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  • Children's Voices of the Second World War - An extract by Christina Rex

    War - Microsoft Word - Document2Food was a constant preoccupation during the war. As small children, we were not directly aware of this, but we lived constantly with the exhortations of the Dig for Victory posters, with the knowledge that food should not be wasted and with (in the towns) the ever-present pig bins in almost every street for vegetable peelings and any food scraps to go to the nearest pig farm to help with the swill.

    Even before the war, this country imported more than half the food needed to feed the population. On the outbreak of war, merchant shipping, which transported the foodstuffs, became a target of the U-boats, so the country had to maximise agricultural production, especially of the staples, wheat and potatoes, to save seamen’s lives, shipping space and use of precious oil for other purposes. A 50% increase in crop-growing land was achieved on farms by ploughing pasture, draining marshy tracts and planting on hillsides. Inspectors from the various Ministries involved “encouraged” the farmers to increase their arable land as far as they were able, but the public were expected to “do their bit” as well.

    The public responded by digging up flower beds, lawns and tennis courts (if they had them) for vegetable and fruit plots, and municipally-owned parks and sports facilities soon became allotments. Even the moat round the Tower of London was used for vegetables, while sheep grazed in Hyde Park! (Domestically, the soil covering Anderson shelters was almost always turned into a plot for cucumbers, strawberries, or anything edible which would grow there.) Anyone travelling by train saw the embankments near the station had been dug and were growing potatoes, beans, peas and other vegetables. The honesty of people in respect of these allotments was amazing – the big London parks and open spaces boasted innumerable plots, as did the other cities, yet there was little theft of produce. Those people who later shared some of the vegetables and fruit were very pleased with it. Shortly after the war started, about 1.5 million people had taken these allotments – and the land surrounding fire and police stations was enthusiastically dug up and cultivated by the station occupants. By 1943, more than a million tons of vegetables were being produced annually by these “domestic” growers, on its own no small contribution to the war effort.

    In an age when refrigeration in the home was virtually unknown (and domestic freezers unheard of!) preserving the produce was a major concern. The season for any fruit or vegetable was quite limited so it was necessary to preserve today’s glut for tomorrow’s famine, which was done by “bottling”, in “Kilner” jars for fruit, or salting of vegetables (and preserving eggs in water glass), quite apart from the making of jams, jellies and chutneys.

    From Children's Voices of the Second World War:

    Gloria Morgan
    We didn’t “dig for victory”. My parents were no gardeners and we didn’t have a compost heap or grow our own veg. We did, though, have a metal “pig bin” in our street where we put our vegetable parings for regular collection and distribution to the ad hoc pig keepers of the area.

    Linda Zerk
    The median strips in the roadways were dug up and things like potatoes grown; vegetables seemed to be grown on every spare patch of ground. The National Provincial Bank sports ground was ploughed and hay and crops grown. Us kids were encouraged to toss the hay around and jump in it, probably to get it dry enough to make into a haystack.

    Pat Fulmer
    After D-Day, mother and I returned to Catford, London, to live with my grandparents. Grandfather kept chickens but obviously didn’t feed them properly because the eggs all had soft shells! We seemed to eat cabbage most days – my grandmother made me drink the hot cabbage water. I think that is why I’ve had such good health all my life!

    Jean Runciman
    At the beginning of 1941 mother decided we must get away from the Blitz for a while so we joined her sister and family who were in a small village on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. We stayed as paying guests with a Mr & Mrs Gould, an elderly couple. The Goulds kept rabbits and chickens in their back garden to help with the meat ration. I was overjoyed to find lovely rabbits in hutches. I helped to feed them and cuddled them. One was my favourite but one day I couldn’t find him. At lunch, we were eating a very tasty casserole and I asked what the meat was. Mrs. Gould told me it was my beloved rabbit! I turned white, refused to eat my dinner and have never eaten rabbit since.

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    Children's Voices of the Second World War - Doodlebugs, Gas Masks & Gum by Christina Rex is available for purchase now.

  • The Napoleonic Wars in 100 Facts by Jem Duducu

    Napoleonic WarsWith the Battle of Waterloo being in the news at the moment, there is renewed interest by the media in these wars that lasted about a quarter of a century. Media coverage of on the likes of Napoleon and the battles is remarkably apt because during the actual era the media giants of the time (the newspapers) were waging their own propaganda war. The Napoleonic Wars however were not the first to use the medium of print for propaganda purposes – The Times, for example, started in 1785 as The Daily Universal Register, was not above bias. But this particular era of conflict excelled at printing scurrilous opinions and defamatory cartoons. The leaders of the age knew the power of the press. As Napoleon once said: “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.”

    However, it wasn’t just opinion pieces that influenced; imagery was often more powerful and lingered longer. Napoleon understood this, and became known for self-aggrandisement. The famous painting of him crossing the Alps (painted by the French artist Jacques-Louis David between 1801 and 1805), for example, shows a strongly idealised view of the real crossing that Napoleon and his army made across the Alps.

