Posts Tagged ‘story’

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

February 4th, 2016

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

Nicholas Winton, seen here celebrating his 105th birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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VJ Day 70th anniversary: a veteran’s story

August 14th, 2015

The Radar Technician was soon diverted to Singapore at short notice to fight the Japanese.

Gordon was on board a ship bound for Singapore

The group of ten men in his convoy were sent to guard a refinery armed only with one service rifle and ten rounds of ammunition each.

After the refinery was taken by Japanese paratroopers, Gordon and his group of men were forced to flee to Java – only to be captured by the Japanese and taken to a PoW camp in Hiroshima.

Only when the A-bomb was dropped on Hiroshima was Gordon freed

He would remain in the camp until he was 25, when the Atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

“I still have nightmares about this but was lucky to come home. Some people say they should not have dropped the Atom Bomb on Japan,” says Gordon.

“In my opinion if they had not nearly all the PoWs would have died or been killed by the Japanese.”

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Bletchley: the women’s story

January 4th, 2015

These worker ants came, mostly, from middle-class backgrounds. Colchester, now 91, had heard of Bletchley through her father, Air Vice-Marshal Sir Charles Medhurst, an air attaché in Rome. At the time, she was living in Italy, where her family moved in high circles – before the war, she had met Hitler and flirted with Mussolini at an embassy party – but she found the prospect of working for her country equally thrilling. “When you’re 19, everything’s romantic and exciting. You’re away from home, meeting all sorts of wonderful people.”

One such person was Pamela Rose, an actress from London, then 24, who had been urged by an interfering godmother to apply for The Park. “I’d just been offered a part as an understudy in a play called Water on the Rhine in the West End, and I was rather excited by it,” she says. “So I asked the man who’d interviewed me what I should do. And he said, ‘Well, the stage can wait. The war can’t’.” Rose, now 97, believes she was recruited on the basis of her well-to-do background: “They seemed to think that if they took in girls from families they knew something about, they were less likely to get a German spy.”

Their work was varied. While Colchester focused on decoding, Rose was stationed in the indexing hut of the naval intelligence section. “The codes came broken up into something like a text message,” she explains. “We had to have a card for the battleship, another for the port it was leaving, another for where it was arriving, and so on. Some days it was incredibly exciting – other times it was very dull, about the captain’s socks or something.”

Others among Dunlop’s 15 Bletchley girls had different roles – Muriel Dindol, at 14 the youngest of the group, was a messenger girl; while Cora Jarman, now 88, professes she still doesn’t know what exactly she was doing. “It was just noughts and crosses on a sheet,” she says. There were, of course, a few female codebreakers – notably Joan Clarke, who worked alongside Turing (played by Keira Knightley in the recent film) – “but they were hardly representative,” says Dunlop.

With its unique mix of military and civilians living in the same quarters (many of them were billeted in nearby villages and bused in and out of The Park each day), Bletchley was an extraordinary experience, with highs and lows. The girls worked shifts through the night in smoky, claustrophobic quarters, and they amused themselves with card games and gossip. “We all used to meet over coffee breaks in a little room in the main house,” says Colchester, who can still sing the ditties she learnt by heart seven decades ago. “There was a pressure to work, but it was very much a together community.”

The girls were younger than the men, but they did socialise together – to the extent that it was acceptable at the time. “They might have flirted, but it was all very dignified,” says Dunlop. “They’d never have rolled into bed together.” Indeed, Rose (née Gibson) met her husband, Wing Commander Jim Rose, at The Park – he was head of the air section – and, through him, was introduced to Turing. “I didn’t know Turing well,” she insists. “He was polite and intelligent, but he preferred the company of men.”

The four years at Bletchley flew by – and most of its women subsequently gave up their careers, got married and never looked back. Rose stayed until the end of 1945 and married Jim the following January. Colchester took a more unconventional path, moving from the world of codebreaking to a career in espionage with MI6, where she later crossed paths with Kim Philby, the Cambridge spy.

For the majority, however, Bletchley was the pinnacle of their intellectual careers. “It simply couldn’t have functioned without them,” says Dunlop. “And this goes for all the women of the war – Wrens, land girls, radio operators. Their job was to be the facilitators; but it’s about time we made them the focus.”

