Posts Tagged ‘‘People’

Whether it’s Cologne sex assaults or Mein Kampf, Germany still doesn’t trust its people

January 12th, 2016

The book is a virtually unreadable ragbag of personal reminiscence, anti-Semitic diatribes, self-pitying sentimentality, and a chilling forecast of Hitler’s future plans for Germany after the Nazis came to power, including conquering France, battling Russian Bolshevism, enslaving the Slavs, and veiled hints of the Holocaust itself.

The publisher this time around is the heavyweight historical Institut fur Zeitgeschichte (Institute for Contemporary History) based in Munich, capital of Bavaria, the south German city and state that was the cradle of the Nazi movement in the 1920s, and where Hitler spent his happiest hours.

The Bavarian state government, which inherited the publishing part of the former Fuhrer’s estate, and is extremely sensitive about its most infamous one-time resident, had resolutely refused to republish while the seventy years copyright lasted. However it was unable to prevent publication of the toxic work after the copyright expired. Discretion about Nazism, in official Bavaria’s eyes, was definitely the better part of valour.

Although some members of Germany’s Jewish community – now 100,000 strong – expressed unease that the book’s release would fuel a new wave of neo-Nazism, and despite the fact that the first edition sold out within hours on Germany’s Amazon website, independent historians have backed the republication, and it seems unlikely that the heavily annotated and deliberately dull-looking tome will ever again attain bestseller status.

Historian Roger Moorhouse, author of His Struggle, an account of the writing of the original book, says the controversy is “much more about Germany’s continued obsession with Hitler, and the curious assumption that his horrid, outdated ideas are still ‘infectious’, than…about the book itself.”

There is, surely, also a coincidental link between official German efforts to stifle or filter Hitler’s rancid tex and the same establishment’s current ham-fisted attempt to cover up the true extent and the identity of the perpetrators of the mass sexual assaults on women in Cologne and elsewhere in Germany on New Year’s Eve

It as if Germany’s rulers do not trust their own people with the ability to handle uncomfortable truths. Whether those truths are the poisonous doctrines that once entranced the nation and led to the Holocaust and the devastation of Europe in the Second World War, or the more immediately dismaying reality that parts of German cities are no longer safe for German women to walk in because of their own government’s policies, the instinct to suppress the truth remains the same. It is a profoundly unhealthy trait.


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How Care packages sent by ordinary people helped save British lives after World War Two

November 16th, 2015

The shortages were so severe that to assist their allies over the Atlantic, the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe (CARE) programme was established to allow US citizens to dispatch food and basic supplies to relatives – and strangers – living amid the rubble of Europe.

The programme was designed not merely to distribute luxuries, but life-saving necessities. During the first two years of operations more than 6.6 million packages were posted from America, 400,000 of which arrived in England – including several sent to the Anstis family by an uncle living in New York. The recipients say they have never forgotten those who reached out during their time of desperate need.

Seventy years on, Europe finds itself in the grip of the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War and once more CARE is working to save lives amid the chaos. The programme has grown into the charity CARE International UK which is supported in this year’s Telegraph Christmas Appeal.

Since the Syria crisis started, CARE has been working to distribute emergency food and hygiene parcels to the millions of refugees who have been forced to flee their homes.They are the victims of a very modern conflict, of course, but those British recipients of 70 years ago say they see close parallels between the plight of today’s refugees and that of their own generation.

“The refugees today are equally desperate to those poor souls who crossed Europe at the end of the Second World War,” says Mr Anstis. “Our job today is to accommodate them in all sorts of ways.”

Anstis, a retired architect and lecturer, grew up in Greenford in the West London suburbs and was six-years-old when hostilities erupted in 1939. His father, Herbert, a teacher and veteran of the First World War, remained in Britain working on the Home Front, but still the family found themselves constantly uprooted. In total, Anstis attended 13 different schools throughout the war.

“Our family was repeatedly evacuated,” he recalls. “Not in that picturesque situation of poor little toddlers with their gasmasks at railway stations. People were moved around with such rapidity.”

