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  • Northumberland and Tyneside's War by Neil R. Storey and Fiona Kay

    Both Fiona and I have been captivated by and collected the stories, photographs and memorabilia of our local men and women who ‘did their bit’ since we were kids when we first heard some tales of the Great War from the veterans we knew back then. They would say with some pride that they ‘did their bit’ and would share some stories, usually tales that would bring a laugh or remember their comrades but they very rarely spoke of their own experiences in the conflict. They were men and women of a very different generation that have inspired a lifetime of research. Over the decades since, it is been proved again and again that one strand of research often leads to another and this is certainly true of Northumberland and Tyneside’s War.

    Northumberland and Tyneside's War 1 Cadre of recuperated soldiers ready to return to front line service with the Northumberland Fusiliers c. 1917. (c. Northumberland and Tyneside's War: Voice of the First World War, Amberley Publishing)

    When researching our previous book ‘Newcastle Battalions on the Somme’ (Tyne Bridge) for the centenary of the Battle of the Somme in 2016 we found literally hundreds more first-hand accounts written home in letters from local servicemen and women serving their country between the years 1914 and 1918. The stories we discovered had been published in local newspapers, parish magazines and Regimental journals a hundred years ago, but have not been seen in print since. The public exhibitions and special commemoration events we helped to stage brought forward descendents who shared their family memorabilia and our research at the Fusiliers Museum of Northumberland, libraries and archive collections around the county brought more letters, manuscripts and ephemera to light.

    This remarkable body of first–hand material contained so many stories that were so evocative and powerful they had to be shared, not just because they contain accounts of battles, life in the trenches and significant moments in the First World War from a soldier’s point of view but because they also reflect so much of the character, courage, stoicism, modesty and humour unique to true Northern lads. From joining up and through training there was a spirit that never left them through the hell of war. The authentic ‘voice’ of the Geordie can also be found in the wealth of verse and songs they wrote. Some of these letters and verses are particularly poignant because they were written home on the eve of battle and proved to be the very last letters home for some of these men.

    Northumberland and Tyneside's War 2 One of the Zeppelin bomb craters at Bedlington with a fine turnout of curious locals on the morning of 14 April 1915. (c. Northumberland and Tyneside's War: Voice of the First World War, Amberley Publishing)

    Our book also includes accounts from the home front such as eye-witness reports of the first Zeppelin raid on Northumberland and stories of the local war hospitals that cared for thousands of returned wounded soldiers throughout the war.  The sterling work of a diverse array of local wartime organisations is also recorded, from the YMCA hostels and huts to ladies committees set up to supply comforts to the troops, hospitals, prisoners of war and the crews of minesweepers. Even the volunteers of the Elswick and Scotswood Bandage Party are not forgotten for they made and despatched 70,523 bandages to hospitals both at home and abroad between January 1916 and January 1919.

    Tyneside and Northumberland’s contribution to the war effort was truly outstanding. The mines of the North East provided the coal to power battleships all over the world and the shipyards along the Tyne built many of those battleships. Thousands of men marched out from those same pits and shipyards to answer their county’s call, indeed volunteers came from all walks of life and no other British city outside London raised more battalions of soldiers for Kitchener’s Army than Newcastle. There were 19 service battalions raised for the Northumberland Fusiliers between the years 1914-15 all bar one of them was raised in Newcastle. The exception was 17th (Service) Battalion (N.E.R. Pioneers) raised by the North Eastern Railway Company in Hull but it should not be forgotten that this battalion also included many men from Tyneside and Northumberland. The Northumberland Fusiliers had a remarkable 52 battalions during the First World War, twenty-nine of which served overseas. This made them the second largest line infantry regiment in the British Army, with only the eighty-eight battalions of the London Regiment to surpass them in greater number.

    Northumberland and Tyneside's War 3 A fine group of Necastle Munitionettes in their overalls, 1916. (c. Northumberland and Tyneside's War: Voice of the First World War, Amberley Publishing)

    Among the locally raised ‘New Army’ battalions were the ‘Newcastle Commercials,’ Tyneside Scottish and Tyneside Irish, who faced the hurricane of machine gun fire on the First Day of the Somme in 1916.  No Regiment lost more men than the Northumberland Fusiliers on that fateful day. What is still more remarkable is the fact that just about every active service battalion in the British Army, every Corps, every branch of the Royal Navy (notably the Royal Naval Division) and Royal Marines could find Geordies within its ranks.  Indeed numerous English, Irish and Scottish Regiments can all be found actively recruiting men from Tyneside and Northumberland during the First World War and some of them ended up with Tyneside Companies of their own.

