The Aged P

…just toasting and ruminating….

Archive for the 'History' Category

17 October
Comments Off on Not All Students Are Ashamed Of Our Military

Not All Students Are Ashamed Of Our Military

A 90 year old Marine veteran who served from 1947 until 1969 died in a care home a few days ago. It is a sad fact that many who survive to a ripe old age outlive their family and when they die their funerals are sparsely attended, usually just a handful of staff from their care home.

He faced a basic public burial but a local undertaker got in touch with the Royal British Legion, who launched a nationwide appeal for support for his funeral.

So when people heard about Marine Kerr’s death, especially so near to our own Remembrance Day, hundreds of them turned out to pay their respects and to honour his service.
There was a substantial presence from service men and women and veterans, local folk from in and around Shrewsbury including a group of teenagers from the local college.

Was a pleasure to be there, even though we didn’t know him it gave us all a chance to show our respects and how grateful we are for fighting for our country.

The words of these students, expressing their gratitude for the military service of those who either gave or risked their lives to protect future generations, stood in stark contrast with the academic “high flyers” of the Cambridge University Union who voted to reject the red poppy of Remembrance Day as “imperialist propaganda”

God Bless You, Marine Kerr. Rest in Peace and thank you for you service.

 

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07 February
Comments Off on FORGET THE SUFFRAGETTES…..IT WAS THE SUFFRAGISTS WHO WON THE VOTE FOR WOMEN

FORGET THE SUFFRAGETTES…..IT WAS THE SUFFRAGISTS WHO WON THE VOTE FOR WOMEN

 

 

WHEN THE LENS OF WISHFUL THINKING TURNS HISTORY INTO MYTH

 

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Much of the reporting about the centenary of the granting of votes to women has been strong on emotion and weak on historical facts. Most of the narrative has been about the “suffragettes” and their militancy, with various celebs and politicians decked out in purple, white and green, the WSPU (suffragette) colours.

In fact most of the heavy lifting for women’s suffrage was done by Millicent Fawcett’s “suffragists” (NUWSS) who favoured non violent campaigning. It could well be argued that it was the NUWSS effort that won the right to vote. Yet they (and their colours of red.white and green) have today been overshadowed by the Pankhursts and the suffragettes.

Curiously enough the NUWSS was a tad more left wing than the suffragettes. The WSPU abandoned action in 1914 and fully supported WW1. Although Fawcett also supported the war she had to be more circumspect because many of her members were pacifists. Nevertheless today even left wingers were decked out in purple white and green when they should have been red, white and green.

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Maybe the passionate grandstanding of the suffragettes has a greater resonance with 21st century culture than the equally determined but less theatrical behaviour of the suffragists. However, although the current commemorations focus, quite rightly, on women gaining the right to vote and the democrat in me celebrates that landmark, the historian in me does get irritated when facts get….massaged…..

“The failure of a second bill in 1867 led to the formation of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage in Manchester, gradually joined by numerous other branches around the country, which were united in 1897 in the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. The suffragists of the NUWSS were many more in number than the militants who in 1903 set up the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) and adopted direct militant action as tactics. By 1914 the NUWSS had 50,000 members, the WSPU 5,000. The NUWSS retained their focus on peaceful campaigning: petitioning, demonstrating, writing, speaking and teaching, organising and lobbying in favour of the vote. Many of them saw the violent tactics of the suffragettes as bringing the movement and the credibility of women as aspiring responsible members of political society into disrepute and compromising the female values which they argued were needed in government and society and which necessitated that women should have a vote.”

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08 August
Comments Off on “Dunkirk” 1958 and 2017….Two Very Different Perspectives

“Dunkirk” 1958 and 2017….Two Very Different Perspectives

Having seen Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk” I remembered that way back in my uni days in Leicester at the end of the 50s I had seen a film with the same title starring John Mills and Bernard Lee (actually it was made in 1958). I couldn’t recall much about it but fortunately it’s on Amazon Prime so a day or so later we watched it on Firestick.