    Napoleon also made sure his coronation as emperor was immortalised in oil paintings, and both he and his wife, Josephine, commissioned regal portraits of themselves in their splendid imperial robes. While Napoleon didn’t plan his own tomb, it continued the themes of power and supremacy – this time with Napoleon as an Adonis; a god among men. Brilliant general he assuredly was, but physically Napoleon was a little on the pudgy side, and had a crooked nose.

    Napoleon had the twin advantages of being both a general and an absolute ruler; he was able to dictate and control the French press. Britain did not provide its monarchs and leaders with the same benefits; it had a freer press, and parliamentary democracy meant magazines could draw witheringly satirical cartoons of friend and foe alike.

    For example, Napoleon’s nickname, ‘Boney’, was a British invention designed to conjure antipathy. At the time, it was thought that having some meat on your bones was a good thing; therefore, horrible old ‘Boney’ was a wraith to be feared or mocked. ‘Boney’ stood in stark contrast to the famous John Bull cartoon popularised first by British print makers. Bull was the national personification of England; a plump, down-to-earth patriot and beer lover.

    Napoleon is often portrayed as compensating for his lack of stature with comically large hats and boots. But to set the record straight, Napoleon wasn’t short. This misunderstanding arose because French measurements were different to British ones, and we now know that Napoleon was a little taller than the average man of his time (although he would probably have looked diminutive standing next to someone like the Duke of Wellington).

    The idea that Napoleon was short still exists to this day, all thanks to British propaganda from 200 years ago.

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    To learn about more of the interesting facts from the Napoleonic Wars check out Jem Duducu’s book The Napoleonic Wars in 100 Facts available for purchase now.

  • The Forgotten Ordinance of 1264 by Darren Baker

    On 28 June 1264 an ordinance was sealed by Parliament following the victory of the Montfortian party at Lewes six weeks earlier. It ordained that the king shall dispose of all the business of the realm, whether dispensing patronage or naming Crown officials, with the advice and consent of a council of nine. These nine would be chosen by three electors confirmed by the king, all elaborated by a system of checks and balances. Officially Henry III gave his “consent, will and precept” to this form of government, which for all intents and purposes changed England into a constitutional monarchy.

    Ordinance - Microsoft Word - Civil war in England 1264 picIt was called an ordinance because it was meant to be a temporary measure, a “form of peace” until the actual treaty drawn up after Lewes was implemented. That battle had been the culmination of six years of strife over the Provisions of Oxford, the reforms enacted to rein in the king’s personal rule. By the end of 1263 Henry had recovered most of his power, forcing his opponents, led by his brother-in-law Simon de Montfort, to agree to arbitration by the king’s other brother-in-law and fellow monarch, Louis IX of France. With supreme imprudence, Louis completely nullified the Provisions of Oxford, resulting in civil war and the two sides facing off at Lewes.

    Henry was winning the war and might have won at Lewes had his son, the future Edward I, not led his division off the battlefield on a murderous joyride. To coax Henry and his son into surrendering, Montfort agreed that the Provisions could be revisited and adjusted under arbitration with French participation. A letter was sent in Henry’s name to Louis shortly after the battle to initiate this new discussion so that a final form of government might be instituted for the realm. The Ordinance, which was essentially the Provisions in stricter form, was to suffice in the meantime.

    Louis never did answer, nor would he, for his pride would be severely affected if he admitted the foolishness of his previous decision. By August 1264, the Montfortians had had enough and sent Louis their own final plan, called the Peace of Canterbury. It was the Ordinance all over again, with one caveat: that this form of government was to survive the king into the next reign. Edward, whether he liked it or not, and all his actions since deserting the reform movement suggested he wouldn’t, would also have to govern under constitutional controls.

    What is truly amazing about the Ordinance of 1264 is not that it had the approval of the king. Henry had also approved the Provisions, but had got the pope to absolve him of his oath to observe them. Rather, it confirmed that England would henceforth be a parliamentary state. That process had begun earlier with the provision that called for the king to summon Parliament three times a year at regular intervals, thereby infringing on royal prerogative to summon it at will. When Henry set out to undermine reforms, it was precisely this provision that he took aim at first. It was that conflict in the winter/spring of 1260 that split the realm into two camps, those for Henry and those for Simon.

    Ordinance - Microsoft Word - English medieval parliament picPreviously, the main function of Parliament had been to discuss petitions and taxation. With the onset of the reform movement, it also began to legislate, not just rules for the king, but for the barons themselves, all bearing in mind that England was a “community of the realm”, meaning all the people and not just the elites. For the Parliament of June 1264, the counties were invited to send four elected representatives to approve, alongside the magnates and clergy, this new constitution. From that moment forward, Parliament would be a national assembly with the power to decide matters of state, including deposing the king if necessary.

    Why Simon de Montfort is better remembered for his next Parliament, where the towns were first invited to send representatives, and not this groundbreaking assembly, has to do with the man himself. He has been accused both in his day and ours of never intending to fulfill the terms of Henry’s surrender at Lewes. He merely agreed to them to get the king to come out alive, and once he had him, he was content to rule the realm in his name.

