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  • Der Kapitan: U-Boat Ace Hans Rose by Markus F. Robinson

    Kapitan Leutnant Hans Rose Propaganda postcard annotated 'Commander of the German Undersea-boat U 53 from Wilhelmshaven to New York'. (c. Author's Archive, Der Kapitan: U-Boat Ace Hans Rose, Amberley Publishing)

    History and “Fake” History - Beware of Secondary Sources

    Winston Churchill wrote ‘history is written by the victors.’ His statement succinctly captures the reality that all history is reported from a given perspective. As readers of history it is important we acknowledge this truism. As writers of history it is even more important we understand and acknowledge our own biases, and we critically assess the work of our colleagues, particularly when we rely on them.

    The other day a German historian I’ve been collaborating with showed me a new book written about shipwrecked seamen. It’s a gorgeous book, beautifully produced, that enumerates vessels attacked and sunk off Ireland. So naturally it includes materials about all the vessels that Hans Rose, at the helm of the U 53, attacked around the Emerald Isle. I checked the index, found the page references for U 53, and proceeded to review them.

    The author performed a huge amount of work to track down each boat sunk off Ireland and then meticulously compile data about the wrecks and their seamen. Mostly it’s pretty raw stuff: dates, boat specifics, number of crewmen rescued and lost, and the occasional exciting account of a rough seas rescue. Not really a page turner, it is more like a scholarly data compendium. Perhaps to make it more readable the author provides “context”, placing each wreck in its historical waters.

    U 53's morning Watch 1917 by Claus Bergen. (c. Rose Family Archives, Der Kapitan: U-Boat Ace Hans Rose, Amberley Publishing)

    That’s when my blood began to boil. Because at least for Hans Rose, the author appears to be uncritically relying on secondary sources for his filler. So when those secondary sources get it wrong, he unwittingly plays the role of loudspeaker, amplifying the effect of their erroneous description of history.

    It didn’t take long to spot his first error; an account of Hans Rose tracking the British Grand fleet on August 19, 1916. According to the Irish shipwrecks author Hans Rose provided critical intelligence that allowed German Admiral Scheer to determine that the Grand Fleet bearing down upon him was numerically superior, allowing him to break off the encounter and so save the fleet. The facts are exactly the opposite of those regurgitated by that author. In fact, Rose sent Scheer precise Intel about the Grand Fleet’s strength, but the admiral, relying upon a seriously exaggerated portrayal of Grand Fleet strength provided by a Zeppelin chose to withdraw from an encounter where Germany had substantial naval superiority. Rose recalled:

    “The most exciting day was August 19th, 1916. From dawn to late afternoon the boat had made contact with part of the Grand Fleet and continuously sent messages to the German head of the navy. It was one of those rare occasions in which the entire German High Seas fleet, because it was on a Western course near Dogger Bank, could have caught a small segment of the Grand Fleet. Could have - yes - had not the German Airfleet sent erroneous reports about the movements of the enemy.” Continuing, Rose recalled Admiral Scheertold him after the war “Well, Rose, had I only put more trust in your reports than those of the Airfleet!”

    Historians all rely upon secondary sources to provide us with the larger picture. How do we determine which secondary sources and opinion deserve our respect? Obviously a key way is to validate them against primary sources. Another method is to assess the reputation of the reporting historian. Cross-referencing interpretations is a third.

    U 53 Trails a Sailing Ship by Claus Bergen. (c. Author's Archive, Der Kapitan: U-Boat Ace Hans Rose, Amberley Publishing)

    The biography, Der Kapitän - U-boat Ace Hans Rose, (Robinson & Robinson, Amberley Press) chronicles how Rose served Germany with distinction in both World Wars. As captain of the U 53, he became internationally renowned for his unprecedented 1916 round-trip to the United States, more than doubling the longest solo submarine voyage hitherto accomplished. Later his extraordinary choice to send his enemies the coordinates of American sailors adrift at sea demonstrated that Rose would become Germany's fifth most successful U-boat Ace, and her most successful Ace during the convoy period, without sacrificing his sense of chivalry.

    Rose’s remarkable military career included duty at the court of the Ottoman Sultan at the turn of the 20th century, exploits as commander of a destroyer and then command of U 53until the end of WWI.

     

    Contextualizing Rose's WWI achievements, the biography includes a short primer about submarine technology, U-boat operational realities at the start of the Great War, and a discussion of how the introduction of convoys changed the naval battlefield on which Rose fought.

    U 52 in Drydock viewed from below the stern, her rudder, and dual sets of port and starboard diving fins, props, large rounded flutes and aft torpedo-tubes are visible. The port side of the boat's whaleback is prominently discernible. Above deck, her long-range wireless aerials are raised. (c. Author's Archive, Der Kapitan: U-Boat Ace Hans Rose, Amberley Publishing)

    Through the end of WWI, Rose's story is straight forward and gripping, as are his travails during the 1920s. On one occasion, following a confrontation during the occupation of the Ruhr, Rose’s stature as a national hero and his international reputation saved him from a long prison term at the hands of the occupiers.

    Rose’s role during the Nazi era is more complex. Thus, careful emphasis is placed upon a study of the interwar period that saw the occupation of his homeland, economic collapse, and the rise of the totalitarian Nazi regime. His renown made Rose a figure courted by the Nazi party, and caused him to cross paths with Adolf Hitler several times.

    Rose considered himself “a German knight.” After exploring the realities of resistance in a time of police state, the biography documents Rose's courage in facing down the Nazis during the 1930s when he felt he had to. Then, compared to the Gestapo and the SS operating in the same theatres of war, it chronicles his opinion of them and the stark difference in the way Rose conducted himself as a warrior during WWII.

    Between these two great conflagrations and in their aftermaths, Rose and his family shared the trials, tribulations, and very personal disasters faced by the German people as a whole.

    This well researched biography, over a decade in preparation, is designed to satisfy both the general reader and domain experts demanding a rigorous analysis of naval history and the political realities of the German interwar period.

    Markus F. Robinson and Gertrude J. Robinson's new book Der Kapitan: U-Boat Ace Hans Rose is available for purchase now.

  • Evesham's Military Heritage by Stan Brotherton

    Miniature manuscript illumination of a battle believed to be the Battle of Evesham. (Evesham's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Evesham’s Military Heritage? An interesting title and a fascinating subject; but how to write such a book?

    The challenge wasn’t the lack of material. Indeed, the opposite is true: there’s far too much. After all, entire books have been dedicated just to Simon de Montfort (Earl of Leicester) and the Battle of Evesham (4th August 1265); its context, characters, impact and implications. Instead, the challenge was to make the book relevant to a modern reader. After all an account of old battles, however interesting in itself, can hardly be considered pertinent to the current day.

    For me, the key to unlocking this puzzle was the word “heritage” and the related idea of “inheritance” (that is, something valuable handed down through generations). This simple thought allowed me to connect old events with modern times. I found this such a valuable angle that early drafts included the subtitle: “A local history of war and remembrance”.

    What to include? A mass of notes was narrowed down to four main topics: the Battle of Evesham (1265), the English Civil Wars, WWI and WWII. The first two were obvious candidates as Evesham had been the scene of major conflicts and suffered significantly. The latter two made good sense as they were significant events, closely felt, which are still actively remembered. Scattered throughout were shorter chapters on the contemporary remembrance of past events.

    Map of the Battle of Evesham, 4 August 1265. Godescroft is believed to be where Simon de Montfort was slain. (c. David Cox, Evesham's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    But why should a reader care? I thought there were three reasons. First, in the history of Evesham there are some compelling personal stories; including the death of Earl Simon (1265) and the extraordinary public service of Mrs Haynes-Rudge (1914-18). Second, studying Evesham’s military heritage provides a richer understanding of the town (including, most obviously, its street names). Third, the book sets out some of the (local) present uses of the past: how history has been routinely reclaimed and recycled to suit contemporary needs.

