Archive for May, 2014

‘If the sniper’s bullet had been just two feet to one side, my father’s life would have been over’

May 31st, 2014

Of course, I have no monopoly on being proud of a close relative’s part in the war effort: there are many people up and down the country whose fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers and cousins also played courageous roles in the fight against Nazi Germany.

However, my father was, unwittingly, largely responsible for my boyhood interest in bravery: something that quickly developed into a passion and one that has played a significant part in my life for more than half a century.

Eric Ashcroft, a gentle, kind, popular man with a wicked sense of humour, was always modest about his wartime exploits, but eventually, with much prompting from his persistent son, he told me of his terrifying experience on D-Day.

I was about 10 at the time and the conversation took place at our family home in Diss, Norfolk. I sat wide-eyed as he conjured up the metaphorical smell of fear and the physical smell of vomit as his landing craft crashed through the waves and approached Sword Beach. As part of Operation Overlord, more than 155,000 men came across the Channel in some 5,000 vessels to land on five beach areas, each given a codeword.

Lord Ashcroft with his father after the war

Decades after my father filled me with pride over his exploits, he gave a recorded interview to the Imperial War Museums (IWM) that remains in their archives.

As he landed on an area of Sword Beach designated for the assault by his Battalion of The South Lancashire Regiment, he and his comrades were greeted by anti-tank, mortar, machine-gun and rifle fire, most of it from the main German defence strongpoint, codenamed “Cod”.

My father, the battalion signals’ officer, described his run up the beach: “About two-thirds to high watermark, I was knocked sideways when, so it would appear now, an 88mm splinter struck my right arm as I was moving across the beach… I just kept moving until the party got cleared of the beach and took stock of our position some 200 yards inland.”

When my father paused beneath a bank with the enemy beach wire just ahead, he applied a field dressing to his bloodied wound and crouched besides his CO. “Colonel [Richard] Burbury was about two feet away from me and the next thing I knew he rolled to his side and was shot in the chest,” my father said. His CO had been killed by a sniper.

Eric Ashcroft during the war

Lieutenant Colonel Burbury’s life was over, aged 38, and, soon afterwards, my father’s war was effectively over, too: but not before his battalion had moved on later the same day to seize the village of Hermanville less than a mile away. My father was eventually ordered from the battlefield and received treatment, first, at the regimental aid post and, later, on the hospital ship returning to Britain.

As I reached my teens, the initial interest in bravery that my father had generated grew and grew. I became the schoolboy geek who knew more about the Normandy landings than any of my contemporaries.

Courage is a truly wonderful quality, yet it is so difficult to understand. You can’t accurately measure it, you can’t bottle it and you can’t buy it, yet those who display it are, quite rightly, looked up to by others and are admired by society. Wiser men than me have struggled to comprehend gallantry and what makes some individuals risk the greatest gift of all – life itself – for a comrade, for Queen and country or sometimes even for a stranger.

Yet, perhaps, ultimately we do not have need fully to understand why individuals display courage; all we need do is admire it. Over the years, my passion for bravery, in general, transformed itself into one for gallantry medals, in particular.

Such medals are the tangible record of an individual’s service and courage. When I was in my early twenties, I hoped one day to own a Victoria Cross, the ultimate decoration in Britain and the Commonwealth for bravery in the face of the enemy.

Shortly after my 40th birthday and by then fortunate enough to have made a little money as an entrepreneur, I bought at auction my first VC: a decoration that had been awarded to Leading Seaman James Magennis during the final year of the Second World War.

Today, from that modest start, the collection is comfortably the largest in the world. In 2008, I made a sizeable donation so that the VCs could go on display in a new, purpose-built gallery at IWM, London, along with decorations already in the care of the museum. The gallery was opened in November 2010 by the Princess Royal, and today I am the proud owner of 183 VCs and 14 George Crosses, the latter being Britain and the Commonwealth’s most prestigious award for gallantry not in the face of the enemy.

I have written four books on bravery, I have a monthly column in Britain at War magazine and I write widely for national and regional newspapers about courage. Furthermore, I regularly lecture on gallantry up and down the country.