    For sure, he was one of the three electors and certainly dominated the government, but he had a wide range of support from the clergy, nobility, knights, freemen and peasants. His willingness, moreover, to compromise on the Provisions offered Henry a face-saving measure. Throughout his reign, the king had always despaired for his dignity, now Simon was offering as much as he could give him in defeat. Historians have often overlooked this fact, preferring to see Simon as uncompromising and Henry as weak, despite knowing that it was Edward who lost the battle, and that these two men, in-laws who had once enjoyed a deep friendship, personally meant the other well in spite of their troubles.

    The demand that the French arbitrate also suspiciously looks like Montfort knowing that nothing would come of the treaty terms. He knew Louis well enough to know he would never put peace before pride. Indeed, when the French king received the Peace of Canterbury, he famously reported he would rather toil in the fields than rule as a king under such conditions. And yet Montfort needed outside legitimacy for his regime, and his standing with leading French nobles and clergymen offered the only chance of getting Louis to act.

    Ordinance - Microsoft Word - Henry meeting Louis in France picIt was all over in a little more than a year. Edward escaped from custody, raised an army, and butchered Montfort’s men at Evesham in August 1265. The Ordinance and all acts passed under it were repealed, the estates of the Montfortians were seized, and England was gripped by disorder over the next two years. But there was no turning back. When Henry and Edward tried to secure a crusade tax, it would take at least eight parliaments before they finally got approval. And of course, the next civil war between king and parliament saw the monarchy abolished completely, if temporarily.

    So why then isn’t the Ordinance of 1264, and by its origins the Provisions of Oxford, remembered with the same veneration as Magna Carta? For the same reason the Declaration gets all the glory in America and not the Constitution. The enshrinement of rights is always the first step towards installing the machinery of government. That makes it more glamorous, less technical, an easier sell in any age. Magna Carta had been on the books throughout Henry’s reign and he confirmed it several times even while violating its principles. Louis understood how deeply entrenched this charter of liberties was in the political landscape of England, and so he made sure to announce that his nullification of the Provisions had nothing to do with Magna Carta. You can have your rights, he told the English people, but not your government.

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    Darren Baker's new book is available for purchase now.

  • Cranborne Chase – A Secret Landscape by Roger Lane

    Cranborne Chase – A Secret Landscape is published this month (June 2015) providing me with the end result of many years of deliberation and two years of research, writing and photography. Most pleasing however, is the coincidental launch of the book with two important events embracing Cranborne Chase in relation to its history and landscape.

    The historical element concerns the signing of the Magna Carta by King John on 15th June 1215 and Cranborne Chase was of course a much favoured hunting ground of his. The city of Salisbury residing on the edge of the Chase is home to the best preserved original copy of the Magna Carta and is the only place in the world where an original can be viewed in a true 13th century setting.

    As important as the Magna Carta is, I have to unashamedly admit to feeling more closely associated with the landscape event, and the launch of my book, sharing the 175th birthday to the month of undoubtedly Dorset’s most acclaimed landscape writer, Thomas Hardy. Hardy used Cranborne Chase in his novels and his poetry most notably in Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

    Being first and foremost a photographer, over the years I have been given the opportunity by various editors to accompany my images with words. In this respect I can also regard myself as a writer, although not under any stretch of the imagination a ‘Thomas Hardy’. The only commonality between us is the visualisation and description of the Dorset landscape.

    Thomas Hardy was both a landscape novelist and poet who managed to portray a certain atmosphere of the landscape into his work, providing a backdrop for his character’s lives and frequent tragedies. Had he been a photographer he would no doubt have produced images of the natural world in an equally subtle mood with the use of light reflecting the landscape in his story with much effect.

    Cranborne Chase - Microsoft Word - Document1With Cranborne Chase being featured in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, which although set predominantly in the eastern end of Blackmore Vale around the village of Marnhull (Hardy’s Marlot) the story takes the reader into the Chase at Cranborne or the village of Chaseborough in Hardy’s novels. Here, the heroine danced in a barn at Chaseborough near the Flower-de-Luce Inn, seemingly one of the out-buildings of the Fleur de Lys Inn (Now the Inn on the Chase), before returning back across the hills to Trantridge (Pentridge). Cranborne Chase was in fact the scene of the seduction of Tess by Alec d’Urberville.

    The Chase has always had the character of a remote landscape, perhaps something of a forest wilderness with a dark reputation. By the early 19th century it became a notorious region for smugglers and poachers. Even the local squires dressed in their quilted coats and beehive helmets would steal deer and attack the gamekeepers merely as a blood sport. The forest was not brought under control until the 1830s when areas were deforested and the landscape opened up thus reducing the opportunity to hide within the dark forests of the Chase

    Cranborne Chase - Microsoft Word - Document1Today the forest areas are crisscrossed with open rides and footpaths with the rolling chalk downlands along the Wiltshire/Dorset border sculptured clear of the tree-line. The Chase now offers a far less foreboding environment to walkers who now frequent the region in search of the pathways used by our distant ancestors who travelled across the downs on trackways made by feet and hooves over many years of history. The Ox Drove, one of the oldest, traces an ancient route over the Downs, high above the woodland escarpment of Cranborne Chase.

