Archive for June, 2014

One in five Britons thinks the country fought Hitler in World War I

June 27th, 2014

More than half (57%) knew that Britain became involved in the First World War because of a treaty with Belgium to defend it in the event of an invasion.

Knowledge of the country’s leadership was sketchy, with one in ten believing Winston Churchill was Prime Minister at the start of the conflict.

Only 36% correctly answered that the prime minister was Herbert Henry Asquith, while 34% guessed it was David Lloyd George, whose premiership started during the war.

Areas in which respondents were most knowledgeable were when the First World War took place (90%), what the term The Allies refers to (92%), and the fact that British and German soldiers once marked Christmas Day by playing a game of football (85%).

However, 1% of those polled believed the troops gave each other tours of their trenches, while eight people surveyed believed they gathered to watch a screening of the Great Escape.

People in the East Midlands are the most knowledgeable about the war, according to the research, getting an overall 70% of correct answers. Londoners were found to know the least, with only 63% of right responses.

Those from Scotland (68%) were slightly more successful than respondents from England (66%) and Wales (64%).

People aged 55 and over were the most knowledgeable, with 72% of correct answers, while more men than women answered correctly to each of the nine factual questions they were asked

The research also found that only one in 10 people believed the First World War is the most important British history subject for children to learn about at school, ranking behind topics such as the Second World War, the history of the monarchy and the Magna Carta.

The Times WWI Centenary Facsimile research also revealed a gender divide in First World War knowledge, as more men than women knew the correct answer for each of the nine factual questions they were asked (72% of correct answers compared to 60%).

Rose Wild, archive editor of The Times, said: ”These results demonstrate that although many people are aware of some basic facts about WWI, there is much more to be learnt.”


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Fury: see the first poster for Brad Pitt’s WW2 thriller

June 24th, 2014

A battle-weary Brad Pitt is seen with his Sherman tank co-star in the first poster for his new film Fury.

Writer/director David Ayer (Training Day, End of Watch) screened footage from Fury – describing it as a Second World War film “the likes of which we haven’t seen before” – at the E3 gaming convention in June, and received a rapturous response.

Fury follows a five man Sherman tank crew, led by Brad Pitt’s Sgt. Wardaddy, sent behind enemy lines in the last months of the Second World War. Ayer has shot the film on traditional film stock for a more realistic feel, and wherever possible used practical special effects instead of CGI. The cast also includes Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Michael Pena and Jon Bernthal.

Fury is released in the UK on October 24, and in the US on November 14.


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Tapestry looted by Nazis to be returned to French chateau

June 22nd, 2014

Staff worked with the Art Loss Register, an international company that tracks down lost and stolen art and the tapestry is now being returned to its rightful home, the chateau in Normandy where it had hung for over 200 years.

The work was made by Beauvais Tapestry Manufactory in around 1720, shows a scene from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and is now “easily worth tens of thousands of pounds”, according to James Ratcliffe, of the ALR.

A university spokesperson said: “The tapestry was looted at a time when Comte Bernard de la Rochefoucauld and his wife were both imprisoned in concentration camps.

“Comte Bernard was an active member of the French Resistance before his arrest in Paris in 1943. He died in 1944 as a result of his treatment at Flossenburg concentration camp while his wife survived the war.”

Two other tapestries taken from the chateau at the same time are still missing.

Chateau de Versainville is now owned by Comte Jacques de la Rochefoucauld, the descendant of Comte Bernard’s brother, and has been significantly renovated.

Comte Jacques who travelled to Sheffield to view the tapestry said: “I am delighted and touched by the generosity of the University of Sheffield in returning the artwork.

“The university has demonstrated respect for those who have suffered from the ravages of war.

“The example that the University has set is one which I hope others will follow in due course, and demonstrates their respect for those who have suffered in the past from the ravages of war.

“In the year marking the 70th anniversary of the death of Comte Bernard de la Rochefoucauld this donation brings us great happiness.”

It will be exhibited with a plaque to mark its return to the chateau, 500 miles from Sheffield.