    The soldiers of the North have a long history and reputation for being good fighting men and their county regiment in 1914 was the embodiment of that spirit. The Northumberland Fusiliers finds its roots back in 1674 and was granted the seniority of the Fifth Regiment of Foot in the British Army, a seniority they were always proud of. They richly earned and upheld the Regiment’s traditions and nick-names of the ‘Fighting Fifth’ and the ‘Old and Bold.’ In 1914 Lord Kitchener himself said of them ‘I have often had occasion to thank Heaven that I had the Northumberland Fusiliers at my back. Tell them from me that I have often relied upon the Northumberland Fusiliers in the past and I know that I may need to do so in the future’ and Lieut-General Sir Brian Horrocks did not mince words in his introduction to history of the Regiment in the Famous Regiments series when he wrote of men from the Northern collieries ‘whom I have always regarded as making the finest infantry in the world.’

    We hope this book will add something original to the canon of works on the county of Northumberland, Tyneside and its people both at home and fighting abroad in the First World War and that the authentic voices of the lads and lasses published herein will speak to our readers with the same resonance that they spoke to us and leave with them the same legacy - they deserve to be Remembered.

    9781445669427

    Neil R. Storey and Fiona Kay's new book Northumberland and Tyneside's War: Voice of the First World War is available for purchase now.

  • A Spitfire Pilot's Story - Pat Hughes by Dennis Newton

    THEY CALLED IT A ‘STUFFY SPREAD’

    Air Marshal Sir Hugh ‘Stuffy’ Dowding not only commanded RAF Fighter Command, he was its chief architect from the very beginning when it was created in 1936. He built it into the formidable weapon it became just in time for its ‘finest hour’ saving Britain in the violent, dark days of crisis in 1940. He set down the rules, chose the aircraft, built up the squadrons and developed their techniques, looking into every detail – but he wasn’t always right.

    Before WW2, he ordered that the guns of all RAF fighters were to be harmonised to create a widely spaced pattern of bullets at a range of 400 yards. This spread of bullets was intended specifically to combat bombers as it seemed most likely that any air attack on Britain from Germany would be by unescorted bombers. Because of the distances involved Luftwaffe fighters simply would not be able to take part. Because of ‘Stuffy’ Dowding’s nickname, this widely spaced pattern became unofficially known as the ‘Stuffy Spread’.

    While the method gave an average pilot a greater chance of scoring some hits on his target, early engagements revealed it was unlikely to cause enough damage to bring an enemy plane down! Experience during the ‘Phoney War’ of 1939/40 and the Battle for France and the Low Countries in 1940 showed a concentrated, accurate burst of fire achieved far better results.

    Although Dowding’s order to spread the field of fire was still regarded as standard procedure, squadrons with combat experience were harmonising their guns on a single point 250 yards in front of their aircraft.

    a-spitfire-pilots-story-17-pat-hughes-in-front-of-tent-1 Flight Lieutenant Paterson Clarence Hughes of No.234 Squadron RAF. (Credit Bill Hughes, A Spitfire Pilot's Story, Amberley Publishing)

    Going in close seemed to be another way of preventing the ‘Stuffy Spread’ from scattering too many bullets far and wide. Obviously, the closer a fighter could be positioned behind its target, the closer together the pattern would be and the more certainty there was of making a kill. Effective though it might be, it was obviously dangerous - but wasn’t war dangerous anyway?

    Before the Battle of Britain intensified, one nervous new pilot reportedly asked his flight commander, Flight Lieutenant Paterson Clarence Hughes, ‘What do I do if I miss?’

    ‘What do you do if you miss?’ Pat Hughes’ deliberate reply came back, ‘Listen mate… you get as close as you can and you can’t miss!’

    *

    No.234 Squadron RAF claimed its first victories during July 1940, three Ju88s destroyed in three weeks and Pat Hughes led all three attacks.

    He had gone in close. For him, that was definitely the answer.

