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  • Nottingham Pubs by Dave Mooney

    The Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham advertises itself as the oldest public house in the country, although at least two other pubs in the city have convincing, rival claims. With this in mind, it is obvious that our drinking heritage goes back a long way. When I took up the mantle of writing a book on the subject, I don't think I quite realised how far.

    On reflection, I now feel that the origin of the Nottingham pub can be dated to the early Triassic Period – approximately two hundred and fifty million years ago.

    Bear with me!

    Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. (Nottingham Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    As any schoolboy knows, at that time, all of the land masses of the world were collected together into one giant super-continent: Pangaea. The area that now forms the United Kingdom was far to the south of its current position and the place that we now call Nottingham was underwater. Over time, sand was deposited – sand which would later form the red sandstone on which the city is built.

    Skip forward to the time of Snot – the hilariously named Saxon chieftain that gave his name to the city. The Saxons realised that the strong, yet soft, sandstone was perfect for hollowing out and making caves. They started digging holes to serve a multitude of purposes – homes, tanneries, and (most importantly from our point of view) maltings. Here, they could dry malt all year round, protected from the elements. According to the early Victorian antiquarian, James Orange; this gave the people of “Snottingham” a distinct, competitive advantage when it came to the beer trade.

    Would you dare to touch the cursed galleon? Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem. (Nottingham Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    This was not the only impact that the sandstone had on the history of the city's pubs. It also affected the way that they are physically structured. The aforementioned Trip to Jerusalem, and the adjacent Brewhouse Yard – which used to brew ale for Nottingham Castle – are both cut into the majestic “Castle Rock” on which the ancient fortress is built.

    Elsewhere in the city, more recent pubs, such as The Hand in Heart, are built into man made tunnels. Even when pubs appear conventional on the surface, there is a good chance that there are caves underneath them – often several levels deep – which are used as beer cellars.

    Little wonder that Nottingham has long been referred to as the “city of caves”. The full extent of its subterranean excavations has yet to be mapped.

    With this natural competitive advantage, Nottingham inevitably became famed across the region, and beyond, for the quality of its ale. Look at this, the opening verse from a song found in the Seventeenth Century comedy play, A Jovial Crew:-

    In Nottinghamshire,

    Let 'em boast of their beer,

    With a Hay-down, down, and a down!

    I'll sing in the praise of good Sack:

    Old Sack, and old Sherry,

    Will make your Heart merry,

    Without e'er a Rag to our Back.

    The Hand in Heart - Not as old as it seems. (Nottingham Pubs, Amberley Publishing)

    When singing in praise of his “good Sack” (fortified wine), it is Nottinghamshire beers that singer compares it to.

    This is not the only time that the qualities of Nottingham ale have been celebrated in song. A century later, a naval officer, by the name of Gunthorpe, composed a paean to the tipple, after receiving a barrel of it as a gift from his brother – the landlord of a pub called The Punch Bowl, in Peck Lane. Gunthorpe had obviously received a classical education and the verses are packed with delightful, tongue twisting allusions to Greek myth. The chorus, by contrast, is perfect for a roaring sing-along and has assured its place as a minor folk standard:-

    Nottingham Ale, me boys, Nottingham Ale,

    No liquor of earth's like Nottingham Ale!

    By the middle of the Nineteenth Century, three local brewing giants had emerged that were to dominate the Nottingham pub trade – Shipstone's, Home Ales, and Kimberley Ales. All three closed in the years surrounding the turn of the millennium, but they have left an indelible imprint on the culture of the city and the surrounding area. A local joke purports to be the shortest story in existence. At just four words long, it plays upon the enervating reputations of the local breweries: “Shipstones Mild; Home, Bitter!”

     A song emerged in the Nottingham folk clubs of the 1970s, which has gone on to live a life of its own in the repertoires of numerous singers across the East Midlands. From what I can make out, the words were originally composed by a local man named “Wokko”. Again the subject is Nottingham ale, and – as with the four word joke – it talks about the less than beneficial effects of the local brew. Set to a rousing medley of patriotic tunes, the lyrics detail the various gastric and cranial problems brought on by drinking Shipstone's Bitter. The chorus mentions Ivor Thirst – the brewery's mascot:-

    Rule Britannia and God bless Ivor Thirst,

    We'll keep drinking Shipstones 'til we burst!

    Following the collapse of the three local titans, a whole crop of new, smaller breweries have emerged – some of these, like Castle Rock, have gained national attention and are well on their way to becoming giants in their own right. With a long-term, nationwide downturn in the fortunes of the pub trade, Nottingham seems to be bucking the trend. Everywhere you look, a new micro-pub, bottle shop, gin bar or hipster, craft ale joint seems to be popping up. They tend to be very different in character to the traditional pubs that the city is famed for, but this is only the latest development in a local preoccupation with a very long history.

    Dave Mooney's new book Nottingham Pubs is available for purchase now.

  • Brexit, King Charles I and Henrietta Maria by Dominic Pearce

    When I look for something in history that is like Brexit, I find the Scottish prayer-book rebellion against Charles I.

    Charles I - poised and withdrawn. Daniel Mytens. (c. Private collection, Henrietta Maria, Amberley Publishing)

    In summer 1637 the Scots in their thousands rejected the religious liturgy which the king wanted to impose on them. The year before he had introduced new Canons (church law) and now asked his northern kingdom to accept and use a new prayer-book. It was drafted largely by Englishmen under the guidance of Archbishop William Laud of Canterbury. The Scots had not objected to the Canons. They said no to the prayer-book.

    On 28 February 1638 the rebel Scottish leaders produced their manifesto: the National Covenant. It was signed throughout Scotland and is one of the great documents of history. The Covenant proclaimed loyalty to the king but said no to the changes he wanted.

    This was the Brexit moment. A nationalist response to foreign imposition. That was then, this is now. The National Covenant of 1638 was an agreement not only with the other subscribers but with God.

    The prayer-book rebellion was not secession. Scotland was a separate and independent country. It just happened to have the same king as England. The Scots had their own Privy Council, their own parliament, their own laws, their own church (the Kirk). They wanted to keep it that way.

    On the path to war

    It began with a riot in church after the congregation pelted the Dean of Edinburgh, when he started to read from the new prayer-book, with whatever came to hand, including the stools on which they sat (23 July 1637). According to legend the first to attack was Jenny Geddes who rose to her feet yelling ‘Daur ye say Masse in my lug (ear)?’ To Jenny the project seemed ‘Romisch superstition.’ The Bishop of Edinburgh was attacked in the street after the service (but survived).

    The Covenanting movement led to war. First the two Bishops Wars of 1639 and 1640, between the Scots and their monarch.

