Germans are ‘bewildered’ by British obsession with the Second World War, director of British Museum says

September 27th, 2014

In an interview with the Radio Times, MacGregor disclosed the aim of the series is to examine “what else” happened in Germany, detailing the “new country” which has emerged since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Speaking of the German people, he said: “They have huge admiration for the political traditions, the political stability, huge admiration for the way Britain fought the Second World War, fascinated and delighted by the sport…

“But very dismayed that when they come to Britain, they’re greeted with Nazi salutes!

“Bewildered that Britain doesn’t want to appear to know about Germany now, but wants to freeze the relationship as it was 70 years ago.”

He added the image of German history being centred on the Second World War is “constantly reinforced” in Britain “in a way that it isn’t in other countries”, including those which have “far more reason to be obsessed with German evil, having been occupied”.

“It’s one of the tragic things of the 20th century that 100 years ago everybody like us would have known so much about German culture and history,” he said. “We’d all have read German at school or university, we’d expect people to read German, we would know about Germany – and all that stopped after 1945.”

Speaking of the current political and cultural situation, he told the magazine: “Germany wants allies. One of the things they’ve learnt from the past is not only that power is dangerous, but acting alone is also dangerous.

“So they want counsel and friends and they would be very happy for Britain to play that role. Whether Britain wants to play that role, and whether Britain sees itself as wanting to be Germany’s friend, I don’t know.”

The new BBC Radio 4 series follows a successful partnership with the British Museum for A History of the World in 100 Objects.

The Germany series will now be told in 30 episodes, focusing on around 70 objects from the VW Beetle, Meissen porcelain, and the art of Richter, Durer and Holbein, to the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate. An accompanying exhibition opens at the British Museum in October.

MacGregor said: “The point of the series is not so much to put the history of the 20th century in a bigger context, but it’s also saying, ‘What has Germany done since 1990?’ This is a new country, and a new country needs a new history.”


World War Two

Nazi memorabilia from Nuremberg trials to be auctioned, in pictures

September 26th, 2014

Several private collections of mementos from the World War II era are being auctioned through the Alaska Auction Company in Anchorage, Alaska

Above: a small Hitler propaganda booklet

Picture: AP Photo/Rachel D’Oro


World War Two

Deborah Devonshire interview: Elvis, Hitler and the Mitford sisters

September 26th, 2014

‘I still go on writing to Diana in my head because she is the person I had a particular affinity with. We understood what one another thought before we thought it.’

People who have met Deborah Mitford have often remarked on the way she talks. How she says ‘lorst’ for ‘lost’ and ‘gorne’ for ‘gone’. Indeed, to read some descriptions you would think she could scarcely utter a vowel without becoming marooned on top of it for several weeks. But what seems more striking is the contrast between the way she speaks and the way she writes. In conversation, she expresses herself with great economy and clarity, albeit punctuated by sudden bursts of flattery – ‘You are so right!’ ‘Absolutely spot-on!’ Yet to read the sisters’ letters is to be plunged into a torrent of gushing adjectives, underlinings and elaborate nicknames. While Unity may have been the champion gusher here – ‘The Führer was heavenly,’ she writes at one point – Deborah doesn’t lag far behind. In a letter to Diana in prison – along with her husband, Oswald Mosley, Diana was locked up for being a Nazi sympathiser – Deborah wrote, ‘I do so long to see your cell.’

The youngest of the Mitford girls, Deborah was brought up at the family home in the Cotswold village of Swinbrook until she was 16. While her sisters couldn’t stand the place, Deborah loved it and was devastated when the family moved out. Almost 40 years later, in 1971, Deborah wrote to Nancy, ‘It broke my heart. Nothing had ever taken its place and nothing ever will … Worse than anything that has happened since, the loss of three babies, my four greatest friends being killed in the war – nothing has saddened me like the going from Swinbrook.’

‘Did I write that?’ she says now, her eyes widening in surprise. ‘That was going very far. But I think there was a sense that it was the end of childhood for me. An air of harmony prevailed at Swinbrook that didn’t prevail afterwards.’

