followed was premeditated murder.

    Brisbane was shot and killed. The captain of the gaucho settlers, Juan Simon, was slashed to death. A German called Anton Werner was also killed. A witness to those killings, Ventura Pasos, tried to flee but was brought down by an Indian’s bolas. He was stabbed to death by Rivero. All the victims had been unarmed. The other colonists, mainly Argentinians, escaped from Port Louis. A dozen men, a woman and two children hid in a cave on Hog Island a few miles away. Rivero and his men rampaged through the settlement, looting every home before driving the disputed cattle inland.

    Two months later a British survey ship brought relief to the survivors, but was unable to chase the renegades inland. Its captain sent a message to the British naval commander in Argentina warning that “if an English ship does not arrive here soon, more murders will take place.” The commander despatched HMS Challenger and on January 7 1834 Lieutenant Henry Smith stepped ashore with six Marines. Smith, a hardened veteran, had instructions to keep the British flag flying over the Falklands, for which he was given an extra allowance of seven shillings. He was just in time to save the colonists huddled on Hog Island, who had survived on seabird eggs, from further attack. The Union Jack was hoisted while Challenger provided a 21-gun salute.

    Smith and his Marines set off after the Rivero mutineers, combing the Eastern islands on horse and foot and relying on local informants. Rivero, meanwhile, negotiated with the master of a US ship for the sale of a fat cow and six steers. Smith heard of the deal from a missionary, but Rivero vanished. His hiding place was betrayed, however, by friends seeking amnesty and he and five of his men were sent in chains to Buenos Aires and then London. A court there refused to accept a trial because of confusion over whose jurisdiction the crimes came under.

    The Argentine government launched a strong protest and to avoid further antagonism, Rivero and his party were quietly shipped back and put ashore at Montevideo later that year. The murder they had inflicted upon unarmed men was quietly forgotten.

    The Commander-in-chief in Rio, Rear-Admiral Sir Graham Eden Hammond, conceded: “It is a very slovenly way of doing business.” Smith was left virtually unaided to make the islands both secure for Britain and self-sufficient so that they would not be a drain on the Crown. He set about that task with gusto, raising potatoes and corn, taming cattle and horses, repairing shelters. He built up stockpiles of supplies and seeds, and made the Crown 4,200 Spanish dollars from the sale of 850 hides.

    The Falklands officially became a British colony in 1841. Argentina offered to accept that provided a previous loan was cancelled, but that was declined. The islands have been in dispute ever since.

    But don’t let anyone tell you that British first took them by force for imperial ends.

    Instead the motives were more to do with business disputes involving both Argentinians and the British which briefly turned into brutal murder. It was a sordid, bloody affair common in the days when unscrupulous entrepreneurs raised flags on remote rocks for business rather than patriotic reasons.

    Ian Hernon has been a reporter since 1969, reporting from the Middle East during the mid-70s. From 1978 he was a lobby correspondent in the House of Commons and until 2000 Westminster editor of Central Press, covering for Scottish editions of Daily Express, Sunday Times, and News of the World He was 2010 Avanta Regional Journalist of the Year. He is the author of Massacre and Retribution (1998) The Savage Empire (2000) and Blood in the Sand (2001) for The History Press, amongst other books. His latest book, The Sword and the Sketchbook: A Pictorial History of Queen Victoria’s Wars is out now at only £13.49 from THP website.

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    The paintings of Victor Ambrus, Fellow of the Royal Society of Art and the Royal Society of Painters and Etchers, are familiar to entire generations of readers. He has illustrated over 300 books on classical and historical subjects in his own instantly recognisable style. Over the years he has amassed what amounts to a visual record of the history of warfare, brought together here.

    Victor Ambrus was educated at the Hungarian Academy of Art and the Royal College of Art, He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and has won the prestigious Greenaway Gold Medal for Illustration twice, and the Royal Academy Drawing Prize. His many illustrated books include Recreating the Past for The History Press and Tales and Legends of the Irish Saints.


