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  • Aldershot's Military Heritage by Paul H. Vickers

    Aldershot's Military Heritage 1 Grenadier Guards drilling in Blenheim Barracks, North Camp, Aldershot, c.1906. (Aldershot's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Aldershot has, for over a hundred and sixty years, been famous as an “Army town”; indeed its name has become synonymous across the country with the Army. Yet now it is a town undergoing considerable change. Not only has the garrison recently been completely rebuilt, but 148 hectares of old Army land has been given over to civilian redevelopment, on which the new Wellesley housing estate is beginning to rise. This massive development will take around 10-12 years to complete, and will transform the character of the old South Camp. So the time is right to evaluate the impact of the Army on Aldershot, the relationship between the military and civilian communities, and whether Aldershot can still claim its proud title of “Home of the British Army”.

    Any modern-day changes are dwarfed by the impact of the Army’s first arrival in Aldershot. Before 1854 Aldershot was a small rural village, with a population of 875 who earned their living from agriculture or essential local trades such as baker, blacksmith and carpenter. To the north west of the village was the huge empty land of Aldershot Heath, ideal for the Army to set up its first permanent training camp. Given added urgency by the Crimean War, soon two camps were built either side of the Basingstoke Canal, and by 1859 some 15,000 soldiers were here. The character of the area changed very quickly, as entrepreneurs were quick to see the potential for businesses serving not only the thousands of troops but also the huge numbers of workers employed on building the Camp. As it became clear that the military were here to stay, the wooden shanties in which these businesses initially operated were replaced by smart new buildings, and a new Aldershot town centre grew up immediately south of the Army Camp and about a mile west of the old Aldershot village.

    Aldershot's Military Heritage 2 The Band of the Welsh Guards leads the Regiment’s welcome home parade through Aldershot town for their return from the war in Afghanistan, December 2009. (Aldershot's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Since that time the fortunes of the Camp and town have gone hand-in-hand. The Camp reached its peak in the first half of the twentieth century, and the burgeoning prosperity of the civilian town was shown by its achieving its Charter in 1922. In the 1960s the Victorian Barracks were swept away as a new Military Town was built for the late twentieth-century Army and Aldershot became the home of the Airborne Forces. However, with the many defence cuts and re-organisations, the overall numbers in the Army have fallen back and so, in turn, has the size of the Aldershot garrison. The 1960s barracks were designed for 10,000 troops, in the twenty-first century numbers are around half that. As a result the garrison has consolidated onto land in the northern part of the old Camp, leaving the southern area to the Wellesley development.

    For the first hundred years of its existence, Aldershot was the country’s largest and most important Army camp, and it sent men to fight in all the major conflicts from the Zulu War to the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In both the First and Second World Wars, the Aldershot Divisions were the first to be mobilised and in both wars they became the First Corps of the British Expeditionary Force. The pivotal role of Aldershot makes its story of not just local interest but of national importance. Today the numbers may not be what they once were, but Aldershot is the headquarters for the Army’s national Home Command, along with 101 Logistic Brigade and 11 Infantry Brigade. It remains the centre of the Royal Army Physical Training Corps, and it is the Army’s “Centre of Sporting Excellence”.

    Aldershot's Military Heritage 3 Memorial to the men of Aldershot’s resident 2nd Division who died in the First World War. (Aldershot's Military Heritage, Amberley Publishing)

    Against this background, I was very pleased to be able to write Aldershot’s Military Heritage for Amberley. In this book I have been able to look at the development of the Camp, its role in the nation’s wars, and some of the many colourful characters who have passed through in the last 165 years. Military heritage is visible across Aldershot, in the buildings, monuments and memorials, and in the continuing role that the military plays in the life of the town. This was wonderfully demonstrated recently when the population turned out in huge numbers to line the streets as the veterans of the Parachute Regiment who fought in the Falklands War marched through the town to mark the 35th anniversary of this conflict. In the Wellesley development, the old barracks, battles and notable soldiers are honoured in the names of the roads and buildings, and work is underway to establish a series of Heritage Trails across both the Camp and Town. Truly this is the right time to celebrate Aldershot’s military heritage.

