- RSS Channel Showcase 7539576
- RSS Channel Showcase 6602089
- RSS Channel Showcase 9341730
- RSS Channel Showcase 1554573
Articles on this Page
- 07/01/15--02:00: _Executed at dawn: B...
- 07/03/15--04:05: _The Friday Digest 0...
- 07/07/15--00:30: _Writing Love and Wa...
- 07/10/15--03:00: _The Friday Digest 1...
- 07/14/15--00:00: _Nostalgia: Scenes o...
- 07/15/15--02:30: _Margaret Lockwood: ...
- 07/17/15--03:00: _The Friday Digest 1...
- 07/20/15--02:30: _The armoured campai...
- 07/24/15--03:00: _The Friday Digest 2...
- 07/31/15--03:00: _The Friday Digest 3...
- 07/03/15--04:05: The Friday Digest 03/07/15
- 07/07/15--00:30: Writing Love and War in the WRNS
- 07/10/15--03:00: The Friday Digest 10/07/15
- 07/14/15--00:00: Nostalgia: Scenes of Bournmouth
- 07/15/15--02:30: Margaret Lockwood: Queen of the Silver Screen
- 07/17/15--03:00: The Friday Digest 17/07/15
- 07/20/15--02:30: The armoured campaign in Normandy
- 07/24/15--03:00: The Friday Digest 24/07/15
- 07/31/15--03:00: The Friday Digest 31/07/15
Between 1914-1918, 302 British and Commonwealth soldiers were executed for military offences committed while on active service on the Western Front (Babington, 2002), and these remain a source of controversy that continues to cast a long shadow. As shocking as that figure might be, the executions represent only around ten percent of the 3,076 men sentenced to death (in fact some 20,000 offences that could have attracted the death sentence were committed over this same period).
These statistics show therefore, that some of those executed were undoubtedly unlucky to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, when those further up the command chain saw a need to make an example of them, thereby making it somewhat of a lottery for those concerned and hence inherently unfair. There are many aspects where these executions are concerned, and below, briefly, is just one of them.
Soldiers have always had a natural reticence to speak to their families about the fighting that they had been involved in and the horrors that they had witnessed. If speaking about killing the enemy was so difficult, then how much harder it would have been for them to speak about witnessing or taking part in the execution of one of their own, perhaps even someone that they had known or had enlisted with in one of the so called ‘Pals battalions’. If they were fortunate to be on leave, or had survived the war, then the relatives of a man who they knew had been executed, may have asked awkward questions in an effort to find out how a loved one had died as they frequented the same shops, factories and public houses.
In November 1917 the War Cabinet decided, despite considerable opposition from the higher echelons of the Army, that the families of those executed were to be informed that their loved ones had died on active service. Up until that point many commanding officers had preferred to record the fate of those executed as “killed in action”, which had the effect of preserving the man’s right to his service medals and his family’s right to allowances.
The family of Private Bertie McCubbin, of the 17th Sherwood Foresters was understandably upset to be informed that he had been killed by a “gunshot”. Unbeknown to the family, he had in fact been executed on the 30th July 1916 having been sentenced for cowardice, a fact his mother only discovered after one of his friends returned from the front line and told her the truth. As his niece, Mrs Doris Sloan, recalled "she went insane with grief. She never received his medals and never received a pension because he was shot as a coward.”
Until 1917, the Army Record Office, which was dependent on information from the front, had on the occasions when it had been informed that a man had been executed, simply and bluntly informed families that their loved one: “...was sentenced after trial by court martial to be shot for desertion…and the sentence was duly carried out on…”
The families of the men executed were left devastated, in many cases ashamed, and sometimes ostracised within their communities. The effect on the family of Lance-Corporal Peter Goggins was devastating as his mother had a breakdown and his wife of six months simply disappeared. The wife of another executed man went to her local post office in 1916 and was met with: “We don't give pensions to the widows of cowards.” As a result she was left destitute, with a three-year-old and a four-month-old child to feed.
Occasionally the consequence of families being misinformed that a loved one had been killed in action, led to other members of the man’s family joining up to seek revenge on the Germans. One soldier recalled how the misery of the comrades of a man executed was made worse when they later discovered that the man’s father had joined up to fight the Germans to avenge his son, when perhaps those to blame were in fact nearer to home.
