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The History Press blog

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    Haunted Kirkcaldy

     

    Gregor Stewart will be at Waterstones, Kirkcaldy on Thursday 30th October from 7pm doing a talk and signing copies of his 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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  • 10/24/14--05:30: The Friday Digest 24/10/14
  • THP Friday digest


    This week's update features 'tales from the India office', the history of the swastika and a giant poppy.


    Private Robert Bryant left Port Melbourne on board HMAT Orvieto, for WWI on October 20, 1914.


    * The granddaughters of a First World War veteran reflect on his departure from Melbourne for the Great War.


    ARTHUR ROBERTS, who grew up in Tradeston, chronicled his time fighting at the front. His diaries were recovered and now form the basis for As Good As Any Man: Scotland's Black Tommy.


    * One of the few black soldiers from Glasgow who fought in the First World 
War has been immortalised in a 
new book after his lost diaries were found in an attic in Glasgow.


    Soldiers lower one of the World War I soldiers into his final resting place. Credit: MoD


    * A look at the fifteen British soldiers from the First World War being reburied 100 years on


    Sub-Lieutenant Edwin Dyett who was executed following a Court Martial during the First World War


    The Welshman shot for desertion in the First World War.


    A German soldier stands by a row of Fokker DR-1 tri-planes on an airfield in Germany


    * How the First World War changed aviation forever.


    GCHQ and Gloucestershire Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal 2014
     

    Giant poppy made by 1,400 GCHQ intelligence agency staff to commemorate Remembrance day. 

     

    Mammoth tusk bird figurine

     

    How the world loved the swastika  until Hitler stole it.


    Dartmouth and Kingswear


    The secrets of the agents trained to blow up the city of Plymouth


    ‘For the Sake of Freedom’: British World War II Propaganda Posters in Arabic - See more at: http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/untoldlives/2014/02/for-the-sake-of-freedom-british-world-war-ii-propaganda-posters-in-arabic.html#sthash.qVfMetJD.dpuf

     

    ‘For the sake of freedom’: British Second World War propaganda posters in Arabic.


    Muscat (1811)


    * Tales from the India Office.


    Women bowing


    * The forgotten women of the 'war in the East'.


    Advertisements by Abram Games. Advertisements by Abram Games See Britain by Train (1951) / Jersey (1951) (Copyright: Estate of Abram Games / Jersey Tourism)


    Abram Games: posters that framed the nation


    Punch cartoon, 'A Drop of London Water

     

    * As the 150-year anniversary of the UK's first modern sewer system approaches, WaterAid are inviting communities to get involved in their Big History Project to help piece together the history of taps and toilets across the country.


    Russell Edwards, left, and Dr Jari Louhelainen with the shawl


    * The scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer, Jack the Ripper, has 'made serious DNA error' according to new research.  


    In London, the River Cycleway Consortium Ltd has proposed the development of a seven-mile “Thames Deckway” would stretch along the South Bank from Battersea to Canary Wharf. The organisation suggests it would cost as much as £600million to build and were construction to go ahead it would radically alter the appearance of the river. Here we look at some of the other plans, both brilliant and bewildering, that could drastically change London in the future... Picture: River Cycleway Consortium


    Is this how London will look in the future? 


    n the outskirts of Coventry, at Gibbet Hill, the first buildings of the University of Warwick were rising in readiness for the initial intake of students. 30th October 1964.


    * A number of old images of the University of Warwick are revealed as the 50th anniversary approaches.


    In July 1991, Ben Bradlee, not quite 70, retired as executive editor of The Post amid an outpouring of emotion. Staff writer Nora Boustany, in a telegram from Beirut, called him “the grand, brave man of the news.” (The Washington Post)

     

    Ben Bradlee, legendary Washington Post editor, has died at the age of 93

     

    Terror and Wonder


    The love of all things creepy  how women were the early Goths.

    * The appeal of the historical murder mystery.


    All lit up ... Waterstones in Piccadilly, London, where a lucky few will spend Friday night. Photograph: Airbnb.com


    * Waterstones to hold 'sleepover' this evening following tourist lock-in.  


    Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has said he learns more from novels than nonfiction. JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images


    * Twelve books Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos thinks everyone should read

     

    Cafe society: French philosopher-writers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Photograph: David E Scherman/Time & Life Pictures/Getty


    * Is Jean-Paul Sartre really more relevant now than ever? 

     

    Dylan Thomas shed. Thomas wrote poems such as Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night, Over Sir John’s Hill and Poem on His Birthday inside this hut, with a view of the hills, the town of Laugharne and the Taf estuary below. Photograph: Roy Shakespeare/LOOP IMAGES/Loop Images/Corbis


    * The five best writers' sheds – in pictures


    Puzzle fan … Gollum, in the riddle scene from An Unexpected Journey. Photograph: AP


    * Riddle me this: Harry Potter and literature’s most fiendish head-scratchers.


    Nick Sharrat halfway through his hippo doodle. Photograph: Marta Bausellls/Vine


    * Watch children’s illustrators in action!  


    Put those books away (but only if you are not enjoying them) Photo: Chev Wilkinson/Alamy


    * Can't get into highbrow novels? 'Ditch them', says Nick Hornby
     

    The joys of judging the Man Booker prize
     

    How soon will the majority of books be self-published?

    Kobo President Michael Tamblyn warns indie authors that they are next on Amazon's hit list but do you agree? 
     

    The dos and don’ts of writing a blurb for your novel.


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


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  • 10/25/14--01:30: Military commanders at Ypres
  • Some of the officers who commanded forces at the First Battle of Ypres would remain at the salient – rising in rank and responsibility. For some it was the graveyard of their careers. A few were sacked but others were posted away to less challenging commands. The French Army had a slang word – Limogé – implying that the failed general had been posted to the city of Limoges far from the front where he would be given a titular command. As casualty rates mounted there were personality clashes at the highest level with officers angered by what they saw as crass or ill-thought through plans and tactics. However the Ypres Salient would also be the proving ground for outstanding British commanders, men like Allenby and Rawlinson. It was perhaps, even more so than the Somme, the defining of the lions and the donkeys. The challenge of command at Ypres was the ever-changing nature of the war that saw those early days of the ‘Race to the Sea’ descend into the stasis of the trenches, and it is in many ways unsurprising that men who had honed their generalship in the Boer War struggled with the sheer industrial nature of the conflict that was to come.


    Click on the links below to read more about the military commanders of Ypres:


    * British military commanders at Ypres

    * French military commanders at Ypres

    * German military commanders at Ypres

     

    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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    Bayley Lane St Mary's Hall. Image (c) Coventry City Council.


    On St Lambert’s Day, 17 September 1397, King Richard II pitched his tents on open ground outside the town of Coventry and prepared to witness a fight to the death between two of his closest associates.

    The king had ordered this trial by combat to settle a bitter feud between his cousin Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Hereford, and Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, a close adviser. At its heart lay accusations of treason against the king and Richard, it was claimed, had brought an army of ten thousand knights with him, just in case.

    It was to be a fateful moment in an already teetering reign. As the two men took up their positions on horseback at either end of the lists, ready to charge, Richard called a halt and exiled both of them. Within two years Bolingbroke had returned to defeat the king’s armies and seize the crown as Henry IV, imprisoning the hapless Richard and almost certainly having him murdered.

    A pivotal moment in the long build-up to the Wars of the Roses, or the Cousins’ War, as the conflict was known at the time, the ‘duel that never was’ on Gosford Green is now no more than a footnote in a story that changed the course of English history.

    And so is Coventry, one of the biggest and wealthiest towns in England at the time, but now regarded as a twentieth-century industrial town hammered to pieces by the Luftwaffe and re-built in a style reminiscent of Communist East Germany.

    It wasn’t always so. William Shakespeare, in childhood almost certainly a spectator at Coventry’s famous mystery plays, gave the place nearly a dozen name-checks in his histories. Every monarch until the Hanoverians made it a compulsory port-of-call on their royal perambulations and as late as 1919 a journalist writing for the Illustrated London News could describe the place as ‘arguably the best-preserved medieval city in Europe’.

    Yet while its rivals at the top of the fourteenth century rich list – York, Bristol and Norwich – are justly celebrated for their history, Coventry has slipped out of the public imagination as a place of any age at all, its relevance now confined to the proximity of the two great Midlands castles of Kenilworth and Warwick.

    It is time to alter that perception. The city still possesses, in the Guildhall of St Mary, an extraordinary living reminder of a turbulent but colourful fifteenth century, in which Coventry was for a long time the crucible of the Lancastrian cause, a place so important to Henry VI’s wife Margaret of Anjou that it was known as ‘the Queen’s bower.’

    In that guildhall, in stained glass and tapestry, can be seen two of the most important works of art to come out of that century. And across a narrow lane stands the parish church of St Michael, better known to us now as the cathedral the Luftwaffe destroyed in 1940. It was that church that Henry VI unofficially consecrated in 1451, when, acknowledging Coventry’s importance, he granted the place the right to call itself city and county.

    Coventry has the buildings, the record archive and most importantly the story, to be a key focus for the study of what came before 1485, a date still viewed as the birth of modern England.

    But this is not just about the Wars of the Roses. The ‘history’ for which Coventry is best known, Lady Godiva’s naked ride, may be myth. But the town was a key centre for religious dissent in the fourteenth century, home to many Lollards. It played a significant role in the Civil Wars of the seventeenth century, losing its nationally famous stone wall for its defiance to Charles I, and it was the place that the novelist George Eliot immortalised in Middlemarch, an old weaving town struggling to come to terms with the modern age of railways and hospitals.

    The story of Coventry over a thousand years is one of seismic change and a series of Year Zero moments, which is probably why it has slipped out of sight to many historians, a species that values continuity, surely, above much else.