    One of his wingmen, Sergeant George Bailey, would recall years later, ‘...Amongst some of his [Pat’s] efforts towards the war effort – frowned upon and stopped by higher authority – painting of the spinners of our Spitfires bright colours in competition to the yellow nosed 109’s. Use of incendiary bullets in all guns and bringing the concentration of fire power from the eight guns down to the minimum distance that could be obtained from the mountings... about 50 yards less than that recommended by the A.M. (Air Ministry)’

    In his three attacks, return fire had struck Pat’s Spitfire on two separate occasions – one bullet each time. Pat would go in close again and again...

    What followed was dramatic by any measure. During just over three weeks of spectacular action, Pat’s tally of enemy aircraft destroyed climbed to more than 14 victories.

    Then came 7 September 1940 and the first huge daylight attack on London. At first caught by surprise by the change in German tactics, Dowding’s fighters pounced after the withdrawing Luftwaffe bombers like angry hornets. They had to make them pay.

    a-spitfire-pilots-story-45-spitfire-attacking-do17 A Spitfire breaks away from an attack on a Dornier Do17. (Credit ww2image.com, A Spitfire Pilot's Story, Amberley Publishing)

    South-east of Folkestone, 234 Squadron ran into an estimated sixty German aircraft consisting of Dornier Do 17s and escorting Messerschmitt 109s. Initially instructed to patrol over the airfields at Kenley and Biggin Hill at ‘Angels Ten’, Squadron Leader ‘Spike’ O’Brien had taken his twelve Spitfires up to twice that height until they were above hoards of bandits all heading south on their way home. They were being harried as they went by furious, stinging Hurricanes and Spitfires.

    Pat Hughes in Spitfire X4009 as usual was leading the three Spitfires of Blue Section. O’Brien told Pat to go after the bombers while his flight covered the 109s. Ordering his wingmen to follow suit, Pat plunged after the bombers. He was well ahead of the others as he closed in on a straggling Dornier.

    Blue Two, Pilot Officer Keith Lawrence, followed the Australian down and saw him make a quarter attack on the German machine. Large pieces flew off the enemy plane, then a wing crumpled and it went down spinning. Lawrence glanced away for a target but when he looked back an instant later, he saw a Spitfire spinning down with about a third of its wing broken off... a collision?

    *

    It was late in the afternoon a few miles from Andover when Kay Hughes, Pat’s bride of just six weeks, stopped her car and phoned 234 Squadron’s Mess at Middle Wallop. She asked for Pat. Instead, F/O E. C. ‘Bish’ Owens, the fatherly squadron Adjutant, came to the phone. ‘Come right over’, he said, ‘I’ll meet you at the gate.’

    For a second she wondered why? Then, instinctively she knew. She clutched the gold charm bracelet Pat had given her. She knew...

    True to his word, ‘Bish’ and some of Pat’s boys met her at the gate. They told her that Pat was missing - there was some hope but the chances were not good. Then they took her to the White Hart where a room had been booked. ‘I’ve got your double,’ the landlord said greeting her with a wide smile. That was before he realised something was wrong...

    ‘Bish’ took him to one side and told him.

    Paterson Clarence Hughes had become the highest-scoring Australian pilot of the Battle of Britain - a ‘Top Gun’. His full story is told in Dennis Newton’s A Spitfire Pilot’s Story published by Amberley.

    9781445654140

    Dennis Newton's new book A Spitfire Pilot's Story - Pat Hughes, Battle of Britain Top Gun is available for purchase now.

  • Operation Big - The Dirty Secret by Colin Brown

    Researching my book, Operation Big – The Race to Stop Hitler’s A-Bomb, forced me to revise my view of the biggest event of the 20th Century – the dropping of the nuclear bomb of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.

    I had been brought up to believe that the atomic bomb was dropped on Japan to force Emperor Hirohito into surrender and end the Second World War. I began to revise my views when I read R V Jones’s highly-readable memoir, Most Secret War, and this line used on the back cover of Operation Big: ‘We ourselves were almost awestruck, not so much at the power of the Bomb, for this we had expected, but because the Americans had used it with so little notice.’

    R V Jones said that British intelligence knew the Japanese were putting out feelers for surrender when the Americans dropped the first of two nuclear bombs on them. I dug deeper into the American archives – many can be accessed online - and found a more disturbing story at the core of Operation Big and the Alsos Mission led by Colonel Boris T Pash to capture the leading nuclear scientists in the Third Reich in the dying days of the war.

