Posts Tagged ‘finally’

Has a lost Nazi ghost train carrying gold finally been found? Two treasure hunters think so

August 19th, 2015

It is believed that towards the end of the war, as the Red Army closed in on the city of Wroclaw, Nazis loaded a train with gold and other treasure and sent it south west.

“Lawyers, the army, the police and the fire brigade are dealing with this,” Marika Tokarska, an official at the Walbrzych district council, told Reuters.

“The area has never been excavated before and we don’t know what we might find.”

Workers Inspects Gold Bars Taken From Jews By The Nazi's And Stashed In The Heilbron Salt Mines

According to local legend, the train vanished after heading into mountains straddling the current Polish-Czech border.

“In the region we actually two gold train stories,” Joanna Lamparska, a local historian, told Radio Wroclaw.

“One is supposed to be under a mountain and the other somewhere around Walbrzych.

“But no one has ever seen documentary evidence confirming the existence of such trains.”

Other historians point out that the Nazis dug miles of tunnels in the south-west mountains of what is now Poland in one of the biggest construction projects in the history of the Third Reich.

The reason for the tunnels remain shrouded in mystery, and some believers in the ghost train argue the Germans may have excavated secret railway stashes and hidden the loot in one of them for safe keeping.

The value of its cargo may also explain the lack of documentation of the train as the Germans could have put secrecy before paperwork, they say.

A US soldier inspects thousands of gold wedding bands taken from jews by the Nazi's and stashed in the Heilbron Salt Mines

How the gold came into the Nazis’ posession also remains unclear. It has been suggested the treasure is linked to the Nazis’ monumental wartime looting spree, which stripped museums and private houses of their artworks.

Walbrzych local government has refused to comment on the matter other than to ask the claimants to come forward and give the location of the apparent find as it may have been boobytrapped with mines.

Taduesz Slowikowski, a treasure hunter who has searched for the missing train, said he was sceptical that the alleged find in southern Poland would still contain the treasure.

“They may have found the train, but not the gold,” he told Radio Zet, a Polish national radio station.

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Australia’s Aboriginal war heroes ‘finally’ recognised by memorial sculpture

March 31st, 2015

Full-blooded Aborigines were allowed to enlist from World War II, and Aborigines were given the right to vote federally in 1962 and in all states by 1965.

Full-blooded Aborigines were allowed to enlist from World War II (EPA)

Aboriginal groups have long campaigned for proper recognition of their service.

“One way to get this recognition was to advocate for a memorial and the bullets are a great idea,” Ray Minniecon, from the Coloured Diggers movement, told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

“On the battlefield, bullets don’t discriminate; they kill black people or white people, so when it came to war, all of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and woman were treated as equals.

“However, when our men and women came home to their various states they weren’t given any recognition. They had to come back and fight another battle, but this time against racism.”

The bullets and shells were inspired by the story of Mr Albert’s grandfather, who was one of four soldiers to survive an encounter with Italian forces. Three soldiers died in the battle.

The bullets and shells were inspired by the story of Mr Albert’s grandfather (EPA)

“These are stories that are not written into history; they aren’t represented in our institutions,” Mr Albert told Fairfax Media.

“It’s long overdue. It’s confronting. It might ruffle a few feathers but they are feathers that need to be ruffled.”

“Aunty” Jenny Beale, whose father fought in World War II, said: “It’s taken such time to get here. My dad would have been 104 this year and here I am finally standing at a monument, finally to recognise what he contributed to this country.”

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Fashion on the Ration: how World War 2 finally let women wear the trousers

March 5th, 2015

As the Fashion on the Ration exhibition opens at the Imperial War Museum, this extract from Julie Summers’ book of the same name reveals how women’s style changed forever in1940s Britain

BY Julie Summers | 05 March 2015

"Land girl", Doreen Bacchus, 1942

In 1939 what you wore still said a great deal about who you were. It defined the class you came from and was a powerful reflection of status. Men and women in the highest tiers of society changed several times a day and always for dinner. The Vogue pattern book for June-July of that year defined five categories of clothing: “For Town, Active Sports, For Afternoon, For Evening, Spectator Sports”.

Although for some time clothes had been designed with greater flexibility so that the wearer could go between town and country without having to change constantly, dinner jackets and dresses were still de rigueur for the evening. While it was acceptable to look businesslike and efficient during the day, the image of the woman in the evening as “mysterious, alluring, witty, veiled, gloved, corseted and even button-booted as any romantic, fairytale queen” persisted.

