Posts Tagged ‘inside’

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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On the hunt for the Nazi gold train: Inside the Polish tunnels hiding the bullion

August 23rd, 2015

Mr Marciniak, like many others, is quick to stress everybody has heard stories about the train and its gold before, and how people have tried and failed in the past to gain their fame and fortune by finding it. What sets this time apart from the others, he pointed out, is that the two claimants have taken a legal step by filing a claim with the local authorities in Walbrzych in the hope of attaining a finder’s fee of 10 per-cent of the value of the find.

Ksiaz Castle in Walbrzych, Poland

This is a measure nobody before has taken, and has fuelled speculation that this time somebody may have actually found something.

But just where the train might have been found remains unknown. The two who have claimed to have found it have kept the location under wraps, saying, through their lawyer, that they may reveal their secret to the president of Walbrzych next week. But until then the location stays secret.

The local press have claimed one place the train could lie is the village of Walim. Stretched along a valley some 12 miles west of Walbrzych and overlooked by the forested Owl Mountains, Walim has emerged as a contender for the location because its hills are home to some of the Project Riese tunnels.

One of the biggest construction projects in the history of the Third Reich, Project Riese involved digging miles of tunnels in a series of complexes across the Walbrzych region, which was until 1945 part of Germany. Thousands of slave labourers died hewing the rock for reasons that still remain unclear. Some say the tunnels were for a secret command centre, others claim they were for underground factories for Hitler’s secret weapons, or even hid research on an atomic bomb.

An old miner shaft at the Old Mine Science and Art Centre in Walbrzych, Poland

To this day not all the tunnels have been explored so believers in the gold train legend say the locomotive and its cargo may still lie hidden in a secret siding.

On his office computer Pawel Brzozowski, Walim’s director of culture and tourism, pulled up an old German map of the village. It showed a now non-existent railway line running into Walim. He explained the theory was that there may have been a special track laid that led into a Reise tunnel.

“In May we found that somebody had carried out illegal digging on one of the hills near the cemetery not far from the track may have been, and this indicates that somebody has been searching,” he said.

Some of the tunnels and caverns in Walim’s hills are large, big enough, perhaps, to house a train. Mr Brzozowski said he hopes the legend and its gold lies buried somewhere in the hills but maintains a dose of scepticism.

“It would be important for us, if it was found,” he explained. “It could bring people here, and already people are asking about it. We are just waiting to see what happens. But some people laugh about it because there have always been stories about the train.”

Further up the valley at the entrance to Walim’s Reise tunnels, now a tourist attraction, Marcin Pasek, shakes his head at talk of finding the gold train. A tunnel guide for five years he has heard the legend many times and it still fails to ring true for him.

“I have my reservations about this,” he said with a slight laugh. “There has been talk but no evidence. Maybe there was some treasure but why leave it on a train? In the past Nazi loot has always been found in boxes: never on a train. Or maybe somebody has found a train, but perhaps it’s just an old abandoned train with no treasure.”

While his scepticism about the discovery claims appears to strike a chord with many people in the Walbrzych region there is also abundant hope the train and its precious cargo will soon be uncovered. That would bring a surge of publicity to a region unknown to many in Europe, and provide a an economic boost to town to a that has suffered of late.

Mines around Walbrzych have closed, jobs lost and the population has dropped 170,000 to 110,000 in just 25 years.

“We hope it’s true. For this region it would be good news,” said Mr Marciniak, the cafe owner. “But even it isn’t, the legend will live on,” he added with a smile. “Nobody ever sees the Loch Ness monster but people still go to Loch Ness.”


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On the hunt for the Nazi gold train: Inside the Polish tunnels that may hold the bullion

August 22nd, 2015

Mr Marciniak, like many others, is quick to stress everybody has heard stories about the train and its gold before, and how people have tried and failed in the past to gain their fame and fortune by finding it. What sets this time apart from the others, he pointed out, is that the two claimants have taken a legal step by filing a claim with the local authorities in Walbrzych in the hope of attaining a finder’s fee of 10 per-cent of the value of the find.

Ksiaz Castle in Walbrzych, Poland

This is a measure nobody before has taken, and has fuelled speculation that this time somebody may have actually found something.

But just where the train might have been found remains unknown. The two who have claimed to have found it have kept the location under wraps, saying, through their lawyer, that they may reveal their secret to the president of Walbrzych next week. But until then the location stays secret.