    That is why I called the last chapter ‘The Dirty Secret’. It became glaringly obvious as I delved into the archives – the Pash papers at the Hoover Institute, Stanford University in California with the help of my researcher Dr Camilla Lindan, R V Jones’s papers held at the Churchill Archives at Churchill College Cambridge and the Cabinet papers of Sir Winston Churchill in the National Archives in Kew - that there was more to the Alsos Mission than the capture of Hitler’s nuclear scientists.

    Operation Big 1 Farm Hall as drawn by Erich Bagge while he was a ‘guest’ at Farm Hall.

    The fact that they were airlifted by MI6 to Farm Hall in Godmanchester, a beautiful bucolic slice of England by the water meadows of Cambridgeshire – Rupert Brooke wrote his elegiac poem The Old Vicarage about Granchester Meadows a few miles away – was always going to make the headlines. But the underlying story was more sinister. Facts kept nagging away: I discovered Sam Goudsmit, the scientific head of the Alsos Mission reported back to Washington as early as November 1944 that Hitler’s physicists had not built an atomic bomb.

    In Pash’s memoir, The Alsos Mission, backed by his archives at the Hoover Institute, Pash recalled the breakthrough came when they seized documents in Strasbourg and Goudsmit shouted: ‘We’ve got it!’

    ‘I know we have it,’ said Pash. ‘But do they?’

    Goudsmit’s eyes were wide with excitement. ‘No, no!’ he said. ‘That’s it. They don’t.’

    Pash recorded: ‘It was our Strasbourg operation which disclosed that it was unlikely that the Nazis could unleash an atom bomb in the near future. Thus Alsos exploded the Nazi super-weapon myth that had so alarmed Allied leaders. The fact that a German atom bomb was not an immediate threat was probably the most significant single piece of military intelligence developed throughout the war.’

    Pash claimed Alsos had “exploded the biggest intelligence bombshell of the war” in November 1944 – a full seven months before the German scientists arrived in Godmanchester. But if so, why I wondered did Pash and his team of US intelligence officers and soldiers in Jeeps – they were accused of operating as if they were in the “Wild West” - continue the hunt for the ten German scientists across the Rhine, into Germany and all the way to Heisenberg’s hideaway in the Bavarian Alps?

    Operation Big 5 Colonel Boris T. Pash (right) on Operation Big in Hechingen with Sergeant Holt (middle) and Corporal Brown (left).

    It is true Pash and Goudsmit had to be certain that they were right, that there was no Nazi A-bomb, but there was a bigger picture emerging that was exercising their chiefs back in Washington, led by the uncompromising General Leslie Groves, the Army engineer who headed the construction of Manhattan Project, the massive industrial effort to build the world’s first nuclear bombs.

    Groves operated on the principle that if the US could do it, so could the Germans. But he was also determined to stop the German physicists falling into Soviet hands. His biggest fear – now that the threat of a Nazi bomb could be discounted – was that the Soviets would gain the know-how from the Germans that had been achieved by the Americans over the past three years of hard work in the laboratories of the Manhattan Project.

    Groves in his own memoir, Now It Can be Told, makes clear he ordered the bombing of Auergesellschaft Works in Oranienburg 15 miles north of Berlin on 15 March 1945 to stop uranium ore being seized by the Russians because it was in the sector allocated to the Soviet Union at the Yalta conference of the Big Three. And it was not just the Russians Groves opposed. Groves did not trust the British, and particularly distrusted the French because their lead physicist in Paris, Joliot-Curie was a Communist. ‘Joliot convinced me that nothing that might be of interest to the Russians should ever be allowed to fall into French hands.’

    Operation Big 6 The Alsos team dismantling the German atomic pile at Haigerloch – portly Lieutenant Commander Eric Welsh stands on the rim handing out graphite blocks. Wing Commander Rupert Cecil is in the foreground.

    Against that background, the focus of the Alsos Mission and its conclusion – Operation Big – switched from Hitler and the Nazi threat to combatting the Russian threat. By the time Hitler’s Uranverein (Uranium Club) arrived at their five-star country house hotel in Godmanchester, Groves and the chiefs in Washington were preparing for the Cold War, and what they could do to regain some of the influence they had surrendered to the Soviet advance across Europe as Josef Stalin’s Red Army swept into Germany from the East, making huge territorial gains which would be described by Churchill as the “Iron Curtain”.

