War memorial has fake names after error

February 22nd, 2016

The memorial has 350 names inscribed on it - 238 from World War One, 106 from World War Two, two from the Northern Ireland troubles and four from the Falklands War. Initially there were thought to be eleven errors but now it’s feared the true figure could be ten times higher.

The memorial has 350 names inscribed on it – 238 from World War One, 106 from World War Two, two from the Northern Ireland troubles and four from the Falklands War.

There are two lists of the fallen soldiers from the area – one in the library, the other on the main memorial in Priory Park.

Ann Hicks, who runs the Cornwall Family History Society, said “It is hugely disrespectful.

“Residents have been paying their respects to people who in some cases done exist, and not honouring others because they are not listed on the memorial.

“I believe the errors originated when the names were transferred from the library to the main memorial, possibly by dictating them on to a tape recorder, and consequently names were spelled incorrectly and others were left out.”

Chris Wickett’s grandfather Christopher Frederick Ellis was killed in World War Two while fighting in Italy but he is not named on the memorial.

Mr Wickett obtained an official list from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission of casualties with a connection to Bodmin.

He said “I expect the missing names to total more than 100.

“I’m glad the council has agreed to investigate. This has been the case for so many years now, and something needs to be done about it.”

The council admits it will take months to sort out but has promised to ensure all the right names are now added.

It has received an estimate of £3,200 to produce corrected plaques but, before that goes ahead, a working party of councillors has been set up to investigate whether more names are missing.

Mayor Lance Kennedy said “It’s a hugely complicated process which is going to take the working party a considerable time to research, but we must get it right, there is absolutely no question about that.”


World War Two

Polish codebreakers ‘cracked Enigma before Alan Turing’

February 21st, 2016

By the time war broke out the Germans had increased the sophistication of the machine and the Poles were struggling to make more headway. But based on the Polish knowledge, Turing managed to build a huge computer that would finally crack the cipher.

However, despite their help, history and Hollywood has largely ignored their role. The most recent film The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, barely mentioned the Poles.

Now the Polish government has launched a touring exhibition entitled “Enigma – Decipher Victory” to remind the world of their crucial contribution. They have already taken the exhibition to Canada and Brussels.

Maciej Pisarski, deputy chief of mission, Polish Embassy in Washington, said: “The story of Engima was very important to us and the breaking of Enigma code was one of the most important contributions of Poland to the Allies victory during the Second World War.

“Out contribution to Enigma is something that we learned a lot about as children in Poland but we have a feeling that the knowledge is not so widespread. It was a crucial association which gave the allies the edge over the Germans.

“We were trapped on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain during the Cold War which meant we did not get the credit that we should have received and nobody wanted to admit that anyone in Eastern Europe had anything to do with Enigma.

“We felt it was important to fill in the blanks. It is our moral obligation to right this wrong and put this picture in a more complete way.”

The Enigma machine was invented by German engineer Arthur Sherbius at the end of the First World Wat and were used by the military and government of several countries. The British had struggled to work out how to crack the early Enigma machines, and by the early 1930s the Poles were way ahead.

Poland’s main codebreakers were Jerzy Rozycki, Henryk Zygalski and Marian Rejewski who joined the Polish General Staff’s Cipher Bureau in Warsaw.

While Britain still used linguists to break codes, the Poles had understood that it was necessary to use mathematics to look for patterns and had broken some of the early pre-war German codes.

They had then taken a further step by building electro-mechanical machines to search for solutions, which they called “bombes”.

On the eve of war in 1939 Bletchely codebreakers Alastair Denniston and Dilly Knox met with members of the Cipher Bureau at a secret facility in a forest in Pyry near Warsaw to share their knowledge.

Alan Turing, also later visited the Polish codebreakers and used their knowledge to develop his own “bombe” capable of breaking the more complex wartime Enigma codes.

But the Poles have received little credit, most notably in the recent film The Imitation Game, where their contribution was dismissed with a single sentence.

Dr Grazyna Zebrowska, science and technology advisor for the Polish Embassy in Washington, said: “I think the real story has been lost over time.