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    It had been a long journey to Cambridge, but after a good night’s rest and a full English breakfast, it was time to explore and find The University. The receptionist did not seem to know exactly where it was; ‘If you go to the top of the street and turn left then you are there’. But where? Where precisely was The University? No one seemed to know. However that is not exactly surprising because there is no single entity which can be called The University. Maybe the nearest thing to The University is a small group of buildings, comprising the Senate House, the Old Library and the Old Schools.

    So what is this nebulous thing called The University? Perhaps it could best be described as a corporation that can confer degrees and, if necessary, take disciplinary action. In the early 13th century the first young students arrived in Cambridge where they had to fend for themselves. They stayed, at their own cost, in lodgings, and were taught by any master who could raise a sufficient number of pupils. As the number of students increased, hostels, lodging houses under the care of a master, became established. So the concept grew and by 1280 the students occupied 34 hostels and several inns.

    There followed immediately a very significant development, namely the arrival of colleges, the first being Peterhouse founded in 1284. Initially they were intended for a master and fellows, the teachers; students still fended for themselves in hostels. However this was to change and by the early-seventeenth century, there were no hostels and students were accommodated in their own college. Today there are 31 recognised colleges, the newest being founded in 1980. They act in a sense like independent bodies within a corporation, and ruled by their own charters.

    Now just imagine the 31 colleges whose buildings replaced the ancient hostels and inns and which span some seven and a quarter centuries. Who was responsible for their foundation? Wonder about their architecture; it is said that in the space of a mile there are more styles of architecture than anywhere else in Europe. Reflect on the thousands of people who have passed through these college gates; Kings, Queens, Noblemen, Churchmen, undergraduates, graduates, scholars, doctors, and professors. The list is endless. Think about the skills, the discoveries, the inventions and ponder on the learned discussions of eminent men and women that have taken place in college rooms over the centuries. Remember also the sports, the pranks, and the fun that has been had. All of these, and more, make up The University of Cambridge.

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    A feature by Dr Sean Davies.

    It is well known that the title prince of Wales is the birth-right of the king of England’s eldest son. It is also reasonably well known that English monarchs have seen this office as being within their prerogative to bestow since 1282. In that year, Edward I engineered the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the last native ruler to be recognised as prince of Wales by the English crown.

    What is less well known is how and why Wales found itself as a principality rather than a kingdom.

    The key date to consider is 1063, and the key man is Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, the last king of Wales and a ruler who came closer than any other to becoming the figure for Wales that Alfred is to the English, Charlemagne is to the French and Kenneth MacAlpin is to the Scots.

    Post-Roman Wales had developed along lines that are comparable to the rest of post-Roman western Europe. The area had become territorially defined during the Roman era, the flexible groupings of kin lands that had developed in prehistoric times coalescing under the empire’s administration then emerging as kingdoms after the legions’ withdrawal. The leaders of those petty kingdoms vied with the early Anglo-Saxon warlords for land and power, but the realistic ambitions of ‘Welsh’ rulers for pan-British domination were brought to an end in the seventh century. With horizons narrowed, four major kingdoms emerged as the dominant entities within Wales: Powys, Gwynedd, Dyfed/Deheubarth and Glamorgan. Below these over-kingdoms there remained a large number of smaller entities, whose rulers clung to royal nomenclature with varying degrees of success.

    There were many obstacles – both internal and external – to the formation of a single kingdom of Wales. But a distinct Welsh identity emerged at this time, reflected in language, law, religion, culture and mythology. A series of successful kings emerged who were able to project their power over large parts of the country as a whole, men such as Anarawd ap Rhodri Mawr, Hywel Dda, Maredudd ab Owain and Llywelyn ap Seisyll. The native chronicle labelled such men with the grandiloquent term ‘King of the Britons’.

