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The History Press blog

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    The Design and Development of the Hawker Hunter


    Tony Buttler will be at the Jet Age Museum on Sunday 19th October signing copies of his new book, The Design and Development of the Hawker Hunter: The Creation of Britain's Iconic Jet Fighter


    Many books have been written about the Hawker Hunter, one of the world’s great jet fighters. The majority, however, have tended to concentrate on the aircraft’s extensive service career. Superbly illustrated with both colour and black-and-white photographs of the Hawker Hunter – which has always been one of the most photogenic of all aeroplanes – this new title is the first devoted specifically to the Hunter’s design and development: how and why the aircraft came into being, the troubles it experienced on the way, its flight test programme and what it was like to pilot. Drawing on many original Air Staff and Ministry documents and also the Hawker aircraft day-to-day diaries, it tells the story of one-off modifications and trials projects, aerodynamic modifications and tests with various weapons, along with proposed developments, including supersonic versions. 

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    Something to Shout About


     Tim Barnard will be at Forest Green Rovers FC on Monday 20th October signing copies of his new book, Something to Shout About: The History of Forest Green Rovers.  

    Forest Green Rovers have risen through the ranks to reach the pinnacle of non-League football. Asfounder members of the Mid-Gloucestershire League in 1894 – the rst football league in Gloucestershire outside of Bristol– they have always been forward looking. Their rise has not always been smooth but the ambition of those involved with the club has seen them through and they are now the longest-serving members of the Conference National.

    This comprehensive history of Forest Green Rovers looks back at the highs and lows of their 125-year existence, right up to the start of the 2014/15 campaign. Taking in the glory of cup wins, promotion campaigns and the drama of several last-minute escapes from relegation– not to mention 1982’s FA Vase win– it will delight Rovers fans of all ages and prove just why the Rovers have something to shout about.

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  • 10/07/14--03:00: The people of the boats
  • Cressy undergoing alterations at Tooley’s boatyard, Banbury, early in 1939 (Author Rolt Collection)

    During the weeks I was working on the boat I became familiar with all the boatmen who traded regularly along the canal. We would exchange greetings as they drifted by on their slow journeyings back and forth between Atherstone and Oxford, and, when they moored for the night by Banbury Stop, they evinced a lively interest in my progress, asking when I hoped to be ready and whither I was bound. There was ' Four-Boat Joe', so called because he and his companions worked between them no less than four horse-boats and always travelled in close company. One of them, the fattest man I have ever seen, habitually sat at the tiller of the hindmost boat, and was never seen ashore.

    The mere landsman, sitting in one of these narrow-boat cabins, only 8 ft. long by 7 ft. wide, cannot help but marvel that this is the boatman's home; that within this tiny compass all the manifold needs of a large family are administered, and that it has been a witness of all the comedy, drama and tragedy of many lifetimes. 

    When the cabin doors are closed the only daylight comes from a small 'bull-eye' in the roof and a lookout forward, only a foot square, which is often obscured when the boat is loaded. Light at night is provided by a large three-cornered paraffin lantern hung in an angle of the wall. Immediately to the left of the doorway is the coal-fired cooking and heating stove, the space around it occupied by saucepans. On the stove-top tea is forever brewing, for the boat people are inveterate tea-drinkers. Their teapots, like their water-cans, are usually of an original and traditional design– a brown salt glaze stoneware ornamented with a band of coloured flowers in relief and a white plaque bearing in blue letters some simple motto such as 'Love at Home'.

    Man is usually the conservative of fashion, but curiously enough on the canals the position seems to be reversed, for it is the women who cling more tenaciously to their traditional dress. I have seen many wearing their distinctive dresses and shawls, and even the sun-bonnet is not quite extinct. I had thought that this was another item on the list of old and gracious things which had gone forever until, one warm summer evening when I was working on 'Cressy', an unfamiliar Warwickshire Canal boat passed by. The woman who stood at the tiller might have floated serenely through a century. She had on the typical tight-waisted dress, the full skirt swinging gracefully to her every movement and, to my wonder and delight, she was wearing her black bonnet. Rows of tucks made a dark halo over her head, and from the gathered crown a broad frilled wimple fell wide and low over her shoulders. Her vital, gipsy face and gold earrings could have found no more fitting frame. A little group of women from the cottages on Factory Street stood gossiping by the drawbridge, undistinguished and drab in their cheap, mass-produced clothes. She was poorer than they, yet possessed a grace and dignity that seemed almost regal.

    The ubiquitous wireless set has become almost universal in the boat cabins, and is the boatman's only link with the modern world. He cannot read the newspapers, which is small loss to him, and he seldom has time or inclination for the cinema. Like our rural ancestors with their country songs, festivals and dances, he has to provide his own amusement, than which there is no healthier stimulant for talent. As a result many boatmen are self-taught musicians, and I found that nearly every boat on the Oxford Canal carried a melodeon, a concertina or an accordion. Often of a night time I would hear the familiar strains of 'Daisy Bell' or 'Two Lovely Black Eyes' floating over the water from the cabin of a moored boat.

    Narrow Boat 

    This is an extract from Narrow Boat written by L.T.C. Rolt. First published in 1944, and now reissued with new black-and-white illustrations and a foreword by Jo Bell, Canal Laureate, this book has become a classic on its subject, and may be said to have started a revival of interest in the English waterways. It was on a spring day in 1939 that L.T.C. Rolt first stepped aboard Cressy. This engaging book tells the story of how he and his wife adapted and fitted out the boat as a home, and recreates the journey of some 400 miles that they made along the network of waterways in the Midlands. It recalls the boatmen and their craft, and celebrates the then seemingly timeless nature of the English countryside through which they passed. As Sir Compton Mackenzie wrote, ‘it is an elegy of classic restraint unmarred by any trace of sentiment’ for a way of life and a rural landscape that have now all but disappeared.

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    Wrexham County Folk Tales


    Fiona Collins will be at Waterstones, Piccadilly on Tuesday 21st October signing copies of her new book, Wrexham County Folk Tales

    The county borough of Wrexham is rich in folklore, with an abundance of tales to capture the wonders of the Welsh landscape and all its denizens, both real and imaginary: animal, human and even superhuman. This collection, which includes both traditional tales – passed down through generations by word of mouth – and archive material, brings to life the local legends, mysteries and stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things that make Wales so magical. A speaker of both languages of Wales, the author has collected some unusual material sure to enchant both Welsh and non-Welsh speakers. Beautifully illustrated by local artist Ed Fisher, these tales bring to life the ancient wisdom of Wrexham. 

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  • 10/09/14--01:00: The Bentley story
  • Commander Kidston and Captain Barnato lead the winners’ parade. Note the cigarette being smoked  by Kidston in those less politically correct days.

    Fabled thundering Le Mans race cars ... dare-devil Bentley boys ... and the most luxurious sporting performance motor cars ever built.