It was during a stay in one such temporary abode in Banstead, Surrey, in April 1942 that a bomb was dropped on an adjoining house during a Luftwaffe raid. “I woke to find myself covered in plaster and glass,” he says. “All the doors were gone and tiles and windows and ceilings. The rest of that night was spent cowering.”

It was not just food and safe accommodation in short supply but every basic necessity, including fuel. “Every winter during the war was very cold. We became used to chilblains and having frozen feet. When we got into bed we would put every available blanket and coat over us to make a sort of warm tunnel.”

The family only ate chicken once a year, for Christmas dinner, and even then it was an old broiler deemed long past its use. It is no surprise that Mr Anstis can still taste that tinned turkey today.

But the contents alone were not what made the packages so exotic. Similar to the modern refugees dreaming of a new life in Europe, America appeared to war-weary British eyes as a land of unimaginable plenty.

“It was very exciting to have these travel-stained parcels that had come all the way from New York,” he says. “At that time America was a great place of glamour and promise that was unrealisable.”

Tim Thomas, a now 73-year-old who was evacuated from Swansea to Wiltshire during the Blitz, can also still remember the excitement of receiving the CARE food parcels which were sent by a stranger in Boston called F. Prescott Fay. For his family, the steak and kidney pie, coffee, tea, powdered milk, tinned vegetables and peaches that came through the post several times a year were the pinnacle of luxury compared to the tapioca and corned beef they ate during rationing.

“We were very poor and very skinny,” Thomas says. “If that whole period has left me with anything it’s that feeling that a total stranger held out his hand in generosity when we needed help.”

Migrants and refugees prepare to board a train heading to Serbia from the Macedonian-Greek border near Gevgelija

Nowadays, the CARE packages being distributed to the never-ending lines of refugees snaking through the Balkans are rather more regimented in their contents. Each adult emergency package boasts 2,240 calories worth of non-perishable food items and high-energy sweet and savoury biscuits, as well as sanitary towels and basic first aid; with baby food, nappies, wipes and disinfectant distributed to young families.

Special winter CARE packages containing emergency shelter material such as sleeping bags and plastic groundsheets, warm clothes and waterproofs are also now being handed out as the cold starts to bite.

“I despair at the current refugee crisis,” says 79-year-old Janet Stevenson, a mother-of-two and grandmother-of-five who clearly recalls her own CARE packages which arrived at the school near Reading she attended as a child.

“It needs tackling at source but how you do it I don’t know. I just think it’s so tragic. I just want to help.

As Mrs Stevenson knows, it is not just the provision of basic items which makes the packages so important. The CARE parcel received by Mrs Stevenson ended up beginning a 60-year-long friendship with the US schoolgirl Shirley Meissner who helped send it over. The pair even met face to face in Virginia in 1986, before Shirley died five years ago.

Even during the greatest time of need, Mrs Stevenson – who nowadays donates to CARE through a seperate entrepreneurship scheme the charity runs – was never starving. Her father, a Gallipoli veteran tended an allotment throughout the war and could even on occasion venture to the end of the garden and wring a chicken’s neck – something the battle-scarred soldier loathed doing.

But she says her memories of such straitened times still stay with her today. “Even now I hate waste; I don’t waste anything – certainly food. Those are the values you learnt and they never leave you.”

There are other values, too, which those who experienced the kindness of strangers 70 years ago hold dear to this day.

“You can’t do much to help other people,” Mrs Stevenson says. “But you do what you can.”

To make a credit/debit-card donation call 0151-284 1927; go to telegraph.co.uk/charity; or send cheques/postal orders to Telegraph Christmas Charity Appeal, Charities Trust, Suite 20–22, Century Building, Tower Street, Liverpool L3 4BJ


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V-J Day: rare colour archive footage shows people celebrating end of World War II

August 14th, 2015

The Imperial War Museum has released rare colour film showing the Victory over Japan (V-J Day) celebrations in central London on 15 August 1945.

The amateur film was shot by Lieutenant Sidney Sasson of the US Army Signal Corps, Army Pictorial Service. It shows in incredible detail the celebrations that took place in and around Piccadilly Circus and Trafalgar Square in central London.