    Gruffudd, though, took things to an entirely new level. He united all the territories that comprise modern Wales, conquered land across the border that had been in English hands for centuries, forged alliances with key Anglo-Saxon dynasties and turned the Viking threat to his realm into a powerful weapon in his hands. In 1055, Gruffudd led a great army and fleet against the English border, crushing its defenders, burning Hereford and forcing Edward the Confessor to recognise his status as an under-king within the British Isles, leaving Wales as a united and independent state for the only time in its long history. Having emerged as a war leader, Gruffudd would also prove to be more, a patron of the arts and the church. He had the trappings of a king, including impressive wealth, courts throughout the country, professional ministers, a powerful household and a strong naval presence. At the height of his powers he was described by a native source in imperial terms as ‘King Gruffudd, sole and pre-eminent ruler of the British’.

    His power did not sit well with many of the conquered localities of Wales, though, lands formerly ruled by men who still considered themselves kings. Such leaders found a formidable Anglo-Saxon ally in Harold Godwinesson, and their bloody campaign against Gruffudd ended with the king being betrayed and beheaded by his own countrymen. The leaders who had turned against Gruffudd agreed a humiliating submission of Wales to King Edward and Earl Harold. Then things got worse.

    As the conquering Normans began to arrive on the Welsh border and Viking raiders returned to the coasts, the surviving ‘kings’ of Wales tore each other apart in a bewildering series of civil wars. The tone taken by English and continental sources in dealing with Welsh nobles became increasingly patronising, a reflection of growing imperial outlooks and of a very real reduction in the power of Welsh leaders. This attitude would not have been lost on the leaders who followed Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, nor on their learned subjects. The last man to be given the title ‘King of the Britons’ by the native chronicler was not a Welshman, but William the Conqueror.

    The surviving Welsh dynasties slowly regrouped in the twelfth century, notably in Gwynedd under the descendants of the man responsible for Gruffudd’s death, Cynan ab Iago. Men like Cynan’s grandson, Owain Gwynedd, and his thirteenth-century descendants, Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, would revive the ambition seen so clearly under Gruffudd, to rule all of Wales. By their day, though, most of the richest lowlands in the south-east and south-west of the country had been irretrievably lost, while eastern border conquests on the scale that Gruffudd had made were never a realistic possibility.

    In these straitened circumstances, and with outside observers ridiculing the status of Welsh kings, ambitious native nobles adopted the novel title of prince (W. tywysog, L. princeps) in order to set them apart from their fellow ‘kings’. When Owain Gwynedd consciously adopted this style in the 1160s, he was at the height of his power and still calling himself king of Gwynedd. Owain added the moniker ‘prince’ in order to reflect his position as leader of the wider Welsh nation. While this may reflect growing Welsh confidence in the later twelfth century, it is impossible not to see the decline in the country’s status and aspirations when compared to the time of Gruffudd.

    The constitutional position sought by Owain Gwynedd was developed by his grandson Llywelyn ab Iorwerth at the start of the thirteenth century, the latter seeing all the native lords of Wales as his tenants. Llywelyn, his son Dafydd and his grandson Llywelyn ap Gruffudd would seek to have this position recognised and ratified by treaty with the king of England. Inherent in their plan was the direct feudal lordship of the king of England over the prince of Wales, leaving it clear that the ‘kingship of the Britons’ was to be sought in London, not in the west of the country.

    The fact that the thirteenth-century principality of Gwynedd was a part of the kingdom of England and its leader one of the king’s magnates was acknowledged by all; no-one would have passed such a judgement on Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, nor on the kingdom of Wales that he had forged.

