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  • 08/11/14--00:00: Knitting for Tommy
  • The Cumberland mitten, a kind of extendable fingerless glove, featured in The Queen, 20 January 1917.

    For anyone keen to embark on knitting for Tommy during the war, there was no shortage of ideas or instruction. Pamphlets or books dedicated to patterns for comforts were produced by yarn manufacturers, associations and charities, and simple patterns for much-needed items such as socks frequently appeared in the national and specialist press. In 1915, the British Journal of Nursing offered guidance on the dimensions of mufflers for the Army according to the Director General of Voluntary Organisations, Sir Edward Ward: ‘each muffler should measure 58” x 10” and be made on two No. 7 needles, taking 10oz of fairly thick drab or khaki wool.’ The Graphic newspaper published a diagram showing how mittens could be made from old socks and stockings, a method devised by Dr George C. Cathcart of Harley Street, who had supplied the London Scottish Regiment with the recycled items.

    A number of patterns in this book were originally published in The Queen magazine. Launched in 1861 by Samuel Beeton (husband of the more famous Mrs Isabella Beeton), The Queen was aimed at a middle-class readership and covered domestic matters and society news as well as social welfare issues. The First World War found the magazine in its element, offering advice and guidance on a whole range of ways for women to help the war effort, from economising on food to training in first aid. Its needlework column, ‘The Work Table’, had been a feature of the magazine since its inception, and its wartime columns instructed readers on how to sew and knit articles for the needy, from clothing for Belgian refugee children to a whole gamut of knitted comforts for soldiers such as rifle gloves (leaving the thumb and forefinger free), knitted puttees, balaclavas with ear flaps or trench hose.

    Patterns for a ‘plain helmet’, otherwise known as a balaclava, with a ribbed neck along with a sleeping helmet featured in a Baldwin’s knitting booklet.

    Patterns appeared regularly throughout the four years of war. The first, in their 5 September issue, gave instructions for making a crocheted sock and a nurse’s ‘spencer’ (a kind of cardigan), while as late as 16 November 1918, the magazine was still offering refined and improved knitting ideas, this time in the form of the Warleigh mitten, with gauntlets to prevent jacket cuffs from getting damp. Other patterns are gleaned from original pamphlets from the period, produced by wool companies such as Weldon’s or Baldwin’s, as well as women’s magazines like Woman’s Own or leaflets produced by just one of the countless charities acting to provide comforts for soldiers and sailors abroad.

    Recipes’ for standard items such as knitted helmets or mittens proliferated, but it is interesting to note the small variations of detail from one item to the next. Sometimes, for instance, a helmet might have ear holes – essential if it were for a man working in communications – while others did not. Some balaclavas came with ‘cape’ extensions to warm the neck and chest, mittens and gloves were tailored to allow infantrymen to manipulate a rifle, while there was a myriad of specially designed constructions for protecting or supporting the wounds of men in hospital.

    Whatever was needed, whether it was a smoking cap for a convalescent, an abdominal belt for keeping chills at bay, mittens for men on minesweepers or a sleeping helmet for nights spent out in the cold French winter, the nation’s knitters provided it. Knitting for Tommy – and for Jack – was an essential element of the war effort. It kept the fighting forces warm, boosted morale among the men and gave a meaningful occupation to those who were desperate to do something to help. Britain’s knitters were anxious that the boys at the front would know they were not forgotten. Now it is our turn to remember them. 


    Knitting for Tommy: Keeping the Great War Soldier Warm


    Lucinda Gosling works at historical specialist, Mary Evans Picture Library and is the author of Knitting for Tommy, which explores the knitting craze through magazine adverts, postcards, cartoons and photographs of the day, as well as offering a guide to kitting out your own First World War Tommy using original knitting patterns. 

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    Charles Dickens, Woodbury type. Image from,_Woodburytype.jpg

    ‘He had quite exceptionally bright and active eyes that were always darting about like brilliant birds to pick up all the tiny things … for he was a sort of poetical Sherlock Holmes.’

    I came across that comment on Dickens in G.K. Chesterton’s biography and it made an impact on me. Dickens as a detective – that was an idea.  More research showed that Dickens was fascinated by crime and murder. He writes about murder and the psychology and guilt of the murderer. Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist is tormented by dead Nancy’s eyes, following him as he flees from justice, having beaten her with his pistol. Jonas Chuzzlewit buries his victim, Montague Tigg, in some woods. But the dead man will not stay dead; Jonas is haunted by the idea of Tigg coming out of his grave. The title of one of Dickens’s stories Hunted Down also points to the idea of the pursuit of justice for the victim. Dickens had a powerful sense of justice – I could well imagine him wanting to catch the murderer, especially if the victim were known to him.

    He has the qualities a detective needs: he was, as Chesterton suggests, very observant. He asked always about his own characters ‘What’s his motive?’  Dickens is the man to find out the why as well as the where, when and how. Of the last three in the list: Dickens is a story–teller and murder is a story. Dickens has the skill to work out the sequence of events, to piece the together the narrative of the killing. He understands character: the witnesses, the friends, the lovers, the relations of the victim are all characters in the dreadful story which is murder.

     Dickens went out with the Metropolitan Police into some of the dark and dangerous purlieus of London. He gives three police anecdotes in his periodical Household Words which show his interest in the methods of pursuit and detection - another good reason to put Dickens on the case.

    In my novel Dickens could not go about London investigating murders on his own. He had to have a partner, a real policeman, so I gave him Superintendent Sam Jones of Bow Street with sufficient authority to allow the great author to work with him. Dickens and Jones – sounded right.

    And Dickens’s first murder case takes place in Victorian London. What better place is there? City of Dreadful Night - fog, of course, thanks to Dickens and Bleak House, bitter cold, and dark, labyrinthine alleys – so easy to get lost in, and whose is that shadow? Filthy slums, sinister faces peering out of bleary windows, twilight, gas light, moonlight – it was irresistible as a setting.

    Ah, but there had to be a plot! I read about Dickens’s Home for Fallen Women which he established in 1847 with the banking heiress, Miss Angela Burdett-Coutts. What if? What if a girl was murdered at the Home? Dickens would be involved from the start. And the research I’d done on his life could be woven in. Dickens was writing David Copperfield in 1849 when the novel is set – he was writing his past, the part that haunted him – his time as a child working at the blacking factory. And connections to his life emerge as the story unfolds.

    I began with the murdered girl. I knew who had done it and why. I plotted the chapters and let it all unravel. Characters emerged, pushing their way into the story, a street boy, a poor curate, some children in a stationer’s shop, even a dog. I couldn’t stop them. Dickens became my hero; he and Sam Jones became fast friends in pursuit of justice for the dead girl, Patience Brooke.

    There had to be another case – I got to like them, my characters. What if? What if the street boy disappeared? That was the beginning of the next case for Dickens and Jones: Death at Hungerford Stairs. Hungerford Stairs, the site of the old blacking factory. Dickens knows it too well.

    The Murder of Patience Brooke

    J.C. Briggs is the author of The Murder of Patience BrookeLondon, spring 1849. Charles Dickens, the famous author, turns detective. He and Superintendent Jones of Bow Street must find the man who cut the throat of Patience Brooke, assistant matron at Urania Cottage, Dickens’s home for fallen women – a man who sings as he kills. Their search takes them into the filthy slums of the Victorian capital where the fog hides grim secrets. When a little girl is found dead and another girl disappears from the Home, Dickens is forced to face deeply buried secrets from his own past in a race against time to prevent another murder.

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  • 08/15/14--02:45: The Friday Digest 15/08/14
  • THP Friday digest

    This week's update features a Victorian balloon riot, abandoned villages and an ancient tomb. 

     James Glaisher and English aviator Henry Tracey Coxwell in the basket of a hot air balloon


    Charles Dickens, Woodbury type. Image from,_Woodburytype.jpg
     Cowie family from Turriff, Aberdeenshire.
    U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, left, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill confer after church services aboard the battleship Prince of Wales during the Atlantic Conference at Argentia Bay off Newfoundland in this Aug. 10, 1941 file photo. (Associated Press)

    Hafod y Nant Criafolen in Clwyd © RCAHMW

     A partial view of the site where archaeologists are excavating an ancient mound in Amphipolis, northern Greece, Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014. Greece's prime minister Antonis Samaras who visited the site Tuesday said that archaeologists excavating an ancient mound in northern Greece have uncovered what appears to be the entrance to an important tomb from about the end of the reign of ancient warrior-king Alexander the Great. (AP Photo/Alexandros Michailidis)
     book art
     Jamie Hewlett's design for Comics Unmasked at the British Library
    Bookbridgr-top.jpg (1204×453)

    • * This week celebrated Alfred Hitchcock's 115th birthday but have you seen these nineteen rare movies


      Which history and publishing stories have you enjoyed reading this week?