Londoners celebrate in the street (Imperial War Museum)

US servicemen and civilians are seen throwing paper and ticker tape, and dancing in a conga line to celebrate the end of the war.

A woman laughs as she dances in a conga line through central London (Imperial War Museum)

At one point a staff sergeant reaches to kiss a woman in a scene reminiscent of the famous photograph captured during the Times Square V-J Day celebrations.

A US staff sergeant draws a woman in for a kiss (Imperial War Museum)

V-J Day marked the victory over Japan after the country surrendered to allied forces on 15 August 1945.

It effectively brought an end to World War II and followed the surrender of Nazi Germany to the allies a little over over three months before.


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Dresden was a civilian town with no military significance. Why did we burn its people?

February 16th, 2015

Chief of the Air Staff Charles Portal had calculated that bombing civilians could kill 900,000 in 18 months, seriously injure a million more, destroy six million homes, and “de-house” 25 million, creating a humanitarian crisis that, he believed, would speed up the war.

This thinking was not trumpeted from the rooftops. But in November 1941 the Commander-in-Chief of Bomber Command said he had been intentionally bombing civilians for a year. “I mention this because, for a long time, the Government, for excellent reasons, has preferred the world to think that we still held some scruples and attacked only what the humanitarians are pleased to call Military Targets. I can assure you, gentlemen, that we tolerate no scruples.”

The debate over this strategy of targeting civilians is still hotly contentious and emotional, in Britain and abroad. There is no doubting the bravery, sacrifice, and suffering of the young men who flew the extraordinarily dangerous missions: 55,573 out of Bomber Command’s 125,000 flyers never came home. The airmen even nicknamed their Commander-in-Chief “Butcher” Harris, highlighting his scant regard for their survival.

Supporters of Britain’s “area bombing” (targeting civilians instead of military or industrial sites) maintain that it was a vital part of the war. Churchill wrote that he wanted “absolutely devastating, exterminating attacks by very heavy bombers from this country upon the Nazi homeland”. In another letter he called it “terror bombing”. His aim was to demoralise the Germans to catalyse regime change. Research suggests that the soaring homelessness levels and family break ups did indeed depress civilian morale, but there is no evidence it helped anyone prise Hitler’s cold hand off the wheel.

Others maintain that it was ghastly, but Hitler started it so needed to be answered in a language he understood. Unfortunately, records show that the first intentional “area bombing” of civilians in the Second World War took place at Monchengladbach on 11 May 1940 at Churchill’s orders (the day after he dramatically became prime minister), and four months before the Luftwaffe began its Blitz of British cities.

Not everyone was convinced by city bombing. Numerous military and church leaders voiced strong opposition. Freemason Dyson, now one of Britain’s most eminent physicists, worked at Bomber Command from 1943-5. He said it eroded his moral beliefs until he had no moral position at all. He wanted to write about it, but then found the American novelist Kurt Vonnegut had said everything he wanted to say.

Like Gregg, Vonnegut had been a prisoner in Dresden that night. He claimed that only one person in the world derived any benefit from the slaughterhouse — him, because he wrote a famous book about it which pays him two or three dollars for every person killed.

Germany’s bombing of British cities was equally abhorrent. Germany dropped 35,000 tons on Britain over eight months in 1940-1 killing an estimated 39,000. (In total, the UK and US dropped around 1.9 million tons on Germany over 7 years.)

Bombing German cities clearly did have an impact on the war. The question, though, is how much. The post-war US Bombing Survey estimated that the effect of all allied city bombing probably depleted the German economy by no more than 2.7 per cent.

Allowing for differences of opinion on the efficacy or necessity of “area bombing” in the days when the war’s outcome remained uncertain (arguably until Stalingrad in February 1943), the key question on today’s anniversary remains whether the bombing of Dresden in February 1945 was militarily necessary — because by then the war was definitely over. Hitler was already in his bunker playing out his final absurd fantasies. The British and Americans were at the German border after winning D-Day the previous summer, while the Russians under Zhukov and Konev were well inside eastern Germany and racing pell-mell to Berlin.