    Stained-glass windows in the Lichfield Chapel, All Saints', made by Powell & Sons (1882-83). On the left, Prince Edward is shown wearing robes (not armour), no shield, hands crossed, and his right hand lightly touching the hilt of a (mostly) concealed sword. To the right, Earl Simon is shown as a belligerent figure in full armour with sword drawn. (Evesham's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Interestingly, Evesham’s remembrance of its own military past has changed dramatically over time. The clearest example is with the Battle of Evesham (1265). The battle itself was brutal and horrific. Indeed, Robert of Gloucester (fl 1260-1300) described it as “the murder of Evesham for battle it was none”. Soldiers fleeing the battlefield were pursued and slaughtered. Local tradition tells us that Welshmen (from Earl Simon’s army) who fled towards Twyford were cut down at a place known as “Dead Man’s Ait”. Those fleeing back into the town were pursued and killed. Those who sought sanctuary in the parish churches, and Evesham Abbey, were followed and slain. Blood from the slaughter stained the very centre of the abbey (between the transepts, under the tower).

    For some twenty years (or so) after his violent death, Earl Simon remained a popular even populist figure. Indeed, there was a vigorous local “cult” dedicated to Earl Simon with prayers invoking him as intercessor. Inevitably this was soon suppressed by the king (after all Earl Simon was a traitor and had been excommunicated) and Earl Simon’s fame afterwards faded.

    The Simon de Montfort Memorial, 2010, set by red and white blooms ( the colours of his blazon). The inscription states: 'Here were buried the remains of Simon de Montfort.' This is most unlikely, thought his grave is probably quite close by. (Evesham's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    In the early Victorian age Earl Simon’s reputation was, perhaps unexpectedly, powerfully revived. Wrapped up with a powerful move for parliamentary reform was a search for early champions of democracy. Earl Simon, who summoned a parliament in January 1265 to bolster his own power, was soon adopted and duly transformed into a heroic figure fighting for liberty. In Evesham in the 1840s, this new view was reflected in new local memorials; including an obelisk and church stained glass. At Evesham, in 1965, Earl Simon’s status as democratic hero received full official recognition. The Archbishop of Canterbury, supported by dignitaries including the Speaker of the House of Commons, dedicated the Simon de Montfort Memorial in Upper Abbey Park.

    Today, of course, things have changed again. The 750th anniversary of the Battle of Evesham (2015) was particularly marked by a large-scale re-enactment on the Crown Meadow. The original slaughter, transformed through time, has become the occasion for public entertainment and an excellent day out.

    The book Evesham’s Military Heritage embodies many levels of remembrance. Most obviously, the book considers how the military past has been remembered locally and, for the English Civil Wars, largely ignored. For WWI and WWII I made significant use of local memories, reports of local experiences, local poems, and most importantly excerpts from Eva Beck’s wonderful autobiographies. Additionally, the book is dedicated “in memoriam” to two local historians now sadly deceased (Mike Edwards and Gordon Alcock). I also included memories from my grandfather (who served in WWI) plus pictures from my father. In this way, the book not only discusses remembrance (and the way it has changed) but is also itself an act of remembrance.

    Stan Brotherton's new book Evesham's Military Heritage is available for purchase now.

  • Zealots by Oliver Thomson

    How a Group of Scottish Conspirators unleashed half a Century of War in Britain

    The entrance to Dunfermline Palace in Fife where ironically Charles I was born within a few miles of the men who were to initiate his downfall. (Zealots, Amberley Publishing)

    When I first thought of this book a couple of years ago I was going to call it Scottish Jihad, for Islamic Jihads were all in the news and I was curious to see how religious fanatics in 17th century Britain compared with those in Al Qaeda. The key difference was that AQ jihadists were mainly indoctrinated to accept the likelihood of a swift death, whereas the rebellious Scots in 1639 had to face the probability of torture and an unpleasant form of execution.

    Thus the Scottish Presbyterians who felt so strongly about getting rid of bishops were actually tasking a slightly bigger risk than the present day jihadists.

    Nor could we describe the Scots as radicalised or even indoctrinated for they were for the most part comfortably off ordinary men and women made angry by a dictatorial religious regime dictated from Canterbury. Both sides in the argument were of course Christian and Protestant, so the war they were starting was to be the most serious between two branches of Protestantism and to modern eyes the religious differences might seem quite petty.

    Charles I. (Zealots, Amberley Publishing)

    What makes it all the more significant is that it was this grouping of Scots Presbyterians who fired the first shots in what became the English Civil War or the Wars of Three Kingdoms. While much is made of the grievances of the English Parliament against the stubborn Charles I, none of the so-called Roundheads took up arms against the king till well after the Scots had done so first. It was these piously angry Scots who, by sending an army over the Border into England, demonstrated that the king’s troops were far from invincible. A gap of more than three years during which the Scots had taken huge risks, humiliated the royal army and made it much easier for the parliamentarians to start recruiting an army of their own.

    Having spent some time researching the psychology of the horrendous religious wars after the Reformation, the Catholic against Protestant wars in France, Holland and Germany, I was still interested in how this compared with 21st century jihads and the tragic fact that religious differences should lead to so much violence.

    It was after this that I was on a short walking holiday on the magnificent Fife coastal path that I began to notice how many of the main conspirators who had organised the two Bishops Wars were actually based in Fife and lived so close to each other. So I researched this further. The small Fife ports, particularly Crail, had been heavily involved in transporting ambitious young Fifers across the North Sea to fight as mercenaries in Germany during the Thirty Years War. Many of these men had been remarkably successful, especially the Leslie family which had produced a field marshal, a general and half a dozen colonels, all of them now ready to return home since the Thirty Years War was drawing to a close.

    The Battle of Bothwell Bridge. (Zealots, Amberley Publishing)

    Meanwhile the senior member of the Leslie clan, John Earl of Rothes, based in what is now Glenrothes, was taking the lead in a plot to start a rebellion against the religious policies of Charles I. He was thus perfectly placed for recruiting his own relations to form an army and bring in their other ex-colleagues, many of them Fifers, from Germany. The Earl also had a team of extremely able church ministers working with congregations along the Fife coast, all keen to start a rebellion and all well able to motivate the local population. Thus in 1639 Fife had a combination of military muscle, aristocratic support, fanatical churchmen and money that could not be matched anywhere else in Britain. It was thus the Fife Conspiracy that launched Scotland into a series of nine wars and England into three.

    Once the Scottish religious rebellion, the two Bishops Wars, had created the spark for the English Civil War, the affair south of the border became for a time more political than religious. But for the Scots it was still religious which accounts for the fact that in 1648 they changed sides from Roundhead to Royalist with disastrous results. The overall cost in lives for Scotland is reckoned as about 60,000, not counting plague deaths resulting from troop concentrations and harvest trashing. While I was looking at the casualties I accidentally found one that became quite personal. In 1679 Charles II sent an army to crush the Scottish Covenanters in the Battle of Bothwell Bridge on the Clyde. It was a rout and the survivors were marched to Edinburgh from which several hundred were to be transported to the colonies as indentured labour. Their prison ship the Crown of London was hit by a storm off the Orkneys and to avoid prisoners surviving the captain locked them in the hold. Only a few did survive and of those only four avoided recapture. One of those four seems almost certainly to have been an ancestor of my wife, hence the dedication of this book. It’s a small world.

    Oliver Thomson's new book Zealots: How a Group of Scottish Conspirators Unleashed Half a Century of War in Britain is available for purchase now.

  • Shadow Warriors: Daring Missions of World War II by Women of the OSS and SOE by Greg Lewis

    World War II was the war in which old gender rules changed, as intelligence agencies created specific training and roles for women. Women were trained to work as undercover combatants armed with Sten guns and grenades, cut telecommunication wires, lay mines in roadways, and organize bombing raids.

