Archive for December, 2015

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.


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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.


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Adolf Hitler really did have only one ball, according to new medical report

December 23rd, 2015

• Spanish dictator Franco ‘only had one testicle’

On November 12, 1923, Hitler had to undergo the indignity of a medical examination on his arrival at Landsberg prison.

Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, left, with his second-in-command Hermann Göring

The records of that examination were long thought lost, until they surfaced at an auction in 2010.

They were promptly confiscated by the Bavarian government and have only now been properly studied.

Dr Josef Steiner Brin, the prison’s medical officer’s notes record “Adolf Hitler, artist, recently writer” as “healthy and strong” but suffering from “right-side cryptorchidism”.

• Adolf Hitler took ‘primitive Viagra’ to have sex with Eva Braun, claims new book

Cryptorchidism is when the testicle fails to descend properly.

“The testicle was probably stunted,” Prof Fleischman said.

The new findings appear to contradict claims that Hitler lost a testicle to a shrapnel injury in the First World War.

In an account that was only discovered in 2008, Franciszek Pawlar, a Polish priest and amateur historian, claimed a German army medic who treated Hitler after the incident told him about the injury.

They also appear to contradict the account of Hitler’s childhood doctor, Eduard Bloch, who told American interrogators in 1943 the Fuhrer’s genitals were “completely normal”.

In very rare cases, cryptorchidism can develop later in life.

A practising Jew, Dr Bloch stayed in Austria under Hitler’s personal protection until 1940, when he emigrated to the US.

The Soviet autopsy carried out on Hitler’s remains in the Fuhrerbunker after the fall of Berlin found that one testicle was completely missing — although, curiously, it recorded the left testicle as absent.

If Hitler did have an undescended testicle, it could explain why he had no children, as it is often linked to reduced fertility.

It would not necessarily have affected the Fuhrer’s sex life, as there is not generally a link to impotence.

The popular song emerged in 1939 and is thought to have been written by a publicist for the British Council, which was tasked with helping build propaganda that would damage the Nazis.

The commonly-recalled version is an adaptation of the original, which ran: “Göring has only got one ball, Hitler’s [are] so very small, Himmler’s so very similar, And Goebbels has no balls at all.”


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Prince Harry poses with Battle of Britain veteran on 2015 Christmas card

December 23rd, 2015

During the event, a total of 33 Spitfires, Hurricanes and Bristol Blenheim bombers flew from Goodwood Aerodrome in West Sussex before dispersing across wartime airfields over the South of England.

A Kensington Palace spokesman said: “Prince Harry has chosen this photograph with Battle of Britain veteran Tom Neil for his Christmas card.

“He considered it a great honour to meet Tom during the Battle of Britain flypast in September. It was one of his most memorable moments of 2015.”

The picture was taken by the Press Association’s veteran royal photographer John Stillwell.

Harry gave up his seat to ensure veteran Tom ‘Ginger’ Neil and two wounded servicemen could still take part in the biggest gathering of Battle of Britain aircraft since the Second World War.

Around 40 Spitfires, Hurricanes and Bristol Blenheim bombers are flying in formation from Goodwood Aerodrome in West Sussex before dispersing across wartime airfields over the South of England.

The Prince was due to have a seat in one of four two-seater Spitfires taking part in the flypast. But when one of the vintage aircraft developed mechanical problems, he decided to step aside to ensure the event’s special guests would still get to fly.

His spokesman said he wanted to make sure that Mr Neil would still be able to take part. And he wanted to ensure that a former para and an RAF corporal who won places on a Spitfire scholarship training programme were also still able to take part in the display.

Tom Neil - the man Prince Harry gave his seat up for in the Battle of Britain tribute

Last week, Kensington Palace released a touching family photo of Prince William and Kate and their two children George and Princess Charlotte.

In the image they are crouching down and Kate balances her daughter on her knee while her son stands next to her – and all four smile for the photographer.

Merry Christmas from The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince George and Princess Charlotte

The photograph of the Duke and Duchess and their children will be used on their official Christmas card.

The card will be sent to organisations and individuals the royal couple are associated with.

31 things you didn’t know about Prince Harry
The best and worst politician Christmas cards of 2015


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WWII bunker in Clapham to open for visitors to explore

December 22nd, 2015

The exhibition will focus on the history of the tunnels and will be used for Hidden London tours run by the London Transport Museum.