Dresden was a civilian town without military significance. It had no material role of any sort to play in the closing months of the war. So, what strategic purpose did burning its men, women, old people, and children serve? Churchill himself later wrote that “the destruction of Dresden remains a serious query against the conduct of Allied bombing”.

Seventy years on, fewer people ask precisely which military objective justified the hell unleashed on Dresden. If there was no good strategic reason for it, then not even the passage of time can make it right, and the questions it poses remain as difficult as ever in a world in which civilians have continued to suffer unspeakably in the wars of their autocratic leaders.


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Dame Vera Lynn interview: ‘People used me to achieve something. I was just doing my job’

April 6th, 2014

But there is much more on her mind than music. The album is timed to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day on June 6. She is determined to honour “the boys” as long as she can draw breath. “The memories have nearly all gone now,” she says. “A lot of the boys never used to speak about the war.”

READ: Dame Vera Lynn, 97, to release new album

During wartime they used her songs to express things they could not say, about the longing to be home. “Don’t know where, don’t know when …” Then, as the decades slipped by, the songs became powerfully nostalgic. If they couldn’t tell their children what they had been through, at least they could sing along with Dame Vera together. Now, as the last of her peers begins to slip away, there is a fresh poignancy about We’ll Meet Again.

“Yes, there is that to it,” she says. “The youngsters wouldn’t know about any of this. It is only people of my age who remember the war. Unless you have experienced it, you have no idea what it was all about. There are not many of us left now. Very few.” The important thing to her is that their sacrifice should not be forgotten. “People should still remember the war. They shouldn’t forget. It’s up to the schools to teach the children what it is all about.”

They do, and she features heavily. Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler and Vera Lynn are the people who stick in the minds of boys and girls studying the war. They don’t think of her like she is today, of course, sharing tea and cake in a parlour full of paintings and old photos.

Vera Lynn with British troops in Burma, 1942 (Bill Lovelace)

“She looks like someone’s granny,” says my son later when I show him a snapshot of her dressed in a blue-green plaid shirt, with a necklace of heavy green beads. He is taken aback because he knows her as a major historical figure. If Florence Nightingale is The Lady of the Lamp, Vera Lynn is “The Woman of the War”, dressed in khaki with a military cap, smiling as she leads the people of Britain in the anthem that will get them through. “We’ll meet again, some sunny day …”

Why does she think that song meant so much to people? “It was optimistic,” she says. “Everyone was separating, going to war. It spoke of hope, you know. Because you never knew what would happen, from one day to another. A bomb could hit any house, any night.” She sang it, time after time, for half a century, whenever people gathered to remember. “Wherever I was, it was always a must.”

The last time was a spontaneous singalong at a charity event in 2010 and she will never sing it in public again now, but her recording of We’ll Meet Again still conveys a powerful sense of longing. Sue Lawley once told Dame Vera on Desert Island Discs that she was the last veteran of the war still on active service. She gave a little laugh and said: “You could say that, yes.”

The new record means she has been in showbusiness for 90 years, having first sung for money in a working men’s club opposite East Ham town hall at the age of seven. She was the daughter of a docker and a dressmaker, and went to work in a factory at 14, but lasted only one day. Talking was banned and she was miserable sewing on buttons. Her father said she would earn more money singing in the clubs, and he was right.

READ: Dame Vera Lynn says national service will fix broken society

Joe Loss recruited her to sing with his Orchestra on the radio, but her first solo recording was released in 1936. It was Up The Wooden Hill to Bedfordshire – a song my nan used to sing to me when I was a boy. Gladys had the same accent: East End posh, the nearly-lost sound of Cockneys who grew up listening to received pronunciation on the radio. She was a fire warden during the Blitz and her husband, Frank, was a Desert Rat; they saw a lot of suffering but never spoke of it. The songs did that for them. The last time I saw Gladys was during a singalong at her care home. We held hands; you can guess what the song was. “We’ll meet again …” Tears prick my eyes when Dame Vera sings.