    Their work contributed greatly to the success of the D-Day invasion and the eventual Allied victory over Hitler.

    Below, Greg Lewis, co-author of Shadow Warriors: Daring Missions of World War II by Women of the OSS and SOE highlights the boldest female spies of the era.

     

    THE AGENT WITH THE FALSE LEG CALLED CUTHBERT

    Virginia Hall spied for both SOE and OSS in Occupied France, despite having only one leg. (Shadow Warriors, Amberley Publishing)

    Despite having only one leg, Baltimore-born Virginia Hall carried out missions for both the highly-secretive British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Hall had lost part of her left leg in a pre-war hunting accident. She was fitted with a false leg which she nicknamed “Cuthbert.”

    Hall worked for SOE in Occupied France early in the war, while posing as a journalist for the New York Post. After the US joined the war, she returned to France for the OSS. Disguising herself as an old lady, she gathered intelligence to aid the D-Day landings. The Gestapo became aware of her and put her on its most wanted list. They referred to her as the “limping lady.”

    She survived the war and later served in the CIA.

     

    THE AGENT WHO GOT HER SECRETS IN BED

    Betty Pack worked for Britain’s MI6 in Poland before the war, sleeping with a Polish diplomat in order to find out what the Poles knew about the German Enigma code-making machine.

    Moving to an MI6 department working in the United States, Betty was asked to plan a mission to copy vital naval codes kept inside the Vichy French embassy in Washington.

    She seduced a man who worked there, and brought him in on the operation. They broke into a safe and passed the codes out to another man to be copied overnight.

    When they were disturbed by a guard Betty jumped naked into her male accomplice’s arms and pretended to have sex with him. The embarrassed guard left them alone for the rest of the night.

    The codes she copied proved vital in the American and British invasion of French North Africa in November 1942.

     

    “A NICE GIRL WHO DARNED SOCKS”

    Yolande Beekman hid in a freezing cold attic to send wireless messages to London requesting arms and supplies for the Resistance. (Courtesy: specialforcesroh.com, Shadow Warriors, Amberley Publishing)

    Female agents often faced sexism and even derision from their SOE instructors. Yolande Beekman was dismissed by one SOE instructor as, “A nice girl, darned the men’s socks, would make an excellent wife for an unimaginative man, but not much more than that.”

    Beekman landed in France by Lysander in September 1943 and headed to the town of Saint-Quentin, where she became wireless operator for a resistance network dedicated to blowing up canal and railway infrastructure in the area. She was so successful that the Gestapo brought in teams of radio detector vans to track her down.

    She was arrested in a canal-side café and transported to Dachau concentration camp where she was executed.

     

    THE WOMAN WHO BLUFFED HER WAY OUT OF ARREST

    Irish-born Paddy O’Sullivan had been brought up by a Belgian aunt and began the war as a nurse. Her language skills attracted her to SOE.

    She parachuted into France in March 1944 and was almost killed straight away.

    In terrible weather, the cords of her parachute became entangled. By the time she had righted them she was very low and she hit the ground very hard.

    Severely concussed, her life had been saved by the two million francs in bank notes which were stuffed into her backpack. The money was for the French resistance.

    A woman of tremendous courage and gall, she would flirt with German soldiers if she found herself in a tight spot.

    Once, while carrying her wireless in a suitcase, she was challenged at a checkpoint.

    When a soldier asked her what was in the suitcase, she laughed and said “A wireless, of course!”

    The guard thought she was joking and he sent her on her way.

    O’Sullivan risked her life to send more than 300 messages by radio to London. Like the other women, she received a number of medals after the war.

     

    THE WHITE MOUSE WHO LED AN ATTACK ON A GESTAPO HQ

    Nancy Wakes was almost thrown out of SOE but returned to lead a deadly attack on a Gestapo headquarters. (Shadow Warriors, Amberley Publishing)

    Gun-toting Nancy Wake planned and led a raid on Gestapo headquarters which left almost 30 Germans dead or dying. The New Zealand-born journalist was living in France at the outbreak of war and quickly became involved in resistance activity. Dubbed the “White Mouse” by the Gestapo, she fled over the Pyrenees into Spain, and trained with SOE in Britain. Wild and gregarious, Wake parachuted into Occupied France in April 1944, while suffering a raging hangover from a party the night before.

    In late July 1944, while senior Gestapo officers in the old town hall in Montluçon were enjoying a glass of schnapps before lunch, Wake led a group of armed men into the building and started shooting. On reaching the local chief’s office, she opened the door and threw in two hand grenades.
    As she said later: “I hate wars and violence but if they come then I don’t see why we women should just wave a proud goodbye and then knit them balaclavas.”

     

    THE WAR HERO WHO WAS MURDERED DURING PEACETIME

    Christine Granville planned and led a daring mission to rescue a fellow SOE agent. (Courtesy: SpyMuseum.com, Shadow Warriors, Amberley Publishing)

    Polish-born Christine Granville had already worked undercover for MI6 in Poland and Hungary when she was recruited by SOE.

    Described by the legendary SOE intelligence officer, Vera Atkins, as a “beautiful animal with a great appetite for love and laughter”, Granville spent months in Egypt and Palestine waiting for a mission and lost patience with SOE chiefs.

    One evening, having been introduced to a local general, she took him for a walk behind a desert sand dune. When he returned he was “knocking at the knees” and he instructed his officers to find Granville a mission immediately.

    In France, she masterminded the escape of senior SOE agent, Francis Cammaerts, by blackmailing and bribing an officer from the French Nazi police force, the Milice.

    She told the Nazi that unless he released her friend he would be handed over to the mob once the liberating forces arrived in the area.

    On delivering Cammaerts to Granville, the Nazi said: “What a wonderful woman you have.”

    Cammaerts had been due to be executed on the morning of his escape.

    Despite her wonderful war record, Granville struggled to find personal happiness after the war. She was murdered in London by a deranged man who had become obsessed with her.

    Gordon Thomas and Greg Lewis new paperback edition of Shadow Warriors: Daring Missions of World War II by Women of the OSS and SOE is available for purchase now.

  • Nursing Churchill by Jill Rose

    Wartime Life from the Private Letters of Winston Churchill's Nurse

    Doris receives her Gold Medal for Excellence in Nursing from Miss Ruth Derbyshire, Head of the British Rad Cross and a former Matron of St Mary's Hospital, while the current Matron, Miss Mary Milne, looks. on. (Courtesy of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust Archives, Nursing Churchill, Amberley Publishing)

    My mother, Doris Miles, was a nurse at St Mary's Hospital, Paddington during the war.  In February 1943, at a critical time in the conflict, the 68-year-old Prime Minister Winston Churchill was stricken with pneumonia. His personal physician Sir Charles Wilson, Dean of St Mary's Hospital Medical School, asked the hospital to send their very best nurse to take care of his illustrious patient. Doris was the recent winner of the prestigious Gold Medal for Excellence in Nursing and the daughter of a former Dean who had been once Sir Charles's mentor, so she was the obvious choice.

    I've lived abroad almost all of my adult life, and 'What did you do in the war?' was seldom a topic of conversation on my visits home. It wasn't until 2001 that I discovered that Mum still had in her possession a cache of letters that she had written to her husband Roger (my father-to-be) while he was serving as a Surgeon-Lieutenant in the Navy during the war. The correspondence covers her time nursing Churchill, as well as her life in London in the preceding months and immediately afterwards, and forms the core of my book Nursing Churchill: Wartime Life from the Private Letters of Winston Churchill's Nurse.

