Archive for February, 2016

War memorial has fake names after error

February 22nd, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Polish codebreakers ‘cracked Enigma before Alan Turing’

February 21st, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Codebreakers at Bletchley Park, 1942

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

February 4th, 2016

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

Nicholas Winton, seen here celebrating his 105th birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Inside the real life Dad’s Army training camp

February 3rd, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

And, for three months, it really worked.

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

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

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

Captain Mainwaring will be played by Toby Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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