    Dr Sean Davies has a PhD in Welsh medieval history and is the author of “Welsh Military Institutions, 633-1283“ (University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 2003), plus a number of academic articles. He works as a writer and editor. Sean and his brother, Dr Thomas Michael Davies, are co-authors of “The Last King of Wales: Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, c.1013-63” (The History Press, August 2012)

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    I am still celebrating after my surprise win at the Daggers Awards on 5th of July. Margaret Murphy and I jointly won the Short Story Dagger, Margaret with her story The Message and me with Laptop, both from Best Eaten Cold, a Murder Squad anthology, edited by Martin Edwards. Many thanks to Martin for his excellent work as our editor, and to Matilda Richards at The Mystery Presswho approached us initially with the idea of doing a new anthology, also to Barry Forshaw for writing the foreword and, most of all, to Murder Squad. Since forming, in 2000, at Margaret’s instigation, we’ve been able to support and encourage each other and jointly promote our work and that of the genre as a whole. It felt so fitting to share the win with Margaret and relish and champion each other’s success – an aspect, I think, of the Murder Squad ethos.

    I’ve been lucky enough to be short listed twice before, for the John Creasey best first novel in 1995 and for the Dagger in the Library in 2006. It is a tremendous honour and a real boost to get on a shortlist (and something to include on book covers and in biographies for time immemorial!).

    I can tell you now it genuinely was a surprise to win, there was no subtle whispering in corners to tip you the wink. So I was very relaxed during the meal before the announcements, not expecting to have to do more than share in the applause. Our amazement at winning was such that I’m only glad that Margaret was able to string together some words of thanks. I was useless.

    As a reader, when choosing library books, I’d often be drawn by a Dagger reference on the cover. A guarantee of quality if you like. I think awarding the Daggers is the most important aspect of the CWA’s work and I’d like to say a big thank you to those in the CWA who have worked so hard to raise the profile of the prizes in recent years. Congratulations too to everyone who made the shortlists and to those on the long lists for the Gold, John Creasey and Ian Fleming Steel Daggers. Those winners will be announced later this year.

    To all new and emerging writers I’d say keep writing, write what you want to write and accept constructive feedback with it comes. Most of all – enjoy it.

    Finally a massive thanks to all the crime fiction readers out there – the most important part of the equation.

    Best Eaten Cold and Other Stories is now available via The History Press website for £6.29. The eBook is also available for the limited time offer of just£2.56!

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    I approached writing The Message with some trepidation; I’d agreed to submit two short stories for Murder Squad’s second anthology, Best Eaten Cold and Other Stories, and was already heavily committed in my professional and personal life, with very little time to come up with ideas. To make things worse, I’ve never found the short form easy – in fact most of my short fiction has been written specifically for Murder Squad anthologies.

    In a state of mild panic, I began leafing through one of my ‘story ideas’ files, and came across an outline I’d jotted down ten years before – a petty theft which has potentially deadly consequences. Reading the outline I thought,Okay, this is the one. The setting came before all the rest – Liverpool in the 1970s – a surprise, since all my novels are set firmly in the present. The character of the boy followed quickly – like so many lads I knew and grew up with (and later taught) in Liverpool – he’s a bit of a Scouse scally. As I jotted and researched, building a story around a small sin committed by an innocent, a second voice insisted on being heard – the voice of innocence grown embittered, seeking, not reparation, but revenge.

    So, what makes a good short story? Thankfully, there is no formula. They may be descriptive, narrative, poetically lyrical works or dramatic and fast-paced, reliant on sharp dialogue with almost no description at all. But every short story, like every story ever told must engage. The short story writer doesn’t have the luxury of introducing and slowly developing characters at a leisurely pace, building their world and drawing their readers in. Short fiction demands that setting and characters are established quickly and efficiently. The reader must feel in safe hands; if the writer is unsure of the story, the reader will know, and will judge harshly. Tone, voice, style, atmosphere and point of view, must all be carefully weighed and weighted. The writing must, of necessity, be concise, and every scene, every exchange of dialogue, every action must be there for a purpose – loose writing is unforgivable. Small wonder I put off any attempt at short fiction until I was working on my fourth novel!