    9781445665900

    Paul H. Vickers new book Aldershot's Military Heritage is available for purchase now.

  • The Second World War in 100 Facts by Clive Pearson

    I was delighted when Amberley Publishing asked me to write a book on the Second World War for their 100 Facts series. I had already completed a manuscript for a book about Britain at war in 1939-45 and so I was able to include points from my research on this as well as from an article published previously about the Soviet Union in this period.

    Quite a lot of the book includes facts about Britain in the war. This was inevitable as Britain had a large part to play in all stages of the war as well as fighting on three continents. This was due, of course, to the fact that Britain had a huge sprawling empire. Added to this, British readers would want to know about how their country participated in the conflict and about the iconic moments such as Dunkirk and D-Day.

    Beyond this I was keen to introduce readers to what I consider to be two forgotten wars. The first ‘forgotten war’ was the British struggle against the Japanese in the Far East. From the film ‘The Bridge over the River Kwai’ many readers might perhaps be familiar with the idea that there was another war going on there and that life was horrendous for British and Commonwealth prisoners. But how many people know about the epic British march all the way from Burma to India and which ranks as the longest retreat in British military history. Following on this, mainly British and Indian troops managed to turn the situation around by forcing the enemy back from the gates of India and reinvading Burma. Taking the Japanese on in their favourite terrain (the jungle) proved to be crucial. The unsung hero in all this was Major-General Bill Slim who inspired his troops and engineered a winning strategy. He was one of the finest commanders of the war but few know of him. At the time British people were naturally preoccupied with the conflict on their doorstep and it fell to Churchill on VE Day to remind everybody that the war was not over and that the struggle against the Japanese continued.

    The second ‘forgotten war’ was the one between Nazi Germany and Russia in Eastern Europe. Brits generally do not understand how vast and cruel the conflict there was. Perhaps this is because of the secretive nature of the Soviet regime. When the Soviet Union eventually collapsed in 1991 the archives could at last be opened up and historians such as Richard Overy in his book Russia’s War and Catherine Merridale in her work Ivan’s War were able to reveal the true horror of the conflict.

    The immensity of the war was not just due to the size of the theatre of operations but also because the Nazi regime had turned a huge part of its military machine into the project of knocking out and occupying this enormous country. In total four million German and other Axis forces crossed the frontier into the Soviet Union in June 1941. It was to be an ideological war and Hitler gave his armies a free hand to carry out a campaign of barbaric cruelty not experienced in the west. Jews and Communists were to be rounded up and liquidated and the rest of the population were ultimately to be enslaved. Evidence of the horrific treatment endured there is the fact that a large percentage of the millions of Soviet soldiers taken prisoner were simply left to suffer a long lingering death through starvation. Others were used as slave labour. This was a very different story from that of British prisoners and based on the idea that they were fellow Aryans (and therefore received kinder treatment).

    The German invader did not have it all his own way, of course. The winters were terrible with the thermometer at times hitting -400 C leaving hundreds of thousands of ill-prepared German troops literally freezing to death or suffering from frostbite. In addition, Russian forces also committed atrocities on their enemy.

    Unfortunately for Soviet troops their own government was not above meting out horrific cruelty on its own people. An example of this is the ‘penal battalions’ which were composed of political prisoners and criminals who could be driven forward to clear minefields willy-nilly, without protection and without concern for losses. Indeed, the whole Soviet command was less concerned about casualties than with winning the war. No wonder, then, that in every battle fought on the Eastern front, even including Berlin, Soviet losses were always more than the enemy. The total cost of the conflict for the Soviet people was 27 million dead and Belarus lost a third of its population. German losses for the whole war were roughly five million.