The tunnels have been open before, for limited access, but have never been open to the wider public.

Clapham North Deep-Level World War II air raid shelter

Construction work could start by the middle of 2016.

Also in Clapham, underground space is being used to grow micro greens and salad by the Growing Underground project.

This is taking place in the tunnels underneath Clapham High Street.

If you want to drink fancy cocktails in a bunker, a bomb shelter underneath Soho Square is potentially being turned into a fancy bar or restaurant.

Clapham North Underground station

It’s been put on the market by Westminster Council, which is offering a long lease at £175,000.

It has already attracted interest from at least three restaurant groups and gym and music venue operators.


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World War Two coastal fort on sale to anyone willing to splash out £2m

December 22nd, 2015

The end result should see the unique property that has stunning sea views double in value.

“The new home will have a dramatic coastal view couple with the peace and serenity of living in such a private location.”

Estate agent

The fort was built as a gun battery for the Guernsey Militia to defend the Channel Island against an invasion threatened by Emperor Napoleon in the 18th century but thankfully wasn’t deployed.

Fort Richmond, a former gun battery on Guernsey, is up for sale after laying empty for more than 30 years

Ironically, the only time guns were fired in anger was in the Second World War when the Germans occupied the Islands and used the fort to defend themselves against the British.

After the war it was leased to a surf club and then to a Christian youth group for its headquarters before being left empty and neglected.

Seven years ago the site was identified by the government as one of its vacant properties that could now be sold off.

War and peace on Guernsey

Since then plans have been drawn up and submitted to the States of Guernsey planning authority to convert it into a luxury home.

And after securing consent the value of the property shot up and is now being offered for sale for the first time.

The coastal site that overlooks picturesque Vazon Bay covers two acres.

Fort Richmond, a former gun battery on Guernsey, is up for sale after laying empty for more than 30 years

The new home will be spread over three floors and have a master bedroom with two en-suites, a sitting room and a dressing room as well as four more en-suite bedrooms.

There will be a wine cellar, office and a huge atrium in the middle of it.

Ross Le Marquand, of estate agents Cooper Brouard, said: “This is the first time Fort Richmond has been given consent to transform it from military to domestic use.

“It was built when England was worried about a Napoleon invasion from France but was not put into significant use.

• Adolf Hitler really did have only one ball, according to new medical report

“In the Second World War Winston Churchill took a decision not to defend the Channel Islands from the Germans and as a result the fort became part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall defence.

“It can now be offered for sale with planning permission in place which means that whoever buys it can do so in the certainty that they will be allowed to begin the conversion.

“The new home will have a dramatic coastal view couple with the peace and serenity of living in such a private location.”


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Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s family attack Donald Trump over Muslim ban policy

December 18th, 2015

“As a nation, internment weakened us all. It is a tragic reminder of what happens when we allow fear and hysteria to trump our values.

“Historians and leaders across the political spectrum agree internment was a grievous mistake and a violation of basic human rights. It detracts from the amazing efforts by my grandfather to rescue our economy and build the foundation of America’s great middle class.”

American-Japanese citizens en route to a internment camp in California in April 1942

Earlier this week, Mr Trump compared his plan to Roosevelt’s classification of thousands of Japanese, Germans and Italians living in the US during the war as “enemy aliens”.

President Franklin Roosevelt signing the declaration of war against Japan

He said Roosevelt, one of America’s greatest presidents, was “highly respected by all”, and then stated: “Take a look at presidential proclamations, what he was doing with Germans, Italians and Japanese, because he had to do it.”

FDR tried to save Jewish refugees during Second World War, book claims

The billionaire businessman made the proposal, that Muslims including would-be immigrants, students and tourists, should be blocked from entering the country, in the wake of the deadly shootings in San Bernardino, California, last week by a married couple inspired by Islamic State militants.


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Guy Martin: my grandfather fought for the Nazi

December 17th, 2015

An authentic antidote to the high jinks of Messrs Clarkson and co, he went on to renovate a narrow boat, reconstruct a beached Spitfire and investigate Industrial Revolution technology. And most eye-catchingly of all, in Speed with Guy Martin on Channel 4, he attempted to break a wacky series of hair-raising records on land, water, ice and in the air.