    My advice to aspiring writers: use the short form to hone your skills. I know, it’s great advice from someone who didn’t complete a short story until mid-way through her fourth novel. But here’s the kicker – I wish I had – because short fiction teaches precision of language and clarity of expression; it teaches discipline, and its brevity makes working on the technicalities manageable. A writer can really think about the important aspects of story-telling without getting bogged down by the sheer volume of words s/he has to buff to a shine. After all, editing 5000 words had got to be easier thanediting 100 000 – not easy, you understand – just easi-er. If you want to learn how to write a good short story, read them. Analyse them. Think about the choices the writer made and why they made them. Ask yourself if you would have made different choices – you’ll learn a lot about your writing style and aspirations from that kind of analysis. Find the clunky phrases and polish them. Find the beautiful, the evocative, the hard edged, the thrilling, the suspenseful in the stories you read and discover how the writer achieved all of those things in their writing. You’ll need to pick apart a paragraph or a sentence, looking at word order, choice of verbs, use of adjectives (if they use them at all!), feeling the rhythm of the words. Which means you must read their words aloud – as you should read aloud your own words. And when you’ve written your stories (and set them aside and edited them and read them again and re-written them) submit them – to competitions, fanzines, magazines, collections – whoever will read them and give you feedback. You might even win a prize, but even if you don’t – especially if you don’t – you should listen,really listen to what they are trying to tell you. You will understand more with each submission, and will grow as a writer.

    The eBook of Best Eaten Cold and Other Stories is now available for the limited time offer of just £2.56



    Twitter: @Crimin8

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    Sally Becker, Sunflowers and Snipers


    Last night the 2012 Olympic Games exploded with a fabulous ceremony held in London. Like billions of others across the world, we’re sure you were glued to your TV throughout the evening witnessing Danny Boyle’s close-guarded ceremony.

    We at The History Press were delighted to see our author Sally Becker carry the Olympic flag out towards the ceremony’s end, alongside such dignitaries as Muhammad Ali and fellow human-rights activist Doreen Lawrence.

    In May 1993, Sally Becker went to Bosnia to help victims of war, delivering medical aid and evacuating wounded children from the besieged city of Mostar. She was dubbed the ‘Angel of Mostar’, and was hailed for her efforts to save the children from all sides.

    When Milosevic ordered his troops into Kosovo her missions continued, this time on foot across the mountains, to bring sick and injured children and their mothers to safety. While doing so she was captured by Serb paramilitaries and sent to prison, but neither this nor being shot by masked gunmen could make her abandon her task.

    Sunflowers and Snipers reveals not only the suffering of the ordinary people and the bravery of those who helped them, but also the systematic inertia and ineptitude of government institutions and the often languid reactions of the United Nations. When the UN insisted they could have done it without Sally Becker, her response – ‘So why the hell didn’t they?’ – was typical of someone who acted while others merely talked.

    Sunflowers and Snipers will be released in hardback and ebook format on August 6th.

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    It might not have escaped your notice, unless you have been on another planet, that we are having an Olympic year – an event that has not occurred in Britain for more than 60 years, since 1948.

    And you may, or may not, know that the summer Olympics cover 26 sports with 36 disciplines and 302 events, from archery to Wushu.

    Sorry to trouble you with such mind bending statistics when you are probably already suffering the effects of what can damply be described as an English summer as well as Olympic overkill.

    What . . ? What the devil is Wushu?

    Well, I’ll tell you.

    Wushu is a ‘full contact sport derived from traditional Chinese martial arts.’ It’s in the list of Olympic approved sports. Which used to also contain polo and tug-of-war, but they were scrapped, and golf and rugby sevens are now proposed for inclusion in the next Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

    And, believe it or not, among the sports also recognized by the International Olympic Committee is motorcycling. The downside of that is that they don’t specify what kind of motorcycling. So. How about my sport – speedway racing? After all, speedway is a ‘full contact’ sport.

    Speedway in the Olympics? You think I jest?

    But why not?

    It was while plundering the ancient dirt-track archives for some delectable morsel to see what we were up to during the last British Olympics that I came across a really fascinating prospect.