A year later, Jessica Mitford [Decca] – two and a half years older than Deborah – caused a scandal by eloping to Spain with Esmond Romilly. The couple subsequently married, but Romilly was killed in action in 1941. Up to this point, the two youngest Mitfords had been particularly close, but there’s a sense that their relationship never fully recovered from the shock and betrayal Deborah felt at the time.

‘I think that’s true. It nearly did, but not quite. One of the reasons was that Esmond Romilly so hated all of us – and possibly me and Bobo [Unity] above all because we were so close to Decca. I think he saw me as an extra horror. And I really couldn’t stand him,’ she says with uncharacteristic venom. ‘He was one of those people who’s electric, of whom I’ve seen several in my life. But he was electric in a horrible way. Everything seemed so negative. He was dishonest, a liar, all those things … But of course Decca absolutely adored him and it was the great tragedy of her life that he was killed.’

The great irony here, given Deborah’s feelings towards Romilly, is that the Daily Express reported that he had run off with her, not Jessica. As a result, the paper had to pay Deborah £1,000 for ‘compromising her prospects of marriage’.

‘That really was one of the best things that had ever happened to me. Just wonderful: £1,000 was a huge sum of money in those days.’

Did she feel that her marriage prospects had been compromised?

‘Oh, I don’t think I considered that very much.’

At almost the same time as Jessica eloped with Romilly, Diana Mitford married Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists. They married in Goebbels’s living-room with Hitler in attendance – Hitler, with a typically immodest flourish, gave the couple a signed photograph of himself as a wedding present.

Meanwhile Unity had become hopelessly infatuated with Nazism in general and Hitler in particular. While Deborah does not seek to excuse what Unity did, she clearly hopes that publication of the letters might make people see her in a more sympathetic light.

‘She had such qualities: she was totally truthful, totally loyal and she could be very funny. Physically, she was beautiful in a funny sort of way. Everything was too big. She had the most enormous navy-blue eyes, an absolutely straight nose and very bad teeth because she had lived on mashed potato for a year and a half when she was a child. But she was just taken over by this fascination for Germany and all that went with it. I think she had this tremendous naivety which turned into ideological commitment.’

On the day war broke out, Unity tried to commit suicide by shooting herself in the head. She survived, but only just. Hitler arranged for her to be taken to a hospital in Switzerland where Deborah and her mother went to collect her.

‘It was an absolute nightmare. We caught the train from Calais to Bern. I can remember the shock of seeing her very clearly. She had lain unconscious for weeks and the bullet was still inside her. Her hair was completely matted and she couldn’t bear anyone to touch her head. It was as if she had become an enormous child. The journey back was terrible. Every time the train stopped suddenly, she was in agony.’

Severely brain-damaged as a result, Unity needed constant care – she died nine years later, in 1948. ‘I don’t think there was ever any realistic expectation that she would make a recovery. The bullet had destroyed quite a lot of the brain. Afterwards, she developed these enthusiasms for various religions. Like her old enthusiasm, but not so violent, of course. She was a Christian Scientist, then a Roman Catholic … everything that came along.”

Nine months after the outbreak of war, in June 1940, Diana and Oswald Mosley were interned. They would almost certainly have been locked up anyway, but their cause wasn’t helped by Nancy Mitford telling an official at the Foreign Office that she thought her sister was ‘an extremely dangerous person’. Diana did not discover this until 10 years after Nancy’s death.

Does Deborah think that Diana would ever have been able to forgive Nancy if she had known?

She gives a long sigh. ‘I wonder … They adored each other underneath, but I just don’t know.’

When Diana was in Holloway Prison, Deborah would visit her every few weeks. ‘She was allowed visitors for half an hour a fortnight. Most of the time she saw her children, but my mother and I used to go sometimes. I did long to see her cell, but instead we saw her in this filthy, dirty, visitors’ room with a wardress always there. Diana absolutely adored one wardress who became a great friend. But the others weren’t so easy. I don’t know if they picked on her. She was certainly an outstanding figure there, so they might have done.’