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    An aerial view of the Congo basin

    You could be forgiven for thinking Belgium had very little to do with the First World War in Africa if you rely on many British (or English) texts. My first book is no exception, as although I tried to take an holistic view of the theatre using published sources, these were scarce. By the time my second book came out in 2012, I was aware that Belgium's role had been under-represented, but was still not fully cognisant of the true position. It took a presentation by Jan van der Fraenen (Royal Belgian Military Museum) at the first Great War in East Africa Conference in 2012 to really awaken me to the role Belgium played in the Great War in Africa and to realise what a gap there is in the English speaking world. Thankfully, I am able to read both French and Dutch and with a few helpful prompts from colleagues of the Great War in Africa Association, have been able to start piecing together some of what Belgium did in Africa during the First World War.

    In Africa, as in Europe, Belgium hoped to stay out of the conflict between the main antagonists. However, as in Europe, the country was unable to assert its right to neutrality. Within days of war being declared in Europe, and whilst the European powers were still deciding what to do about their African possessions, actions were taking place in Africa. One of the first actions of the war took place  when Togoland was invaded by the Allies on 7 August 1914. Not long after, Belgian Congo was brought into the war in West Africa through German incursions into Congolese territory across Lake Tanganyika on 15 August 1914 at Mokolubu and on 22 August at the Lukuga naval base.

    Further south, on Lake Tanganyika, where the Germans were threatening Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) at Abercorn and Saisi, the Belgians were called on to bolster local defences despite both governments in Europe being against this. The local Belgian commander agreed to send his forces forward but on no account were they to leave Congo territory.

     Lake Tanganyika

    With pressure on the Belgian motherland increasing and much of it occupied by Germany, Belgium looked for ways to assert its rights and to regain the lost territory in due course. The way forward was to occupy German territory in Africa, which could then be used to restore European Belgium. However, the Belgians could not do this alone as there was insufficient man-power (labour) in the colony for various reasons. Requests for porters from the British in Uganda proved futile as the British forces in Africa also needed carrier labour which was hard to obtain.

    During 1915, following discussions between Britain and Belgium, it was agreed that a Naval Expeditionary Force would be sent to help Belgium obtain control of Lake Tanganyika. This would have the dual purpose of safeguarding the Belgian colony and enable easier moving of Allied troops against the German forces. The British expedition, led by Commander Geoffrey Basil Spicer-Simson, travelled overland from Cape Town to Lukuga and Kalemie (Albertville) on Lake Tanganyika where it put the first German boat, Kingani, out of action on 26 December 1915. The expedition, despite what the English published accounts say, was quite reliant on Belgian support once in the Katanga region. The Belgians supplied a protective force, initially under Commander Stinglhamber, to accompany the naval expedition and couriered food and other equipment as required. Belgian river and lake craft, such as Ten Ton, Baron Dhanis and Netta, formed part of the naval flotilla attacking the German boats,. Having obtained command of Lake Tanganyika by March 1916, the Belgians were able to occupy the German port of Kigoma, having made use of two planes loaned them by the British but flown by Belgian pilots.

    In 1916, Belgium was finally able to realise its aim of occupying German territory. In addition to obtaining control of Lake Tanganyika, in November 1915, the British War Cabinet approved a contingent of South Africans going to East Africa to relaunch the East Africa campaign. This gave the Belgians the opportunity they needed and they undertook, in association with the British Allied forces, an invasion of western German East Africa. However, realising that their position would be eroded if they entered Tabora with the British forces, the Belgians forged ahead with their invasion from Kivu and the island of Kwidjwi. Using a two-pronged approach, the Belgians under Olsen converged on Tabora on 19 September 1916, having occupied Rwanda and Urundi along the way. From the south, they took Nyanza, Usumburu and Kitega.

    Having taken Tabora, they then entered into a war of words, with the South African commander Jan Smuts, in overall command of the British East Africa Expeditionary Force, over the administration of Tabora - both sides knew possession was nine-tenths of the law. The Belgians spent the remainder of the war consolidating the African territory they held until, in 1917, the British under General Jaap van Deventer, asked for their assistance and in August they occupied Mahenge. However, they refused to participate in the Allied drive when the Germans entered Portuguese East Africa in November 1917.

    A total of 1,895 Belgian and Congolese soldiers and bearers (carriers) lost their lives during the campaign.

    There is far more to tell about Belgium's involvement in the war in Africa and hopefully over the next few years, some of the works in other languages will find their way into English.


    Further reading

    * Daye, Pierre, Les conquêtes africaines des Belge (1918,

    * Delpierre, Georges, Tabora 1916: de la symbolique d'une victoire (2002, BTNG, XXXII)

    * Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and of Military History (Belgium), Lisolo na Bisu 1995-1960: Our history - the Congolese soldier of the Force Publique (2010, Koninklijk Museum van het Leger en de Krijgsgeschiedenis te Brussel)

    * Samson, Anne, Britain, South Africa and the East Africa campaign 1914-1918: The Union comes of age (2005, London)

    * Samson, Anne, World War 1 in Africa: The forgotten conflict of the European powers (2012, London)

    * Vangansbeke, Jeannick, Comrades in arms? Het diplomatieke steekspel tussen Begië en het Britse Empire in Afrika tijdens de Grote Oorlog, (2008, BTNG, XXXVIII)

    * Vangansbeke, Jeannick, 'Monnaie d'échange?': Belgisch-Congo et Centraal-Afrike in de internationale politiek, 1909-1919 (2012, Nieeupoort)

    * Weapons and Warfare blog:


    Dr Anne Samson is an independent historian ( and Co-ordinator of the Great War in Africa Association ( She has written two books on the First World War in East, Central and Southern Africa.

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    Mons – Charleroi Road at Casteau. The memorial in the left of the photo commemorates the first shot fired by the BEF and the first British mounted cavalry charge upon German forces in Europe during the war.   On the building across the road there is another memorial which commemorates the outpost position of the 116 Canadian Infantry Battalion where they stopped on 11th November 1918 when the war ended (Paul Kendall)

    The first confrontation between the British and German Armies occurred on 7 August 1914, three days after the outbreak of war when Regimental Sergeant Major Alhaji Grunshi belonging to the British West African Frontier Force in the German colony of Togoland in Africa. Two weeks later the British Expeditionary Force would encounter the German Army in Belgium. During the morning of 22nd August 1914 four miles north east from Mons at a village named Casteau, along the Mons – Charleroi Road. It was here that Corporal E. Thomas belonging to ‘C’ Squadron, 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards fired the he first hostile shot fired by a British soldier on European soil since the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. It was also the location where Captain Charles Hornby led the first mounted charge against German forces.

    It was a glorious sunny morning on 22nd August 1914 as Major Tom Bridges led ‘C’ Company, 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards across the Mons – Conde Canal. Bridges was sent ahead in advance of the BEF for reconnaissance purposes to gather intelligence. They rode along the Mons – Charleroi Road and at 7.00 a.m. as they approached the Chateau de Ghislain they sighted four mounted cavalrymen belonging to the 4th Cuirassiers from the 9th Cavalry Division approaching them. Major Tom Bridges immediately gave the order '4th Troop, dismounted, ready for action; 1st Troop behind, draw swords ready to go'.

    Corporal E. Thomas. The soldier to fire the first British shot of the war in Europe. (‘I Was There, Volume 1’ edited by Sir John Hammerton, published by the Amalgamated Press 1938).


    Corporal E. Thomas recalled:I saw a troop of Uhlans coming leisurely down the road, the officer in front smoking a cigar. We were anxiously watching their movements when, quicker than I can write here, they halted, as if they smelt a rat. They had seen us! They turned quickly back.’ (‘I Was There, Volume 1’ edited by Sir John Hammerton, published by the Amalgamated Press 1938).

