Posts Tagged ‘WWII’

Familes of WWII veterans to hear messages home for first time in 70 years

December 24th, 2015

Designed partly as propaganda to show cheery soldiers having the time of their lives, they were carefully choreographed to send personal messages back to their home towns.

More than 600 examples of the films, lost for decades, were rediscovered in the basement of Manchester Town Hall during a refurbishment of the building years ago.

They will now be broadcast for the first time since the Second World War in a new Channel 4 programme, entitled Calling Blighty.

Channel 4 and the North West Film Archive have already put out on appeal seeking veterans who served in India, Burma and Sri Lanka and their families, with the hopes of including their reaction in a final broadcast.

Mr H Drinkwater, a Leading Aircraftsman in the RAF asks his wife to keep his bed warm for him The reels include footage from Mr H Drinkwater, a Leading Aircraftsman in the RAF, who tells his family: “I hope you are all right at home. I’m not doing so bad out here. It’s a bit warm. Getting decent grub, but missing the old fish and chips and a pint now and then, you know.”

With a cheeky look to camera, he tells his wife: “Anyway, keep the bed warm until I get home and we’ll get up them stairs. Cheerio”

Sam Marshall, a Gunner from the 21/8 Rajput HAA Regiment, told his family back in Manchester: “Well mother, Sam calling. I hope you’re quite well and in the pink.”

Other men are seen playing darts, polishing their specs and larking around in the background.

The messages are just two of hundreds recorded between 1944 and 1946 by the Directorate of Army Welfare in India.

At the time, British troops were stationed in India, Burma and Sri Lanka, fighting on even as Europe celebrated the end of war in what has become known as The Forgotten Army.

Without the possibility of home leave, and in an atmosphere where disease was rife and morale low, the Ministry of Defence embarked on a scheme to boost them with filmed messages to home.

Taking up to three months to arrive, with some servicemen dying before the messages got home, families and friends were invited to local cinemas to catch a glimpse of them.

These particular films were found on 25 reels in rusting film canisters in the basement of Manchester Town Hall, with paperwork detailing the names, ranks, regiments and serial numbers of participants surviving alongside it.

Steve Hawley, professor at the Manchester School of Art, said: “I saw an amazing film of servicemen in the second World War speaking to their loved ones, and mentioned this to Marion Hewitt, the Director of the North West Film Archive.

“To my delight, she told me that three decades previously, a pile of rusting film canisters had been discovered in the basement of Manchester Town Hall during refurbishment, and these were about to be thrown out when they were rescued by the Archive.”

Calling Blighty will air in early 2016 on Channel 4. The film is produced by Oxford Scientific Films.


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WWII bunker in Clapham to open for visitors to explore

December 22nd, 2015

The exhibition will focus on the history of the tunnels and will be used for Hidden London tours run by the London Transport Museum.

The tunnels have been open before, for limited access, but have never been open to the wider public.

Clapham North Deep-Level World War II air raid shelter

Construction work could start by the middle of 2016.

Also in Clapham, underground space is being used to grow micro greens and salad by the Growing Underground project.

This is taking place in the tunnels underneath Clapham High Street.

If you want to drink fancy cocktails in a bunker, a bomb shelter underneath Soho Square is potentially being turned into a fancy bar or restaurant.

Clapham North Underground station

It’s been put on the market by Westminster Council, which is offering a long lease at £175,000.

It has already attracted interest from at least three restaurant groups and gym and music venue operators.


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Hundreds turn out for funeral of WWII veteran who had no known relatives

December 16th, 2015

• Elderly neighbours discover they both took part in the same WW2 mission

Royal British Legion standard bearers march ahead of the hearse

War veterans acted as standard bearers and led the funeral procession with the coffin of Mr. Cox draped in a Union flag.

Serving Army officers also joined the moving ceremony in Middlesborough, Teeside.

Around two hundred people from all walks of life attended the funeral service

Other mourners included police officers and ambulance workers and members of the Royal British Legion Bikers turned out.

“Rest easy soldier, your duty’s done. Goodnight and God bless.”

They all answered the call of the Royal Pioneer Corps Association who posted an appeal on the Facebook page asking for people to attend.

It was shared to veteran groups, army-related groups and other local groups in the North East and in 12 hours it was seen by over 100,000 people.

Mourners attend the funeral

Local florist Beckie McLinn saw the plea and created a 3ft coffin top arrangement for Mr Cox, who lived alone in Stockton, Co Durham.

Others laid wreaths and red flowers to mark the veteran’s war service with moving tributes attached.