“The Polish involvement was well known during World War Two but during the communist time it was not so convenient to admit that there had been so much cooperation between Britain and Poland. It was a very special and very secret alliance.

“The Imitation Game film is all about Turing and everyone in Britain and it is just meant to be a short space of time, but I think there was an audible sigh in Polish cinemas when our contribution was reduced to just one line.

“We’re hoping this exhibition will show the work of the Polish mathematicians.”

Codebreakers at Bletchley Park, 1942

Speaking about The Imitation Game, Pisarski, added “I am sure it is a very good movie but I don’t think it tried to tell the whole story.

“We want to present a more complete picture of the past. It’s important to do justice to the people involved but to underline and underscore the strong cooperation between Britain and Poland when it came to Enigma.”

Polish pilots had the highest kill rates in the Battle of Britain, Polish troops fought in the North African, Italian and Normandy campaigns, and were involved in the Battle for Berlin.

Despite their efforts, a British desire to appease Stalin meant that Polish forces, still under the command of Poland’s independent government in exile, were banned from taking part in official V-E Day celebrations.

During the war Polish codebreakers Zygalski and Rejewsk ended up in England with the Army where they tried to join the Bletchley codebreakers but nobody would acknowledge the team existed.

Zygalski ended up working as a mathematician at the University of Surrey.


World War Two

Children Saved from the Nazis: a Hero’s Story, review: ‘a humbling story’

February 4th, 2016

The Children Saved from the Nazis: a Hero’s Story (BBC One) was an uplifting programme. Shown to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and to commemorate the death of Sir Nicholas Winton last year (at the age of 106), this was the inspiring if desperately sad story of how one man took a stand in the face of overwhelming odds and saved the lives of hundreds of Czechoslovakian children from Nazi persecution.

Nicholas Winton, seen here celebrating his 105th birthday

Visiting Prague in 1938, ahead of the German invasion, 29-year-old stockbroker Winton found himself besieged by Jewish parents begging him to take their children to safety. It was only his singular efforts and implacable refusal to be defeated by the hundreds of official doors slammed in his face that eventually led the Home Office to support his plan to transport as many of the children as possible across Europe, and convinced British families to take them in.

“The rest of the world closed its eyes, its ears, its heart and its gates,” said narrator Joe Schlesinger, 87, one of the 669 children saved by Winton – with unavoidably topical echoes.

An undated photo of Nicholas Winton with one of the children he rescued

At its most heart wringing, this was a film honouring the sacrifice and pain of parents who sent their children into the unknown to save them, while themselves facing a terrible fate. At its most hopeful, it recalled the full and productive lives lived by those rescued, and the fact that for decades Winton never spoke of, or sought any acknowledgement for, his heroic efforts.

Even his wife knew nothing of his heroics until, 40 years on, she stumbled across a trunk in the attic and the story came out – thanks largely to a feature on Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life TV show in 1988.

A humbling story, all the more powerful for this unadorned retelling.


World War Two

Inside the real life Dad’s Army training camp

February 3rd, 2016

Faced with all these leaderless recruits, the newly launched news magazine Picture Post decided to take matters into its own hands. Along with the rest of the media, it was forbidden by the Ministry of Information from reporting on almost anything directly related to the war. So, in the spirit of trailblazing tabloid journalism, the Post decided to make the news itself. In the process, it showed the War Ministry what it really ought to be doing – and set up an amateur training school for the eager volunteers and, years later, provided Jimmy Perry and David Croft, co-writers of Dad’s Army, with the storyline for the “Battle Camp” episode.

The Post set up its battle camp in the grounds of Osterley Park, a large Georgian estate to the west of London, funded by proprietor Edward Hulton, where volunteers could be trained in what editor Tom Hopkinson described as “’do-it-yourself’ war”.

As de facto guests of the estate owner, the Earl of Jersey, and unattached to the official war effort, they could be easily – and exclusively – photographed for the magazine. Hopkinson later recalled: “Hulton phoned the Earl and he came round at once. Yes, of course we could have his grounds for a training course; he hoped we wouldn’t blow the house up as it was one of the country’s showplaces and had been in the family for some time.’’