    Laconically described as 'The fastest lorries in Europe' by the Italian carmaker Ettore Bugatti, Walter Owen Bentley’s huge, snarling race cars aggressively dominated motor racing for years. Revered and feared—driven in the 1920s by hard-partying young men known as 'the Bentley Boys', who beat all newcomers, winning the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race five years out of six and made the cradle of British motor racing Brooklands their own and developed into the world’s most admired sporting motorcars.

    The Bentley Boys were high-living young London sportsmen who predated the jet-set, they partied in London Society for half the night, then drove to France for gruelling 24 hour road races. They forged a reputation for good living and blazing racing successes that amazed the motoring world and endures to this day.

    Bought by Rolls-Royce in 1931 after running into financial trouble, Bentley languished in semi-obscurity for half a century as Rolls-Royce focused on its own marque. Ironically, when Rolls-Royce hit serious financial problems in the 1990s, Bentley emerged from the wilderness, its glories revived with mighty turbo-charged luxury super cars and saved the company from going under. Bentley reclaimed its performance luxury driving identity.

    Sounds like an exhilarating story from Boys Own Paper?  Happens to be true! A history crammed with colourful characters.

    Today, free of Rolls-Royce control, Bentley, now owned by VW, builds about 8,000 cars a year, outselling Rolls-Royce, owned by BMW by about six to one.

    The Bentley Story

    Reg Abbiss is the author of The Bentley Story and  was a BBC News reporter for 12 years programming & conducting interviews. He also spent sixteen years as a presenter on radio, TV, as well as newspaper and magazine interviews and later he was principal spokesman for Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motor Cars.

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  • 10/10/14--04:45: The Friday Digest 03/10/14

    THP Friday digest

    This week's update features the trench coat's forgotten First World War origins, the oldest known work of art and literary Halloween costume ideas.

    Trench coat from Peter Doyle's The First World War in 100 objects


     * The trench coat's forgotten First World War origins.

    Historic Royal Palaces / Richard Lea-Hair

    * The stunning transformation of the 'Tower Poppies' by night ...

    Unknown Warriors The Letters of Kate Luard RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914 - 1918

    * Inspirational women of the First World War: Kate Luard RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914–1918.

    Ancient Greek ruins at Tlos © dreamstime

    * How was the Ancient Greeks view of death different from our own?

    The battle between the Macedonian king Alexander the Great and the Persian king Darius is thought to have taken place took place near Isos.

    * A music chamber has been found in the ancient city of Isos and it is thought that the chamber, which dates back to the Roman era, was once used for treatment. 


    Portrait of Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–1768), reading from Homer's Iliad; ornamental frame, as if a framed portrait resting on a ledge on which are placed olive branches, caduceus, inkwell with lion's feet, an open volume of his 'History of Ancient Art' with ring of stars above, and sheet with French titles referring to his writings on the Apollo Belvedere and the Belvedere Torso.  Engraving with etching by Maurice Blot, after Mengs, 1815. (1862,0208.225)

    * Who died in Trieste? 

    Magna Carta under UV light. Photograph: British Library

    The four surviving copies of the original Magna Carta from 1215 will come together for the first time in history next February as part of a one-off event to mark the 800th anniversary of the signing of the historic document.

    * Why are there so many Magna Cartas

    1921: Members of the Mesopotamia Commission, set up to discuss the future of Mesopotamia at the Cairo Conference. Included in the photograph are Gertrude Bell (second from left, second row), T E Lawrence (fourth from the right, second row) and Winston Churchill (centre front row) (c) Getty

    * The 1920 British air bombing campaign in Iraq.

    Adolf Hitler with Nazi war generals (Heinrich Hoffmann/Keystone/Getty Images)

    * When Adolf Hitler took cocaine ...

    © Bridgeman Art Library


    * Matilda: A queen in a king’s world.  

    Fantasy maps

    * City maps reimagined in the style of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.

    Anne Boleyn (Copyright NPG)


    * Guilty or not guilty: why did Anne Boleyn have to die? 


    Julie Jacobson/AP

    A 1914 time capsule forgotten for years was finally opened at the New York Historical Society. Its big reveal? Businessmen should never be in charge of putting together time capsules.

    A Miners' strike in South Yorkshire in 1984/85 SourceFlickr: Great Miners' Strike of 1984/85. Author:

    * 'The Miners’ Strike, 30 Years On' conference brought together leading figures of the time to discuss the course of the 1984–85 strike, and the consequences for unions and industrial relations today.

    View From a Bathing Hut at the Miami Surf Club (c) Churchill Heritage Ltd.

    Thirty-eight paintings by Sir Winston Churchill are being offered to the nation, following the death of the politician's youngest daughter in May.

    Marie Curie (left), was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics, in 1903. Maria Goeppert Mayer (right) was the second, and so far last, woman to win the prize, in 1963. Image: MASHABLE COMPOSITE, WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

    Kinza Riza/

    Ruth Rendell © Jerry Bauer


    William Gillette as Sherlock Holmes in 1905. Actor William Gillette is credited with coining the catchphrase 'elementary' to sidekick Watson (c) Getty


    A silent Sherlock Holmes film made in 1916 and featuring the only screen performance by William Gillette has been found in the French film archive.

    A Victorian vampire kit contains all the necessary equipment for hunting down vampires


    * Delving deep in to the Gothic ... 

    Gaskell's novels on a bookcase


    * Why was the Cranford author Elizabeth Gaskell considered so 'fearful'?

    A detail from the cover of Bleak House by Charles Dickens

    Which titles made censors hot under the collar?

    Have we fallen out of love with e-readers?

    * Have we fallen out of love with e-readers? 

    Fast moving train leaving station. Photograph: Rob Macdougall/Getty Images

    Can you read a novel in three hours?

    J.K. Rowling tweet

     J.K. Rowling tweet riddle solved.

    Patrick Modiano books

    * French author Patrick Modiano has won the Nobel Prize for Literature

    Sophie Kinsella


    * Ten tips for being a best-selling author.


    Books’ best bakes: cakes in fiction from Dickens to George R.R. Martin.

    Humpty Dumpty

    * Seventeen literary Halloween costumes to be inspired by this October


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

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  • 10/12/14--02:45: Riding with a phantom ...

  • Imagine yourself driving down a lonely country road at night – you’re alone with only the car radio and the dashboard lights for company. As you round a bend you see coming out of the blackness a solitary figure standing thumbing for a ride. Do you stop and offer a lift, or do you pass the traveller by and continue on your way? Maybe you think that someday you might be in the same situation yourself and decide against your better judgement to stop and help out. Thirty-five years ago this month, a young tradesman from Bedfordshire decided he would play the Good Samaritan and pick up a stranded traveller. It was to prove to be one of the most chilling and convincing paranormal encounters of modern times.