With one sister imprisoned for being a Nazi sympathiser and another who was so besotted with Hitler that she shot herself, one might assume that some stigma would have stuck to the Mitford name during the war. Deborah, though, insists that she was never aware of any. ‘I mean, I’m sure there must have been, but I certainly never lost any friends as a result. They were just very sad for all the horrible things that had happened.’

‘What did you think of Oswald Mosley?’

‘Oh, I loved him,’ she says without hesitation. ‘He was very ready to be amused and to laugh at whatever was going on. And he had these now non-existent, old-fashioned good manners – just like Uncle Harold [Harold Macmillan]. In fact, I remember a dance here at Chatsworth, not so long after the war. Sir Oswald was here and so was Uncle Harold. At the time there were one or two people who were not prepared to meet Sir Oswald. But Uncle Harold, who of course had been an old adversary, took him by the arm and together they walked round the whole house together. I’ve always thought that was a very nice thing to have done.’

Throughout her life – but especially when she was young – Deborah passed herself off as being less intelligent than her sisters. Not that everyone was convinced; Diana believed that while most people pretend to have read books that they haven’t, Deborah pretended not to have read books that she had.

This diffidence – and her lack of interest in politics – marked her out as a natural peace-keeper in the family. By the mid-1940s, there was plenty of peace-keeping to be done. Her parents had separated, partly as a result of the strain of looking after Unity, while Jessica and Diana were estranged, owing to political differences – Jessica became a member of the American Communist Party in 1944.

‘It wasn’t a role I particularly sought. But I have always hated rows, and there were heaps of them. I used to try to stop them. Very priggish of me, I suppose.’

Why priggish? ‘Well,’ she says wafting a hand. ‘Just trying to stop things from happening.’

As for Nancy, the oldest Mitford sister, her personal fortunes ran in a diametrically opposite direction to her professional ones. A successful novelist and historian, she fell hopelessly in love with a very ugly yet unstintingly unfaithful Frenchman called Gaston Palewski. ‘He was a complete wastrel, really. Very charming, but you’d rather die than say you found him prepossessing.’

Deborah herself was luckier in love. In 1941 she had married Andrew Cavendish – he became the Duke of Devonshire when his father died in 1950. Marriage also brought her very close to the Kennedy family. ‘I knew Jack as a teenager because his parents lived round the corner when his father was the ambassador in London. He was a sort of dancing partner of mine. Then Andrew’s brother married his sister, Kick [Kathleen]. And then Jack suddenly became President. He was the only politician I have ever known, and I’ve known quite a lot, who could laugh at himself. And he did – loudly. That was so attractive.’

She attended Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961, then saw a good deal of him a few months later when an exhibition of drawings from Chatsworth was put on in Washington. ‘He came to the opening of the exhibition. Everyone was amazed, especially me. Apart from anything else, it was right in the middle of the Cuban missile crisis. Besides,’ she adds drily, ‘museums weren’t exactly Jack’s line. I don’t think he’d ever set foot in the place before.’

When Andrew’s father died, he and Deborah inherited Chatsworth, with its 175 rooms, 21 kitchens and 17 staircases. Together, they did the house up and transformed it into a hugely successful business – it took them 24 years just to clear the death duties incurred by the estate.

Eighteen months ago, after Andrew’s death, she moved out so that their son, Peregrine, could take over the house. How did she feel leaving Chatsworth? ‘Odd. That’s really the best word to describe it. But it was high time for a change there, and for me. I’d been there for almost 50 years and I was getting jolly old. Fortunately, I had this lovely house to move into, and I can say quite honestly that I adore it here.’

‘You are the last Mitford sister.’

‘Yes.’

‘Is that a very lonely feeling?’

‘Well, when Diana died it was. Awful … and as I say, I still mentally write letters to her. But you know life goes on. I’m so lucky with my children and grandchildren – I’ve got 15 great-grandchildren – so there’s plenty on, if you know what I mean.’