Trainees, or “first-class irregulars”, were instructed in the use of guns and grenades, camouflage, scouting, stalking and patrolling, self-defence and “ungentlemanly warfare”, such as attacking people from behind. The structure of the school was deliberately democratic. It provided a few hours of training a week for anyone prepared to learn the essentials of street fighting and guerilla warfare. There was to be no compulsory uniform, rank, parades or drill, no bayonet practice – and no living in.

The teaching staff were equally irregular. Camouflage techniques were taught by Roland Penrose, the surrealist painter, while Stanley White, leader of the Boy Scout’s Association – who had himself been taught fieldcraft by Robert Baden-Powell – gave instruction in “confidence and cunning, the use of shadow and of cover”. Bert ‘Yank’ Levy taught knife-fighting, while Hugh Slater, the man responsible for shooting practice, “when not fighting wars, is a painter and journalist”. Future Labour MP Wilfred Vernon was, “a mixer of Molotov cocktails, inventor of new bombs and rather mad”, according to Slater’s wife Janelia.

And, for three months, it really worked.

“The response was instant and fantastic,” wrote Hopkinson. “Our school could have been filled three times over.”

Naturally, Osterley also provided the Post with plentiful copy. Interspersed with photos, staff profiles and passionate op-eds were instructions on “Making Your Own Mortar for 38/6”, and the advice that “since powder taken from fireworks is not reliable”, they wrote, “we made our own gunpowder”.

As for weaponry, the Post again took matters into its own hands and arranged for a consignment of arms to be sent from the United States. “A shipload of assorted guns, revolvers and ammunition arrived for us in Liverpool,” said Hopkinson, “varying from gangsters’ tommy-guns to ancient buffalo guns and long rifles from the Louisiana Civil War of 1873. They even included ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt’s favourite hunting rifle.”

Captain Mainwaring will be played by Toby Jones

As a Quaker, Roland Penrose was a pacifist, but when he was approached by Hopkinson to teach disguise and camouflage techniques, he was happy to agree. “For two years, I was occupied playing boy-scout games with the Home Guard, giving lectures and demonstrations all over England and Wales in preparation for the invasion that never came,” Penrose wrote later. He put his experience to good use, writing the Home Guard Manual of Camouflage pamphlet which was later handed out to all army trainees on enlistment and contributed to the eventual redesign of military dress.

One of his best-known camouflague experiments involved his wife, the photographer Lee Miller. On a warm summer’s day, Miller and Penrose went to see their friends, the Gorers, in Highgate, north London, taking with them a large tub of olive-green ointment.

As he later wrote: “Lee, as a willing volunteer, stripped and covered herself with the paste. My theory was that if it could cover such eye-catching attractions as hers from the invading Hun, smaller and less seductive areas of skin would stand an even better chance of becoming invisible.” A photograph shows four characters splayed on a hot summer lawn, Penrose bare-chested, the Gorers uncomfortable, and Lee, naked, olive green and covered in shrubbery.

“Osterley’s greatest legacy was not the skills it taught, but the material it provided for British comedy”

The school was headed by Tom Wintringham, a veteran of the International Brigade who like many of the staff had direct combat experience from the Spanish Civil War and who was practiced in guerilla warfare techniques. He was also a bona fide Marxist, whose explicit aim was the overthrow of democratic government and its replacement with a Communist state.

In the end, the War Office solved the ‘Wintringham problem’ by taking over the school itself and building on its early successes. After three months of prominent coverage in the Post, and having trained several thousand volunteers, Osterley had done its job.

And that might have been that, if the strange history of the Picture Post battle school had not been spotted by a couple of foraging scriptwriters a few decades after the end of the war. As it turned out, Osterley’s greatest legacy was not the skills it taught, but the material it provided for British comedy. Those few vital months gave the Home Guard a kick-start – and Dad’s Army its inspiration.

• Bella Bathhurst is author of The Long Shot: The Story of the Picture Post. Dad’s Army is released on February 5


World War Two

Don’t Panic! Real Dad’s Army was ‘ruthless guerrilla force’ say historians

January 29th, 2016

The BBC television series and other depictions have done a disservice to the real Home Guard, which was composed of deadly serious volunteers who believed invasion was imminent.