    In the end the Fascist powers were defeated because they were out-manned and out-gunned. As pointed out in the book America’s production figures alone dwarfed that of the enemy countries combined. One big surprise is the total inefficiency of German armaments production. For example, only 2200 tanks were produced in 1940 (and plane production was a similar story) and it wasn’t until 1943 after the defeat at Stalingrad that full production really got going by which time it was too late. At the end of the day no matter how fearsome or valiant your soldiers are (and the German and Japanese soldiers were certainly this) it is of relatively little consequence if your enemy has countless manpower available and seemingly endless numbers of planes and tanks to throw at you. To have any chance the Germans and Japanese had to achieve some kind of knock-out blow in the early stages of the war and this they singularly failed to do.

    9781445653532

    Clive Pearson's new book The Second World War in 100 Facts is available for purchase now.

  • Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie's Mongrel Foreign Legion 1935-41 by Christopher Othen

    FSA/8b09000/8b098008b09878a.tif Emperor Haile Selassie, King of Kings, the Elect of Zion, and the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah and his pet dog, Bull, pictured in 1934. (LoC, Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie's Mongrel Foreign Legion 1935-41, Amberley Publishing)

    In the autumn of 1935 Addis Ababa was getting nervous. The Italians were just over the border building an army. A minor clash earlier in the year had escalated into threats, and military action. Now, Mussolini’s men were preparing to invade.

    Some of the Ethiopian capital’s inhabitants were worried by something closer to home: foreigners. Addis Ababa was crawling with them, and the notoriously xenophobic Ethiopians weren’t happy about it.

    Every time they looked out their windows they saw a globalist parade: cine-cameramen, diplomats, arms dealers, foreign journalists (including a skinny Latvian ex-circus ringmaster with a monocle, and Harun al-Rashid Bey, a shaven-headed Muslim convert whose parents knew him as Wilhelm Hintersatz), a Greek claimant to the Bourbon throne, two mysterious Japanese men in horn-rimmed glasses, who spent their time playing table tennis, an aging British foxhunter who claimed to be an expert in trench warfare, a pair of Czechoslovak explorers who seemed unaware of the Italian threat, and a black South African representing - according to British writer Evelyn Waugh - ‘another world league for the abolition of, I think, the white races’.

    When the war finally began, many of the most dubious characters would flee, be deported, or get pushed out. But others would stay to fight for Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, against the invading Fascists.

    It was a battle between far-right modernity and patriarchal traditionalism. The Italians had airplanes, high explosives, and mustard gas. The Ethiopians preferred swords and spears. Haile Selassie needed expert foreign help. What he got was a crazy gang of mercenaries who could barely shoot straight, and leaned further to the right than Mussolini.

    Ethiopia’s new foreign friends included Americans posing as fake French counts, Fascist Belgian dogs of war, an African-American pilot duo known as the Black Eagle and the Brown Condor (they hated each other), a Cuban veteran of three failed far-right coups, an Austrian Nazi doctor, Swedish soldiers who preferred fighting communism, and an alcoholic English dropout.

    The international powers backing Haile Selassie were equally disreputable. Hitler supported Selassie as part of a plot to grab back the Rhineland, and Japanese secret societies pushed a penniless Tokyo princess into marriage with an Ethiopian prince. Together, this bizarre foreign legion tried to save Ethiopia from Fascism. It would not end well.

    Lost Lions of Judah Major Auguste Dothée Belgian adviser Major Auguste Dothée (centre) with fellow Belgians and Ethiopian Imperial Guard officers, 1935. (Martin Rikli Photographs, Special and Area Studies Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie's Mongrel Foreign Legion 1935-41, Amberley Publishing)

    Some mercenaries preferred to fight each other. The Brown Condor tried to stab the Black Eagle in a hotel lobby. The Turks and the Belgians preferred to undermine each other out on the battlefield, throwing around accusations of incompetence and cowardice. When a Belgian died of natural causes, everyone assumed he had been poisoned. A coup in Japan took out many pro-Ethiopia voices, and Hitler began to worry he had chosen the wrong dictator to support. Disillusioned Ethiopians wondered if their foreigners were secretly working for the other side.

