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Articles on this Page
- 02/05/15--01:00: _Trials and errors: ...
- 02/06/15--03:15: _The Friday Digest 0...
- 02/09/15--09:00: _Creating ghost stories
- 02/10/15--00:00: _Fear and vaccination
- 02/10/15--06:00: _The razing of Hamme...
- 02/11/15--01:26: _Britain’s final ste...
- 02/12/15--03:02: _Why was Charles Dar...
- 02/13/15--03:50: _The Friday Digest 1...
- 02/14/15--02:00: _The romance of the ...
- 02/14/15--05:00: _Why do we love a 'h...
- 12/29/14--01:00: _Pollies! The emerge...
- 02/16/15--06:00: _Horse-drawn transpo...
- 01/27/15--01:13: _Dr Kathryn Hughes a...
- 02/18/15--03:49: _Sean McGlynn and Ca...
- 02/18/15--04:20: _Sean McGlynn and Ca...
- 02/18/15--04:28: _David Jones at Wood...
- 02/18/15--07:00: _My dad's war
- 02/20/15--04:30: _Adrian Murdoch at A...
- 02/20/15--05:50: _The Friday Digest 2...
- 02/22/15--03:00: _The special gift of...
- 02/05/15--01:00: Trials and errors: experimental test flying in the 1970s.
- 02/06/15--03:15: The Friday Digest 06/02/15
- 02/09/15--09:00: Creating ghost stories
- 02/10/15--00:00: Fear and vaccination
- 02/10/15--06:00: The razing of Hammerfest in February 1945
- 02/11/15--01:26: Britain’s final steam trains
- 02/12/15--03:02: Why was Charles Darwin a giant of science?
- 02/13/15--03:50: The Friday Digest 13/02/15
- 02/14/15--02:00: The romance of the high seas
- 02/14/15--05:00: Why do we love a 'happily ever after'?
- 12/29/14--01:00: Pollies! The emergence of women police during the First World War
- 01/27/15--01:13: Dr Kathryn Hughes at Saltaire Bookshop on 26/02/15
- 02/18/15--04:28: David Jones at Woodbridge Books, Woodbridge on 28/02/15
- 02/18/15--07:00: My dad's war
- 02/20/15--04:30: Adrian Murdoch at Alderney Literary Festival on 21/03/15
- 02/20/15--05:50: The Friday Digest 20/02/15
- 02/22/15--03:00: The special gift of a family tree
The 1970s came in riding a psychedelic surfboard on the wave of newfound confidence built by the sex, drugs and rock and roll of the 1960s. Despite the free love and flower power that followed in the early years of the decade, the tide was soon going to go out and be very slow to return.
In the first four years of the 1970s a US president would be run out of office, oil prices would triple and the Cold War would continue to freeze any rapprochement between the world's two great superpowers. Although the chaotic and vicious war in Vietnam was over, the long predicted domino effect of the fall of South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to the communists would happen, totally negating the enormous expense of lives and money on the ten years of warfare that preceded it.
Overlaying all these events was the dark shadow of fear from the spectre of Mutually Assured Destruction: the MAD policy stemming from the enormous holdings of nuclear weapons by the potential Cold War combatants. In 1977 the film Star Wars would introduce the term 'The Dark Side of the Force'; an apt sobriquet for the times.
In the UK the decade opened with the Conservatives gaining power but losing it after anti-trade union legislation caused two disastrous miners' strikes. A labour government would then remain in power until the last few months of the decade.
The UK's defence posture remained fundamentally one of fixed bases on the western borders of the Warsaw Pact. The RAF underwent a massive re-equipment programme with aircraft and systems of the 1950's and 1960's being replaced and modernised. Many of these were either bought in from the USA or drawn from multinational European projects. This led to more protracted test and development programmes, with more than one national test centre being involved.
The increasing use of digital electronics of systems such as flight controls, cockpit displays, radar, LASER and Infra-Red sensors led to the need for more airborne research and development. Much of the UK's work in these fields was carried out at the Royal Aircraft Establishment's flight test centres.
One of the big motivations for R&D at this time was the need for attack and bomber aircraft to avoid radar detection by flying and navigating safely at very low altitudes. Another driver was for fighter combat aircraft to be able to turn even more tightly at high speeds. This led to a great deal of research during the 1970s into protecting the pilot from high G-forces – up to nine times the force of gravity.
Many other sensor programmes were projected at this time: a UK built airborne early warning aircraft was one and an effective low-level reconnaissance system was another. Weapon development was also required to arm the new aircraft, such as the Jaguar, Harrier and Tornado, with effective and accurate armaments suited to their roles. Cluster weapons, laser-guided bombs and missiles, and special airfield denial munitions being just three.
To help the scientists and engineers in their tasks and endeavours in these fields suitably skilled and qualified test pilots, and other aircrew, were essential. Most of these would come from the UK armed forces through the Empire Test Pilots' School (ETPS), with some training in France and the USA. The ETPS course was a demanding ten months and followed a rigorous two-day selection board. Test pilots would then proceed to fly with either the test squadrons at Boscombe Down, where they carried out release to service testing, or with the test squadrons and flights of the RAE, where they became experimental test pilots, flying a wide variety of often old aircraft types, but developing systems and armaments of the future.
Mike Brooke joined the RAF in 1962. After serving on the low-level strike/attack squadron, Brooke became a flying instructor and experimental test pilot. Further test flying tours followed, but in 1984, after twenty-two years in flying appointments, he was sent to the RAF Advanced Staff College. He was promoted to Wing Commander and took command of flying at RAF Farnborough, leaving the RAF in 1994. Trials and Errors: Experimental UK Test Flying in the 1970s is the sequal to his successful debut book A Bucket of Sunshine and its follow-up Follow Me Through.
This week's update features Alan Turing's lost notes, the sequel to To Kill A Mockingbird and shopping under the Iron Curtain.
* The Army is setting up a new force modelled on the Chindits of Burma to use Facebook and Twitter in psychological warfare. Listen to author, Tony Redding, discuss the history of the Chindits on BBC Radio 4 here.
* On February 13, Dresden will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Allied air raid that reduced the city to rubble. Ever since the fires went out, the bombing has served as a propaganda tool for Nazis, Communists and the modern far right and critics fear that the planned ceremonies will serve as a rallying point for the far right.
* A recently discovered novel by Harper Lee, featuring characters from To Kill A Mockingbird, is to be published this summer. Go Set a Watchman was written by Lee in the mid-1950s, before she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, and features that book's narrator, Scout, as an adult.
* Despite criticisms from some quarters, Harper Lee is thrilled by the response to the announcement saying, 'I’m alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions to Watchman.'
* The publishing industry has adopted digital with varying degrees of both enthusiasm and success but there may be continuing adaptation ahead ...
Which history and publishing stories have you enjoyed reading this week?
Essex, in spite of its friendly and prosperous present, has an ancient history of Roman invaders and Saxon immigrants, Pagan groves and Christian conversions, Viking raiders, Norman conquerors, Civil War battles and sieges, witches, witch-hunts and witch trials, smugglers on its convoluting coast and highwaymen in its extensive forests, not forgetting more recently Zeppelin disasters and bombing raids.
There has been so much personal terror, so much anguish, so much blood soaked into Essex soil, that it is perhaps not surprising that there are so many tales of hauntings, of supernatural sightings and unexplainable experiences.
Can you imagine Valkyries or witches riding in such a sky, on such a day?
Like a simmering undercurrent this past lingers on into the present. A writer just has to tap into that flow of evidence and it can read like stories. The lore and traditions are as colourful as any county’s. At least that is how I perceive the tales that I hope to have added to its treasury. A tale may be new, but if it is set in a particular time and place, it – or something rather similar – may well have happened.