David Johnson is the author of Executed at Dawn: British Firing Squads on the Western Front 1914-1918. The BBC have purchased the rights to David’s previous book The Man Who Didn’t Shoot Hitler: The Story of Henry Tandey VC and Adolf Hitler in 1918.
This week's update features history, safe spaces and comfort zones, medieval graffiti and ten pairs of shoes that changed the world.
Nine days after moving her into sheltered accommodation, my mother had a stroke and died. It was heartbreaking to begin the gargantuan task of re-packing and sorting all her possessions again so soon after we had ‘got her straight’, as she would have said. There were a few boxes and bags I had not yet got round to when she moved, amongst them three large black bin-liners. Imagine my surprise when I opened them to find hundreds of letters in neat bundles, some in envelopes (recycled of course), sorted by year.
I knew my mother, was about to embark on her memoirs, but as her first book, a history of The Arab Chest, took her twenty years, I had been somewhat cynical. But here was the evidence. She had always been proud of her war, and said they were the best years of her life. I determined then and there to finish the job.
Born in Norfolk to a social-climbing, bossy mother and a bullied, intellectual father, my mother joined up as a means of escape when she was just 18. She was posted to Scotland for training and then to Egypt, via the Cape, with a commission at the tender age of 21. In 1945 she was sent to Germany as part of the forces overseeing the peace. For a country girl this was quite an eye opener and transformed her from a naïve and green teenager into a sophisticated and compassionate woman of the world.
The letters reveal extraordinary and fascinating encounters, assignments, events and personalities: working with Admiral Ramsay on the Invasion of Sicily, evacuating in the Flap, the sinking of the Medway, the surrender of the Italian fleet and the Belsen trials. These observations are peppered with humorous insights into the humdrum preoccupations of a typical Wren – boys, hair, weight and having fun, while worrying about home and family. It was the strangest thing editing the letters: I could hear my mother’s voice in all of them, from the brittle reaction to her mother’s criticisms, to her delight in getting her own back on her goody-two-shoes older sister (whose behaviour she thought suspect) and the great affection she shows her father in the handful of letters to him that survive.
More than that, I can chart the rise of her interest in all things Islamic, her future love of archaeology and culture from her early travel writings and journeys around Palestine, where she hitched on one of her first leaves. I sense her growing compassion for those less fortunate and whose suffering she had witnessed, like the German people in 1945/6, whose lives were completely destroyed by Bomber Harris’s blanket bombing policies (read Kate Atkinson’s latest book A God in Ruins if you have any doubts). I share her trying to make sense of it all against the growing realisation of the horrors of what some of those ‘normal’ people did in the concentration camps.
And then in the middle of my painstaking work of sorting, cataloging and thinking about a narrative framework (after all a collection of letters isn’t that interesting per se, you have to find a thread that links them all together), our daughter Louise died, and for a year I was unable to do anything that required a brain. However, our Angelus Foundation campaign on legal highs and club drugs has just become law, so I suppose I did do something positive, but it was activity powered by something visceral and compelling, a driving force that got me through the days. But it also burned me out – there are only so many times you can recount the story of your daughter’s death to readers, listeners and viewers without dying a little yourself.
Moving to Singapore gave me the solitude to get back to work. But no sooner was I getting back into it than I was diagnosed with a soft tissue sarcoma of the calf and I needed a few more months before I could return to Mum’s letters. Because she and Louise had been such firm friends, it gave me great comfort to spend time with them, and the whole process became a form of therapy, along with my other writing, yoga and journey back to well-being.
It led me to think about how young those women were – like my mother, who set sail for undreamed of challenges and experiences. Louise was 21 when she died, the same age as my mother when she was commissioned and went to Egypt. It is hard to imagine how our children’s generation would have coped with such privations and danger: we molly-coddle, pamper and spoil them so that the ‘gap year’ becomes the zenith of their exposure to danger – but they still have money machines, mobile phones and wifi even in the most remote places.
Can you imagine being stuck on a troop ship for weeks on end, wondering if you were going to be torpedoed? Only two ports of call to send and receive letters? Uniform to be worn at all times except when doing PE – but there was a batman to do the washing and ironing! Or having to evacuate your station because the German Army is on the doorstep? Having the pick of so many young men, but wondering if you would ever see them again as they disappear from leave back to the Front?