    By the beech clump on Win Green, the very roof of Wiltshire, the traveller can take in a magnificent view from the distant blue of the Isle of Wight in the south-east to the Quantock Hills in the north-west.

    Cranborne Chase - Microsoft Word - Document1The chase has many faces, upland, downland, woodland and open fields; windswept open pastures and sheltered valleys. Despite years of transition by nature, here you can still find the nooks, crannies and wide open spaces moulded by history, agriculture and the landscapes that have inspired writers such as Hardy.

    I have read many of Hardy’s novels and have always been intrigued by his descriptions of the Dorset landscape, agriculture and of the country folk in his stories and settings. This may of course be due in some way to a link with my own childhood. I remember my great grandfather and great grandmother from the village of Durweston near Blandford Forum, where I spent many childhood summers harvesting on the hill, appearing like characters from a Hardy novel. Their names were Silas and Jane and Silas in particular was a strong man with whiskery sideburns but a gentle nature who all horses and sheep seemed to understand and obey. My grandfather also had a wonderful way with working horses and his brother was also a shepherd on the hills above Durweston. The characters I remember from those glorious ‘horse and cart’ summer days were certainly Hardy characters and later when reading his novels their faces would come back to me time and again.

    Thomas Hardy is perhaps the greatest writer of rural life and landscape and as we celebrate his 175th year it is no wonder that his words and indeed the landscape he has reflected should have stood such a test of time. As a photographer in the modern digital age I can’t help but wonder where my work might be in 175 years.

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    Cranborne Chase - A Secret Landscape by Roger Lane is available for purchase now.

  • Agincourt - June 1415: England prepares for war by W.B. Bartlett

    The plans were all in place, the invasion army was assembling, the ports of southern England were full of ships and sailors. Vast amounts of supplies had been collected, as the fleet looked south across the English Channel towards the beaches of Normandy. Everyone hoped that the June weather would hold, allowing the armada to make it safely across to France. Things were not so different in 1415 than they were in 1944.

    Agincourt - Microsoft Word - Document2There had been various diplomatic missions to and fro for several years ever since the young, untried Henry V became king. He was determined from the start of his reign to stake a claim to France but the French ruler, Charles VI, had unsurprisingly rejected any such suggestions. Now the time for talking was over, or so Henry thought. Everything was ready until at the last moment there was an unwelcome complication.

    Towards the end of June a peace delegation from France arrived. They chased after Henry, who had already moved off to Winchester on his way to captain the invasion army. The French delegation caught him up and for a few days desultory negotiations took place. These were in all likelihood just an attempt to buy time by the French and Henry had no interest in further delay. His large army, some 11,000 men strong, had not come cheap; this was an army that was recruited, not conscripted. Delay could lead to desertion by the men and the chance to invade might never come again. The discussions got nowhere as they were doomed to do from the start.

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    This was the scene in England in June 1415, 600 years ago. Men-at-arms and archers had been recruited from across England and Wales and there were some Europeans there too from the English-held land of Gascony and expert gunners from Germany. Ships had been impressed in their hundreds. The Hundred Years War as it later became known had been essentially dormant for decades with just the occasional flare-up in between. Now Henry was ready to renew the conflict and England prepared for a decisive confrontation with the armies of France. The journey to Agincourt had begun.

    Agincourt - 9781445639499

    Agincourt: Henry V, the Man at Arms & the Archer coming September 2015 pre-order your copy today.

  • Waterloo Anniversary by Martyn Beardsley

    Exactly two hundred years ago today, at the time I'm writing this - early on the morning of the 18th June - two armies just a few hundred yards apart were making the final preparations for a battle for the future of Europe. Weapons were cleaned, ammunition was checked, and horses were saddled and fed. British soldiers, stiff and sore from the overnight rain, their wet uniforms steaming in the morning sun, gazed anxiously at the glinting armour of the distant French cuirassiers as they galloped to their positions.

    Waterloo - Microsoft Word - Document1The research for my book on Waterloo was a fascinating experience. To be able to 'see' the battle through the eyes of those who took part made it a much more personal thing than merely reading about military tactics and manoeuvres. In some cases, especially of the ordinary foot soldier like Gunner Edwards (I have the onner of waren a blue and red ribbon as a marke of that day…) I was drawn into the lives of those involved, and it felt like discovering long-lost letters from distant relatives.

    Certain things stood out, and one was the courage of the rank-and-file men like Gunner Edwards. It goes without saying that you need to be brave to fight in a battle, but the way of fighting in 1815 was completely unlike anything in modern warfare. In modern times, the fancy parades might look impressive but can also seem somehow pointless. But the way in which all that marching up and down and manoeuvring has its roots in the kind of fighting that took place at Waterloo became clearer to me as I read the stories.

    Waterloo - Microsoft Word - Document1Soldiers had to be able to obey an instant command to form a line or a square, to face a particular direction, to keep formation with colleagues without leaving gaps, and to respond instantly to any change in formation or direction deemed necessary in response to the movements of the enemy.