My continuing aim is simple: to highlight great acts of courage and to ensure that those brave men who carried them out, whether they lived or died following their actions, are not forgotten.

On a personal level, I credit the conversation I had with my father nearly 60 years ago for leading to my passion for gallantry. Indeed, when the VC and GC gallery bearing my name was unveiled four years ago, I publicly dedicated it to him.

My father was one of the fortunate wartime servicemen: he made a full recovery from his injuries, was promoted to captain, survived the war, had a satisfying career as a colonial officer and, eventually, died in February 2002, a month before his 85th birthday.

As the 70th anniversary of D-Day approaches, I am glad that I travelled to Sword Beach and stood, for the first time, where my father was wounded and where so many of his comrades fell. Matt Limb, my enthusiastic and knowledgeable battlefield guide, was able to pinpoint, to within a few yards, the exact spot where my father had landed.

I also visited Hermanville War Cemetery to lay a poppy cross at the grave of Lieutenant Colonel Burbury. Incidentally, his gravestone wrongly gives his date of death as June 7 1944 – rather than June 6 – and, for the sake of accuracy, I am going to investigate how it might be corrected.

In an area of more than 1,000 war graves and with birdsong as the only sound, I contemplated the thin margin between life and death. If the sniper’s bullet had been just two feet to one side, my father’s life would have been over, aged just 27, and I would never have been born.

Lord Ashcroft at Hermanville War Cemetery at the grave of his father’s CO, Lt Colonel Richard Burbury (JULIAN SIMMONDS FOR THE TELEGRAPH)

At Pegasus Bridge Café Gondrée, the first house liberated by the Allies at the dawn of D-Day, I was given a warm welcome for lunch by the charming Arlette Gondrée, whose parents lived in the property during the German occupation with their three young daughters. It is the sort of welcome she and her family have generously extended to the British veterans for seven decades.

On Friday, as the veterans gather in Normandy for their “swan song”, I will join the rest of the nation in paying my respects to all the courageous individuals who turned the course of the war in the Allies’ favour with the greatest sea invasion in history.

However, given all that he did for me, I hope I will be forgiven if just one of those brave young men remains at the forefront of my thoughts for much of the day: Eric Ashcroft, my father, my inspiration, my hero.

Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC is a Tory peer, international businessman, philanthropist and author. For more information on his life and work, visit www.lordashcroft.com. For more information on his VC collection, visit www.lordashcroftmedals.com. Follow him on Twitter @LordAshcroft


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The pioneering surgeon who healed men scarred by war, a new monument created in his honour – and the remarkable twist of fate that links them

May 30th, 2014

In the end McIndoe and his team in West Sussex “fixed up” 649 servicemen – men who underwent such innovative treatment that they rakishly dubbed themselves The Guinea Pig Club.

Their disfigurement meant the possibility of being shunned by sweethearts and friends, their lives blighted. So McIndoe not only treated them, he also stood up for them. “He had enormous battles with the authorities,” says Montfort Bebb, now 86. “He said, ‘You treat my boys properly.’ He even had a keg of beer for them in the ward. He had to give them the odd dressing-down, they were young men – they did misbehave – but they loved him.”

Such devotion suggests that few men more richly deserve being immortalised in bronze than Sir Archibald McIndoe. But by the time, two years ago, that Jacquie Pinney, chief executive of the medical research charity Blond McIndoe, began a campaign to erect a statue to McIndoe, his name and reputation had faded from the public eye.

The charity was founded in 1961 by the industrialist Neville Blond, who lived near East Grinstead and saw McIndoe’s work there first-hand. He admired how McIndoe had taken existing, primitive, plastic-surgery techniques and pioneered new methods that transformed not only the lives of his patients, but also the whole field of reconstructive surgery.

But despite McIndoe’s achievements, there were no statues or monuments to his honour, even in his native New Zealand. “There was nothing,” says Pinney. “I felt it was long overdue.”

