Posts Tagged ‘camp’

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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Nazi Auschwitz camp officer, 93, to face trial over 300,000 deaths

February 3rd, 2015

For this reason, he was known as the “bookkeeper” of Auschwitz.

The accused also helped remove the luggage of victims so it was not seen by new arrivals, thus covering up the traces of mass killing, according to the prosecutors.

They said the defendant was aware that the predominantly Jewish prisoners deemed unfit to work “were murdered directly after their arrival in the gas chambers of Auschwitz”.

Groening told German daily Bild in 2005 that he regretted working at Auschwitz, saying he still heard the screams from the gas chamber decades later.

“I was ashamed for decades and I am still ashamed today,” said Groening, who was employed from the age of 21 at the camp, which was liberated 70 years ago last week.

“Not of my acts, because I never killed anyone. But I offered my aid. I was a cog in the killing machine that eliminated millions of innocent people.”

The German office investigating Nazi war crimes sent files on 30 former Auschwitz personnel to state prosecutors in 2013 with a recommendation to bring charges against them.

The renewed drive to bring to justice the last surviving perpetrators of the Holocaust follows a 2011 landmark court ruling.

For more than 60 years German courts had only prosecuted Nazi war criminals if evidence showed they had personally committed atrocities.

But in 2011 a Munich court sentenced John Demjanjuk to five years in prison for complicity in the extermination of Jews at the Sobibor camp, where he had served as a guard, establishing that all former camp guards can be tried.

About 1.1 million people, mostly European Jews, perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau, operated by the Nazis from 1940 until it was liberated by Soviet forces on January 27, 1945.


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Buchenwald concentration camp immigration plan criticised

January 15th, 2015

“This is not a normal place, not just anywhere, but a place of exploitation, oppression and unbounded violence,” Christine Glauning, director of the Documentation Centre for Nazi Forced Labour, told Spiegel magazine’s website.

The history of the site is not well documented. It was small outpost of the much larger Buchenwald concentration camp, where more than 50,000 prisoners were killed, many of them forced labourers deliberately worked to death.

Some 700 Polish slave labourers were held at the outpost in Schwerte and forced to work on the nearby railway maintenance facility.

The Schwerte authorities defended the decision, stressing that the barracks building had never housed prisoners, and that it had been used since the war as accommodation for disabled veterans, and as an artist’s studio.

Many former Nazi buildings are used in Germany. The Berlin Olympic Stadium, built under Hitler for the 1936 Olympics, is still used as a football ground and concert venue.

Last year George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, took part in a joint press conference with EU finance ministers at the former Nazi Air Ministry, built for Hermann Goering, which is now used as Germany’s Finance Ministry.

But modern Germany has avoided using former concentration camps, or sites connected specifically with Hitler, such as the former Fuhrerbunker in Berlin.


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Bulldozer attack on Nazi concentration camp

December 10th, 2014

Unknown assailants used a stolen bulldozer to smash their way into the memorial at the site of the Langenstein-Zwieberge camp, where more than 2,000 prisoners were worked to death, and caused an estimated €50,000 (£40,000) of damage.

“At this stage of the investigation, we suspect a more likely culprit is someone who started the bulldozer up and drove it a few kilometers as a prank. We don’t have any other leads,” a police spokesman told MDR, a local radio broadcaster.

The bulldozer was stolen from a nearby building site and driven a mile across fields, before being used to tear down the entire perimeter fence at the memorial site, and ram the main gates to the eight miles of underground tunnels built by forced labourers at the site. It was later found torched nearby.

Langenstein-Zwieberge, a subcamp of the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp, was established towards the end of the war in 1944. The Nazis sent more than 7,000 prisoners from 23 countries there as slave labourers, to construct vast underground passages where warplane and weapons manufacturing could be concealed from Allied bombers.

More than 2,000 of the inmates were literally worked to death. Life expectancy at the camp was just six months. Some of the tunnels were big enough to contain train carriages, and were built with Nazi “cost projections” of a death for every metre built.

Despite a €3,000 reward offered for its recovery, the “Arbeit macht frei” sign which was stolen from Dachau last month still has not been found, and police are continuing their enquiries.


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British ex-POW in Japanese camp ‘disgusted’ by guard demands for compensation

November 11th, 2014

“I want to ask that our honour be restored very soon,” Lee said.

Lee complained that while former servicemen convicted of war crimes receive monthly pensions, non-Japanese nationals receive a smaller amount.

“It’s a tough situation and it’s continuing,” Lee said. “I would like to ask for support.”

But Arthur Lane, who was a bugler with the Manchester Regiment and captured at the fall of Singapore in February 1942, says the troops from Japan’s colonies were the most vicious abusers of prisoners.