In the Dowager Duchess’s downstairs lavatory there is a large poster of Elvis Presley gazing down from the shiny silver-papered wall. There are other bits of Elvis memorabilia dotted round the house, too – photographs, a roll of cloth with his image printed on it. Deborah may not have discovered Elvis until she was in her sixties, but once smitten there was no holding her back – another symptom, perhaps, of the Mitford sisters’ tendency towards hero-worship.

‘I turned on the telly one day and there was a programme about him. Suddenly, I saw genius – simple as that. I’ve been to Graceland twice, you know. Wonderful place; I can’t recommend it highly enough.’

If she could choose to have tea with either Elvis or Hitler, which would it be? She looks at me in astonishment. ‘Elvis, of course. What an extraordinary question.’

It’s time for her to go back to her house and be photographed. But rain has started lashing down outside, so hard that it’s pock-marking the lawn. I suggest we stay where we are until the rain has eased off. Deborah is having none of it. ‘Why don’t we run?’ she suggests. And run she does, bounding across the wet grass in great scissoring strides.

‘The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters’, ed Charlotte Mosley (Fourth Estate), is available for £23 plus £1.25 p&p from Telegraph Books (0870 428 4115; www.books.telegraph.co.uk)

READ: Zoe Heller on the glorious pleasures of reading Nancy Mitford


World War Two

Swastika symbols seen in unusual places around the world, in pictures

September 25th, 2014

German builders who fitted a supposedly random set of bricks into the ground for a new shopping precinct claim it was an accident when several of them ended up forming a swastika. Use of Nazi symbols is illegal in Germany and can result in jail sentences, so when shoppers at the new precinct in the historic north-western German town of Goslar in Lower Saxony spotted the swastika made of bricks, they instantly called police.

Picture: Europics


World War Two

It’s true, we Germans think you British are wunderbar

September 24th, 2014

I am a child of war. I was tossed into the horrors of the mid-20th century when, in March 1945, Danzig, my home town, went up in flames. My family escaped just in time from being buried under the rubble of the apartment house in which we lived and, like millions of Germans, we became refugees, finding a new home in the western province of Westphalia. As a schoolchild, I remember being fed British-donated rations, since Britain had responsibility for feeding and keeping alive 23 million Germans in its occupation zone.

As outlined above, the cause for this sentiment is simple: Great Britain helped Germany back on to her feet after 1945. This was not just in terms of physical sustenance – but with democratic institutions, too. Local government, trade unions, federalisation, the re-emergence of a free press: there was a distinctly British hand in the democratic rebuilding of Germany. Why, my own paper, Die Welt, was brought into being in Hamburg by the British, its first editor being a redoubtable Scot by the name of Steele McRichie. The “all-party newspaper for the British zone” only passed into the hands of the Axel Springer media group in 1953.

From my earliest years, I have conceived of our two countries as twinned by history, for better or worse. I find it all the more surprising, therefore, that the Brits never celebrated newly democratic Germany as a cultural godchild of theirs – a proud monument to the civilising hand that Britain, at the best of times, is heir to. Instead, for far too long the Nazi era was allowed to overshadow the positive approach the British pioneers on the ground had worked for and established after 1945.

My list of favourites includes Ben Donald’s Springtime for Germany or How I Learned to Love Lederhosen (2007); Simon Winder’s Germania (2010); Philip Oltermann’s Keeping up with the Germans (2012); Miranda Seymour’s Noble Endeavours: The Life of Two Countries, England and Germany, in Many Stories (2013) and, last but not least, Stephen Green’s Reluctant Meister: How Germany’s Past is Shaping its European Future (2014).

This impressive documentation of a new curiosity about Germany does not a mass movement make, I know. Compare it with the sorry neglect of history teaching in British schools and you may justly wonder when a more nuanced understanding of the cousin across the channel might reach the next generation, or how popular perceptions will ever move away from the Nazi as the defining characteristic of the German persona.