    Doris was on night duty, and she and Churchill would talk in the wee hours. On February 23rd she wrote to Roger:

    Been having a long chat with the old boy, he’s been telling me his daily habits, did you know that he stays in bed until 12, sleeps from 3 to 5, never goes anywhere before 5, and never goes to bed before 2. What a man. He also tells me that he hates cigars, and never smokes more than a quarter of one! (Believe that or not). We have also discussed the progress of the war and the Beveridge Report, give me a little time and he’ll get my views on the Rushcliffe Report on Nursing! 

    The signed photography that Winston Churchill gave to Doris, March 1943. (Nursing Churchill, Amberley Publishing)

    During the PM's convalescence at Chequers in March, Doris had to cajole him to take his medicine or do his breathing exercises, matching her own strong will against his. At 1 a.m. she wrote,

    'I’m just pushing back hot coffee and biscuits, while waiting for the Patient to finish his whiskey and come and do his exercises before going to bed. There’s going to be trouble over the said exercises I foresee!  As I was away this afternoon he’s only done one lot today, and he will argue – quite rightly – that 1:30 a.m. is not the time to be doing exercises. I wonder who will win – somehow I don’t feel much like arguing tonight'.

    Her letter continues a few hours later: 'Well I won the argument and the exercises were duly performed. As a matter of fact it wasn’t an argument at all, I just said, “you’ve got to do some more exercises”, and he said, “no I won’t, I’m too tired”. So I said no more, and in about five minutes, during which time I did my best to look reproachful, he said, “Oh well, if you want to we’d better do them”. If I wanted to!!  Anyway they were done'.

    Doris and the others in his medical team saw the Prime Minister in a uniquely intimate and vulnerable position. She became very fond of him, despite his many idiosyncrasies. She had been told by Sir Charles at the outset, 'I must warn you, Nurse, the Prime Minister doesn't wear pyjamas', and indeed he didn't, preferring a natty little silk vest which barely covered his bottom,  a velvet jacket with a diamond V on the lapel, and slippers of velvet with 'PM' embroidered on the front.

    Doris and Roger at St. Peter's Church, Vere Street, 8 January 1942. (Nursing Churchill, Amberley Publishing)

    As well as the perceptive and amusing descriptions of her time with the ailing Prime Minister, the letters paint a vivid picture of wartime life in a major London hospital. And it's also a poignant love story; Doris and Roger had been married just a few weeks when he went to sea in early 1942, and their relationship grew through their correspondence.

    As I transcribed my mother's letters in 2001, I would ask her about the people and events she had written about, although she was 85 by then and her memory was fading. My father had died of Parkinson's disease in 1990 so there was no one else to ask. There were no letters from Dad, and I wondered what had happened to his replies. Mum couldn't remember when they had disappeared; they must have been cleared out during one of the family's several post-war moves, she said with obvious regret.

    I put the letters away for the next 15 years, and didn't think much more about them until after my mother's death in November 2016, at the age of 100. Re-reading them in the spring of 2017, I was struck again by what a great story this was, and I felt sure that there would be considerable interest in a book.

    Fortunately the editors at Amberley Publishing agreed. I contracted to write an additional 50,000 words about the war, Churchill and my family to put the letters into their historical context.

    My sister still has my mother's old photo albums and quite a lot of parental memorabilia, as well as the original letters. However, once I got started on the book, I realised that there is so much more that I could have and should have asked my parents. I wish I had talked more to Mum about her letters when I first came across them. Dad rarely talked about his wartime experiences, but I think he would have elaborated if only I had shown more interest. When I was a teenager my Granny told me many stories about her eventful life, but I was young and, like all teens, very much wrapped up in my own concerns, so I didn't take much of it in and now only a few tattered, tantalising scraps of memories remain.

    Winston and Clementine Churchill returning to 10 Downing Street, June 1943. (Nursing Churchill, Amberley Publishing)

    I had a pretty clear idea in my head of what I needed to write the book. To fill in the details and the gaps in my research I contacted several experts, and I was touched by their enthusiasm for my project and their willingness to share their time and expertise with me. The well-known historian Andrew Roberts wrote a very complimentary endorsement. I sent a copy of the manuscript to Emma Soames, and she contributed a lovely Foreword, way beyond my expectations. I'm so grateful for the generosity of these kind and helpful people.

    Doris writes about colleagues and friends at St Mary's, several of whom remained life-long friends, and I had great pleasure making contact with the children of some of them, including John and David Suchet, and pooling our recollections of our parents.

    I spent hours hunched over my computer digging around in the historical records, and found lots of information about my grandparents and great-grandparents. Not all of my research is directly included in the text, of course. However, all of it has added to the richness of the back-story and I believe my book is the better for it. Everything that I have learned and discovered has greatly enhanced my knowledge of my family, the circumstances into which I was born, and contributed to my personal journey.

    Doris was on duty at St Mary's Hospital during the terrible nights of the Blitz in the Fall of 1940 as the victims of the bombing were brought into the operating theatre. Working alongside her was the handsome Casualty Officer Roger Miles. They fell in love and were married on January 8, 1942.  It was just over a year later that Doris received the fateful summons from Sir Charles Wilson to attend the Prime Minister.

    Nursing Winston Churchill in February and March of 1943 was a defining experience in my mother's long life. She lived to be a hundred years old, and by the end of her life she could remember very little of her past, but she still knew that she had once been Churchill's nurse.

    Jill Rose's new book Nursing Churchill: Wartime Life from the Private Letters of Winston Churchill's Nurse is available for purchase now.

  • Glory and Dishonour: Victoria Cross Heroes Whose Lives Ended in Tragedy or Disgrace by Brian Izzard

    There have been so many books on Victoria Cross heroes that the London auction house Spink actually published a bibliography. Most of the books follow a similar path, focusing on the heroism. But after researching many of the stories I came to realise that there was another dimension.

    As the blurb to my book points out, ‘. . . this is the first one to explore the lives of those for whom the greatest accolade did not bring contentment, happiness or lasting fame’.

    In Victorian times men who upset authority were often treated harshly and Victoria Cross holders who transgressed were no exception.

    After leaving the army Ravenhill, with his family, ended up in their local workhouse. (Glory and Dishonour: Victoria Cross Heroes Whose Lives Ended in Tragedy or Disgrace, Amberley Publishing)

    One of the saddest cases is that of George Ravenhill, who joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers at the age of 17. When the Second Boer War broke out in 1899, his battalion sailed to South Africa. In a famous action at Colenso, Ravenhill was one of the soldiers who tried to save the guns of the Royal Horse Artillery after a blunder led to them becoming trapped in a Boer ambush. Seven men, including Ravenhill, who was wounded, were awarded the VC.

    After his discharge from the army he struggled to provide for his wife and three children, two sons and a daughter. They ended up in their local workhouse, Erdington, Birmingham. In 1908 Ravenhill’s plight came to the attention of Liberal MP Cecil Harmsworth, who raised the case with the Secretary of State for War, Richard Haldane [later Viscount Haldane], in the House of Commons. Haldane replied: ‘This is the first intimation we have received on this matter. The case is being investigated.’

    No help came and Ravenhill, whose wife had given birth to another child, a girl, resorted to stealing some iron worth six shillings to raise money to feed his family. He was arrested and jailed.

    It is to Ravenhill’s credit that despite his financial misery he had refused to pawn or sell his Victoria Cross. But if War Office bureaucracy had moved slowly to help him, especially with regard to a pension claim, it acted swiftly to dishonour him. His decoration and two campaign medals for South Africa were confiscated, and his name was removed from the Victoria Cross Register.

    According to the 1911 census, Ravenhill and his wife and children were still in the workhouse. Another child had been born, but such were the family’s dire circumstances that three children were sent to Canada for fostering by wealthy families. The ex-soldier would never see them again. In 1921, aged 49, he died at his home, one room in a squalid tenement building. The hero of Colenso was buried in a plot marked only ‘36’. There were no funds for a plaque.