Lynne Fox, Heritage Officer at the University of Sheffield, stated that: “We are delighted to see the tapestry returned to its rightful home at the Chateau de Versainville and are very pleased to have been able to assist in this process.

“We were as surprised as anyone to discover the history of the tapestry but we have been working extremely hard to ensure it is returned to the Chateau where it can be appreciated in its original home.”

Mr Ratcliffe, Director of Recoveries at the Art Loss Register: “In practical terms it, would have been difficult, though not impossible, for the university to sell it without acknowledging the Comte and the object’s past.

“Often that might involve a financial settlement. But there are no laws that would have forced the university to return it like this. That is undoubtedly an act of generosity.”It has been a pleasure to assist in the restoration of this tapestry to its rightful home.

” We are extremely grateful to the University of Sheffield for their assistance and generosity. It is always satisfying to bring restitution cases to a conclusion and we hope to locate and recover the remaining two missing tapestries in due course through our work.

Since it was established in 1991, the ALR has tracked down lost and stolen art to a value of more than £200 million.


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Duchess of Cambridge visits Bletchley Park

June 21st, 2014

The Duchess of Cambridge has arrived at Bletchley Park, where her maternal grandmother, Valerie Glassborow, played a role in helping to decode German cypher systems.

She will meet with a codebreaker who worked with Valerie, who was employed as a civilian member of staff along with her twin sister Mary.

Kate’s tour of the park will mark the completion of a year-long restoration project, which has returned the buildings to their Second World War appearance and created new visitor facilities.

During her visit the Duchess will meet Second World War code-breaker veterans including Lady Marion, view the interactive exhibitions and demonstrations, and meet the design and management team and supporters who worked to deliver the project.

Before leaving Kate will be invited to plant a tree to commemorate the visit and the completed restoration.


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89-yr-old Philadelphia man arrested over Nazi war crimes

June 21st, 2014

German authorities are charging him with aiding and abetting the deaths of 216,000 Jews, a figure arrived at by estimating the survival rate of prisoners packed into 158 trains that arrived at Auschwitz between May and October 1944, according to documents.

The judge ordered him held without bail. Mr Breyer, wearing a baggy green jumpsuit and leaning on a cane, was asked if he understood what was happening. “Not really,” he replied to the judge.

Mr Breyer immigrated to the United States in 1952. He was the subject of deportation proceedings in the 1990s when his attorneys argued that he was a natural US citizen because his mother was born in Philadelphia.

Newly discovered evidence has strengthened the case against Mr Breyer, the New York Times reported. War-era records show he was at Auschwitz earlier than he has acknowledged and that he also served as a guard in a notorious sub-camp, known as Birkenau, used exclusively to kill prisoners, the newspaper said.

Mr Breyer served as an armed guard at Buchenwald before transferring in 1944 to Auschwitz where, according to court documents, he has said he served as a perimeter guard.

In the courtroom wrangling over Mr Breyer’s health, his grandson Greg Breyer testified that he had suffered strokes and had a heart condition. Assistant US Attorney Andrea Foulkes countered that Mr Breyer had renewed his driver’s license two years ago and that he did not rely on home health aides.

Edited by Steve Wilson


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HMS Whimbrel: one week to save last Battle of the Atlantic escort

June 13th, 2014

But after more than a decade of their haggling to buy the Black Swan-class vessel, the Egyptian military has delivered a sudden ultimatum demanding around £200,000 by June 20, or they will offer her to scrap merchants.

The group is now desperately seeking funding to put in a bid and save the ship. As well as the price of the ship, the venture must find up to £1 million for immediate repairs and the use of a heavy-lift vessel to carry Whimbrel back to Liverpool.

Captain Chris Pile, project manager, said: “There is currently no memorial to the Battle of the Atlantic and she is the last one that saw active service.

“She represents great historical value to the nation and it would allow people to see what ships of that era were like and the conditions on board.”