    They were Bishops Wars because the Scots wanted to get rid, not just of the new prayer-book, but of their bishops. In the first Bishops War not a blow was struck. In the second, contrary to the king’s plan, a Scottish army invaded northern England and occupied Newcastle. Incidentally this army was led for a time by the subject of the book I am now writing, James Graham, first Marquis of Montrose.

    More dramatically the Scottish prayer-book rebellion led to the outbreak of civil war in England. There are a hundred twists and turns on the way. But there is no doubt that it was trouble in Scotland that opened the floodgates in England (also in Ireland, the third Stuart kingdom).

    Henriette Marie and Charles I. Engraving by Robert van Voerst, 1634. (c. Rijksmuseum, Henrietta Maria, Amberley Publishing)

    Fast and loose…

    My feeling, when I wrote my biography of Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I, was that Henrietta Maria would have made a better king than her husband, and it remains my feeling. She certainly did what she could for Charles I and the Stuart family, including literally standing in the line of parliamentary fire. As thing were, could she have prevented the Scottish collapse? It seems unlikely.

    Not that I wish to deny the king’s qualities. He was an admirable person, much more so than some of his predecessors and successors on the throne. He was energetic, high-principled, a devoted family man, aesthetically discerning, a stickler for the law up to a point. His eleven years of personal rule in England (1630-1641), the period when he dispensed with parliaments, were unpopular with many influential people. But they were years of legalistic government.

    Still one cannot deny that Charles I played fast and loose with that delicate animal, the English constitution. He imprisoned a number of the men who refused to pay or assist in the collection of his forced loan of 1628. He imprisoned Members of Parliament after undignified scenes in the House of Commons in the last days of the 1628-1629 parliament. One, Sir John Eliot, died in the Tower.

    Those undignified scenes included physical assault. The Speaker, Sir John Finch, when he tried to adjourn the session by leaving the House, was wrestled and held in his chair by Denzil Holles and Benjamin Valentine. Finch was held down to allow a protestation to be read (by Sir John Eliot) against royal policy in religion and finance.

    Charles I, at St Margaret's Westminster. (c. Author's collection, Henrietta Maria, Amberley Publishing)

    The nature of the king

    Scholars have gone almost mad trying to pin down what went wrong in the seventeenth century. It is hard to exaggerate the importance of the Civil War. It scared the life out of the ruling classes of the later seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and led to the parliamentary system which distinguishes British history.

    In the nineteenth century the Civil War became a romantic dream of cavaliers and roundheads. In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries Scottish nationalism was reborn and is growing up fast helped by the Brexit vote of 2016. This blog is not the time to explore the history of Ireland but that country above all bears the marks of those struggles four centuries ago.

    On the whole historians agree that the character of Charles I was at the heart of the matter. If he was dealt a difficult hand, he played the wrong cards. However it is hard to challenge the proposal that the king, if perhaps he succeeded as a martyr, was a failure as king.

    The failure of Charles I was not the iron fist of autocracy. His failure was political clumsiness. He could not read minds. He could not, until very late in the day, read situations. He did not judge loyalty well. Unlike his father and his eldest son he could not see that even a king must embrace, from time to time, the art of compromise, perhaps a king most of all. And, far from being his wife’s lapdog, as his enemies proclaimed, it could be said he did not listen to her enough.

    Dominic Pearce's new paperback edition of Henrietta Maria is available for purchase now.

  • The Anarchy: The Darkest Days of Medieval England by Teresa Cole

    One amazing year of Anarchy

    Before he died in December 1135, King Henry I of England had all the nobility of England and Normandy swear to accept his daughter, the Empress Matilda, as his successor. Before he was buried in January 1136, his nephew Stephen of Blois had been crowned as the new king. There followed a struggle for the crown between Stephen and Matilda, that lasted nearly nineteen years and was later known as the Anarchy. The strangest year of all that period, however, was the twelvemonth of 1141, when each side in turn came within touching distance of total victory over the other.

    Four Kings: This fanciful medieval representation of the four Norman kings shows, from left, William the Conqueror, William Rufus, Henry I and Stephen. (The Anarchy, Amberley Publishing)

    This ‘mazy labyrinth of events,’ as the chronicler William of Malmesbury called it, was set in train at the end of the previous year, when Earl Ranulf of Chester and his half-brother William of Roumare, took possession of Lincoln Castle. They claimed, with some justification that one of the two keeps there, known as Lucy’s Tower, was theirs by right of inheritance from their mother, Lucy of Bolingbroke. At first King Stephen seemed to accept this, but in the middle of the Christmas festivities he abruptly changed his mind, marched a relatively small army to Lincoln and put the castle under siege.

    Before the encirclement was complete, Ranulf of Chester had slipped away, and, having remained aloof from the struggle for the crown before this time, he came down firmly on the side of Matilda. His father-in-law was Robert, Earl of Gloucester, Matilda’s half-brother and most substantial backer, and when Robert received an appeal for help from Ranulf, he called up all the forces he could assemble, including a strong contingent of the Welsh, and marched to Lincoln to confront the king.

    Henry I's castle at Caen. This was inherited by his son, Robert of Gloucester, who eventually sided with Matilda and Geoffrey of Anjou against King Stephen. (The Anarchy, Amberley Publishing)

    Stephen was advised to retreat but refused to do so. On Candlemas Day, 2nd February 1141, the battle of Lincoln was fought and the king was soundly defeated and taken prisoner. For most of the rest of the year he would be held, sometimes in chains, in Robert of Gloucester’s strongest castle at Bristol.

    Stephen’s passage to the throne had been greatly helped by his brother Henry, bishop of Winchester, who, among other things, was by now the papal legate – the pope’s representative in England. Negotiations were now opened between Matilda and Henry, and soon the bishop was announcing that Stephen had broken the promises he had made to the church at the time of his coronation, and that therefore he should be deposed and replaced on the throne by the Empress Matilda.

    The church accepted Matilda. Many of the nobility in England and Normandy accepted her. London, however, did not accept her, and nor did Stephen’s queen, also called Matilda. The queen now set about raising an army of opposition, ably assisted by the mercenary leader William of Ypres. Over a period of months, as the empress slowly negotiated her way to an impressive entry into Westminster, Queen Matilda brought up her own army from Kent to threaten London from the other side. Then, on 24th June, just as it seemed that the empress had finally won her crown, the Londoners rose up and drove her away. So sudden was this uprising that she and her supporters had just sat down to eat when they were forced to flee, leaving the food behind them on the table.

    Wolvesey Castle. This was the palace and stronghold of Bishop Henry of Winchester. It was besieged by Matilda and her supporters in 1141. (The Anarchy, Amberley Publishing)

    Matilda and Robert of Gloucester made for Oxford, but Bishop Henry went instead to Winchester, where he decided he had been too hasty in abandoning his brother. Re-opening communications with the queen, he also took steps to strengthen and provision Wolvesey Castle, his fortified palace close to the cathedral. As soon as the empress got wind of this, she gathered her forces, moved to her royal castle at Winchester and put Wolvesey Castle under siege.