    In the Truman administration at the White House, the bomb was seen as the answer. Truman was completely unapologetic about his decision taken after the Potsdam conference with Churchill and Stalin in 1945 where he had been informed that the “Trinity” test of the new weapon had been a success. Truman convened a secret meeting of his top advisers – Byrnes, Secretary of State, Stimson, Secretary of War, Eisenhower and Marshall. ‘I asked General Marshall what it would cost in lives to land on the Tokyo plain and other places in Japan. It was his opinion that such an invasion would cost at a minimum one quarter of a million casualties, and might cost as much as a million, on the American side alone, with an equal number of the enemy…Dropping the bombs ended the war, saved lives and gave free nations a chance to face the facts.’ (Letter 12 January 1953 Truman to Professor James L Cate).

    Operation Big 3 The drawing room at Farm Hall where the scientists heard the news about the detonation at Hiroshima.

    But Truman was being “economical with the actualite” as the late Tory defence minister Alan Clark said in a different context. The truth is Truman, in addition to ending the war against Japan, also wanted to demonstrate to the Russians that America had become the first truly great super power because it possessed a bomb capable of destruction on a hitherto unimaginable scale. He did not know that thanks to Klaus Fuchs, the Soviet agent embedded in the Manhatten Project, Josef Stalin knew more than he did about the nuclear bomb.

    9781445651842

    Colin Brown's new paperback version of his book Operation Big: The Race to Stop Hitler's A-Bomb is available now.

  • How 'No More Soldiering' began by Stephen Wade

    Objector A popular postcard showing the common view of the weak and effeminate CO. (Author’s collection)

    I was researching in the Brynmor Jones Library in Hull, digging into the background for a biography I was writing on George Grossmith, the singer and writer, when there was a large folder of photographs and I could see from the front cover that it was intriguingly entitled: 'Prison Photographs.' As I am primarily a crime historian, how could I resist taking a peek at that?  It's hard to explain the shock. There were images of the frame used for flogging men; solitary cells, and even a monstrosity called an 'insanity box.' What was the context for all this? It was regarding the treatment dished out to some of the so-called 'Absolutists' in the ranks of the conscientious objectors in the Great War. These were the people who not only would not fight, but also refused to do anything in support of the war with the Kaiser and his allies.

    I knew at that moment that I had to tell the story of some of those men, and as with any historical enquiry, like Topsy, it grew and grew. Of course, I still regard this book as an account of something partly criminal, though the government of the day created legislation and acted accordingly. But when it came to reading out death sentences to men standing in line and then cancelling them, then that was surely some kind of cruelty beyond all reason. I brought to mind the story of Fyodor Dostoievski and his friends - a group of young radicals, who were rounded up and blindfolded, ready to face the firing squad, and were then reprieved and sent to Siberia.

    Conscript Cartoon A CO cartoon sympathetic to the cause. (Author’s collection)

    Oh yes, No More Soldiering is the one book among all my books that was written with a sense of indignant rage. Most works of history of course are expected to give a balanced view of past events, and I was always aware of that, but I think that my feelings kept showing through the narrative.

    The other perspective on this subject is the alarming tendency for people today, in some areas and groups at least, to want to erase these men who did not take up arms; their stories are often eclipsed from the family record.

    But I must finish with my own dilemma. Should I have been a young man in 1914, I would have joined up. After all, the Germans were using Zeppelins to bomb my home county of Yorkshire, along with Hartlepool and Cleethorpes. I would have wanted to hit back. But of one thing I am certain: I would have respected the objectors. There would have been no smug smile from me when a white feather was posted.

    In the end, I felt that I had made a small contribution to the persistent debate about pacifism and the forms it tends to take at different points in time, and my respect for the courage of those non-combatants was something I felt I had to explain to myself, as well as to my readers.

    9781445648941

    No More Soldiering: Conscientious Objectors of the First World War by Stephen Wade is available for purchase now.

  • The Defeat of the Luftwaffe by Jonathan Trigg

    What’s the best thing about writing history? For me that’s easy. Stepping back in time into the shoes of another generation and looking around at the world through their eyes, and as you look around you can read what they read, touch what they touched, and try to understand why they did what they did. A lot of the time you can only achieve this through what they left behind; artefacts, buildings (more likely ruins), papers, etc. These are all powerful tools in a historian’s armoury and can be utterly fascinating. Probably my favourite example of this is a crude carving in a balcony rail high in the magnificent Hagia Sophia cathedral in Istanbul (now the Aya Sofia mosque). It simply reads: ‘Halfdan made these runes’, or to put it another way, ‘Halfdan was here’. We don’t know for sure who Halfdan was, but the evidence suggests he was a Viking member of the Byzantine Emperor’s famous Varangian Guard. So, Halfdan was a soldier, he could read and write and like all soldiers he got bored on guard duty – some things never change.