• Guy Martin: my grandfather fought for the Nazis

One read: “RIP brave soldier, gone but never forgotten” and another said: “Rest easy soldier, your duty’s done. Goodnight and God bless.”

Floral tributes and messages are left at the funeral service

One bunch of red flowers said: “Rest in peace brother.”

Norman Brown, who launched the appeal for mourners, said: “He had one hell of a send-off.”


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Revealed: How Britons welcomed black soldiers during WWII, and fought alongside them against racist GIs

December 6th, 2015

“These men have been sent to this country to help in its defence, and whatever their race or creed they should be entitled to the same treatment as our own soldiers.”

Letter to the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette

While white GIs sought to have them banned from pubs, clubs and cinemas and frequently subjected them to physical and verbal assault, many ordinary Britons welcomed the black troops into their homes – and on several occasions physically stood up to their tormentors.

The book, Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War, also reveals how in June 1943 there was a public outcry when four black servicemen were refused service in a bar in Bath, for no reason other than the colour of their skin.

One resident described the episode as “disgraceful” and wrote to the Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette stating: “These men have been sent to this country to help in its defence, and whatever their race or creed they should be entitled to the same treatment as our own soldiers.”

A 320th Barrage Balloon crew in action, Corporal A. Johnson of Houston, Texas walks a VLA balloon toward a winch with help from two men in his crew on Omaha Beach. The VLA balloons flew up to 2,000 feet

In one of the most notorious incidents fighting broke out when white Military Police officers – one of whom was drunk – began harassing black GIs outside a pub in the Lancashire village of Bamber Bridge.

But in what could be regarded as a surprising turn of events the locals sided of the black troops.

A later account of the riot, which began on June 24, 1943, stated: “The MPs expected the locals to resent the presence of the blacks but the locals sided with the blacks. The MPs, using racial expletives, returned with two more and tried to frighten the blacks, who fought back with bricks and bottles.”

More than seven servicemen were wounded in the fighting and 32 black soldiers were later court-martialled. Between November 1943 and February 1944 there were 56 such clashes between white troops and their black counterparts, an average on more than four a week.

GI Willie Howard, of the segregated 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion – whose task on the D-Day beaches was to raise the curtain of balloons protecting Allied troops from German planes – later went as far as to say: “Our biggest enemy was our own troops.”

Willie Howard

In another notable case a public campaign, including a petition of thousands of British signatures, led to the US President Eisenhower revoking the death sentence on Leroy Henry, a black soldier wrongly convicted of raping a woman near Bath, in May 1944.

The book also cites a letter from the owner of a café in Oxford to the Times, in which he recalled a black soldier presenting him with a letter from his commanding officer asking him to be served.

The café owner, a Mr D. Davie-Distin, promptly served him and said: “Had there been the slightest objection from other customers I should not have had any hesitation in asking them all to leave.”

And he added that the incident had left him “ashamed” that a man “fighting for the world’s battle for freedom and equality” had to resort to such humiliating measures to obtain a meal.

For the black GIs, to be treated with basic decency, after years of suffering humiliation, abuse and the daily threat of lynching from whites in the segregated southern states of their native US was, in the words of one of their number, Arthur Guest, like “a spark of light”.

File photo: Arthur Guest holds his wartime portrait

Guest was a sergeant with the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion – entirely composed of black soldiers led by white officers – which arrived in Pontypool, South Wales, in February 1944, and found itself among a population that had rarely seen a black face before.

“The general consensus of opinion seems to be that the only American soldiers with decent manners are the Negroes.”

George Orwell

Another member of the 320th was Wilson Monk , who was billeted in the basement of the town’s Trinity Methodist church.

Here he met the organist Godfrey Prior, a milkman, who quickly invited him to join the congregation.

Wilson Monk (third from left) and other fellow GI's

Mr Prior’s wife Jessie took it on herself to provide Monk with the occasional home cooked meal and – with her 18-year-old boy Keith away on active service – came to look on him as a surrogate son.

In February 1944 she wrote a touching letter from her home in the village of Abersychan to Monk’s mother Rosita, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to reassure her about her son’s well-being.

Mrs Prior, who like most Britons outside of the port cities of Liverpool, Cardiff, London and Bristol, has never seen a black person before, told her:

“Mrs Monk, you have a son to treasure and feel very proud of. We have told him he can look upon our home as his home while in our country. We shall take every care of him . . . we will look upon him now as our own.”

File photo: Wilson Monk points to the names of his friends painted on the canister of a German gas mask he found in Normandy in 1944

A Padre’s tale: How an Army chaplain’s diary throws new light on the anniversary of D-Day

The arrival of 130,000 black troops in Britain – in many places they were the first Americans soldiers to arrive – had presented the British authorities with a dilemma.