An emaciated British POW in a Japanese Camp

“The Japanese guards were bad, but the Koreans and the Formosans were the worst,” he told The Telegraph from his home in Stockport.

“These were men who the Japanese looked down on as colonials, so they needed to show they were as good as the Japanese,” he said. “And they had no-one else to take it out on other than us POWs.”

Now 94, Lane was sent to work on the “Death Railway,” which was designed to run from Thailand to the Indian border and to serve as the Japanese invasion route. An estimated 12,400 Allied POWs and some 90,000 Asian labourers died during the construction of the 258-mile track.

“After my capture, I witnessed many atrocities – murders, executions, beatings and instances of sadistic torture – and I was on the receiving end myself on a number of occasions,” he said.

“I was also one of a handful of buglers in the camps and played my bugle at thousands of burials for the victims of the ‘sons of heaven’,” he added.

“That’s why I have no sympathy for this group’s claims,” he added. “These men volunteered and they all knew exactly what they were doing. And they mistreated us because they wanted to please their masters and knew they could get away with it.

“They joined up for kicks, when Japan was winning the war, and they took advantage of that for their own enjoyment,” Lane said.

“They won’t get an apology or compensation from the Japanese government,” he added. “I think a more fitting result would be to have then taken out and whipped for what they did to us.”


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Nazi ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’ sign stolen from gate at Dachau concentration camp

November 2nd, 2014

She said a private security service supervises the site but officials had decided against surveillance of the former camp with video cameras because they didn’t want to turn it into a “maximum-security unit.”

That decision may now have to be reviewed, she added.

Police have not yet identified any suspects, but neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers have targeted concentration camps in the past, stealing soil and other artefacts.

In 2009 a sign containing the same notorious words was briefly stolen from the entrance to the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp in Poland. It was recovered three days later.

The theft drew worldwide condemnation, particularly from Israel and Jewish groups.

Anders Hoegstroem, one of the men who confessed to the theft, was a Swedish neo-Nazi leader. He was jailed for 32 months after striking a plea bargain with Polish authorities.

Dachau, near Munich in Germany, was the first concentration camp set up by the Nazis in 1933. More than 40,000 prisoners died there before it was liberated by US forces on April 29, 1945.

Angela Merkel became the first German chancellor to visit the former concentration camp in August last year, where she expressed “shame” at the crimes of the Nazi regime.


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Gas chambers discovered at Nazi death camp Sobibor

September 20th, 2014

More than 250,000 Jews were killed at the Sobibor death camp in what is now Poland. The SS leader Heinrich Himmler ordered Sobibor to be destroyed after a successful prisoner uprising in which around 300 of those being held there escaped. He ordered all traces of the camp to be removed, and the area planted with trees.

The rooms were locked with steel doors equipped with peep-holes. It took just 20 to 30 minutes to murder each group of victims.

“These finds are all that remained of those who were murdered here,” one of the archaeologists told Süddeustche Zeitung newspaper. “We will learn more from them on how the murder in the camp was carried out and what the Jews went through before they were murdered.”

There was no chance of survival for those sent to Sobibor. Unlike other concentration camps such as Auschwitz, prisoners were not kept alive to work as forced labourers: they were all sent to the gas chambers. The camp was built expressly for the purpose of carrying out the Holocaust, and the overwhelming majority of those who died there were Jewish.

Jewish slave labourers were forced to build the camp, and shot dead the moment it was completed.

Jewish prisoners led an uprising at the camp on October 14 1943, in which they killed 11 SS officers and a number of camp guards.

Some 300 of the 600 prisoners in the camp at the time escaped, but only 50 to 70 of them are believed to have survived. Others died in the minefields that surrounded the camp, or were recaptured in the days that followed.


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Gas chambers discovered at Nazi death camp Sobibor

September 19th, 2014

More than 250,000 Jews were killed at the Sobibor death camp in what is now Poland. The SS leader Heinrich Himmler ordered Sobibor to be destroyed after a successful prisoner uprising in which around 300 of those being held there escaped. He ordered all traces of the camp to be removed, and the area planted with trees.

The rooms were locked with steel doors equipped with peep-holes. It took just 20 to 30 minutes to murder each group of victims.

“These finds are all that remained of those who were murdered here,” one of the archaeologists told Süddeustche Zeitung newspaper. “We will learn more from them on how the murder in the camp was carried out and what the Jews went through before they were murdered.”

There was no chance of survival for those sent to Sobibor. Unlike other concentration camps such as Auschwitz, prisoners were not kept alive to work as forced labourers: they were all sent to the gas chambers. The camp was built expressly for the purpose of carrying out the Holocaust, and the overwhelming majority of those who died there were Jewish.