    The Phantom of Peddars Lane Stanbridge. Image from

    A map of Peddars Lane Stanbridge

    Late in the evening of 12 October 1979, twenty-six-year-old carpet fitter Roy Fulton from Dunstable was returning home from a pub darts match in nearby Leighton Buzzard when he stopped to give a lift to a young man standing on an isolated stretch of Station Road on the outskirts of Stanbridge. Notions of ghosts and the supernatural were far from Fulton’s mind as, being an avid Liverpool supporter, he was casting his thought’s ahead to the following day’s match and the prospects of his favourite team. In the glare of the Mini van’s headlights he saw a youth standing on the nearside verge thumbing for a lift. Deciding he was going either to Tottenhoe or Dunstable, Fulton came to a halt in front of the hitch-hiker who walked along the road towards the van. He was casually dressed in dark trousers and jumper and wore a white-collared shirt. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The man opened the passenger door and got in. When asked where he wanted to go his only response was to point ahead further down the misty road. Fulton let in the Mini’s clutch and the van pulled away.

    The journey continued in silence for some minutes until Fulton decided to offer the youth a cigarette. It was the point where what had been a completely ordinary and familiar situation suddenly crossed over a threshold into the strange and frightening world of the unknown. ‘I leant forward and picked up the packet of cigarettes,’ he later recalled, ‘turned round to offer the lad one, and that man or boy was not sitting there.’ Stunned, Fulton pulled the Mini to a halt and turning on the interior light looked into the back, thinking the youth had somehow climbed into the rear of the van. There was nothing there – Roy Fulton was completely alone.

    Now terrified, Fulton drove in a panic to his local pub, The Glider in Lowther Road, Dunstable. Ashen-faced and shaking, he blurted out his terrifying story to the landlord Bill Stone and a group of regulars. Two things haunted him about his experience: that the eerie pale-faced youth was somehow part of an earlier traffic accident which had not been reported, and secondly that the sad silent figure would somehow follow him home. Fulton was later interviewed by writer and researcher Michael Goss and in 1985 took part in the respected television documentary series Arthur C. Clarke’s World of Strange Powers. On both occasions he told the same story without any deviations or embellishments – that one night in October 1979, he took a ghost for a ride. Many countries as diverse and wide apart as Sweden, Pakistan, Canada, Korea and South Africa all have their individual and specific phantom hitch-hiker tales, but the experience of Bedfordshire motorist Roy Fulton ranks as one of the most compelling and thought-provoking of all.  


    The Little Book of Ghosts

    Paul Adams is the author of The Little Book of Ghosts, a spine-chilling book which features intriguing, obscure, and strange trivia about all things that go bump in the night. Here you will find haunted houses and castles, parks and woods, highways and byways, phantom animals, royal ghosts, angry poltergeists and haunted objects ...

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    Agatha Christie

    As the author of nine murder mysteries who has dared follow in the illustrious footsteps of Agatha Christie, I am struck by the fact that the whodunnit 'formula' she invented and polished to perfection is now nearly 100 years old. Agatha Christie wrote her first novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1916, though it was only published in 1920. Since then her eighty-two books have never been out of print and she continues to enjoy a large and devoted international following.

    She is famous of course for her plots, which are ingenious, absorbing and worked out in meticulous detail – no mean feat given that at the time she was writing, a manual Corona typewriter was the height of technological invention! Agatha Christie's plots are unpredictable and, frequently, strikingly original. And they have a timeless appeal. Murder on the Orient Express managed to capture the popular imagination in 1934 when it was first published, then again in 1974 when the film adaptation of the book became the most successful British film ever made and, again, this year (2014) when it was announced that celebrated film director Ridley Scott was planning yet another cinematic version.

    Some form of deadly deception is always central to all Christie's novels and that is linked to a single, fascinatingly clever idea which readers remember long after they have closed the book. Here are two examples of Christie's startlingly unorthodox way of thinking. The first comes from a novel written in her floruit period, the late 1930s, the second from one of her 1960s offerings, when her powers had started declining. (I won't give away the titles.) In the first a series of murders takes place in a picture-postcard English village: the common factor between the victims is that they are all people who have in some way upset a pompous and ridiculously self-important gentleman – however, he is not the killer. In the second a highly unpleasant young girl attending a party declares that she has witnessed a murder and soon after she is killed – but she was only repeating what another girl, the real murder witness, had told her.

    Agatha Christie's cleverness is of the kind that crosses boundaries not only of time, but of race and class as well. Over the years her admiring readers have included Ramsey MacDonald, Sigmund Freud, Queen Mary, T.S. Eliot, P.G.Wodehouse and, during the Second World War, British prisoners of war. Nowadays French intellectuals sing her praises – she is one of the most popular authors in Russia – and doesn't Alexander McCall Smith's 'Botswanian Ma Ramotswe' owe something to Miss Marple?!

    Agatha Christie's powers of invention were prodigious. She didn't seem to have known the meaning of the phrase 'writer's block'. As her alter ego Mrs Ariadne Oliver puts it in Cards on the Table, "I’m never at a loss for a plot."  Her prose, on the other hand, is simple, clear and succinct. She knew how to start a story and she knew exactly when to finish it. The average Christie novel is 190 pages – compare this to the staggering verbosity of many contemporary crime writers.

    Agatha Christie is adept at raising her readers' curiosity at the end of a chapter and making them want to read on. Here are three examples of end-of-chapter cliffhangers:

    'He wasn't the sort of man you'd notice ...Yes, there's no doubt about it ...You have described the murderer!' -The ABC Murders

    'Three motives – it is almost too much. I am inclined to believe that, after all, Ralph Paton is innocent.' - The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

    'I've remembered,' said Sir Charles, 'what struck me as odd. It was the ink-stain on the floor in the butler's room.' Three Act Tragedy

    Agatha Christie's masterpiece And Then There Were None not only combines mystery and suspense of the highest order, but it also succeeds in frightening the reader. As the murders on the small sinister island multiply, each according to the verses of the macabre children's poem, it gradually becomes clear that everybody is doomed – but how is that possible when it has been proven beyond doubt that there are only ten people on the island? When there are only two characters left alive, one of them starts wondering if this may not be the work of a being that 'didn't come from this world at all.' Needless to say, the final explanation is rational and completely logical. Any discerning reader would notice that elements of the actual denouement are not entirely convincing – but that couldn't matter less: this is one of those instances where it is the journey that counts.

    Agatha Christie has been castigated for her poor characterisation but the fact is one does remember many of her creations – and I don't mean only Poirot and Miss Marple. Among my personal favourites are Dr Shepherd (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd) with his dry humour and unreliable narrator's ingenuity, the wilful, wild and totally unpredictable Lady Bess Sedgwick (At Bertram's Hotel) and the hapless, shell-shocked, short-sighted, absurdly named Alexander Bonaparte Cust (The ABC Murders). Christie's characters may not be detailed and developed according to the requirements of High Literature, but they are perfectly suited to the kind of book she wrote.