Hence when she called Martin Jennings, the acclaimed sculptor of the much-loved John Betjeman statue in St Pancras station, she was worried that he would not know who McIndoe was: “I assumed he would think, ‘Who are these weird people calling from East Grinstead?’”

When she got through to him, he went quiet on the line, apparently confirming her worst fears. She need not have worried. “It was amazing,” says Jennings now. “She imagined that I would never have heard of McIndoe. But in fact I knew all about him.”

Over the course of the ensuing conversation, Martin Jennings related how his father, Michael, had been a tank commander in the war. On the afternoon of October 17 1944, with the Allies bearing down on the Maas canal, he was leading a troop of four tanks from the 15/19 King’s Royal Hussars on a push through heavily fortified German positions east of Eindhoven, in the Netherlands.

Suddenly his Cromwell tank was hit by a shell. The driver was wounded but, determined to press on, an undaunted Jennings switched to another tank and continued the advance. He was less lucky second time round. The shell that hit his commandeered tank killed its driver. As the armoured vehicle erupted into flames, Jennings himself was badly burned. He had little time to reflect on his condition.

“In his diary he recorded that the Germans were ‘coming on a bit’,” says his son. “I think that’s a euphemism for large numbers of them trying to kill him.”

Under heavy machine-gun fire, he made it back to his own lines. From there he was evacuated to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, where his head and his hands were entirely bound in bandages. He was 23.

His sisters visited and fed him grapes through a mouth?hole in the wrappings. But he also received another visitor – Archie McIndoe, who was on one of his regular tours of the country to see if there were patients that he might be able to help.

Michael Jennings was unusual for a Guinea Pig, in that he was not an airman. None the less, he was transferred to East Grinstead and, over the course of the next two years, underwent a host of skin grafts and reconstructive procedures at the hands of McIndoe and his fellow surgeon, Percy Jayes.

At the outset, Michael Jennings’s morale could hardly have been lower. His sisters found him staring into a mirror, repeating: “I’m burned to a crisp. I’m burned to a crisp.”

But, as his son notes, “McIndoe had this remarkable capacity to transfer his confidence to his patients.”

Jack Perry can remember that golden touch: “He sat on my bed and kindly spoke to me. He said: ‘I see you play a lot of sport. Well, you’re going to play again. Maybe not as well, but you certainly will play.’”

That ability to lift spirits was an essential part of the McIndoe therapy. “His patients, like my father, were such young men,” says Martin Jennings. “They were hoping to get married, have children and a normal life. Suddenly they were plunged into the prospect of a life of passivity and victimhood. But McIndoe was so upbeat. His ethos was that these terrible injuries did not mean that their lives were over.”

Michael Jennings was one of those who, with McIndoe’s help, refused to accept that his life was over. In 1952, he got married, and he and his wife had 11 children.

Today, Martin Jennings describes his family connection and the call from Jacquie Pinney as “an astonishing coincidence”. She had found in the sculptor a man who had long nursed the idea of creating a monument to the man who had cared for his father and overseen “significant improvement to the lower half of his face – to his nose, mouth, lips”.

Indeed it is a hardly a stretch to suggest that without McIndoe, Michael Jennings might never have married, and his sculptor son might never have been born.

It has taken two years since that 2012 phone call for the project to come to fruition. On one research trip to East Grinstead, Jennings asked for records from the war. There he turned up a file featuring a familiar face. For 10 years after he was burned, Michael Jennings refused to be photographed. But there, in the hospital files, were images from that lost decade that McIndoe had taken to plan and perform his operations.

“That was very moving,” says Jennings. “I was looking at pictures of my father, and he was the same age in the pictures as my own sons were in real life. I found myself feeling a sense of paternal protectiveness to my own father. That was very much McIndoe’s spirit. He was a father to these men. This is a story of fathers and sons.”

With that same protective spirit, McIndoe would send the men under his care into East Grinstead, to stroll the town, drink in the pubs, attend parties – just like other young men. And the people of East Grinstead, to their immense credit, learned to welcome these disfigured men in uniform. Now it is known as “the town that did not stare”.