    The four German cavalrymen may have heard Major Bridges orders, or the sound of 4th Troop dismounting, or 1st Troop drawing their sabres. Captain Charles Hornby commanded 1st Troop and as soon as the German cavalrymen turned and fled in the opposite direction Bridges ordered him to give pursuit. Captain Hornby was leading the first cavalry charge with drawn swords against German forces of the conflict. Corporal E. Thomas belonged to 4th Troop who had dismounted and he recalled the action that took placed that would result in him firing the first British shot of the First World War:

    ' Captain Hornby got permission to follow on with the sabre troop, and down the road they galloped. My troop was ordered to follow on in support, and we galloped on through the little village of Casteau. Then it was we could see the 1st Troop using their swords, and scattering the Uhlans left and right. We caught them up. We caught them up.

    Captain Hornby gave the order, “4thTroop dismounted action!” We found cover for our horses by the side of the chateau wall. Bullets were flying past us and all round us, and possibly because I was rather noted for my quick movements and athletic ability in those days I was first in action. I could see a German cavalry officer some four hundred yards away standing mounted in full view of me, gesticulating to the left and to the right as he disposed of his dismounted men and ordered them to take up their firing positions to engage us. Immediately I saw him I took aim, pulled the trigger and automatically, almost as it seemed instantaneously, he fell to the ground, obviously wounded, but whether he was killed or not is a matter that I do not think was ever cleared up or ever became capable of proof.

    Captain Charles Hornby DSO. He led the first mounted cavalry charge upon German forces of the war. (‘The Distinguished Service Order 1886-1915’).

    That was the first shot that was fired by a rifle in the British Army, and I cannot repeat too often that at the time it seemed to me more like rifle practice on the plains of Salisbury. In one respect, however, and within a second or two, it was mighty different. From every direction, as it seemed, the air above us was thick with rifle and machine gun bullets, the whistling noise of them and the little flurries of hay which they sent up like smoke as they hit upon the stacks that were all around and which were offering cover to the combatants.’ (‘I Was There, Volume 1’ edited by Sir John Hammerton, published by the Amalgamated Press 1938).

    Casualties included two slightly wounded men and two horses killed. Five German prisoners were captured during the sabre charge and C Company withdrew to Casteau. For this action Captain Charles Hornby received the Distinguished Service Order.

    A memorial stands along the Mons – Charleroi Road which commemorates the British Expeditionary Forces first contact with German forces during World War One. The following words are inscribed on this memorial:

    ‘This tablet erected to commemorate the action of “C” squadron,

    4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards on 22nd August 1914

    Then Corporal E.Thomas fired the first shot for the British expeditionary force and

    Captain C.B. Hornby led the first mounted attack against the Germans.’


    Memorial commemorating the BEF’s first engagement with German forces during World War One (Paul Kendall).

    Paul Kendall is an expert on the history of the First World War. Kendall's previous works for The History Press include The Zeebrugge Raid 1918Aisne 1914 and Bullecourt 1917.

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    George Raynor: the greatest coach England never had

    Despite being the most successful national coach in the history of football – an accolade bestowed by the Guinness Book of Records – Raynor is one of the least well known within Great Britain. Rising from humble beginnings as a miner’s son, he became a competent but unexceptional footballer for Second and Third Division clubs before discovering his real forte and beginning a meteoric ascent as a coach.

    Dispatched to Sweden after the Second World War, Raynor achieved such success at international level that he clearly came to believe, justifiably, that he would one day be given the responsibility to lead England. His work overseas therefore carries with it the feeling that all was a rehearsal for a triumphant return. However, this was never to come to pass. In this way, Raynor, although an ambassador for English football, became increasingly a reluctant and embittered one.

    Against all the odds, he steered Sweden to Olympic Gold and Bronze medals as well as to second and third places in two World Cups, and managed Italian giants Lazio and Juventus. Yet on leaving Sweden in 1958, the man whose services had been recognised with a knighthood from the King of Sweden and a Presidential Medal from the Brazilian Government was inexplicably (or widely presumed to be) shunned by First Division clubs and found himself working at a grammar school in Skegness as a PE teacher.

    In his own country George Raynor was, and continues to be, ignored or misunderstood. His successes were received by sceptics and resisted by those who had no genuine interest in seeing England win anything. Even today references to him in football history books are disparaging: ‘A little known clogger,’ according to one, and in another (a history of football tactics no less) reference to Raynor is not only fleeting but his name misspelt. Jonathan Wilson’s binning of Raynor’s impact on the ascendance of Swedish football (and, indeed, European football after the Second World War in general) in his Inverting the Pyramid is astonishing not least in its brevity: ‘Under [Raynor’s] guidance, and advantaged by their wartime neutrality, Sweden won Gold at the 1948 London Olympics, finished third at the 1950 World Cup and then reached the final against [Brazil] in 1958. There, they played a typical WM with man-marking …’ And that’s it!

    Did Sweden really play ‘a typical WM’ formation? If they did so play, how could such an antiquated formation produce such success? And, given that it was successful, what influence, if any, did Sweden’s play have on other nations? Moreover, how much a factor was the Swedish neutrality in the war? Particularly in light of the comparative lack of success of Switzerland and Spain who, equally, were neutral in the war. Is this commonplace ignorance and disdain for Raynor’s achievements an indication that Olympic Gold in 1948 and Bronze in 1952, and a second and third place in the 1958 and 1950 World Cup were commonplace and that his ideas lacked tactical sophistication? Is it evidence that the 7–2 victory over Karl Rappan’s Switzerland in 1946 and a 2–2 draw with Gustav Sebes’ world-beating Hungarians in November 1953 – just days before Hungary beat England 6–3 – were merely the results of luck and chance?

    Under Raynor’s tutelage, at each and every international competition in which Sweden qualified they ‘medalled’. Yet in England, the nation which yearned so much for victory their self-belief should have confirmed, there was never a desire to bring Raynor into the fold. He was quite possibly the greatest coach England never had.

    George Raynor’s story might ostensibly be regarded as just  another straightforward ‘poor boy makes good’ tale, but in fact it is one which, when examined more closely, raises a number of intriguing questions. Apart from the obvious – why his methods were so outstandingly successful – probably the most perplexing and difficult to answer is why his evident talents and experience were never to be called upon by his own country.

    George Raynor: the greatest coach England never had


    Ashley Hyne is the author of George Raynor: The Greatest Coach England Never Had, a book which finally examines the life and career of the man that The Guinness Book of Records called the most successful football coach in history. 

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    A cutting from the Sunday Herald on 25th June 1916, reporting on a death sentence against conscientious objectors

    Henry Firth had been in prison for nine months when he was transferred to the  Dartmoor Work Centre. As a conscientious objector who had agreed to do 'alternative service', he was set to work breaking stones. Before long, he went to the camp doctor and said he was ill. The doctor told him there was nothing wrong with him. The next time, the doctor said he was selfish.

    Firth collapsed several times while working in the quarry over the next two months. On 30 January 1918, he was admitted to the camp hospital. On 6 February, Firth's friends asked for permission to send a telegram to his wife about his condition. Permission was refused. A few hours later, Henry Firth was dead. He was 21.

    He was one of more than 6,000 British people who were imprisoned for their opposition to the First World War. Most were conscientious objectors who were denied exemption from joining the army or who refused to accept the conditions for partial exemption. Others were imprisoned under the Defence of the Realm Act, rushed through Parliament after the outbreak of war and extended over the following years before reaching its most extreme form in 1918.

    In the early months of that year, the government introduced tighter censorship rules and the police raided pacifist organisations. Three leading Quakers were imprisoned almost immediately for publishing a pamphlet without submitting it to the censor.

    Another Quaker, Violet Tillard, was locked up for 61 days for refusing to tell the authorities where anti-war publications were being printed. The philosopher Bertrand Russell was given six months on the pretext that he had harmed relations with an ally of the UK by criticising the US army. Leading Scottish activist John McLean was sentenced to five years for 'sedition'. A year earlier, peace campaigner Alice Wheeldon had been convicted on fabricated evidence of plotting to assassinate the Prime Minister.