Being nearly sixty years old, of course, some aspects of it are a tad dated. It’s in black and white, some of the scenes are obviously studio bound and the women are either cheerful cockneys or very middle class with cut glass accents. However, at 2 hrs 14 mins the director could take a broader brush approach and not only focus on the beaches (actually Camber Sands) but also set the scene by looking at the events which led up to the evacuation

The story was told through the eyes of three individuals. Bernard Lee (who later played M in the Bond films) was a cynical journalist, John Mills a resourceful army corporal and Richard Attenborough an English factory owner making a handsome living off the Army by manufacturing belt buckles.

Unlike the current film the 1958 production showed how during the period of the “phoney war” of the early months, when there was hardly any fighting most civilians felt disconnected from the war. Government and media were complacent and there was a feeling that, in Chamberlain’s fateful words “Hitler had missed the bus”. By the end of the film, as people flocked to welcome and help the soldiers successfully evacuated from Dunkirk the mood had changed. Many more in Britain felt part of the war.

The film also recognised the actions of the rearguard, those soldiers who were ordered to defend the perimeter to the last man and the last bullet in order to protect the men already on the beaches.

The first half of the film followed the civilians as they volunteered to take their small boats across to Dunkirk and John Mills leading his squad through the countryside to the beach. Thereafter the storyline was closer to the 2017 movie with some significant exceptions.

There was a small medical post in a bar by the front staffed by a handful of doctors and orderlies trying their best to cope under extreme pressure. Eventually the chief is sent orders to evacuate the walking wounded to the ships but to leave the most serious cases to await the German forces. Three volunteers are requested to stay behind with the patients and inevitably face being taken as POWs. They decide to draw lots and one of the three to draw the short straw, when asked his name straw gives a very common Jewish name. Nothing is said but the look on his face conveys a solemn message. If the film had been rooted in the First World War there would have no concern at being a Jewish POW. The 2017 production skirted such issues about the Germans… they were just a faceless “enemy” with no hint of darker forces.

In 1958 the film picked up on a moment when a simple service was held on the beach. Most soldiers of that time were not particularly religious but closeness to danger and death often makes men more conscious of their mortality and the scene showed many of the troops kneeling for the Lord’s Prayer. Maybe by 2017 the film makers felt uncomfortable with the notion of men kneeling in prayer….

We also know that on the beaches at the time there was a feeling that the Luftwaffe appeared to be having a free hand in the skies over Dunkirk without much opposition. In fact the RAF was working very hard further inland to deter enemy planes at quite considerable cost. Bur this didn’t stop many of the soldiers feeling angry that the “Brylcreem Boys” of the RAF had let them down. This was picked up in 1958 when John Mills had to step in when a RAF driver who had got them to the beach was threatened by other soldiers. By 2017 this had been airbrushed out.

But the most glaring omission in the recent movie was something picked up in the original film where, sat on the beach, John Mills describes the whole business as a mess and ask how on earth the Germans had managed to drive Britain to the very edge of defeat in such a short time. Bernard Lee blames it firmly on the “never again” reaction to the bloodshed and suffering of the ’14-’18 war. This had encouraged an ostrich like attitude to the rise of Nazi Germany. Lee said, laconically, that Germany had chosen guns before butter while British politicians and the public had chosen the other way around.

How could any film made in 2017, in the midst of the continuous hand-wringing built into the commemoration of the First World War, dare to even suggest that it was the motif of “never again” that had led to the slaughter of even more millions during WW2?

The 1958 “Dunkirk” came from another country. Almost every adult involved with the film would have been impacted by the 1940 evacuation. Many would have actually had experienced WW2 as soldiers or civilians. Even younger folk like myself would have had memories of family in uniform and stories about the Blitz. But now there is very little connection with those experiences at first hand.