    Henry himself had already escaped to summon help from the queen. She now brought up her own forces – including a thousand-strong London militia – to encircle the entire city of Winchester. From being a besieger, the empress now found herself besieged, and in severe danger of falling into the hands of her namesake.

    By September the situation was desperate, and in the middle of that month Empress Matilda and her supporters made a break for freedom. The priority, of course, was to get her safely away, and she and a picked bodyguard set off at a gallop, first for Ludgershall, then Devizes and finally Gloucester. For some of the way, notes the chronicler John of Worcester, she even rode astride, ‘male fashion’, though whether he admired or disapproved is hard to tell.

    Rochester Castle. Rochester was held for King Stephen by William of Ypres. It was here that Robert of Gloucester was kept a prisoner while negotiations proceeded between the Empress Matilda and Stephen's queen, also named Matilda, for an exchange of captives. (The Anarchy, Amberley Publishing)

    Meanwhile, the weight of the queen’s army fell upon the empress’s forces. Many simply fled, leaving weapons, armour and costly possessions abandoned behind them. Robert of Gloucester, though, fought a determined rear-guard action at the Stockbridge crossing of the River Test, thus enabling his sister to escape.

    Eventually he was overcome by simple weight of numbers, taken before the queen, and handed over to William of Ypres to be imprisoned in his mighty keep at Rochester Castle. While he was there, inducements were offered to persuade him to change sides, but he remained loyal to his sister.

    Now, however, each side had a significant prisoner – Stephen at Bristol and Robert at Rochester. Many hoped a permanent peace could be negotiated, but instead all that was arranged was a prisoner swap, ‘an exchange of the king for the earl, one for the other.’ This was carried out early in November with great care, hostages and guarantors being given for each side, including the queen, the archbishop of Canterbury and Robert’s own son William.

    When all was complete, both sides were in exactly the same position as they had been at the start of the year, and all the triumph and tragedy in between had achieved precisely nothing. Another dozen years would pass before the Anarchy finally came to an end, and a little while longer than that before England once more had a single, undisputed king.

    Teresa Cole's new book The Anarchy: The Darkest Days of Medieval England is available for purchase now.

  • Rough Justice: The True Story of Agent Dronkers by David Tremain

    The Enemy Spy Captured by the British

    Many books have appeared about the various agents employed by SOE, the Special Operations Executive, as well as the German agents who landed in Britain during the Second World War, due to the ongoing interest in anything related to the war. Some of these are new accounts, while others are reappraisals of some of the more familiar names. There are, however, many who have yet to be discovered and written about. That was what I had in mind when I wrote Rough Justice. I had originally wanted to call it The Spying Dutchman, a pun on Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, but the book required a title that better reflected the seriousness of the subject matter, so it was changed.

    The story of Johannes Marinus Dronkers and his two Dutch compatriots, Jan Bruno de Langen and John Alphonsus Mulder, is a fascinating one as it reveals MI5’s methodology in handling spy cases since the war began. Yet while MI5 had successfully rounded up all the spies working for the Abwehr within a few days of their landing, and turned some of them into double agents, the cat-and-mouse game played by both sides would sometimes appear as amateurish. It’s true MI5 had ISOS, the breaking of Abwehr hand ciphers, on their side which gave them forewarning of Dronkers’ arrival, but their decision to prosecute him under the Treachery Act (1940) and not to turn him as a double agent under the Double-Cross System was something I was curious about and wanted to explore. It also reflected how the Germans used these three men as pawns and how one, at least, was sacrificed for the greater good.

    Dronkers' Post Office identification card. (c. The National Archives ref. KV2/45, Rough Justice, Amberley Publishing)

    What got you interested in the story in the first place? My interest in Dronkers’ case stems from 1981 when a brief entry about him appeared in British intelligence historian Nigel West’s unofficial history of MI5’s early years. Dronkers’ yacht had been towed into Harwich, my birthplace, so that got my attention. A slightly longer account of his story appeared in 2000 in a declassified history of Camp 020 on Ham Common, London written by Lieutenant Colonel Robin ‘Tin-Eye’ Stephens, the Camp’s former commandant. The official files on the case had been released to the National Archives at Kew in 1999 but it wasn’t until the winter of 2014/15 that I discovered that most of them were now available digitally, meaning that I was able to download them from the comfort of my home in Ottawa. As I had retired in 2010 I now had the time to research the case fully.

    Why did you write the book? At first I hadn’t actually intended to write a book, but as I started reading the official files I began to realize that there was more to Dronkers’ story than met the eye. It wasn’t just a simple wartime spy story, but one which raised a lot of serious issues about how spies were treated during wartime, something which other authors of the genre have since commented on. It was a story that needed to be told. I’m not an historian but I’ve always been interested in history, right from when I was a small boy. Later it developed into military history and espionage. Most of what I’d written before had been professional papers on various heritage-related subjects in my former profession as a paper conservator and dealing with museum security, but never a book about espionage; however, I felt I was up for the challenge.  After that, it just took off.

    Researching the case. As well as Dronkers’ and Mulders’ files (there were none available on de Langen) I also needed to access files on other characters (British, German and Dutch) which helped to complete more of the jigsaw. I had some help in tracing the genealogy of the families from a second cousin of de Langen in The Netherlands. By a process of elimination I was able to uncover the identity of who I believe was Dronkers’ controller, the mysterious ‘Dr Schneider’, and with the help of a pharmacist friend information on Dronkers’ recipe for secret ink. One file I had declassified under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), although one page still remains unavailable in spite of attempts to get it released; a couple of other files which had not be digitized were seen when I went to Kew just before Christmas 2015. Particularly revealing were the judge’s notes from Dronkers’ trial. What struck me was by the peculiar way in which the court drama unfolded and the language of the courtroom during the trial, originally held in camera but now open for all to see. Was Dronkers really a spy? Was he really guilty of the charges of which he was accused? Had he been set up by the Germans and/or the British? Did British authorities go too far in this particular case, or were they justified in their actions? In the modern counter-terrorism context, these are questions of the sort that are also being asked today with regard to torture, ‘extraordinary rendition’ and legislation aimed at international terrorism. The war years were difficult times, and desperate measures needed to be introduced to curb the Nazi threat of world domination, but those measures seem as barbaric then and, at times, as unjust, as they do today.

    Spoiler alert! Also that year, before the book was published in 2016, my wife and I visited the Museum of London’s exhibition The Crime Museum Uncovered, which displayed artifacts from Scotland Yard’s Black Museum, items hitherto not available to the public. There in one section was the hangman’s kit from Wandsworth Prison, complete with a series of nooses, straps and hood. I froze. Could one of these have been the noose used to hang Dronkers? This was a surreal moment and as close as I had come to his eventual demise.