    Until recently, opponents of the war appeared in histories of the conflict as a footnote at best. More recently, historians such as Cyril Pearce and Adam Hochschild have suggested that opposition to the war was stronger than is often thought. Despite this, Britain's political prisoners are rarely mentioned. They are repeatedly overlooked by those who speak of Britain's traditions of free speech.

    Henry Firth was one of seventy-three conscientious objectors who died in prison, work centres or military detention. Of course, the number is very low compared to the unimaginable thousands killed in the war that the peace campaigners wanted to stop. It's important to remember that stopping the war was their aim. Pacifism is not passive; it seeks to change society. That's why British pacifists made links with anti-war campaigners in Germany and several travelled to the Netherlands in 1915 for the International Women's Peace Conference.

    Many people today  – Michael Gove aside - look back on the First World War as an avoidable and outrageous waste of millions of lives. Isn't it time to pay more attention to those who said so at the time?

    Take Harry Stanton, a conscientious objector who experienced imprisonment, torture and a death sentence – all before his twenty-second birthday. Shortly after the sentence was commuted to ten years in prison, he was feeling proud and joyful to be 'one of that small company of COs testifying to a truth which the world had not yet grasped, but which it would one day treasure as a most precious inheritance'.

    Whether you love peace activists or loathe them, you can't tell the story of the First World War without them. 

    Symon Hill is a Christian pacifist writer and campaigner. He is teaching a course on the peace movement in the First World War for the Workers' Educational Association. He edited the White Feather Diaries, an online storytelling project exploring the lives of pacifists in the First World War.

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    Portrait of Hannah Greg. National Trust/Quarry Bank Mill Archive

    Born in 1766 Liverpool to a family of linen merchants, Hannah was barely a teenager when her father died.  She inherited his Dissenting faith and a small fortune from him and from her uncle, but she also derived from them and from her mother a commitment to education and welfare, the vocation to help the poor, and an interest  in medicine.

    She acquired at boarding school in London not only a wide education, a love of reading and of the countryside, but also a circle of radical friends, writers, and reformers, who encouraged her to make the most of her abilities.  In Liverpool before her marriage, she shone in the society of the local liberal intelligentsia. As she feared, her freedom to enjoy this life must come to an end when she married; and her first months of marriage to Samuel Greg came as a profound shock. However, taking charge in his family home in King Street, she soon  became a gifted hostess, a strong and intelligent supporter in his business, and a mother, bearing him 13 children.  Though well aware of the iniquity of the slave trade – she had some friends and family who were both implicated in it and others who were campaigners against it - she could not voice her opposition to it while Samuel retained his inherited plantations.

    Quarry Bank Mill. National Trust/Quarry Bank Mill Archive

    Like many Dissenters in Manchester in the 1790s, she felt under attack for her religious and political views, and her support for the Irish added to the climate of suspicion and anxiety which she had to endure. The family decided to spend an increasing amount of time in the country at Quarry Bank, where Hannah could bring up her growing family in a more tranquil environment.   There she wrote her books, (ostensibly for them); and became immersed in the care of the mill workforce.

    She oversaw  the education provided for the apprentice children, believing that the poor would benefit from being able to read and write, to acquire a skill, and to learn lessons from the Bible.  Each of her children spent time teaching apprentices.  Working with Dr Holland, the factory doctor, she also took a compassionate yet practical  interest in sustaining the health of the workforce, dispensing medicine and protecting them against the risk of epidemics.  She helped set up the village infant school, and took the leading role in providing for maternity leave and other welfare measures for the working mothers in the factory community.

    Though frequently suffering from ill-health, she found time to make her home a meeting place for writers, academics, and travellers. She died there in 1828 at the age of 62.

    Several of her children repaid the care and attention she devoted to their upbringing. Bessy, who married the son of her Liverpool friends the Rathbones, became a famous reformer and leader of education, housing and urban reform in that city. Robert, the son who took on the management of the business empire, the estates and even the slave plantation in Dominica, fought for the reform of the franchise, a causes dear to his mother’s heart. He went further, championing the Repeal of the Corn Laws and becoming an MP.  William and Samuel, the youngest sons, started out as brilliant idealists, but setbacks in their business lives tempered their enthusiasm for reform. They are mainly remembered nowadays for their writing.


    A Lady of Cotton 


    David Sekers was the National Trust’s Director of the Regions until retiring in 2001. He has been writing about Quarry Bank, Styal since 1978, specialising in the famous Greg family.  Prior to joining the National Trust as regional director he was museum director at Quarry Bank Mill, Styal. His book, A Lady of Cotton is available now. 

    The second series of Channel 4's The Mill has just finished but at 9pm on Sunday the 24th August, Tony Robinson will be presenting The Real Mill which looks at who the Quarry Bank mill workers were and where they came from.

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  • 08/22/14--02:15: The Friday Digest 22/08/14
  • THP Friday digest

    This week's update features conscientious objectors, deserted cities and 'bicycle face'.

    Mons - Nimy (Deeds that thrill the Empire)

    * Nimy, Mons and the first Victoria Crosses of the First World War.

    L: The last photo. Maurice Dease ready for action.  M: Maurice Dease's Victoria Cross.  R: Private Godley VC, in captivity but comfortable for the moment

    The First VCs: The Moving True Story of First World War Heroes Maurice Dease and Sidney Godley.

    Thos W. Ward Ltd, Frog Island, Rainham Marshes. EPW006567   © English Heritage

    * Nine remarkable images that reveal the impact of the First World War. 

    A cutting from the Sunday Herald on 25th June 1916, reporting on a death sentence against conscientious objectors

    * Britain's political prisoners: conscientious objectors during the First World War.




    * Two millennia have passed since the death of Emperor Augustus but debate rages as to whether we should remember him as a hero or a scoundrel. What do you think? 

    Cover of Colonnade, staff magazine of the British Museum, Spring 1969 edition.


    * In 1969 a British Museum curator wrote an article in Colonnade, the staff magazine, about what he thought the British Museum would be like in 2069 and the result is fantastic. 

    The ghost town of Craco, Italy is situated in the south of the country and has been left completely uninhabited

    * From a medieval village in Italy to an ancient underwater city in China: beautiful places that have been deserted and forgotten ...

    Dutchman returns Holocaust medal to Israeli embassy over Gaza deaths

    A Dutchman honoured by Israel for hiding a Jewish child during the Second World War has handed back his medal after six of his relatives were killed in an Israeli air strike on Gaza.

    Capsized Herald of Free Enterprise

    A woman who lost her mother, sister and uncle in the Zeebrugge ferry disaster of 1987 has spoken publicly about her grief for the first time.



    * How well would modern troops fare against medieval knights?

    License to Kill (1989) ShareGrid View Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum; Key West, Florida

    * The ten greatest James Bond locations you can visit today

    Hospitalfield House in Arbroath (c) Donald Macleod

    More than £1.5 million in grants has been awarded to repair historic buildings across Scotland.

    Police and striking miners at the Orgreave coking plant near Rotherham in 1984. Photograph: PA

    * The BBC’s long struggle to present the facts without fear or favour.  

    Showing geo-tagged photos around St. Paul's Cathedral and surroundings

    Can social media help us better understand our relationship with historic buildings?  

    This 1895 cyclist managed to avoid bicycle face. Hulton Archive/Getty Images

    * The nineteenth-century health scare that told women to worry about 'bicycle face'.


    * Murder by numbers: a Poirot infographic.


    Florence Nightingale 2


    * The Florence Nightingale Digitization Project has made almost 1,900 letters handwritten or narrated by Florence Nightingale available to researchers through a single source.

    Sticking out like a sore thumb? For more than 150 years, British soldiers marched into battle wearing their best parade square finery -- red coats adorned with bright coloured facings, white cross belts and rows of gleaming buttons. In those days, there was little need for camouflage -- muskets were notoriously inaccurate so infantry fought in the open, packed in tight formation, sometimes only a few yards apart. On a smokey battlefield colourful and conspicuous attire actually helped troops tell friend from foe. With the advent of long range rifles, rapid fire weapons and modern artillery in the late 19th century, keeping out of sight became the order of the day. Accordingly, the British army traded in its iconic crimson tunics for khaki battledress. Image from

    * From red coats to disruptive camo – 250 years of British Army uniforms.

    Margaret Thatcher working as a chemist

    * Thatcher and Hodgkin: How chemistry overcame politics.