The local press have claimed one place the train could lie is the village of Walim. Stretched along a valley some 12 miles west of Walbrzych and overlooked by the forested Owl Mountains, Walim has emerged as a contender for the location because its hills are home to some of the Project Riese tunnels.

One of the biggest construction projects in the history of the Third Reich, Project Riese involved digging miles of tunnels in a series of complexes across the Walbrzych region, which was until 1945 part of Germany. Thousands of slave labourers died hewing the rock for reasons that still remain unclear. Some say the tunnels were for a secret command centre, others claim they were for underground factories for Hitler’s secret weapons, or even hid research on an atomic bomb.

An old miner shaft at the Old Mine Science and Art Centre in Walbrzych, Poland

To this day not all the tunnels have been explored so believers in the gold train legend say the locomotive and its cargo may still lie hidden in a secret siding.

On his office computer Pawel Brzozowski, Walim’s director of culture and tourism, pulled up an old German map of the village. It showed a now non-existent railway line running into Walim. He explained the theory was that there may have been a special track laid that led into a Reise tunnel.

“In May we found that somebody had carried out illegal digging on one of the hills near the cemetery not far from the track may have been, and this indicates that somebody has been searching,” he said.

Some of the tunnels and caverns in Walim’s hills are large, big enough, perhaps, to house a train. Mr Brzozowski said he hopes the legend and its gold lies buried somewhere in the hills but maintains a dose of scepticism.

“It would be important for us, if it was found,” he explained. “It could bring people here, and already people are asking about it. We are just waiting to see what happens. But some people laugh about it because there have always been stories about the train.”

Further up the valley at the entrance to Walim’s Reise tunnels, now a tourist attraction, Marcin Pasek, shakes his head at talk of finding the gold train. A tunnel guide for five years he has heard the legend many times and it still fails to ring true for him.

“I have my reservations about this,” he said with a slight laugh. “There has been talk but no evidence. Maybe there was some treasure but why leave it on a train? In the past Nazi loot has always been found in boxes: never on a train. Or maybe somebody has found a train, but perhaps it’s just an old abandoned train with no treasure.”

While his scepticism about the discovery claims appears to strike a chord with many people in the Walbrzych region there is also abundant hope the train and its precious cargo will soon be uncovered. That would bring a surge of publicity to a region unknown to many in Europe, and provide a an economic boost to town to a that has suffered of late.

Mines around Walbrzych have closed, jobs lost and the population has dropped 170,000 to 110,000 in just 25 years.

“We hope it’s true. For this region it would be good news,” said Mr Marciniak, the cafe owner. “But even it isn’t, the legend will live on,” he added with a smile. “Nobody ever sees the Loch Ness monster but people still go to Loch Ness.”


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Look inside Benito Mussolini’s secret bunker as it opens to the public

October 27th, 2014

Secret underground bunkers and an anti-gas chamber built by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini during World War II under his 19th-century villa in Rome, will be opened to the public for the first time.

Villa Torlonia is now a popular park where Romans gather to picnic, jog and enjoy the views, but between 1925-1943, Mussolini lived there with this wife and children.

He built the underground chambers to protect himself and his family from possible air raids and gas attacks.

Two underground structures, built in great secrecy, cover more than 2,000 square feet and include an anti-gas chamber with air ducts and showers for decontamination, all protected by a double set of airtight doors.

“Of course Hitler had his bunker, Mussolini couldn’t have anything less. The truth is he was always against the use of a bunker during the bombings – or so he claimed,” said Laura Lombardi, a historian working for the Rome Underground association.

“He always said ‘I’ll wait for the bombs to come on my balcony, I’ll never go underground’. In fact we know that when there was an airstrike in Albania, at the very first sound of a bomb he went to seek shelter in a bunker!”

The building of the bunker took sometime and it remained incomplete after his death.

By the time air raids hit Rome, “Il Duce” had been deposed and was leading a puppet state in northern Italy under Nazi protection.


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In pictures: A look inside abandoned Heyford US Air Force base in Oxfordshire

May 22nd, 2014

Once allegedly used for storing nuclear warheads in case of an attack on Moscow, RAF Upper Heyford in Oxfordshire now stands abandoned and decaying. Used by the Royal Air Force primarily as a training base from 1918 to 1950, the site was transferred to the United States Air Force (USAF) at the beginning of the Cold War.Picture: Darmon Ritcher / Barcroft Media


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