    Now considering a City of Culture Bid, the city itself is discovering a new interest in its eventful and colourful past. It’s time the rest of the world did too.


    The Story of Coventry

     

    Peter Walters is the author of The Story of Coventry which traces the evolution of the city, from the myths of Godiva, through to the issues, challenges and opportunities facing it in the twenty-first century. Exploring Coventry'€™s heritage through records, architectural developments and anecdotes, it reveals a fascinating and much misunderstood city, whose history is often overshadowed by its bombing during the Second World War.


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    Changing the constitution – so what’s new? We’ve been here before! In 1688/89 King James II was pushed off the throne by William of Orange and his wife Mary.  As a result of this ‘Glorious Revolution’ the powers of our monarchs were restricted and Parliament was given a much greater say in the way that we are governed. Many of the democratic freedoms which we enjoy today go back to those days of heady excitement and change. Perhaps history is about to repeat itself! 

    When Charles II died in 1685 he was succeeded by his brother James. Everybody hoped that James would turn out to be a good ruler, although there were a few hints that all might not go smoothly. What worried people most was that he showed signs of wanting to impose his own Catholic beliefs onto the whole country, so stirring up the kind of religious strife and possible bloodshed that everyone dreaded.

    Despite a promising start it was not long before James began to show himself in his true colours. He used a rebellion by his nephew the Duke of Monmouth as an excuse to set up a standing army – something which was especially obnoxious to a people who still had painful memories of the Civil War. He claimed special powers (‘dispensation’) which enabled him to ride roughshod over the law of the land when it suited him. Judges who opposed him in court were summarily dismissed, and in a famous case seven bishops who stood up to his bullying tactics were put on trial (they were acquitted).  Meanwhile James worked ceaselessly to insinuate Catholics and their sympathisers into positions of influence and authority, intending that they should eventually become the dominant presence in both Church and State.

    Such goings-on could no longer be tolerated. Powerful politicians contacted James’s Dutch nephew and son-in-law, William of Orange (whose wife Mary was James’s eldest surviving daughter), and invited him to cross the sea with an army and ‘liberate’ England.  This suited William very well, as he hoped to make use of British resources and manpower in his ongoing resistance in Europe to the attacks of the power-hungry Louis XIV. Backed by a formidable force, he landed at Torbay in November 1688 and at once began to march towards London. Although James tried to make a stand with his army at Salisbury Plain, large-scale desertions took place and his support rapidly melted away. Eventually William, who had finally arrived in London, allowed him to escape to France.

    A problem now arose. Had James gone for good, or was he merely an absentee monarch? What was the position of William and his wife Mary, James’s daughter and heir? (In fact James had a son, born just before William’s arrival, but his claim to the throne was ignored.) Could Mary reign as Queen with William as her Consort? William soon made it clear that he was having none of this; either he would rule or he would go, leaving the door open for James to stage a come-back. Presented with this ultimatum, Parliament had little choice. The crown of England was offered to William and Mary as joint rulers, and they accepted. They also accepted the Scottish crown which was offered soon afterwards.

    James made one more attempt to regain his power, by returning not to England but to Ireland where he could rely on the support of the Catholic community. But William pursued him and finally defeated him at the Battle of the Boyne, after which James returned to permanent exile in France.

    Before inviting William and Mary to rule, Parliament made sure that in future it controlled the monarch, not the other way round, and also that it had the final word on taxation and defence spending. These and other momentous changes which were made then still affect our lives today.  It seems the time may now have come to make further changes to the political and social landscape which first began to take shape in 1688/89.
     


    Michael I. Wilson was senior curator at the National Art Library at the Victoria & Albert Museum. He is the author of Happy and Glorious: The Revolution of 1688 and biographies including, William Kent and Nicholas Lanier, first Master of the King's Music. 


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    The white wooden church in Honningsvåg was the only building to survive the scorched earth burning of the town. Today it’s a symbol of the total destruction of northern Norway during the war. Picture used with permission of the Nordkappmuseet in Honningsvåg.

    Northern Norway: rugged coastlines, beautiful nature, Midnight Sun. But a border with the Soviet Union and a direct road to Murmansk made it the perfect place for Nazi generals to launch a strategic punch against Stalin in June 1941’s invasion of the USSR.

    Despite a massive build-up of troops and weapons, the northern breakthrough didn’t happen. The Germans dug in, supplying the front through the Norwegian fishing town of Kirkenes which was turned into a fortress. The northern coast bristled with guns, anticipating an Allied attack. The German soldiers stationed across the north vastly outnumbered the civilian population – and living alongside each other, friendships developed; children were born.

    In October 1944 the three-year stalemate in the Arctic was broken.The Red Army launched a huge counter-offensive to push the invaders out of the USSR: the German answer was a scorched earth retreat across northern Norway, destroying everything that might have been of use to their enemy: buildings, harbours, bridges – even the telephone lines.

    The Germans tried to forcibly evacuate the population of sixty thousand people to the south just before winter set in. The Nazis said they were saving them from Bolshevism – but thousands of Norwegians had other ideas and fled, barely surviving in caves and on remote islands. Somehow, this dramatic period has been forgotten outside northern Norway.

    The Nazis pulled 230,000 men and a mountain of supplies and munitions back to the mountains around Tromso, using Soviet POWs as slave labour to build gun positions and bunkers. Underfed, badly treated and working in sub zero temperatures with little protection from the elements, many succumbed to starvation and brutal treatment - or were literally worked to death.

    The Russians liberated Kirkenes in October 1944 but the north of Norway was reduced to ashes. Norwegian troops returned to take control of the liberated areas but found themselves running rescue and relief operations. When the war ended in May 1945 the full scale of the destruction was clear… everything had been destroyed.

    Some families defied government advice and the lack of shelter to go back and begin rebuilding their lives. Women who had been too friendly with German servicemen now faced the wrath of their neighbours. The Soviet prisoners were sent home to a country which no longer wanted them. Northern Norway had paid a heavy price for its brief strategic importance in Hitler’s military ambitions - and seventy years later, the people whose roots are in the north are still counting the cost of the Nazis’ scorched earth retreat.

    Vincent Hunt is the author of Fire and Ice. He is an award winning BBC documentary journalist. Here he travels across the Arctic gathering the compelling and often shocking personal stories of the scorched earth destruction of Northern Norway by the Nazis.


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    The Murder Squad will be at Linghams Booksellers, Wirral on Wednesday 12th November from 6pm, signing copies of their book, Best Eaten Cold and other Stories.  

    The Murder Squad’, a collection of Northern crime writers   which includes Martin Edwards, Cath Staincliffe, Anne Cleeves (inventor of ‘Vera’- as seen on telly!), Kate Ellis, Chris Simms and Margaret Murphy.  Tickets are on sale at the shop now. 

    'Best Eaten Cold’ and Other Stories showcases a group of highly regarded, award-winning crime writers who all share a special passion for crime, which is reflected in this superb new volume. Funny and sad, atmospheric and dark, ingenious and frightening, each of the thirteen stories in this collection will thrill lovers of crime fiction.


     


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  • 10/30/14--02:00: The armies at Ypres
  • Belgian and British troops fight alongside each other at Ypres. (The War Illustrated Album DeLuxe, Vol. 1, Amalgamated Press, London, 1915, Courtesy of the Great War Photo Achive: www.gwpda.org.uk)

    One of the most fought over areas of France, Ypres was to witness the full devastating force of the opposing German and Entente armies pitted against each other during four years of conflict. As a battleground it would bear the marks of the German army’s heavy artillery bombardments and see the war of manoeuvre descend into entrenchment, with deep furrows cut into the landscape in which men would live in mud for the duration of the war that was to come.

    The fighting here saw the armies on both sides transform from those that set out to win a fast-paced ‘Race to the Sea’ into a morass of mass-conscripts forced to embrace the mechanisation of battle and the everyday life of warfare. The ‘Old Contemptibles’ of the British Expeditionary Force were virtually wiped out here to be replaced and replenished by Kitchener’s Army of volunteers and later conscripts. The notion of cavalry charges and ground gains in battle became almost mythical for both armies; and the weapons of war were to change from the cavalry sword to the machine gun, trench mortar and, most controversially, poison gas.

    For many German, French, Belgian, British and Commonwealth troops, Ypres would be their baptism of fire in modern warfare.

    Click on the links below to read more about the armies at Ypres:


    * The British Army at Ypres.

    * The French Army at Ypres.

    * The German Army at Ypres.

    * The Belgian Army at Ypres.

    * The Canadian Expeditionary Force at Ypres.

     

    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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    Gheluvelt by J P Beadle (Worcestershire Regiment Museum).

    On 31st October 1914 exhausted and depleted battalions of the 1st and 7th Divisions were holding a fragile line north of the Ypres–Menin Road at Gheluvelt. Greatly outnumbered by German forces who assaulted their lines, they held them back along the edge of the grounds of Gheluvelt Chateau. The 2nd Worcestershire Regiment, which could only muster 357 men after ten days of battle, was the only available battalion in reserve that came to their support in a desperate charge, preventing a German breakthrough at Gheluvelt, which would have driven through Ypres to the Channel Ports dividing the BEF from the French Army and potentially winning the war in 1914.

    The 2nd Worcestershire Regiment from the 2nd Division positioned in reserve at Polygon Wood woke up to German guns at 8.00 a.m. on 31st October. These barrages were targeting a thin line being held by depleted battalions from the 1st and 7th Divisions 1,000 yards east of the village of Gheluvelt, which was 5 miles south-east of the medieval town of Ypres, known as ‘Wipers’ to Tommies. German artillery directed a concentrated, heavy bombardment upon the British positions reducing Gheluvelt to rubble.