    David Tremain's new paperback edition of Rough Justice: The True Story of Agent Dronkers, The Enemy Spy Captured by the British is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Leith by Jack Gillon

    Having previously written Leith Through Time (2014) and Leith History Tour (2018) for Amberley, I was very pleased to have the opportunity to delve deeper into Leith’s past and some of the lesser-known aspects of its long and distinguished history with Secret Leith (2019).

    Leith from the Firth of Forth, 1820. (Secret Leith, Amberley Publishing)

    Leith has played a long and prominent role in Scottish history. As the major port serving Edinburgh, it has been the stage on which many significant events in Scottish history have taken place. It was first established on the banks of the Water of Leith, at the point where the river entered the Firth of Forth. The first historical reference to the town dates from 1140, when the harbour and fishing rights were granted to Holyrood Abbey by David I. The early settlement was centred on the area bounded by the Shore, Water Street, Tolbooth Wynd and Broad Wynd. It became Edinburgh’s port in 1329, when King Robert I granted control of the shoreline hamlet to the Burgh of Edinburgh. In the early days it consisted of the two independent settlements of South Leith and North Leith.

    Leith frequently features in the power struggles that took place in Scotland and the battles, landings, and sieges of Leith have had an influence on its development. It was attacked by the Earl of Hertford in 1544 during the Rough Wooing – his mission was to arrange a marriage between the young Mary Queen of Scots and her English cousin, later Edward VI. Three years later, it was pillaged after the defeat of the Scottish army at the Battle of Pinkie. Immediately following this, Mary of Guise, the Roman Catholic Regent of Scotland, moved the seat of government to Leith and the town was fortified.

    The Signal Tower - An important Leith landmark at the corner of the Shore and Tower Street. (Secret Leith, Amberley Publishing)

    The town expanded significantly during the nineteenth century, associated with railway building and the growth of the docks. Port related industries and warehousing also grew rapidly during this period. This contemporary description paints a vivid portrait of the Port at the time – ‘Leith possesses many productive establishments, such as ship-building and sail-cloth manufactories ... manufactories of glass ... a corn-mill ... many warehouses for wines and spirits ... and there are also other manufacturing establishments besides those for the making of cordage for brewing, distilling, and rectifying spirits, refining sugar, preserving tinned meats, soap and candle manufactories, with several extensive cooperages, iron-foundries, flourmills, tanneries and saw-mills.’

    In 1833, the town was established as an independent Municipal and Parliamentary Burgh with full powers of local government. It expanded as massive warehouses and additional docks were built: the Victoria Dock in 1851, the Albert Dock in 1881 and the Imperial Dock in 1903. After the passing of the Leith Improvement Act in 1880, many of the sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings were cleared away.

    In 1920, despite a plebiscite in which the people of Leith voted 26,810 to 4,340 against the merger, it was incorporated into Edinburgh. The 1960s, brought the final days of the old and ancient thoroughfares in the heart of Leith – the Kirkgate, St Andrew Street, Tollbooth Wynd, Bridge Street and many more would disappear in the coming decade. However, the town retains a passionate sense of individuality and its people a proud sense of identity.

    Mary, Queen of Scots landing at Leith. (Secret Leith, Amberley Publishing)

    Many of the stories in the book have been told before by accomplished local historians. However, it is hoped that the book, by using early sources; media reports, contemporary with events; and a mix of old and new images, has uncovered some fresh aspects of the long and distinguished history of the town, even for people that know it well.

    On 20 April 1779 the Leith Mutiny, in front of Leith’s Ship Tavern, a fateful clash between soldiers of a Highland Regiment and Lowland troops, ostensibly on the same side but divided by cultures, left the Shore at Leith strewn with the bodies of the dead and wounded.

    In August 1816, Hans Zakaeus, who was known in Scotland as John Sakeouse, a native of Disko Bay on the west coast of Greenland, landed at Leith. The curious locals were soon given the opportunity to have a closer look at Sakeouse when he gave a demonstration of his skills with his kayak and harpoon in the Wet Dock at Leith Docks.

    In 1753, it was discovered that a lack of vitamin C was the cause of scurvy amongst sailors. To prevent this it became a legal requirement for sailors on long voyages to receive a measure of lime or lemon juice, as protection against the disease – giving rise to the nickname Limeys for British sailors. In 1868, Lauchlan Rose set up a factory to produce the world's first concentrated bottled fruit juice drink – Rose’s Lime Juice – on Commercial Street in Leith.

    Zeppelin L9, which is identical to the Zeppelin that bombed Leith. (Secret Leith, Amberley Publishing)

    From an aeronautical viewpoint, I was intrigued to discover that Leith had a short lived airport for flying boats and that some of the earliest aeroplanes in Scotland were manufactured in Leith.

    The First World War resulted in a Zeppelin bomber attack on Leith, on the night of 2 April 1916, bringing the First World War to the home front. It caused considerable damage to property and tragic loss of life. In 1918, Julian the Tank Bank arrived in Leith – a unique and novel fundraising project, which tempted the war-weary public to part with its hard-earned cash to help the War effort by allocating a number of Mark IV tanks to tour the towns and cities of Britain, in a campaign which raised many millions of pounds. The German Kultur Panel on Leith’s Pitt Street depicts the alleged atrocities by the German army in the early years of the First World in Belgium.

    I also took the opportunity to describe in detail the events depicted on the People’s History of Leith Mural. It was painted in 1986 and is an evocative celebration of Leith’s maritime, social and industrial heritage.

    Jack Gillon's new book Secret Leith is available for purchase now.

  • Historic England: Sussex by Kevin Newman

    It was a great honour to be asked by Amberley and Historic England to write the latest book in this series, and the second of three (so far) on Sussex. There are many different ways that writers can approach writing about the history and heritage of Sussex, and I think I’ve tackled most of them. The chronological route is logical and aids understanding of each era but provides problems with themes such as industry or literature which traverse different eras. It also questions as to how and when you divide up the past. Taking a random approach, as previous Argus Editor Mike Gilson urged me to embrace for the Super Sussex newspaper supplements I wrote for them, was scary at first but then liberating. Then there is the approach my history organisation, All-Inclusive History uses for writing and workshops, which I’ve christened ‘twistory’. This is where one aspect of a historic event is the connecting link to another, so you are taken on a ‘related ride’ rather like the Great Glass Elevator in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, rather than the monorail approach chronological progression presents. Ricocheting across themes and time throws up logical patterns and questions we don’t always think of when approaching the past in a more traditional and (some would say) sensible fashion.