Both films have their strengths and weaknesses. Both are, on balance, artistically sound. But both are also of their moment – and if you want to get closer to how people felt at the time then “Dunkirk” 1958 wins hands down.

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29 July
Comments Off on DUNKIRK – THE BATTLE OF THE PERIMETER

DUNKIRK – THE BATTLE OF THE PERIMETER

One thing not included in Dunkirk was the fact that an Anglo French rearguard held back German forces for long enough to ensure the evacuation from the beaches could take place at all. It meant that the retreat was not a rout. As the Duke of Wellington is alleged to have once said. “Any fool can win a battle but the best generals know when to retreat and when they do it they do it damned well”

Valuable time was gained from Hitler’s inexplicable ‘halt order’, which suspended the panzers’ advance for 2-3 crucial days, whilst the German tank forces were replenished. This gave the Allies the opportunity to set up strongpoints in key towns and villages such as Lille, La Bassée, St Venant, Festubert, La Paradis, Steenbecque, Hazebrouck, Cassel, Wormhout, Bergues, Ypres, Noordschote, Dixmuide, Veurne and Nieuwpoort. These strongpoints were manned by experienced troops of the British 2nd division and a variety of scratch units. For the most part, their orders were simple: ‘Fight to the last man and the last round’. The heroic sacrifice of these rearguard units and of the French 1st Army at Lille, allowed the bulk of the BEF and two French divisions to escape up the rapidly-shrinking corridor to Dunkirk

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29 July
Comments Off on DUNKIRK – THE FILM

DUNKIRK – THE FILM

Just saw Dunkirk….a brilliant film and a serious attempt to portray an event that has become deeply embedded in the British folk memory of WW2.
It’s also an unusual war film in the sense that dialogue is minimal and the emphasis is almost entirely on the visual. There are also very few “heroics”, indeed much of the film is understated and almost passive. There are bursts of violence but also a lot of the “waiting around” that often characterises military life.
Episodes of courage occur but we also see the panic and confusion that war films tend to underplay.
It’s also a film about men…there are a few women but they are peripheral to the narrative and very much in the background. A few decades ago there would have been the compulsory “love interest” of either wives at home or nurses aboard but moviemaking seems to be growing up.
Men die but there is very little blood or dismemberment. In fact the dead are just “there” either to be stepped over or pushed aside.
You do leave the cinema, however, grateful that that over 330,000 of these soldiers escaped to fight another day and, even more that you weren’t a man born in Britain between 1900 and 1922……

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03 July
Comments Off on Good Men Shed Blood For Our Freedoms In 1644…In 1973 We Spat On Their Sacrifice…

Good Men Shed Blood For Our Freedoms In 1644…In 1973 We Spat On Their Sacrifice…

A brave attempt once more by Daniel Hannan to remind us that, at a time when the monarchies of Europe were successfully suffocating their own nascent representative institutions, the attempts by Charles I and his cohorts to do the same to the English Parliament by invoking the divine right of kings was finally broken in Yorkshire in the summer of 1644. The Battle of Marston Moor did not end the English Civil War between King and Parliament but it fatally weakened the Royalist forces.

As Hannan points out, although there were bumps along the way, the sovereignty of Parliament as the source of authority remained unchallenged for well over three hundred years until 1973.

Parliament remained sovereign until 1 January 1973, when Sections 2 and 3 of the 1972 European Communities Act came into effect, giving EU law primacy over British law

For centuries the idea that our freedom was deeply embedded in our past was part of the warp and weft of the upbringing of each English generation

Some of the men who won the day at Marston Moor would have pointed at Henry VIII’s break with Rome, others at Magna Carta. Yet others would have gone back still further, to the folkright of Anglo-Saxon common law that had constrained kings before 1066.