    The 1st South Wales Borderers, 2nd Welsh Regiment, 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers, 1st Scots Guards, 1st Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) and a company of the 2nd King’s Royal Rifle Corps from the 1st Division bore the brunt of this shelling and were quite helpless as the German guns dominated the ground making it impossible for them to move.

    As the shells fell upon Gheluvelt, thirteen German battalions converged upon this thin British line. They offered stubborn resistance but the British, who had been fighting since August 1914, could not stop the German advance. Close quarter fighting broke out and the line was severely weakened. By 11.00 a.m. the 2nd Welsh Regiment and 1st Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) were annihilated as their line was broken. The 2nd Welsh was reduced to 2 officers and 25 men and the 1st Queen’s had a battalion strength amounting to 32 men. By midday the British defence of Gheluvelt had capitulated and the village was in German hands.

    There was a significant gap in the British line. The situation was so serious that preparations were being made to evacuate British artillery in the event of a general retreat.

    The 1st South Wales Borderers, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel H.E. Burleigh Leach, was the only battalion able to offer any semblance of resistance. They were holding a line that runs along the eastern perimeter of Gheluvelt Chateau estate and they were in danger of being surrounded and isolated. This battalion alone stood in front of a German advance that intended to drive along the Menin Road through Ypres and then on to the Channel Ports. If it succeeded, then the British Expeditionary Force would be defeated and leave the French Army alone to face the German invaders.

    The 1st South Wales Borderers were greatly reduced in numbers, but they managed to convince the German forces that they were confronting a battalion, when in fact they were fighting at platoon strength. German forces would report that strong fortified redoubts obstructed them; in reality, the British defence was no more than a line of shallow trenches that could hold a couple of soldiers dispersed along the line at intervals of fifteen yards.

    The 2nd Worcestershires had been fighting continuously for ten days, which had left them feeling exhausted, but as they waited in reserve in Polygon Wood they could see the smoke billowing from Gheluvelt. They were the only available battalion in reserve that could be deployed to support the 1st South Wales Borderers. Brigadier-General FitzClarence VC was in overall control of the British forces holding the line across the Menin Road. After midday he decided to launch a counter attack and ordered that someone should be sent to him from the 2nd Worcesters to receive orders.

    Major Hankey commanding the 2nd Worcestershires, sent his Adjutant, Captain Bowcher Senhouse Clarke, who returned twenty minutes later with a message that the battalion were to standby by to take part in the ensuing battle. Hankey was ordered to deploy one company west of Gheluvelt to prevent the enemy from advancing along the Menin Road. At 12.45 p.m., A Company led by Captain P.S.G. Wainman advanced towards Gheluvelt. On their approach they passed several soldiers from the South Wales Borderers who were withdrawing ‘in disorder and thoroughly demoralised owing to the heavy shell fire they had been subjected to.’ (1). A Company consolidated a position along a railway embankment that ran north west of Gheluvelt. They were exposed to British and German shell fire. Here they fired upon enemy soldiers who were proceeding beyond the perimeter of Gheluvelt village, obstructing their path to Ypres. They held this position for two hours successfully covering the right flank.

    Major E B Hankey, commanding officer of the 2nd Worcestershire Regiment who led the charge on Gheluvelt on 31st October 1914 (worcesteregiment.com).

    At approximately 1.00 p.m. Brigadier-General Fitzclarence rode to Polygon Wood where he ordered the 2nd Worcestershires to prepare to launch a counter attack to regain Gheluvelt. He told Major Hankey, commander of 2nd Worcestershire Regiment, ‘to advance without delay and deliver a counter attack with the utmost vigour against the enemy who was in possession of Gheluvelt, and to re-establish our line there.’  FitzClarence instructed Hankey to use the church steeple at Gheluvelt as a point of reference to guide the advance. Staff Captain Andrew Thorne from 1st Guards Brigade accompanied Hankey part of the way to ensure that they were advancing in the correct direction.

    On immediate receipt of this order to advance on Gheluvelt, Major Hankey ordered Lieutenant Haskett-Smith and a scouting party of 6 men to cut wire entanglements ahead of the battalion’s path. These scouts advanced at 1.45 p.m. and prepared the way for the main counter attack force. The majority of these men were killed before they could cut the wire.

    At 2.00 p.m. the 2nd Worcestershires began their counter attack upon Gheluvelt from the south eastern perimeter of Polygon Wood known as Black Watch Corner. Abandoning their equipment and carrying only essential items, rifle with bayonet fixed, extra ammunition and water, three Companies comprising 7 officers and 350 men led by Major Hankey advanced 1,000 yards across open country exposed to enemy shellfire and shrapnel. They advanced in two lines. C and D Companies led the first wave, followed by B Company in support.  Smoke was rising from the blazing village. The burning church at Gheluvelt acted as a beacon for the 2nd Worcesters. As they charged in that direction they passed the wounded remnants of the depleted, shattered units that had defended the line at Gheluvelt that morning, who were withdrawing. Captain E.L. Bowring, commanding C Company recalled.

    ‘I noticed quite a number of stragglers going towards the rear. Many were wounded, and many had discarded their arms and equipment. They had a very scared appearance, and were certainly very much shaken.’(2).

    Despite signs of defeat and retreat, with formidable spirit they continued to advance.  They could not see what was happening at Gheluvelt and they were charging into the unknown. Bowring commented:

    ‘The village of Gheluvelt was visible through the trees, or rather the tops of the houses were, and so was the Church. I don’t think the chateau was visible from here, as it lay rather lower. The village was largely obscured in smoke and bursting shells, and part of it at any rate was on fire.’ (3).

    Shells and shrapnel continued to rain down upon the advancing 2nd Worcesters as they drew nearer to Gheluvelt. Bowring recalled:

    ‘Almost as soon as we commenced the original advance I remember hearing shells passing overhead, and as we advanced they came faster and faster. To start with I think they passed over every line, but soon they were falling in and bursting over the rear part of the battalion. I don’t think any of the shells burst actually in the spinney while we halted to re-form, and none burst just in front of us as we advanced, but during the last rush up to the Chateau grounds both heavies and shrapnel were bursting right among us. I think the tail part of the advance caught it most. The long rush over the ploughed field had naturally rather strung out the battalion, as the going was over heavy ploughed land.’(4).

    For 600 yards, trees in Polderhoek Wood on their left flank provided cover but from then on they were vulnerable to enemy machine gun and rifle fire. Polderhoek Ridge was covered with dead and wounded and as the Worcesters ascended to this position enemy shells and bullets peppered the ridge. Here they sustained 100 casualties before they reached the outskirts of the village. On reaching the crest of Polderhoek Ridge the pace of the charge greatly accelerated during the descent towards Gheluvelt. They were advancing on 1,200 men. Aware of these overwhelming odds, their objective to support the Welsh battalions and remove the Germans from Gheluvelt may be regarded as a suicide mission. There was no option but for the Worcesters to proceed across the heavily ploughed land indented with shell holes. But it was imperative that the British line be restored to prevent a humiliating defeat for the British Army.

    Unknown to Major Hankey, owing to lack of liaison, guns from the 41st Brigade RFA were supporting their advance. They approached a wood occupied by German infantry. The trees in this wood marked the perimeter of the chateau grounds. The Worcesters opened fire, charging with fixed bayonets into this wood, dispersing the enemy, with some retreating. They found themselves on the right flank of the South Wales Borderers position. German snipers and infantry were concealed in the ruins of Gheluvelt firing on their right flank. The 2nd Worcesters charged at them with fixed bayonets.

    The Worcesters had to break down fences and cut their way through hedges to enter the grounds of the chateau. Captain Bowring had to use his sword to hack through hedges while other men used entrenching tools to make a breach.

    Captain Senhouse Clarke, Adjutant 2nd Worcesters later wrote:

    ‘There was the Hun alright, but we had surprised him… There was a cheer and we charged as best we could over the last open ground. He began to withdraw, but his fight at such close quarters was feeble. A few Germans were bayonetted, though most were shot at point-blank range, but we hastened his retirement, cleared the chateau grounds and pushed on to the sunken road with our right on Gheluvelt church.’ (5).

    2nd Worcesters charge Gheluvelt (The Great War – Almalgamated Press published 1915).

    The Germans were not aware that the 2nd Worcesters were the only reinforcements. Had they had known this they may not have responded so hesitantly as the Worcesters broke through fences and hedges, then charged into the grounds of Gheluvelt Chateau. Bavarians from the 16th Reserve Infantry Regiment were in the grounds towards the rear of the South Wales Borderers’ position. They were looting the estate, with no expectation of counter attack. Bowring recalled:

    ‘I could see one or two officers at the entrance of what looked at that distance like a small dug-out, or it may have been a trench. There were a number of dead lying about on the left of this near the chateau. Our men were now pouring into the garden, and starting to advance across the lawn, when a fusilade started on our right and right rear from the direction of the plantation we had just come out of. There were shouts of “Here they are” and “send men here quickly”.(6).

    The 2nd Worcesters counter attack together with the resistance offered by the 1st South Wales Borderers had broken the German resolve to proceed beyond Gheluvelt. The Worcesters had transformed this defensive action into an offensive, causing the German impetus to be lost. The Germans were unaware that this sole battalion was the only reserve and that if they had defeated them that day nothing could have prevented them from entering Ypres and capturing the channel ports. The German soldiers were ambling in the grounds of the chateau, searching and looting the outer buildings and main house on the estate. Although they numbered 1,200, they were young, inexperienced soldiers from newly established units. Totally unprepared to react to the counter attack, and with many of their officers lost, they made little effort to resist the Worcesters. Captain Bowring:

    ‘There was a short length of shallow trench a little way ahead held by Germans, who were just bolting as our men came on. Lieutenant Biscoe told me afterwards that all the Germans had fled except one little man, who by the time they had got to the trench, had evidently jumped up and was taking point blank aim at Biscoe, when someone (Corpl. Slater?) shot him dead. He was so close that the point of his bayonet scratched Biscoe’s thumb.’ (7).