    Rushing forward on his own, Michael O'Leary of the Irish Guards took out two German positions before machine-gun fire could be directed at his comrades. Another soldier would later say: 'O'Leary was extremely modest over what he had done, but his comrades knew that he had probably saved the lives of a whole company.' (Glory and Dishonour: Victoria Cross Heroes Whose Lives Ended in Tragedy or Disgrace, Amberley Publishing)

    The unfortunate distinction of being the first army recipient to forfeit the Victoria Cross fell to James McGuire. Bizarrely, a cow led to his downfall.

    For many Irishmen in the 19th century the British army offered an escape from poverty and the misery of the country's potato famine. At Enniskillen in 1849 the East India Company was recruiting for its regiments, and McGuire, then a labourer aged 21 or 22, signed on for 10 years, sailing to India to join the 1st Bengal European Fusiliers. He was awarded the Victoria Cross during the Indian Mutiny after throwing a ‘burning mass’ of ammunition boxes over a Delhi parapet and saving many lives.

    After completing his service Sergeant McGuire was discharged in 1859 with a pension of one shilling a day. As the holder of the Victoria Cross he was also entitled to an annual payment of £10. McGuire returned to Ireland and at some stage went to live with an uncle, who had a small farm near Enniskillen. The ex-soldier was persuaded to loan the family £6 but the debt was never fully repaid.

    McGuire, a ‘simple, quiet man and not up with the ways of the world’, took a cow belonging to his uncle as payment. He was arrested on his way to a fair, presumably to sell the animal, and a court sentenced him to nine months’ hard labour.

    McGuire reportedly died a few months later. But there is speculation that he may have taken on a new identity, perhaps joining the army again, an easy thing to do in those days.

    As the Victoria Cross winner Michael O’Leary observed: ‘No nation ever did bother much about its old soldiers, and why should they bother about me?’

    The army veteran had been reduced to working as a doorman at a hotel near Park Lane, London, earning ‘a scant living holding umbrellas over the heads of painted actresses, crippled old ladies and richly-clad members of the plutocracy’. The hotel did not pay him a wage and he relied entirely on tips, ‘but only one person out of ten ever gives me a tip’.

    In 1915 O’Leary of the Irish Guards had caught the imagination of the British public after single-handedly storming two German positions and saving many of his comrades from deadly machine-gun fire in northern France. After the war he went to Canada to start a new life but was later dogged by smuggling and bootlegging scandals.

    Brian Izzard's new book Glory and Dishonour: Victoria Cross Heroes Whose Lives Ended in Tragedy or Disgrace is available for purchase now.

  • SOE Heroines by Bernard O'Connor

    The Special Operations Executive's French Section and Free French Women Agents

    A 1944 aerial shot of RAF Tempsford, the airfield from which most women agents were flown. (Courtesy of the East Englian Aviation Society, SOE Heroines, Amberley Publishing)

    It was not until the last few decades of the 20th century that history books and media coverage of the Second World War began to change their focus from men’s roles to include the experiences of women and girls. It was the rise of feminism in the 1960s and 70s, the introduction of women’s studies in universities and changes in examination syllabi that ensured young people began to get a more balanced view of history.

    Researchers began to investigate what life was like for women and girls during the war years. Instead of their traditional portrayal in wartime films and books in secondary, subservient roles or included only for a love interest, the importance of many women’s roles in the Second World War, including in the secretive world of the Intelligence Services, has begun to be told.

    Academics and authors like Juliette Pattinson, Kate Vigurs, Penny Starns, Margaret Collins-Weitz, Clare Mulley, Susan Heim and others, have brought their stories into the public eye. While Gillian Armstrong’s 2001 film Charlotte Gray portrayed the life of a woman secret agent in France, a more realistic portrayal was Jean-Paul Salomé’s 2008 film Les Femmes de l’Ombre (Women Agents).

    An agent receiving her last kiss before boarding the plane to the Continent. (Courtesy of Pierre Tillet, SOE Heroines, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

     

    Living near RAF Tempsford, a Second World War airfield about 80km north of London and about half way between Cambridge and Bedford, I have spent several decades researching its role in supplying the resistance movements across Western Europe. It was from there that agents of the British, American, Soviet, Polish, Czechoslovakian, Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, Belgian and French intelligence services were infiltrated into occupied Europe as organisers, couriers, wireless operators, weapons instructors, saboteurs and assassins. It was also involved in exfiltrating downed pilots and aircrew, escaped prisoners-of-war, politicians, diplomats, military personnel, resistance leaders and others who were evading capture by the authorities. In 1946, the RAF Film unit produced School for Danger, later renamed Now the Story can be Told which told the story of Jacqueline Nearne and Harry Rée, British agents who parachuted into France on a secret mission and successfully returned. Over the last few decades I have published some books on the airfield, the early ones entitled RAF Tempsford: Bedfordshire’s Secret Airfield and Churchill’s MOST SECRET Airfield.

    Andree Borrel parachuted near St Laurent Nouan (Loir-et-Cher), on 24/25 September 1942. (Courtesy of the National Archives, TNA HS9/183, SOE Heroines, Amberley Publishing)

    I found that most of the more than 2,000 personnel, both men and women based on the airfield, had signed the Official Secrets Act and were unprepared to talk or write about their experiences. Some who had been awarded medals after the war, under pressure from reporters keen to tell the stories, had their experiences printed in newspapers. However, the British, and I imagine the French government, vetted such articles to ensure no sensitive information was revealed like the names of members of the intelligence services or of people who were still alive. Names of people and places had to be changed.

    However, biographies of pilots and secret agents were published after the war; films and TV documentaries were produced and eventually autobiographies appeared. While most books have been about the men, there is an increasing number about the women, notably Violette Szabó, Nancy Wake, Odette Churchill/Sansom, Christine Granville, Noor Inayat Khan and Diane Rowden.

    The Government restriction on the release of sensitive documents to The National Archives, formerly the Public Record Office in Kew, has meant that formerly top-secret documents are only gradually becoming available. The introduction of the British Freedom of Information Act in 2000 has released thousands of files into the public domain. The National Archives online discovery catalogue allows anyone to locate and occasionally download personnel files, mission reports and other secret government documents related to RAF Tempsford and the wartime intelligence services and has encouraged an increasing number of people to publish their memoirs and historians to reveal their secrets. The Imperial War Museum also has taped interviews with individuals who had a connection with Tempsford and the intelligence services.

    The women of the SOE were not the only ones to help in the liberation of France; pictured is Simone Segouin, a member of the French Resistance who was reported to have captured 25 Nazis in the Chartres area, in addition to killing others. (Courtesy of the US National Archives and Records Administration, SOE Heroines, Amberley Publishing)

    As I gave talks to local history societies, women’s institutes, town women’s guilds, church and other groups, there were numerous questions from women asking for details of what their father, grandfather, husband, uncle, brother or cousin were doing during the war as they had never talked about it. They had kept their promise having signed the Official Secrets Act. Based on my research, I was able to tell them as much as I had learned.

    Focussing on the women’s stories, I published The Courier, a historical faction, in 2010, The Women of RAF Tempsford: Bedfordshire’s Secret Airfield in 2011 which covered not just accounts of the women agents but also the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry and the catering staff. Return to Holland and Return to Belgium, also published in 2011, tell the stories of women agents infiltrated into the Low Countries. Churchill’s Angels, a revised and updated account of the British women agents was published in 2012; Elzbieta Zawacka: Polish soldier and courier during World War Two in 2014, Agent Rose: The True Spy Story of Eileen Nearne, Britain's Forgotten Wartime Heroine; Designer: The true spy story of Jacqueline Nearne, a courier sent on a top secret mission to France during World War Two in 2014 and Agent Fifi and the Wartime Honey Trap Spies in 2015.