Jennings’s McIndoe memorial is, as a result, an arrangement of two slightly larger than life-size figures. Seated is a airman, his burned hands clawed together, his scarred face turned to one side. Standing behind him, resting a reassuring hand on each shoulder, is the figure of McIndoe.

They are framed by a stone bench. “When the local people sit on that long curved seat, they complete the monument,” says Jennings. “This is a tribute to Archie McIndoe and the Guinea Pigs, but it is also a tribute to the people of East Grinstead.”

Michael Jennings, like many of the Guinea Pigs, went on to outlive by far the man who had so helped him. He died in 2002, aged 82, after a long post-war career as a teacher. He too, will live on in the memorial. Although the figure of the airman is not based on any one man, Martin Jennings modelled the burned hands on those of his father.

The result, says Montfort Bebb, would have enormously pleased her own father, Archie McIndoe. Not that he subscribed to theories of “greatness”.

“He said that greatness is just hard work – attention to detail and a lot of hard work. He probably worked himself to death. But he never mentioned his own health. He was just devoted to medicine and patching up those poor boys.”

Visit mcindoememorial.com to make a donation


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Rudolph Hess plane wreckage hidden by Scottish farmers, letter reveals

May 30th, 2014

It was only when the plane wreckage was put on display in Trafalgar Square in London did they discover that its pilot was not Captain Albert Horn, as Hess had identified himself to Mr McLean, but Hitler’s second in command.

Mr Boyd sold the fuselage in the 1960s to the former assistant secretary of the Battle of Britain Association, who then passed it to The War Museum, a private collection in America.

Details of Mr McLean’s quick-witted salvage operation have only just emerged – more than 70 years on – after a letter written by Mr Boyd that tells their story has been put up for sale alongside the wreckage they recovered.

In the previously unseen letter, Mr Boyd wrote: “I got a call from Dave one late morning in May of 1941 telling me a German pilot had landed on the farm.

“He had captured the fellow and handed him to the local Cpl of the signals unit next door. The pilot had a broken ankle so was taken to Maryhill Barracks Military Hospital for treatment.

“His fighter plane had crashed in the next field which was Bonnytons Farm and Dave had gone over on his cycle and hidden a few souvenirs in the bushes!

“The army signal unit and Home Guard and police were on their way so he had to be quick.

“The whole wreckage was taken away by the Army Maintenance unit from Carluke and nothing was left.

“Dave went back later in the tractor and retrieved the items of which he gave me the section you are having for your collection.

“When we all found out later that the pilot was the German deputy leader under Hitler we really couldn’t believe it!”

One of the plane’s engines is currently on display at the RAF Museum in London, while the other one is at the Imperial War Museum alongside another section of fuselage.

Hess explained his plan to meet with the Duke of Hamilton, who he wrongly thought was the leader of a political party opposed to war with Germany, in a letter to Hitler.

After his capture, Hess was kept in Britain as a prisoner of war until his trial following Germany’s surrender on May 8 1945.

During the trial he said that he could not remember his actions but later admitted that was just a ruse.

Hess was found guilty of war crimes and sent to Spandau prison in Germany to serve a life sentence.

On August 17 1987, then aged 93, Hess hanged himself in the prison’s summerhouse using an electrical cable.

The fuselage and letter are expected to £3,000 pounds when they go under the hammer at Bonhams, the auction house, in New York on June 5.

Tom Lamb, a historian at Bonhams, said: “The story of Rudolf Hess’ strange flight to Britain in 1941 is well known but the story of Stanley Boyd, the farm hand who ended up with this section of fuselage, has never been told before.

“Hess was a key figure in the war and this section of his plane is an incredibly important part of the war.

“Not many people get to own a piece of a Messerschmitt, let alone one flown by Rudolf Hess.”


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Record of largest-ever Nazi art hoard made public for first time

May 29th, 2014

And this week it has made the information from those catalogues freely available on the Internet – the first time any German art dealer has publicly released its records from the Nazi era.

Their publication is the initiative of Katrin Stoll, who took over the auction house in 2008, and has no connection to Mr Weinmüller.