Vogue was determined that the war would not affect attitudes to outward appearances, and on 20 September 1939 announced, “It would be an added calamity if war turned us into a nation of frights and slovens.” Meanwhile, Home and Country, the monthly magazine of the Women’s Institute, offered practical advice. The editor had commissioned an article on darning and patches to appear in the September issue and the following month she published knitting patterns for a matching set of vest and knickers.

The cover of Stitchcraft, March 1941.
The cover of Stitchcraft, March 1941. Photo: IWM

Vogue remained resolutely upbeat. In November an article appeared entitled “Fashion Meets the Challenge of War”, which began: “London, all set in September for a fresh fashion season of wasp waists and fragility, now, with the brilliance of an acrobatic somersault, turns a new fashion face towards a new future. There’s immense chic in restrained evening elegance. There’s immense charm in the robustness and shrewd common sense of day clothes.”

However, the fashion editor would have no slacking in the evenings. She gave the thumbs down to women who carried on wearing their functional clothes to nightclubs, to restaurants or even at home, those women “who pad around in hairy sweaters and flannel bags, on duty and off; letting themselves go – and other people down – slackers in slacks”.

Vogue, May 1939
Vogue, May 1939. Photo: IWM

“Slacks” had entered the clothing market in the 1930s but were still not widely worn by women. Although Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich were often seen in photographs wearing trousers, they did not take off as a fashion garment in Britain until the war. Vogue first featured women in slacks in 1939 and in April reproduced a photograph of a model in an exquisite Eastern headdress wearing fawn trousers and red slippers (see photograph, above). The editor encouraged her readers to let their imaginations “run riot” when deciding what to wear with their trousers.

“And if people accuse you of aping men, take no notice. Our new slacks are irreproachably masculine in their tailoring, but women have made them entirely their own by the colours in which they order them, and the accessories they add.” She suggested that the fashionable, modern woman should wear slacks “practically the whole time” – unless she was the guest of “an Edwardian relic with reactionary views”.

Fashioned in New York, the latest American 'siren suit,' 1941.
Fashioned in New York, the latest American ‘siren suit,’ 1941. Photo: IWM

The fashion historian Geraldine Howell explains how Vogue advised women to “own several pairs for the country wardrobe as well as a heavy silk or velvet suit for evening wear. The primary rules regarding trousers were that wearers were to be under 50, weigh less than 10 stone and never wear them on a grouse moor, which would be, for unexplained reasons, embarrassing.” Perhaps the embarrassment might have come if ladies had to answer a call of nature out on the moor with no trees to protect their modesty.

READ: Beetroot and boot polish – beauty during WWII

During the Second World War about a third of the population of Britain were entitled to wear uniform. Although no women fought on the front line, they worked alongside servicemen in stations and offices around Britain, as well as further afield. The remainder were in organisations such as the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS), the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), the Local Defence Volunteers (LDV), or youth training corps, as well as many others who supported the war effort on the home front. Used in advertisements, not just for the war effort but domestic products such as clothing, make-up and even floor polish, the uniformed woman was one of the most powerful images from the war.

Ruby Loftus, Screwing a Breech-ring by Dame Laura Knight, 1943
Ruby Loftus, Screwing a Breech-ring by Dame Laura Knight, 1943. Photo: IWM

In 1939 Zelma Katin was a 40-year-old married housewife who had been unsuccessfully seeking work for all of her married life. Marriage changed a woman’s status in the pre-war era, especially for those from the middle class, and it was only with the outbreak of the war and the need for full employment that married women were called out of the home.

Soon after she started work as a tram conductor she was struck by the two different women she had become: on the one hand, “a married suburban woman who once studied botany in a university college, speaks with southern intonation, confines herself to her house, and belongs to the petit bourgeoisie”; and on the other, “an aggressive woman in uniform who sharply orders people about, has swear words and lewd jokes thrown at her, works amid rush and noise, bumbles and stumbles about in the blackout, and has filthy hands and a grimy neck”.

Given the choice of working either in a factory or in transport, she decided on the latter because she loved the “fresh air that blows from the Yorkshire moors across a tram-car platform in my city”. Having passed the interview, she remembered going home and paying special attention to the uniformed girl who took her fare. “I liked the cut of her dark-blue jacket with its nickel buttons, and I wondered how soon I would be able to punch tickets with her sang-froid.”