    How amazing would it be to speak to Halfdan? To hear him tell of his time, tell his story, in his own words - that for me is still the draw to writing about the Second World War, people who lived through it are still alive – although time marches on. Over the last decade of writing about the most terrible conflict our world has ever known I have seen so many voices go silent – except in Scandinavia where people seem to live forever! So, I take every chance I can get to write down peoples words. Those stories are all around us, often in the most unlikely places. I was once asked by an old friend to come up to Durham and be the after-lunch speaker at his local Rotary Club. I chose as my subject the exploits of the Waffen-SS during the War. I had written several times on the topic and hoped I could make it interesting for the audience. I mean no criticism of them at all, but they were mainly an ‘older’ crowd if I can put it like that, and I was worried that me droning on after a good lunch, and with the afternoon sun streaming in through the hotel windows, it would all be a bit much for some of them and a few might drift quietly off. How amazed was I then when the self-proclaimed oldest member of the Club asked to speak as soon as I had finished my little talk. He sat there and said, ‘The first member of the Waffen-SS I met was the chap that took me prisoner when I was on a night patrol in Italy….’ Brilliant! Just a few yards away, living history.

    Then there are the stories that got away. One of my neighbours is a consultant anaesthetist in the NHS, his family is Anglo-Polish, the Polish side coming from a daring escape to the West through snow-covered pine forests before the Iron Curtain snapped shut. His grandmother was the family’s matriarch, their totem, and she was over 100 years old. Standing around his barbecue one summer evening he was telling me a bit about her when he dropped in that when she was a little girl in 1917 she lived with her family in a very smart house in St Petersburg. On one occasion, hearing a lot of commotion, she, her family and their servants, all rushed to the windows to watch a crowd of armed men storm the building across the way. Those were desperate, troubled times, and the event may have gone unremarked, except the building was the Tsar’s Winter Palace, and the armed men were Bolshevik Red Guards. She had just witnessed the storming of the Winter Palace and a giant step in the Russian Revolution. Unsurprisingly I was desperate to talk to her and get it all down on paper, but she was adamant – the past was the past and it should stay there. Sadly she passed away soon after and her story went with her.

    Vitaly VVS pilot Vitaly I. Klimenko

    Missed opportunities like that spur me on to seek out tales from those that were there, and so I was determined to include as many as I could in my history of the victory of the Soviet Red Air Force over the Nazi Luftwaffe on the Eastern Front – and there were some gems. Surprise was so total when the Luftwaffe first attacked on the morning of the 22nd of June 1941, that no-one on the Soviet side expected it. The fighter pilot, Vitaly Klimenko, was planning to take his pretty Lithuanian girlfriend to a local lake for some swimming and sunbathing, but instead he was rudely awakened by the sounds of an air-raid. He threw open the flap of his tent to hear a neighbour shout, ‘Guys the war has started!’, and Vitaly’s response was, ‘F**k you, what war?’ On that day alone the Soviets lost close to 2,000 aircraft. Two thousand! The numbers involved are hard to credit. The entire German Air Force today numbers around two hundred planes, and the British RAF only around 230. But, as ever, numbers are only part of the story. As I researched the book one of the most harrowing accounts I read was from a German soldier talking to one of his comrades about his experiences on the ‘Russian Front’;

    Müller: “When I was at Kharkov the whole place had been destroyed, except the centre of town. It was a delightful town, a delightful memory! Everyone spoke a little German – they’d learnt it at school. Taganrog was the same. We did a lot of flying near the junction of the Don and Donets. Its’ beautiful country…everywhere we saw women doing compulsory labour service.”

    Faust: “How frightful!”

    Müller: “They were employed on road making – extraordinarily lovely girls; we drove past, simply pulled them into the armoured car, raped them and threw them out again, and did they curse!”

    9781445651866

    The Defeat of the Luftwaffe: The Eastern Front 1941-45, A Strategy for Disaster by Jonathan Trigg is available for purchase now.