     The Killing of Olga Klimt by R.T. Raichev

    R.T. Raichev is the author of  The Antonia Darcy and Major Payne Mystery series. His latest book is The Killing of Olga Klimt
    Olga Klimt knew that there might be a high price to pay for playing with the hearts of powerful men but when jealousy, obsession and deception come into play the stakes are higher than she ever could have anticipated. In this ninth investigation of Antonia Darcy and Major Payne, they are drawn into the most baffling case of murder and intrigue where nothing—not even the identity of the victim– is certain. R.T. Raichev’s post-modern twist on Victorian London and his penchant for composing the most intricate of murder mysteries means that nothing is ever quite what it seems ...

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    Caption: Private Wilfred Wilkinson of the Royal Marine Light Infantry Soldiers were required to polish their own buttons and could be severely reprimanded for being incorrectly buttoned.  Credit: Author’s own collection

    Alongside enlistment papers, photographs of men in military uniform, and letters written home from the Front, you may be surprised to find many other small and illuminating clues to the fact that your ancestors played their part in the First World War.

    Have a root through the family button box, for instance. Perhaps it contains buttons snipped from military uniforms – from small ones used to secure the chinstraps on helmets, to large ones worn on greatcoats, tunics and service dress jackets. So-called ‘general service’ buttons in the First World War were plain in design, often made in brass and sometimes plated in gold; designed to lift the morale of a regiment. If your buttons are made to a higher specification, have regimental patterns or are mounted, this might be an indication that your ancestor was of officer class. 


    Caption: Found in a button box - Brass button from a tunic belonging to a member of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps  Credit: Wikimedia commons

    Likewise, a rummage through the family jewellery box may yield items of great genealogical – if no other – value. Rings, brooches, earrings and cufflinks may have been exchanged by the fiances and spouses in your family during the War years.  Look out for white gold which was used as a substitute for the platinum that had been commandeered for other military uses. Keep an eye out for gold ‘Mizpah’ rings, engraved with the initials of both lovers, which were sometimes given when the parties were to be separated for a time and sweetheart brooches, (in the form of a miniature version of a regimental badge with inset gems), which were given by servicemen to their betrothed.

    Caption: Given by Annie, Eveline Smith to her fiancé Harry Gillings during the First World War in York. Harry’s initials are engraved on the top, Annie’s are inside the ring alongside the word’ Mitzpah.’  Credit: Author’s Own Collection


    And you might come across even more fragile and emotive mementos of the War. Cecil Raughton, a 17 year old soldier who served in the trenches of Northern France, picked and preserved a poppy which he later sent home to his family with a note reading ‘Souvenir from a front line trench near Arras, May 1916.’ And in April 1936, the writer Vera Brittain (1893-1970), brought home and labelled a piece of broom from the Argonne Front as a sad reminder of a loved one lost in the First World War. More poignant still, attics and garages have sometimes yielded an unexpected scent of the past in the shape of old perfume bottles. Some of the soldiers returning from the First World War brought home French fragrances made by the manufacturer ‘Coty’ for their loved ones. These were packaged in Lalique bottles and decorated with gold labels with raised lettering and Art Nouveau designs.


    Caption:  Woman worker wearing appropriate clothing in a ‘glass alley’ at a glass factory, Lancashire, WW1  Credit: Wikimedia Commons


    Finally, take another look at those family photographs that do not obviously look as if they were taken in wartime. Look out for men with moustaches (compulsory in the British military until October 1916), women with short hair (practical styles for a serious era), and small rounded ‘economical’ wedding bouquets. Notice also women wearing breeches or trousers, or with three-quarter length dresses over stout boots. These may have been the unofficial uniform for women working in male occupations whilst the men were away.


    Ruth A. Symes is the writer of It Runs in the Family: Understanding More About Your Ancestors,and Stories From Your Family Tree: Researching Ancestors Within Living Memory.

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  • 10/17/14--03:45: The Friday Digest 17/10/14
  • THP Friday digest

    This week's update features Viking hoards, concrete shipwrecks and Spanish flu.

    Health poster

    * Spanish flu: The deadly disease that killed more people than the First World War

    Hubert Rochereau’s room in a house in Bélâbre, France. Photograph: Bruno Mascle/Photoshot

    * The French soldier’s room that has lain unchanged for ninety-six years after his death in the First World War

    The remains of the S.S. Sapona in Bimini, The Bahamas. Photo: Ines Hegedus-Garcia/Creative Commons


    * A fascinating look at the concrete shipwrecks of the First and Second World War in the Bahamas, Virginia, and Galveston.

    Townsend Griffiss

    Lt. Col. Townsend Griffiss, the forgotten hero of the Second World War

    The eight White Sox players implicated in the scandal

    The Black Sox baseball scandal from 1919: one of the darkest chapters in baseball's history.

    Replica crown of the Holy Roman Empire, 1913. © Anne Gold, Städtische Museen for the City Hall, Aachen


    * The Holy Roman Empire: from Charlemagne to Napoleon.

    Machu Picchu THINKSTOCK


    Have most of the temples, tombs, & civilizations been found? Or is the greatest age of discovery happening right now?

    Lulworth crumple

    * Chart-topping rocks: UK's 'Greatest Geosites' announced.

    Artefacts from the Staffordshire Hoard, found in 2009, are being re-presented together with new additions at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

    Staffordshire Hoard comes to life with new technology.  

    Early Medieval cross

    Viking treasure haul unearthed in Scotland.  

    Erik the Red, a famous Viking explorer and the discoverer of Greenland, built a wooden church (replica above) for his wife in Qassiarsuk, Greenland. PHOTOGRAPH BY PETER ESSICK, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE

    Did the Vikings get a bum rap? A Yale historian wants us to rethink the terrible tales about the Norse.


    Witchcraft and women in medieval Christianity.




    Jane Austen: feminist in action

    Sidney Paget illustration, December 1892 © Museum of London

    From Victorian fiction to Benedict Cumberbatch: the history of Sherlock Holmes in pictures

    Back in town. BBC/Mandabach/Tiger Aspect/Robert Viglasky


    * Why Peaky Blinders tells us all we need to know (and more) about the 1920s and how it made 1920s Brummies hard but hip ...

    * Birmingham library has won a BBC online vote to find Britain's favourite new building.

    Ivy Benson and her band


    * The 1940s bandleader who braved virulent sexism.

    The First Spacewalk: Moments from disaster


    * The first spacewalk: moments from disaster.

    rolled map


    Ordnance Survey team up with to revive historical map archive


    A fascinating look at the not so ordinary beginnings of modern day luggage

    * A quick history of luggage.


    Columbia Pictures


    * Twenty-three incredible photos of actors vs. the historical figures they played

    Genome - Radio Times 1923 to 2009

    * Find out what was on the TV and radio the day you were born, with BBC Genome


    The British Museum

    * What I want from the British Museum

    * Five digital megatrends towards the Museum of the Future.

    Picture from the Instagram page of David Willis, who was locked inside a Waterstones in London


    * Man spends evening locked in Waterstones after staff shut up shop

    Simon & Schuster’s Touchstone imprint will publish YouTube comedian Grace Helbig’s book.