    Herstmonceux Castle. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Sussex, Amberley Publishing)

    Then we have the route we take in putting together Historic England: Sussex. This method - approaching the past through its images and observing themes through categorization also is a valid and interesting approach. Thanks to the Historic England and Britain From Above image databases in partnership with us for Amberley Publishing, we here are offered a new perspective on our county. The databases in tandem allows us to explore Sussex anew through the combination of different themes. We get to compare and contrast, challenge and query, and it is my privilege and honour as a Sussex author and tour guide to take readers in this book on a visual tour through the images of this wonderful part of Historic England. It was interesting that the images that were provided for the book’s sequel, Historic England: Brighton and Hove, provoked an almost totally different approach and thus set of chapter headings.

    Apart from Chapter 1, ‘Landmarks and Scenery’, each chapter of Historic England: Sussex takes you on a journey of sites on that theme from the west to the east of the county, rather than in chronological order. The idea is that readers can use the book to hopefully plan trips out.  As Sussex was the Kingdom of the South Saxons, there is no better route to travel than that taken by our premier Saxons Aelle, Cissa, Wlencing and Cymen – westwards. If you should try to recreate this, please try to avoid the mass killings and especially the large-scale slaughter at Pevensey. But do tell me if you find where the lost Saxon battle of Mercredesburn was.

    The Esplanade, Worthing. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Sussex, Amberley Publishing)

    What types of images are in the book? You will find photos, sketches, plans, diagrams and pictures. Not all of these make interesting analysis and reading, so the challenge was to select images that made a coherent chapter each time on a theme and provoked the reader to want to explore the Historic England archives further. This was no problem with images such as diagrams recreating monks at work in Battle Abbey, intriguing images such as Morris Dancers mid-air in Chichester (my favourite), or the most mysterious – Victorians at Pevensey Castle ‘In search of the monument of Adrian G (undiscovered).’ No amount of (metaphorical) digging could help me find out who Adrian G was, what or where his monument was, and if it was ever found.  If you know the answers, please enlighten me! I also got to mention my favourite place in the world, Chichester Harbour, of which Bosham and Chidham are the places I am at my happiest. What more can an author ask for?

    South Street and the Pier, Worthing. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Sussex, Amberley Publishing)

    The book also makes you realise how many fantastic Sussex buildings are much missed, whether Worthing’s 1830s Town Hall, Ardenrun Place, Eridge Castle, Roberts Marine Mansions in Bexhill or the lofty Leyswood. The site of the school where the unruly Suffragette Emily Wilding Davison once taught on Worthing Seafront has since been demolished not once but twice. It also highlights thankfully the amazing job of organisations such as Historic England today, without whom we wouldn’t have the Clergy House, Alfriston (the National Trust’s first ever building purchased in 1897), Hurstmonceux and Bodiam Castles.

    Writing it was not without its challenges, however. Not only did Adrian G’s monument remain undiscovered by me also but road name changes meant that tracking down what had happened to Devonshire Terrace involved engaging my erstwhile Hastings researcher, the Penfold to my Dangermouse, the Rowley to my Greg Heffley, Terry Loftus – so thanks, Tegs!  The cricket ground there is now the Priory Meadow shopping centre. An image listed as ‘Rye’ had me panicking when I corrected it to Church Street, Steyning but then discovered that the Brotherhood Hall in the photo I believed it to be was two floors taller in other later pictures (Steyning Grammar School who owned it enlarged it thankfully a few years later, so I was right!). Overall, I’m proud of this first of my two books in this series and especially that a chapter in the book on education has a first attempt at a much-needed book on some of Sussex’s amazing schools over the centuries. Some of the images in it are incredible too, especially of the staff of North End Road School, East Grinstead, who seem a formidable family.

    Victoria Gardens, St Leonards, Hastings. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Sussex, Amberley Publishing)

    As somewhere that has been a kingdom in its own right, a gateway to England, battlefield, agricultural breadbasket and livestock larder, it is no surprise that Sussex has a large archive of historical documents, diagrams and pictures we can explore here. In more recent centuries it has been escape route on the way to exile for Charles II, aristocratic adventure ground, playboy’s playground and real estate for royalty. It offered havens to heathseekers, a stomping ground for smugglers, and a destination for daytrippers. Today it provides a paradise for painters and photographers, rural retreats, spiritual refreshment for ramblers, and still even seclusion by the seaside. I was delighted to be asked to select images to highlight all of this as my parents always encouraged me to get out on my bike discovering my (then) hometown of Brighton, and then always took us out and about in the car exploring every backstreet and village lane we could. This means that I hope the book encourages existing residents and visitors alike to explore and escape the traditional tourist hotspots.

    Quayside, Chichester District. (c. Historic England Archive, Historic England: Sussex, Amberley Publishing)

    From Charles II’s escape through Sussex we have the George and Dragon pub in Houghton, and I particularly loved the images of our now lost St Leonards pier, which graces our front cover of the book. Being Sussex it was essential to capture not only the beauty of the coastline but also its harbours and those who work in them. This is where our ‘Work and Industry’ chapter came into its own, showing fisherfolk, boatbuilders, locomotive works, labourers and even medics in the Great War at Great Dixter. Thanks to Nathaniel Lloyd, the prolific Edwardian photographer and owner of Great Dixter, a large chunk of the Sussex images in the archive are of the era just before the First World War and of the terrible years of 1914-18, when the impact of that horrendous conflict impacted on the deepest of Sussex’s villages. Even Great Dixter became a hospital for the wounded who faced shelling, flame throwers, gas and bayonetting.

    Today Sussex is peaceful and still largely rural, although its urbanisation still is a work in progress as green fields turn concrete grey and bleak with business parks. Thankfully the still-recent creation of the South Downs National Park has guaranteed a green spine throughout the county, protecting Kipling’s ‘blunt, bow-headed, whale-backed Downs’ equally beloved by him and our other great Sussex patriot, our adopted Belloc. Being blessed with the nation’s 13th National Park means Sussex must always look backwards as it moves forwards, but then, that is what Sussex has always done best. It is what we do in the book too, which I hope you enjoy and if you would like an illustrated talk on the book, or a motorised tour of a selection of its locations, please email info@allinclusivehistory.org or call 07504 863867.  As after all, as Flora Poste says in Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons “Sussex, when all was said and done, was not like other counties.”  That is true of the Sussex represented by the earliest images in our archive, and is still true today.

    Kevin Newman's new book Historic England: Sussex is available for purchase now.