Do Germans have a more up-to-date picture of the British Isles? I often wonder. One of the best books in German, Typically English: How the British Became What They Are, has as the cover of its paperback edition a picture of two City gents with bowler hats and rolled-up umbrellas. Please! Portugal’s João Magueijo, with his latest effusion of a book, Undercooked Beef, empties a plethora of contempt over the English for some of their barbaric habits.

But to me, that’s so old hat. In the occasional critical mood, I prefer to think of food banks or the growing chasm between rich and poor and “the left-out millions”, as Churchill called them in his reformist years. The lack of housing seems to me like the cruel farewell to an essential British dream.

Still, MacGregor has it absolutely right that modern Germans are overwhelmingly pro-British. It helps that the hackneyed Nazi salute is gradually becoming old-fashioned; young Britons have other worries than to take refuge in such outdated gestures. Theirs is a peculiar malaise – the inadequate teaching of history. That’s why I hope his valiant attempt to take the thinking about Germany forward will bear fruit and start a new evaluation of how Britain looks not just at Germany but at the rest of the world, too.

It would be a pity if the country which built an empire “in a fit of absence of mind”, in JR Seeley’s immortal words, allows a modern variant of such mental luxury to rule its relations with one of its most important neighbours.

Thomas Kielinger is the London correspondent of ‘Die Welt’. His latest book is a biography of Winston Churchill


World War Two

Eindhoven: Joe Cattini receives hero’s welcome for a second time, 70 years on

September 23rd, 2014

The organisers of the trip said the people of Eindhoven wanted to thank the Allied soldiers for their freedom.

The veterans, who arrived back in the UK on Tuesday, spent two weeks in Holland as “guests of honour”. They toured museums, met serving soldiers and revisited some of the places they had stayed.

Also on the trip was Denys Hunter, with whom he was reunited during the D-Day celebrations.

Mr Cattini and Mr Hunter became the faces of this year’s D-Day anniversary commemorations when they were picture moments after being reunited for the first time since they took part in the landings on the Normandy beaches 70 years ago.

In Eindhoven, they were also invited on to the pitch ahead of football match between PSV Eindhoven and SC Cambuur, where three paratroopers jumped from 1,500 feet holding football shirts which were then presented to the veterans.

Mr Cattini and Mr Hunter were both part of the 86th Hertfordshire Yeomanry Field Regiment RA, which was part of the British advance through Europe and which helped free Eindhoven from Nazi occupation.


Joe Cattini and Denys Hunter spent two weeks in Holland as ‘guests of honour’

The city was liberated when an American paratrooper from the 101st Airborne division advancing from the north made contact with British ground troops, advancing from the south, at a church.

The American paratroopers had been dropped at Son, a village north of Eindhoven, on September 17 and advanced to Eindhoven the next day. Their job was to secure the four bridges over the River Dommel ready for the British ground forces to advance.

The British troops, who had entered the Netherlands from the south, liberated the town of Valkenswaar on September 17. They spent their night there before continuing on to Eindhoven the next day, where they were welcomed as heroes.

One American trooper recalled being asked for his autograph by a woman, so relieved occupation was over.

Mr Cattini said he remembered driving into Eindhoven and six young women jumping in the back of his truck.

It was the first major city in Holland to be liberated by troops on the way to Arnham as part of the doomed Operation Market Garden.

However Eindhoven’s jubilation was short lived. The following day, on September 19, while the city was still celebrating, German Luftwaffe planes appeared above overhead and launched a bombing campaign. In total, 227 civilians were killed.

But Eindhoven has commemorated the liberation each year on September 18 since 1945.

This year, a “liberation torch” was carried by cyclists and runners from Bayeux in Normandy, along the same route the Allies used in 1944, culminating in a torch lit procession to the Town Hall Square where the veterans and guests were received.


World War Two

Final leap to honour Arnhem’s fallen

September 22nd, 2014

The battalion was led by Lt Col John Frost, whose character was played by Anthony Hopkins in the Richard Attenborough film A Bridge Too Far, which was based on the battle.