“I feel very fortunate to have this difficult task,” she told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper.

Names and images of artworks that were sold can be freely browsed on lostart.de, the German government website for recovering looted art. The website does not list who bought the artworks, but anyone with a serious claim to legal ownership can apply for that information.

The website does list where Mr Weinmüller obtained the artworks, and the entry “seizure by the Gestapo” frequently crops up. Where some dealers traded in art sold at knock-down prices by Jewish owners fleeing the Nazis, Mr Weinmüller was dealing directly in looted art.

Despite his significance, Mr Weinmüller has remained a shadowy figure. For years no one even knew what he looked like, until a photo emerged a few months ago of a bespectacled, unobtrusive man at an auction.

He successfully lied to the “Monuments Men” about his role during the war, and hid his connections to the Nazi high command. In fact he had risen to wealth and prominence by his loyalty to the party, and counted Martin Bormann, Hitler’s private secretary, amongst his clients.

A previously small-time dealer, he chaired a pro-Nazi trade organisation and took over the Munich arts scene as Jewish dealers were forced out.

Despite investigating him as a high priority, the “Monuments Men” were unable to prove anything against him, or prevent him from reopening his auction house. He held a further 35 auctions before his death in 1958.

After his death the Weinmüller auction house, as it was then known, was sold to Ms Stoll’s father, Rudolf Neumeister, who changed its name.

Experts say the real test of the new initiative will come when legal owners come forward to claim looted artworks. Some of the details of the buyers in the auction house’s records are sketchy, and list no more than a common surname. But others may be traceable, and artworks long given up as lost may finally be found again.


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Vera Lynn: still an inspiration

May 28th, 2014

Some performers have their 15 minutes of fame, but few manage a whole 90 years.

Yet Dame Vera Lynn is the exception to many rules. Having sung her first song on stage at the age of seven, the 97-year-old is a showbiz trouper by any stretch of the imagination – not to mention the oldest person to have had a No 1 album, having reached the top of the charts as recently as 2009.

The curious thing, however, is that Dame Vera never expected her celebrity to last. As she confesses in a new interview, she assumed that her status as the Forces’ sweetheart would be a temporary thing – that just like them, she would be demobbed, returning to civilian life as “just another singer” rather than remaining a national star.

It is hard to imagine a greater contrast with the culture of modern celebrity – with the mindless pursuit of fame for fame’s sake. As Dame Vera knows, the purpose of performing is not to glorify the performer, but to entertain, console or amuse the audience. Dame Vera not only did that – amid the darkest times this nation has faced – but has devoted much of her life since to doing good work for a host of worthy causes. Her life should serve as an inspiration not just to would-be singers, but to anyone who wants to understand what makes Britain great.


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D-Day anniversary: up in the skies with a Spitfire

May 27th, 2014

Next month, on what for many veterans will be the last time they visit Normandy for the 70th anniversary of the landings, Spitfires in D-Day livery will once more zoom overhead as they did that day.

The aircraft will fly from the Biggin Hill heritage hanger in Kent, which was founded three years ago by volunteers and has a fleet of World War Two planes including six flying Spitfires and one Hurricane.

At least one Mark 9 Spitfire, called The Spirit of Kent and recovered from South Africa in 1996 by former commercial airline pilot Peter Monk, will be flown over to Normandy. It is hoped, if the heritage hangar can raise the required funds in time, more will follow.

At Biggin Hill, the final preparations are being made, with a group of RAF World War Two veterans, including Maurice Macey, overseeing the painting of the black and white stripes on the planes. I clamber into a World War Two Harvard to accompany Monk’s Spitfire on a trial run.The Harvard is a two-seater plane which many pilots were trained in before getting into a Spitfire. It was notorious for being unpredictable and particularly tricky to fly. Macey, resplendent in a cream suit covered in medals and a golden Caterpillar Club badge –given to airmen who survived bailing out of a stricken plane – wishes me luck before I climb into the cockpit.