  • Mr Charming: The Life and Crimes of Felix Vossen by Michael Harrison

    The inspiration for Mr Charming, my account of the life and crimes of a Ponzi-style fraudster, came from an unlikely source: one of his victims. Over the years, a very dear and old acquaintance had often remarked that I really must meet her new best friend: a wonderful German chap by the name of Felix Vossen. He was great company – funny, well-read, emotionally sensitive and highly intelligent. In his spare time, he was a film producer. But his day job was financial trading. He was an investment guru who ran a fund worth £250 million from his offices in London and Zurich. Much of my friend’s money was invested in that fund.

    Felix the film producer: with Charlotte Rampling and his fellow producers from Embargo Films at the premiere of I, Anna at the Berlindale Film Festival in 2012. Vossen claimed he could raise a £10 million fund to help Embargo produce a series of movies. (Mr Charming: The Life and Crimes of Felix Vossen, Amberley Publishing)

    Imagine then her utter shell-shock and despair – and my own surprise – when he also turned out to be a fake and a compulsive liar. A cheat and a charlatan who had run off, not only with my friend’s money, but also the life savings of scores of other victims. Some £45 million in all.

    In the days and weeks that followed Vossen’s abrupt disappearance, I reflected on my own narrow escape: how often I had been due to meet Felix at various dinner parties and birthday celebrations that he had failed at the last minute to turn up to. And whether I too would have been drawn into his web of deceit by his easy charm and absolute plausibility. Inevitably, I also spoke regularly and at length to my friend and her husband about the case. How were they coping? Had they traced any of the money? Had anyone discovered his whereabouts? What were the police doing?

    Felix in one of his various guises. (Mr Charming: The Life and Crimes of Felix Vossen, Amberley Publishing)

    And then one day, during a long walk in the country, my friend said: ‘Why don’t you write a book about it? It’s right up your street.’

     

    I didn’t need a second invitation. The name alone, FELIX VOSSEN, conjured up an image of a James Bond villain. Although we had never actually met, I could picture him in my mind’s eye, reclining in a Parker Knoll chair stroking a white cat.

    During a career in financial journalism, I had written about a great many crooks, fraudsters, chancers and psychopaths – a few of whom had also been the CEOs of FTSE100 companies. The story of Felix Vossen was not only a tale of financial skulduggery. It was also about personal betrayal and regulatory failure and the woefulness of banking supervision, even in these modern, sophisticated and inter-connected times.

    In order to tell his story, however, I needed to tell the stories of his victims. And that meant gaining the trust and confidence of a fractious and vulnerable group of individuals for whom trust was at a very low ebb. They had believed in something that had proved too good to be true and been left financially ruined, emotionally bereft, and psychologically-damaged by someone they too had grown to regard as their best friend. Why should they trust an outsider, and a journalist to boot, to recount their experiences in a balanced, sympathetic and non-judgemental way?

    What followed was several months of negotiation to re-assure his victims that although they might feel guilty for the plight that had befallen them, there was only one real villain of the piece: Felix Vossen. Some were happy to co-operate, others declined. Some would only take part with a guarantee of anonymity.

    Cash, false passports, laptops and mobiles seized by Spanish police from Vossne's apartment in Valencia after his chance arrest in February 2016. (Mr Charming: The Life and Crimes of Felix Vossen, Amberley Publishing)

    A short way into the researching of the book, the dynamic changed dramatically. Felix Vossen had been found. He had been arrested by chance in the Spanish city of Valencia after arousing the suspicion of a passing police motorcycle patrol and extradited to Switzerland, where he was wanted on charges of fraud, money laundering and forgery. Not only would he face justice, but his victims might achieve some form of closure, even if it might take a bit longer to recover their stolen money. To this day, only £100,000 or so of the £45 million he stole has ever been recovered.

    Their best chance of being made financially whole again is to apply pressure to the banks that Vossen deposited their money with and hope that compensation is forthcoming. To succeed, they will probably need to do more than rely on the corporate altruism of those banks or embarrass them into coughing up. Instead, they will need to demonstrate negligence in the way that Vossen was supervised and his accounts were monitored.

    In the spring of 2020, Vossen himself will walk free from prison in Switzerland, where he was eventually tried and convicted. Perhaps he can help.

    Michael Harrison's new book Mr Charming: The Life and Crimes of Felix Vossen is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Margate - 'The remarkable secret life of Turner’s Mrs Booth' by Andy Bull

    On the face of it, there aren’t many secrets about J. M. W. Turner (1775-1851). His Margate connection is very well-known. The Turner Contemporary gallery, built by the harbour at the very spot where he lodged, makes the link between Turner and Margate very clear and evident. He was sent to school here, and returned many times in later life, painting the sunsets which he called ‘the loveliest in Europe’.

    Turner Contemporary. (c. Bejamin Beker, Secret Margate, Amberley Publishing)

    Yet for my book Secret Margate I discovered a very powerful, personal story, concerning the person Turner lived with in Margate: Sophia Caroline Booth.

    Today we know Mrs Booth’s name, and that she was his landlady, but very little else about her. The view from the Turner Contemporary is the one the artist saw from her home, Harbour House, on Bank Side Quay.

    When Sophia and Turner met, she was soon to be widowed for a second time, and twenty years his junior. A relationship developed, which Turner chose to keep secret. Mrs Booth’s story deserves to be better known, and she should be acknowledged not just as a footnote in a great man’s life, but as the remarkable woman she was. Turner and Mrs Booth lived together for eighteen years, for the bulk of them in Margate.

    One small clue in the town hints at a tragic, little-known story about Sophia, and suggests that there is much more to be discovered about her. That clue is on her gravestone in St John the Baptist church at the southern end of Margate High Street.

    Sophia Booth's grave at St John the Baptist. (c. Nick Barham, Secret Margate, Amberley Publishing)

    While Turner is buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, Sophia’s name, almost completely obliterated by time, appears at the very bottom of a gravestone headed by the name of her son, John Pound Booth, ‘The beloved and only son of John and Sophia Caroline Booth, who died June 26th 1832 in the [and here the figure is obliterated by time] year of his age.’

    If that figure were legible, it would record that John Pound Booth was only six when he died, of cholera, which swept the town that year, and may also have infected his mother. His death was not the first tragedy to scar the life of Sophia Booth.

    Sophia was born Sophia Nollte, to parents of German immigrant descent, in Dover 1799. She married her first husband, a nineteen-year-old Margate fisherman called Henry Pound, at St John the Baptist on 3 February 1818 when she was twenty-two. They had two sons, Joseph Henry and Daniel. This marriage was to prove tragically short. In the early hours of 22 March 1821, Henry Pound and his brother set out from Margate harbour in the Queen Galley, a small fishing boat, with five others. Returning that afternoon in rough weather, the boat was caught on the treacherous Margate Sands and broke up. All lives were lost. The tragedy left seven young children fatherless, and the Kentish Gazette published an appeal for charitable donations ‘with a view to alleviating the distress of the surviving relatives which in several respects is very great’.