    It was contained in the very first edition of a wonderful magazine called Speedway Echo (’16 pages – illustrated, 6d’) which was launched as a monthly ‘quality journal’ on March 23, 1948.

    Olympic year 1948 was the year that speedway was unceremoniously turfed out of the Empire Stadium Wembley for most of the summer season to make way for the last Games and, I suppose, it was a hot subject at the time. The Olympics I mean, not speedway.

    Those of you who were around in those days – like me – will recall that the illustrious Wembley Lions speedway team had to go all the way to South London to ride most of their fixtures. To Wimbledon, where they were hated so much that, on one infamous occasion, 1949 World Champion Tommy Price was threatened with an iron bar by some locals who had taken exception to the way he had ridden against their precious Dons.

    Modern speedway fans are much more civilised, aren’t they? Such a thing couldn’t happen now, of course. Could it?

    It may have been that Dons fans, outraged by the invasion of their Plough Lane citadel, were merely expressing their frustration because, in a report in the same issue of Speedway Echo it was pointed out that because the South London enclosure was miniscule compared with the massive Wembley, the arrangement would necessitate admission to Wembley fixtures by ticket-only, and the tickets would be issued only to regular cuckoo-in-the-nest Lions supporters – except for ‘a small number which will be reserved for the opposing team’s supporters’.

    Hard to believe these days, I know, but the demand for space on the 25,000 capacity Wimbledon terraces was expected to be so great that, the magazine said, ‘it will be no good anyone turning up in the hope of seeing the racing by payment at the turnstiles’.

    Wembley had won successive league championships in the two previous seasons plus various cup competitions, as well as having the 1946 British Champion in Mr Price. But, usurped from their traditional home in 1948 they had to play fourth fiddle to New Cross, Harringay and West Ham in the league.

    It should be pointed out, though, that they lost skipper Bill Kitchen and international George Wilks to injury early on and had been given special dispensation to ship in the incomparable American Wilbur Lamoreaux to help out. Because a weak Wembley was unthinkable.

    And Wilbur assisted them to snitch the National Trophy and the London Cup just to prove the Lions still had teeth, even though forced to ride nearly all their matches on foreign cinders. Oh, yes, and Wembley’s Split Waterman won the London riders Championship as well.

    But we don’t want this to turn into a Wembley wake, do we? Right. So, back to this Olympic speedway business.

    The author of the piece, Alan Page, marshalled his arguments in the following manner: what chance, he wanted to know, did England have of winning an Olympic ski-racing gold medal? ‘The number of people in this country able to afford a winter in Switzerland to get any experience in this thrilling pastime is exceedingly small,’ reasoned Mr Page.

    Obviously he could have had no inkling that, far in the future, England would have not only affordable package deal skiing holidays to the land of the cuckoo clock, but also an Eddie The Eagle.

    And, after all, went on our Mr Page, it had been the habit in the past of countries where the Games had taken place to include sports in which they specialised.

    Hence, it was his irrefutable logic that speedway in Britain in 1948 was of far greater importance than, for example, ski-racing or ‘several other specialised events’.

    QED. Or, if you’re Latin: Quod Erat Demonstrandum. Or then again, if you’re English: Which was to be proved!

    He may have had a point, because in the 1948 season an official total of 10,000,000 (yes, ten million) people paid to see speedway racing at 28 league tracks in three divisions – an average of more than 10,000 a meeting.

    But the real stumbling block for our stumbling reporter was that the Olympics are – or were – open solely to amateur competitors, and certainly, he conceded, the majority (of our leading speedway riders) were in the professional class.

    Naturally, everyone who took part in the Olympic Games had to swear an oath that they were an amateur – and mean it . . . in those days they did, anyway.

    No problem, insisted our intrepid Mr Page.

    Though contemporarily out of the question, he theorized: ‘There is no reason why it should not become a definite proposition for the future . . . there are plenty of amateur (speedway riders) in the country and there is certainly scope for development in a direction which would gain recognition for it’.