  • My favourite agents by Robyn Walker

    Even before my book The Women Who Spied for Britain was published, almost everyone with whom I shared the manuscript with would ask me which one of the secret agents was my favourite. The questions continued after the book was published... interviewers and fans alike all seemed to want to know which agent I enjoyed researching and writing about most. It almost seems disrespectful to pick one above the others (I suppose with the exception of Mathilde Carré, whose treachery should make her ultimately unlikeable), since they all put their lives on the line in defense of their country. How do you quantify which one was best, which one was most heroic?

    Then I realized that I was not being asked to provide a value judgement, people were simply interested in which secret agent I found most interesting. And after talking to several people who had read my book, I was amazed to discover that when I asked them about THEIR favorite agent in the book, their answers and reasons were both varied and fascinating. People connect with stories and individuals in so many different ways, and I was intrigued by the reasons readers connected with different agents and their missions. This forced me to do a little self-reflection about the subjects of my book, and I was amazed at what I ultimately discovered regarding my own feelings about the women who spied for Britain!

    Agents - Noor Inayat Khan Noor Inayat Khan (Madeleine)

    Noor Inayat Khan (Madeleine) has a special place in my heart since it was her story that first got me interested in the female secret agents of WW2. I first ‘discovered’ her when I was 10, after watching the miniseries A Man Called Intrepid. I thought her story was incredible and immediately begged my dad to buy me the book. Book in hand I went immediately to the index and proceeded to selectively read all parts of the book that dealt with the intriguing Madeleine. For years (well before the age of the internet) she represented all I really knew about female agents of the Second World War, and her story made thirst for more. Khan truly was my starting point, and because of that I found this chapter quite enjoyable to write.

    Agents - Odette Sansom Odette Sansom

    Odette Sansom was another agent I discovered through A Man Called Intrepid. Sadly, for me, she was simply a one name reference in the index (p. 254), and I learned only that she was a “young mother who left her children in Kensington to wind up in a Gestapo torture chamber”. I had no idea of her last name, let alone what her full story was. The name Odette seemed incredibly fierce and dramatic, and I spent many hours creating my own stories of Odette’s missions. When I finally learned her true story, I have to admit my imaginings weren’t anywhere close to accurate. Still, her chapter was an absolute delight to write. I think, in part, it was because after so many years of imagining her story that I finally found the truth. There’s also a plethora of material available about Odette which made this chapter ‘easier’ to write than some of the others. And finally, I absolutely LOVE the anecdote at the end of the chapter where the thief who stole Odette’s medals returns them via the post. I laugh every time I read his apology!

    Agents - Diana Rowden Diana Rowden

    I loved writing the Diana Rowden chapter. It was by far the most difficult since there has been far less written about her than the other agents. Yet I found writing her chapter incredibly rewarding. As I learned more about her I definitely got the feeling that she and I could have been friends and it really bothered me that her story had been somewhat overlooked. There’s no way to know why this is, but I couldn’t shake the sense that it had something to do with the fact that she lacked the ‘glamour’ or physical appeal of the other agents. Certainly her bravery, contribution to the war effort and her tragic death were all compelling enough to make for interesting reading, so it really puzzled me that her story was not better known. Her chapter became my personal mission and it was incredibly exciting to discover the little facts about her life.

    Agents - Nancy Wake Nancy Wake

    Ahh, Nancy Wake. The whole time I was writing about her I was both in awe and doubled over with laughter. She seemed incredible and fearless and almost, in my opinion, like some sort of super hero. Her story has it all, running away from home, love affairs, secret agent school, narrow escapes, gun battles, attempted assassinations and... a relatively happy ending. If her life story isn’t perfect for a big screen movie I don’t know what is. This chapter was fun, fun, fun from start to finish!

    Agents - Violette Szabo Violette Szabo

    The chapter on Violette Szabo was the very first one I completed. She was so beautiful, it was hard not to be intrigued by her. I had trouble with this chapter in the beginning, since so many of the secondary sources I read offered vastly different accounts of what actually happened to her. My search for the truth led to my interview with Robert Maloubier, who served with Szabo. It was incredible hearing the REAL story from someone who had actually been there. His eyewitness account made the story really come alive, and added a special dimension to this chapter. The Szabo chapter also resulted in my making a new friend, the wonderful author Susan Ottaway, who had written an absolutely fantastic biography of Szabo. This was a chapter of interesting research and new friends!