    Royal Victorian Patriotic School, Wandsworth, London, where, from January 1941, MI5 interviewed refugees to determine if they were enemy agents and gain intelligence about conditions overseas. (Courtesy of Mike T under Creative Commons 2.0, SOE Heroines, Amberley Publishing)

    Having been a Trustee of the Tempsford Memorial, unveiled by Prince Charles in 2013 to commemorate women agents infiltrated behind enemy lines, mostly from RAF Tempsford, I had a tentative list of over eighty women, many whose stories had yet to be told. I decided therefore to focus on the many Frenchwomen who were parachuted, landed by plane or boat into remote parts of France on moonlit nights between 1942 and 1944. SOE Heroines: The Special Operations Executive French Section and Free French Women Agents tells the stories of 36 brave women. Most were trained in paramilitary warfare, fieldcraft, the use of weapons and explosives, sabotage, silent killing, parachuting, codes and cyphers, wireless transmission and receiving, and general spycraft. The youngest was 19 and the oldest 53. Of the twelve who were captured, only two survived; the others were executed, some after being tortured by the sadistic officers of the Gestapo.

    In recognition of their contribution to the liberation of France, the British, French and American governments honoured these 36 women with 49 awards including 11 Croix de Guerre, four with palms, nine Medaille de la Resistance, five Companion de Legion d’Honneur, four King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct, four Member of the British Empire Medals, three Chevallier de Legion d’Honneur, two Order of the British Empire Medals, two Certificates of Commendation, two Sussex Medals, one Commander of Legion d’Honneur, King’s Medal of Commendation, one Medaille de Republique Française, one Military Cross, one Mentioned in Dispatches, one US Distinguished Service Cross, one US Bronze Star and one George Cross.

    Bernard O'Connor's new book SOE Heroines: The Special Operations Executive's French Section and Free French Women Agents is available for purchase now.

  • Jet Flying Boats by David Oliver

    The magic of water-borne flight

    Technicians checking the complex Bristol Proteus turboprop engines in preparation for the first flight of the Princess give scale to its immense size. (Richard Riding Collection, Jet Flying Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    It was fifty years ago that I landed on the calm blue waters of Catalina Island’s Avalon Bay, lying 50 miles off the coast of southern California, in a 30-year-old Grumman amphibian, the Goose. As the veteran flying boat settle in a flurry of green water that covered the windows for a few seconds, it seemed that I had experienced the last of a dying breed of aviation. I had flown from London to Los Angeles a few days earlier on one of Pan Am’s first ‘Jumbo Jets’ and the elderly six-seater Goose, which still flew hourly shuttles for tourists between Long Beach Harbor and Catalina, seemed to have little or no relevance to international air travel in the modern world.

    However, this flight would inspire a life-long interest in water-borne aircraft during which I have been fortunate enough to experience many aerial voyages that stay in the memory. These include flying a Royal Canadian Mounted Police patrol from Prince Rupert Island, British Columbia in another Grumman Goose, and scheduled flights from Miami’s Watson Island terminal to the Bahamas on Grumman Mallards and Turbo Mallard amphibians belonging to Chalks International, then the world’s oldest airline.

    An R3Y-1, the long-range troop transport variant of the Convair Tradewind, taxies into San Diego Bay during the early trials. (Convair, Jet Flying Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    It was a long way from a flooded gravel pit in Rye, Sussex, to the Nass and Kinsault Rivers in northern British Columbia, and Lake Coeur d’Alene, Spokane in Washington State, but they were all places where I flew from in floatplanes. From the Rye gravel pit I flew in the only UK-registered Tiger Moth on floats and a Super Cub floatplane, piloted by a former Pan Am Boeing 314 Clipper flying boat, the ‘Jumbo Jet’ of the 1940s, Roger Sherron, while it was Cessna C180s in Canada and a DH Beaver in the United States.

    Having obtained a Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL), I tried my hand at learning to pilot a flying boat in the 1980s. The American Lake LA-200 Buccaneer is a small single-engine amphibious flying boat which I flew from Headcorn Aerodrome in Kent to the River Medway where I attempted to master the challenging skill of landing and taking-off an aircraft from water. My instructor was one of the most experienced post-war flying boat pilots, Keith Sissons.

    In 2016, Be-12PS Yellow 20 was returned to Russian Navy service following a comprehensive rebuild at Beriev's Taganrog facility on the Sea of Azov. (Jet Flying Boats, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

     

    My all too short time spent at the controls of the Buccaneer gave me a lasting respect for the likes of Keith Sissons and Roger Sherron who had to combine the dexterity of sailing a ship and flying an aeroplane.

    Although the flying boat fell out of fashion after the Second World War as a commercial transport aircraft, after being the symbol of luxurious and sophisticated international travel in the 1930s, new and more practical roles would virtually save the large amphibious flying boat from extinction, one of which was aerial fire-fighting. I was lucky enough to make several flights in a French Canadair CL-215 which included scooping and dropping six-ton water bombs. The exhilaration of skimming across a lake in what is then essentially a 4,000hp speedboat at 82 miles per hour, as is scooped 1,200 gallons of water, can be imagined. When the water was dropped, the Canadair bucked in the air relieved of its load.

    With twenty-two in service, Italy's Protezione Civile operates the largest fleet of CL-415 water bombers outside of Canada. (Martin Visser, Jet Flying Boats, Amberley Publishing)

    The only company that has continued to design and built flying boats since 1945 is Russia’s Beriev. I was one of the first Western journalists to visit the previous closed Beriev factory at Taganrog on the Sea of Azov after the fall of the Iron Curtain, and get to fly in a Be-12 amphibian. Beriev had built more than 200 turboprop-powered anti-submarine warfare Be-12s for the Soviet Navy during the Cold War and developed its advanced jet-powered replacement, the A-40 Albatross, under wraps.

    Built like a tank with ladders between the two decks, the Be-12 had numerous astrodomes, portholes and an extensively glazed nose which provided an excellent camera platform from which to photograph the A-40 that was flying in formation.

    A Beriev Be-200 gives a patriotic demonstration of the amphibian's sequential drop capability using different coloured liquids. (Beriev, Jet Flying Boats, Amberley Publishing)

     

     

     

    During the same visit I saw the prototype of the Be-200, the world’s only jet-powered fire-fighting amphibian, and have kept in touch with Beriev and followed growing success in a niche market to this day.

    When Amberley asked me to write a book on Jet-Powered Flying Boats, I rediscovered the many failures due mainly to the fact that they were too far advanced for the technologies, especially engine development, of the time, and the cost of their development which was considerably higher than those of contemporary landplanes.

    However, it is reassuring to know that Russia and Japan is still producing technically advanced amphibious flying boasts albeit in small number, and that they are soon to be joined by Germany and China which are developing state-of-the-art water-borne aircraft for the future.

    David Oliver's new book Jet Flying Boats is available for purchase now.

  • Shropshire's Military Heritage by John Shipley

    Portrait of an officer of the 53rd Regiment of Foot. (Courtesy of Shropshire Regimental Museum, Shropshire's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Researching and writing “Shropshire's Military Heritage” has been a marvellous and enlightening experience; it is one heck of a subject. Soldiers from Shropshire have been involved in many historic events that have defined our nation. Particularly men from Shropshire's two main regular regiments of the British Army, the 53rd and the 85th Regiments of Foot. These guys fought alongside Sir Arthur Wellesley, better known later as the Duke of Wellington, one of Great Britain's greatest heroes. Through the perilous terrain of Portugal and Spain as the forces of that evil dictator, Napoleon Bonaparte were pushed from the Iberian Peninsula back to France where they came from, and in doing so, playing an integral part in his downfall.

    Although no Shropshire regiments fought at the famous Battle of Waterloo, the 53rd were subsequently assigned the task of guarding the fallen emperor during his exile on the Atlantic island of Saint Helena.