Many of the guard were in fact fit young men in reserve occupations which meant they could not join the regular forces, Dr Peter Johnston, collections content manager at the museum said.

He said: “I think the popular culture depiction has done them a little bit of a disservice. In a lot of cases, it was more a lads’ army, than a Dad’s Army.”

Documents and artefacts outlining the reality of the Home Guard will go on display when the museum reopens in November after a two year refurbishment.

Records show half of some units were aged in their mid-20s or younger. Of the older men, a significant proportion had combat experience from the First World War.

Dr Johnston said: “These were very serious people and these were very serious times. It’s easy to look back and laugh now at people making their own weapons, but it was a desperate time in 1940.”

The Home Guard, which was originally called initially the Local Defence Volunteers, was formed on 14 May 1940. By the end of July there were more than a million volunteers.

With regular forces taking priority for equipment, the Home Guard volunteers were at first poorly armed with their own weapons or obsolete firearms. The original idea was that the guard would act as a secondary defensive force behind the Army, guarding roads, canals and airfields.

But they were soon converted to a more aggressive role to deal with a potential German invasion, Dr Johnston said.

The German invasion plan ‘Operation Sea Lion’ called for a landing force of 67,000 German soldiers along with an airborne division to parachute in land beyond the British beach defences.

The German forces planned to push north and encircle London. The German plan estimated that if they advanced as far as Northampton, the UK would surrender.

If the Home Guard were to stand and fight well-trained and well-equipped German troops who had pioneered and mastered Blitzkrieg warfare, they would suffer enormous casualties for little gain it was decided.

So the guard was reimagined as a guerrilla force that would limit the German advance.

Dr Johnston said: “They would be a secret army, sabotaging and attacking the enemy from the rear, slowing them down to buy time for the regular Army to regroup further inland and re-establish defensive positions.”

The Home Guard drilled twice a week, took part in regular camps, and was trained by the regular Army. Within a short space of time it was probably the equivalent of today’s Army Reserve, he said.

Life in the Home Guard was also dangerous with 1,206 members being killed in the war.

Though the invasion never came, the Home Guard remained active in British defence and manned anti-aircraft guns. The Home Guard was stood down in December 1944.

Dr Johnston said: “Had the invasion come in the summer of 1940, the Home Guard would undoubtedly have fought with great commitment but probably been able to accomplish little. But the longer the delay in the planned German invasion went on, the stronger the Home Guard, and British forces overall, became, and better able to resist any prospective assault. They were a vital part of Britain’s defences throughout the war.”


World War Two

Incredible World War Two colour footage shows wounded marines being evacuated from the beaches of Iwo Jima

January 23rd, 2016

The vast, silent collection was shot with hand-held cameras, giving the images an eerie and life-like feel, providing a fascinating insight into army life during some of the bloodiest periods in American military history.

American marines overcame more than 20,000 Japanese Imperial Army troops in heavily fortified positions on the island of Iwo Jima in five weeks of bloody fighting in February 1945.

Only a handful of defenders survived the American capture of the island, which was a major US objective in the Pacific war given its proximity to the Japanese mainland.

But American forces suffered heavy losses at the hands of the desperate Japanese soldiers.

A tank drives onto the beach (University of South Carolina)

The video shows in fascinating detail military vehicles transporting badly injured Marines on stretchers to waiting vessels on a beach.

Jeeps carrying dozens of troops and amphibious vehicles are also shown driving through the dark sand of the volcanic island.

The never-before-seen images also show Marines at the 1968 siege of Khe Sanh in Vietnam, at Guadalcanal – the scene of another bloody Second World War battle – and in 1950 at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea.


World War Two

Why I forgive the Nazis who murdered my family

January 20th, 2016

The courtroom embrace was beamed across the world and has prompted a new documentary being broadcast on Channel 4 on Saturday night. Today Eva chuckles at the memory. She did not expect to be hugged, but insists not one part of her body recoiled at Groening’s touch.