However, having been unable to defend the bridge, Cpl Bloys was among many paratroopers captured by the SS and taken to a prisoner of war camp in Germany.

He managed to escape but was captured once again. He then managed to escape for a second time with another soldier and the pair stole a car in which they managed to make it to American lines.

He last visited Arnhem in 2004 with his wife Doreen, who died six years later. Before his own death in February he described how the horrors of the fighting at Arnhem were still “fresh in my mind”.

“You can never really get it across to people about the horrors of battle. You are speaking to people one minute and then two minutes afterwards their life is finished. It was a terrible battle and was not well planned.”

On Saturday dozens of veterans of the assault, most of them in their nineties and either wheelchair bound or walking with the aid of sticks, watched as around 500 Allied troops jumped out of planes to commemorate the seven-decade anniversary of the Second World War operation.

Cpl Bloys was one of a number of veterans whose ashes were scattered by British paratroopers landing on Ginkel Heath, in a show of respect and camaraderie towards their predecessors.

This weekend his daughter-in-law Rita, who watched the jump with her husband Ian, among a crowd of around 40,000 people said the gesture was first suggested by a paratrooper who attended Cpl Bloys’s funeral in March. Cpl Bloys had died a month earlier aged 90.

Mrs Bloys, 65, said: “It is just an unofficial thing that they offered to do for us. My father-in-law was very fond of the area. In his later years he said he felt that the fighting had destroyed the area, but he came back here often.

“We just thought it would be fitting to leave a bit of him here. It seems like the final thing we can do for him. We are very emotional.”

Mr Bloys, 66, a former electrician for Ford from Hornchurch in Essex, said before the jump: “He never expressed a wish for what he wanted done with his ashes. But especially in the early days he used to come back here. The last time was on the sixtieth anniversary in 2004. He appreciated the way the Dutch people treated him. He was there for a few days and all the young children were asking for his autograph. It was like being a movie star.

“He was in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and then Arnhem but Arnhem was the one he mentioned the most.

“We want to do the right thing by him. This will be his last jump – I think he would appreciate that.”

Operation Market Garden saw more than 40,000 British, US, Canadian and Polish troops dropped behind the German lines at Arnhem in September 1944.

The attack was conceived by Field Marshal Montgomery to inflict a fatal blow on the Germans and bring the war to a close by the end of the year.

The aim of the operation was to capture a series of river crossings in German-occupied territory to allow Allied tanks to cross the Rhine and sweep into Germany.

However, despite early successes, strong resistance prevented troops from capturing the final bridge at Arnhem.

The British unexpectedly found themselves up against the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions, leading to one of the most devastating and bloody battles of the war.

After nine days of street fighting between 17 and 25 September, and running out of food and ammunition, British forces were overwhelmed and forced to withdraw. An estimated 1,700 British soldiers lost their lives.

Yesterday Brig Nick Borton. the commander of 16 Air Assault Bde, whose paratroopers carried out yesterday’s commemoration jump, said the event had given serving troops the opportunity to highlight the “humbling exploits” of the Allied airborne forces 70 years ago.

This weekend Les Fuller, 93, who served as a private with 3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment, told the Sunday Telegraph the commemoration at the site of the battle bought back “Massive memories. Memories I could hardly tell you about.”

Mr Fuller was badly wounded as he tried to make his way to the bridge. He said: “We had to detour around Oosterbeek and I finally finished up at the Rhine Pavilion where a fellow who had a howitzer across the other side of the river in a brick field spotted me (I didn’t spot him) and that’s when it came to an end for me.

“A fellow named Sgt Robinson, who was the Sgt medic of the 3rd Battalion, happened to come across me and he went up and got the crew of a tank that was parked just up the road to come and pick me up and hand me over for medical attention which I badly needed.”

Saturday’s event also included a commemoration service at a memorial at Ginkel Heath and a moment of silence as the Last Post was played, before both veterans and serving soldiers laid wreaths to remember the fallen.