Today that key aspect of our history is largely ignored. To his credit Hannan has vividly brought it back to life with his book “How We Invented Freedom & Why It Matters”

The pity is, however, that he still feels that the shame of 1973 can be resolved by negotiation within the confines of the EU – which is why he stays within the Tory party and remains a loyal follower of David Cameron. Until he realises that the permanent surrender of national sovereignty is the very keystone of the EU edifice and its removal would render the whole enterprise worthless Hannan must be regarded as an interesting but essentially unreliable observer.

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12 November
Comments Off on Remembrance From A Small Town….November 2013

Remembrance From A Small Town….November 2013

Redhill in Surrey….

Remembrance in Redhill

Remembrance in Redhill

 

 

Sea Cadets & Air Training Corps

Sea Cadets & Air Training Corps

 

The Redhill War Memorial

The Redhill War Memorial

 

Touched by the light...

Touched by the light…

 

The official wreaths

The official wreaths

 

Private memories

Private memories

 

...still falling...

…still falling…

 

 

 

 

 

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11 April
Comments Off on What Would Erika Have Said If She Was Still Alive?

What Would Erika Have Said If She Was Still Alive?

 

 

This is, or was, Erika. She was a young student who was a real revolutionary. She and thousands of other brave Hungarians came out onto the streets of Budapest in 1956 to demonstrate against the communists who ran the puppet regime that governed Hungary on behalf of the Russian Soviet Union. She holds a gun because the regime’s secret police tried to break the demonstrations. When the Russian Red Army, flying the hammer and sickle flag carried by Romany Blythe, moved in to crush the uprising, Erika and her friends fought against their tanks with rifles, sub machine guns and petrol bombs.

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They failed.

The Red Army’s hammer and sickle was triumphant and a new puppet communist regime brought back the secret police, the execution blocks and the prison camps. Erika was dead, killed in the last hours of the fighting while trying to help her wounded comrades. The dead hand of communist dictatorship gripped Hungary and the rest of Eastern Europe once again.

Western governments accepted the iron grip of Communism in Eastern Europe and Russia as a fact of life to be accommodated. Many voices in western academic and cultural circles, being of a Marxist bent, celebrated it.

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were the first western leaders to publicly denounce those communist regimes as evil and oppressive and, by implication, illegitimate. At a time when internal stresses and strains were beginning to distort the social and economic fabric of these tyrannies the impact of external condemnation from such influential voices were important factors in causing the red regimes to implode.

And in October 1989, 33 years after the uprising, Hungary became a free multi party democracy. How sad that Erika could not have been in the crowds celebrating that moment but, no doubt ,her spirit, and those of all those other courageous freedom fighters who died with her, was smiling down from above.

What would Erika have made of Romany Blythe’s theatrical posturing and ghoulish disrespect of Margaret Thatcher?

Not much, I suspect.

Probably with as much contempt as Lech Walesa and those of his Solidarity comrades who had welcomed her to Gdansk in 1988 when it was still under communist rule.

Those on the Left who still probably regard Thatcher as a hate-figure, have either forgotten the history of the Cold War or possibly never understood that Communism meant the virtual enslavement of millions of people in the East European countries, who loathed its ideology as much as Margaret Thatcher herself. It is simply not possible to imagine Thatcher visiting Russia in the 1930s, like certain Left-wing useful idiots from Britain, and being taken in by Stalin’s propaganda machine. Ordinary East Europeans took a different view of her to her critics in this country. For them she symbolised opposition to Communism; indeed she was given a tumultuous welcome by the shipyard workers in Gdansk when she visited them. She wept at the sight. The shipyard workers would have been puzzled to learn of the refusal of Oxford University, her old alma mater and one of the most prestigious universities in the world, to give her an honorary degree.

Amen to that, say I – and I am sure the spirit of Erika would agree….

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09 April
Comments Off on Why I’ll Be At Her Funeral Paying My Respects To Margaret Thatcher

Why I’ll Be At Her Funeral Paying My Respects To Margaret Thatcher

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I was very active in my local Tory Party during the 70s. With strikes and terrorism and inflation and constant economic crises within the UK and the US retreating in the face of an apparently unstoppable tide of communism the times indeed were black.