Way out in the estuary on a now quiet backwater I found a simple little sign on a post driven into a tussock of blue mud at low tide with a message: ‘Here a witch was swum…’ That is all I remember, but what did it mean? What was the outcome? Few people survived such trials, as either they drowned, which proved them innocent, or they survived, which meant the Devil had saved them and they were guilty and doomed to be hung, even if air collecting in the many undergarments worn at the time had supplied the buoyancy. It doesn’t make much sense to us, but such was the uncertainty in people’s lives that such murder seemed logical. And in an otherwise empty landscape of a tidal marsh with only crustaceans and seagulls for witnesses… The mewing cry of some seabirds might well be mistaken for something more sinister in half-light or mist.
What dastardly crime could be waiting in such a setting? What could be lurking down that path? Could that be where the body was hidden?
You walk in an ancient forest and some of the weathered and pollarded trees have grown into odd shapes. Often, with a little imagination, those trees can show faces, distorted like gargoyles or misshapen animals or humans. Would they frighten you if seen at the right angle and in the right light at a time when your conscience is troubling you?
Much depends on the mood we are in. At times of dread we are more receptive to stories and notions that may seem impossible, just as nightmares will visit more likely at such times. More prayers are said in wartimes and at the same time fortune-tellers, shamans and charlatans are sought out more frequently.
Sometimes we like to be scared by storytellers, or the modern day equivalent of television and films. Most of the Brothers Grimm tales are positively frightening. It is embedded deep within our psyche, that feeling of something outside of our control, lingering in a particular spot.
Would you not expect someone or something to shadow you into that uncertain grey distance … some water sprite cling to your boots or leggings to drag you into that damp uncertainty?
I have been a life-long photographer – people and places, but especially landscapes have been my interests. Twisted trees and eerie scenes harbour their own attraction. Today, with the aid of Photoshop, we can add some extra frisson to images that may add a touch of danger or mystery to set the imagination racing. Set in a time research has made familiar, mix scene and story into the cauldron, that’s an interesting formula to me.
The smells of the past, the noises, the attitudes pervading a story ensure realism and believability. Others will prefer an artist’s imagined interpretation to encourage the mind. Does it matter as long as the story is compelling?
Robert Hallmann is the author of Essex Ghost Tales. The stories in this haunting collection are as ancient and recent, powerful and fantastical, real and imaginary as the ghosts of myth and legend they feature. Here you will find chilling tales of long-dead Vikings, stirred by the darkness of an eclipse; a wild forest with a wicked secret in its roots; the feared cross on Gallows Hill; a restless Grey Lady forever searching for her revenge; and the killing of a dead man. Read about phantom highwaymen; dastardly smugglers; mysterious pasts; foul murders and one-eyed strangers, all twisted into Essex’s history ...
Charles Williams, A monster being fed baskets of infants and excreting them with horns; symbolising vaccination and its effects. 1802. Wellcome Library, London.
Measles is making a comeback in the West, at a twenty-year high in the US. Despite being utterly discredited, the link between the measles vaccine and autism still haunts the middle-class mind. After years of progress, polio is on the rise again in Pakistan. Vaccinators have been cast by the Taliban as Western villains, coming to sterilise their children. In Kenya, where 550 babies died of tetanus in 2013, Catholic Bishops have warned that tetanus vaccines have been adulterated with birth control drugs. However it is spread, and for whatever reason, political or moral, the fear of vaccination results in sick children, or worse.
Fear of vaccination is as old as vaccination itself. The particular spectre of fear changes from time to time, but we are the inheritors of a discursive and emotional habit, of casting doubt on the motives and methods of immunology. It is easy to generate new fears about vaccination because we have so many ready-made arguments, tried and tested. The fear of vaccination falls into four categories: fear of God; fear of contamination; fear of immorality; fear of Government and its attendant institutions. The first vaccine, brought to the attention of the general public by Edward Jenner in 1798, was the progenitor of these categories of fear. The progress of medicine against smallpox was checked for well over a century. The human cost ran into the millions of deaths.
Jenner’s first alleged crime was against God. Smallpox was a disease sent by the Maker in His infinite wisdom. To ward against it was a form of blasphemy. The vaccine – after the Latin for cow, from which the prophylactic cowpox virus was taken – was beastly. Was it not a risk to the sanctity and essentialism of the human to taint the blood with brute matter? The contamination fears were comingled with further concerns about moral and sexual impropriety. To commune with the beast in this way smacked of bestiality. The modern Minotaur was envisaged as the chimerical result of reckless vaccination. Even worse, cowpox was thought by some to be Bovine syphilis. For the first century of vaccination, medical experts and the vulgar alike maintained the rumour that to vaccinate a child was to risk it with syphilis.
And then there is fear of government. The original drive to eliminate smallpox played a major part in the genesis of social medicine. Government interest and intervention in the health matters of private citizens and families rapidly increased in the name of smallpox prevention. Vaccination against smallpox was made compulsory in England in 1853, and severe penalties were introduced for parents who refused to comply, including large fines and prison sentences. Parental non-compliance was often based on one or more of the fears listed above, but a good many refused to submit their children on a principle of liberty and a misguided vigilance. What government had the right to command parents to infect their children? What was the vested interest of the State in the family? What information was being withheld? How could a government be trusted?
Such fears still sound a familiar note, even though we know a great deal more about how vaccination works than did our nineteenth-century forebears. Fear is easily driven by anecdote; the antidote to fear – knowledge – has proven much more difficult to spread. Fear is infectious. Fuelled by hearsay and social media, it goes viral. To assuage doubt takes time, repetition, money and commitment. Only by a concerted effort, to vaccinate and to educate, did the World Health Organization manage successfully to eliminate smallpox from the planet in 1979. With such a long history of ready-made, ready-to-go memes of the fear of vaccination, it will take an enormous effort of communication and coordination to wipe away fears of vaccination today. They remain the principal barrier to wiping away measles, polio, tetanus, and a host of other diseases that need no longer afflict us.
Rob Boddice is an historian of science, medicine and the emotions, based in Berlin and Montreal. Educated in York, he has published books on the history of human-animal relations, anthropocentrism, and pain. His book, Edward Jenner: pocket GIANT, will be published by The History Press next year.
Seventy years ago in February 1945 the modern gas boom town of Hammerfest in the Norwegian Arctic was reduced to ashes by Nazi troops carrying out a scorched earth retreat in the face of a huge Red Army offensive.
The razing of Hammerfest, now home to liquefied gas companies producing 2-3 million Euros of gas daily in a boom expected to last three to four decades, is just one of the episodes in Vincent Hunt’s new book Fire and Ice: the Nazis’ scorched earth destruction of Norway published by The History Press.
Hunt details the destruction of Hammerfest following Hitler’s order in October 1944 for a scorched earth withdrawal in the face of a massive Red Army offensive ending a three-year military stalemate in the Arctic north.
More than 200,000 Nazi troops withdrew to fortified positions in the mountains near Tromsø and forcibly evacuated 70,000 civilians in the north before torching their towns so they could not be used by pursuing Soviet troops. Up to 20,000 civilians sought refuge in caves and on outlying islands, where some had to be rescued by Royal Navy destroyers.
Homes were set on fire and every building, bridge, water pipe and pier blown up and burned. The destruction in February 1945 was so complete that when King Harald flew over northern Norway following the German surrender in May he said:
‘When we passed over Hammerfest there was nothing. There was snow on the ground so there was nothing casting shadows. It was as if nobody had ever lived there.’ He described the scorched earth destruction as ‘the worst catastrophe in Norwegian history since the Black Death.’
Hammerfest was a major port for the Nazis, a fortified U-boat base and supply centre for ships attacking Allied convoys to Russia in the Arctic Sea. More than 4,000 mines were laid in surrounding sea lanes and numerous anti-aircraft gun positions manned by 400–500 Wehrmacht troops.
The author crossed the Arctic regions of Finnmark and Nord-Troms to see the scale of the scorched earth destruction across a region the size of Denmark, and visited the Hammerfest Museum of Reconstruction to see what survived the devastation, including a 1930s barber’s chair buried to save it. The town’s churches, once earmarked to be saved, were consumed by the flames. The only building left standing was a white funeral chapel where German war dead had been buried.
The Nazi general who carried out Hitler’s orders – an Austrian called Lothar Rendulic - was cleared of wanton destruction at the post-war Nuremberg trials. He told the court Hammerfest was militarily significant and that not destroying it would have helped the Red Army pursue his men.