    Speedway as an Olympic sport, that is.

    It was – and still is – a fact that soccer is not confined only to the big league professionals. The Football Association has control of thousands of amateur clubs, and there was absolutely no reason on earth, quoth our determined Mr Page, why a similar situation should not prevail in respect of speedway racing.

    Well, our incorrigible Mr Page was nothing if not the eternal optimist. Maybe a visionary too. For, ask any modern National League speedway rider, or indeed some Premier and some Elite League stars, and they will tell you that they are – to all intents and purposes, anyway - amateur performers because they sure as hell don’t make money, let alone a living, out of the weekly matter of risking their necks for the sole purpose of public entertainment.

    So, as we now have a brand new multi-billion pound Olympic Stadium (reportedly on the very site of the old Hackney speedway) together with an oval shaped athletics track, I’ve just given you the ammunition with which to lobby the International Olympic Committee for the inclusion of speedway racing in their next five-ringed circus.

    One other thing I noticed, as I trawled the yellowing Echo pages, was an account, in an issue dated April 16, 1949, of how Harringay’s Vic Duggan had been along to Madame Tussaud’s waxworks in the Marylebone Road to unveil his own effigy.

    They used to do that for speedway champions in those days. Tussaud’s had displayed waxwork figures of the 1938 World Champion Bluey Wilkinson and Wembley’s Tommy Price when he’d won the British Championship in 1946.

    The report stated: ‘As Duggan took his place among the great personalities of the world, Tommy Price had to pay a visit to the melting pot.

    ’ Well, as the 18th century poet James Grainger observed: ‘What is fame? An empty bubble.’

    John Chaplin spent forty years working on major national newspapers, including the Mirror and the Daily Mail. He was deputy editor of Mail International and is the author of five books. For more than fifty years he has been a writer and columnist on Speedway Star, the world’s leading Speedway magazine, and is the founder-editor of Vintage Speedway Magazine.

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  • 08/17/12--08:52: Top 5 Memories of the 1980s
  • Do you remember trying to solve the Rubik’s cube whilst dressed in your He-Man picture pyjamas? Did you try to make ‘cool’ sound effects with your mouth like Jones from Police Academy? If that sounds like you, there’s no mistaking you were a child of the 1980s.

    In this post, author of A 1980s Childhood, Michael A. Johnson shares his top 5 memories of life as a 1980s child. Do you think the ZX Spectrum deserves to be number 5? Or should it be even higher?! Tweet us at @TheHistoryPress with your favourite memory plus the hashtag #A1980sChildhood.

    5. The ZX Spectrum 48k Computer

    I still remember the excitement and awe I felt as I played an actual full blown flight simulator on the little rubber-keyed ZX Spectrum – quite an impressive feat for such a tiny computer with just 48k of RAM and a diminutive 3.5MHz processor. Whilst the Speccy was a fantastic computer, it did require a fair amount of patience since games were loaded on audio cassette, often taking several minutes of rapidly flashing, stripy loading screens, and frequently ending with the painfully familiar message “R TAPE LOADING ERROR”. Still, when you did get the games to load they were amazing and included such classics as Head Over Heels, Rainbow Islands and Dizzy.

    4. The Chicken Song

    Peculiarly popular pop song Agadoo by Black Lace was the inspiration for Spitting Image’s parody called The Chicken Song. Every child of the ’80s will remember at least a few of these lyrics:

    Hold a chicken in the air

    Stick a deckchair up your nose

    Buy a jumbo jet

    And then bury all your clothes

    Paint your left knee green

    Then extract your wisdom teeth

    Form a string quartet

    And pretend your name is Keith

    I remember my whole class singing along to this over and over again on a school coach trip until the teacher could take it no more and forbade us to sing it ever again.