    * From YouTube stars to literary lions

    The future of the book

    All shall have prizes, or not: The Man Booker Prize

    A tounge-in-cheek look at a generic college paper.

    * The Economist  looks at the future of the book.


    *  Amazon opens crowd-sourced programme Kindle Scout.

    * Cite and sound: the pleasures and pitfalls of quoting people.


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

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    John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, c.1704.

    The enduring fascination of the Battle of Blenheim in August 1704, is that it was the very first time that a Briton, in this case John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, met and defeated in the most emphatic and dramatic style a main French field army. He was assisted, of course, by his close friend Prince Eugene of Savoy, who held down the French and Bavarian left wing while Marlborough Duke won the battle on their right, but it was truly the Duke’s victory, had he failed that Wednesday, he would have borne the consequences of defeat. As it was he was accorded the laurels of outright victory and may arguably be classed as Britain’s greatest general.

    The history of western Europe changed forever with Blenheim, nothing would ever be quite the same, with the destruction of Marshal Tallard’s French army, and another, that of Marshal Marsin, in panicked flight  from the field of battle to avoid a similar fate. The previously apparently overwhelming might of King Louis XIV was curbed, and France, and French ability to dominate in Europe, was weakened for generations to come. That Marlborough’s 1704 campaign in southern Germany was a ‘near run thing’ with considerable military and professional risk, and even personal danger both on the battlefield and at home in London where a sceptical parliament watched events closely, adds to the attractiveness of this extraordinary clash of arms. No other battle in British history had quite the same dramatic impact with England (Great Britain from 1707 onwards), firmly established as a world power, able even today to reach out and influence events well beyond our own shores. Marlborough went on to inflict defeats on French armies at Ramillies (1706), Oudenarde (1708) and less dramatically at Malplaquet (1709), but it is Blenheim that resonates most and had the greatest and most far-reaching impact. Only with the emergence of the military genius of Napoleon I some hundred years or so later would newly established British power and influence really come into serious question, and even then the Emperor would have preferred to negotiate a peace with London, so that he could have a free hand in Europe while the British concentrated on their widening empire, had that option been open to him. The victory at Blenheim undeniably established Great Britain as that world power, a force to be reckoned with, and as such is one of the very few true turning points in history.


    James Falkner served as a British Army infantry officer, both Regular and Territorial, for twenty-five years. He is acknowledged as the leading modern authority on eighteenth-century warfare and the author of Battle Story: Blenheim 1704. Other titles include, Marlborough's Sieges and Great and Glorious: Marlborough's Battles 1704-09

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  • 10/20/14--02:00: Port Said Squadron
  • HMS Doris

    As aircraft from a coalition of nations take to the air over Syria, it coincides almost exactly with the 100th anniversary of another multi-national air force beginning operations in the same area. 

    In November 1914 the Ottoman Empire entered the First World War on the side of Germany.  For the French, this meant a chance to reiterate their traditional claim for influence in Syria, and looked for an opportunity to deploy military forces to the region.  This widening of the conflict was of great concern to the British in Egypt, as it placed a hostile force dangerously close to the Suez Canal, the vital link between Europe and the Far East, and which was being used to pour troops and raw materials into her blossoming war machine.  Even while British and Egyptian garrisons were withdrawn from the Sinai Desert (being thought too exposed to attack), the high command in Cairowas looking for means with which to monitor potential Ottoman preparations for an attack on the Canal.  The Royal Flying Corps rushed aeroplanes and men to Egypt, but their range was strictly limited and confined to the Sinai Peninsula.  What was needed was a longer ranged tool that could monitor troop movements within Syria and Palestine.

    The answer proved to be a multi-national scratch force, thrown together from stray resources from across the Mediterranean.  The French Navy had a unit of Nieuport Type XH seaplanes in Tunisia, and the British asked for the unit to be loaned to them.  The French leapt at the opportunity, and in late November, five Nieuports, five pilots, two observers and 38 ground crew arrived in Egypt to form the Port Said Squadron, under the command of Lieutenant de Vaisseau (Naval Lieutenant) Henri de L’Escaille.  As a unit they were short of two things – observers, and ships to transport them.  The former were proved by the British Army in Egypt, under whose overall command the operations came.  British officers, many of whom had experience either with the Egyptian Survey Department or the Army’s equivalent, were loaned to the French Navy to direct flights and interpret what they found.  To get them there, several British warships were seconded for use, although the question of command (i.e. were they being loaned to the British Army, or to the French Naval Air Service, or indeed was the Port Said Squadron being loaned to them) remained a gloriously grey area. 
     Return of Seaplane to Mother Ship after flight.

    A French seaplane being winched abroad HMS Anne after returning from a flight over Palestine or Syria. 

    To begin with, single Nieuports were placed on board British cruisers whose regular task was to monitor the shores of Syria, Palestine and Arabia.  As well as monitoring (and intercepting) shipping and activity in the harbours, they also took advantage of the fact that the main logistical artery between Constantinople and these southern provinces was a railway that ran very close to the Syrian shore.  It could be watched – and shelled- with impunity from the sea.  The seaplanes now added a further 50 miles or more to the visual range of these ships.  The first to embark a seaplane was HMS Doris, which enjoyed an exciting opening few months of the war in patrolling and raiding along the Mediterranean coast.  The first seaplane patrol was launched on 10 December 1914, and returned successfully despite being hit by ground fire.  Such fire, usually from small arms, was common and, with the jarring and stresses of operating from rough seas, took a toll on the seaplanes.  Ground crews were carried to affect repairs where possible, but the aeroplanes usually became too damaged for further use at some point during the ship’s patrols, and would have to be swapped for a fresh one when they put in to Port Said to collect supplies between cruises.  Later in December, HMS Minerva joined the effort, launching her seaplane off Aqaba in theRed Sea.

    Over the Christmas of 1914 and the early weeks of 1915, these aircraft proved their worth as they monitored the gathering of an Ottoman expeditionary force around Beersheba, far inland.  They were also able to warn Cairowhen this force disappeared from their camps and, with the RFC in Egypt, were able to find and track it as it advanced on the Suez Canal.  The weeks of warning allowed the British to shore-up the defences on the Canal and prepare the mostly Indian garrison, while also bringing British and French warships in to provide heavy artillery support.  Thanks to these efforts, the Battle of the Suez Canalon 3 February 1915 was a bloody defeat for the Ottomans, and ensured the safety of the Canal for the rest of the year.

    Victory had not been easy, though.  Later in the war Flight Lieutenant G.B. Dacre would record that:

    This desert flying is no joke as one depends entirely on one’s engine. There is just a chance that a seaplane of our type can be landed without doing in pilot and passenger, so precautions have been taken. We take wireless, so that we can send back our position when a breakdown occurs … Also, we are armed and take a water bottle and food and a pocket compass. It might be possible to walk back to the coast, but walking in the wilderness where no life is to be seen is very heavy. The ship will remain off the coast for 3 days and nights, at night with a searchlight and we have Very Light [flare] pistols. It might be possible to walk to some of the camel tracks and hold up a party, pinch their camels, food and trek back to the coast.