It is easy to dismiss my mother’s letters on one level: yes, they are full of frivolity, frothy and fun, but every now and again – to stop her mother getting the wrong idea, I suspect – she slips in details of her work, the long hours, the dirt, the flies, bugs, sickness; the ups and downs of being a cog in a machine when things don’t go your way – promotions, postings and red tape. It was very tough, and I think the forces all lived in this parallel universe where having a good time masked the realities of the fear and danger.
Perhaps the most poignant take-away from letters like these is that there will never again be records of extraordinary times captured by ordinary people – women like my mother, Sheila, who give us a real sense of what it must have been like to serve your country in its hour of need. People just don’t write letters any more, and that is a real shame.
Vicky Unwin is the author of Love and War in the WRNS. Sheila Mills’s story is a unique perspective of the Second World War. She is a clever, middle-class Norfolk girl with a yen for adventure and joins the WRNS in 1940 to escape the shackles of secretarial work in London, her unhappy childhood and her social-climbing mother. From a first posting in Scotland in 1940, she progresses through the ranks, first to Egypt and later to a vanquished Germany. Extraordinary and fascinating encounters and personalities are seen through the eyes of a young Wren officer: Admiral Ramsay, the Invasion of Sicily, The Flap, the sinking of the Medway, the surrender of the Italian fleet and the Belsen Trials. These observations are peppered with humorous insights into the humdrum preoccupations of a typical Wren – boys, appearance and having fun, while worrying about home and family.
This week's update features memories of the 7/7 bombings, Frida Kahlo's wardrobe and children's books that make parents cry.
* Eight weird things that have happened in July through history.
* A battered soldier's body tells bloody tale of the Wars of the Roses.
* Unusual neolithic burials have been unearthed in Egypt.
* The family of a boy who accidentally smashed a jug at an Ipswich museum are 'thrilled' that it has been repaired.
* Documents that show Claude Monet's neighbours objections to his garden plans are going on display at the Royal Academy.
* Seeking shelter in Victorian London: The problem of homelessness in the capital city.
* Thirteen things that happened when this journalist wore '60s clothes for a day.
* Twenty-eight pictures of women from London’s lost ’80s subcultures.
* This mammoth infographic captures the most iconic wedding dresses of all time.
* A woman on one of the trains during the 7/7 bombings has made a film about her experience.
* Love You Forever, Knuffle Bunny Free and other children’s books that make parents cry.
* Joanna Prior, president of the Publishers Association, rejects 'out of date' industry image.
* Twenty-one book lovers share their favourite African writers.
For the holiday resort of Bournemouth, on the South Coast of England, the 1950s and 60s were a vibrant time in the town’s history. The country was recovering from the ravages of the Second World War, rationing had ended in 1954 and, with the gradual rebuilding of the town throughout the next few years, many visitors returned to the once popular holiday destination.
Tourists and visitors to Bournemouth came to take in the sea air, unwind in the Victorian gardens and promenade along the Pine Walk and behind the bandstand ending up by the Pier, ready to enjoy the beautiful sandy beaches of Bournemouth which run for miles along the South Coast from Poole all along to Hengistbury Head.
Through the early part of the 1950s there were still signs warning the public of mines from the war being washed up on the shore line, but that did not deter the visitors who took in the summer sun whilst staying in one of the many hotels. They would send home postcards telling the reader how much they were enjoying Bournemouth and what the town had to offer and always telling the reader what the weather was like, which as you read in the messages, was not always sunny and warm.
The great pier at Bournemouth was rebuilt in 1946 after having the centre section blown up during the war, a fate many piers suffered throughout the country. Later on, in the 1960s the new Mermaid Theatre on the pier opened its doors. It attracted many famous people to the stage including Dick Emery who appeared on stage in 1967, along with many of the top entertainers of the time. Similarly, The Beatles appeared at the Winter Gardens in 1964.
From the pier you could take a pleasure cruise either around the bay on the Bournemouth Belle or further afield to Swanage on the paddle steamer The Waverley. This is something that we can still enjoy today.
But even Bournemouth was to experience the changes of the times with the meeting of the Mods and Rockers one Whitsun in 1964 which turned into a fight on the beach. Thankfully occasions like this were rare in Bournemouth’s history.