'We worked through all the possibilities which the enemy had concerning landings. Again and again [we] were confronted with the fact that Hammerfest would be the best point for supply for troops which had already landed. Further, Hammerfest was situated in the vicinity of Highway 50… then one had an excellent road. The place itself could accommodate a strong regiment or even a division if necessary. This double significance of Hammerfest was a fact for an enemy in pursuit. You must not think that we destroyed wantonly or senselessly. Everything we did was dictated by the needs of the enemy. That was its necessity.'
Hammerfest was rebuilt by townspeople who defied the post-war Labour government’s orders not to return, and ignored plans to develop nearby Alta as the main centre instead. They erected temporary barracks donated by Sweden and started again. In the 1980s extensive gas fields were discovered 140kms off the coast, and the pipes began pumping in 2007. The start of gas production has been like turning on a tap of money, the head of the tourism office in Hammerfest Knut Arne Iversen told Hunt:
'We say here we have won the lottery since 2002. Hammerfest gets tax income from this gas plant – about 20 million euros a year. There are 10,000 people here, so that’s quite a lot of money for such a small town. Since 2009 they have renovated the whole of the city centre and from next winter  the sidewalks will be heated, so we can do shopping almost without wearing shoes. We don’t have unemployment – only about 2 per cent or 150 people – and we have a lot of foreigners here, about 10 per cent, which is quite a big number.'
Wages, house prices and the cost of living are high, but many skilled young people are heading to Hammerfest to join the modern gold rush. Gas industry engineering jobs have replaced the traditional and sometimes unreliable trades like fishing and fish processing and reversed a slow but steady drift away. What happened here in wartime hasn’t entirely been forgotten though, says Iversen.
'Nowadays we have a lot of tourists here, especially Germans. A lot of them say their fathers or grandparents were here in the north in the war but never talked too much about it. It can’t have been a good story or an easy story to tell; they can’t have been proud of it. But some certainly did tell their children or their grandchildren because they come here and want to get a feeling of what it was like for Grandpa.'
Looking back to the time when the town was a pile of smouldering ashes will surely be only a fleeting glimpse for the modern inhabitants of Hammerfest. Making the most of the gas boom and securing the future is surely the priority for today’s generation.
Extract from the book Fire and Ice: the Nazis’ scorched earth destruction of Norway by Vincent Hunt
Midway through January the fire squads came back, burning the district of Fuglenes and the Feddersen and Nissen fish factory, run by a family with roots in Hammerfest dating back to 1861. Feddersen and Nissen had been involved in fish production, trapping and export for decades and had run a fleet of fishing boats and a retail business stretching across Finnmark, including Gjevsvår, Honningsvåg, Mehamn and Berlevåg, all destined for destruction in the flames.
Now the pace began to pick up. In the following days the remains of the eastern town were burned, the landing stages of the Finnmark Canning Factory and associated buildings were demolished, as was the Robertson coal depot. All the nearby houses were doused with petrol and set ablaze.
A fresh southerly wind whipped up a fire started in the elementary school which spread to the centre of the city and burned all night. All the churches – initially earmarked to be saved – were engulfed. The west of Hammerfest was charred timbers. The hospital, refrigeration plant and the offices of the bus and boat company FFR (Finnmark Fylkesrederi) were blown up. The steamboat landing stage was dynamited and the two bridges into town were blown and mines laid on their approaches.
The Germans cut down every telegraph pole, rolled up all the cables, smashed all the ceramic conductors and dismantled all the transformers and apparatus at the power station. Then they loaded everything onto ships and took it all away.
At 9am on 5 February the power station was shut down and an hour later the transformer stations were blown. Depth charges were laid alongside the 9-inch main pipe to the water works running through the lake. Pipes further out were ruptured when the bridges were brought down.
On 6 February orders were issued for all remaining Norwegians, Germans and Soviet prisoners to leave the city. This left behind twenty engineers and a lieutenant to blast the rest of Hammerfest then escape in a tugboat. After each building was burnt, the engineers set explosives to blast the foundations, levelling smoke stacks, apartments and foundations.
By 6 February snow had started to fall. A white blanket covered the devastated town with its shattered buildings and charred timbers. On 10 February 1945 the Germans pulled out of Hammerfest. Only the white chapel in the cemetery remained standing.
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.
Travelling by steam train has to be one of the greatest pleasures of life. The steam locomotive, a vital cog of the nineteenth century industrial revolution, was undoubtedly one of man’s finest achievements. Monopolizing the movement of both passenger and freight traffic throughout the world for over a century it was only advancing technology in the form of electric and diesel powered alternatives that unseated it from its throne. Unlike today’s modern traction, which switches off and closes down upon a minor component failing, it usually got you home – even if itself was ailing! Above all she is a living, breathing machine often having a will of her own but if treated with TLC (tender loving care) would produce all that was demanded of her. If one visits any of the many preserved railways throughout Britain all the associated memories of those years can return. The deafening exhaust echoing off of the cuttings and trees, the atmosphere, the heady nectar of grit, smoke and steam emanating from a living machine tackling a stiff gradient can be truly appreciated by traveling in the leading coach.
The death knell for Britain’s steam locomotives was sown within the 1955 Modernisation and Re-equipment of British Railways plan, which, in addition to widespread rationalization of the network, envisaged their substitution with diesel and electric powered traction units. Throughout the late 50’s and early 60’s numerous classes of diesels (some of which failed to outlive steam!) came off the production lines at a rapid rate. The objective of the 1955 plan, that of making the nationalized British Railways break even, was, by the early 60’s, deemed to have failed and a certain Doctor Beeching was “hired” in – the result being his 1963 Reshaping of British Railways 'proposals'. If the first plan wasn’t enough to kill of the “Iron Horses” the second certainly did. One by one the regions dispensed with steam; the WR in March 66, ER in May 66, ScR in May 67, SR in July 67, NER in October 67 and finally the LMR in August 68.
All the above led to a vast increase in interest in the railway scene – giving birth to numerous organizations which arranged lengthy countrywide coach tours to the ever-dwindling number of motive power depots that held allocations of steam locomotives. In addition many ran special trains in connection with the numerous railway closures - often utilizing 'last of class' steam locomotives. Photographic companies benefitted enormously with the increased usage by enthusiasts – who were to be seen 'lemming like' along the linesides of the routes the steam locomotives could be seen at work over. The publishing industry, which produced many and varied books detailing each individual locomotive classes proportions, strengths and, most importantly, where they could be located, also saw increased sales.
As the months counted down towards the end of steam throughout Britain an ever-increasing number of enthusiasts could be witnessed on the scene. The followers were classless. They came from all walks of life including vicars, MP’s (Robert Adley of Winchester whom became a leading opponent to privatization) together with persons from many a varied employment. The common denominator was the steam locomotive – which was fast disappearing and, to the enthusiast, locating and witnessing them at work and rest took priority over everything else. They were a disparate collection of like-minded individuals from all parts of the country whose paths regularly crossed whilst in pursuit of their quarry – often during the increasingly frequent 'last' occasions. There were three main 'categories' of enthusiast. The trainspotter had the 'easiest' mode of recording the scene by merely noting down all and every number seen on their travels and, upon returning home, marking them off (usually redlining with a ball-point pen) each individual entry in their Ian Allan books. Then there was the photographer standing in fields or on platforms for hours in all weathers hoping for the ultimate shot. Then, finally, there were the haulage bashers. They had the hardest job of all – catching their prey 'on the move'. It was the pre-Internet, Twitter and mobile phone age and as such was far more difficult and unpredictable in guaranteeing successful captures. The adrenaline rush and thrill of the chase cannot be replicated today. Knowing rather than hoping that a certain locomotive will put in an appearance somewhat defeats the sense of achievement when pre-planned junkets work out.
Hundred of books have been produced on the activities of the steam locomotive during those years and, as part of Britain’s history, no doubt many more will be ...