    This plan was based on very early experience.  On 31 December 1914 an aircraft flown by Quartier-Maître (Quarter Master, QM) Hervé Grall had crashed 30 km inland on a mission to Aqaba.  The observer, Captain Stirling of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, was uninjured, while Grall was badly shaken and shocked.  Grall insisted that Stirling leave him behind and walk to the coast as quickly as possible, to where their ship, HMS Minerva, was waiting, and bring back help.  Grall then followed at a slower pace.  Stirling made it, and did bring back help, but Grall mistook the party for an Ottoman patrol and hid from it.  He later made it to the coast and was picked up safely.  Grall received the Médaille Militaire for his actions, and would go on to be decorated, and crash, several more times.  Less fortunate were the crew of a second Nieuport that crashed into the Sinai on 27 January 1915.  QM Jean-Marie Le Gall and Lieutenant Partridge, Indian Army, walked out of the desert only to be shot dead the following day by Gurkhas guarding the Suez Canal.

    The multinational crew of the Aenne Rickmers, later formally acquired by the Royal Navy as HMS Anne.

    Reinforcements arrived in early January, and continued to trickle in.  Apart from new seaplanes and crews, rudimentary bombs, flachettes (darts to be dropped on targets from above) and wireless sets also arrived.  The bombs were small and only one or two could be carried without overloading the aircraft, although the wireless sets, surprisingly, proved to be far more effective than advertised.  With ranges of up to 50 miles, reports could now be sent back in real-time, and ‘spotting’ for the guns of the cruisers was also made much easier.  Up until then, coloured smoke bombs were used to direct naval gun fire, but now a much wider and more subtle range of codes could be used to pinpoint targets.

    Perhaps the most impressive reinforcements were two new ships, both requisitioned German merchant steamers.  The Aenne Rickmers and the Rabenfels had mostly Greek or Cypriot crews.  The Royal Navy provided officers and senior NCOs, and a small party of Royal Marines and sailors for self-protection.  The Aenne Rickmers came under the command of Captain L. B. Weldon of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, while the Rabenfels was commanded by Captain R. E. Todd of the Royal Army Medical Corps.  Neither ship received much in the way of conversion, and both could only carry two seaplanes.  They operated under the British Merchant flag until late 1915, when they were commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Anne and HMS Raven II.

    This hotch-potch, multi-national and indeed multi-service organisation carried on for a further year, monitoring movements and mapping Ottoman defences in Syria, Palestine and Arabia.  Only in early 1916 could the Royal Navy spare the resources to take over this important task, partly due to the ending of the Gallipoli campaign.  Ships specially converted as seaplane carriers began to arrive in January 1916, as did Royal Naval Air Service aircraft and crews, to form the East Indiesand Egypt Seaplane Squadron.  The Port Said Squadron slowly handed over its responsibilities until it sailed back to Francein April 1916.  HMS Anne and HMS Raven II remained with the East Indies and Egypt Naval Squadron until August 1917, when they were released back into the merchant service.


    Stuart Hadaway has spent eight years working with regimental mumseums around the UK, including as curator of the RAF Museum, before joining the Air Historical Branch (RAF) as a researcher for the official historians of the RAF. He is the author of Pyramids and Fleshpots, which tells the true story of the experiences and achievements of British military personnel serving in Egypt in the First World War fighting a determined enemy to protect the Suez Canal – the lifeline of the Empire.

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    The days before the First and Second Battle of Ypres differed greatly. First Ypres was characterised by manoeuvre and ‘the fog of war’. For commanders to build up a clear intelligence picture in what was a rapidly changing situation was extremely difficult. Aircraft were available but they were not  sophisticated machines – and the combination of pilot and observer in many of them was to ensure that one of the crew could give complete attention to spotting enemy troop movements, batteries or positions. The pilot often needed his full attention to keep the aircraft flying. Tethered observation balloons were also used and here a field telephone link meant that information could be passed rapidly to headquarters and their staff.

    Radio communications were a very recent development, and as such they were cumbersome and unreliable. The First World War would see huge improvements in size and reliability, however communications would still rely on techniques that dated from the nineteenth century. Runners at company and battalion level would carry messages – crossing terrain in which there were few obvious reference points and sometimes doing this at night or in harsh weather was testing even for the fittest soldier.

    Flags, heliography or pyrotechnics could be a fast, if obvious, way of signalling and relied on line of sight and were not secure. Normally with flares a pre-arranged set of signals would have been laid down. Communication by field telephones was fast, but not reliable. Shell fire often cut the telephone lines, however deeply they were buried, and tracing and locating the break would mean that signallers had to cross exposed and dangerous terrain. Dogs and pigeons were also used to carry messages. The French and Germans favoured dogs which presented less of a target and could carry bigger messages than a pigeon. The British favoured pigeons and it is reported that 95 per cent of their messages reached their destinations.

    Once trench warfare had set in, it was easier in some respects to build up a picture of the battlefield. Both sides printed detailed trench maps showing the frontline and secondary trenches, communications trenches and other positions. Aerial photography ensured that these maps were up to date and  accurate. Behind these field fortifications were dumps of stores and ammunition and some of the Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries bear their names because regimental aid posts and clearing stations were co-located. What the days before battle were like depended on whether the soldier was going to be part of an offensive or whether he would be on the receiving end. For men destined to be attacked there might be unusual air activity as hostile commanders attempted to build up as detailed a picture as possible. The pattern of artillery fire might change as new batteries brought up to support the offensive registered their guns. Trench raids might be launched to gain localised intelligence and  dominate no man’s land and drive in the opposing patrols.

    For men about to be part of an attack there would be briefings about objectives and also morale boosting pep talks. These could backfire when, having been promised a ‘walk over’, attacking troops found their way blocked by uncut wire and unsuppressed machine guns. From spring 1915 at Ypres some of the British attacks were preceded by the explosion of mines buried deep under German trench lines. For the troops waiting the detonation – far bigger than any weight of artillery – the sight was spectacular and reassuring. The artillery bombardment would follow and then the men would scramble up ladders that had been brought forward into the trenches and start the steady advance across no man’s land towards the enemy.


    Battle Story: Ypres

    Ypres was a medieval town known for its textiles; however, it became infamous during the Great War with trench warfare, poison gas and many thousands of casualties. As the German Army advanced through Belgium, it failed to take the Ypres Salient. On 13 October 1914, German troops entered Ypres. On looting the city, the Germans retreated as the British Expeditionary Force advanced. On 22 November 1914, the Germans commenced a huge artillery barrage killing many civilians. Today the battlefields of Ypres contain the resting place of thousands of German and British soldiers. Battle Story: Ypres explores the first and second battles of Ypres through narrative, eye-witness accounts and images.

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    The shrapnel-pocked gate of the Cloth Hall at Ypres in 2011 – a small survivor from the ancient building. Little of the original building survives – the structure that stands over the market square was built in the 1920s and ’30s.