The Battle of the Atlantic as Germany tried to cut of Britain’s sea supply routes was the longest campaign of the Second World War.

More than 30,000 sailors died battling marauding German submarines and trying to keep the sea lanes open and deliver vital supplies.

As well as taking part in the Battle of the Atlantic, Whimbrel was part of the Royal Navy fleet present at the Japanese surrender ceremony in 1945.

The sloop served with the Egyptian navy from 1949 and was renamed Tarik.

Capt Pile said: “She went on to serve a full operational career with the Egyptians.

“She is now starting to rust in a few areas. There are holes in her upper deck which are rusted away, but in the Egyptian climate rust does not advance at the same rate it does in the UK.

“The ship as a whole, considering she is 70 years old, is in pretty good nick and the Egyptians have kept her pretty well painted. She’s in pretty good physical shape, but she needs quite a lot of tender loving care.”

Negotiations with the Egyptian navy have been going on for more than a decade and at one point the venture seemed doomed when the price unexpectedly leapt fourfold. Just as a deal appeared to be back on track the country was overtaken by the turmoil of the Arab spring.


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Squatters take over British Legion building, barring D-day veterans from event

June 12th, 2014

The squatters refused to let in members of the legion and brought in mattresses, computers, games consoles and a dog to the building in Lewisham High Street in south London.

The squatters, who were mainly Polish and in their twenties, left a mess behind in the building and were eventually evicted by the Metropolitan Police following claims they had stolen gas and electricity.

Christine Rosenbaum, 67, told the Evening Standard: “They [the squatters] said they had nowhere to go and we were unable to get them out because of a change in the law.

“The windows were broken from where they had got in. They had gone through all the cupboards and the drawers to see what they could find.

“It was very messy and the kitchen was a state.

It was very upsetting because we didn’t know if we would get the building back.”

Doreen Hughes, 77, secretary of the East and Central Lewisham branch, said they hoped to raise enough money to redevelop the building and help others, including younger veterans.”

A spokeswoman for the Met Police said they spoke to the squatters and “asked them to leave.”

She added: “The rightful occupier is now back in the premises.”


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Honour plans for veteran escapee

June 10th, 2014

Mr Fitch said he met Mr Jordan, who will celebrate his 90th birthday next Monday, and presented him with two bottles of Normandy cider and took him out for lunch.

He said: “People were cheering him in the streets, shaking his hand. I think it is a wonderful thing he has done and I want to honour him for it.”

Mr Fitch said Mr Jordan should also be honoured for his 40 years of public service as a councillor, and for his work as council leader and as mayor of Hove.

Mr Jordan, a former Royal Navy officer, hit the headlines when he left The Pines nursing home in Hove last week after he had been told he would not be able to attend the anniversary events in Normandy.

He set off with a grey mac with his war medals on underneath and made his way to France anyway, determined not to miss out. His disappearance led to Sussex Police launching an investigation to ensure he was safe.


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We had men from Mars, now we have men from Venus

June 10th, 2014

The moving coverage of what may be the last full commemoration of the invasion of Europe in June 1944 has naturally prompted reflection on how astonishingly the world has changed in the past 70 years. But to that diminishing band of us whose memories go back to that far-off time, one respect in which the world has changed is as striking as any. A somewhat oblique way to symbolise it might be to compare those pictures of aged heroes reminiscing over extraordinary deeds on D-Day beaches, and of Churchill smoking his cigar, with yesterday’s news that all the three most likely candidates for the new European Commission presidency are now female, so that, alongside Angela Merkel, the two most powerful politicians in Europe will be women.

For a small boy growing up in rural Devon, those war years were incredibly exciting. We were daily made aware that we were involved in a huge drama. The enemy, as in an “Overcoming the Monster” story, was clearly in view. Everywhere around us were men in uniform. Our Devon skies were full of warplanes, Spitfires and American Liberators trailing smoke as they limped back from bombing some German city. For months in 1944 we knew that the drama was approaching its climax, as our Devon lanes filled with strange machines and American troops – until the sight of the sky blackened by Dakotas tugging gliders and the distant sound of gunfire from the south east told us that D-Day had come.