Fortunately my pilot Clive Denney is a seasoned professional who has flown World War Two planes for 30 years. But even so, his safety briefing when he hands me a parachute to wear is rather disconcerting. If anything goes wrong, I’m told, slide back the glass roof and jump out. “It really is each man for himself,” he says, pulling on a leather headpiece circa 1943.

The engine roars slowly into life, we trundle along the runway and wobble up 2,000ft into Kent skies. It is perfect flying conditions; fat clouds drift over the Thames estuary, London’s skyscrapers glint in the distance. None the less, I’m rather terrified.

The Spitfire – powered by Rolls Royce Merlin engines – is far faster and when Monk takes off it instantly catches up. The plane stalks us just off our right wing, before banking sharply and swooping down above a valley. In the air it is unbelievably quick, and graceful.

http://bigginhillheritagehangar.co.uk/


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D-Day anniversary: Spitfires take to the Normandy skies again

May 27th, 2014

Next month, on what for many veterans will be the last time they visit Normandy for the 70th anniversary of the landings, Spitfires in D-Day livery will once more zoom overhead as they did that day.

The aircraft will fly from the Biggin Hill Heritage Hangar in Kent, which was founded three years ago by volunteers and has a fleet of Second World War planes, including six flying Spitfires and one Hurricane. At least one Mark 9 Spitfire, called The Spirit of Kent and recovered from South Africa in 1996 by former commercial airline pilot Peter Monk, will be flown over to Normandy. It is hoped, if the heritage hangar can raise the required funds in time, more will follow.

“This is very important as it’s the 70th year and probably the last significant anniversary for a great number of Normandy veterans,” Monk says. “When we have carried out fly-pasts before, these veterans always say they are so happy to see the Spitfire airborne again. Every time I fly one I get the same feeling. It doesn’t go away. It makes you proud to be British.”

At Biggin Hill, the final preparations are being made, with a group of RAF Second World War veterans, including Maurice Macey, overseeing the painting of the black and white stripes. I clamber into a wartime Harvard trainer to accompany Monk’s Spitfire on a trial run.

The Harvard, a two-seater in which many pilots were trained before getting into a Spitfire, was notorious for being unpredictable and tricky to fly. Macey, resplendent in a cream suit covered in medals and a golden Caterpillar Club badge – given to airmen who survived bailing out of a stricken plane – wishes me luck before I climb into the cockpit.

Fortunately, my pilot, Clive Denney, is a seasoned professional who has flown Second World War planes for 30 years. But even so, his safety briefing when he hands me a parachute to wear is disconcerting. If anything goes wrong, I’m told, slide back the glass roof and jump out. “It really is each man for himself,” he says, pulling on a leather headpiece circa 1943.

The engine roars slowly into life, we trundle along the runway and wobble up 2,000ft into Kent skies. The conditions are perfect for flying; fat clouds drift over the Thames estuary, London’s skyscrapers glint in the distance. None the less, I’m terrified. The Spitfire – powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines – is far faster, and after Monk takes off it instantly catches up. The plane stalks us just off our right wing, before banking sharply and swooping down above a valley. In the air it is unbelievably quick, and graceful.

“That is why they were such wonderful planes to fly,” Macey says back on land. “It’s because you felt part of it.” He knows the Spitfire more than most. In total he flew 62 operations before being shot down on August 14 1944 in north-eastern France, bailing out into a field of German troops. “The funny thing was as I floated down amidst all this carnage, all I could hear was a skylark singing,” he says.

Macey was captured and sent to several stalags – prison camps – before ending up on the notorious Long March of Allied prisoners, away from the Eastern Front where the Russians were advancing. Hundreds died en route but the RAF prisoners, in particular, were subjected to a horrendous ordeal. “Some of the other prisoners used to surround me so the Germans couldn’t see my wings,” Macey says. “We tried to always stay near the front, whatever happened, that was the best chance of staying alive.”