    The town of Ypres has a long history. There are reports that a community on its site was raided by the Romans in the first century BC. It was in the Middle Ages that Ypres became a prosperous city with a vigorous linen trade with England and a population that grew to 40,000. Wealth and prosperity had its drawbacks and the hostile attention of jealous neighbours and rampaging armies made it necessary to fortify the city. Parts of the early ramparts, dating from 1385, still survive near the Rijselpoort (Lille Gate). Work on the famous Cloth Hall that would become a landmark in the First World War began in the thirteenth century. Over time, the earthworks were replaced by sturdier masonry ramparts and a partial moat.

    Ypres was further fortified in the 17th and 18th centuries while under the occupation of the Hapsburgs and the French. Major works were completed at the end of the 17th century by the French military engineer Sebastien Le Prestre, Seigneur de Vauban.

    It was the First World War that would bring the city to prominence. The town had been held against German attacks in 1914 in the First Battle of Ypres and like Malta or Stalingrad in the Second World War, it became of symbol of defiance. Ypres was the last major town in Belgium that had not been occupied by the Germans and so, to the Belgian people, it represented the last part of their homeland that was free.

    Prior to the First World War the neutrality of Belgium had been guaranteed by the major powers, including Britain, through an 1839 treaty and so Germany’s invasion of the country brought the British Empire into the war. However, Ypres was a strategic position during the First World War because it stood in the path of Germany’s planned sweep across the rest of Belgium and into France from the north. The Allies and particularly the British wanted to hold it because it was a key site to protect the Channel sea ports and associated shipping lanes, and a good point to advance from to seize Ostend and prevent the Germans using this port as a U-boat base.

    The Schlieffen Plan, the initial German attack on France through neutral Belgium, had ended in failure at the First Battle of the Marne in September 1914. This had forced the Germans to retreat and dig in on the line of the River Aisne where French and British attacks were unable to breach well-sited defences and fighting seemed to descend into a deadlock. In an effort by both parties to regain the initiative, French and German forces made progressive moves northward in vain attempts to outflank and envelop each others’ armies – this push north and west became known as ‘The Race for the Sea’, and eventually it reached its destination, with barbed wire entanglements being constructed to the water’s edge in Belgium. Repeated failures to outflank the enemy ensured the gradual extension of opposing trench lines as combatants sought cover from machine gun and artillery fire. By the end of 1914 the trenches would stretch from the North Sea to the Swiss border.

    In early October the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) relocated from the Aisne to Flanders, on the extreme left of the Allied line, and was ordered to probe north to Ypres. This coincided with simultaneous German moves westward and a series of confusing encounter battles ensued in which the larger German forces pushed the British back to an extended and thinly held line. It was during the relentless attacks on Ypres and its outlying villages between 19 October and 22 November 1914 that the famous Ypres Salient was created. 

    Initially the only British troops at Ypres were the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars (QOOH) – a yeomanry regiment attached to the Royal Naval Air Service which, as a personal initiative of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, had landed at Ostend in late August with 3,000 marines and a force of aircraft and armoured cars, in order to bolster the Belgian defence of their channel ports, particularly Antwerp. This force (known as the Antwerp Expedition) was rapidly expanded by two brigades of the Royal Naval Division (RND) and would eventually reach Antwerp only to be driven back on the night of 8 October. Their battle casualties amounted to 195, of which fifty-seven were killed.

    However, 936 men became prisoners of war and nearly 1,500 men of the Royal Marines and RND were cut off by the Germans. These men eventually managed to cross the Dutch border to be interned in camps. Among those retreating was the poet Rupert Brooke, who was later to die of blood poisoning on a French hospital ship, moored off the island of Skyros, while on the way to the Dardanelles. The QOOH – nicknamed in the British Army ‘Queer Objects on Horseback’, had been used to augment the Antwerp Expedition with the blessing of Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War. The regiment had had a historical link with the Churchill family since 1892. Winston Churchill had become a member in 1902 and his younger brother, Jack, was serving with them in 1914 when they became the first Territorial Force unit to see action. Until the arrival of the British 7th Division they were the only troops between the German Army and the Channel ports.

    The Germans actually managed to enter Ypres and a few local surrounding villages, before being forced back onto the ridges around the city by the British 7th Division which, landing at Zeebrugge on 6 October, posed a threat to the German commander, Erich von Falkenhayn’s rear. Corporal Charlie Parke and 2nd Battalion, Gordon Highlanders, 7th Division reached Ypres on 14 October after a punishing speed march of 103 miles in which the last 40 miles had been covered in a little under 40 hours. To the weary British, Ypres seemed as hrough the New Forest. The quaint old-fashioned Flemish town, lying sleepily by the side of a serene, tree-shaded canal, appeared very remote from war. At every cottage door were rosy-cheeked women with tempting jugs of wine since very few were T-totallers in the British contingent.

    The Ypres area has been described as being like a saucer, with the city of Ypres at the centre where the cup sits and the surrounding land to the north and east being the saucer rim. This gives an indication of the advantages of terrain and position that the Germans enjoyed for the greater part of the conflict. The German Army now surrounded the city on three sides, bombarding it throughout much of the war. In the years that followed, the British, French and Allied forces launched costly attacks from the Ypres Salient into the German lines on the surrounding ridge lines.

    In the First Battle of Ypres (19 October to 22 November 1914) the Allies recaptured the town from the Germans. The Second Battle of Ypres (22 April to 25 May 1915) is notable or notorious for the first large-scale use of chemical weapons by the Germans. With the assistance of these frightening new weapons they were able to capture high ground to the east of the town. 


    Battle Story: Ypres



    Ypres was a medieval town known for its textiles; however, it became infamous during the Great War with trench warfare, poison gas and many thousands of casualties. As the German Army advanced through Belgium, it failed to take the Ypres Salient. On 13 October 1914, German troops entered Ypres. On looting the city, the Germans retreated as the British Expeditionary Force advanced. On 22 November 1914, the Germans commenced a huge artillery barrage killing many civilians. Today the battlefields of Ypres contain the resting place of thousands of German and British soldiers. Battle Story: Ypres explores the first and second battles of Ypres through narrative, eye-witness accounts and images.

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    Cambridgeshire Folk Tales


    Maureen James will be at Huntingdon Library on Wednesday 29th October from 7-9pm talking about her new book, Cambridgeshire Folk Tales

    Modern-suit Cambridgeshire is a county of diverse landscapes: from the elegance of the university city and the rural delights of the old county of Huntingdonshire Isle of Ely, each district has its own identity and its own stories. Explore the antics of the inhabitants of the past, including Hereward the Saxon hero; the Fenland giant Tom Hickathrift; the pious Bricstan of Chatteris; the raconteur and skater Chaffe Legge; and Mr Leech, who was carried off by the Devil. You will also discover the hidden history of the area, including how the secret Brotherhood of the Grey Goose Feather helped King Charles I, and what really happened to King John’s treasure. These entertaining tales will delight readers both within Cambridgeshire and elsewhere.