“I was a little bit stunned,” she says. “But it was a lot nicer than meeting him in Auschwitz. He would have grabbed me then for another purpose.”

She has written to Groening in prison where the 94-year-old is serving a four-year sentence to seek another meeting.

“I genuinely believed he liked me. I saw in his eyes a lot of caring, love and sadness that he was part of it.”

Her decision to forgive has been criticised by many survivors of the Holocaust and even prompted a petition signed by 49 among them. Her husband, Michael, 90, with whom she has two grown-up children and is himself a former inmate of Buchenwald concentration camp, insists he will never follow suit.

Yet speaking from her home in Terre Haute, Indiana, Eva Kor remains resolute.

“Why survive at all if you want to be is sad, angry and hurting?” she says. “That is so foreign to who I am. I don’t understand why the world is so much more willing to accept lashing out in anger rather than embracing friendship and humanity.”

Eva Kor grew up in the village of Portc, nestled in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains and so small it doesn’t even warrant mention on a map. Her family owned hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness and farmland. “But what good did it do us?” she asks.

“We learnt arithmetic by being asked, ‘if you had five Jews and killed two, how many would you have left’?”

She and Miriam were six when war broke out. Hungary, initially an ally of Hitler before he invaded the country in March 1944, quickly embraced the rampant anti-Semitism of the Nazis. Eva’s father, Alexander, was told he must register every fortnight with the police and new teachers were installed at the village school.

“We learnt arithmetic by being asked, ‘if you had five Jews and killed two, how many would you have left?’” she says. “The children were taught to hate and rewarded for it. My little playmates from the village became my tormentors.”

In early 1944, Eva, her parents, Miriam and their other sisters Edith, 14, and Aliz, 10, were forced from their home and sent with whatever food, clothes and blankets they could carry to a nearby Jewish ghetto. After two months they were told they were moving again to a “labour camp” and this time would not need any possessions.

Instead they were loaded on cattle trains bound for Auschwitz, part of the Hungarian transport of more than 437,000 Jews shipped to their deaths in just eight weeks.

“The heat was unbearable and we didn’t get any food or water for four days. Whenever the train stopped we would ask the guard for water and he would say, ‘four gold watches’. Then he would take a bucket of water throw it through the window. I had my cup ready but only ever got a few drops.”

Any relief at finally disembarking was tempered by the looming brick towers of Auschwitz. The family was soon separated amid the chaos of the “selection platform” where most were hauled off unwittingly to the gas chambers before even being registered. Within minutes Eva had lost her father and two sisters (and was never to see them again). Then a guard scanning the crowds for twins for Mengele’s experiments approached her mother, Jaffa, who was holding tight to Eva and Miriam.

“We were pulled apart crying. It was brutal and unbelievable for humanity. It still is the most difficult memory.”

Early on during her captivity, Eva stumbled across bodies of children piled up in a latrine at the end of their barracks. She did not tell Miriam, but vowed then they would both survive Mengele’s gruesome experiments.

“I remember Mengele looked very proper, dressed in a shiny Nazi uniform,” she says. “He was strict, cool, calm and collected.”

“I’ve found it most difficult to forgive my parents”

Eva was injected three times a week with at least five needles each time. She still does not know to this day what the contents were, but when the Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, Eva and Miriam were still alive.

She says it has taken her years to learn forgiveness, rebuilding a life first in Romania, then Israel then the US. But it is her murdered parents, not the Nazis, who have proved the hardest memory to reconcile.

“I’ve found it most difficult to forgive my parents,” she says. “They didn’t save me from a place like Auschwitz and a destiny of being an orphan. That is what I felt.”

Eva first decided to absolve her former captors after re-visiting Auschwitz during the Eighties and later meeting Dr Hans Munch, another SS physician who worked at the camp but was acquitted of war crimes. In 1995 (two years after Miriam had died from cancer) during the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the camp she stood alongside Munch and announced she granted “amnesty to all Nazis”.

However Eva says only one other survivor (and Mengele twin) has since joined her – a man named Peter Greenfeld. To associate forgiveness with the Nazis is anathema to most.