    Whilst the 53rd were babysitting Napoleon Bonaparte, the 85th were in America, part of the invasion force that sacked the USA's new capital, Washington, and burnt the half-completed White House.

    But of course, Shropshire's military history goes back much further in time than the War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars. The history of the county is intrinsically linked with Britain's royalty connections, and of course Shropshire's strategic location on England's border with Wales has frequently resulted in conflict. Many historic Welsh leaders crossed the border to lay siege to Shropshire's numerous border castles. Men such as Prince Llewellyn, Prince Rhys, and probably the most famous of all Owain Glyn Dwr (Owain Glendower), to name just three.

    Regimental medal of merit awarded to Major Aeneas M'Intosh, 85th, for his gallantry at the Battle of Fuentes d'Onoro and the storming of Badajoz. (Courtesy of Shropshire Regimental Museum, Shropshire's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Not all conflicts were against the Welsh, Shropshire's rebellious Barons frequently took up arms against unjust and tyrannical kings, in bloody conflicts, such as those against King John, and the Harry Hotspur rebellion that led to the Battle of Shrewsbury on 21st July 1403.

    My search for knowledge inevitably took me to Shropshire's Regimental Museum in Shrewsbury Castle, where I was treated magnificently and allowed to take photographs of the exhibits. My sincere thanks go to Museum Curator Christine Bernáth and her team, their help was much appreciated.

    Shropshire is one of the UK's most beautiful counties with such diverse scenery, from its numerous ranges of high hills, none quite making the status of being classified a mountain, although some come mighty close, fertile valleys and of course Shropshire has its own Lake District around Ellesmere. Check out my next books for Amberley “50 Gems of Shropshire” publication scheduled for later in 2018, and “Secret Shropshire” which follows that.

    Replica unifrom of a soldier of the 53rd during the American Revolutionary War 1755-83. (Courtesy of Shropshire Regimental Museum, Shropshire's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Moving back to the subject of Shropshire's history and the county's royal connections, we have major historical events, such as the first English Parliament in which commoners were invited to participate, seen as the first steps to democracy. This was at Shrewsbury Abbey and Acton Burnell in 1283 (some claim it was 1285), when King Edward I gathered a parliament together; he needed money for his quest to subjugate the Welsh, and to impeach Prince Daffydd ap Gruffydd, the last independent ruler of Wales. The poor chap suffered the grisly fate of being hanged, drawn and quartered, the first person of noble birth to be executed in this manner. King Richard III also held a “Great Parliament” at Shrewsbury.

    Of course pretty much all of Shropshire's castles have connections to some significant historic event, and Ludlow Castle has seen it fair share. The castle came into the control of Yorkist Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, through marriage, before the commencement of the hostilities that later became known as the Wars of the Roses. He was the father of two kings: Edward IV and Richard III (remember the body in the Leicester car park). Edward IVs eldest son was born in Westminster, but his younger son, was born in Shrewsbury at the Dominican Friary, their names were: Edward, Prince of Wales (later and briefly King Edward V), and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, however history knows these two boys better as the Princes in the Tower. Young Edward was at Ludlow when news of his father's death set off the chain of events that saw his uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, accept the throne. Richard III ruled for only two years until he was deposed by the Lancastrian heir, Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, crowned King Henry VII following his victory at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

    Officer's shako plate, 53rd Regiment of Foot, 1844-45. (Courtesy of Shropshire Regimental Museum, Shropshire's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Ludlow was also where Henry VIIs eldest son, Arthur, Prince of Wales, held court as Lord of the Marches. He also resided in Bewdley at the royal manor of Tickenhill Palace. Prince Arthur Tudor (20 September 1486 - 2 April 1502), subsequently died at Ludlow Castle six months short of his sixteenth birthday. He and his new wife, Catherine of Aragon contracted what was described as “a malign vapour which proceeded from the air” - the sweating sickness, (possibly tuberculosis). Catherine recovered, but her teenage husband didn't. His heart is buried in a silver casket beneath the chancel of St. Laurence Church, Ludlow. The rest of him is buried in Worcester Cathedral. Arthur's tragic death raised King Henry's second son, Henry (later Henry VIII) as heir to the throne. For those of you who like a conspiracy theory there is one surrounding Prince Arthur's death, put forward by Paul Vaughan, as reported in November 2002 in the Worcester News.

    There are absolutely piles of questions with no answers, such as:

    Was Arthur a sickly youth? If he was, did his father King Henry VII, a man with pretty much no real claim to the English throne, favour Arthur's brother, the handsome, lusty, and long of limb brother Henry as his successor to better continue his extremely tenuous royal Tudor dynasty?

    Lock of Napoleon Bonaparte's hair. (Courtesy of Shropshire Regimental Museum, Shropshire's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Why was Arthur sent back in winter to cold Ludlow where sickness abounded with only one physician? (Wouldn't a royal prince have an entourage of doctors to attend him? And why not keep him in London where the best medical men were?).

    Was Arthur allowed to die, or, was he poisoned? And there's more: Why was his body kept at Ludlow for around three weeks after his death?

    Why didn't the king order his body to be conveyed to London for a state funeral, possibly in Westminster Abbey?

    Why bury Arthur in Worcester Cathedral, part of a remote monastery? Why didn't the king and queen attend their son's funeral? (Only the Earls of Shrewsbury, Kent, and Surrey, plus other lords attended).

    Why didn't Arthur lie in state, to attract pilgrims and therefore revenue to the Cathedral, as was the custom? His body appears to have been buried straight away upon arrival at Worcester Cathedral.

    Why is Arthur's Chantry not as grandly ornate as experts believe it should be, and why is his body not inside it? (His remains are believed to be buried in front of the High Altar).

    I love a good conspiracy, and this is a corker. Of course, it could be a load of something else!

     

    Shropshire Regimental Museum, Shrewsbury Castle. (Courtesy of Shropshire Regimental Museum, Shropshire's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Here are a couple of other interesting royal connections with Shropshire:

    Bessie Blount, or more correctly Elizabeth Blount, became famous as the mistress of King Henry VIII. Bessie as she was known during her lifetime was born at Kinlet, Shropshire, sometime between 1498, and 1502; her parents were Sir John Blount of Knightley and Kinlet, and Catherine, nee Pershall. Little has been previously recorded of Bessie’s early life, but we do know that she was blessed with a rare beauty, but sadly there is no known portrait of her in existence. The Blount’s manor at Kinlet was near young Prince Arthur, Prince of Wales's court at Tickenhill Manor, Bewdley.

    Bessie Blount travelled to court in spring 1512, becoming a maid-of-honour to King Henry VIIIs Queen, Catherine of Aragon. Bessie learned Latin and French, and played the virginal (a smaller keyboard instrument of the harpsichord family). She also excelled at dancing and singing. The teenage Bessie was described as an eloquent, graceful, blonde haired beauty, with a flawless complexion, and as an accomplished and most interesting person. A couple of years after arriving at court, Bessie caught Henry VIIIs famous roving eye, becoming his mistress around 1514/1515. Thought to be the first of Henry's mistresses, remaining so for around eight years unlike many of his other flings which usually did not last very long, although she was never afforded the title of Maitresse en Tire. Her union with Henry produced a son on the 15th June 1519, whom they named Henry Fitzroy (Henry, Fitz or son of the Roy or king, using the old Norman method of naming a son). He was the only illegitimate child acknowledged by Henry VIII as his own. Henry Fitzroy had the titles of Duke of Richmond and Somerset, and Earl of Nottingham conferred upon him. Unfortunately for Bessie, Henry moved on to the 'other Boleyn sister’, Mary Boleyn, and subsequently the ill-fated Anne Boleyn. In 1522, Bessie married Gilbert Tailboys, 1st Baron of Kyme.