Modesty characterises the Bletchleyettes today – every one of Dunlop’s 15 retains the dignity and discretion that made them perfect employees 70 years ago. “There was a sense that we were doing something important,” says Colchester. “I am proud of what we did. But did we feel appreciated? Well, you didn’t think much about that in those days. There was a war on.”

She gained something else from her days at The Park – a lifelong friend. Having been introduced by one of their tutors on the lawn outside the huts, Rose and Colchester struck up a friendship that endures to this day. “That is one lovely legacy of that time,” muses Rose, her eyes twinkling. “As for the rest of it… There are so many people who say they ‘saved the war’. I know I didn’t. But I daresay we did all right.”

* ‘The Bletchley Girls’, by Tessa Dunlop (Hodder & Stoughton, £20), is available from Telegraph Books at £17 + £1.95 p&p. Call 0844 871 1515 or visit Tessa Dunlop will be in conversation with Bletchley veterans at Waterstones Piccadilly on Jan 8 at 7pm. To reserve your place at this free event, email [email protected]

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The Extraordinary Story of Captain Winkle Brown, BBC Two, review

June 1st, 2014

There are war stories, and then there are War Stories. The subject of Britain’s Greatest Pilot: the Extraordinary Story of Captain Winkle Brown (BBC Two) was a Zelig of the Second World War and beyond, making cameo appearances in everything from the Nuremberg Rallies to the Battle of Britain, from the liberation of Belsen

to the trial of Hermann Goering. Eric “Winkle” Brown’s encounter with the latter was recalled with mesmerising precision – typical of a chipper 95 year-old with a memory to match. He was well served by Simon Winchcombe’s restrained, respectful film, introduced and overseen by historian James Holland. If it held few surprises in its presentation, at its heart lay a tale which needed scant embellishment.

What window-dressing there was came in the form of newsreel footage. Some of it was frivolous (juxtaposing the Austro-German Anschluss with The Lambeth Walk), much of it intensely serious. Brown looked haunted as he talked of Belsen concentration camp: seeing these “dying zombies” shattered his long-held admiration for the German people. These responses to death offered the deepest insights into the man. The dogfights above the Atlantic convoys were adventures, full of derring-do and excitement. Until, that is, his ship was sunk and he was left roped together with 23 survivors in the water. Only two of them made it through the night – “a very nasty business”.

His story was littered with such understatement. He was “a bit piqued” about being imprisoned by the SS at the outbreak of the war; and his response to getting through a test flight which had already claimed lives by the skin of his teeth? “I was pretty pleased about it.” Upper lips don’t come much stiffer, although the sober manner in which he recounted his record-breaking feats – 487 different aircraft flown, 2,407 aircraft carrier landings achieved – was usually matched by a twinkle in the eye.

Such extraordinary commitment to excellence – Brown himself called it an “obsession” – must have taken a terrible toll on his personal life and, barring a brief acknowledgement at the film’s close, there was a disappointing lack of curiosity about this: we only found out that he was married when he mentioned his wife’s concussion after a V1 missile attack. Getting inside the minds of pioneers is a fascinating pursuit, and this felt like a missed opportunity. No matter. His achievements were remarkable; this was a man who, while not quite changing the course of history, certainly gave it a gentle nudge in the right direction. A life very well lived.


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Royal tour: WW2 Spitfire pilot tells story of New Zealand fighter ace

April 9th, 2014

Mr Bunt will tell the Duke and Duchess the extraordinary story of his former station commander Lt Keith “Grid” Caldwell, New Zealand’s highest-scoring fighter ace of the Great War.

Caldwell, who survived the First World War, served as an officer in the Second World War and lived until 1980, was facing certain death when his biplane was damaged at 7,000ft, but managed to guide it down towards the ground by stepping out onto the wing and using his body weight to stabilise it while leaning into the cockpit and holding the joystick.

Mr Bunt gave The Telegraph a preview of the story he will tell the Duke on a visit that he is sure the Duke, himself a pilot, will thoroughly enjoy.

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