Bournemouth had so much to offer visitors, from the beaches to the gardens and the shops in the town, with Bobby’s the department store (now Debenhams) all ready to sell you a memento of your visit to Bournemouth. Bournemouth was a place to escape from the struggles of day-to-day life and to be able to enjoy a holiday in comfort and style.
Bournemouth in the 1950s & ’60s offers a rare glimpse of life in the town during a fascinating period, which started with post-war austerity and ended with Britain becoming the music and fashion capital of the world. This volume – featuring a superb collection of colour images of Bournemouth’s holiday heyday – focusses on Bournemouth as it is most fondly remembered: as a great seaside resort.
On Saturday 4 July 2015 Margaret Lockwood's commemorative blue plaque, given by the Heritage Foundation, was unveiled by her daughter, the actress Julia Lockwood. It paid tribute to her time as a resident on the Upper Park Road in Kingston upon Thames, where she lived for 30 years. The band of the Surrey Yeomanry played music from the 1940s and 50s, and The Lady Vanishes, her iconic film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, was screened. This is one of the many events that will be taking place as her centenary approaches next September (2016).
With her beauty and talent, it was clear that Margaret was going to be a star. Believing in her daughter's potential, her mother, Margaret Evelyn, removed her from Sydenham High School and enrolled her in dance, singing and elocution lessons. At the age of twelve, she was given her big break when Miss Conti, of the Italia-Conti school, spotted her at an audition for Babes in the Wood. When the leading actress cast as Babe became ill, Margaret stepped into the main role. Fate dealt her a cruel hand: the actress recovered in time for the opening night and Margaret was demoted to a fairy. Various roles followed and her perseverance paid off when Noel Coward singled her out at a casting for his ambitious stage production, Cavalcade. However, her turn on the West End came to an abrupt end when she dared to repeat Coward's colourful language at home. Determined to become a serious actress, Margaret enrolled at RADA, where her performance in Hanele at the end of year show attracted the attention of Herbert de Leon, an agent who had guided the early career of Greer Garson.
Small but significant theatrical and film parts followed. Margaret's debut role was in Basil Dean's Lorna Doone, a critical and financial disaster, but reviews spoke glowingly of the young actress. She acted in 'quota quickies', learning her craft alongside an eager young director, Carol Reed, and starring with Maurice Chevalier in the English version of the French musical, The Beloved Vagabond. Contracted to Gainsborough and a leading lady before the age of twenty-one, Margaret headed the large cast of Bank Holiday, a box-office hit in England and a controversial film in America. For years she had been involved with Rupert Leon, 'her first and only sweetheart', whom she secretly married when she came of age as her mother disapproved of the relationship. Always the consummate professional, a few hours after the ceremony, Margaret reported for work on the film-set, and every night she returned to her mother's house. This charade lasted for months until a reporter, having discovered the marriage certificate, telephoned her mother and unwittingly revealed the news to her.
Margaret was drafted into her next film, The Lady Vanishes, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and written by Sidney Gilliat. It was reported that Hitchcock rejected Vivien Leigh for the part of the playgirl Iris Henderson and personally chose Margaret for the role. Co-starring was a young theatrical actor, Michael Redgrave. Upon its release in 1938, the The Lady Vanishes propelled Margaret to international success, the film won the New York Times Critics Award and Hitchcock went to America to work under contract to David O Selznick. Hollywood sent for Margaret, and her first American film was a Shirley Temple vehicle, Susannah of the Mounties, where she played second-fiddle to the precocious child star. Unhappy and lonely in Hollywood, and having fulfilled her one-picture-deal at Twentieth-Century-Fox, she expected to sail home but Paramount contracted her to appear in Rulers of the Sea opposite Douglas Fairbanks Jr.
She declined a Hollywood contract with Paramount and returned to England at the request of Carol Reed, who tempted her with the script of The Stars Look Down. For the first time in her career she was offered an unsympathetic part – the first of her famous 'bad girl' roles. Opening to wartime audiences 1940, the film held the wartime record at the Odean Theatre in Leicester Square, when in one week, over 27,000 people viewed it. With her husband off at a training camp in Wales, Margaret remained in London where she almost got killed on the set of Quiet Wedding when the studio was bombed by the Luftwaffe who mistook the building for the artillery factory next door. She also made the propaganda thriller, Night Train to Munich, opposite Rex Harrison and Paul Henried, which earned her favourable reviews.