    Illustration by Tim O'Brien

    * The strange tale of the North Pond Hermit.


    Natasha Sheldon said: 'Leicester has a history full of executions, floods and strikes'  Read more: Read more at 

     100 days to remember in Leicester's fascinating history

    Cueva Morin, Spain Mousterian and Modern Human levels

    * Modern humans and Neanderthals co-existed in Europe ten times longer than previously thought, a study suggests

    The velociraptors featured in the Jurassic Park film are thought to be much larger than the real-life predators (Universal Pictures)

    *  Why movie dinosaurs are nothing like the real thing


    The Timeline WW1 app blends text, photos, videos and maps.

    * Do you agree with Dan Snow that 'clearly an app is better than a book for history'?


    Libraries are still a valuable resource for their patrons.


    * What the 'death of the library' means for the future of books.


    * Why we need independent bookstores more than ever.

    Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 Nook

    * Samsung-made Nook tablet has just been announced by Barnes & Noble.

    Digital publishing and children: have we reached a 'tipping point'? 


    * Fourteen books that change when you reread them later in life.

    What is your book community?

    Tanja Tuma

    Why it's imperative that Amazon v. Hachette ends soon 


      Which history and publishing stories have you enjoyed reading this week?

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    Mons - Nimy (Deeds that thrill the Empire)


    Mons, the capital of the Belgian province of Hainaut is an important place which is associated with the history of the British Army. During 1709, the Duke of Marlborough defeated the French at the nearby battlefield of Malplaquet. Two centuries later during 1914, soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force would pass the monument that commemorated the action at Malplaquet as they approached Mons. The BEF’s action at Mons was significant because it was the first battle fought by the British Army on the west European Continent since the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. It was also the first engagement of the First World War between these two great industrial powers Britain and Germany in Europe. The BEF established a defensive line along the Mons – Condé Canal.  Mons was not an ideal place to defend; hamlets, slagheaps, factories, collieries and industrial buildings featured on the Mons landscape and the terrain denied the BEF artillery adequate field of fire to support its infantry. The canal at 60 foot wide and 7 foot deep, could not be considered a serious obstacle to halt the German advance. 18 bridges crossed the canal. The canal was straight between Condé and Mons, but at Mons the canal curved into a crescent shape around the town, forming a salient. This salient was a potential strategic problem for the BEF as they had to defend this vulnerable position on three fronts, which made the task of obstructing the advance of the German Army for the maximum time very difficult and the risk of being surrounded a possible threat. 

    They were too aware that they would be confronting a numerically superior German force and the salient was the focus of the British defence. The 4th Royal Fusiliers, belonging to 9th Brigade, 3rd Division, were one of the British battalions holding a defensive position along the Mons – Condé Canal including Nimy Rail Bridge. On 23 August 1914 this single battalion resisted six German battalions belonging to 18th Division, III Corps. Despite this great disadvantage they relied upon their courage and their first rate training to temporarily delay the German drive through Belgium. It would be fast, accurate rifle fire that would break up the initial German waves and delay their advance. It was here at Nimy, Mons that the first two Victoria Crosses of the First World War were awarded.

    Nimy Bridge - Mons (Paul Kendall)

    During the early hours of the 22 August 1914 Field Marshal Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief BEF told his Corps commanders General Sir Douglas Haig and General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien to form defensive positions around Mons, but to expect to move their Corps in either direction at a moment’s notice. The 4th Royal Fusiliers, belonging to Smith-Dorrien’s II Corps reached the suburbs of Mons during 22 August after marching through the sweltering summer heat.  As they walked through Mons, they were warmly welcomed by the inhabitants of the town, who were pleased at their arrival, regarding them as their savior in the face of an invading German Army that was descending rapidly upon them. The soldiers of the BEF did not need to use their rations for local women would give gifts of food, fruit, chocolate and tobacco, which was in some instances overwhelming. 

    Nimy Bridge - Mons


    After passing through the town, the 4th Royal Fusiliers reached Nimy where they passed over the Mons – Condé Canal. There was a thick, dense wood on the north side of the canal bank, which made it an unsuitable place to defend. It was decided that it was better to cross back on the southern side of the canal to establish a defensive line that ran parallel to the canal bank. The battalion received orders hold on to the position as long as possible.’ (National Archives: WO 95/1431/1: 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers War Diary).

    Despite feeling exhausted there was no time for them to rest. They had to dig in during the night to strengthen their positions before the coming battle. The BEF represented the extreme left flank of the allied line. Their objective was to prolong resistance and obstruct the might of the German advance at Mons. 


    German Infantry Advancing 1914


    The 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers secured the right flank around the Nimy Bridge along the north western sector of the Mons salient. Trenches were still hastily dug during the remaining daylight hours of 22 August, with some of the trenches measuring no more than two feet deep. However, these shelters were only meant to be temporary. 

    As the BEF were digging in positions along the Mons – Condé Canal, General Charles Lanrezac’s Fifth French Army were retreating, leaving them exposed and risking being cut off from the French Army. Field Marshal Sir John French promised Lanrezac that the BEF would delay the German advance at Mons for twenty-four hours while the Fifth French Army withdrew. The threat of being surrounded and isolated was now greater, but German command were unaware of the exact position of the BEF and it was thought that they were landing at Channel ports that day. They did not realize that the BEF were established on the continent in Belgium and were about to temporarily block their path at Mons.

    After the exhaustive march to Mons, followed by the physical exertions of digging defences during sweltering heat the wearied soldiers of the BEF experienced a cold night with thunderstorms. They were now tired, damp and cold and was anxiously thinking about the much anticipated battle to be fought the following day. There was not much time to sleep and rest for they had to prepare and fortify positions during the early evening. During that night one man in three had to stay awake to either continue the work of fortifying their position or watching out for the enemy.

    The 4th Royal Fusiliers were called to arms at 4 a.m. without the call of the bugle or any noise. News spread quickly amongst the battalion that a massive German presence was massed in a wood three miles away. After the exertions of the previous days they were again preparing for battle. The 4th Middlesex Regiment on their adjacent right flank held the north eastern section of the salient at Nimy.

    The railway bridge at Nimy was defended by one company from the 4th Royal Fusiliers, commanded by Captain Ashburner and a machine gun section comprising of two machine guns commanded by Lieutenant Maurice Dease, while Captain Frederick Forster with two platoons from C Company held Nimy Road Swing Bridge to the east. 

    Dease’s machine guns would play an important role in the defence of Nimy Bridge. They were positioned on the railway embankment, defended by sandbags it overlooked the canal and its approaches from the north bank. As they prepared to strengthen the defences Lieutenant Dease removed his coat and helped his men with this important preparatory work prior to the battle. Private Sidney Godley was also preparing the defences of one of the machine guns positioned on the embankment when a boy and a girl from Mons approached the bridge and him. They gave him rolls and coffee from a basket they were carrying. Godley spoke to them for a while until German artillery began to shell the Nimy salient. At that point he told them to go back to the town.

    At 8.00 am the first German infantry attack was launched by the German 18th Infantry Divisions upon the north western sector of the salient.  The 4th Royal Fusiliers resisted six German battalions as they converged upon the Nimy Bridge. The enemy could assemble their infantry concealed behind the numerous fir plantations that were on the opposite side of the canal.  There were six thousand German soldiers attacking a salient held by approximately 2000 British soldiers from 4th Royal Fusiliers and 4th Middlesex Regiment who occupied Nimy Salient.

    At 9.00 am, German battalions assaulted the salient again. Officers from the 4th Royal Fusiliers gave the order for ‘Rapid Fire’ as German infantrymen dressed in blue-gray uniforms advanced en masse towards the canal and the British lines. The Germans advanced in close columns, which resulted in disaster as leading sectors, fell as one man succumbing to machine gun and crack shot rifle fire from the Royal Fusiliers on the bridge. Germans withdrew to returning extended order formation. ‘Pony’ Moore of the 4th Middlesex wrote of the carnage that fell upon the German advance. It was an unbelievable sight. You didn’t need to aim. You just fired into the blue and they went down like flies, like a pheasant shoot without needing any beaters. After a bit, they retired in disorder. In a way, it was sickening to see all those men lying there.’(‘The Mons Star’ by David Ascoli, published by Harrap & Co. 1981).