Her wartime songs were all recorded live, directly on to wax. “If the trumpeter cracked on the last note, you had to do it all over again. You had to make sure your take was perfect.”

She was glad when “the new system” came in allowing them to correct mistakes, but is not impressed by modern singers who break a song down and record it line by line. “It disrupts the thought. I don’t know how they can do a song in bits. You lose the flow, don’t you?” Her performances were all about the feeling, she says. “I don’t think the singers take it as seriously as we used to. The words, the meaning, the phrasing, the feeling of the song. They see the words, they know the tune and they just sing it.”

She is astonished to hear of computer technology that keeps even the most terrible singers in tune. “What? Keeps them in tune?” Yes, it’s called Auto-Tune, and corrects each missed note automatically. “Really? Oh God. We had nothing like that. We never sang out of tune.” She prides herself on that: “They used to call me One Take Lynn.” So she wouldn’t mime if she had the chance, like Beyonce or Britney Spears? “I never mimed,” she says. “I would find it too difficult. I sang the song the way I felt it in that moment.”

What modern music does she listen to? “I don’t listen to music. I never have done.” That’s a startling thing for a legendary singer to say. “The only time I used to listen to it was when we recorded a song, to see if it was OK. I don’t listen to the radio. I’d rather watch the television.”

Vera Lynn, turning heads in Burma (courtesy Virginia Lynn)

The first number-one single in Britain is often said to be Here In My Heart by Al Martino in 1952. But a book released last year detailed sales figures all the way back to the start of January 1940. She had three 78rpm singles in the Top 10 that week, and the first British number one was actually We’ll Meet Again.

The whole country seemed to listen to her radio show, Sincerely Yours, on Sunday nights after the news and Mr Churchill. Abroad, it was the sound of resistance. One Dutchman wrote to say he had hidden with his radio in a haystack, knowing the Germans would shoot him if they found out. She also gave concerts, and received a letter from a Londoner who had spontaneously attended one on the way home from work. “His house was destroyed by a direct hit while he was there. He said I saved his life.”

LISTEN: Vera Lynn presents Sincerely Yours

She usually drove across London on her own in a little Austin 10, hoping to reach the theatre before the next raid began. “It had a soft canvas roof. That’s why I always carried a tin helmet with me, in case the shrapnel came through the roof.” Once, she skidded and the car overturned. “People righted it and I said, ‘Well, I’ve got to be on my way.’ But it went de-doyng-de-dong … I’d broken the axle.”

Once there, did they stay on air even if the bombs were falling? “Oh, yes. Nothing stopped if there was a raid on.”

Her most daring act of the war was to go to Burma, where the fighting was fierce. “I was getting letters from the boys and I thought I would like to go and see who I had been singing to on the radio.” After a gruelling 11,000-mile trip via the United States, she performed in a camp near the battle of Kohima. How close was the fighting? “The battle was up the hill. I was at the bottom.”

She smiles at my look of horror. “I knew I was well ­protected, although I did wake up one morning and find four Japanese prisoners leaning against the little grass hut that I was in.” The soldiers had been captured in the night. “They were horrible looking. I had to step over their legs to get by them. The look I got! I was this young girl walking by in khaki shorts. I shouldn’t think they had ever seen a white girl.”

Modern stars require a stylist, a hairdresser, an entourage and a battalion of bodyguards. “I went with a bag slung over my shoulders. That was it,” she says. “Make-up was no good, it would run. All I had was a lipstick. I washed my hair in a bucket and left it like that, because what else could I do? I had a perm before I went, so it was all frizzy.”

She performed using an old microphone plugged into searchlight batteries, while soldiers stood guard on the edge of the jungle. Her pianist had a pistol. “I had no lady companion or anything. I only had 6,000 men.” Presumably she had to fend them off? “No. They treated me with the greatest respect.”