Patterned dungarees from "Clothes for a Coupon Summer" in Picture Post, 1941. PHOTO: Getty
Patterned dungarees from “Clothes for a Coupon Summer” in Picture Post, 1941. Photo: Getty

The following morning she and the other would-be conductors were hurried to the clothing store “where a tailoress measured us deftly for our uniforms – jacket and skirt, trousers and overcoat. This, so far, was the most exciting part of our initiation and we all felt we were getting somewhere at last. It’s extraordinary what a profound part in your and my psychology a uniform plays.” Zelma wore trousers with her uniform in winter for warmth and skirts in summer as they let a draught through. She noticed that some of the male conductors would stand at the bottom of the stairs so that they could see girls’ stockings or knickers when the girl was going up or down. “The adoption of slacks by so many women must have robbed many a stairway vigilant of an anticipated thrill.”

Once conscription was introduced in December 1941 women could choose whether to join one of the forces or serve as a “land girl”. As the Women’s Land Army was not a military force, not all women wore the uniform of green jersey, brown breeches, brown felt hat and khaki overcoat, but most who did so wore it with pride.

Beatrice Carr worked at Littlewoods Mail Order as an accounts clerk. Working in Liverpool, she saw the devastation caused in May 1941 when the city was bombed by the Luftwaffe with the loss of almost 4,000 lives. She left her job at Littlewoods when conscription came into force, joined the Land Army and was posted to the Montgomeryshire Agricultural Committee in Wales. Her delight at the wardrobe she was issued with is evident in her memoirs.

“We had to buy our own underwear,” she pointed out, but “the uniform seemed adequate to me. It was replaced when worn out. The shoes lasted well. We were asked by the ladies of the town whether we would sell them shoes because of the coupons.” The only item of clothing that brought despair was the headgear. “The hat did nothing for our morale. We steamed, ironed, bent, stitched, pulled and cursed to try to make it into some sort of mode. To no avail, it remained what it was. It never wore out.”

Picture Post cover, December 1939. PHOTO: Getty
Picture Post cover, December 1939. Photo: Getty

Unsurprisingly, as more and more men and women went into uniform, fashion changed and melded, better to fit with the mood of the country. So pervasive was uniform by the spring of 1940 that Vogue was running advertisements for costumes for the Home Front but “with a military touch”. In November 1941 Picture Post returned to the question of whether women should wear trousers. “The question is not so much ‘should women wear trousers’, the answer obviously being yes, but ‘when, where and how’. You can’t fight an incendiary in confidence in clothes that flutter, or even sleep decently in a shelter in a skirt.”

Soon, even a dash to the air-raid shelter was not immune to encroaching fashions. The siren suit, favoured by Churchill, was a one-piece jumpsuit that was designed to be worn in a shelter and to be as practical as possible. Siren suits designed for women were sometimes made in patterned fabrics, but even if they were in dark-blue or green they would have puff shoulders, baggy legs with elasticated bottoms and cuffs to keep the wearer warm or prevent draughts, and a hood. Even a siren suit could look fashionable, Vogue maintained. “Siren suits, one-piece and cosily cowled, respond to a profound need of mind and body, to be warmly, safely enclosed against fear and danger no less than against night frosts.”

ARP ambulance drivers knit socks for soldiers. PHOTO: Getty
ARP ambulance drivers knit socks for soldiers. Photo: Getty

Clara Milburn had one made by her dressmaker and she wore it for the first time in September 1940. “I am garbed in it, wishing I weighed a stone or two less, but feeling very cosy”; while Nella Last described hers as “the maddest, most amusing thing a sedate matron of 51 ever possessed!”

In Oxford the ARP (Air Raid Precautions) wardens were issued with full uniform by 1940, having previously only had a tin hat, and they were offered the choice of a skirt or trousers. Ann Spokes Symonds, an Oxford local historian and wartime evacuee in the USA, wrote about the air raid wardens picked from among the women. “Some North Oxford ladies had never worn trousers before and there was a great discussion among them as to what they would choose. Some were still undecided when they reported to the police station where they were issued with the uniform, and some even asked the sergeant what he advised. As one practice exercise involved crawling on hands and knees under a smoke screen, trousers were obviously more practical. They could also be put on hurriedly over pyjamas.”

A "land girl" poses with newborn lambs. PHOTO: Alamy
A “land girl” poses with newborn lambs. Photo: Alamy

Betty Withcombe, one of the younger wardens who was attached to what she called their “genteel” ARP post, said that despite the fact that two of her acquaintances were practically “born on bicycles, Violet, used to riding in a long skirt, could not stay on her bicycle in trousers and fell off”.

Despite these initial hiccups, trousers became increasingly popular during the war, even among older members of society. Practicality took the place of sentimentality for pre-war dress, and as the war progressed so fashion and design embraced a simplified look for wartime wear.