    If the enemy infantry advanced, you would be ordered to form a line in order to bring maximum firepower to bear. The attack might seem overwhelming and there would be a temptation to retreat – but if you did you were lost. This is what happened many times when armies faced Napoleon and his feared armies, and it was the bravery and discipline of Wellington's men that saved them from being routed on many occasions as their comrades fell around them and their ranks were thinned out.

    Then if the cavalry attacked, upon a command you would be ordered to abandon your lines and form a square. It was said that a determined infantry square could withstand any cavalry charge as long as it stood firm, and so it proved at Waterloo. These squares had a 'hollow' centre where among others artillerymen who had to abandon their guns could take refuge till the storm had subsided. Again, perfect formation and discipline was paramount. Any wavering and the square would be overwhelmed, with men being cut down by the cuirassiers and their slashing swords.

    Waterloo - Microsoft Word - Document1There is always a big debate whenever Waterloo is mentioned about whether Wellington would have lost if Blucher hadn't arrived. Only the other day I overheard someone declare, 'Of course, without Blucher we would have lost'. I think there is a peculiarly British attitude, whether it's to do with war, sport or whatever, along the lines of 'Well, we're really not very good and all of our victories were either lucky or tainted…'

    I stand to be corrected by people who know more about military history than I do, but to me, much of the 'Prussia saved us at Waterloo' debate is spurious. For one thing, Wellington without the Prussians was outnumbered yet still held his ground for the whole day despite attack after ferocious and increasingly desperate attacks by an army that was used to demoralising its opponents. My impression, based on the accounts of those who took part is that a stalemate was the worst that would have happened as darkness came on.

     

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    But people seem to forget that the Prussians were part of the plan - they were supposed to be there! It wasn't as if they wandered along unexpectedly or had to be sent for as a desperate afterthought. It was always the arrangement that they would join up with Wellington, and in fact it would have happened earlier had not Napoleon worked so hard to keep the two allies apart. It's almost certainly true that their arrival allowed Wellington to finally, after having fought a brilliant defensive battle all day, launch a decisive counter-attack, but it's wrong to think of it as some sort of outsider coming along to dig the British out of a hole.

     

     

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    Be that as it may, my thoughts today will be with the ordinary British soldier who stood and faced up to the onslaught, and with the many who fell. For me there couldn't be a better tribute than the British Waterloo Monument in Evere. It features Britannia and three lions surrounding a tomb of fallen British officers, but far from being a triumphal monument, when you study it closer it is actually very poignant – because this was a battle won at enormous cost. Britannia looks distraught, and her helmet and trident are lowered. There is a disorderly pile of weapons, looking almost as if they were abandoned in death. And the lions aren't the proud, roaring beasts we are so used to seeing. They lie like spent, shattered soldiers – in fact one seems to be licking its wounds. But still in their pain and exhaustion they remain there, watching over the fallen. The monument is not so much about victory, but about the price to be paid for victory.

     

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    Waterloo Voices 1815 by Martyn Beardsley is available for purchase now.

  • What Did Cambronne Say at Waterloo? by Mark Simner

    There are many myths and controversies surrounding the Battle of Waterloo, fought on 18 June 1815. Indeed, a number of books have been written that solely focus on these fascinating, yet sometimes frustrating, aspects of the Hundred Days campaign. Some of these myths have since been proved false or otherwise finally laid to rest, but many persist, with military history experts still no nearer to the truth than at any time in the past 200 years. One, which continues to be debated by professional and amateur historians alike, is the alleged words of Pierre Cambronne during the final stages of the battle. But who was Cambronne and what did or didn’t he say at Waterloo?

    Waterloo - CambronneBorn in 1770 at Nantes, France, Cambronne enlisted into the French army in 1791 shortly before the outbreak of the War of the First Coalition. He would rise rapidly through the ranks, becoming a lieutenant in 1893, and took part in the campaigns in the Vendée, the Rhine and in Switzerland. More promotions would follow, including chef de batallion in 1805, and he was present at the battles of Austerlitz and Jena before being sent to Spain. However, he was recalled to France in order to assist with the enlargement of the Garde Impériale, later participating in the battles of Aspern-Essling and Wagram before returning to the Iberian Peninsula. Perhaps luckily, he did not take part in Napoleon’s ill-fated campaign in Russia in 1812, but he did play an important part in the rebuilding of the French army the following year. After the Battle of Hanau, fought in October 1813, he was again promoted, to général de brigade, and placed in command of the 1st Chasseurs of the Old Guard. When Napoleon was defeated in 1814, he faithfully accompanied his emperor in his exile to the island of Elba as head of the Guard Grenadiers.

    With Napoleon’s subsequent escape from exile and return to France in early 1815, Cambronne was again offered promotion, but this time he refused the honour, insisting that he would stay with his men. However, he would, as colonel-major, take command of the two battalions of the 1st Chasseurs during the Hundred Days campaign, seeing action at both Ligny and Waterloo. Thus, the somewhat incredible and long military career of Pierre Jacques Étienne Cambronne was about to reach its climatic end and become firmly entwined with the Waterloo legend.