The previous day thousands of cheering residents had lined Arnhem’s streets to look on as 83 British and Polish veterans walked or passed them in wheelchairs as part of a week-long commemoration of Operation Market Garden.

Alec Hall, 92, who was a medic during the battle, said of the commemorations: “It brings back so many memories. It’s like it was yesterday. I often think about those few days.”

Bill Carter, 90, who served as a private with the 2nd Battalion Parachute Regiment, saluted the landing paratroopers as he watched the drop from his wheelchair, accompanied by three generations of his family – the youngest of which was his 15-year-old grandson William Wilding.

Mr Carter said he was proud to return to the site, adding that the event brought back “a lot of good memories” of the men he served with but also “a lot of sad memories” of the battle.

Tom Hicks from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was another of the veterans attending Saturday’s drop, which was carried out using mainly Hercules aircraft as well as a Dakota from the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. The 95-year-old said that Dutch locals had initially thought that they had been liberated from the Nazis when he and his fellow paratroopers landed.

“They brought milk out and flowers and thought the war was over. They thought they were liberated.

“And we knew there was a long way to go before they were liberated. Children [were] holding your hand and skipping… thinking ‘oh, back to normal life’.”

The retreat by Allied forces meant that it was another eight months before they secured a victory which ended the war in Europe.

Mr Hicks added: “I think the message is that even though you are beaten, you never give up, even against all odds.”


World War Two

Two Lancaster bombers fly over Dambusters practise site in Derbyshire

September 22nd, 2014

They have been united for a series of events in the UK this year with one, Thumper, based in Lincolnshire, while the other, Vera, has been shipped over from Canada.

Retired Sqn Ldr Stuart Reid, who has flown the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) Lancaster, said: “It was very much a British and Foreign and Commonwealth attack against the dams, as was much of the bombing campaign fought against Germany during the Second World War.”


World War Two

Prince Charles and Camilla join ‘The Few’ remembering the Battle of Britain

September 21st, 2014

The annual service remembered the bravery shown by the pilots who overcame almost insurmountable odds to claim victory against the German Luftwaffe and 544 RAF pilots and aircrew who died.

British pilots were joined by others from the world, with men from Australia, Belgium, Canada, France and more taking part in the battle which raged from July to October 1940.

Having thwarted the German invasion, the fighters inspired Winston Churchill’s famous claim that “never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Those who fought in the battle became known as “The Few”.

Jonathan Chaffey, RAF chaplain-in-chief, told the congregation the battle was a daily routine of “adrenaline and fear,” and “camaraderie and loss” but said it highlighted the strength of the human spirit.

He said: “(There was) the sacrifice of ‘The Few’ but also the industry and determination of the many, a whole force in a great cause.

“The Battle of Britain deserves a special place in our corporate minds.”

After the service Spitfire pilot Ken Wilkinson, 96, who served with inspirational Second World War flying ace Sir Douglas Bader, said of the Battle of Britain: “It was a damn close thing.

“We were lucky that Hitler decided to invade Russia. He knew that he would get beaten here so he sloped off.”

Mr Wilkinson, of Solihull, stood near Prince Charles during the flypast and said later: “My eyesight is not too good but I heard them, and that brings back memories.”

Those who served in the battle did not feel like heroes, he said, adding: “We knew that the war was coming, only someone with half a mind could not have thought that the war was coming.

“I joined the RAF volunteer reserve to get some flying in because I knew it was needed.

“The lady in my life at the time who I thought I was going to marry objected because she thought she would not see me but I thought it was my duty to get the flying hours in.”

As the number of remaining veterans gets ever smaller, Mr Wilkinson hopes there will be a renewed emphasis on teaching youngsters about the Battle of Britain and Second World War.

“There needs to be some method so that the memories are not lost,” he said.

Other RAF veterans watched in wonder yesterday as the last two airworthy Lancaster bombers in the world flew over the reservoir where they trained for the famous Dambusters raid.

The Lancasters passed Derwent Dam in Derbyshire three times in tribute to the Dambusters crews and those killed in World War Two.