Keith Widdowson is a retired BR employee who made it his mission to capture the last days of steam on the railways around Britain. His mother got him his job at BR because she’d noted his ‘obsession with timetables’. He has previously written The Great Steam Chase: Journeys on the Southern Region for The History Press.
Science looks forward: it anticipates rather than remembers. As a result, while the scientiﬁc future catches our imagination for its remarkable challenges and potential solutions, the scientific past becomes a hazy landscape, monochrome and ﬂat, and almost never looked at by those who work in a laboratory.
Darwin is different. Darwin’s name has never faded. When he died in 1882 he was the most celebrated scientist of his day, and he remains a vivid ﬁgure whose work still shapes biology and inﬂuences the way we know ourselves. His life was a combination of early adventure, of ‘seeing everything’, followed by years of contemplation on his favourite scientific problem: the formation of new species. He pursued his ideas with remarkable insight and diligence; Darwin is a giant not simply for the signiﬁcance of his ideas, but also for the personal qualities he brought to science.
What marks out Darwin’s imagination? For him there was no ‘flash of genius’. He liked to work slowly and methodically on a range of particular but varied scientific problems – as various as the origin of coral reefs and the behaviour of bees. A cautious man, he built up intellectual credit over many years, which in turn sustained him as he carefully, almost secretly, moved towards a solution to the problem that preoccupied him above all others.
Darwin had an interesting mix of qualities. He was sensitive to others’ feelings, yet candid about what he thought of people. He was fearful of causing controversy, yet spent a life drawing up one of science’s most radical theories. He could be lively and sociable, but also reclusive and depressed. It was his great good fortune to be wealthy enough to live as a country squire, enjoying family and work for more than forty years in his rural fastness, Down House. He could pull on his boots and be tramping through the countryside in an instant, a valuable counterpoint to the intensiveness of the study where he wrote his books. His imagination depended on those walks, but he was near enough to London for scientific friends to visit him for enjoyably talkative dinners and weekends. He was prodigiously creative and hardworking, while also hampered by illness for long periods.
Darwin was far from the conventional image of a stern Victorian patriarch. He was a perceptive and loving father: he had ten children, and seven survived childhood. The illnesses that struck his family with fatal effect were devastating to him. More usually, as the children crashed around the house, Darwin absorbed their lively spirit and was a playmate. He never saw himself as impressively academic, and his formal education had a discernible limp. Yet he was always interested in nature and from the beginning ﬂavoured his schooling with his own studies of science. By his late teens, he had expertise in botany, zoology and geology, a serious training in natural history which for years ran alongside his studies of the classics, medicine and divinity.
It was his own programme of learning, not his university degree, that got him a place on the scientific survey ship HMS Beagle for a ﬁve-year round-the-world trip. Once aboard, his relaxed and secure temperament helped him thrive in those cramped and stringent oceangoing conditions. He even managed to get on well with Captain FitzRoy, one of the Royal Navy’s most difficult and intransigent characters.
The Beagle voyage lasted ﬁve years, taking him to South America, Australia and all points between. Those years, 1831 to 1836, were the making of Darwin: a raw mix of adventure, physical challenge and exciting intellectual and emotional discovery. It was on the Beagle that he ﬁrst began to ask about the origin of species, questions that set him on his lifetime’s path. And his account of this time, The Beagle Diary, is one of the great descriptions of travel – and of youthful endeavour.
Darwin made a name for himself during that trip. People he admired noticed his astute scientific commentaries, which he posted back to England during the voyage. When he eventually returned to London, and began to sort and describe his specimens, he could activate a ready-made network of scientists, roping them in for their expert opinions and for their patronage. Over and above all this, he came home with his own big idea: a vast project in mind, a more-or-less secret urge to explain how life on Earth had changed over time.
Darwin was a pioneer biologist but he didn’t work alone. Fourteen thousand letters exist in the archives, and are available online. There is much documentation besides this correspondence. A collector from a young age, he was always meticulous in his record keeping – his household accounts are preserved, for example, as are his books, with all their revealing marginalia. The archive of ‘Darwiniana’ is vast. It is the reason we know so much about the way he lived and worked. And it is an archive which proves that science cannot be split from personality, or from society.
Darwin groaned when he wrote his books, and there are vivid descriptions of his toils. But on the Beagle voyage, with so many ideas pressing in, writing became an important part of his life. He could not draw well and photography did not exist yet. FitzRoy and Darwin discussed their ideas about science, but their conversations were sometimes fraught, for it turned out that Captain FitzRoy’s political views included a tolerance of slavery, a practice Darwin and his parents had always abhorred.
He took to writing down his ideas, and his intellectual development can be traced in the filling of notebook after notebook, the compilation of his great journal and in letters that might take days to write and six months to reach home. The climax of this endeavour was his book On the Origin of Species (known here simply as The Origin), published suddenly in 1859 after two decades of gestation and hesitation. Already a renowned scientist before the book was issued, The Origin was of such wide interest to society that Darwin quite quickly became world famous.
Stephen Webster is the author of Charles Darwin: pocket GIANTS. When Darwin announced his theory of evolution by natural selection, he did more than transform biology. Before his great work, humans were comfortably different from other life, a special creation. By showing how life on Earth evolved, Darwin told us that humans too are part of nature. His decisive experience – a five-year round-the-world voyage on the Beagle – set him thinking about the diversity of life, ideas that would challenge the scientific establishment and Victorian society. Darwin for years built his evidence for evolution, even as he realised that such ideas were leading him straight into controversy and dispute. This book gives a concise account of Darwin’s life and work, and makes vividly clear why his work continues to influence us all.
This week's update features fear and vaccination, maps that shaped the world and iconic love letters.
* Lucy Worsley: why I love the Tudors (with a guest appearance by Jean Plaidy).
* An international team of archaeologists specialised in battlefield excavations is headed for Waterloo in Belgium on the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s famous defeat at the hands of British and Prussian forces.
* Magna Carta, Waterloo, Agincourt, Gallipoli and more: 2015 is a year of significant anniversaries which can be a crutch for lazy journalists, but which also allows us to reassess our understanding of the past.
* Fear of vaccination is as old as vaccination itself. The particular spectre of fear changes from time to time, but we are the inheritors of a discursive and emotional habit: of casting doubt on the motives and methods of immunology.
* ‘She drew me for her Valentine': what was the meaning of love in eighteenth century England?
Which history and publishing stories have you enjoyed reading this week?
Of course it was the Boat Deck. Ever since ship designers invented the derrick which raised the lifeboat above the deck, they inadvertently or perhaps deliberately, increased the shadow line which pervaded the Deck, particularly at night in the half light of illumination. The scene had been set & it proved the perfect backdrop for Cupid’s endeavours.
Think about it on a warm tropical night, balmy waters with barely a murmur as the ship glides along, the sweet smell of the South Seas carried on the warm languid breeze, a full moon low in the heavens casting its rays across an iridescent sea – like some beckoning ladder the sea can become irresistible – yet all around you can hear the faint strains of the ship’s orchestra coming from the decks below. We lean against the ships rail in the shadow of a lifeboat protected from the invasive eyes of strangers. There is no one else, 'just we two, me and you'. The world and the night are ours, while on the Boat Deck we are in love and in paradise!
This then is what romantic life is like on the Boat Deck, or it was until those damned designers put the lifeboats inboard several decks below. It may have had the desired effect on the ship’s centre of gravity, but it sure as hell destroyed the most romantic part of a ship in which to pursue the quest for love and romance.
Many a shipboard attachment for more decades that anyone can remember, found its blossoming on the Boat Deck and on many a night the watchman doing his rounds would note the furtive figures, give a knowing nod and pass along – his life’s story would be full of what he had observed in the shadows of the Boat Deck.
In most of today’s ships, officers are not allowed to fraternise with the passengers. Gone are the days when an important part of an officer’s duty was to mix with passengers, even in the not so long ago days when entertainment on board was what the passengers had organised themselves and this was an important scene for officers to become actively involved.
Of course the company had to be constantly on guard to ensure that nothing more than casual friendship developed between an officer and a passenger. But put a man in uniform, particularly evening dress, and let him loose on the dance floor, well then, anything can happen and many an officer has afterwards, had to explain himself to his Captain.