    While the mercenaries squabbled, Ethiopia died. What started as picturesque exoticism for jaded journalists (barefoot soldiers, despot warlords, cave-dwelling priests) soon degenerated into the abattoir of modern warfare (gas attacks, terror bombing, tortured prisoners). Tens of thousands died.

    There were mercenaries who genuinely believed in the emperor’s cause. Czech Adolf Parlesák was in the front lines when the Italians rolled in, and spent his days dodging bullets and bombs. Cuban Alejandro Del Valle had to run for his life when the Ethiopian front lines broke early in 1936. The Russian émigré Feodor Konovalov found himself talking tactics with a warlord, as Fascist shells smashed apart the mountainside around them.

    When Ethiopian troops failed to stop the Italians at the Battle of Maychew, even the most dedicated mercenary knew it was all over. The Belgians took the first train out of Addis Ababa. The Brown Condor wasn’t far behind. A few stayed on to the end. Swedish soldiers tried to organise a last ditch defence of the capital; Del Valle continued the fight in the south-west; the American pilot Hilaire Du Berrier hung on in the capital, dodging Italian patrols.

    Haile Selassie’s mercenaries would go on to stranger adventures, weirder causes, and early deaths for some. As they scattered from Shanghai to Prague, and occupied Brussels to the Eastern Front, they would always remember the Ethiopian emperor, and their efforts to keep the Fascist boot off the neck of the last independent nation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

    9781445659831

    Christopher Othen's new book Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie's Mongrel Foreign Legion 1935-41 is available for purchase now.

  • RAF Transport Command by Keith Wilson

    Ferio Ferendo – ‘I strike by carrying’

    RAF Transport Command 1 Aircraft assembled at RAF Tarrant Rushton on the afternoon of 6 June 1944 while being prepared for the reinforcement of the British airborne assault during Operation Mallard. On the runway are General Aircraft Hamilcar heavy-lift gliders, preceded by two Airspeed Horsa troop-carrying gliders. Parked on each side of them are Handley Page Halifax glider tugs of 298 and 644 Squadrons. (Crown Copyright/Air Historical Branch CL-26 - RAF Transport Command, Amberley Publishing)

    From a young age I was fascinated by aviation! Initially it was general aviation that caught my eye but eventually, after visiting a number of Royal Air Force and United States Air Force (USAF) open days, I was hooked on military aviation. Strangely, it wasn’t always the fast and loud fighter aircraft that caught my eye (and ear!) as I had an instant fascination for the older, lumbering but occasionally graceful, transport aircraft.

    Operating in service with the USAF were massive fleets of C-130s and KC-135s; some based in the UK, mainly at RAF Mildenhall. However, these were often supplemented by the piston-powered ‘Stars’ – the C-97 and KC-97 Stratocruisers; the C-124 Globemasters; the occasional C-54 and C-118; and by far my personal favourites – the C-121 Constellation and Super Constellation. What’s not to love about a Super Connie’!

    Around the same time and operating within the RAF were the Beverley, Hastings, Britannia, Belfast, Argosy and Comet; all along with the majestically graceful, fast and oh-so-noisy Vickers/BAC VC-10. Most of these aircraft were employed within RAF Transport Command and effectively they provided the backbone to a service that was often underfunded and overstretched; while occasionally – during periods of conflict – it was overstretched to its very limits!

    RAF Transport Command 2 No. 267 Squadron made remarkable contributions to the air war in both the Mediterranean and the Burma campaign. Here, Douglas Dakota III aircraft of No. 267 Squadron were photographed while unloading supplies for the Allied forces at Araxos, Greece, in October 1944. The activity drew considerable attention from the local population. (Crown Copyright/Air Historical Branch CM-5915 - RAF Transport Command, Amberley Publishing)

    Fast forward far too many years than I care to admit and I still find myself with an unhealthy fascination for old, lumbering, transport aircraft. So, when Kevin Paul at Amberley Publishing suggested I should research and write a book on RAF Transport Command, I could not resist the challenge!