Susan Pollock, an 85-year-old grandmother of six from Golders Green who in January was appointed MBE for educating young people about the Holocaust, also gave evidence at the Groening trial, but says his appeals for clemency left her cold.

“He was sentenced and found guilty and that is the important thing,” she says. “He lived a long life while more than 50 members of my family – little babies and children – were destroyed. I really can’t understand how she (Eva) could come out and say she forgives.”

Pollock was also shipped to Auschwitz on the Hungarian transport. Both her parents were killed while her brother, Laszlo, was forced to work in the Sonderkommando, moving bodies from the gas chambers to the ovens. He was the only other member of her family to survive, although remained terribly scarred from the experience.

Susan Pollock has weathered similar traumas but insists now she doesn’t carry any hatred in her heart. “I live with it by sharing and speaking,” she says.

What is most important for her is that the world always remembers. Unlike Eva Kor, she may never be able to forgive the Nazis; but insists none of us must ever forget.

The Girl who forgave the Nazis is broadcast on January 23 at 8pm on Channel 4


World War Two

Whether it’s Cologne sex assaults or Mein Kampf, Germany still doesn’t trust its people

January 12th, 2016

The book is a virtually unreadable ragbag of personal reminiscence, anti-Semitic diatribes, self-pitying sentimentality, and a chilling forecast of Hitler’s future plans for Germany after the Nazis came to power, including conquering France, battling Russian Bolshevism, enslaving the Slavs, and veiled hints of the Holocaust itself.

The publisher this time around is the heavyweight historical Institut fur Zeitgeschichte (Institute for Contemporary History) based in Munich, capital of Bavaria, the south German city and state that was the cradle of the Nazi movement in the 1920s, and where Hitler spent his happiest hours.

The Bavarian state government, which inherited the publishing part of the former Fuhrer’s estate, and is extremely sensitive about its most infamous one-time resident, had resolutely refused to republish while the seventy years copyright lasted. However it was unable to prevent publication of the toxic work after the copyright expired. Discretion about Nazism, in official Bavaria’s eyes, was definitely the better part of valour.

Although some members of Germany’s Jewish community – now 100,000 strong – expressed unease that the book’s release would fuel a new wave of neo-Nazism, and despite the fact that the first edition sold out within hours on Germany’s Amazon website, independent historians have backed the republication, and it seems unlikely that the heavily annotated and deliberately dull-looking tome will ever again attain bestseller status.

Historian Roger Moorhouse, author of His Struggle, an account of the writing of the original book, says the controversy is “much more about Germany’s continued obsession with Hitler, and the curious assumption that his horrid, outdated ideas are still ‘infectious’, than…about the book itself.”

There is, surely, also a coincidental link between official German efforts to stifle or filter Hitler’s rancid tex and the same establishment’s current ham-fisted attempt to cover up the true extent and the identity of the perpetrators of the mass sexual assaults on women in Cologne and elsewhere in Germany on New Year’s Eve

It as if Germany’s rulers do not trust their own people with the ability to handle uncomfortable truths. Whether those truths are the poisonous doctrines that once entranced the nation and led to the Holocaust and the devastation of Europe in the Second World War, or the more immediately dismaying reality that parts of German cities are no longer safe for German women to walk in because of their own government’s policies, the instinct to suppress the truth remains the same. It is a profoundly unhealthy trait.


World War Two

Queen’s Speech was a message of love in the face of terror

December 25th, 2015

Britain’s religious leaders are in the mood for telling home truths. In a stark Christmas sermon, the Most Rev Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, compared the Jihadist threat to King Herod, to whom Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, also alluded. In the Bible, Herod orders the massacre of young children in a delirious attempt to kill Jesus Christ. In today’s Middle East, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) is no less bloodthirsty.

“Today’s Herods, Isis and the like around the world in so many faiths, propose false apocalypses.”

Archbishop Justin Welby

It murders critics and religious minorities, enforcing its religious code with violence. It represents a fanatical perversion of Islam, and to defeat it, the West must understand its motivations. Religious leaders, educated in theological nuance, are well placed to decode its language. Archbishop Welby told congregants that it seeks to trigger an “apocalypse… defined by themselves and heralded only by the angel of death”. Isil cannot coexist with Western democracy. It is hell-bent on destroying it.