In the RAF, Macey earned the nickname “Hawkeye”, for his uncanny ability to spot Luftwaffe planes through the clouds, but it was not just the feared Spitfire pilots who contributed to the D-Day effort. Warrant Officer Neville Croucher, 91, from near Canterbury, is another RAF veteran involved at Biggin Hill who was in the skies on June 6 1944. Croucher signed up for the RAF aged 16 but had to wait two years before he could fly planes. “My parents thought I was nuts,” he says. A Hurricane ace for much of the war, when D-Day approached Croucher was shifted on to Wellington bombers to drop leaflets over Germany and northwestern France shortly before the first landings, assuring French civilians that liberation was at hand.

Warrant Officer Ron Dearman, too, was a crucial part of the air effort. The 90-year-old piloted an Avro Anson back and forth over the Channel throughout D-Day, risking enemy anti-aircraft fire to take aerial photographs so the advancing forces would know what lay ahead. “We were buzzed by Spitfires every time we came back,” he says. “It was a marvellous sight – not that I had all that much time to look.”

Some of these Biggin Hill veterans do not yet know if they will be able to make it to Normandy for the 70th anniversary. Indeed the Normandy Veterans Association, made up now of around 600 men (down from 16,000 in the Nineties), warned in January that this year’s trip will be its last before disbanding.

But those who do make it will share a few precious moments next month. When the Spitfires roar over as they did in 1944, the watching veterans will be instantly cast back: to the pride and sorrow and suffering of the men who stormed a beach – and won a war.

bigginhillheritagehangar.co.uk


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Lost war tales of Tarrant’s father

May 25th, 2014

Chris Tarrant fondly remembers his late father as his “closest friend”, but the television host has revealed he wishes he had spoken more with him about the Second World War.

The 67-year-old has written an account of his father Basil’s war diary, recounting stories including how the decorated Army officer won the Military Cross for leading a night patrol of 16 men on the German-Dutch border which overcame 60 enemy soldiers.

In a newspaper interview Tarrant said he could talk to his father about “anything”, but “the only thing that was taboo was the war”.

He said: “It was a generational thing. The ones like Dad, who had been in the thick of the fighting, rarely said a word about it.

“From childhood, I knew better than to ask. After he died, I realised I barely knew him at all.” Tarrant said he regrets not taking his father up on an offer of visiting Juno Beach on the 50th anniversary of D-Day for a television programme.

“Dad was proposing, for the first and only time, to talk about his war experiences and I rejected it.”


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Cuts mean we could no longer fight World War 2, claims military historian

May 23rd, 2014

Speaking at the Hay Literary Festival, Dr Jonathan Boff, of Birmingham University, said that it was unlikely that today’s generals would be able to stand up to politicians and make a case for the best tactics.

“There is a problem I think, and that I have seen over the last 10, 11, 12, 13 years, and generation after generation, of the military being cut by civil servants,” he said.

The defence committee studied Britain’s nuclear and conventional forces, considering whether the country still has sufficient military power to deter attacks and threats from other states.

MPs concluded that the credibility of both forces is put in doubt by recent cuts in the Armed Forces, and warned against any additional cuts.

A Strategic Defence and Security Review is due next year, and some military commanders fear it will lead to more cuts.

However Dr Boff claimed that Britain’s defence capability no longer needed to be as strong as it had been as global threats had diminished.

“There is now no kind of existential threat to Great Britain,” he said, “What you require is an ability to adapt and role with the punches.

“There are no longer any threats that are susceptible to military force.”

In his lecture Dr Boff also argued that Britain did not stumble blindly into the first and second world wars but was actually fairly well equipped to fight by the time the conflicts were announced.

“Even in 1939 Britain was the strongest military power in the world with the biggest navy that only rash people would have take on,” he said.

IN PICTURES: The 20 greatest war films


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In pictures: A look inside abandoned Heyford US Air Force base in Oxfordshire

May 22nd, 2014

Once allegedly used for storing nuclear warheads in case of an attack on Moscow, RAF Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire now stands abandoned and decaying. Used by the Royal Air Force primarily as a training base from 1918 to 1950, the site was transferred to the United States Air Force (USAF) at the beginning of the Cold War.Picture: Darmon Ritcher / Barcroft Media


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