    I find the research aspect of the book the most fascinating – especially the picture research. The vast majority of images for this book come from the archives at the Air Historical Branch at RAF Northolt where I am indebted to Lee Barton, the Branch’s Photographic Archivist. His knowledge of exactly which images are available and more importantly, just how to find them, is invaluable; as is his enthusiasm and attention to detail. Lee was also able to assist with additional research which enabled some ‘new’ information to be unearthed and included in this volume.

    RAF Transport Command was called into existence by Parliamentary proclamation on 25 March 1943. At the time, all of its component parts had already been on active service for three-and-a-half years. It was not a new role created for the RAF, as its main activities of transport and ferrying aircraft had already grown significantly under the demands of World War II; especially the reinforcement routes that crossed the Atlantic and Africa. UK-based transport squadrons had played a vital and active supporting role in the battles of France and Britain; had carried supplies to the beleaguered Malta; while the Middle East Air Force transport wing had operated in close co-operation with the Eighth Army – probably, the first use of integrated air power. Then there were the carriage of the airborne forces for both the Italian and European campaigns of 1943-45.

    RAF Transport Command 3 RAF Stirling aircraft were used to relieve some of the suffering of the war. As well as returning Czechoslovaks to their own country, the Stirling aircraft also returned to Britain with hundreds of Czechoslovak children; orphans who had been in concentration camps during the German occupation and who were being brought to Britain for rehabilitation. In this image, some of the children walk towards a line of 196 Squadron Stirling IV aircraft, including LK242/ZO-A, which had arrived in Prague earlier in the day to take them to the reception centre at Crosby-on-Eden, near Carlisle, on 13 August 1945. (Crown Copyright/Air Historical Branch CH-15899 - RAF Transport Command, Amberley Publishing)

    Transport Command went into battle on five occasions during the Second World War. Firstly, they supported the invasion of Sicily in 1943 (Operation Husky), then there was the aborted Dodecanese Islands operation later that year (Operation Accolade), they spearheaded the Allied invasion of Europe in 1944 (Operation Overlord), transported the airborne forces in the ill-fated attempt to capture the bridges at Arnhem in September 1944 (Operation Market), and carrying troops across the Rhine in March 1945 for the final push into Nazi Germany (Operation Varsity).

    Some readers may not be aware that a lesser-known but nevertheless essential wartime role of Transport Command was the moving of mail, particularly to the front line. Specially-modified Hawker Hurricane IIC of 1697 (Air Despatch Delivery Service) Flight based at RAF Northolt, were equipped with underwing tanks that carried the mail bags to the troops, providing them with a welcoming boost in morale.

    Later, when the war in Europe had been won, Transport Command were involved in a massive trooping operation to reinforce the Far East against the Japanese, before being involved in a significant logistical effort to repatriate British Serviceman after the Japanese surrender on 14 August 1945.

    At the end of the Second World War, Transport Command was spread far and wide across the globe. However, the thorny question arose of exactly what to do with such a large Command once the hostilities had ceased? Thankfully, there was no question of it being disbanded. An Air Staff paper of 28 May 1945 noted: ‘Experience has shown that Air Transport has a lasting place in the RAF which cannot be filled by other forms of transport of by the Merchant Air Fleet’.

    RAF Transport Command 4 After a wave of York aircraft had landed, they were marshalled in front of the hangars, allowing the German labourers to start the unloading process. In the front is York C.1 MW287/KY-N of 242 Squadron with similar York C.1 aircraft MW286 and MW303 parked nearby in this image taken at Gatow on 16 September 1948. (Crown Copyright/Air Historical Branch R-1818 - RAF Transport Command, Amberley Publishing)

    RAF Transport Command – a pictorial history is carefully divided into eight chapters, each representing a key period in the Command’s relatively short but impressive history – despite the various Governments’ Defence Reviews and the consequential swaging cuts they delivered. It includes the Berlin Airlift; activities in Korea, Malaya and the ‘Japan Shuttle’ (1950-54); Entering the jet age (1955-59); Air Mobility (1960-64); and the period of re-equipment with the Andover, Belfast and VC-10 (1965-67).