    L: Godley VC, M: Grave of Lt Dease R: Lieutenant Dease VC R:

    The Germans withdrew to the cover of fir trees in the vicinity, regrouped then returned again thirty minutes later for further attempts to penetrate the salient. The British could not stop this advance and the pressure mounted upon Captain Ashburner’s company as they defended the bridge against overwhelming numbers. Lieutenant Dease received his first wound below the knee, as German riflemen targeted his machine gun position on the left side of the bridge. Captain Ashburner and Lieutenant F. Steele tried to persuade him to get medical attention but to no avail.

    A platoon led by 2nd Lieutenant Joseph Mead was sent to reinforce the bridge. Mead suffered a severe head wound. Once he received a dressing he returned to the battle to be fatally shot through the head. A further platoon was sent led by Captain Bowden-Smith and Lieutenant Everard Smith to support Dease. Both these officers were soon wounded. The German fire was so intense it was difficult to get supplies and reinforcements to Dease and his machine gun crew on the bridge.

    The scene was desperate on Nimy Bridge as casualties mounted amongst the officers and men. Captain Ashburner was wounded in the head and Lieutenant Dease assisted his machine gun crews in supplying them with ammunition. At one point he crawled to the machine gun position on the right side of the bridge to drag the wounded gunner to safety and then roll him down the embankment which would provide shelter for the wounded soldier. An act which may have saved his life. With no other crew remaining he fired the machine gun preventing German infantry from getting across. Dease head was exposed as he manned this machine gun and it was a certain possibility that he was going to be eventually hit. Further reinforcements tried to reach him but many were wounded or killed en route.

    Dease soon sustained a neck wound. Lieutenant F. Steele was with him and advised him to lie still, but Dease was more concerned about the progress of the battle than his own welfare. As he stood up to appraise the situation from the machine gun position on Nimy Railway Bridge he was hit again in the side and fell to the ground where he lay unconscious. This happened around midday and at that point Steele ordered Private Sidney Godley to man the machine gun position. By that time the intensity of the German bombardment increased as further artillery was brought into the region. Germans initiated further attacks with initial bombardments before infantry advances.

    The 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers offered stout resistance when confronting the waves of German Infantry, but they could not hold Nimy Bridge for withdrawal was inevitable.  The resolve of the 4th Royal Fusiliers began to wane and they could not stop their opponents from crossing the canal. The battalion war diary reported:

    ‘We suffered severely on the bridge over the canal by rifle and artillery fire. The machine guns had a particularly trying time. Practically all the detachment were doing great. Lieut. Dease the machine gun officer was killed or wounded. Lieut. Dease and Pte Godley both displayed the most conspicuous bravery in working the guns, after they had been wounded. The guns having finally been disabled by artillery fire had to be abandoned.’ (National Archives: WO 95/1431/1: 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers War Diary).

    Although wounded Private Godley kept firing for two hours and at 2.00 pm the 4th Royal Fusiliers were ordered to withdraw from Nimy Salient. Godley continued to fire his machine gun until the last Royal Fusilier left the canal. His ammunition supplies were nealry exhausted, so he disabled the machine gun and then headed towards Mons to seek medical aid for his wounds. Two Belgians helped Godley to hospital where he was eventually captured by German forces. He spent the duration of the war as a prisoner of war and was able to escape when German guards deserted their posts in 1918 and he was able to escape to Denmark.

    The actions of Lieutenant Maurice Dease and Private Sidney Godley prevented German forces from crossing the canal at Nimy, held up the German advance for a day, and allowed both British and French Armies to withdraw, without being encircled. For the courage they both were awarded the Victoria Crosses. These were the first Victoria Crosses awarded during the First World War.


    A plaque commemorates the 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers defensive action at Nimy on 23 August 1914. The memorial is positioned beneath the Nimy Bridge and also records that this was the machine gun position occupied by Lieutenant M. Dease VC and Private S. Godley VC and stating that they were the first soldiers to receive the VC during the war. (Paul Kendall).

    Paul Kendall is an expert on the history of the First World War. Kendall's previous works for The History Press include The Zeebrugge Raid 1918Aisne 1914 and Bullecourt 1917.

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    Rhodes Moorhouse VC

    In a strange piece of martial serendipity, the first and the last Victoria Crosses to be awarded ‘for valour’ during the First World War were both earned in canal battles separated by four years and a little fewer than 40 miles. But there the coincidences end. Three-times wounded  Maurice Dease, an Irish-born Royal Fusilier officer, won his honour posthumously in a desperate attempt to prevent German troops crossing the Mons canal, whereas Major Brett Cloutman lived to receive his VC awarded for bravely trying to save a bridge from destruction ahead of a British attack across the Sambre-Oise canal five days before the end of the war.

    Between those two remarkable acts of gallantry, a further 626 feats of daring were considered worthy of the nation’s highest military award for courage in the face of the enemy, a staggering 104 more than had previously been awarded during the medal’s 58-year history.

    Included among them were two second award bars, both made to army doctors - Arthur Martin-Leake, who had earned his original VC a dozen years earlier towards the end of the Boer War, and Noel Godfrey Chavasse, a distinguished scholar and Olympian, who won his two Crosses, together with a Military Cross, in the space of a little more than two years on the Western Front which culminated in his death at the age of 32.

    Chavasse, whose unique medal group now has pride of place in the Lord Ashcroft Collection displayed at the Imperial War Museum, was one of 187 recipients, who made up more than a quarter of the total, who earned the ultimate distinction at the cost of their own lives.

    Counted among their heroic ranks were the oldest and the youngest winners of the VC during the First World War.

    Boy 1st Class John Travers (Jack) Cornwell, a sight-setter aboard the newly-commissioned cruiser HMS Chester, was aged 16 when his devotion to duty during his first and last action was posthumously recognised. Mortally wounded and with his gun team lying dead and wounded around him, he steadfastly stuck to his post as his ship sought to escape a storm of fire at the great battle-fleet action off Jutland.

    In stark contrast, Captain Frederick Parslow was born just three months after the medal was instituted by Queen Victoria in January, 1856. The 59-year-old master of the unarmed horse transport SS Anglo-Californian died on the bridge of his vessel desperately trying to evade an enemy submarine having defied repeated calls to abandon ship.

    Parslow’s posthumous honour came after the war and only after he was granted the ante-dated rank of Lieutenantenant in the Royal Naval Reserve. As the first Merchant Navy officer to be awarded the VC, he joined an exclusive list of landmark awards which included the first submariner (Lieutenant Norman Holbrook), the first airman (2nd Lieutenant William Rhodes-Moorhouse), the first member of the Tank Corps (2nd Lieutenant Clement Robertson), the first Indian (Sepoy Khudadad Khan), the first Gurkha (Rifleman Kulbir Thapa) and the first man to be so honoured for an act of bravery performed in, or rather over, Britain (Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson).

    The overwhelming majority of VCs - an incredible 491, to be precise, including both second award bars - were presented for actions on the Western Front. However, two of the most notable episodes involving multiple awards took place away from the main theatre of war.

    It was during the landings at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915, that a single battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers famously won 'Six VCs before breakfast'. Unusually, all of them were awarded under Clause 13 of the Victoria Cross Warrant, whereby the survivors were balloted to find the six most deserving recipients among their brave company.

    The same clause was activated again, three years later, following the Royal Navy’s gallant attempt to block the Belgian ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend which were being used by German U-boats. In all, eight VCs recognised the initial operation, four of them being ‘elected’ awards, and a further three were granted for a second forlorn effort against Ostend.

    One of the posthumous recipients was Lieutenantenant Commander George Bradford, whose brother Roland had been killed a few months earlier having been similarly honoured while commanding a battalion on the Somme in 1916. It was only the third instance of brothers being awarded the Victoria Cross.

    Another hero of Zeebrugge, Captain Alfred Carpenter, gained a measure of celebrity by writing a best-selling book about the St George’s Day raid, but for the majority of VC holders any fame proved short-lived. Most quickly slipped back into obscurity and would echo the memorable comment of modest London-born Australian Len Keysor who memorably remarked years later: 'The war was the only adventure I ever had.'

    Stephen Snelling is the author of three books in The History Press series, VCs of the First World War, a biographical survey of the men awarded the country’s highest award for bravery in every theatre of war on land, sea and in the air. 