Martin’s grandfather was conscripted by the Nazis in 1941. No one in the presenter’s family had a clue

One of the most impressive of his feats was breaking the British record for outright speed on a bicycle – he hit an extraordinary 113 mph by using the slipstream created by a specially-modified lorry. (He has since said that he wants to reach 200mph.)

He also broke the British hovercraft speed record on Loch Ken, in Dumfries and Galloway, and the speed record for a toboggan, although, when he attempted to break the world record for the hovercraft, a change in wind direction saw him fly 100ft into the air at 76 mph, damaging the craft and forcing Martin to abandon ship.

A show on Channel 4 next year will see him attempting the world speed record for the Wall of Death, the epic fairground stunt that involves riding a motorcycle around a vertical wall. Martin – who, on top of his crash this year, broke his back and eight ribs in 2010 in a crash on the Isle of Man – is fearless.

But, outside of these adrenalinefuelled pursuits, he has a simple life. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is reluctant to become a full-time TV presenter, doesn’t even own a television (or a smartphone) and, while out on location, often spurns the hotel to sleep in his van with his dog. But it’s exactly this combination of eccentricity and humility that makes him so popular with viewers.

What choice did he have? You look at the bare bones of it, that’s all he could have done. I’d have done the same

Guy Martin

Knowing a good thing when they see one, Channel 4 persuaded him earlier this year to film a travelogue. Our Guy in India took Martin on a 1,000-mile motorbike trip around the country. And now he has made his most personal documentary yet.

“After Our Guy in India they asked me if I wanted to shoot abroad again. I said, ‘I’m not a big holiday person but I’ve always wanted to go to Latvia. Just to find out what it’s like.’” Researchers delved a little deeper and found that there was a much more compelling programme than a bog-standard portrait of modern Latvia.

It turned out Martin’s late grandfather, Walter Kidals, whose original first name was Waldemars, came from Latvia and had been conscripted by the Nazis in the Second World War.

He had then spent two years in a Belgian prisoner-of-war camp, before arriving in Hull as a refugee in 1947. No one in Martin’s family had a clue. Martin’s main memory is of a man who liked his shed and “didn’t say much”.

“His English wasn’t the best,” he says. “He could get his point across. He was just different, just the way he ate and the way he drank his tea. He’d mix anything with anything.” Walter shared so little that even his wife Lill, now 92, had no idea that he was an orphan.

Like tens of thousands of Latvians, when Germany occupied the country in 1941, Walter was offered a choice: fight for the Nazis, or face death. At 80,000, the Latvians formed one of the largest national groups of Nazi conscripts. What would his grandson have done? “You had no choice,” he says. “What other option was there? You look at the bare bones of it, that’s all you could have done. I’d have done the same.”

• Sons suffering the sins of their Nazi fathers

After the war Latvian soldiers were exonerated by the Nuremberg trials and surviving conscripts were allowed to settle in the US and Britain as political refugees.

For Walter, there was no option of going home to a country which was now part of the Soviet Union. To simulate the kind of welcome his grandfather would have received, Martin visited a former prison which offers a quasitotalitarian experience in which curious tourists are brutalised and shouted at in Russian.

“There was no friendly atmosphere at all. We didn’t have a chat beforehand. They wouldn’t shake my hand, told me to sign this form, and from there on it was a bit of a battering. I genuinely was bloody scared.”•• •

In Our Guy in Latvia Martin once more reveals himself as a hugely likeable one-off. His down-to-earth aura, and eagerness to throw himself into anything, would have brought a welcome injection of unmediated spontaneity to Top Gear, so it is all the more regrettable that he turned down Chris Evans’s invitation to join. Instead, he’s sticking to fixing lorries while nipping off to make programmes for Channel 4. “It’s not for me,” he says. “I’m sure it would have been good for a pay cheque but I think I’ve got the best job in the world.

“Television opens up some bloody great doors. That’s the plus. The minus is the attention it brings. It is a bit of a pain now just doing a few hours of television a year. I don’t want to be famous. And that would have been a whole new level if I had gone and done Top Gear. It would be just stepping into Jeremy Clarkson’s shoes.