    Waterloo - Garde ImperialeThere is little room within this brief article to offer any detailed description of the advance of the Garde Impériale late in the Battle of Waterloo. Countless books have already dealt with the subject and many different interpretations of the assault exist. Suffice to say, the attack was repulsed by Wellington’s Anglo-Allied army and Napoleon’s last throw of the dice ultimately failed. However, it was following the repulse of the Guard that Cambronne was later alleged to have said, when invited to surrender, ‘la Garde meurt mais ne se rends pas!’, which translates into English as ‘the Guard dies but does not surrender!’ Other eyewitnesses claimed that he simply said ‘Merde!’, meaning ‘Shit!’. Both, particularly the former, quickly became one of the Waterloo myths that were readily believed by so many in the years following the battle. However, these words were later denied by Cambronne himself who, according to the French historian Henry Houssaye, stated ‘I did not say what is attributed to me, I replied with something else.’

    Following such a denial, it, therefore, might seem odd why the myth of what Cambronne said during his capture at Waterloo persisted for so long. However, looking back from the distance of 200 years, we should remember that Waterloo was an embarrassing defeat for France, and nothing short of a humiliation for the men of Napoleon’s elite Old Guard to be taken prisoner in battle. To counter this, what followed was an attempt by some to portray the defeat in a glorious light, or as an act of courageous defiance in the face of the enemy. Houssaye himself believed the whole thing was made up by a French journalist who worked for the Journal général de France. To further muddy the waters, those, on the Anglo-Allied side, who did witness the capture of Cambronne and his Old Guard comrades do not always agree on the details, some accounts even proving to be completely unreliable. All of which acted to merely perpetuate the myth.

    Whatever the actual circumstances of Cambronne’s capture, we do know he suffered a serious head wound at Waterloo and was later attended to by a British doctor. Following the battle, he was taken to England but longed to return to France, which he did in late 1815, where he was arrested on allegations of treason. Later cleared of the charges, Cambronne would resume his military duties for a short period before retiring and spending the last two decades of his life helping veterans of the Garde Impériale. On 29 January 1842, aged 71, Cambronne died, and, in 1848, a statue of him was erected in his honour in his home city of Nantes, where it still stands today.

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    An Illustrated Introduction to The Battle of Waterloo by Mark Simner is available for purchase now.

  • The Suffrage movement in WWI by Mavis Curtis

    When I started writing my book about the Women’s Institute I did a lot of reading about the suffrage movement. I was surprised to find that many of the women who had been active suffragists, such as Grace Hadow, were among the first people to set up and run branches of the WI. Generally speaking, they were suffragists, not suffragettes; suffragettes being the ones who bolted themselves to railings and set fire to buildings. The suffragists thought reasoned argument would get them further.

    What surprised me even more when I read about the suffragists was that they played a very important part in the First World War, not as soldiers but as doctors, ambulance drivers, organisers of canteens for soldiers and settlements of refugees, as well as the more usual nursing orderlies and VADs. They didn’t just travel to the Western Front in Belgium and northern France. They undertook long and arduous journeys to Salonika, Serbia, Ukraine, Russia and Poland. Because they couldn’t get to Eastern Europe through Germany, they sometimes sailed from Liverpool, travelling across the North Sea and approached Russia via Sweden and the Baltic. They would then either stay in Russia and Poland, or travel south through Russia to Odessa on the Black Sea, from where they could sail to Salonika in Northern Greece, and thence to Serbia. Sometimes they went to France, travelling down to Marseilles from where they could get a boat to Salonika or one of the refugee settlements and hospitals in the Mediterranean.

    Suffrage - Elsie Corbett and Katherine Dillon Elsie Corbett and Katherine Dillon

    That is what Elsie Corbett and Katherine Dillon did. They first met on the boat taking them from Marseilles to Salonika, and stayed together for the rest of their lives. They wanted to nurse in the typhus epidemic that was sweeping Serbia at the time. Typhus is spread by bed bugs and body lice, and though the epidemic was on the wane by the time they got there, there was no shortage of lice. Elsie records that visitors were not allowed in the wards unless children were very ill, because ‘we already had more lice than we needed.’ One child with diphtheria was admitted, not crawling with lice, because, as Elsie said, there was no room for them to crawl. They made a neat grey lining to her vest.

    The two girls were captured by the Austrians who overran Serbia but were repatriated through the Red Cross. They returned to England for a short rest, but then trained as ambulance drivers. They were given a short course of instruction in London on how to drive the heavy Ford trucks and returned to Salonika.

    Suffrage - Suffragists in WWI. Suffragists in WWI.

    By this time the Austrians were retreating before the Serbian army and Katherine and Elsie were following behind the troops, collecting the wounded and taking them back to hospital. Windscreens were taken out of the ambulances, as were the side curtains, because of the danger from splintered glass, so the driver was exposed to rain and snow alike and could consequently get very wet. ‘The easiest way to dry out is to go to bed in your wet clothes and let them dry overnight,’ wrote Elsie.