    Many Germans retreated at the sight of the charging Worcesters on the lawn in front of the chateau.  Other German soldiers were killed by arme blanche ‒ the bayonet. The 2nd Worcesters killed 100 German soldiers on this lawn (8).  There were many British and German dead and wounded lying in front of the restored line. Captain Bowring was surprised that the Germans did not open fire upon them as they crossed the lawn but later concluded in a report that the Germans were in retreat.

     Major Hankey had linked up with the South Wales Borderers who were defending the chateau grounds.  The South Wales Borderers were surrounded but they had effectively obstructed the German advance, despite the capture of Gheluvelt.  The 2nd Worcesters were unaware that the 1st South Wales Borderers were still holding on. The battalions were shocked to meet up. The 1st South Wales Borderers had been relieved by the 2nd Worcesters. Major Hankey approached Colonel H.E. Burleigh Leach commanding the South Wales Borderers, who was also a personal friend. “My God, fancy meeting you here!” said Major Hankey. Colonel Burleigh Leach with gratitude and a firm hand shake replied, “Thank God you have come.” (9). Those German soldiers who had not retreated were routed from the Gheluvelt estate. 

    As the Germans withdrew across a cabbage field to the east of the chateau, the Worcesters consolidated the ground. C and D Companies formed a line along the sunken road outside the grounds, B Company extending the line on the right flank. Gheluvelt village was still in German hands. German snipers from the 242nd Regiment hidden in nearby houses were able to fire upon the Worcesters in the sunken road; they had to be removed as soon as possible.

    Major Hankey sent patrols into the village and was able to force the snipers from their positions and capture some prisoners. He then ordered Captain Wainman to lead A Company from the defensive position held west of the village to finish the job and occupy Gheluvelt. Avoiding German and British shells that pounded the burning village they managed to clear the Germans after some hand to hand fighting and secure the line near to the church.

    By 3.30 p.m. Gheluvelt was in British hands and the line was restored. Major Hankey later wrote of Brigadier-General FitzClarence’s order, ‘I feel perfectly certain that by shoving us in at the time and place he did, the General saved the day. If he had waited any longer, I don’t think I could have got the battalion up in time to save the South Wales Borderers, and fill up the gap.’ (10).

    At 6.00 p.m. with no further reserves to consolidate the line at Gheluvelt General FitzClarence issued new orders that the line was to withdraw to defensive positions at Veldhoek, where they would be safe from German artillery. Under the cover of darkness and at ten-minute intervals the remnants of the BEF withdrew Company by Company along the Menin Road west towards the defensive line.

    During that evening it was decided that it was futile to maintain the thinly held line at Gheluvelt and the 2nd Worcesters together with surviving elements from the 1st and 2nd Divisions were ordered to withdraw to defensive lines near to Veldhoek. The Germans were cautious as they reentered Gheluvelt the following day.

    It was a dismal day for the British Army for many units were either completely annihilated or vastly reduced in numbers. Only 150 men from the 2nd King’s Royal Rifle Corps remained, the battalion had lost 408 men. The Royal Scots Fusiliers numbered 151 men, with its CO, Lieutenant Colonel A Baird Smith, his second in command and adjutant, captured. The 2nd Worcesters originally numbered 7 officers and 350 men, their decisive counter attack cost them 3 officers and 184 men. Their gallant charge had cost them half of their fighting strength.

    The battle at Gheluvelt, the defence by the battalions of the 1st Division and the charge by the 2nd Worcesters are significant in the history of the First World War for a number of reasons. Firstly, with superior numbers and overwhelming artillery fire, had the Germans known that they had broken the BEF line creating a substantial gap, they could have taken Ypres unopposed. With Ypres captured, the Germans were strategically placed to advance upon the Channel Ports, split the Allied forces and annihilate the BEF. The British were running out of men. Had no substantial reinforcements and the artillery was suffering a shortage of ammunition; the Germans had every advantage and the odds of success were strongly in their favour. The British defence at Gheluvelt was critical to the outcome of the First Battle of Ypres, of which it forms a part.

    Secondly, in the face overwhelming odds it was the stubborn determination of Divisions of the BEF and the desperate courage of one battalion, the 2nd Worcesters, that overcame this crisis.  31st October 1914 was indeed a black day for the British Army for the line had been broken, the BEF was close to total destruction and the command structure was paralysed when an enemy shell wiped out high level commanders. The British response at Gheluvelt is a testament to its command’s ability to successfully react in a crisis. The men were ordered to fight to the last and did so. The command structure was re-organised and reaffirmed control and the BEF restored their line on this decisive day.

     Gheluvelt Survivors (1926). Back row standing: Sgt. G. Tuton, R.Q.M.S. (O.R.S) E. Lugg, Sgt. W. Hamilton, Sgt. B. Drain. Front row seated: C.Q.M.S. S. Leigh M.M., Captain G. A. Sheppard, C.Q.M.S. T. Adkins M.M. (Worcestershirertegiment.com).

     

    Worcestershire Regiment Memorial at Gheluvelt. (Paul Kendall). 

    Notes

    1. National Archives: WO 95 1351: 2nd Worcestershires’ War Diary.
    2. Captain E.L. Bowring DSO Officer Commanding C Company 2nd Worcestershire Regiment, Worcestershire Regiment Museum.
    3. Captain E.L. Bowring DSO Officer Commanding C Company 2nd Worcestershire Regiment, Worcestershire Regiment Museum.
    4. Captain E.L. Bowring DSO Officer Commanding C Company 2nd Worcestershire Regiment, Worcestershire Regiment Museum.
    5. The Mons Star’ by David Ascoli P233.
    6. Captain E.L. Bowring DSO Officer Commanding C Company 2nd Worcestershire Regiment, Worcestershire Regiment Museum.
    7. Captain E.L. Bowring DSO Officer Commanding C Company 2nd Worcestershire Regiment, Worcestershire Regiment Museum.
    8. National Archives: WO 95/1345: 5 Infantry Brigade War Diary.
    9. ‘The Great War I Was There’ by Sir J A Hammerton P223.
    10. National Archives: WO 95/588, statement dated 15th August 1915.

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  • 10/31/14--06:30: The Friday Digest 31/10/14
  • THP Friday digest


    This week's update features why witches ride brooms, the 'British Schindlers' and the auction of Hitler's personal copy of Mein Kampf. 


    Vintage turn-of-the-century witch beckons ye to celebrate magic au naturelle.


    Why Do Witches Ride Brooms? - According to an article by Megan Garber at The Atlantic, they did it for the drugs.


    Fife Council archaeologist Douglas Speirs uncovered the Torryburn slab


    How to bury a witch - Lilias Adie, a poor woman who confessed to being a witch and having sex with the devil, died in prison before she could be tried, sentenced and burned.


    Powis Castle in Welshpool is haunted by a lady in black, the sound of a ghostly piano and the figure of a man in a gold-laced sui


    * Ten places to spot ghosts this Hallowe’en - Paranormal historian Paul Adams on the creepiest haunted castles, churches and theatres in the UK.

     


    Sir Nicholas Winton, centre, receives the Order of the White Lion from Czech President Milos Zeman in Prague


    * Sir Nicholas Winton, 'Britain's Schindler', 105, this week he recieved the Czech Republic's highest honour at a ceremony in Prague for saving hundreds of children from the Nazis.

     

     

    * See Here: when Sir Nicholas Winton was reunited with a woman he saved 


    Charles Coward, Princess Alice and Sofka Skipworth 

    * The other 'British Schindlers'  - Yad Vashem the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, recognises 21 British men and women on its list of the “righteous” - non-Jews whose heroic efforts helped ameliorate the suffering of Jews during the holocaust. 


    A copy of Mein Kampf found in Adolf Hitler's Munich apartment in 1945


    *Adolf Hitler's personal copy of Mein Kampf expected to fetch £62,000 as it goes under the hammer - the book was liberated from Hitler's personal Munich library by a US soldier in 1945.


    One of the world's most famous self-portraits, the 500-year-old, fragile, fading red chalk drawing of Leonardo da Vinci.


    The Leonardo hidden from Hitler in case it gave him magic powers - There is a myth that the gaze of Leonardo da Vinci in this self-portrait is so intense that those who observe it are imbued with great strength.


    The ceiling of a 17th Century wooden synagogue from Gwozdziec was painstakingly reconstructed


    Polish museum celebrates 1,000 years of Jewish life - Jews first settled in Poland in the early Middle Ages. From about the 17th Century until the beginning of the 20th Century, the country was the global centre of Jewish life.


    Bill Betts at Bovington tank museum. Photograph: Nicholas Wilton


    A tank veteran on Fury:  Bill Betts, now 91, was a radio operator on Sherman tanks during the second world war. He talks about the memories reignited by Fury, which stars Brad Pitt as a Sherman tank commander leading his team through Germany in 1945.


     She-soldiers fought alongside men and challenged social expectations


     * Viewpoint: Why are so few WW1 heroines remembered? - Their heroism was praised during the war but they were not always remembered in a positive light afterwards, says Prof Alison Fell.

     

     
    * Walk the War - Britain’s famed Blue Badge tourist guides are now bringing the Home Front alive with guided walks all over the country.

     Ben McBean runs 31 miles in the shape of a giant poppy to raise more money for the Royal British Legion


     * Ex-Royal Marine runs through London in the shape of a giant poppyBen McBean was 20 when he was badly injured in a landmine blast, now he runs 31 miles to raise money for the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal.