The Boat deck may have been consigned to maritime history, but this is no obstacle to the pursuit of love and romance on a modern day sea voyage – the sea and romance are inseparable. It has something to do with the air, it affects the senses, breaks down the natural inhibitions, re-directs the reasoning part of the brain & it’s inexplicable. So next time you are on a sea voyage, be an observer and you will see romance all around and as the voyage progresses you will see it develop further.
In the days before ships had organised entertainment, passengers would form themselves into an entertainment committee. Most of whose members were either memsahib’s or the formidable matronly Englishwomen returning to India or the East, once described by a foreign ambassador travelling on a P. and O. ship as ‘Britain’s secret weapon.’ They were the arbiters of on board fashion and morality as they guided the young gals through the dangers of the dishonourable, they could sniff out a gold-digger or a cad before they boarded. Fortunately they were few and far between and not at all like the genuinely honourable denizens of the Boat Deck ...
Rob Henderson is one of the authors of A Photographic History of P&O Cruises. One of the world’s most loved cruise lines, P&O Cruises can trace its history back over 175 years. This book traces the history of P&O Cruises and how P&O helped shape the British Empire. With a fleet of liners that undertook voyages to all corners of the globe, P&O was instrumental in immigration to Australia and New Zealand, while acting as a gateway to the Far East and India.
Let’s face it, we love to hear ‘and they lived happily ever after’ at the end of a story. We feel a warm happy glow when two people overcome the odds to reunite in a kiss as the movie ends and we feel a pang of sadness when they just can’t work it out. Even if the only acceptable ending for Romeo and Juliet was their deaths, that hasn’t stopped generations from re-writing their own, happier version of events. Even if we would never admit it, we are romantics. We love forever love. But why do people tend crave the happily ever after – even if it is just in fiction?
A rather obvious answer is that a happy ending is pure escapism. We live in a world of wars and poverty, of climate change and diseases and death on the news every day. We know that real life does not always equal a happy ending and so we wish to see it in fantasy instead. By escaping into a world where a declaration of love can fix any problem and walking hand in hand into the sunset represents eternal bliss, we can forget our troubles for a while. During times of hardship, cinema attendance noticeable rises. People want to forget their every day and retreat into a place where dreams do indeed come true, for a few hours at least.
Perhaps it is not just about escapism, and rather about what happy endings represent; hope. In this jaded and cynical society, optimism is often seen as naivety – we know that fairy tales don’t exist and can be made to feel stupid for wishing it was so. But when jobs are scarce and money is tight and it feels like no one is getting the life they want, seeing a happy life played out can be comforting. It can give us a silver lining, a sliver of hope that maybe we, too, could find a love that lasts.
It is important to note that when it comes to fiction, how much we are invested in characters determines how strongly we root for them. If characters are unlikeable, or dull, or do not earn their happily ever after, then any ending can be fair game. We might even feel satisfied, like when that idiot in a horror movie goes down to the basement alone and meets their untimely end! But if we identify with a character, perhaps see reflections of them in our own lives, and grow to love them then we cannot help but to wish they gain their heart’s desire. There’s a reason love stories like Elizabeth and Darcy or Jane and Mr Rochester (and let’s not forget all the Disney films) are so perennially popular.
Even if you are a Valentine’s Day cynic, don’t feel ashamed to watch that romantic film, or read that cosy love story for the hundredth time. You won’t be alone, we are all hopeless romantics at heart ...
For many women, the outbreak of the First World War was an opportunity to break free of their conventional roles—as mothers, homemakers, and carers for elderly relatives—and make careers for themselves. Many had ambitions to be leaders, as an alternative to being led and directed by men and, with thousands of men being called away from their everyday occupations, gaps appeared which women believed they might fill.
Policing had always been the preserve of men. The only women involved in police work were those who cared for women prisoners, and these were usually the (unpaid) wives of police officers. It was an unsatisfactory arrangement. There was no doubt that women in police cells were open to abuse, and this was among the reasons put forward in support of a force of female police officers.
The first women police service was founded at a meeting in the Chelsea home of Margaret Damer Dawson, a well-known philanthropist active in the cause of animal protection. Mary Sophia Allen, a former suffragette, soon joined her and became her second-in-command. The Metropolitan Police wanted nothing to do with these women, but Chief Constables all over the country were eager to employ them.
The first women police to patrol in uniform appeared in 1914 in the small market town of Grantham in Lincolnshire, where an influx of some twenty thousand soldiers under training caused mayhem, both by their own behaviour and by attracting women with 'khaki fever' who flocked to the outskirts of the camp. After making their mark in Grantham, the officers moved on to Hull, where they helped to rescue families caught up in air raids.
In 1915 the Women Police Service were invited by the Ministry of Munitions of War to help police munitions factories. Hundreds of women were recruited and trained by Dawson and Allen for this essential work. They had become an efficient organization, designing their own military-style uniform, which they wore with pride.
At the end of the war, Dawson and Allen assumed that their important work would be recognized, and that they would continue to work alongside men in policing. However, they had not been popular with the Metropolitan Police, who set up their own female force. However, the Women Police Service carried on for many years outside the Metropolitan area, working under Chief Constables who appreciated them. They can truly be said to have blazed a trail for the modern police woman.
Nina Boyd is the author of From Suffragette to Fascist: the many lives of Mary Sophia Allen. Mary Allen, once a window-smashing suffragette, went on to become a pioneer policewoman, helping create Britain’s first female police force. Honoured for her work policing munitions factories and bombed towns during the First World War, she was soon infuriating the Establishment, travelling the world in her unauthorised uniform to the acclaim of foreign leaders and the dismay of the British government. Mary’s head was next turned after a meeting with Hitler, and she joined Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, narrowly escaping internment despite suspicions of spying, secret flights to Germany and Nazi salutes.
The Times in 1834 offered a list of 'Omnibus Law' that included: 'Do not spit on the straw. You are not in a hog-sty but in an omnibus travelling in a country which boasts of its refinement.' And 'Refrain from affectation and conceited airs. Remember you are riding a distance for sixpence which, if made in a hackney-coach would cost you as many shillings.'
Cartoon postcards took up this mood, for example: 'Passengers left behind may get there first.' And 'Passengers desirous to sleep should instruct the conductor at what time they are to be awakened'.
Horses and horse food (corn and hay) were the main forms of urban traction and its fuel throughout the nineteenth century. There was not much that William Turton did not know about either.
The years 1830-1914 have been called 'The Age of the Train'. But in fact for inner-city and suburban transport the period 1825-1903 is 'The Horse-drawn Era'. It is coincident with the life of William Turton. It was a risky and expensive business. Starting aged nineteen in 1844 Turton built up his corn and hay business which was his main source of wealth until his death. He also acquired a livery and cab stable and eventually ran the largest bus service in Leeds.
In 1872 he was a founder director of the Leeds Tramways Company, one of first in England. He was Chairman for twenty years until 1895 when, as the contract required, LTC transferred by sale to Leeds Borough Council. At the time of sale the LTC had 368 horses valued at £35 each, 69 cars and 26 steam engines. It ran 485,337 miles in 1891 carrying 4,986,384 passengers. The LTC was capitalised at £160,000 with £10 shares owned by 720-780 shareholders at any one time. Biennial dividends ranged from nil to 6%.
So along the way this machine maker's apprentice had adopted the steam traction engine for trams. He was a founding shareholder and director of Thomas Green and Son Engineers who made many of the cars and engines bought by Turton's numerous tramway companies. Turton also had a successful coal business; as far as fuel went any competition between horse and steam was a win-win situation for him. His companies also began to adopt electric and combustion engine traction in the late 1890s.
The horse-drawn tram linked the suburbs in spoke-like fashion to the centre, while buses ran between these lines to form a spider's web of transport. Turton owned most bus routes and ran the monopoly tram service.