    The land was mountainous so the drivers drove everywhere in low gear and Elsie had to fill up the radiator at every opportunity because her vehicle boiled fiercely. They only had two stretchers in the ambulance and any journey back from the front line took a long time so moving the wounded was necessarily long and drawn out. After one battle they could fit in only three journeys as the return journey, though only sixteen miles, took four hours. It was a dreadful road, not made easier by the fact that while most of the traffic was going forward, the ambulances were going in the opposite direction. The Serbs said the road was part of the Via Ignacia which had connected the Roman Empire with that of Byzantium. It still had its original stones, but was very steep and narrow and the drivers of the ox carts were in the habit of levering a stone out of the surface to stop the cart slipping when they had to stop to rest their animals. Unfortunately they didn’t put them back when they moved on.

    Suffrage - Ambulance during wartime. Ambulance during wartime.

    At the end of the war the ambulance crews and nursing personnel were paraded in Belgrade and given the Officer’s Gold medal for Zealous Service. Katherine, as organiser of the ambulance service was awarded the Order of St Sava. Elsie wryly notes that the four Serb mechanics who had worked so hard and shared their hardships and triumphs were not even allowed in to the cathedral to the service.

    The two women returned to Oxfordshire, to Katherine’s home village of Spilbury, joined the WI and lived there for the rest of their lives, though they did from time to time have trips abroad in their motor car.

     

     

     

    Suffrage - The WI: A Centenary History

    Mavis's book The WI: A Centenary History is available now.

  • Gillian Polack & Katrin Kania - How they got interested in the Middle Ages

    Middle Ages - Gillian PolackGillian Polack

    I often tell people that I fell into the Middle Ages almost by mistake. I had a question I wanted to answer and the Middle Ages held that answer. Sounds good, doesn’t it? The sad truth is that life is more complicated than that.

    Here’s what really happened.

    When I was in primary school, I knew I wanted to study history. I also knew I wanted to write fiction. How I became a fiction writer is another story, for another time. The important thing is that I knew - when my age could still be measured in one digit - that history was one of the keys to my existence. When I was nine I started scrolling through all the possible history professions one by one and I flirted with them all. It annoyed me when adults teased me “Oh, so you want to be a museum curator” or “Have you given up on old bones yet?” because none of them thought that a child could actually know what they wanted to do as an adult and all they saw was the job I was thinking about at that moment. None of them seemed to see that I was thinking about those jobs because they would enable me to do what I dreamed of. I didn’t want a particular job: I wanted a career that gave me time and space to understand human beings both past and present. I have part of that job now, but I’m still trying to turn it into a life package. I love writing and teaching and researching history. I love learning and understand and sharing. When I looked back, I realised that this was always the case.

    Every year my family travelled around south-eastern Australia, a caravan in tow. We were looking for rocks. My mother taught geology at high school and our brains were so filled with rocks that we joked that there was no room for anything else.

    One year we went to Naracoorte, on the Victorian/South Australian border. It’s a somewhat red part of Australia. Big and burnt-red and a long way from the Melbourne suburbs where I grew up and the murky Yarra River and its green banks. Visiting Naracoorte was wildly exciting for a young child in a big family car with a caravan drifting behind.

    The scientists there had just discovered megafauna in the limestone caves near the town. My sisters and I saw bones of ancient giant animals, and we walked through the same limestone caves they had walked. When we emerged above ground again, our eyes were wide and staring. My parents wanted us to be scientists, and at that moment, it looked as if that is what we would all become.

    Naracoorte itself had a museum. We had just an hour and a half before it closed and I begged and begged to visit and finally, my father said “Yes, Gillian, you can.” At dinner the others were still full of megafaunal wonder. Me, I was trying to explain an exhibit of old irons and how they’d changed over time and what clothes toddlers wore in the 1890s. I still become wide-eyed about megafauna (and even own a piece of one) but how people lived their lives and what their lives have done to shape ours is what I love and will love forever. I have two doctorates, and neither of them is in geology.

    That’s how I came to be a historian. I’m a historian for the same reason that I’m a fiction writer: because they’re the right things for me to be.

    How I came to be a Medievalist is different.

    I studied historiography. All the different ways people write about history fascinated me. I studied Old French because I wanted to be able to read literature in that language. Then, in my Honours year, I realised that my perfect thesis topic was about the Middle Ages. I went to the Departmental chair to have it approved.

    Geoffrey Blainey (a famous Australian historian) sat me on the rug on the middle of his floor because all the chairs were full of paper and we talked my topic through. He decided that it was a daring thing that ought to be done, and he found me excellent supervisors and I won the thesis prize for it. This got me scholarships to the University of Toronto’s Centre for Medieval Studies and the University of Sydney, and it was at these universities that I really discovered the Middle Ages.

    After all this study, something funny happened. I love teaching and I am a fiction writer. Friends who were also writers started asking me questions about the Middle Ages.

    I became an expert in things writers needed to know. I totally recommend this as a way for historians to rethink what they know, where they know it from and how to explain it. Since I’ve worked with other writers, I’ve seen a much more complex and broader Middle Ages. I still have my special areas (all historians do) and I’m very popular at science fiction conventions when food or literature or popular insults come up as topics, but I now see how legal systems work and how landscape changes over time, and how the work of archaeologists is absolutely crucial to the work of historians.