     

     

    Have there been lions in London since 1210? - London Zoo's three lionesses, Ruby, Heidi and Indi, will in November leave London until 2016, while a new home is built for them. It may mark the first time the capital has been without lions since the 13th Century.

     

     Displaying the Shroud in Turin, 1613. Engraving by Antonio Tempesta. AKG Images / De Agostini Picture Library

     

     * The Origins of the Shroud of Turin - There is enough uncertainty about the Shroud’s origins to convince some that it is the actual burial shroud of Christ.


     A plague doctor wearing his 'beak mask'. This mask would have been filled with lavender or other strong smelling substances which were thought to protect him from disease.

     

    * The Reputed Plague Pits in London - Overcrowded, dirty and  awash with sewage... it's hardly surprising that the bubonic plaugue flourished in the crowded streets of London. 


     'Shoulder to Shoulder': Siân Phillips plays Emmeline Pankhurst in the BBC drama

     

    The March of the Women - A BBC drama from 1974 highlights the tensions in writing feminist history.


    Painting, c. 1485. An artist's interpretation, since the only known direct portrait has not survived. (Centre Historique des Archives Nationales, Paris, AE II 2490)

     

    Joan of Arc: New Visions or Old? - Helen Castor asks if a medical diagnosis for Joan of Arc’s ‘visions’, first proposed in History Today in 1958, neglects the role of religion, all pervasive in the enchanted world of the Middle Ages.

     

     An 1882 print shows an Amazon, perhaps Penthesilea, Queen of the Amazons, about to spear a panther.

     

    Amazon Warriors Did Indeed Fight and Die Like Men - Archaeology shows that these fierce women also smoked pot, got tattoos, killed—and loved—men.



    * Bookseller Digital Census: fears over future-proofing - Only one in seven people think the industry is ready for the next stage in the digital revolution.
     
     

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


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    Guildhall Derry stained-glass window which commemorates the Three Irish Divisions, left the 36th, right the 10th and 16th. File:Great War Memorial Windows, Guildhall, Derry.jpg


    The use of religious language and imagery in the memorialisation of the First World War helped to transform the fact of mass death and slaughter into the memory of brave and meaningful sacrifice. Christian iconography provided the predominant method of memorialisation, in both popular and official capacities. Despite the lack of focus on religion in much of the historiography surrounding the conflict, the ways in which the Great War is commemorated are dominated by religious language and imagery. According to some interpretations, the appropriation of Christian iconography by the state in its attempts to commemorate the war dead represented the efforts of a calculated union between church and nation to transcend the horrors of the war, and present to the grieving British population a more sanitised and justifiable version of the conflict. Rather than confronting the reality of the war, the fallen soldiers were ‘made sacred’ through the process of memorialisation. Articulated by authors and poets whose lives were profoundly changed by the events of 1914 - 1918, this idea has permeated throughout the historiography of the First World War.

    However, it is my contention that during and after the war there was an instinctive and popular reach for the language and imagery of religion to express and come to terms with the British public’s grief and losses in the war. The universality of mourning and bereavement in Britain during and after the Great War created the need for a response to the mass grief prompted by mass death; religious iconography provided a palliative language of comfort and reassurance for the bereaved. Approximately six million men from the United Kingdom fought in the First World War, and around one in eight were killed. Some 722,785 British citizens died as a direct result of the war, and over one million from the Empire as a whole. Of the men aged between twenty and twenty four in 1914, 30.58 per cent died, and of those aged thirteen to nineteen, 28.15 per cent were killed. Grief and bereavement came to almost every family in the country.[1] In the search for a language to express the loss, grief and bereavement coursing through Britain, Christian tradition was the natural place to turn. Widespread pre-war church attendance, the prevalence of religious education and general familiarity with the Bible and its teachings provided the bereaved with an easily recognisable language of loss and comfort. The use of Christian language and imagery were to become an enduring feature in memorials of the conflict, both physical and rhetorical.
     

    The unveiling ceremony on 11 November 1920. Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cenotaph_Unveiling,_1920.jpg


    British war memorials; the Cenotaph and the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior in London, along with smaller local memorials, provide evidence of the popularity of religious forms in commemoration of the war. However, it is clear that official efforts of the church and state were not always capable of satisfying the wants and needs of all sections of the public. Popular religiosity; a grassroots, instinctive religious feeling was the prevalent characteristic of religious expression during and after the war, rather than orthodox Church of England doctrine. The unofficial shrines that sprang up across London from as early as 1914 are proof of a religious feeling and a desire to remember loved ones in religious and local terms not necessarily affiliated with Church of England orthodoxy or national forms of remembrance.

    Religious language was also a source of comfort to families who lost loved ones, or feared for their loved ones safety. The government and other secular institutions recognised the effectiveness of religious language and imagery, first in mobilising the nation for war and maintaining morale, and later in comforting the bereaved and finding meaning in the mass death. Religious imagery can be found in secular speeches and the press; with the mobilisation of men came a mobilisation of a tradition of high diction which added weight and gravity to some secular exhortations and brought them into the realm of the sacred.  Language of sacrifice was widely employed to give meaning to the slaughter of soldiers in the war, and this became an enduring image of the conflict, constantly reiterated in speeches, sermons, literature and memorials.

    In the use of religious language and imagery, the state was able to memorialise the war in terms of a sacred experience; through the peaceful beautiful cemeteries and memorials, and the high diction which raised the fallen soldiers to the status of saints and martyrs. By some interpretations this represented a calculated sanctification of the horror of war, lifting memory of the conflict above and away from its reality. However rather than an imposition of the state’s will upon a bereaved and grieving nation, the use of Christian iconography in response to the war can also be regarded as a necessary step in the bereavement process, the result of a popular desire for comfort and consolation as thousands across the United Kingdom attempted to come to terms with the loss of their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers in the Great War.

    War memorial: A memorial to World War I in the grounds of an old parish church in West Sussex, England. Image from http://www.rgbstock.com/bigphoto/oqHe1DY

     

    Jasmine Ryder McGiff is a history graduate, with a First Class degree from the University of Nottingham, who recently completed an MA at the University of Warwick.


    [1] David Cannadine, ‘War and Death, Grief and Mourning in Modern Britain’, in Joachim Whaley (ed.), Mirrors of Mortality: Studies in the Social History of Death (London, 1981), p. 197. 


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    ‘Everyone does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay’ - Christopher Hitchins.

    I share a city of birth, a university, and the fact that our fathers served in HMS Jamaica ( but at different times) with the late Mr Hitchins. I do not share his view on this, not because I think everyone has a book in them that ought to see the light of day, but rather because I actually believe that not everyone has a book in them at all, at least not a novel.

    Just as there are people who are tone deaf, and for whom music is a meaningless cacophony, there are those whose imagination is not fired by words, though they might be most creative in some other form. Such people do not read fiction because what is on the page does not create vibrant images in their mind; they cannot lose themselves in a narrative. That reduces ‘everyone’ to, at best, ‘most people’. Yet even if we discount that small minority and narrow the parameters very slightly and say ‘Anyone who reads and enjoys fiction has a book in them’, I would still argue that it is not true. 

    I hold that a writer, an author, is better described as ‘a wordsmith’. Why that term? I would argue that creative writing at a level that could be considered publishable, has two required elements, which are ‘The Words’ and the means to craft them into poetry or prose, the smithing. If there is one without the other then you are stuck. You can take as many creative writing courses as you like, and learn how to construct dramatic tension, good subordinate clauses etc., but if you have not got ‘The Words’ you lack the material on which to use those skills.  

    I compare the craft of writing to making a pattern welded sword, though it is pure coincidence that wordsmith and sword smith differ by just one letter. Forging a sword is not a case of hammering a bit of metal into a shape with a pointy end and sharp sides and saying ‘There’s a sword’. It takes the selection and twisting of heated metal rods, and the combining of bundles of those rods into a forged blade, and tempering (other than in the earliest blades) of the whole. A combination of strength and skill is required to create the pattern welded blade. Such weapons were treasured, given names, and only those of rank and wealth could afford them. The wordsmith has to have ‘The Words’ as those rods, and then the craft to create with them. ‘The Words’ are a gift, and an occasional curse too, since it is very awkward making sure dinner is on the table, or the tax return filled in, when one’s head is crammed with ‘The Words’ desperate to get out. I do not think everyone has them, just as not everyone could write a symphony (or a number one hit), or paint a work of art. It is not a failing not to have them, just one of the aspects that makes for variety in human beings. Where ‘The Words’ do not exist, no amount of knowledge in how to work them will avail you. Perhaps that sounds a bit mystic, but I think it is simply realistic.

    If a person has ‘The Words’ then there is a reasonable chance that they can acquire the skills to work them into something which communicates not just at a literal level, but at one which is deeper, more visceral and emotional. Of course most of us will never reach the standard of the great master craftsmen, but a good journeyman (which I count an equally gender neutral title) is still worth reading. Crafting involves drafting, redrafting, excising, tweaking here and there. Not every sentence melds seamlessly into the next and I am sure every wordsmith has looked at the previous day’s endeavours and winced at something that in the new day is patently dismal.  Yet even the more lowly of us are blessed occasionally with seeing a sentence that we know has its own intrinsic beauty from the way the words work together in a harmony that equates to a perfect chord in music. Within a complete manuscript there will always be little imperfections, just as in the forged blade, but if at the end the wordsmith can survey their work, look at it from various angles as the sword smith would study his sword, and see a strong, functional, and aesthetically pleasing whole, then that is success. Of course we then aim to make the next one even better.