When Mrs T stood for the leadership most of the suits on our local committee were very sniffy about her.
“We need a chap, not a housewife” said one pompous pin striped pontificator.
“Au contraire, my old son” I said “we need a housewife to vacuum up all the old farts like you and get this country going again”

And that is exactly what she did. By sheer strength of will she inspired us to get up off our knees and take pride in ourselves and our country. Forget all that left wing rubbish about her being hated by working class people. She won three elections on the run with clear majorities and you don’t do that without working class votes. That’s why the left, especially the chattering classes of the BBC and Guardian, hated her – she dared to defy their conventional wisdom and proved them wrong time and time again with the support of ordinary folk.

As a young teacher I watched Winton Churchill’s state funeral with my students and they asked me why I had tears in my eyes. In a few days time I will be on the streets of London paying my final respects to one of the greatest leaders this or any other nation has ever had – and again there will be tears in my eyes.

God Bless You, Margaret Thatcher – the grocer’s daughter….

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01 October
Comments Off on The Fearless Surgeon Who Won The Victoria Cross Twice – In 1902 & 1914

The Fearless Surgeon Who Won The Victoria Cross Twice – In 1902 & 1914

Victoria Cross and Bar

The Victoria Cross is the highest award for gallantry in battle for British and Commonwealth service personnel. It was introduced at the request of Queen Victoria in 1856 and it was her wish that it should be open to all ranks, not just officers. It is sparingly awarded for most conspicuous bravery or some daring or pre-eminent act of valour or self-sacrifice, or extreme devotion to duty in the presence of the enemy” It is usually presented to the recipient, or, in the case of a posthumous award, to a recipient’s family, by the monarch at a special ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

To be awarded the VC is a singular honour, recognition of courage above and beyond the call of duty – so to receive it twice is the mark of something extra special, so special that it has only happened three times in just over 150 years.

One such man was Arthur Martin-Leake (1874-1953) of Ware in Hertfordshire. He was a surgeon who volunteered to join the British army during the South African Wars. He was originally a trooper in the Imperial Yeomanry. After his year service was completed he stayed on in South Africa as a civil surgeon. A few months later he volunteered again, this time as a surgeon captain in the South African Constabulary attached to the 5th Field Ambulance.

He won his first VC during an action at Vlakfontein, on the 8th February, 1902. Surgeon-Captain Martin-Leake went up to a wounded man, and attended to him under a heavy fire from about 40 Boers at 100 yards range. He then went to the assistance of a wounded Officer, and, whilst trying to place him in a comfortable position, was shot three times, but would not give in till he rolled over thoroughly exhausted. All the eight men at this point were wounded, and while they were lying on the Veldt, Surgeon-Captain Martin-Leake refused water till every one else had been served.

In 1903 he left the army to work as a medical officer with a railway company in India but in 1912 he volunteered for the British Red Cross in Montenegro during the Balkan War and was awarded a medal by the Red Cross of Montenegro for his efforts. He returned to India but in 1914 he volunteered once more for the British Army, this time with the Royal Army Medical Corps in Belgium.

Within a few weeks he won a bar to his original VC for most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty throughout the campaign, especially during the period 29th October to 8th November, 1914, near Zonnebeke, in rescuing, whilst exposed to constant fire, a large number of the wounded who were lying close to the enemy’s trenches.

Later in the war he commanded a Field Ambulance unit and then a Casualty Clearing Station where he was once again commended for his conduct during action.

After the war he returned to his job in India until 1937 when he retired to his home in Hertfordshire but at the outbreak of WW2 he commanded a local ARP unit which was charged with organising safety and security during air raids.

He died in 1953 of lung cancer and his ashes are buried at the Church of St. John the Evangelist, High Cross, Near Ware, Hertfordshire.

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