    All of this led to The Middle Ages Unlocked, as night follows day. When I was at primary school, however, I had no idea that I had this book in my future. All I knew then was that I wanted to understand humans through time. I wanted to know what it felt like to use those old irons and walk in those streets holding the hand of that 1890s toddler.

    Middle Ages - Katrin KaniaKatrin Kania

    It all started with a little old castle, about 15 kilometres from where I grew up. There, every year, a group of people got together to have a "Ritterfest" - a little medieval-ish festivity with some music, some food, and some fighting. I was sixteen or seventeen when I went there, dressed up in what I now know was about as medieval as a bicycle helmet, and met a friend from school who was demonstrating how to felt. I joined her, doing some felting myself, and wandered around and talked and sang and had a wonderful time. I stayed until late in the night, sitting around a fire with all the others, and some of my new friends asked me if I would like to go to another festival with them...

    This was the start of my fascination with the Middle Ages. Obviously, I needed something to wear, and that is how I started to get involved with medieval textiles. I made all the beginner's mistakes, such as using the wrong fabrics, trying to use modern patterns, and happily using fantasy elements in the clothing or mixing several time spans into one outfit. I was hooked, though, and when the time came to choose something to study, I found that it was possible to study medieval archaeology. That, the books told me, was a mix of reading and researching plus going outside and getting dirty digging things. It sounded perfect - and for me, it was. I went on to study at Bamberg, one of the few places in Germany where medieval archaeology is a focus topic. I still went to Living History events; I got involved with experimental archaeology; and my interest in textiles and clothing grew ever stronger. In the end, I wrote my PhD thesis about medieval tailoring and surviving medieval garments. Today, I have exchanged the shovel and trowel for needles and scissors, concentrating on historical textile techniques. I do reconstructions, workshops and courses, plus some experimental archaeology, all with a strong focus on textiles. The combination of theroretical knowledge and practical crafts experience that my work developed has also strongly influenced parts of "The Middle Ages Unlocked" that have nothing to do with textiles, such as the chapter about crafts.

    Middle Ages - 9781445645834‘Wise, entertaining and crammed with historical knowledge. This one’s a keeper.’ Elizabeth Chadwick

    ‘Factual, fascinating, educational and entertaining.’ Helen Hollick

    ‘A fascinating insight into all things medieval.’ Felicity Pulman

    ‘Listen up, writers! The Middle Ages Unlocked is the go-to book for information on the Middle Ages.’ Jack Dann

    ‘This well-researched, accessible and absorbing compendium provides rich, precise and often surprising information for anyone wanting to know more about this period of history.’ Sophie Masson

    Gillian Polack and Katrin Kania new book The Middle Ages Unlocked is available for purchase now.

  • The Battle of Lewes, 14th May 1264, by Darren Baker author of With All for All: The Life of Simon de Montfort

    The Battle of Lewes The Battle of Lewes

    14th May marks the anniversary of one of those events which most people in England have probably never heard of and yet which has influenced how they live their lives today. On this day in 1264 an army under Simon de Montfort defeated and captured King Henry III in and around the town of Lewes, Sussex. Under the resulting peace treaty, Henry agreed to abide by the Provisions of Oxford, the reforms that had been enacted as a reaction to his personal rule and a court packed with foreign favourites. It was Henry’s disregard of these Provisions that ultimately led to the armed conflict. Now, with the King under his control, Montfort summoned Parliament in the aftermath of Lewes to make these reforms a permanent fixture of government. England thus became, for all intents and purposes, a constitutional monarchy, the first of its kind in Western Europe. Montfort took this political evolution a step further when he expanded the representational base of his next Parliament six months later. A year later Henry’s son, the future Edward I, escaped from custody, raised an army, and had the Montfortian leadership massacred at Evesham, but there was no undoing their work. From that point on, Parliament would not only be the national forum for matters of state, but would have the final word on all taxation.

     

    Lewes monument Lewes monument

    That’s just the historical perspective of why Lewes is such an important, if neglected, event in British history. If a battle can be said to have endearing features, Lewes is certainly one of the few: there was the exchange of letters between both camps as they tried to find a way out of what had become a bitter standoff; there was Edward himself, who cost his father the battle by going off on a murderous joyride against the London contingent because they had pelted and insulted his mother the queen the year before; and there was the windmill, where Henry’s brother Richard sought shelter after his line crumbled. Richard took great pride in the fact that he was the titular 'King of the Romans' and the Montfortian soldiers had a merry ole time parading him through the streets of Lewes afterwards covered in the dirt and grime of the windmill.

     

    Windmill plaque Windmill plaque

    The place where the windmill stood is marked today, as are many other parts of the battlefield. The impressive memorial to the battle can be found near the ruins of the priory, where Henry and Edward holed up after the battle. The castle is still standing and commands the best view of the South Downs, where Montfort assembled his troops for their advance on the town. There is no statue or marker on the ridge of the Downs denoting, for example, Montfort addressing his men (‘Today we fight for the sake of the realm of England’), but it’s just as well, for it better re-creates the atmosphere of that momentous day 751 years ago.

     

     

     

    9781445645742For more on Simon de Montfort have a look at Darren Baker's biography With All for All: The Life of Simon de Montfort.

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