    3. The Raleigh Grifter

    At the weekends my friends and I would take our bikes up to the dirt ramps in the woods and pretend we were Evel Knievel doing spectacular jumps over the Grand Canyon. Whilst my friends soared gracefully through the air on their lightweight BMX bikes, my leaden Raleigh Grifter stayed firmly planted on the ground ploughing through every obstacle like a runaway train. Whilst the Grifter was one of the heaviest children’s bicycles ever made, it’s cumbersome weight and twist-grip three speed gears made it feel more like a real motorbike than a bicycle, especially when I added a rear view mirror to it!

    2. Back to the Future

    For me this was the defining film of the 1980s and one that I still watch whenever it’s repeated on the telly. Michael J. Fox stars as the super cool Marty McFly, whose eccentric professor friend Dr Emmett Brown (Christopher Lloyd) invents a time machine in the guise of a DeLorean sports car. After accidentally being sent back in time to the 1950s, Marty inadvertently diverts the course of history and ends up trying to persuade his teenage parents to meet and fall in love. The combination of fast-paced adventure and pumping ’80s soundtrack provided by Huey Lewis and the News make this an unforgettable ’80s movie.

    1. The Mullet Haircut

    A bizarre phenomenon of the 1980s was that lots of men (and even some women) began to grow their hair long at the back whilst keeping the top and front short or spiky. The resulting disaster was the mullet haircut perhaps most notably sported by cheesy celebrities Pat Sharpe and Ian McShane a.k.a Lovejoy, the loveable rogue antiques dealer. I remember watching Lovejoy and thinking how cool he looked with his stonewash denim jeans, cowboy boots, leather jacket and mullet haircut. How wrong I was, and how glad I am my mum never let me grow my own mullet!

    The ebook of A 1980s Childhood is available now. 

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    Back in the 1950s, a smart phone was one that had been newly installed in the public phone-box down at the end of the street and a widescreen television was one that measured about 14-inches and produced a 405-line, grainy, black and white, and flickering picture. Up until September 1955, the BBC was responsible for all television transmissions and there was only one television channel, it didn’t seem necessary to have any more than one. Not that any of this mattered a jot to the majority of the population because few people at the time could afford the luxury of a television set or home telephone. In 1950, two out of three people in Britain had never seen a television programme let alone own a television set. The cinema was the main source of entertainment outside of the home and on wet Sundays and cold winter nights it was the deep comforting tones of radio broadcasting that helped keep everyone content. These were austere times and many lived very basic lives, often in harsh conditions.

    It was not at all unusual to see kids in bare feet playing out in the street, and others clambering around in their elder siblings’ cast-offs, which were several sizes too big for them. For these children, a classy pair of shoes was a pair without holes in them. And yet, even with the cold and damp living conditions that most families had to endure in wintertime, somehow family life still seemed quite cosy. Not comfortable, dry, and warm, but cosy in an old fashioned way. It was something to do with the closeness of families and the kindness and camaraderie of trustworthy friends and neighbours. The hardships and sufferings of wartime were still fresh in everyone’s minds and there remained a great sense of national pride and loyalty, which was especially noticeable at the time of the Queen’s coronation.

    Even with the enormous differences in living standards between the lower, middle, and upper classes, the post-war mood of solidarity remained evident throughout the country and everyone seemed to share a common purpose in life. To the children of the 1950s, the atmosphere was sort of homely – yes, it did feel quite cosy. It is amazing to think that it was these innocent and unspoiled children, the post-war baby boomer generation, who dragged our weary nation out of the greyness of the 1950s into the colour and excitement fuelled 1960s, changing our whole outlook on life forevermore. They became the revolutionary teenagers who created the atmosphere of the ‘swinging sixties’ and helped make Britain the envy of the World. They let the genie out of the bottle and broke all of the traditional rules. The mood of the ‘swinging sixties’ was infectious and thereafter there was a relentless desire for more and more innovation and change, and life would never be the same again.

    From Ration Book to ebook’ by Paul Feeney is available now

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