Gordon Stowell in his semi-fictional story of the part of Chapeltown in which he grew up (The History of Button Hill 1929) calls the area 'a horse-power suburb' linked to the centre by the tram as if it were 'an umbilical cord'. 'Without the tram Button Hill would have had no history. For social evolution depends largely on the history of transport, and it was the invention of the road-tramway which made practicable the modern middle-class suburb.' Lord Rosebery's lordly put down remark that trams were 'the inconvenience of the opulent and the luxury of the poor' was not far from the mark.
By 1895 William Turton was said to have been 'the most senior director in the transport industry' and 'the most experienced and respected figure in urban transport in the North of England'. He was a transport visionary and entrepreneur. Until his death in 1900 William Turton was still Chairman of Bradford Tramways and director of others. Together with Daniel Busby he had pioneered tramways in more than ten northern towns including: Blackburn, Bradford, Dewsbury, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester and Salford, Newcastle, Nottingham, Sheffield and South Shields.
William Turton was an elected Councillor for some 12 years. There are pen portraits of the outstanding Mayors with whom he served: John Barran and Henry Marsden, as well as engineers Joseph Kincaid and Major-General Charles Hutchinson RE.
Turton witnessed, and in some cases was a victim of, a number of cases of electoral bribery and corruption, insider dealing and other criminality. He was particular active as Chairman of the strategic 'Sanitary Committee' or what we would call Public Health and Environment. The man and the transport are contextualised within the city as they reflect and in turn create each other.
William Turton left an estate valued at over £190,000 which in today's money would be between £10-15 million. There were fewer than 100 millionaires in Britain 1894-1914, none of them in corn or road transport. With sub-division and the effects of the Depression, little of this wealth remained by the Second World War.
Turton's youngest son Robert took over the coal business. His older son George continued the corn business and ran it successfully until his death in 1920 when the firm began to pass out of the family into other hands. It was still trading as 'William Turton Leeds: Corn and Hay Merchant' until the 1960s.
'The strength of this book is that Mr Turton has managed to provide a tremendous amount of detail alongside salient interpretation of the facts. By putting these facts into a wider context he has created a fascinating read. Mr Turton has managed to write a transport history book, focusing on his own family, that provides an illuminating and comprehensive account of an important aspect of Victorian Britain.'
- Christian Wolmar, transport journalist and author
Dr Kathryn Hughes will be at Saltaire Bookshop on Monday 26th February from 7.00pm signing copies of her new book, Great War Britain Bradford: Remembering 1914-18.
The First World War claimed over 995,000 British lives, and its legacy continues to be remembered today. Great War Britain: Bradford 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; the increasingly difficult job of recruiting; the changing face of industry and related unrest; the growing demands on hospitals in the area; the impact of war on women and children left at home; 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 Bradford is told through the stories of those who were there and is vividly illustrated with evocative images.
Authors Sean McGlynn and Catherine Hanley will be at a conference (Strode College, Street, Somerset) on 28th March from 9:30am-4:30pm. Book tickets with Strode Theatre box office: 01458 442846 or online: www.strodetheatre.org.uk
Featuring expert speakers from a range of universities and organisations, this conference is a great opportunity to find out about King John, the road to Magna Carta and life in England at this time.
Sean McGlynn - The Road to Magna Carta (Plymouth University at Strode College)
Sean McGlynn lectures in History for Plymouth University at Strode College, where he teaches an undergraduate module on King John, and also for The Open University. He is a regular contributor to History Today, BBC History Magazine and leading academic journals. His books include King John: Tyrant of Magna Carta (forthcoming 2015), Kill Them All! Cathars and Carnage in the Albigensian Crusade (2015), Blood Cries Afar: The Forgotten Invasion of England 1216 (2011) and By Sword and Fire: Cruelty and Atrocity in Medieval Warfare (2010). He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.
Catherine Hanley - Arms and Armour in the Age of Magna Carta (Historical novelist/scholar)
Catherine Hanley is a historical novelist and researcher specialising in the Central Middle Ages. She writes
historical fiction under the name of C B Hanley. Her successful series of novels is set in the period of Magna
Carta: The Sins of the Father (2012), The Bloody City (2013) and Whited Sepulchres (2014). More are to follow.
She is also author of War and Combat 1150-1270: The Evidence from Old French Literature (2003)
Authors Sean McGlynn and Dr Catherine Hanley will be at Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Conference on 25th April from 9:30am-4:30pm. Tickets cost £10 and include a buffet lunch - available at www.trowbridgecivic.co.uk.
2015 marks 800 years since the Magna Carta was agreed between King John and his barons, so enshrining the rule of law in English society and limiting authoritarian power.
David Jones will be at Woodbridge Books, Woodbridge on Saturday 28th February frp, 12-1pm signing copies of his new book, The Ipswich Witch: Mary Lackland and the Suffolk Witch Hunts.
The year 1645 saw the biggest witch-hunt in English history. Faced by the extreme challenges of religious dissent, poverty, sickness and the threat of foreign invasion, Ipswich became an ideological battlefield during the English Civil Wars. Here Puritanism struggled against Catholic sensibilities, the Devil loomed at the door of every English home, and the age of the witchfinder was born. This book focuses on witchcraft in Ipswich and the most extreme punishment ever given to an English witch, and challenges some stereotypes of the period: reflecting on the growth in Puritan sects, gender politics, the exploitation of the poor, the importance of beliefs in the occult and the rise of English power in the New World.
To say war is terrible is of course a cliche but only so because it is a universal truth. Equally so is the phrase that someone’ had a very interesting war.’ That certainly applies to my father, Leonard Baker. Volunteering whilst in Canada at the end of 1914 where he was working as a chauffeur, having been trained by Daimlers, he joined the Army Service Crops, later the RASC, and at a time when qualified drivers and mechanics were like gold dust and greatly valued, he drove practically everything from armoured cars to a staff car containing T.E. Lawrence. One of three boys, his mother, protectively, reminded him that as a volunteer he was entitled to spend the first year of his service in the UK. This he did, and reading through the pages of his diary which he kept, off and on, throughout the war, he seems to have operated almost as a one man band, driving often on his own either in a staff car or sometimes a lorry, all over the Home Counties, putting up at country pubs and small town inns, teaching officers to drive, chauffering in particular Si Hugo de Bathe. This noble lord’s father had officiated both at Queen Victoria’s coronation and her funeral. His son, succeeding to the title in 1905 was chiefly famous on account of being the second husband of Lily Langtry, the ‘Divine Lilly,’ Edward Vll’s favourite mistress, whom he married in 1899. Dad makes no mention of Lily is in his dairy but when I referred to this in an e-mail to my sister, Susan, in Australia, she replied, ‘Perhaps he didn’t but Dad told me that more than once he drove young offers to assignments with Lilly, and then he said, "Oh perhaps I shouldn’t have told you that”’. Even fifty years on Dad was still the proper Englishman which is what comes across in his diary for even after what must have been frightening and traumatic experiences on or near the front line, his diary entries are often laconic and betray little emotion .
On 30 December 1917, for instance, he records, ’Lorry ran off Ramleh Road, being a very dark night and edge of road giving way lorry rolled over to the bottom of embankment, nearly 30ft. I landed at bottom still in the lorry but was only a bit shaken, a very lucky escape.’ Perhaps he was more shaken than he cared to admit for there are no more entries until July of the following year. But this is not the only gap in his diary so maybe it is not significant.
After the best part of a year in England Dad finally sailed in January, 1916, on a cattle boat out of Avonmouth. Their destination had been France but just before departure this was changed to Gallipoli. ‘ Hope you don’t get torpedoed,’ was the parting shot of the docker who cast them off. There were 40 soldiers on board, sailors manning the solitary gun. Dad attempted to sleep in a hammock, found it impossible and for the rest of the voyage occupied a pig sty, the pig being absent. To avoid submarines they hugged the Welsh and Scots coasts before heading at a steady 8 knots across the Bay of Biscay and, through the Straits of Gibraltar. Here they were intercepted by an British destroyer and told that once again their destination had been changed, this time it was to be Alexandria.