Jewish slave labourers were forced to build the camp, and shot dead the moment it was completed.

Jewish prisoners led an uprising at the camp on October 14 1943, in which they killed 11 SS officers and a number of camp guards.

Some 300 of the 600 prisoners in the camp at the time escaped, but only 50 to 70 of them are believed to have survived. Others died in the minefields that surrounded the camp, or were recaptured in the days that followed.


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Second World War camp survivor and wife both die on 76th wedding anniversary

August 13th, 2014

The couple, who fell in love at first sight, met in Cardiff and married on August 5, 1938, three years before Mr Hartland was posted as a gunner to Singapore following the outbreak of war.

His regiment of 700 men surrendered to the Japanese the following year and Mr Hartland, like thousands of others, was tortured, starved and worked to the brink of death by his captors.

An estimated 13,000 people died building the railway, most of them buried near to where they fell along the unforgiving 250-mile route stretching to the Thailand border.

Mr Hartland, who was 11-stone when he left for Singapore, survived to the end of the war, by which time he weighed five stone and bore a scar on his leg – the mark of a poisoned bamboo shoot pushed through his leg by a camp guard who had caught him smoking banana leaves.

Having survived 15 different camps and been forced to dig his own grave, Mr Hartland was welcomed home to Cardiff in 1945 with a street party and a letter of thanks from King George.

Mrs Pearson said: “I don’t know how dad survived, mainly luck and determination, I think. There were 700 men in his regiment when they went out, but only four ever came back. Dad was the last to die from his regiment.

“In 1942, Mum got a letter from the colonel of the Coast Regiment saying Dad was missing, presumed dead. She had the papers to claim a widow’s pension.

“She absolutely refused to believe it. At the time, she was conscripted to work in a parachute factory in Cardiff Bay. She hated it: it was dirty and rat infested.

“But every day, on her way to work, mum would go into the church she passed and pray that dad would come home. She lived without him for four years, but she never believed he was dead.”

Last year, Mr Hartland said: “The worst thing was when we had to dig our own graves. We were due to be shot on the day the war ended.

“Then the ‘all-clear’ sounded. You can guess how I felt.”

Mrs Pearson, the couple’s daughter, was born in 1946 and the family moved to Wyken, Coventry in 1947, and Mr Hartland worked for Morris Engines as a factory foreman until he retired.

She said: “Dad was in hospital for a while after he came back from Burma, but neither of them cared. They were just so happy to be together again.

“They had an incredible marriage. They never, ever argued. Dad idolised Mum, and she adored him.

Mr Hartland died at Saint Martin’s Rest Home in Woodway Lane, Coventry, last week, hours after his wife was discharged from hospital with a broken leg.

Mrs Pearson, a mother of two, said: “We think he was waiting for her to come back to the room they shared before he died.

“Afterwards, Mum just kept saying, ‘I can’t live without him’. That night, Mum rang me.

“She was upset and I told her to think about all the happy times they’d shared in their marriage while she drifted off to sleep.

“She died at 1am, and I like to think that’s exactly what she was doing.

“It’s a perfect love story. I’m devastated they’re gone but so happy for them – they’ve never really had to live without one another.

“The undertaker said he had never seen anything like it, when he came to collect Mum. Paramedics said she died of a heart attack, literally of a broken heart.”

A joint funeral has been arranged for the pair, which will take place in Coventry on Tuesday.


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Auschwitz museum hit by thefts as visitors remove ‘souvenirs’ from Nazi death camp

May 6th, 2014

“This is shocking,” he said. “This isn’t really vandalism because vandalism is something you do to a bus stop. This is barbarism.”

The museum’s operators say the size of the camp makes stopping crime difficult. Auschwitz-Birkenau covers over 200 hectares and contains a 150 buildings, and Mr Cywinski said despite the best efforts of staff it is impossible to “monitor the entire camp” and eradicate all theft and vandalism.

Poland’s culture ministry, which is responsible for the museum, said it opposed the installation of CCTV systems given the specific environment of the camp.

“How would you feel if you visited Asuchwitz-Birkenau barracks and noticed that there were two cameras monitoring every item,” asked Malogorzata Omilanowska, deputy culture minister. “How would we be able to maintain the authenticity of the camp?”

Mr Cywinski said the only long-term solution was education, but others have called for harsher legal punishments for anybody caught vandalising or stealing from the camp.

But Bogdan Bartnikowski, a former Auschwitz prisoner, said if people really knew what the camp was like, they would think twice about vandalism.

“If they had been there and feared they would be leaving the next day via the chimney, then they would not be so eager to scratch their name onto a bunk,” he said.


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