    Sarah Hawkswood

    Sarah Hawkswood is the author of 'The Lord Bishop's Clerk: A Bradecote and Catchpoll Investigation', a new mediaeval mystery story set in Worcester. The lord Bishop of Winchester’s clerk is bludgeoned to death in Pershore Abbey and laid before the altar in the attitude of a penitent. Everyone who had contact with him had reason to dislike him, but who had reason to kill him? The Sheriff of Worcestershire’s thief taker, wily Serjeant Catchpoll, and his new and unwanted superior, Acting Under-sheriff Hugh Bradecote, have to find the answer. At first nobody wants the murderer to be apprehended, but attitudes soon change when another body is discovered.


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    Between 24 and 28 October 2014 I took a small group across to the Somme to look at where the Norfolk Regiment served between July and November 1916. The 1st, 7th, 8th and 9th Battalions all served in that sector from August 1915 onwards. Many of their first casualties were incurred by snipers including a 16 year old boy called Isaac Laud. He is now laid to rest in Norfolk Cemetery near Fricourt.

     


    On 1 July 1916 the 8th  Battalion went over the top in front of Montauban. They then saw action at Delville Wood on 19 July. On 26 July the 1st Battalion fought at Longueval and Delville Wood. By 12 August 1916 the 7th Battalion joined the fray fighting alongside the Australians near Mouquet Farm. The 8th Battalion went back into action between 26 September and 5 October taking part in the capture of Thiepval and an assault on the Schwaben Redoubt. On 4 September the 1st Battalion assisted in the captured Falfemont Farm and finally the 9th Battalion went over the top on 15 September near Ginchy in an effort to capture a German strong-point called the Quadrilateral.

     Norfolk: Remembering 1914-18


    I took my group to a number of places including the start line for the 8/Norfolks at Montauban on 1st July 1916 where they would have seen footballs being kicked across no-man’s land by the 8/East Surreys and we also looked at where the same battalion went into Delville Wood on 19th July. I then showed the group where the 9/Norfolks had got to the wire at the Quadrilateral before losing 431 men in shell holes in front of the position. We were also able to explore Thiepval and the area around Mill Road Cemetery where the mighty Schwaben Redoubt once stood.

    One thousand one hundred and twenty seven men from the Norfolk Regiment lost their lives in the mud of the Somme and a great many of them have no known grave.  They are now commemorated on the mighty memorial at Thiepval. Hundreds of others lie in  cemeteries such as Carnoy Military and Connaught.

    This is hallowed ground for the Norfolks and it was an honour to guide this small group from Norfolk to see where their forefathers had served during the four long months that the battle raged. It is a place that I never tire of returning to. 

     

    Great War Britain Norfolk: Remembering 1914-18


    Steve Smith is the author of Great War Britain Norfolk: Remembering 1914-18, part of The History Press's Great War Britain series. A beautifully illustrated and highly accessible volume, it describes local reaction to the outbreak of war; the experience of individuals who enlisted; the changing face of industry; the work of the many hospitals in the area; the effect of the conflict on local children; the women who defied convention to play a vital role on the home front; and concludes with a chapter dedicated to how the city and its people coped with the transition to life in peacetime once more. 


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    Great War Britain Middlesbrough: Remembering 1914-18

     

    Paul Menzies will be at Waterstones, Middlesbrough on 8th November from 11am-12pm signing copies of his new book, Great War Britain Middlesbrough: Remembering 1914-18

    The First World War claimed over 995,000 British lives, and its legacy continues to be remembered today. Great War Britain: Middlesbrough offers an intimate portrayal of the city 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 and related unrest; the work of the many hospitals in the area; the effect of the conflict on local children; and concludes with a chapter dedicated to how the city and its people coped with the transition to life in peacetime once more. The Great War story of Middlesbrough is told through the voices of those who were there and is vividly illustrated through evocative images. 


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    Between the Coast and the Western Front

     

    Sandra Gittins will be at Waterstones, Newton Abbot on 11th November from 11:30 - 2:00pm signing copies of her new book, Between the Coast and the Western Front: Transportation and Supply Behind the Trenches

    Focusing on transportation and supply, researcher Sandra Gittins presents a compelling photographic study of the railways and motor and water transport behind the trenches in the First World War, and the vast numbers of BEF personnel who built, maintained, and ran them, as well as those who worked to ensure supplies of all descriptions were stored, ordered and distributed. In this area of France and Flanders troops, equipment, guns and tanks were constantly transported to and fro, with the wounded frequently being evacuated. Depots for fuel and water were established plus garages for vehicle repair and maintenance. This fascinating book also delves into the roles women held, the distribution of food and post, and many other aspects of life and work in the area. 


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    Cambridgeshire Folk Tales

     

    Maureen James will be at Whittlesey Library on Thursday 6th November from 2-4pm signing copies of her new book, Cambridgeshire Folk Tales

    Modern-day 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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    The classic pose


    ‘Truth is stranger than fiction, and has need to be, since most fiction is founded on truth.’

                                                                                              -  Edgar Wallace, The Man Who Knew, 1919

     


    It is one of the most famous scenes in motion picture history. A gigantic ape, roaring defiantly, stands at the top of the Empire State Building and is attacked from all sides by fire from circling aeroplanes. King Kong caused a sensation when it first appeared on cinema screens in 1933, becoming the first film to open at the world’s two largest theatres – the Radio City Music Hall, and the Roxy, in New York – simultaneously. ‘The Strangest Story Ever Conceived by Man … the greatest film the world will ever see,’ the publicity declared. ‘For once the catch-lines were right,’ wrote film historian Denis Gifford, ‘in the history of horror movies, indeed of movies, King Kong still towers above them all.’ [1]

    More than eighty years on, the story of how the eponymous gorilla is captured on a remote island and taken to New York, where he escapes and causes havoc, still packs a punch. It’s not just a thrilling adventure tale and horror story, but a romance too – a modern reworking of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ that never fails to touch our emotions. There have been two film remakes, in 1976 and 2005, and a new musical version opened in Melbourne, Australia, in 2013 to widespread critical acclaim. In 1991, the 1933 film was deemed to fit the criteria of being ‘culturally, historically or aesthetically significant’ by the US Library of Congress, and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

    But, while almost everyone knows the story of King Kong, and its place in cinematic history is assured, what is less well known is the almost equally fantastic tale of his English co-creator, who tragically died in Hollywood at the moment of his greatest and most enduring success. Writing the screenplay for Kong was the last major piece of work for Edgar Wallace, a man who packed into his relatively short time on earth enough achievements and experiences to fill several lives over.

    Wallace worked as a printer’s assistant; a milk roundsman; a newspaper seller; a plasterer’s labourer; a soldier; a ship’s cook and captain’s boy on a Grimsby fishing trawler; a boot and shoe shop assistant; a rubber factory worker; a newspaper reporter; a foreign correspondent; a racing tipster; a columnist; a special constable; and a film producer and director. The illegitimate son of a travelling actress, who left school at the age of 12 with no formal qualifications, he was also, at one point, the most widely read author in the world. Wallace made his name writing fast-paced thrillers, detective stories and tales of adventure. He wrote more than 170 books, and his work was translated into more than thirty languages. More films were made from his books than those of any other twentieth-century writer. He was the publishing sensation of the 1920s – in one year in that decade, one out of every four fiction books bought in England was by Edgar Wallace. If that wasn’t enough, he also wrote twenty-three plays, sixty-five sketches and almost 1,000 short stories. ‘Wallace brought the art of popular entertainment to a pitch which never before had been achieved by any other writer,’ wrote his 1938 biographer, Margaret Lane. [2] 

    Edgar Wallace’s work was devoured by people of all classes, nationalities and political persuasions. Among his millions of fans were King George V, British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, a president of the United States, and a certain Adolf Hitler who, it is said, owned copies of all of Wallace’s books. The man born in poverty in south-east London, and whose mother gave him away to foster parents when he was just over a week old, became one of the biggest celebrities in Britain in the first third of the twentieth century.

    He cut a flamboyant figure, chain-smoking cigarettes from his trademark 10in-long cigarette holder and being chauffeur-driven round London in a yellow Rolls-Royce. Wallace worked hard and played hard and was renowned not just for his industry but for his incredible generosity which knew no bounds. It was this open-handedness which meant that, despite his high income, Wallace died heavily in debt. However, he wouldn’t have minded too much as he was a man with big ambitions who did everything on a grand scale. The covers of his books often carried the proud boast of the publisher:  ‘It is impossible not to be thrilled by Edgar Wallace.’ As I hope to prove, it is also impossible not to be thrilled – and inspired – by Edgar Wallace’s extraordinary life story.

     

    Stranger than fiction: the life of Edgar Wallace, the man who created King Kong


    Neil Clark is the author of Stranger Than Fiction. Edgar Wallace was the author of 173 books, translated into over thirty languages. More films were made from his books than any other twentieth century writer, and in the 1920s a quarter of all books read in England were written by him. The illegitimate son of a travelling actress, rose from poverty in Victorian England to become the most popular author in the world and a global celebrity of his age. He scooped the signing of the Boer War peace treaty when working as a war correspondent, before achieving success as a film director and playwright. At the height of his success, he was earning a vast fortune, but the money went out as fast as it came in. Famous for his thrillers, with their fantastic plots, in many ways Wallace did not write his most exciting story: he lived it. ‘It is impossible not to be thrilled by Edgar Wallace’, said the blurb on Wallace’s books. Indeed, it is impossible not to be thrilled by his rags-to-riches story, told for the first time here ...



    [1] Gifford, Denis, A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, Hamlyn, 1973, p.100.

    [2] Lane, Margaret, Edgar Wallace: A Biography, 1938, with a revised edition published in 1964 (unless otherwise stated all quotes from 1938 edition).