    Agents - Christine Granville Christine Granville

    Was there a chapter I enjoyed least? Yup. Christine Granville. Not that her story isn’t compelling. There’s just so much to it, combined with confusing Polish place names and given names the spelling of which seemed to change with every source I read. This chapter was very challenging, since her career as an agent was so long and she served in so many different locations. Granville’s sad end was also incredibly depressing for me for some reason. The complexity of Granville’s story and the overall feeling of gloom as a result of her murder took away from my overall enjoyment of writing this chapter, yet my mum informs that this was her favourite one to read!

    Agents - Mathilde Carre Mathilde Carré

    I admit to feeling a sense of guilt when I confess that I liked writing about Mathilde Carré. She really was quite an awful person, and yet there was something about her self-centred awfulness that I really understood. Perhaps knowing that there are people as flawed as she was what made me feel better about my own short comings. Or perhaps I just know enough about myself to understand that if I was faced with the choices she was faced with, I might have done the same thing. So, she was not noble, there will be no plaques commemorating her role in the war, but her story is darn interesting and I really believe there is a little bit of Mathilde in all of us. Just hopefully not too much : )

    Agents - Sonya 1 Sonia Butt

    My favourite, hands down, was the Sonia Butt chapter! Her story had all of ‘cool’ elements (like Nancy Wake’s), her family was incredibly generous in sharing their memories and photographs, she had a Canadian connection (cool for me) AND she had the glamour factor. All of these are compelling reasons for me to have loved this chapter best but... the real reason is, Sonia was exactly who I would have wanted to be! I connected with her on a deep level, and I have convinced myself, that had I lived during WW2 I would have been just like Sonia. I saw so much of myself in Sonia that every minute of writing her story was like living it myself. I’ve had to update my book to include Sonia’s death, this past Christmas, and it left such a strange and hollow feeling inside me. It was like saying good bye to an old friend.

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    Robyn Walkers paperback edition of The Women Who Spied for Britain 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.

  • 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.

     

    Waterloo - Microsoft Word - Document1

    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.

     

     

    Waterloo - Microsoft Word - Document1

    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.

    Waterloo - 9781445646664

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

  • Welcome to the Amberley blog!

     

    We are delighted to be able to present our new website to you, along with our exciting new blog.

    The Amberley blog will consist of our new and forthcoming releases, interviews with our authors and regular guest posts on a variety of subjects.

    We shall have posts on the Women’s Institute which celebrates its centenary this year, the history of the railways in Britain, the legacy of Henry V, the history of British weather, the writings of Eustace Chapuys Ambassador to Henry VIII and the sinking of the Lusitania!

    Also read all about Richard III’s reinterment in Leicester Cathedral on 26th March. Our bestselling biography by David Baldwin is being updated with information on the reburial and we will have posts on the events in Leicester that week.

    Out this month:

    Amberley Blog - small_9781445641041_3

    Our book of the month! With 25% off during March only, read the remarkable story of a life of privilege, tragedy and danger, of a woman who so nearly became the seventh wife of Henry VIII: Henry VIII's Last Love: The Extraordinary Life of Katherine Willoughby, Lady in Waiting to the Tudors.

    ‘A gripping biography... David Baldwin is a brilliant historical detective.’ Philippa Gregory

    Plus be in with the chance of winning a copy of this fantastic book on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/amberleybooks

    Check out this fantastic article which recently appeared recently in The Times:

     

     

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    ‘Rude and feisty widow was in Henry’s mind for seventh wife.’

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    And this in this month’s BBC History Magazine:

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    ‘David Baldwin tells the story of Katherine Willoughby, a great friend of the Tudor king, who seemed set to replace Katherine Parr as his bride.’

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Amberley Blog - small_9781445636795_3
    To commemorate the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, this is a new biography of Henry V, the warrior king. Teresa Cole looks at the life and legacy of a king whose heroic achievements and tragic early death may truly be said to have changed the course of British history.

     

     

     

     

    Amberley Blog - small_9781445621258_3
    In The Family of Richard III Professor Michael Hicks, described by BBC History Magazine as ‘the greatest living expert on Richard III’, reassesses the family ties and entrails of his wayward and violent family. Includes a scathing reappraisal of the 2012 dig which claims to have discovered Richard's remains and brings into question the authenticity of the find. Chosen by The Bookseller Magazine as one of their highlights of 2015.

     

     

     

    We look forward to telling you all about our exciting titles and up-to-date news. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates including exciting reviews, articles and interviews.

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