    As the title suggests, this is predominately a picture-led volume; each image being supported by a detailed and informative caption. In selecting the illustrations for this book I have often been obliged to choose between quality and originality and I have gone to great lengths to include as many ‘new’ images as possible.

    The change from Transport Command to Air Support Command on 11 August 1967 was not just a change of name but of operational concept. The searching review of Defence policy undertaken by the new Labour Government when they came to power in October 1964 had considered the former Imperial commitments and, in the words of the Defence Estimates1967, had aimed ‘to foster developments which will enable local peoples to live at peace without the presence of external forces’ – effectively allowing the withdrawal of British Forces from the Middle and Far East, as well as Aden.

    RAF Transport Command 5 The third Belfast C.1, XR364, photographed during a pre-delivery test flight in March 1965. Some 25 per cent larger than the Lockheed Hercules (which entered RAF service in 1967), the Belfast could carry a greater payload than the American design and was capable of accommodating three Whirlwind or two Wessex helicopters. It was the first military transport with a fully automatic landing system. (Crown Copyright/Air Historical Branch T-5365 - RAF Transport Command, Amberley Publishing)

    This policy was not without its implications. It was considered that ‘Britain should maintain obligations to friends and allies across the world and should retain a capacity for contributing to the maintenance of peace – a Rapid Reaction Force’. The Supplementary Statement on Defence Policy 1967 also stated: ‘In the next decade, new aircraft will enable us to move forces across the world faster and in larger numbers than was possible even a few years ago’.

    However, the role and title of ‘Transport Command’ did not accurately represent this new role and the title of ‘Air Support Command’ was considered more appropriate to moving the new ‘Air Mobility Force’ wherever it may be required.

    The change of name appears to have had little or no effect at squadron level as roles and tasks remained much the same, it was only the Command name on the side of the aircraft that had changed.

    Transport Command always was a formidable force and particularly demonstrated that in the final years of its distinguished existence; it had become a powerful and effective arm for the nation’s mobile ever-ready defence forces.

    9781445665986

    Keith Wilson's new book RAF Transport Command: A Pictorial History is available for purchase now.

  • Her Finest Hour: The Heroic Life of Diana Rowden by Gabrielle McDonald-Rothwell

    Many people have asked me what prompted me as a New Zealander living many thousands of miles from the UK to write this book – a book about a lone English woman, an agent and courier for the Special Operations Executive (SOE).

    The story of how I began to write this biography began around the year 2004 when a friend of my mother’s, Don Miles who had himself been a member of SOE, asked me if I had heard of a woman agent named Diana Rowden. Did I know what had happened to her and why was there so little written about her? We discussed this, and I had to admit, even though I was a war historian and familiar with the SOE I could not enlighten him on Diana. Eventually I started to research her, finding her name mentioned on the odd occasion in books about women agents of SOE.

    Her Finest Hour 2 Diana in uniform. (Courtesy of Paul McCue - Her Finest Hour, Amberley Publishing)

    And then, out of the blue I remembered a documentary I had seen on television one night during the 1980s. Images … women dressed in the style and fashion of the 1940s … their heads bowed to the ground, two with dark hair, another with died blond hair, and a fair women, a ribbon in her hair, walking down some steps, a guard tower, Germans with rifles, a door leading into a building like a crematorium … the camera walking them back up the stairs and then down again, a woman with grey hair speaking English slowly, deliberately, surrounded by a cloud of cigarette smoke. Was this documentary something to do with Diana Rowden … had she been one of these women?