Here Dad helped unload ships, thankful that he had avoided the slaughter of the Dardanelles, Alexandria being the base from which the Allied troops had crossed the Mediterannean to the Gallipoli beachhead, 43,000 to meet their deaths. The last troops were withdrawn just as Dad was sailing out of Avonmouth. Dad and his fellow drivers were asked if they could ride a horse, but the canny ones, which included Dad, knew if they admitted they could they would be drafted permanently to a horse and wagon section, for there were few motor vehicles and the official view of the Army was that horses, mules and camels would be of more use and more reliable.
Dad’s diary is almost a blank for 1916, there being but two entries, the first, which reads like something from a tourist anywhere at any time, ‘Sent letter and photos home, 20 August 1916, whilst the second rather enigmatically records ‘admitted to Mustapha Reception Hospital, 11 Dec, 1916. Discharged from convalescent depot 6 January, 1917.’ We don’t know why and although Dad certainly talked to me about his war experiences I don’t recall him ever mentioning being wounded or suffering any illness during his service.
1917 sees Dad recording a great deal of action. On 29 January his ’25.30 six cylinder Studebaker ambulance ‘ is loaded on to a train heading some hundred miles west of Alexandria towards the then ill defined and disputed Libyan border. Next morning he’s bound for Mersa Matruh where fighting had been going on since November, 1916. ‘Hard journey through sand storm, reached Mutruh 90 miles.’ The enemy is the Senussi, allies of the Turks and Germans, who were attempting to march on Alexandria. Dad is ordered to carry a loaded rifle, the red cross of an ambulance being, so rumour had it, a favourite Senussi target. On 3 January Dad records, ‘Sheggar Pass, terrible road, pits dug and Pass blown up. Enemy pushed back and some dispersed, about ten casualties on our side. Enemy in possession of two Krupp guns and two machine guns.’ Next day an attempt to reach Siwa is given up after eight miles, but on 5 February, ‘Went in new way and captured the Senussi stronghold, Siwa being a most primitive but interesting place. Reverting to tourist speak Dad notices that ‘The town is more like a hill of cave dwellers, the people being very primitive and dirty and live mostly on camel flesh and dates.They have a very strange way of fastening their doors.’ But he doesn’t tell us what it is! ‘Only about 6 white people have entered Siwa before the expedition. Got some interesting curios at Siwa.’
With the defeat of the Senussi the British army heads back eastwards, the value of the motor lorry is becoming more and more obvious although inevitably the unsurfaced desert tracks do it no favours. On 8 February, ‘Left the car on road for night owing to radiator leaking (so is he no longer driving his ambulance?). Dad now reverts to the interested tourist. On 13 February he ‘saw a lovely sunset on the sea, the sun sinking exactly behind a mosque,’ on the 18 he ‘went to a church in the morning, church a funny little wooden shack lit by candles,’ whilst in the evening ‘went in a small sailing boat accompanied by R and A.’ A couple of days later, complete with camera he ‘visited Bedouin encampment Dabba, which was ‘very interesting and well worth seeing, market a strange sight.’
It is at this time that my maternal grandfather, Hugh Knights, having volunteered at the age 45 to join the cavalry, gets himself killed in another theatre of the Middle East war, on the advance to Baghdad, leaving 8 orphan children, their mother having died in 1911. Such an seemingly utterly irresponsible action in abandoning his family – my mother and two of her brothers spent some time in Stafford workhouse – is to say the least hard to explain, but that’s another story.
By 3 March Dad has reached Kantara and sees ‘Suez Canal for first time.’ Kantara was a most important base, essential for the defence of Suez. Back in February 1916 a cemetery had been established there ‘for burials from the various hospitals,’ and today it is a Commonwealth War Memorial Cemetery where the bodies of 1,562 Commonwealth Great War soldiers lie. From now on, although Dad never totally abandons the role of tourist, he sees a great deal of action. Kantara was the terminus of a railway leading to Gaza and Dad with the ASC vehicles on board steams eastwards to ‘Belah, within eight miles of Gaza.’ On 30 April he writes ‘Supposed to have left Belah through being too exposed to shell fire and air attack. Moved back to Rafa, a sand plain.’ On 8 and 9 May, ‘had two air raids over camp, 8.45am and 2.0pm, about 100 bombs dropped; enemy used machine guns. Each raid lasted about half an hour. Practically no damage done, a few casualties including three in the Company Five Taubes (German aircraft) in the first raid and seven in the second, a very unpleasant experience. This is probably the occasion Dad recounted to me when, being taken by surprise, he scrambled through prickly scrub and managed to get down into a ditch beside the railway track. Some seconds later his mate, Titch, arrived, cursing and out of breath. Dad asked him what had kept him. ‘You’d lag behind if you hadn’t got any bloody boots on,’ was the reply.
Dad goes back by train to Kantara, ‘as a guard,’ and then ‘has a bathe at El Arish and missed the train.’ One might have thought this a pretty serious matter but Dad merely notes that later he ‘came up on a train loaded with rails for new line.’ On 1 June ‘Taubes came over at usual time (breakfast time) and dropped about 10 bombs – casualties.’ From April to August fierce battles were fought to resist a combined German and Turkish advance across Sinai in an assault towards the Suez Canal, in which some 220 British, Australians and New Zealanders were killed, with another 71 dying from wounds and over 900 wounded. However it is estimated that some 18,000 of the enemy were either killed or wounded, another 4,000 taken prisoner and from then on the Germans and Turks were driven steadily back, eastwards. Being wounded and put into an ambulance was no guarantee of survival. Dad used to convey the wounded to the railhead but for some extraordinary reason captured prisoners were given priority. Both were put into open trucks under the burning sun and conveyed, slowly, to Kantara. The lucky ones who survived this treatment would either be attended to there and eventually returned to active service or given a ‘Blighty’ which meant a hospital ship home to the United Kingdom. By that date General Allenby had been sent out from France to take command of the British, Australian and New Zealand forces. By moving most of his headquarters staff from Cairo to the front line he instantly gained the trust of his soldiers. To quote Dad,’ he was a general who made a point of seeing and being seen by his troops and as a consequence we had great respect and affection for him’
Whilst horses and camels would be vital to the war effort in the Middle East – I have a picture of Dad and two comrades sitting on camels in front of the Pyramids at Giza although I suspect this was a tourist jaunt rather than a serious military expedition – it was becoming obvious that the motor vehicle, the aeroplane and the train were playing a much greater part. The speed with which the Army Service Corps was able to back up advances across Sinai persuaded Allenby of the superiority of the motor vehicle as long as drivers were resourceful and could cope with minor breakdowns. Dad was of the opinion that much of the success of the advance to Beersheba was due to one of the junior officers, Lt H L Yonge, but it was the officer commanding who got the Military Cross. Dad said Yionge was a ‘quiet, friendly chap, popular with the soldiers.’ In civilian life he lived with his sister on an Essex smallholding. He never married, Dad and he kept in touch after the war and would meet at reunions. I was introduced to him at the final reunion at the Bull and Mouth Tavern in High Holborn in May, 1955, the only one I ever attended; which I did somewhat reluctantly, not,as a somewhat detached 18 year old, having any great interest in meeting characters of which I had often heard but seemed to me to belong to the dim and distant past. Now, of course, I am so pleased I did, not just for Dad’s sake but looking back it was my one opportunity to meet what I now perceive as legendary figures.
Although Dad remained a private throughout the War, this, I suspect was a deliberate choice for he was asked to apply for a commission but refused. Mum said he was 'Mentioned in Despatches' but I never asked and it was not the sort of information Dad would have volunteered. I can only conclude that he was someone who totally lacked ambition, as far as employment was concerned. He kept in touch with several officers after the war, as well as privates and other ranks, becoming a chauffeur for various members of the landed gentry, driving all over Europe and the USA, throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s. He met Mum, orphaned in the War, when she was a housemaid aged 20 and eventually got round to marrying her ten years later. Dad’s particular friend was Herb – short for Herbert – Ashdown. Although it never struck me at the time I came to realise that he had the most appropriate name of anyone I have ever known for he lived at Nutley in the Ashdown Forest and worked as a gardener. He was a tall man with a big nose and spoke with a deep Sussex burr and would come up once a year on the Southdown coach and he and dad would go off to their company reunion.