    Floral war memorial, 1914-18, in the grounds of Shrewsbury castle. (Shropshire's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Bessie’s husband Gilbert died in 1530, leaving her extremely well off, and although she was pursued by a number of suitors including Leonard Gray, she chose to marry Edward Clinton, 9th Baron Clinton. Bessie died on 1 January 1540.

    This next royal connection is rather more bizarre:

    Shropshire born, Anthony William Hall (1898–1947), made an audacious claim in 1931 in which he insisted that he was the direct descendant of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, through the royal male line, (although the birth of Hall's ancestor was prior to the marriage between Henry and Anne). This made him the direct descendant of the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII.

    Mr Hall, a police inspector in Shropshire, thus attempted to claim the throne of England. He set out details of his claim in an open letter to the then King, George V. William Hall also made many speeches to anyone who would listen, including one in Birmingham, in which he detailed his credentials and how he was the rightful King of England. This audacious man even challenged the King to a duel, with the loser to be beheaded. Hall was arrested numerous times for using "scandalous language," and was arraigned in court, fined and bound over to keep the peace. John Harrison's 1999 novel “Heir Unapparent” used the notion that Anthony Hall was a descendant of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn for its plot.

    KSLI memorial tableau, National Memorial Arboretum NMA, Alrewas, Staffordshire. (Courtesy of the NMA, Shropshire's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Moving on in time, I'd like to mention Shropshire's role in “Operation Sea Lion”, Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany's code name for the planned invasion of Great Britain during the Second World War. In 1945 a soldier discovered a 446 page dossier for an invasion in 1940, scuppered of course by the RAF's victory in the Battle of Britain. Documents dated 1941 indicate Hitler's continued belief in the invasion of our Sceptred Isle. Hitler's headquarters were outlined for Apley Hall near Bridgnorth, and Ludlow was also mentioned, making these two Shropshire towns the centre of Nazi power in the UK. The dossier resurfaced in 2005 and was sold at auction.

    I'll end this blog as I began, with a note of what happened to Shropshire's two regular regiments. In 1881, the 53rd and the 85th Regiments of Foot amalgamated to form the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, the KSLI, whose soldiers, together with the Shropshire Yeomanry, served with great distinction through the two World Wars, and the Korean War, as well as in other international conflicts. The KSLI became the 3rd Battalion, the Light Infantry Regiment in 1968, and today as part of the Rifles, the KSLI continues to help keep us safe.

    John Shipley's new book Shropshire's Military Heritage is available for purchase now.

  • Warhorses of Germany by Paul Garson

    The Myth of the Mechanised Blitzkrieg

    Nap - A corporal, his rifle clutched against his shoulder and the mule’s reins held in his hand, sleeps sitting on his backpack on a muddy Russian road as his charges eye the cameraman. (Warhorses of Germany, Amberley Publishing)

    The love of the horse runs long and deep in the German culture having arisen from the concept of “blood and soil” percolating up through the rural farmlands of the country, its people traditionally sharing close company with their equine work companions that also served as routine transportation and leisure enjoyment as well as an implement of war as called upon by centuries of conflict within and without its borders.

    German military planners learned from their mistakes of the First World War, realizing that in part they did not have enough horses for the work needed. In preparation for the next conflict Germany began buying up large quantities of horses, in fact, many from Britain where its military planners saw no need for horses as they were certain the next battles would be fought exclusively by machine and thus the English military establishment totally scrapped its cavalry components. Between 1935 and 1940 Germany’s military horse resources swelled from 35,000 to 100,000, and that just the first of millions of hoof beats.

    The various regions of Germany also produced several types of large draft horses, for example, The Black Forest Horse (Schwarzwaelder Fuchs). While strong, durable, healthy, long-living and good natured, many such horses were taken from their farm work to the Front where they encountered conditions for which they were ill-prepared.

    Hooved vs. Tracked - Two cavalry mounts are dwarfed by the formidable Tiger tank. Contrary to the Third Reich’s own massive propaganda programs and decades of post-WWII movies that propagated the image of German fully motorized warfare, horses far outnumbered tanks and other mechanized weapons of the Third Reich. (Warhorses of Germany, Amberley Publishing)

     

    In reality the Wehrmacht was the least modernized of European armies with Third Reich propaganda creating a distorted image of the true state of affairs. 1930s Germany was not supported by a strong motor vehicle or even farm tractor infrastructure that could be militarized for war production, nor were its people “automobilized” to any great extent. By contrast, in 1935 America, there was one car per five people while in German the number was only one car per 89 people.

    The Wehrmacht attempted to augment its mechanization efforts during the war by utilizing Czech and French machines, but there was a language problem when dealing with manuals for the former and a lack of reliability with the latter, especially when facing the demands of the Eastern Front. Some 2,000 different kinds of vehicles eventually took part in the invasion of the Soviet Union, the complexity and variation creating a maintenance nightmare. The logistics requirements projected the demand for an additional 2,700 trucks which could not be supplied, thus horses again making up for the shortage. For example, the 9,000 captured French horses proved more enduring than its vehicles. In the final analysis, only some 25% of the Germany army was mechanized while 75% was composed of marching infantry with 70% of all transport and supply including heavy artillery during the war was horse-drawn. Due to their size and the fact they were often tethered to heavy transport wagons and field artillery, horses were left to take the brunt of air attacks while their human counterparts sought cover. In addition the effects of bullet, bomb and fire, the rigors of traversing vast distances thereby suffering the results of climate, disease and food deprivation, those horses deemed no longer suitable for work, were either sold as food or slaughtered on the spot to feed starving troops.

    War on the Eastern Front -March 24, 1942 – Deutsche Illustrated – Berlin - 'Soon Winter in the East will also be Overcome!' reads the caption accompanying the image of Waffen-SS troops who are grinning for the camera despite being caught in the frozen grip of Russia’s lethal 'General Christmas', which is reality was not overcome but overwhelming. (Warhorses of Germany, Amberley Publishing)

    Preparing for war in 1939 the German military counted some 2,740,000 men in uniform, 183,000 motor vehicles, 94,000 motorcycles and 514,000 horses.

    Soldiers rode on horseback in cavalry units and also engaged horses as draft (draught) animals hauling light, medium and heavy wagons transporting ammunition, food supplies, mobile kitchens, medical units, fuel, and heavy artillery, even the horses’ own fodder.

    Horse-mounted troops served principal roles including frontline combat, reconnaissance and anti-partisan warfare as they were often able to traverse topography inaccessible to mechanized forces.

    The number of horses and mules used by the German military eventually amounted to 2,750,000. Of them, an estimated 750,000 died during the war. The number of Russian animals that perished is unknown but estimate as equally massive.

    Behind the Scenes

    Author Paul Garson, a Los Angeles based journalist for some 30 years writing about a variety of subjects, his articles often including his own photography, developed a focus on original Second World War original photos 15 years ago after chancing upon one image. It would lead to the viewing of over one million photos from a dozen countries eventually forming his personal collection of some 3,000 in addition to several hundred research books, documents, artifacts and other items from which to conduct his research. To date, five books relating to the subject have been published, several more in the works, all providing readers with a previous unseen vantage point of the war in Europe including the volume seen here.

    Says Garson, “For years I often spent 12-14 hours, seven days a week searching for the most compelling images, then hours more repairing via digital enhancement those decades old photos, some barely two inches square. Then hours more exploring the image itself as well as relating it to a specific date and location in order to place it within the historical context, all in order to cast some light onto those darkest of times. In this case, I was compelled to write, and show, the fate that befell the millions of horses that were leashed and lashed into the catastrophic war, one whose violence and cruelty spared no living thing …the goal perhaps to offer a visual warning that strips away the “glamour” that war films had often created and to show its true nature …and the pain suffered by non-human combatants who had no voice to share their suffering.”

    Paul Garson's new book Warhorses of Germany: The Myth of the Mechanised Blitzkrieg is available for purchase now.

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