    The months passed and I continued my research into Diana’s life. She had worked in the Jura region of France, a particularly dangerous area as the Germans knew agents were in the zone, and with the Allies on the offensive that the end of the war was in sight. The Jura was an area riddled with Nazis double and even triple agents, spies in the pay of the German Gestapo, thieves and murderers – people only too happy to throw in their lot with the occupying forces. And then her disastrous arrest with her radio operator, John Young. Through no fault of her own Diana was arrested by a double agent and in the company of three other women agents was executed in a camp called Natzweiler in the Vosges Mountains.

    Natzweiler … the memory now makes me shiver. I will come back to this.

    Over a period of time two books were recommended to me – ‘Death Be Not Proud’ by Elisabeth Nicholas and ‘Flames in the Field’ by Rita Kramer. They were of immense help and made me even more determined to write Diana’ full biography. An idea began to grow – I would go to Alsace and visit the camp where Diana had died.

    Her Finest Hour 3 Natzweiler entrance. (Author’s collection - Her Finest Hour, Amberley Publishing)

    In 2005 in the company of my sister we made the long journey from Auckland to Alsace. It was a grey day when we visited. The first thing we noticed was the absence of birds and other wild life, just an eerie and deathly silence which hung over the deserted camp.  A huge white monument to the fallen stood near the entrance, while steps led down to the buildings used to house the prisoners far below. Everything was as it had been: the crematorium, the prisoners’ cells, the guard houses. A lone shoe lay at the entrance to the crematorium, old and shabby as if somebody had carelessly thrown it to one side. The oven was so small I wondered how a human body was able to fit in to its narrow cavity. I walked outside into the fresh alpine air and read the inscription on the plaque dedicated to the four SOE women agents.

    Natzweiler was a camp of hell; a men’s camp. The men were beaten by guards, starved and forced to work in a quarry all day regardless of their health. Most were suffering from disease, malnutrition and many collapsed and died on the spot. Some of the prisoners were classified Nacht und Nebel – those deemed to disappear into the night and fog.

    This was the environment which the four young women found themselves in July 1944 after being arrested and interned in France. But it was Diana’s story which kept me awake at night. I came away from my trip to Alsace with one thought only … I knew very clearly what I wanted to do and nothing would defer me from the task: I would write Diana’s story and tell the world what she had done.  Never again would she be the unknown agent.

    9781445661643

    Gabrielle McDonald-Rothwell's new book Her Finest Hour: The Heroic Life of Diana Rowden, Wartime Secret Agent is available for purchase now

  • Jihad: The Ottomans and the Allies 1914–1922 by Andrew Hyde

    In March, 2003 the US and United Kingdom invaded Iraq. Both President Bush and Prime Minister Blair were implored not to proceed with what created arguably one of the greatest avoidable human disasters in recent history, resulting in a catastrophic loss of human life and the expenditure of eye watering amounts of treasure.

    Jihad 1 Mustapha Kemal Ataturk. Greece’s nemesis, Turkey’s liberator and founder of a modern state. (c. Jihad: The Ottomans and the Allies 1914–1922, Amberley Publishing)

    Saddam Hussein, we were assured was a toxic influence in the Middle East, poised to unleash upon his neighbours all manner of nerve gases and other noxious substances. With his departure a new era of peace, stability and western style democracy would follow that would leave the region transformed for the better.

    Having been rightly demonised as a cruel dictator who was a threat to his neighbours and an evil presence in his own country, the mantra of regime change echoed through the corridors of power in Washington and London.

    Other world leaders, particularly those in France and Germany nevertheless remained sceptical, and many more were openly hostile to the concept of removing the tyrant and creating a new, ‘free’ Iraq.  Tens of millions of ordinary people around the world took to the streets to oppose military action, and national capitals echoed to the cries of those fearful of the death and destruction that an invasion would produce.

    Nevertheless, despite such opposition the operation proceeded, and in the days that followed the naysayers appeared to have been confounded as the Iraqi forces collapsed in the face of the coalition. Military victory was relatively swift, and for the Allies casualties unexpectedly light.

    Despite Blair’s insistence that the removal of the Iraqi dictator had left the country a better place, the subsequent descent of the nation into anarchy and civil war needs no retelling here.