    Three years later, the widowed Sophia suffered a further tragedy, when her five-year-old son Joseph died. Widowed and again bereaved, Sophia struggled to cope. Little wonder then, that only the next year she married the much older John Booth, who described himself as ‘a gentleman of Margate’. She was twenty-six, he was sixty-three. Within a year they had a son, John Pound Booth, whose tragic end is recorded at the top of the gravestone described above.

    Deeply concerned for his wife’s health, John Booth amended his will, leaving the substantial sum intended for his now-dead son to her, saying that this was ‘in consideration for the bad state of my wife Sophia Caroline Booth’s health and in consequence of the lamented death of my son John Pound Booth’.

    The Shell Lady - Anne Carrington's tribute to Sophie Booth. (c. Nick Barham, Secret Margate, Amberley Publishing)

    When Sophia and Turner met, she was living with her elderly second husband at Harbour House. When Mr Booth died, Sophia was only thirty-four, but already twice widowed and mourning the loss of two sons. Turner was also recently bereaved: still deeply affected by the death, in 1829, of his father William, to whom he was enormously close. William had worked as his son’s studio assistant for thirty years, and Turner suffered bouts of depression following his passing.

    Turner would travel down to Margate on the so-called Husbands’ Boat, used by the men of London at the weekends to join their families who were staying, or living, in the healthier air of Margate.

    He clearly adored Sophia, wrote her love poems and gave her sketches, but did he ever paint her? The Tate has a work described as A Sleeping Woman, perhaps Mrs Booth and some experts believe that the erotic sketches Turner produced in his last twenty years were inspired by his love of Mrs Booth.

    The relationship seems to have suited them both very well. Sophia was financially independent and undemanding, and Turner was almost entirely wrapped up in his art. Sophia seems to have stepped into the emotionally and practically supportive role previously filled by Turner’s father. She died twenty-seven years after the artist, who succumbed to cholera in 1851.

    Sophia does have a public tribute in Margate. At the far end of the harbour wall is a modern sculpture of a shell lady entitled Mrs Booth. The 12 ft bronze was created by Anne Carrington, who says of it: ‘The sculpture is a scaled-up version of the tiny shell lady ornaments which are sold in the souvenir shops on Margate sea front. What I like about this sculpture is its unlikely size and setting as the shell lady is granted all the civic respect of a local hero.’

    Andy Bull's new book Secret Margate is available for purchase now.

  • Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester by Colin Alexander

    The Quantock Hills have recently reverberated to the distinctive sound of two Maybach MD870 engines, as preserved Beyer, Peacock ‘Hymek’ diesel-hydraulics D7017 and D7018 were reunited in service on the West Somerset Railway. I first fell in love with these stylish machines when another preserved example, D7029, filled Newtondale Gorge in North Yorkshire with her distinctive growl, and more recently, the fourth survivor D7076 performing superbly on the East Lancashire Railway. The 101 ‘Hymeks’ were among the last locomotives to emerge from the famous Gorton Foundry of Beyer, Peacock, established 1854.

    One of Beyer, Peacock's most iconic designs was its 1864 4-4-0T for London's Metropolitan Railway, the world's first underground line. (Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester, Amberley Publishing)

    Among its early products were the famous condensing tank engines for the world’s first underground line, the Metropolitan Railway.

    Beyer, Peacock was a versatile manufacturer, constructing some of Britain’s smallest narrow gauge locomotives, as well as the largest of all. By 1907, the Gorton Foundry had erected 5000 steam locomotives, of which two-thirds were for export. Beyer, Peacock locomotives were renowned for their build quality.

    Internationally, Beyer, Peacock will always be associated with the legendary Beyer-Garratt locomotive. This was an ingenious solution to the problem of moving heavy trains on lightly laid permanent way, steep gradients and tight curves. It was effectively two locomotives supplied by one boiler suspended on a frame between them. One locomotive carried the water tank and the other the fuel. This configuration ultimately allowed larger boilers and fireboxes, as there were no wheels directly beneath.

    The design was patented by Herbert William Garratt, who came to Beyer, Peacock in 1907 with his articulated locomotive design, and the Gorton Foundry constructed the world’s first Beyer-Garratt locomotive. This was the diminutive K1 for the narrow-gauge Tasmanian Government Railway. Happily this iconic machine is now preserved in Britain. From this neat articulated 0-4-0+0-4-0 evolved some of the largest and most successful locomotives ever built, running in 48 countries.

    Beyer, Peacock Works No. 1989 of 1881 is a Class 23 0-6-0ST of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway, seen in preserved condition at Haworth on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, in May 1981. (Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester, Amberley Publishing)

    Of more than 1600 Beyer-Garratts to run worldwide, over 1100 were built by Beyer, Peacock.  Many of them were destined for South Africa where the GA Class 2-6-0+0-6-2 of 1921 demonstrated its superiority over the ‘Mallet’ articulated locomotive favoured in the USA.  By the end of that decade the South African Garratt had evolved into the massive GL Class 4-8-2+2-8-4, an example of which, appropriately, is preserved in the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry.

    The Beyer Garratt design was ideal for developing nations where infrastructure needed to be inexpensive and light axle loading was required. It also obviated the need for costly double-heading with extra manpower.

    Just a few weeks ago I was privileged enough to sample Beyer-Garratt haulage for the first time, as a former South African Railways’ NGG16 locomotive took me from Porthmadog to Caernarfon on the spectacular Welsh Highland Railway, with a grandstand view of the engine from the observation car. The effortless way in which she dealt with steep gradients and sharp curves was amazing to see.

    Statens Järnvägar No. 75 was an 'A' Class 2-2-2 built by Beyer, Peacock in 1866 as Works No. 627. (Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester, Amberley Publishing)

    Like other British locomotive manufacturers dealing with the economic difficulties of the 20th century, Beyer, Peacock began to experiment and diversify. It dabbled in the manufacture of steam road wagons and took over the established Suffolk steam tractor firm of Richard Garrett in 1932. The factory’s versatility was demonstrated as tanks and other armaments were turned out during wartime.

    Attempting to keep pace with changing technologies on the world’s railways, Beyer, Peacock built small quantities of electric locomotives and later, usually in collaboration with other companies, diesels too. By 1949 the firm had joined forces with the established electric traction manufacturers Metropolitan-Vickers specifically to develop non-steam locomotives. For this, a separate factory was established at Bowesfield near Stockton-on-Tees. Beyer Peacock’s first experience with electric traction had come as early as 1890, when in conjunction with the firm of Mather and Platt, it was involved in constructing the tiny four-wheeled locomotives for the City and South London Railway. One of these can be seen today in the London Transport Museum.