     


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    C.B Hanley, author of The Mediaeval Mystery Series

    Why write crime fiction?

    When I first decided to try writing a novel, there was no question that it had to be set in the Middle Ages. However,  I’ve always enjoyed reading crime fiction (I have shelves and shelves of it here, including a complete set of Agatha Christie!) so it seemed natural to have a go at historical crime rather than straight historical fiction.

     

    Where did the inspiration for The Mediaeval Mysteries come from?

    For many years I was a medieval re-enactor, and as part of that our group used to perform ‘interactive’ murder mysteries – the sort where the audience arrive at a castle or other historical venue to be told that a murder has been committed and that they have to talk to the costumed actors to find out who did it and why. I wrote or co-wrote a number of these, but one plot idea which I came up with for a murder at Conisbrough Castle in 1217 never got used; I found the notes years later in a drawer and decided that the plot would make a good novel. The main issue I had at that point was that the ‘interactive’ murder mysteries didn’t have a detective character, as the audience had to do the sleuthing themselves, so I sat down and thought about it for a long while before creating the character of Edwin for the first book. I’ve always felt that too much historical fiction is about the kings, queens and nobles, so I thought that having an ordinary person, and an inexperienced and shy ordinary person at that, would make a good story.

     

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

    There’s a kind of ‘yes and no’ answer to that. The plot of The Sins of the Father was written specifically about Conisbrough – our local castle when I was a re-enactor and a place I spent many weekends – and some of the plot points hinge on this. The factual background of the series meant that Edwin then had to go to Lincoln for The Bloody City, where a real battle took place, so again, the location was crucial. Now in Whited Sepulchres he is back in Conisbrough again: after his adventures he was desperate to go home, but he finds out that ‘home’ isn’t quite how he remembers it. And this is where I think some of the themes aren’t quite so location-dependent: we can all sympathise with a character who is growing, developing and being thrust into uncomfortable and pressured situations, no matter where (or when) they come from. I hope that Edwin has a general appeal, rather than just a local one.

     

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

    My favourite book? How long have you got? I read widely and eclectically – historical fiction, crime fiction, thrillers, fantasy, classic literature, factual history (medieval and otherwise), books on the English language, cricket … I could go on. I honestly don’t think I could name you just one favourite – it would all depend on what sort of mood I was in at the time.

     

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

    Authors: again, I could spend all day on this. I’m currently looking at my shelves, and by sheer weight of numbers it looks like Agatha Christie, Ellis Peters, Simon Brett, Carola Dunn, Candace Robb, M.C. Beaton, Josephine Tey and Christopher Brookmyre are all favourites in the crime genre. But it’s not all about quantity: you have to have quality as well. The novel I’ve just finished reading is The American Boy by Andrew Taylor, and it was one of those rare reads where you just want to stand up and give it a round of applause once you get to the end.

    In terms of a favourite fictional character I’m actually going to ignore crime altogether, and go for the character of Death in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. He’s a seven-foot-tall skeleton who always talks in capitals, and who has more of an insight into the human condition than many real people …


     How easy/difficult is it to write historical crime fiction?

    For me it’s actually miles easier to write in the past. I have a PhD in medieval studies, and I’ve researched the early thirteenth century quite extensively, as well as writing a number of academic and non-fiction things about it. There’s no way I could possibly write a modern crime thriller – it would just sound completely fake as I don’t have any of the background knowledge required. But put me in 1217 and I’m perfectly happy! I know enough about the background details of what people wore and ate, what their homes looked like, etc., that I can concentrate on telling my story without having to keep stopping to look things up like ‘did they have tomatoes in thirteenth-century England?’ (they didn’t) or ‘can you put armour on by yourself?’ (you can’t). And then the crime element of it comes naturally from the historical situation in which my characters find themselves.

     

     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?

    I’ve never heard that before, but it’s an interesting theory. In my own case the murders carried out in my books are the sort that aren’t terribly ingenious: you don’t need to read a crime novel to know that you could kill someone by bashing them over the head or stabbing them in the back. And I sincerely hope that nobody out there is going to attempt to replicate the circumstances of the early thirteenth century …

     

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

    This is something I thought very hard about when creating the character of Edwin. As well as thinking that too much historical fiction was dominated by royalty and nobility, I also felt that I wanted a change from the world-weary, been-there-and-seen-it-all, not-fazed-by-anything detective, so I created someone who was young, inexperienced and frankly a bit scared.

     On a secondary note, it also seems to be a lazy cliché in crime fiction or crime-fiction TV programmes for any priests, religious people or churchgoers to turn out to be hypocritical baddies. Well, in the Middle Ages pretty much everyone was a churchgoer, so it gave me scope to have a few devout people (no names mentioned in case you haven’t read the books) who perform a kind of double-bluff and turn out to be genuinely good.

     

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

    Actually, I think I have the opposite problem! I have plots and ideas queuing up in my head just waiting for me to put them on paper, and I never seem to have enough time to write them. When I ever do get some uninterrupted time with my computer, the words just spill out.

     If I ever do get faced with that blank-page syndrome when I’m starting something new, I find that the best thing to do is just to write words, even if they’re not quite what you wanted to say or in the style you wanted to say them. As my PhD supervisor once said, you can always edit words which are bad; you can’t edit words which aren’t there.

     

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

    Tsk, if I had, do you think I would tell you? But seriously: no, I’ve never based an entire character on someone I know, but I have used the odd resemblance, gesture or turn of phrase (not all in the same character) that I’ve observed. I’ve also borrowed names, where they were suitably medieval, although I make deliberate efforts not to give characters the traits of the people whose names I have borrowed. Readers of The Sins of the Father may be interested to know that when I first came up with the plot of the interactive murder mystery, we had three small boys in our group called Martin, Adam and Simon, who were all going to be squires and pages. They’re all grown men now and had no objection to my using their names, if not their personalities!

     

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

    It’s helped in lots of different ways. Firstly I should say that I actually don’t use Facebook at all – there are a number of people on there who share my name, but none of them is me. However I do use Twitter an awful lot, and I love it. Over the years I’ve built up my own little community of friends with similar interests, and it’s incredibly useful both for my fiction and my academic work. If I’m looking for a really obscure source on something, a request on Twitter will be circulated by others until someone somewhere contacts me to say ‘Have you seen this article in this French journal from 1924 …?’ It’s also great for news in publishing – who has written something new, what is everyone reading at the moment, what did people think of this book or that book, and so on. I join in by recommending books or websites I like, tweeting interesting medieval snippets, and so on. I don’t spend a lot of time saying ‘hey, buy my books’ as I think that would be dull, but I think my profile as an author has grown as a kind of secondary effect of my tweeting.

     

     Finally, what next for Edwin?

    Well, I’m delighted to say that I’ve agreed with The Mystery Press to start work on two more Edwin books to follow on from the three already available. Obviously I’m not going to give you too many details right now, but I should say that he will continue to grow up and to face tasks he couldn’t have imagined himself tackling. I will also add that he and others have some hard times ahead, and that the war isn’t over yet …

    Whited Sepulchers By C.B. Hanley

    C.B Hanley is the Author of the Mediaeval Mystery Series which include Sins of The Father and The Bloody City. The newest book in the series is Whited Sepulchres.1217: Commoner-turned-earl’s-man Edwin Weaver has returned to Conisbrough Castle after his blood-soaked adventure in Lincoln. Shaken, and now carrying a dagger for protection, he has no chance to rest, for preparations are already underway for a noble wedding. But his weapon will be little help against the armed band of outlaws terrorising the area. The situation escalates when the household marshal is murdered under the earl’s own roof, and Edwin is asked to resolve the situation before the wedding plans can be jeopardised. The marshal was an unpopular man, but Edwin is convinced that there is more to his death than meets the eye. As he digs deeper, he realises that the killer’s true target might be someone much closer to home. With few likely to believe his theory, Edwin must choose between public ridicule, humiliation and even banishment if he speaks out, or staying silent, and praying that no one else will die.


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    Waterloo holds an enduring, international appeal, with greater attention than ever focusing on the event as the bicentenary approaches in 2015. Accounting for this fascination amongst scholars, students, lay readers, historical re-enactors and wargamers poses little challenge, for few battles combine so many separate, but each compelling, struggles within a greater contest of arms: the stubborn defence of Hougoumont; the fight for the little farm of La Haie Sainte, the charge of the French heavy cavalry against Wellington’s centre, the bitter street-fighting in Plancenoit, the attack of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard and a host of other remarkable episodes whose outcome in nearly every case remained in the balance until evening.

    Waterloo offers a glimpse into the events of a single day whose salient features appear to bear little resemblance to the experience of combat familiar to us today. The ‘invisible battlefield’ – that eerie environment shaped by the lethality of fire which so often separates combatants to the extent that they become effectively unseen – has brought a cold, impersonal detachment to what the soldiers of 1815 understood as a very intimate business of killing. The pathos associated with men deployed shoulder-to-shoulder, following a strict evolution of drill in order to load and fire their muskets in volleys at their geometrically arranged opposites from harrowingly short distances; and the dramatic spectacle of horsemen, resplendent in impractical but superbly colourful uniforms, wielding sword or lance, holds a particularly romantic appeal to those who, with considerable justice, believe that war since 1914 has reduced mankind to new depths of inhumanity – even barbarism – sullied by the substitution of machines for men, by the horrors associated with the mass destruction of civilians from 20,000ft and by conflicts waged for less honourable motives than those of an apparently lost, halcyon age.