Phyllis Warner wrote, “I had lunch today with an old friend I hadn’t seen for a year. She was telling me about the reaction of her grandmother, who is over 80, to her first air-raid. It was a pretty hot one, and the family, huddled together in their shelter, were distinctly anxious about the old lady. As soon as it was over, someone rushed for the brandy, but Granny waved it away and, turning to one of her daughters, said with an air of great determination, ‘Dorothy, I must tell you that I am not going through this again without trousers.’”

This is an extract from “Fashion on the Ration: Style in the Second World War”, by Julie Summers is available for £15.29 plus £1.95 p&p from


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The World War Two Spitfire hero finally remembered

November 24th, 2014

And so, Ernest Russell Lyon lay. His body was never officially identified, instead he became one of 20,456 men and women from the air forces of the British Empire who died during World War Two and are recorded as having no known grave. Their names are carved into the Runnymede Air Forces Memorial in Surrey.

But the week before Remembrance Day in 2006, Lyon’s nephew decided to renew the search for his body. Richard Lyon, a Cambridge architect then in his late 50s, had never met his uncle, but grew up looking at his photograph which his father Stanley always kept on his desk. With no military contacts, he decided to appeal for information on a Scottish family history website.

Flight squadron 234

He typed his name, rank, the date he was shot down, and the town, Plomeur, which was closest to the crash site. Five months later, an email arrived in rudimentary English sent by the chairman of a local history group in Brittany who, in 2001, had discovered the crash site of Lyon’s Spitfire and were attempting to trace relatives of the airman.

What has followed has been a decade-long battle by Richard Lyon and the French which has gone to the very top of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to officially acknowledge the grave. They have trawled public archives from Kew to Washington DC, interviewed surviving witnesses and compiled various exhaustive reports. Now, they have secured a remarkable victory.

Not just is Ernest Russell Lyon’s name soon to finally be added to his grave, but the MoD has been persuaded to overhaul the burden of proof required by the families of those who have died serving their country to have their identities officially recognised.

It has taken, so says My Lyon, a lot of serendipity, perseverance and “being a bloody nuisance”. But the decision could have a major impact, with the MoD currently considering 45 similar cases to identify unknown graves. Not bad for a man whose only prior military experience was in the CCF at Pocklington School in North Yorkshire where he grew up.

“A lot of feathers have been ruffled,” he says. “There were a lot of people in the traditional bit of the MoD who didn’t want these changes. Now I hope other names will be recognised.”

Mr Lyon, who is married with four children, has pieced together his late uncle’s life in precise detail. When we meet, the living room table in his family home in Cambridge is covered in files and old photographs. At times, he says, Anne, his wife of 42 years, has worried about his sanity.

Ernest Russell Lyon volunteered to join the RAF on March 1, 1941, after he had turned 18. Following training, he was posted to the USA as a pilot instructor. By 1943, he had grown weary of his surroundings, and requested an operational posting.

“That,” says Lyon, “was his big mistake”.

He was sent to 234 Squadron, whose insignia bears a dragon rampant, flames spewing from the mouth. Its motto, Ignem mortemque despuimus, translates as “We spit fire and death”. Lyon found himself in the thick of it, flying near constant missions in the run up to D Day. On the day itself, he provided aerial support over Gold and Omaha beaches.

After that, the squadron was relocated to Cornwall, to extend their range across France. Missions such as the fateful one of July 27, 1944, were to support the allied forces in the ascendancy. The Luftwaffe was no longer a presence to be feared in the skies. Instead, the threat came from the German anti-aircraft guns.

Grave 33 in the CWGC section of the Guidel Cemetery

Various witness statements obtained by the French researchers describe Lyon’s Spitfire crashing that evening. One was Joseph le Corroller, on whose land the plane hit. The farmer (who died two years ago) was the first on the scene and recalls Lyon’s body being thrown some eight metres from the fuselage. After taking out an advert in the local papers, three more witnesses stepped forward. One woman recalled a flying boot being found by her brother close to the crash site containing half a dismembered leg.

Yet despite these gory details, as well as parts of the Spitfire being dug up including the guns, propeller hub, and the exhaust from its Rolls Royce Merlin engine (which Lyon now keeps at home), the authorities insisted there was still not enough evidence. The French tried, and failed, in 2004, to appeal to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Despite the snub, they still named a mini roundabout after the fallen airman. Then, Richard Lyon decided to approach the MoD.

In 2009, after being passed between various departments, he received his final refusal from the RAF Air Historical Branch because the required burden of proof – “beyond reasonable doubt” – had not been met. “It is the same as if somebody who committed a crime and is being sent to the electric chair,” he says. “But my uncle didn’t commit a crime; he gave his life for his country.”