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  • 10/23/14--00:00: Cold War: East Anglia
  • RAF Vulcan at an East Anglian Airbase

    What would life have been like in East Anglia, one of the UK’s most vulnerable regions, had the Cold War turned ‘hot’ and, as was feared in the 1950’s and 60’s, the Soviet Union launched a pre-emptive nuclear attack on the UK?

    One can only guess at the nightmare scenario.  But Cold War planning in Whitehall gives some inkling of what those who survived may have faced.

    With the Prime Minister and his leading Cabinet colleagues deep underground in the government’s  central bunker at Corsham in Wiltshire, the rest of the UK would have been placed under the control of twelve senior Ministers appointed to the role of Regional Commissioner. In the case of East Anglia, had the Cuban Crisis deteriorated by 1963 into nuclear conflict, the regional commissioner would have been Suffolk MP John Hare, Minister of Labour in Macmillan’s Conservative government. He would have been vested with draconian powers of life and death over those who survived. So extensive were the powers intended to be devolved to Ministers appointed to their own regional fiefdoms, the draft Emergency Powers Bill which contained them was kept under lock and key in Whitehall for fear that if ever it had to enacted under the shadow of nuclear attack it would have been considered a voluntary abdication by Parliament of the whole of its functions. In East Anglia democracy would have given way to autocratic rule from the Commissioner’s Cambridge war-room. No one outside the secret confines of Whitehall had sight of these drastic proposals over life and liberty, property, and the distribution of food and water until the draft bill was declassified and the file containing its details lodged in the National Archives nearly 40 years later.

    Because of the number of strategic sites which peppered East Anglia during the Cold War, particularly the early years until the mid to late 1960’s, the region was hugely vulnerable in any Soviet strike. Winston Churchill famously called it ‘the target and perhaps the bull’s eye of a Soviet attack’. East Anglia was host to America’s front-line nuclear response, as well as to a large proportion of the UK’s V-force, and from 1958, launch pads for the first operational nuclear missiles in the Western armoury.

    There would have been volunteers who would have faced the terror of nuclear war, isolated from their families, inside more than a hundred cramped bunkers, deep below the East Anglia countryside. Their task was the recording and measurement of nuclear strikes and tracking the subsequent clouds of deadly fall-out so that warning could be given to their fellow citizens. Volunteer Royal Observer Corps members who were also part of the UK’s Warning and Monitoring chain, staffed the group bunkers where the grim facts of nuclear attack would be processed  The Commandant of No. 6 Group ROC, whose headquarters was a bunker located in Norwich, had one overriding fear beyond that of the dreadful reality of nuclear confrontation – that his underground operations centre, capable of accommodating over 200 people, would be overrun by terrified members of the public desperately fighting for a place to shelter from an imminent nuclear attack.

    Was life even possible after thermonuclear bombardment?  Could indeed the nation state survive it? The British Government hid its deepest fears, concerned that public morale would break down if the true facts were known. But prospects of survival for much of East Anglia were bleak.    

       Cold War East Anglia By Jim Wilson OBE

    Jim Wilson OBE, is the author of Cold War: East Anglia, the story of how the Cold War impacted on the people of East Anglia. Had nuclear conflict broken out, the region would have found itself as the target for any Soviet strike for the simple reason that it housed the launch pad for not only the British deterrent, but also America’s first line of defence. The book also examines the early development of the UK’s nuclear arsenal with ballistic and environmental testing of nuclear bombs at Orfordness and storage and maintenance at one of the country’s most secret sites, Barnham. Cold War: East Anglia reveals a number of the secrets of the years of confrontation, and looks at what life might have been like had the Cold War turned ‘hot’. 

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    Their Name Liveth for Evermore


    Andrew Arnold will be at Waterstones, Sutton on Thursday 23rd October from 6-7pm signing copies of his new book, Their Name Liveth for Evermore: Carshalton’s First World War Roll of Honour

    Carshalton in Surrey was deeply affected by the First World War: over 1,900 local men enlisted to fight. Of those men, 243 lost their lives and are commemorated on the war memorial. As we find ourselves commemorating the centenary of the war, it is more important than ever that these men are not forgotten. Drawing on over six years of research, this book brings together the stories of the lives – and deaths – of these men. Utilising a wide variety of sources and complemented by many previously unseen photographs, their stories are told here, from the fourteen sets of brothers who were killed, to the devastating effect of the Somme campaign in which nineteen local men lost their lives on the opening day alone. 

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    Haunted Teesside


    Rebecca Hall will be at Middlesbrough Central Library on Friday 24th October from 7pm signing copies of her new book, Haunted Teesside

    From unexplained sightings to the search for evidence of ghosts, this book contains a chilling range of spooky tales from the towns and villages scattered along the banks of the River Tees. Compiled by paranormal investigator Rebecca Hall, this collection features eyewitness sightings in long-abandoned factories, cold spots in public houses, poltergeists in council houses and many other unexplained phenomena. Richly illustrated with over fifty pictures, Haunted Teesside is guaranteed to make your blood run cold

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    Great War Britain Kidderminster: Remembering 1914-18


    Sally Dickson and the Kidderminster & District Archaeological & Historical Society will be at the  Museum of Carpet bookshop on Friday 24th October launching their new book, Great War Britain Kidderminster: Remembering 1914-18

    The First World War claimed over 995,000 British lives, and its legacy continues to be remembered today. Great War Britain: Kidderminster offers an intimate portrayal of the town and its people living in the shadow of the 'war to end all wars'. A beautifully illustrated and highly accessible volume, it describes local reaction to the outbreak of war; charts the experience of individuals who enlisted; the changing face of industry; the work of the town's hospitals; the effect of the conflict on local children; the women who played a vital role on the home front; and concludes with a chapter dedicated to how the town and its people coped with the transition to life in peacetime once more. The Great War story of Kidderminster is told through the voices of those who were there and is vividly illustrated through evocative images from the archives of local families, the Museum of Carpet and the Kidderminster Shuttle.

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    Operation Unthinkable


    Jonathan Walker will be at the Polish Hearth Club, London on Friday 24th October giving a talk about his book, Operation Unthinkable: The Third World War: British Plans to Attack the Soviet Empire 1945

    As the war in Europe entered its final months, the world teetered on the edge of a Third World War. In Operation Unthinkable Jonathan Walker presents a haunting study of the war that so nearly was. He outlines the motivations behind Churchill’s plan, the logistics of launching a vast assault against an enemy who had bested Hitler, potential sabotage by Polish communists, and he speculates whether the Allies would have succeeded had the operation gone forward. Well supported by a wide range of primary sources from the Churchill Archives Centre, Sikorski Institute, National Archives and Imperial War Museum, this is a fascinating insight into the upheaval as the Second World War drew to a close and former alliances were shattered. Operation Unthinkable became the blueprint for the Cold War. 

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