     

     

    Jihad 2 Marshal Foch, President Clemenceau, Lloyd George, Orlando and Sonnino. (c. Jihad: The Ottomans and the Allies 1914–1922, Amberley Publishing)

    The parallels with the events of a hundred years ago in Turkey slowly emerged as the tragic drama in Iraq developed. It was this aspect of the story which I felt warranted revisiting, albeit through the prism of current events.

    Jihad – The Ottomans and the Allies focusses not on Iraq but Turkey, and charts the decline of a great empire which once straddled Europe, the Middle East and Africa and its transformation into a sovereign secular republic free from Western domination. In Iraq by contrast we experience an omni-shambles, where Western involvement has seen little but tragedy and chaos.

    In 1919, the Greek Prime Minister Eletherios Venizelos, sponsored by his British counterpart Lloyd George had embarked upon an ill-advised expedition to establish hegemony over Anatolia and reduce Turkey to the status of a vassal state. Whilst the discredited Ottoman regime in Constantinople meekly acquiesced to the insults heaped one upon the other, an alternative government was established hundreds of miles away to resist these same humiliations.

    Jihad 3 The grand plan to carve up Turkey and the Middle East like a cake (c. Jihad: The Ottomans and the Allies 1914–1922, Amberley Publishing)

    Under the leadership of Mustapha Kemal, Nationalist Turkey rejected the imposition of an unequal treaty, the partition of its territory and perhaps most significant of all, successfully resisted the Greek invasion. Turkish honour was restored and peaceful coexistence between the new state and its erstwhile adversaries followed.

    Furthermore, the involvement of Britain as essentially the only supporter of Greek designs in Anatolia had serious and long lasting ramifications in other key geopolitical spheres.

    Lloyd George paid with his job for his stubborn support of the Greeks, and spent the rest of his life in the political wilderness. Britain’s rash assumption of military support from Canada and Australia saw those once amenable Dominions re-evaluate their political relationship with the Mother Country and for the first time assert what proved to be their own foreign policy doctrines.

    By waging war against a Moslem state, and threatening the Caliphate, Britain stoked up nascent nationalism in its Indian empire, particularly amongst her Moslem population. Those who had been relatively docile subjects expressed their growing concerns with respect to the fate of the spiritual head of their religion, which the British failed to address properly, leave alone attempt to satisfy. India’s Hindus, led by Mahatma Gandhi seized upon this schism to unite with the Moslems to pursue the wider aim of Indian independence.

    Jihad 4 Mehmet VI, the last Ottoman Sultan, who ended his reign crouched in the back of a British army ambulance. (c. Jihad: The Ottomans and the Allies 1914–1922, Amberley Publishing)

    Britain’s participation in the Turkish imbroglio also fractured relations with France and Italy, damaging her ability to cooperate on wider global issues, challenges which had they been on more amicable terms, might have been ameliorated or avoided altogether. Among these most of all we may count Franco-British relations with Germany, and the imposition of a peace treaty at Versailles which sowed resentment and revanchist sentiments among the defeated foe, and helped to stoke the rise of Nazism.

    Equally, Italian resentment over the Allied failure to make good on their promises to encourage her to join the Entente in 1915, may possibly have avoided the sequence of events which led to her decision to throw in her lot with Hitler. Two developments with far reaching consequences.

    However, it is in the present parlous state of the Middle East that the legacy of British interference is now seen; disaster in Palestine, Egypt, Afghanistan, Syria and many other parts of the region over the decades, where a little more tact and foresight would have been advisable.

    These musings are of course largely speculation, and benefit from the 50/50 hindsight of historical analysis. Nevertheless, one thing which any comparison between the Middle East of the 1920s and that of the present day tells us is that Western interference rarely heralds the outcomes that had been hoped for, and invariably makes matters a whole lot worse.

    9781445666150

    Andrew Hyde's new book Jihad: The Ottomans and the Allies 1914–1922 is available for purchase now.

  • 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.

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