They have been united for a series of events in the UK this year with one, Thumper, is based in Lincolnshire, while the other, Vera, has been shipped over from Canada.

Crew members who flew on the Dambusters raid included 29 Canadians, adding to the significance of the flypast.

Retired Sqn Ldr Stuart Reid, who has flown the RAF’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (BBMF) Lancaster, said: “It was very much a British and Foreign and Commonwealth attack against the dams, as was much of the bombing campaign fought against Germany during the Second World War.”

Meanwhile across the English Channel another major milestone of the Second World War was being remembered.

In Holland, veterans were joined by schoolchildren who lay wreaths in Oosterbeek War Cemetery to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Arnhem, in which allied forces were dropped behind German lines near Arnhem and defeated after days of fighting.

The battle, in which thousands of lives were lost, was the inspiration for the film A Bridge Too Far.

Private Steve Morgan who fought in the Battle of Arnhem with 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, and was said to be the last man off the bridge, attended the service alongside other veterans including Colonel John Waddy.


World War Two

Life in pictures of the secret agent seductress

September 21st, 2014

Fifi’s job involved testing would-be British agents from the SOE’s “finishing school” at Beaulieu by turning up unannounced while they were engaged on 96-hour training missions in towns and cities around the country.

The rendezvous point was usually a hotel bar. Over drinks, the lonely agents – often from the Continent and suffering from homesickness – would blow their cover and confide in the sympathetic woman claiming to be a French journalist.

One official report noted that her looks were perhaps “too striking and foreign for English tastes” but suitable for Beaulieu students, who were mostly from the Continent. London-born Chilver was half-British and half-Latvian, and her education – first at a German school in Riga, then at the Sorbonne – gave her a distinctly European air.

After leaving the service, Chilver lived with her companion, Jean ‘Alex’ Felgate, a fellow SEO agent, from the 1950s until her death in 2007 aged 86. They bought a converted cider barn in the Forest of Dean and devoted their lives to tending its many acres, which they turned into an animal sanctuary.

Chilver let few people into her life. In her will, she asked to be cremated “without ceremony” and Felgate was the only mourner.

One of her few friends was Janice Cutmore, who cared for the couple in their final years. When Felgate died in 2011, she left part of her estate and all her wartime mementoes to Mrs Cutmore.

“It was an isolated house and they liked to be away from everybody. All their photographs were in an album, and the only ones on show were of their animals,” Mrs Cutmore said.

“Christine knew her mind and nothing would change it. But she was fair and when you got to know her she was lovely. I started off as their cleaner, but when Christine came out of hospital after a hip operation they gave her a carer and, Christine being Christine, she was not having any of it. So I asked if she would like me to look after her and she said yes.

“Alex told us a bit about Christine’s work after she died. She said Christine would go to a pub all dressed up and see which one of the new recruits would say, ‘Guess what I do for a living’.”

Jonathan Cole of the National Archives said Fifi became “a legend of SOE, a symbol of seduction – not surprising, since she’s said to have bedded trainee agents to find out whether they talked in their sleep”.

Chilver’s reports detail nothing of the sort, and appear to show that flirtation over drinks or dinner was enough to get the agents spilling their secrets.

As part of her cover as a supposed journalist she wrote an article for Housewife magazine about the differences between British and European men.

European men like a woman to be a woman, she wrote. “So make a routine of the little things. Keeping your smile fresh and the seams of your stockings straight. Sitting down with poise. Always walking, instead of striding along with swinging arms.”

Beneath the strong exterior, Chilver had family difficulties. She sent all earnings from her “very slender bank balance” to her deaf elder sister and ailing mother in Sweden, where they had fled when the Russian army invaded Latvia.

She published a book about her love for animals, which included oblique references to the war years. “Animals are magnificent teachers; they try so hard to make us behave in a manner of which we need not be ashamed,” she wrote.

“As a child I used to listen to our animals just as I listened to adult conversation. The little girl is now an old woman. She has lived to see some of the greatest horrors of all time.”


World War Two