“What we do on Channel 4 is like our own version. If they keep coming up with interesting ideas I’ll do them. If they come up with crap ideas I’ll just go to work.”

Our Guy in Latvia is on Channel 4 on December 14 at 9pm


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Hundreds turn out for funeral of WWII veteran who had no known relatives

December 16th, 2015

• Elderly neighbours discover they both took part in the same WW2 mission

Royal British Legion standard bearers march ahead of the hearse

War veterans acted as standard bearers and led the funeral procession with the coffin of Mr. Cox draped in a Union flag.

Serving Army officers also joined the moving ceremony in Middlesborough, Teeside.

Around two hundred people from all walks of life attended the funeral service

Other mourners included police officers and ambulance workers and members of the Royal British Legion Bikers turned out.

“Rest easy soldier, your duty’s done. Goodnight and God bless.”

They all answered the call of the Royal Pioneer Corps Association who posted an appeal on the Facebook page asking for people to attend.

It was shared to veteran groups, army-related groups and other local groups in the North East and in 12 hours it was seen by over 100,000 people.

Mourners attend the funeral

Local florist Beckie McLinn saw the plea and created a 3ft coffin top arrangement for Mr Cox, who lived alone in Stockton, Co Durham.

Others laid wreaths and red flowers to mark the veteran’s war service with moving tributes attached.

• Guy Martin: my grandfather fought for the Nazis

One read: “RIP brave soldier, gone but never forgotten” and another said: “Rest easy soldier, your duty’s done. Goodnight and God bless.”

Floral tributes and messages are left at the funeral service

One bunch of red flowers said: “Rest in peace brother.”

Norman Brown, who launched the appeal for mourners, said: “He had one hell of a send-off.”


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Dambuster’s medal to be sold to fund Africa dam

December 16th, 2015

The young airman never returned, although the story of valour and heroism behind the medal should help raise a huge sum for WaterAid when it is auctioned next week.

David Kirk, of auctioneers Morton & Eden said the lot, which includes a letter from Hopgood’s commander informing his mother of his death, was “undoubtedly” one of the most iconic Distinguished Flying Cross medals to be auctioned in years.

Flight Lieutenant John Vere ‘Hoppy’ Hopgood

He said: “Flight Lieutenant Hopgood’s family has agonized over the decision to part with the medal but feel that John Hopgood himself would approve.

“He was evidently a very thoughtful and idealistic young man who, we believe, would be glad to know that the proceeds from the sale of his medal will go towards the building of a much-needed sand dam to benefit thousands of people in Uganda.

“The new dam will form a fitting memorial to Hopgood’s heroism and self-sacrifice on the Dambusters’ mission, of which his family can be duly proud”.

Thomas Benn, of WaterAid, said: “WaterAid is delighted that the family of Flt Lt John Hopgood will pay tribute to him through supporting our lifesaving work. “

“The new dam will form a fitting memorial to Hopgood’s heroism and self-sacrifice on the Dambusters’ mission, of which his family can be duly proud”

David Kirk, of auctioneers Morton & Eden

Born in the village of Hurst, Berkshire, the pilot was educated at the prestigious Marlborough College, known today as the secondary school of the Duchess of Cambridge and Samantha Cameron.

As war broke out he was due to go to Corpus Christi College Cambridge to read law, but instead joined the Royal Air Force.

Despite his age he became a respected airman for his “considerable courage and cool nerve” while flying perilous sorties behind enemy lines.

He received the Distinguished Flying Cross in October 1942 and a few months later, in January 1943, he received his second award Bar.

Hopgood was selected to fly with 617 Squadron, who on the night of May 16-17 1943, executed Operation Chastise.

As part of Formation No 1 he followed Wing Commander Guy Gibson in a swoop on the Mohne Dam in West Germany.

Despite receiving serious wounds on the approach, the young airman flew low enough over the dam for the “bouncing bomb” to strike and destroy a hydroelectric power station.

Then, in a final act of selfless valour, he manoeuvred his Lancaster to gain enough height for his crewmen to bail out.

Those who survived were decorated and Gibson received the Victoria Cross.

The medal is being sold by his family in an auction on Tuesday December 15 at Morton & Eden Ltd, Nash House, St George Street, London.


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