    By 1966, locomotive orders had dried up and Beyer, Peacock ceased production after 110 years, with more than 8000 locomotives having emerged through the factory gates. There are many examples of Beyer, Peacock locomotives surviving in preservation around the world, but the company’s single greatest legacy is surely the Beyer-Garratt, which opened up so much of the developing world.

     

    Colin Alexander and Alon Siton's new book Beyer, Peacock & Company of Manchester is available for purchase now.

  • D-Day Through German Eyes by Jonathan Trigg

    How the Wehrmacht Lost France

    Who Did the Allies Face in Normandy on D-Day?

    This is what the landsers feared - an RAF Typhoon fires a barrage of rockets at German troops. (c. Jonathan Trigg, D-Day Through German Eyes, Amberley Publishing)

    In the early summer of 1944, Berlin knew the Allies would soon land in Continental Europe, and had assembled 850,000 men and over fifteen hundred panzers to face them. Who many of these men were is one of the most fascinating stories of the Second World War.

    Amidst the barbed-wire entanglements and sandbag bunkers of Hitler’s much-vaunted Atlantikwall, a stern-faced sentinel stares out to sea, eyes fixed on the horizon, watching for the Allied landing fleet. His rifle is slung over his shoulder, and on his head sits his turban…turban?

    Yes, turban, because this was no member of the Nazi master race – the Aryan herrenvolk of Goebbels’s delusional propaganda – but a Sikh rifleman in the Wehrmacht’s Infanterie-Regiment 950 (indische), recruited by a Calcutta (modern-day Kolkata) lawyer from former British Army POWs.

    Several thousand strong, the origins of one of the Nazis’ most bizarre and least well-known units lay in British India’s powerful independence movement. Under the guidance of its spiritual leader – Mohandas Gandhi – the Indian National Congress believed in a non-violent path to self-rule.

    However, not all its adherents were wedded to that approach, and one above all – Subhas Chandra Bose – thought freedom would only come through armed struggle.

    Escaping house arrest, the bespectacled firebrand arrived in Nazi Germany in April 1941 and offered to form an army to help drive the British out of his country. With German support he toured the POW camps filled with Indian soldiers captured in the fighting in North Africa. One such prisoner – Barwat Singh – remembered his arrival;

    “He was introduced to us as a leader from our country who wanted to talk to us. He wanted 500 volunteers who would be trained in Germany and then parachuted into India. Everyone raised their hands.”

    In no time the ‘Indian Legion’ – or more dramatically the ‘Tiger Legion’ as it was occasionally called – numbered almost three-thousand men and was being trained and equipped as the vanguard of a future Nazi invasion of the Raj.

    German defeats at El Alamein and Stalingrad put paid to that fantasy, and the now-purposeless unit was instead sent west to help man the German defences against the anticipated Allied landings. The build-up to D-Day found it on France’s Atlantic coast at Lacanau, near Bordeaux, as part of Kurt von der Chevallerie’s 1. Armee.

    British Soldiers escort captured German troopers - almost certainly from 716. Infanterie-Division - down to a collection point on the beach. (c. Jonathan Trigg, D-Day Through German Eyes, Amberley Publishing)

    As it turned out, the Allied fleet never appeared off Bordeaux, instead its destination was Normandy – some three hundred miles to the north.

    There, the Allied troops would face Friedrich Dollmann’s 7. Armee, which, although without any Indian troops in its ranks, was itself a phantasmagoria of nationalities that mirrored more the polyglot forces of Europe’s Middle Ages than the national armies of the Twentieth Century.

    On the beaches themselves, the Allied assault troops would face three of Dollmann’s divisions; the 352nd, the 709th and the 716th.

    The latter two were ‘fortress’ formations; disparagingly called bodenständige (literally ‘rooted to earth’) divisions, or more simply ‘belly units’ – many of them equipped with a single motor vehicle; the commanders staff car.

    Only two-thirds the size of normal German infantry divisions, the ranks of the 709th and 716th were filled with the middle-aged, medically unfit or previously-wounded; men like Martin Eineg:

    “Although I was tall, I had a chronic lung condition which technically classed me as ‘unfit for active service’. Nevertheless I was sent to France to man the Atlantikwall,”

    There was also Gustav Winter:

    “I suffered very badly from frostbite during the first winter in Russia…I lost the little fingers on each of my hands…also the tip of my nose, and my toes were damaged as well.”

    Standing next to Eineg and Winter were thousands of men of dubious military value; the men of the Ost-Bataillone (‘East Battalions’), ex-Soviet prisoners-of-war or deserters, as well as thousands of beutedeutscher (‘booty Germans’) – ethnic Poles and Czechs caught up in the war against their will, men like Aloysius Damski:

    “I am a Pole. I was working in the office of a munitions factory…when the manager called me in and said I could either go into the German forces or be declared ‘politically unreliable’, which almost certainly meant a concentration camp. I was only 20-years-old and I loved life, so I chose the army. After training I was sent to Normandy to a mixed unit of Poles, Czechs, Russians and some German NCOs and officers.”

    A Tiger I of Schwere SS-Panzerabteilung 101 knocked out by the British infantrymen of 1/7 Queens Regiment in Villers-Bocage on 13 June 1944. (c. Jonathan Trigg, D-Day Through German Eyes, Amberley Publishing)

    On the morning of 6 June the Allies made swift work of much of the defences, as attested by Emil Thiem, an ethnic German farm worker from outside Warsaw who was on Utah:

    “I was manning a mortar with my comrades, but it was in an open pit, so we stayed in a bunker a few metres away. The bombardment was terrible….one of my comrades put his head round the corner of the bunker to try and see what was going on, and as soon as he did he was hit by shrapnel – his whole head was gone, just like that…we climbed out of the bunker with our hands up and that was that, our war was finished.”

    Not everything went the Allies way though, an intelligence lapse meant they hadn’t picked up that the ‘belly’ 716th defending Omaha had been reinforced by the 352nd. The 352nd was no élite – its rankers were mainly 17 and 18-year-old conscripts with just a few weeks basic training behind them – but they had a core of experienced veterans and they were ready:

    “The Americans were about four hundred metres away from us. I did not sight on them individually at first, but I began firing and swept the gun from left to right along the beach. This knocked down the first few men in each line; the MG 42 was so powerful that the bullets would often pass through a human body and hit whatever was behind it.

    So many of these men were hit by a bullet which had already passed through a man in front, or even two men…”

    Despite German resistance the Allied landings were astonishingly successful. What followed would become known as the battle of Normandy as the Allied armies poured onto the beaches and came face to face with an all-together different German army, one characterised not by the belly soldiers of the fortress divisions, but by the panzergrenadiers and tank crews of the Waffen-SS and the Panzer-Lehr.

    Jonathan Trigg's new book D-Day Through German Eyes: How the Wehrmacht Lost France is available for purchase now.

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