He was told the body in plot 33 could have been an airman who had washed up on Brittany’s beaches and was given the names of eight or nine potential casualties. Lyon then compiled a report on each individual case, ranking the probability out of 100, as well as proving from the local town hall records that no bodies had washed up nearby in the two weeks leading up to Lyon’s death.

Then, the following year, he learnt his appeal was being taken up by a senior RAF official as a test case. Such was the strength of his argument that the burden of proof has now changed from “beyond reasonable doubt” to “clear and convincing evidence”. He says he was told an appeals process for relatives of lost soldiers to have their name recognised has also now been put in place, although the MoD insist this was possible before.

Then, last October, Lyon was called to the seventh floor of the MoD building in Whitehall to present his case personally to the top military brass. “I was looking out the window and Downing Street was below. I knew this was our last chance and I wouldn’t get another in my lifetime.”

The evidence he gave worked and the announcement that his uncle’s grave was to finally be recognised came in August. Even if the MoD still refuse to say he is actually in plot 33, only “buried near this spot” in the cemetery, Lyon is hailing the result a huge success. For in the next few months, a dedication ceremony will take place at his graveside and a new headstone put in place.

Underneath his name, the family are allowed a four line dedication. It will read: “Always known unto God. Now resting here. Ex Corde Caritas (the old motto of his school George Watson’s College)”. And finally, “remembered forever”.

It has taken 70 years, but that is now what Ernest Russell Lyon will be.

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Wartime spy finally accepts she is a French heroine

November 22nd, 2014

Mrs Doyle was one of a handful of female agents working for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), set up to spy upon and sabotage Nazi-occupied Europe. She had joined the RAF to train as a flight mechanic in 1941 but the secret services spotted her potential. Although her mother was English, her father was a French doctor and Mrs Doyle was fluent in the language. Instead of working on fixing aircraft, she was whisked away for training in espionage.

“It wasn’t until after my first round of training that they told me they wanted me to become a member of the SOE,” she said in a rare interview five years ago, “They said I could have three days to think about it. I told them I didn’t need three days to make a decision; I’d take the job now.”

A close family friend – her godmother’s father – had been shot by the Germans and her godmother had committed suicide after being taken prisoner by the Nazis. “I did it for revenge,” Mrs Doyle told the New Zealand Army News magazine in 2009.

In Britain, the SOE operatives were trained by a cat burglar, released from jail especially. “We learnt how to get in a high window, and down drain pipes, how to climb over roofs without being caught,” she recalled.

Given three separate code names – Genevieve, Plus Fours and Lampooner – she was first deployed in Aquitaine in Vichy France from 1942.

She was dropped behind enemy lines under a new code name, Paulette, into the Calvados region of Normandy on May 1 1944.

Although then aged 23, she assumed the identity of a poor 14-year-old French girl to make the Germans less suspicious. She used bicycles to tour the area, passing information through coded messages.

The messages would take half an hour to send and the Germans an hour and a half to trace the signal. She would have just enough time to send her message and move on before being discovered.

She would sleep rough in forests, forced to forage for food, or stay with Allied sympathisers. “One family I stayed with told me we were eating squirrel,” she told the Army News, “I found out later it was rat. I was half starved so I didn’t care.”

But the war – and the horrors she witnessed – took its toll. She has disclosed how she sent a message requesting a German listening post be taken out by bombers but a German woman and two children died.

“I heard I was responsible for their deaths. It was a horrible feeling,” she said, “I later attended the funeral of a grandmother, her daughter and her two grandchildren, knowing I had indirectly caused their deaths.”

After the war, Mrs Doyle returned to Kenya, where she had gone to school, for her wedding to an Australian engineer. The couple had four children and moved to Fiji and then on to Australia, where they settled.

Eventually, she moved with her children to a suburb of Auckland, New Zealand, divorcing her husband in the mid 1970s.

Her bridesmaid, Barbara Blake, 91, who lives in north London, said her friend had never wanted publicity for her deeds. The French government, however, had wanted to make its award public to highlight Mrs Doyle’s remarkable achievements.

It wasn’t until the last 15 years or so – and her children now grown up – that Mrs Doyle confided in them about her career as a spy. “My eldest son found out by reading something on the internet, and my children insisted I send off for my medals,” she said.

“I was asked if I wanted them to be formally presented to me, and I said no, I didn’t, it was my family who wanted them.”

Laurent Contini, the French ambassador to New Zealand, said: “I have deep admiration for her bravery and it will be with great honour that I will present her with the award of Chevalier de l’Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest decoration.”

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