If theology helps us to understand the threat, theology, observed the Queen, also offers comfort. She said that while the year had contained moments of profound darkness, the Gospel of John speaks of a light shining in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome.

For those who do not believe in God, the light could be a metaphor for human decency. It could represent those who have donated money to refugees or even opened their doors to them. It could stand for the soldiers who have sacrificed so much to protect democracy and the oppressed. It could mean the simple act of our families gathering at Christmas and giving thanks for each other’s companionship. The smallest things in life are often the most inspiring.

“Many people say the first Christmas after losing a loved one is particularly hard. But it’s also a time to remember all that we have to be thankful for”

Queen Elizabeth II

For those who believe, like the Queen, that the Nativity is more than a metaphor, there is another dimension to this story: the hope that emanates from a baby’s birth. “Christ’s unchanging message,” said the Queen, “was not one of revenge or violence but simply that we should love one another.” That message is not just a polite request but a commandment borne of realism. In an age of global terrorism, WH Auden’s words have never been truer: “We must love one another or die.”

Love is a necessity. The West must preserve its security and be hard-headed about the fight ahead. But it must not succumb to fear and lose the human decency that has helped it to win so many battles against so many foes. It must seek to be, to borrow Her Majesty’s powerful image, a light of the world.


World War Two

Familes of WWII veterans to hear messages home for first time in 70 years

December 24th, 2015

Designed partly as propaganda to show cheery soldiers having the time of their lives, they were carefully choreographed to send personal messages back to their home towns.

More than 600 examples of the films, lost for decades, were rediscovered in the basement of Manchester Town Hall during a refurbishment of the building years ago.

They will now be broadcast for the first time since the Second World War in a new Channel 4 programme, entitled Calling Blighty.

Channel 4 and the North West Film Archive have already put out on appeal seeking veterans who served in India, Burma and Sri Lanka and their families, with the hopes of including their reaction in a final broadcast.

Mr H Drinkwater, a Leading Aircraftsman in the RAF asks his wife to keep his bed warm for him The reels include footage from Mr H Drinkwater, a Leading Aircraftsman in the RAF, who tells his family: “I hope you are all right at home. I’m not doing so bad out here. It’s a bit warm. Getting decent grub, but missing the old fish and chips and a pint now and then, you know.”

With a cheeky look to camera, he tells his wife: “Anyway, keep the bed warm until I get home and we’ll get up them stairs. Cheerio”

Sam Marshall, a Gunner from the 21/8 Rajput HAA Regiment, told his family back in Manchester: “Well mother, Sam calling. I hope you’re quite well and in the pink.”

Other men are seen playing darts, polishing their specs and larking around in the background.

The messages are just two of hundreds recorded between 1944 and 1946 by the Directorate of Army Welfare in India.

At the time, British troops were stationed in India, Burma and Sri Lanka, fighting on even as Europe celebrated the end of war in what has become known as The Forgotten Army.

Without the possibility of home leave, and in an atmosphere where disease was rife and morale low, the Ministry of Defence embarked on a scheme to boost them with filmed messages to home.

Taking up to three months to arrive, with some servicemen dying before the messages got home, families and friends were invited to local cinemas to catch a glimpse of them.

These particular films were found on 25 reels in rusting film canisters in the basement of Manchester Town Hall, with paperwork detailing the names, ranks, regiments and serial numbers of participants surviving alongside it.

Steve Hawley, professor at the Manchester School of Art, said: “I saw an amazing film of servicemen in the second World War speaking to their loved ones, and mentioned this to Marion Hewitt, the Director of the North West Film Archive.

“To my delight, she told me that three decades previously, a pile of rusting film canisters had been discovered in the basement of Manchester Town Hall during refurbishment, and these were about to be thrown out when they were rescued by the Archive.”

Calling Blighty will air in early 2016 on Channel 4. The film is produced by Oxford Scientific Films.


World War Two