On 27 October 1917, General Allenby decided that he had sufficient resources to start the push across the Sinai, deep into the Ottoman Empire, the final objectives being Jerusalem and Damascus. The ASC lorries carried ammunition, general supplies and water, this latter being Dad’s load, put into 400 gallon tanks which looked like ‘giant suitcases.’ This was perhaps the most vital of these vital supplies for both men and horses for on 31 October 1917 the 4th and 12th Australian Light Horse Regiments took part in what is generally regarded as the very last successful, full scale cavalry charge in any war and ensured the capture of Beersheba. The day before Dad recorded, ‘No.1 section moved up at midnight about six miles up Beersheba Road. On 2 November he notes, ‘Entered Beersheba the day after its capture with 16 lorries of 347 company, the first motor company to enter Beersheba.’ One might have thought that he would make some reference to the dramatic events of the previous 36 hours but all he says is ‘ ‘Rather a disappointing place, but possessing a few good buildings.’ He does add, ‘ an officer and a native blown up and killed by picking up articles attached to mines and bombs. Turks left a number of wounded in the hospital.’ Next day he witnesses,’ big bombardment of the Turkish line 3,000 yards off. Unloaded ammunition and got away in mist at dawn. The ammunition dump was heavily bombarded just after we left. Lucky for us we got away in time. Had a dreadful journey in pouring rain, continually getting stuck in the soft roads and having to dig out. Finished up with a broken chain at nearly midnight.’
Christmas Day was dreadful ‘The worst I hope I shall ever have. Number of large buildings damaged by shell fire or bombs. Pouring rain, and cold until 8.30pm. Rations scarce and no parcels arrived. Wrote to Mum and Dad. Hope they had a jolly Christmas.’ Dad was based for some months in 1918 in Jerusalem which Allenby had entered on 11 December, on foot, so as not to offend the susceptibilities of the various religions to whom Jerusalem was the holiest of cities. He made friends with several of the locals, Arabs and Jews, just as two of his grandsons would some 70 years later when working as volunteers in kibbutzes, and took at least one roll of film which he sent back as usual to Alexandria to be developed. On 22 July, he notes that he had ‘7 days leave in Cairo …Mother and Dad also on their holidays at Eastbourne. Rather a strange coincidence. Put up at GHQ Savoy Hotel, also visited zoo and museum and saw numerous mummies.’Still a private, by choice, after nearly four years but here he is, on leave putting up at the best hotel in Cairo The Savoy dated from the 1860s, amongst its most famous guests being T.E. Lawrence who was there in December 1914, and Lord Carnarvon who funded the expedition which discovered Tutankahmum’s tomb in 1924.
The war in the Middle East had entered its final phase with the advance on Damascus. The advance from Jerusalem to Jericho was through chasms. The distance is a mere twenty miles but it begins a 3,000 feet above sea level and drops to some 1,200 feet below it in the Jordan Valley. Whatever progress was being made in the Middle East the war in France was far from won, drivers were still at a premium and the War Office in London suggested that ‘lorry driving in Palestine could be done by men of a lower medical category.’ Dad’s friend, Lt Yonge reported on this experiment. ‘To disprove this contention I collected certain disbelievers and too them on a lorry convoy from Jerusalem to Jericho. The day was perfect – for my purpose at any rate. Boiling hot and just enough wind in those ghastly valleys to stir up all the dust, which I suppose lay on the roads for an average of not less than six inches. They came back eyes, noses, ears thick in dust and schemes for substituting B class men for A class were never seriously raised again.’
Damascus was captured on 1 October 1918 and Turkey surrendered on 30 of that month. In T.E. Lawrence’s account of the war, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, he claims that, having arrived in the Syrian capital some days earlier, all the utilities were fully restored but Dad told me this was not true. Driving in the advance guard into the night late at night he found himself running over dead bodies which he could not make out lying in the unlit streets. A day or two later Dad saw General Allenby sitting with a white man dressed as an Arab in the back of Allenby’s Rolls-Royce and realised who it was. T.E. Lawrence was not then anything like as famous as he would become or indeed was already with sections of the British public through newspapers, desperate for a glamorous war hero, and it was through newspaper sent out from home that the British troops in the Middle East got to hear of him. Dad met him later, twice driving him to meetings in a staff car, but as he said, ‘he never spoke to me' ...
Adrian Murdoch will be at Alderney Literary Festival on Saturday 21st March from 3:30-4:30pm giving a talk on 'Bringing the Dead of Herculaneum to Life' followed by a Q & A session. He will also be signing copies of his book, Rome's Greatest Defeat: Massacre in the Teutoburg Forest.
In September AD 9 half of Rome's Western army was ambushed in a German forest. Three legions, comprising some 25,000 men under the Roman general Varus, were wiped out by an army of Germanic tribes under the leadership of Arminius. This book offers an account of this battle, the historical background, and the implications of defeat.
This week's update features Teddy Girls, Victorian pancakes and the victims of the first crusade.
* A letter from Ernest Hemingway's widow could finally solve the mystery of the Cuban farmhouse that was 'bequeathed to the Cuban people' after his death. The property became a museum in 1962, but it has been unclear whether this was following the wishes of Mary Hemingway or at the insistence of the Cuban government.
* A framed picture of a Leicestershire soldier killed in the First World War has been saved from a skip. Now the Royal Tigers' Association wants to trace the family of Private Leonard Grewcock so they can present them with the photograph.
* The FBI is investigating if the KKK suspects in a horrific 1946 Georgia mass lynching are still alive after a campagin urging authorities to to try to bring those responsible to justice.
* Waterstones has unveiled a 'more pleasurable' website this week but what do you think of their redesign?
* Publishers need to offer female employees a flexible working environment and take advantage of decentralised office arrangements in order to encourage more female executives to take the step to the next tier of management, key figures in the trade have told The Bookseller.
Researching your family history can teach you a lot about your ancestry. It also makes a wonderful gift once you have completed your research. Give it as an anniversary present, birthday gift or for other special occasions. If this is your plan, you need to begin early, especially if you plan to go in-depth with your research.
Set a Goal
You have numerous options for how you want to create your family tree. You may want to select a template that covers three or four generations related to the recipient of the gift. This option will have special meaning since the person already knows the people listed.
You may prefer to be more historic in your approach and select a ten- or eleven-generation family tree template. This option makes for a wonderful gift that will appeal to many people. Just be prepared that the research could take you several months so play far ahead if this is the approach you choose.
Another option is to take smaller templates and create multiple family trees. For instance, you may decide to cover the ancestry of all of the person’s grandparents. You would create four separate templates that could be placed together in a large frame. You would probably select three- or four-generation templates to ensure that everything fits in the space and isn’t too overwhelming.
Choose a Template
Once you know what kind of research you will need to do and how much information you want to present, you need to decide on the format. Numerous options are available to suit many tastes. A landscape family tree template is a classic choice with ovals where you can put either information or photos.
Bowties and wide or tall trees are other options that are ideal for three- or four-generations. They often allow you to include photos or more information other than just the names to personalize your design.
For more in-depth research, you can also use the bowtie design. You may also want to try a circular pattern to fit more names into the space. A chart format is another option when you have a lot of names to include. It is easy to read and keeps everything organized. To be more decorative, choose a template that includes a border. You can even find ones that allow you to input the family crest.
Give the family tree as a wedding or anniversary present and include both families of the couple on your template. A bowtie design is the ideal choice for this gift and is easy to read.
When giving a gift of a family tree to someone, you want it to be visually pleasant to look at and easy to follow. You may want to include photos or more data to create a gift that is interesting and will have meaning to the recipient. This is both a unique and heartfelt gift that you put a lot of time and effort into. Choose the right design for your gift that fits the information you collected and puts it into a lovely display.
Suzie Kolber created Obituaries Help to be the complete online resource for 'do it yourself' genealogy projects. The site offers the largest offering of family tree charts online. The site is a not for profit website dedicated to offering free resources for those that are trying to trace their family history.