In 1941 Margaret gave birth to her first and only child, Margaret Julia Leon, known as 'Toots'. Motherhood did little to dampen her glamourous reputation and the public lapped up stories and photographs of Margaret and Toots together. And, having taken a year off to look after her baby, Margaret's star had not waned during her absence from the screen.
In demand more than ever, Margaret's role as the villain in The Man in Grey, opposite Phyllis Calvert, James Mason and Stewart Granger, was a box-office smash and owing to its popularity it had two London openings – a rarity, even by today's standards. She went on to star in several sentimental wartime dramas (Love Story was the second most popular film from the wartime era) and, most notably, Gainsborough 'bodice rippers' including The Wicked Lady, the period drama that caused a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic. Britons lapped up the image of Margaret playing the aristocratic lady by day and highway robber by night. Americans were aghast at the bawdy dialogue and the costumes were deemed too daring with their plunging necklines. It was re-shot for American censors, and it became the first British film to gross £1-million at the box-office and is ranked at ninth place in the BFI's Top 100 most seen films. Hoping to repeat this level of success in America, Hollywood once again offered to put her under contract, and again she declined. However, in America she remains an icon of 40s cinema with the annual San Francisco Noir City Film Festival paying homage to her film Bedelia.
Margaret's fame soared, she became the highest paid actress in British films and received 25,000 fan-letters a month. When she undertook personal appearance tours, policemen had to form human barricades to control the excited mobs of fans. She endorsed products and brands: Drene shampoo, bobby pins, Parker pens, and she modelled for Pringle. Her name became associated with British designers, Hartnell, Hardy Amies, even Clarks shoes asked Margaret and Toots to head a campaign. And, confirming her outstanding popularity, Margaret won the Daily Mail Film Award three years in a row. By 1948, she was disenchanted with the roles the studio was offering her and, having dissolved her contract with Gainsborough in 1947 in favour of Rank, she discovered the latter were also overlooking her talent as an actress.
Looking elsewhere for professional fulfilment, Margaret accepted the role of Eliza Dolittle in the BBC's live production of Pygmalion. Theatrical work followed, beginning with a tour of Noel Coward's Private Lives and she starred in Peter Pan during the 1949 Christmas season at the Scala Theatre. Agatha Christie wrote Spider's Web especially for her and it ran for 774 performances at the Savoy Theatre. Toots, too, became a famous actress in her own right, and mother and daughter made history when they starred together as Peter and Wendy in the 1957 production of Peter Pan. They would go on to star in two BBC series together, The Royalty, and its spinoff, The Flying Swan.
Margaret never lost her appeal as an actress, and still a favourite with the British public, she enjoyed success in the groundbreaking 1970s television series, Justice. Her performance as the barrister Harriet Peterson was applauded by feminists and her character is still regarded as strong role-model today. After 45 films, numerous plays and several television performances, Margaret retired from acting in 1980. A year later, she was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. For the last decade of her life she shunned the limelight, though continued to correspond with her fans, whose support she was always grateful for – '[I] just couldn't exist without them.' Remembered fondly as a pioneer of British cinema, whenever an old film was screened on television her fan mail would increase and each letter was answered personally. She died at the age of 73 on 15 July 1990, her wartime hit The Man in Grey was screened on television that same day. Again the letters arrived but this time they remained unanswered.
The blue plaque is a reminder that, twenty-five years after her death and eighty-one years after her film debut, Margaret Lockwood still commands an audience.
Lyndsy Spence is the author of The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life (2013) and Mrs Guinness: The Rise and Fall of Diana Mitford (2015) both published by The History Press. She founded The Mitford Society, an online community dedicated to the Mitford girls. She also runs the Margaret Lockwood Society. She is writing a book about Margaret Lockwood to mark her centenary in 2016.
*With thanks to Richard Williams at silversirens.co.uk and Tania Todd for their information and photographs from the unveiling of the plaque.
The London Blue Plaque Guide: Fourth Edition by Nick Rennison will be published in August 2015.