By now she was married to Harry Lewis, a member of the RAF band the Squadronaires, but he was not on the trip. She dressed in a pair of borrowed khaki shorts. The photographs show the men looking dazed in the company of this 27-year-old, bare-legged beauty. “I was never the glamorous type like Betty Grable,” she says, but in the circumstances she was gorgeous. “Thank you. They behaved like gentlemen.”

By accident she found herself in an operating theatre with a wounded soldier. “The surgeon said, ‘Here’s a souvenir for you.’ He gave me a bullet on a little piece of lint, with all the blood still on it. I kept it for donkey’s years, then lent it to the Imperial War Museum, but I never got it back.” The boys in Burma loved White Cliffs of Dover, a syrupy piece of propaganda written by an American who had never been there. Bluebirds don’t even live in Britain, but Dame Vera is impatient with such talk. “Well, it’s a symbol. Bluebirds of happiness. That’s what it’s all about.”

Vera Lynn pictured with British servicemen in Burma during World War Two

In 2009, she sued the British National Party for using the song, not wanting to be associated with its far-right views. That is not sur­prising when you hear what she did when the war ended. “The day after peace was declared, they phoned up and sent me to Germany.” So she sang for the troops who had liberated the concentration camps. “They took me around the ovens. I saw the gas chambers. They were like a row of garages with steel doors. No birds were flying. They said the gas was still in the air.”

After the war she was the first British performer to top the charts in the US, with Auf Wiederseh’n, Sweetheart in 1952. Her last number one here was My Son, My Son, two years later. As it happens, she and Harry had a daughter, Virginia, who now manages her mother’s affairs. Presumably, she is worth millions? “We wish,” says Virginia. “When mummy was really working hard, the money was thruppence ­compared with now.”

She can’t have done badly, though. For 50 years after the war she made radio and television programmes, recorded albums and toured the world. She also worked for service charities, and was made a dame in 1975. The Queen said, “You’ve been waiting a long time for this.”

LISTEN: Dame Vera Lynn sings Little Bit (exclusive)

Dame Vera’s last major engagement was outside Buckingham Palace in 1995, in a concert to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe. The ­celebrations were huge but felt like the end of an era. Dame Vera gave a remarkably strong performance for a woman pushing 80. She kissed some of the boys in Chelsea ­Pensioner red, then headed off into retirement in her East Sussex village. Harry died four years later, after 58 years of marriage. Many of those who sang along with her have gone too.

I have to ask, when she looks around at the world today, is this the future they were fighting for? “We didn’t think about the future,” she says tersely. “We lived from day to day. When you’re young, you think the way things are is going to carry on forever.”

Dame Vera Lynn, at home in Sussex (Decca)

She is sometimes mystified by what she sees on the news. “If my grandparents were to come back now and see how people behave, they would be ­horrified. They would say, ‘How could you live in a world like that?’ All the violence and the problems.’ If anybody was murdered in my young days, it was unheard of. Now it’s the norm. If somebody doesn’t like somebody, they kill ’em.”

The irony is that she lived through the most murderous war in history. But Dame Vera is not one to dwell on the negative. “Every generation has a different way of behaving. The world changes.”

She is tired, understandably. I have one last question, which is delicate. She is 97. Long may she live, but nobody can go on forever. What does she think comes next? “I think there has to be something. What it is, I don’t know,” she says. “I wasn’t brought up to pray.” There is a long pause. “It’s a difficult subject.” I dare to ask because for a singer of sentimental songs, Dame Vera has always been remarkably unsentimental. She’ll face whatever comes next like she faced the Blitz and Burma, by just getting on with it.

“When they write about the war, will they include me in it?” The question comes out of the blue and is rather ­staggering, until a smile suggests that she knows the answer. “I am glad that people will remember. I’m proud to think that they will link me in some way with the epic things of the war.”

Lives and memories fade, but the songs remain. She is captured in time now, as the voice of a generation almost lost. Whatever happens, she will always be a young woman with a bright smile and a strong, clear voice, giving people hope. “Well, that is lovely. I didn’t set out to be anything like that,” she says. “People used me, in a way, to achieve something, and I was glad of it. I was just doing my job.”

READ: Oh, What a Lovely War: why the battle still rages


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