All this shaped our view of a heroically masculine world, in which men were men – such as my uncles, who lost a leg to a Heinkel in the African desert or served on Arctic convoys – and where women, doing their stuff for the war effort, were still very much women; and where our political leaders, such as Churchill and Roosevelt, could be revered as inspiring and truly commanding father figures.

For a decade or so after the war, as we can see reflected in the war films and romantic musicals of the time, those wartime values still lived on, when men like Gary Cooper, Jimmy Stewart or Jack Hawkins still seemed to be very much men in the wartime mould; and where women, in the graceful age of the “New Look”, could still, like Katherine Hepburn, Grace Kelly or Sophia Loren, be both strong and intensely feminine. We even had Churchill back in No 10.

But then, as the war receded, a hitherto unimaginable material prosperity arrived, along with television and rock’n’roll, to bring the transition to a very different age. Compared with those wartime years, our politicians began to become a different kind of animal – less decisive, less characterful, less manly. By the end of the “low, mean, dismal decade” of the Seventies, when Mrs Thatcher emerged as a dramatic throwback to those lost wartime values, it was widely observed that she was “the only real man in the Cabinet”. When she was overthrown, by those weak men around her who had resented her commanding presence as “bossiness”, we moved into an era where our politicians – younger, softer, more image-obsessed – became less clearly defined or commanding than ever.

And now, in the age of the politics of the Coalition and the European Union, where the masculine patriotism of President Putin seems such an alien aberration, where men wish to be more like women and women not only want to be like men but often, like Mrs Merkel, have to compensate for our lost masculinity, we look back to the drama of the Second World War as a wholly different world.

People of my age often observe that, while much good has been gained in our lifetime, more has been lost than younger people can ever know. We agree that we are fortunate to have lived just when we did, seeing both the best of the old and the best of the new. But then, when I talk to my sons, I realise that that is what every generation needs to think.


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Reliving the war takes a toll on veterans

June 9th, 2014

Sixty-one years later and aged 92, he retraced that journey and recorded his thoughts and memories in a series of articles for the Telegraph.

Bill always had a simple matter-of-fact use of language but, increasingly, the tone of the articles was unrelentingly bleak. The photographs that accompanied the daily reports seemed to suggest his increasing frailty. It was clear that the journey was shining an all-too-bright light into his memory, highlighting things that had been laid to rest there for decades.

Bill was never one to throw in the towel. So, when many would have come home early, he pressed on. His war had appeared to end in triumph with the award of the Military Cross and a citation that highlighted personal bravery and loyalty to his men. But for him it was a disaster. In April 1945, one month before VE Day, Bill’s company were led by faulty intelligence into an ambush at a bridge over the Twente Canal. His actions led to his MC, but in the engagement 22 of his men were killed and another 20 wounded. The dead included Bill’s two favourite subalterns, both in their early twenties. The death of these young men, who so nearly survived the war to build new lives with the ebullience of youth, traumatised their commanding officer, who regarded their loss as his responsibility.

Bill privately considered his years as a soldier to have been the most admirable of his career; surprising, perhaps, for the only man to have ever been a cabinet minister and editor of a national daily newspaper. But his recollections of the war years were hardly ever revealed – and only to close family. They were sealed up by scars inflicted at the end.

Before Bill left for his VE Day memorial expedition, he was still formidably engaged with life. Only a year earlier he had marked his 90th birthday by flying to Darfur in Africa to report on that country’s humanitarian crisis. But from his return home in 2005 until his death two years later, the enthusiasm and tenacity that had driven him on ebbed inexorably away.

So as their ranks thin like falling leaves, we should think carefully about how we expect our veterans to engage with ceremonies and anniversaries. For us it is a proper and laudable marking of history. For some of them, as with Bill, it can be a journey into a past that they have been relieved to leave behind. They were there, we were not.

George Plumptre is chief executive of the National Gardens Scheme


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