    The act of men standing opposite one another, blazing away like rival firing squads until the steadiness of one side or the other breaks under the pressure of fire or the impact of a bayonet assault somehow sparks the imagination, reminding us of the extraordinary courage required of soldiers who could, quite literally, see the whites of the enemy’s eyes. Waterloo marked the beginning of the end of chivalry, with 1914 signalling its final demise, as Andrew Roberts observed:

    ‘Ghastly as the carnage at Waterloo undoubtedly was, thenceforth wars were to be fought with the infinitely more ghastly methods of trenches (the Crimea), barbed wire, railways and machine-guns (the American Civil War), directed starvation (the Franco-Prussian War), concentration camps (the Boer War), and mustard gas and aerial bombardment (the First World War). By the time of the Great War, chivalry was effectively dead as an element of war-making.’

    Roberts, Waterloo, p.15


    Eyewitness accounts of extraordinary devotion to duty abound – adding further to the appeal of this subject. Sir Edward Creasy, the Victorian author of
    The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, related a number of examples of this spirit:

    ‘Never, indeed, had the national bravery of the French people been more nobly shown. One soldier in the French ranks was seen, when his arm was shattered by a cannon-ball, to wrench it off with the other; and throwing it up in the air, he exclaimed to his comrades, ‘Vive l’Empereur jusqu’ à la mort!… [A]t the beginning of the action, a French soldier who had both legs carried off by a cannon-ball, was borne past the front of Foy’s division, and called out to them, ‘Ce n’est rien, camarades; Vive l’Empereur! Glorie à la France.’ The same officer, at the end of the battle, when all hope was lost, tells us that he saw a French grenadier, blackened with powder, with his clothes torn and stained, leaning on his musket, and immovable as a statue. The colonel called to him to join his comrades and retreat; but the grenadier showed him his musket and his hands; and said ‘These hands have with this musket used to-day more than twenty packets of cartridges: it was more than my share: I supplied myself with ammunition from the dead. Leave me to die here on the field of battle. It is not courage that fails me, but strength.’

    Creasy, London, 1877, p.614


    Little wonder Waterloo continues to grip the imagination.
     

    On a grand strategic level, it signified the end of an era – of over a century of conflict with France, with whom Britain would never again cross swords. Indeed, the two nations would co-operate in the Crimea forty years later and, of course, again in the two World Wars. It also marked the end of any further French attempts at territorial aggrandisement in Europe – which largely accounts for it also signifying the end of a long period of Anglo-French hostility which dated from the great conflict against Louis XIV which began in 1689 – though some may trace it back to the Hundred Years War if not to the Norman invasion. The comprehensive nature of Waterloo led to Napoleon’s final downfall and the re-drawing of the map of Europe, with central Europe rationalised into a few dozen, instead of a few hundred states – thereby setting the stage for German unification later in the century. As Andrew Roberts put it: ‘…it ended forever the greatest personal world-historical epic since that of Julius Caesar…’. Waterloo not only ended a generation of conflict, it put paid to such a blood-letting as Europe had not experienced since the religious wars of the seventeenth century and ushered in a hundred years of comparative peace. True, there were wars yet to be fought – the Crimean and those of Italian and German unification; but these paled into insignificance as compared with the sheer scale of the conflicts unleashed on Europe by the French revolutionaries in 1792, belatedly but definitively crushed in Belgium twenty-three years later. It was not for nothing that contemporary Britons referred to this period as ‘The Great War’ a century before the term was applied again in another, far more horrifying context.

    Waterloo is not significant as representing a passing era of warfare and the beginning of a new phase, for the weaponry arrayed there bore a great deal in common with that deployed by the Duke of Marlborough’s army over a century earlier, and warfare on land would not undergo any genuinely significant change until the 1850s, with the application of rifling to small arms and, later, artillery, followed rapidly by the advent of breech-loading technology. But if the subtle differences between the weapons employed on either side at Waterloo did not palpably contribute to its outcome, the tactics employed there certainly did. In the absence of any great flanking movements on the battlefield, Waterloo amounted to a great slogging match, with the balance between victory and defeat depending heavily upon the degree of French determination to press home the attack and the stubbornness with which the Anglo-Allies were prepared to receive that attack. The fact that both sides fought with remarkable energy and spirit contributes all the more to the appeal of a subject which remains a great epic in the history of the British Army. Not for nothing Waterloo remains one of history’s greatest battles.


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  • 11/06/14--08:00: Q&A with Sarah Hawkswood
  • Sarah Hawksood, author of The Lord Bishop's Clerk

    Why write crime fiction?

    The honest answer, in my case, is because it is in my head and needs to get out. When ‘The Words’ hit you, then there is no alternative, and I am happiest when writing. As to why anyone should write historical crime fiction, I can only say it has the same validity as any other genre, and it gives the author and reader the chance to inhabit another world in which take place the sort of violent events that are part of the human condition in all eras. Crime is not new, and although methods change with the centuries and technical advances, motivation remains essentially the same, whether in the 12thC or the 21stC.

     

     Where did the inspiration for The Lord Bishop’s Clerk come from?

    The original murder idea, though not the Sheriff’s men, came from writing my own ‘murder mystery evening’ for a dinner party way back in the 1990s. I had looked at several commercial ones available and been horrified at the lack of historical accuracy and even attempts at alibis. So I wrote my own, with the one death and the ‘suspects’ each asking three questions. Only the murderer could lie. After that it lay dormant until I had the idea that the basic storyline was a viable plot for a book, and then I developed Bradecote & Catchpoll and how they discovered truth.

     

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

    I have to say it is pretty integral, although one could have used another shire in the west where loyalties between Stephen and Maud were divided. I was not living in the county when I wrote the first few, and have made slight alterations and additions to some since coming to live in Worcestershire, now I can travel over the topography. Being able to see exactly where the body was found certainly helped in the sixth one, which I have written since arriving here.

     

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

    I have always loved historical books, even if, like Austen, they were contemporary when written. I certainly have books I read again and again, perhaps in part as comfort reading. When I moved from little girl’s pony stories to grown up fiction, my father set me off with Rafael Sabatini’s Captain Blood and Scaramouche. I also read a lot of Heyer, C S Forester, and Kipling, and then spread into a range of authors and genres, though I never read horror, and I cannot read historical novels where the history is ‘optional’. My favourite crime writers are Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaio Marsh. I like historical crime but dare not read it these days in case of inadvertently picking up another person’s ideas.


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

    I have favourites, but not one single favourite author or character. My favourite living author is Terry Pratchett because he writes not so much fantasy as reality with a twist as good as the double helix of DNA. If it were plain fantasy it would not be as vibrant, vital or funny. He is pure genius, and wears a good hat.

     

     How easy/difficult is it to write historical crime fiction?

    Am I the one to ask? As an historian I suppose I find it easier than other genres. I am at a loss as to how to write contemporary novels, or science fiction. I have no idea where to find the ‘voice’ or a plot. They say write what you know, and that is what I do, except of course that I am not a criminal.

     

     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?

    I think that is more true in contemporary crime, since most of my deaths involve good old blunt instruments, arrows, swords and assorted sharp weaponry. In the case of poisonous concoctions I would not describe any distillation, and they would be already well known as poisonous plants.

     

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

    I am not sure one can entirely prevent that, but the aim must be to make the character ‘real’. If a man is a bully, he acts like a bully, if a woman uses her looks, she uses her looks. Perhaps ‘clichés’ are inevitable to a degree, since there are a limited number of ways human beings react, just as, in essence, there are very few book plots. The art, rather than the ‘devil’, is in the detail.

     

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

    If ‘The Words’ are not there, I do not write. I wait. The only scary time was immediately after my father died. It was pretty traumatic and for four months there was nothing in my head at all, as though my mind were a whitewashed cell. I could not continue the Bradecote & Catchpoll I was writing for over a year, although I was able to write in another genre. There is a lot of my father in Catchpoll’s pragmatism, and having a soft element well hidden behind the facade the job is expected to have, and I could not face it.

     

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

    As I have said, there is a lot of my father in Catchpoll, although he was a senior NCO in the Royal Marines, not a policeman. In many ways Catchpoll is the sergeant major who has seen it all before. I think authors beg, borrow and steal from those they see, be it an image, an action, an expression. You will not, however, find me jotting details on my smartphone as I people watch when out shopping or in a restaurant. There are aspects of two particular men in Bradecote’s mannerisms and persona, and Catchpoll owes his looks to one single photograph I saw in early 2003 in a newspaper interview. When I write scenes I see them in my head as if watching them on a screen, but the faces are not always visible, though nuances of movement and expression may be, and certainly how they sound  to me influences the way their speech appears on the page. 

     

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

    I am such a technophobe I have found having to use social media more of a bane than a boon, although I do see it spreads information. In the old days one wrote the book, launched it, signed a few copies and that was it. Now it is all websites, tweets, Facebook and blogs. I think I am on a steep learning curve, and am way behind the average adolescent.

     

     Finally, what next for Bradecote and Catchpoll?

    Bradecote and Catchpoll are still going strong. I have finished the sixth novel and have an idea for the premise of the seventh, but I need to pick the brains of a good toxicologist. The second in the series, Ordeal By Fire, will see them in Worcester itself, which is Catchpoll’s ‘home patch’, and that brings new aspects to the investigation. 

    The Lord Bishops Clerk: A Bradecote and Catchpoll Investigation

    Sarah's first book 'The Lord Bishop's Clerk: A Bradecote and Catchpoll Investigation' a mediaeval mystery is set in June 1143.The Lord Bishop of Winchester’s Clerk is bludgeoned to death in Pershore Abbey, and laid before the altar in the attitude of a penitent. Everyone who had contact with him had reason to dislike him, but who had reason to kill him? The Sheriff of Worcestershire’s thief taker, the wily Serjeant Catchpoll, and his new and unwanted superior, Acting Under Sheriff Hugh Bradecote, have to find the answer when nobody wants the murderer apprehended - until the next death.


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