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    Giffords Circus


    Giffords Circus will be at Octavia's, Cirencester on Friday 5th September from 11am signing copies their new book, Giffords Circus: the First Ten Years

    Each summer a small and glamorous part of the 1930s comes back to life, recreating magic from an era long past. Evoking a tradition common in the English countryside before the arrival of radio, cinema and television, since 2000 Giffords Circus has delighted fans from far and wide with good old-fashioned entertainment, complete with acrobats, jugglers, horses, magic, puppeteers, dancers and comedy. Lavishly illustrated with a wealth of stunning colour photographs, Giffords Circus goes behind the scenes at the not-so-big top, to show how the magic and mystery are created. 

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  • 08/25/14--04:00: Q&A with J. C. Briggs
  • Here at The History Press we are big fans of crime fiction and we jumped at the chance to ask one of our authors some questions about the ins and outs of writing historical crime fiction. From social media to writer's block, J. C. Briggs shares the secrets of successful crime fiction writing.  Set in London in spring 1849, The Murder of Patience Brooke sees Charles Dickens, the famous author, turns detective. He and Superintendent Jones of Bow Street must find the man who cut the throat of Patience Brooke, assistant matron at Urania Cottage, Dickens’s home for fallen women – a man who sings as he kills.


    J. C. Briggs 


    Why write crime fiction?

    I wanted to tell a story that would keep the reader reading to find out the solution to the mystery. Working out the plot is very satisfying, especially when ideas about possible suspects pop up, and when the pieces fit together to bring about the solution. And I was fascinated by motive. What terrible emotions lead to murder? Dickens gives a summary of motives in his essay on capital punishment: rage, revenge, despair, gain, or  ‘the removal of an object dangerous to the murderer’s peace’. That made fascinating reading, especially the last. That, I thought, would make a very powerful motive.

    Where did the inspiration for The Murder of Patience Brooke come from?

    It was the name I thought of first. Patience seemed a good name for the victim, suggestive of modesty and  virtue and rather Victorian. It also suggested a quality of stillness which might hide a secret. Brooke came later because I needed a name which could be an alias, the real name also connected with water. The Murder of is just direct and straightforward. As an unknown writer, I thought I’d better get straight to the point.


    How important is location (i.e. London) in your book?

    It is very important. Dickens gave us our idea of Victorian London. He knew it, especially those terrible, dark areas in which the poor eked out their dreadful lives. He walked and walked, observing every detail. In his novels and journalism, he described the sights, the smells, the people, and he protested against the squalor and the poverty. So, London has to be the setting for the first case for Dickens and Jones, and his fearless knowledge of the place enables him to accompany the Superintendent into some very dark places in pursuit of the murderer.


    What is your favourite book? What do you enjoy reading?

    Dickens at the moment, of course; his novels, letters and journalism are indispensable if I want to create a recognisable Dickens. Of his novels, I think Great Expectations is my favourite. My favourite modern novel is Pinkerton’s Sister by Peter Rushforth. It is extremely funny with a sparky, spiky heroine, and it is packed with literary references. It took him twenty five years to write and every word counts. It is brilliant.


    Do you have a favourite author? Do you have a favourite fictional character?

    I would have to say Dickens just now. And of his characters? It is difficult to have a favourite. There are so many, but I’ll plump for Sam Pickwick Papers. And, of course, Alice Pinkerton in Pinkerton’s Sister.


    How easy/difficult is to write historic crime fiction?

    The most difficult thing is selecting from the mass of research. You find all sorts of interesting, unusual, downright bizarre facts which you long to put in, but everything has to be relevant and you have to let go of some things if they don’t weave into the story naturally. You can always set things aside for another book. I’m looking for a way to send Dickens to Jamrach’s Animal Emporium on Ratcliff Highway, a place that would have fascinated him – I bet he went there. However, such a visit must be part of the story. I’ll have to think about that, but I’m very tempted.


    Do you agree with David Baldacci that it is your responsibility as the author to write inaccuracies into your fiction, so that potential criminals do not replicate crimes?

    My murders are quite ordinary in the sense that a stabbing or a shooting are not difficult to replicate so I don’t think I need to worry my conscience about this.


    How do you avoid your characters becoming clichéd (e.g. the femme fatale, the jaded detective)?

    I think the choice of Dickens avoids the cliché – I don’t think anyone else has used him as a detective. As far as Sam Jones, the police superintendent, is concerned, he had to be likeable, honest, and relatively uncomplicated because Dickens is the complex character with more shadows to haunt him. Sam is older and Dickens respects and admires him. Sam admires Dickens and becomes very fond of him in a rather fatherly way, but they are equals in their pursuit of justice.


    Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, how do you cope with it?

    Sometimes when the plot won’t work or I feel I can’t get hold of Dickens. It’s as if he vanishes .I just go away and do the ironing or something.  While I’m doing something else, ideas simmer in the back of my mind and I can usually resolve the problem, but it is a bit alarming because I never quite get over the feeling that I might not be able to work it out and that I’ll  be stuck forever in the middle of the latest book. 


    Have you ever based characters on people you know (e.g. an old enemy as the villain)?

    Not consciously, but I’m sure that all writers draw on their living and reading experience to create their characters. Dickens got into trouble twice for basing characters on people he knew. He had to wriggle out of those situations. In the first case, he changed the character of Miss Mowcher in David Copperfield from bad to good because his neighbour, a very small woman, believed that he had based the hunchback Miss Mowcher on her. Leigh Hunt, a friend of Dickens, was distressed to find his likeness in the feckless Skimpole in Bleak House. Dickens tried to assuage his hurt by saying he had based the character on many people he knew or had met. Hunt was not convinced. Perhaps Dickens couldn’t help it. So, if I have, I couldn’t help it either.


    How has social media helped you to market your book / you as an author?

    Facebook has been particularly useful, especially when kind people share your posts and pictures. I’ve had a good response from lots of old pupils who have commented on the publication of the book and, I hope, have bought it! I do tweet, but not too often and I only have a little following so far.

    Finally, what next for Dickens and Jones?

    I have two more cases for Dickens and Jones: the second case, A Death at Hungerford  Stairs , concerns the disappearance of Scrap, a street boy, with whom Dickens and Jones become acquainted in the first book. When a boy is found dead at Hungerford Stairs, the site of the old blacking factory where Dickens worked as a boy, he and Sam Jones go to investigate, and the death of another young boy sends them after the murderer. The third case Murder by Ghostlight involves the murder of an actor in Dickens’s amateur company, a man whom Dickens loathes. I am working on the fourth case now – I can’t stop!


    Thank you, we look forward to the next installment! 

    The Murder of Patience Brooke


    J.C. Briggs is the author of The Murder of Patience Brooke. London, spring 1849. Charles Dickens, the famous author, turns detective. He and Superintendent Jones of Bow Street must find the man who cut the throat of Patience Brooke, assistant matron at Urania Cottage, Dickens’s home for fallen women – a man who sings as he kills. Their search takes them into the filthy slums of the Victorian capital where the fog hides grim secrets. When a little girl is found dead and another girl disappears from the Home, Dickens is forced to face deeply buried secrets from his own past in a race against time to prevent another murder. 

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    F.Mk.4 WV325 photographed almost certainly in late summer 1955 when it was flying as 'C' with the Central Flying School. (Mike Stroud)

    The Hawker Hunter was the best of Britain’s generation of 1950s transonic jet fighters, in other words the types that introduced swept wings or other advanced wing shapes and which could go supersonic in a slight dive but not yet on the level. A prototype first flew in 1951 and the Hunter became hugely successful in RAF service, it was sold abroad in large numbers and, like the Spitfire before it, was a big favourite with its pilots.

    In the 1940s when this story begins it was British practice to produce specifications for any new aircraft type that might be required for the Armed Forces. This would be the starting point for manufacturer’s to present design proposals, their subsequent assessment, the ordering of prototypes and then, hopefully, production of the aircraft. The Hunter was just one aircraft to come out of this system but there many steps to pass through before it would enter service. Designers had to take into account the progress in aerodynamics, airframe design and weapon and equipment technology that took place during the years following the Second World War. For example the first steps were made towards the development of guided weapons, and the swept wing appeared which offered much higher speeds for new aeroplanes.