This week's update features scandalous Wimbledon moments, Mennonites in Boliva and history told through emojis.
* Can you guess which historical event these emojis depict?
* Interview with Kate Beaton, creator of historical web comic Hark! A Vagrant.
As a student of armoured warfare in the Second World War for many years, I researched Operation Goodwood very early on as it was one of the largest tank battles of the war. What soon became clear were the discrepancies between various historians and the official accounts of the numbers of tanks lost in this three-day clash of armour. Numbers are plucked from the air by other authors, anywhere between two hundred and five hundred tanks left as smouldering wrecks littering the battlefield while even official reports are riddled with basic errors of addition. This started an extensive search of regimental war diaries and reports, histories and the memoirs of tank crew members who fought in the battle to put together a more accurate record of the numbers of tanks lost. After studying the battle casualties, I then wanted to better understand why the battle was fought and what its objectives actually were to determine whether it was actually a British defeat or victory. From the various official explanations and post-war comments of the generals involved, it became clear that the battle was highly controversial and to a great extent the battle was played down by Montgomery in particular. While Montgomery and Eisenhower are no longer with us to explain their views, we are left with their memoirs and correspondence to better understand their plans and intentions. These, of course, have to be read with a critical eye and a pinch of salt ...
The controversy around Goodwood led me to look at the deployment of tanks in the rest of the Normandy campaign. It was only as I researched the key battles of the campaign further did I realise how poorly the tanks were utilised by both the Allies and the Germans and how the British and Canadians in particular came close to winning key battles or achieving a breakthrough, only to fail to capitalise on the opportunity. Thus the Normandy campaign becomes one of controversial missed opportunities by the Allies and command problems for the Germans. The German panzer divisions seem to have been imbued with a fear and respect by the Allies out of all proportion to their actual achievements on the Normandy battlefield, even before D-Day; the mere threat of a panzer attack was enough for the British and Canadians to stop their advances. Yet the Germans, with supposedly some of the most effective armoured fighting units ever formed to defend Normandy, were unable to co-ordinate their actions and the campaign was rife with disagreements and changes of senior commanders, most of them due to Hitler’s interference. The planned massed panzer counterattack on the beaches never took place and it took Hitler himself to order the ill-judged and executed Operation Luttich from Mortain which only contributed to Germany’s rapid collapse in Normandy. Of course, there were many other factors that affected the Normandy campaign, including the Allied tactical air forces, naval gunfire and the traditional problems of supply and logistics. The British and American air ‘Transportation Plan’ ensured before D-Day that all road and rail links with the Normandy battlefield were severely disrupted and it would be difficult for the Germans to bring up reinforcements and essential supplies such as fuel and ammunition. And a big factor was the effectiveness of the tanks themselves given the differences in performance of German and Allied tanks. For example, the DD tanks were an Allied secret weapon that was supposed to ensure the success of the D-Day landings and whether this was achieved or not remains a moot point today. There is no doubt that the adverse weather on the day was way beyond what the tanks were designed for or indeed the crews had been trained for but their launch had catastrophic results for one tank battalion. Many tanks were swamped, but other first-hand accounts tell of men struggling to support the collapsed sides of the screens in the heavy seas. One can only imagine the terror of young soldiers who had probably never been to sea before battling to keep their tanks afloat. My research found that there was a design flaw in the steel rails supporting the extendable screen of the tank that the British hastily fixed before D-Day without apparently telling the Americans…
An examination of the intentions of the German and Allied commanders in the Normandy campaign and then comparing it with the actual outcomes is a central theme of this book which I hope people will enjoy. I am indebted to the veteran tank crew members and William Folkestad who helped me in the writing of parts of the book over the course of five years it took to write which involved extensive research at archives in London, Washington and Ottawa.
Stephen Napier is the author of The Armoured Campaign in Normandy, June-August, 1944. He has studied the Second World War for more than thirty years. This work has been five years in the making and follows exhaustive research in the archives of Kew, Washington and Ottawa. He is an Englishman with two degrees (BSc and MBA) now living in Australia.
This week's update features vintage photos of Paris, the best holiday reads of 2015 and an underwater graveyard of Second World War planes.
* Fourteen absurd things Tumblr can teach you about the English language.
This week's update features Anne Boleyn, sunken treasure and an interview with John Green.