    Once in the air, the prototype and early production Hunters had to undergo rigorous testing to ensure that the aircraft would actually be suitable for frontline operations. The flying qualities would be assessed first by the manufacturer itself, and then (if the prototypes had proved satisfactory) by the Aeroplane & Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down. On top of this the Central Fighter Establishment at West Raynham would perform mock combats to work out the fighter’s strengths and weaknesses. Most of this would usually take place before production aeroplanes had begun to reach squadrons in large numbers.

    Many types of aircraft which have been built in large numbers are in due course used to test new equipment or fittings as well as proposed changes to the original design. The Hunter was no exception, it was used to evaluate changes to the fuselage shape to incorporate ‘area-ruling’ for improved high speed performance, the addition of blown flaps to the wings, the carriage of the Fireflash and Firestreak air-to-air missiles, alternative engines and the possibility of thrust reversal.

    Group photo of Hunters displayed at the 1956 SBAC Show.

    Tony Buttler’s book The Design and Development of the Hawker Hunter is the first ever to concentrate on how the Hunter came into being, its flight test programme and what it was like to pilot. Featuring previously unpublished illustrations and 3-view drawings, Buttler’s work is a stunning visual history of Britain’s iconic jet fighter—one of the most beautiful and dangerous aeroplanes ever to grace the skies. 

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    Haunted Kirkcaldy


    Gregor Stewart will be at Waterstones, Kirkcaldy on Sunday 31st August from 7pm hosting a ghost tour and signing copies of his new book, Haunted Kirkcaldy


    This new book contains a chilling range of spooky tales from around Kirkcaldy. From haunted public houses, which have left both customers and staff terrified, to the ruins of the ancient Ravenscraig Castle, which still attract a mysterious visitor many years after their death, this collection of ghostly goings-on, phantom footsteps and playful poltergeists is sure to appeal to everyone interested in the paranormal and the history of Fife’s largest town. Richly illustrated with over fifty images, Haunted Kirkcaldy is guaranteed to make your blood run cold.

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    Fawley's Front Line


    Roger Hansford will be at Herald Publishing, Hythe on Saturday 30th August from 10:30am-12:30pm signing copies of his new book, Fawley's Front Line: A Century of Firefighting and Rescue


    Home to the UK’s largest refinery, Fawley is among the most at-risk parts of the country for petrochemical fires. Its fire service is vital to the area’s infrastructure and its firefighters must always be prepared. For the first time, the story of this fire station and of the Waterside’s private and military fire brigades is told. From establishment in the early twentieth century, through the development of the fire engine and firefighting techniques, to combating modern-day terrorist threats, Fawley’s firefighters have witnessed it all. This book looks at how the station and its crew, now reduced from full- to part-time staffing, have evolved in the face of new dangers and challenges. 

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    My Family and Other Scousers


    Dave Joy will be at Plackitt & Booth Booksellers, Lytham on Thursday 4th September from 7pm for the launch of his new book, My Family and Other Scousers: A Liverpool Boy's Summer of Adventure in '69

    This evocative memoir recalls the long, heady days of Liverpool in the summer of 1969, as seen through the eyes of eleven-year-old Deejay. Infused with a distinctive Scouse sense of humour, this book tells the story of how Deejay filled his summer holiday having adventures – and misadventures – with his mischievous gang of young friends and working at Wellington Dairy, the family-owned, horse-drawn milk business located in the Liverpool suburb of Garston. Deejay intends to be the next in a long line of dairy farmers and sets about learning as much as he can about the family business. Amusing and entertaining, surprising and sometimes moving, Deejay’s account vividly captures one boy’s growing appreciation of the family history that preceded him and a growing understanding of his place in the world. Key to that understanding is the very special relationship that can exist between a boy and his dad. 

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    Lincolnshire Heritage Walks


    Danny Walsh will be at Lindum Books, Lincoln on Saturday 6th September from 12pm signing copies of his new book, Lincolnshire Heritage Walks


    This beautifully illustrated walking guide explores the history and heritage that make the Lincolnshire landscape so unique. Covering everything on the routes from folklore, culture and wildlife to archaeology, geology and architecture, it tells of the past hidden in Lincolnshire’s footpaths. By including variations on all of the featured walks, Danny Walsh allows the reader to adapt them to suit their abilities and tastes. With a section for kids in each chapter, walkers of all ages are encouraged to explore and engage with the picturesque and endlessly fascinating county of Lincolnshire.

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    A Toby in the Lane


    Paul Morris will be at Brick Lane Bookshop on Thursday 11th September signing copies of his new book, A Toby in the Lane: A History of London's East End Markets


    A Toby in the Lane reveals the rich fabric of the East End markets, primarily in Petticoat Lane and Brick Lane, and celebrates the street traders and stalls which call these London institutions home. This is the story of immigrant communities and their fight for survival, reflected in sweat and toil. Countless tales of traders’ scams, tricks and banter are found inside. Families who have traded throughout the generations on the market offer up a unique insight into the layers of history that – up until now – have remained untold. The story also traces the sometimes complicated relationships between trader and authorities in an often amusing but informative tale of London market life. A spellbinding, quirky and intimate portrait of life on the famous markets of London’s East End, written by an East End senior market inspector, A Toby in the Lane will delight Londoners and visitors alike. 

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    Harold Jarman in Action

    Harold Jarman was undoubtedly one of the greatest Bristol Rovers players of all time. Harold along with his team mate and friend Geoff Bradford were the jewels in Bristol Rovers' crown as the club enjoyed their finest spell in their history during the late 1950's. A product of the City, Jarman was spotted by Rovers playing for Clifton Villa, his local Downs League team, and signed as a professional in 1959. His skill, commitment and eye for goal quickly made him a favourite with the crowd at Eastville and he played an important part in the clubs' steady improvement on the pitch which culminated in them challenging for promotion from the Second Division after having establishing themselves as a Second Division Club.

    He was also involved in two League Cup quarter final appearances for Rovers in the early 1970’s. A much sought after winger Jarman won many admirers and was considered by some in the early 1960’s as a possible full England International cap, His career really took off in the mid 1960’s when the free scoring Rovers side strived to achieve promotion back to the Second division after their relegation in 1962. He was a consistent goalscorer and holds the club record of the most goals by a winger.

    During his later seasons at Eastville he even enjoyed his own unofficial fan club in the North Enclosure who would delight at his skills in beating opponents. He enjoyed an impressive career lasting fourteen seasons before spending a season in South Wales with Newport County before being tempted to take his skills to North America and New York Cosmos. Although he has taken on many different roles for clubs in the UK and the United States, his heart has always belonged to Bristol – he returned initially as youth team manager, then caretaker manager (saving the Rovers from relegation) before returning to coach and manage the youth and reserve teams.

    During the summer months between 1961 and 1972, Harold also enjoyed playing professionally for Gloucestershire County Cricket club, delighting crowds with his skill particularly his astute fielding.

    He has many wonderful memories of days mixing with England’s most talented footballers and travelling all over the country doing something that he thoroughly enjoyed. “H” was initially a Bristol City fan in his youth and he and his brothers played together in a Bristol Downs league team. His love of sport in general which was encouraged by one of his school teachers ensured Harold strived hard to both enjoy and make a living at two sports - football and cricket. Harold was one of the first British footballers to go to America as a pro-footballer with New York Cosmos.

    Harold since his retirement has enjoyed golf and has maintained an interest in Rover’s fortunes. He is a regular at the Memorial Stadium when he and his wife Penny are not watching Downs League football. The book is accompanied by some fascinating pictures and statistics, many unpublished from Harold’s own personal collection.

    Harold Jarman: Bristol Rovers Local Hero

    A book signing has been arranged on Saturday 20 September at Bristol Rovers home stadium. Jarman his family and some of his former Rovers team mates will be in attendance together with the two authors. Put it in your diary to celebrate one of Rover’s real legends. See you there!

    Mike Jay and Ian Haddrrell are the authors of Harold Jarman: Bristol Rovers Local Hero, a comprehensive biography of the life of on of Bristol Rovers' best loved players. He had a fascinating fourteen season career with Bristol Rovers from 1959 until 1973. A highly talented winger he made over 500 appearances for his home town club, scoring over a century of goals. He was a real crowd pleaser who could brighten up any match with his extraordinary skills.


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