Although Churchill’s war Cabinet objected to their presence, British officials rejected US Army requests that the men be formally segregated from the white population, fearing a negative reaction from voters over what would be regarded as a distinctly ‘un-British’ policy.

In this rare close-up of a 320th Barrage Balloon crew in action The VLA balloons flew up to 2,000 feet

At a time of rising nationalist sentiment across the British Empire they were also worried about alienating Commonwealth troops if they began to treat black soldiers as second class citizens.

But anticipating a backlash from white American troops, civil servants introduced a de-facto policy of separation, designed to encourage British civilians and soldiers not to fraternise with the black GIs.

However the wider British public were far more welcoming.

“Equitable treatment abroad helped fuel the budding civil rights movement that would rock America in the coming decades.”

Linda Hervieux, author of Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes

Black troops generally behaved more courteously and with more dignity than the brash white GIs, who openly mocked Britain’s old fashioned cars, bad food and even its poor plumbing – so much so that many Britons preferred them to their countrymen, who soon earned the sobriquet of “overpaid, overfed, oversexed and over here”.

British women noted that, in contrast to the white GIs, the black soldiers did not cat call them – something that back home could have seen them lynched.

George Orwell wrote in Tribune: “The general consensus of opinion seems to be that the only American soldiers with decent manners are the Negroes.”

‘What you did was beautiful’, Dutch famine survivors tell British airmen 70 years on

The presence of so many black troops on British soil had a lasting legacy in a country that was soon to see an influx of Afro-Caribbean migrants, starting with the arrival of the Windrush ship at Tilbury, in 1948.

320th men having fun in Hawaii with a their standard issue M-1 rifle

While most people have heard of the GI babies the US troops left behind, few have considered that many of these children were of mixed-race, the offspring of affairs between local white women and the black soldiers they encountered.

Many of those “brown babies” only came to know their fathers in later years, with some of their descendants now embarking on a search for their American grandfathers.

Miss Hervieux said: “Given the racial tensions that exist in Britain today, as in other countries, it is hard to believe that the UK was once a relative racial paradise for African Americans. Britons were willing to open their hearts and minds to fellow human beings who were there to help them.

She added: “Their efforts extended beyond mere hospitality. True and deep friendships developed, some of which endured long after the war. Although Britons suffered through vicious bombings that ravaged the country and extreme privation, they never forgot basic human kindness.”

The treatment the men received at the hands of ordinary British men and women also had a significant impact on post-war America, believes Mrs Hervieux.

“In Britain America’s black soldiers were welcomed and treated with respect and kindness. Once they returned home, there was no going back,” she said. “Equitable treatment abroad helped fuel the budding civil rights movement that would rock America in the coming decades.”

Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War, by Linda Hervieux, is published by Harper Collins.


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Royal Navy detonates huge WWII German mine in Solent

November 27th, 2015

The Royal Navy has released footage of the moment it blew up a 1,500lb German mine in the Solent.

The mine was reportedly found by a crane barge that was dredging the strait.


The moment of the controlled explosion in the Solent

The device, which dated from the Second World War, was towed to open water before being detonated.

The video of the explosion shows the power of the mine blowing up a plume of water high into the air.

These mines were laid in their thousands during WWII but are rarely encountered these days – it’s only the second one we have dealt with in three years

Petty Officer (Diver) Richard Ellis, Bomb Disposal team leader

In a statement Petty Officer (Diver) Richard Ellis said: “These mines were laid in their thousands during WWII but are rarely encountered these days – it’s only the second one we have dealt with in three years. The other one was in the mouth of the Thames.

“The mine was in quite good condition, and they were engineered to a very high standard which is probably why it has stayed safe all these years.”

The explosion created a plume almost 1,000ft high.

Bomb squad called in after mother finds her flower vase was an unexploded WW2 shell
Unexploded Second World War bomb near Wembley Stadium poses ‘genuine risk to life’


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Australian Air Force and Navy uncover remains of 1943 WWII plane

November 20th, 2015

On 21 September, the Royal Australian Air Force collaborated with a Navy diving team to locate the remains of a sunken World War II aircraft.

The plane, the Catalina A24-25, had been used to fly long-range missions against Japanese submarines and shipping vessels. It crashed on 28 February, 1943, killing all 11 military personnel on board.

The Catalina was originally found about 56 kilometers south of Cairns in 2013, but coordination challenges delayed further investigations by two years.

In an official statement, the Royal Australian Air Force said that it intended to “leave the aircraft where it lies as a mark of respect to the crew whose remains are likely to be entombed in the wreckage.”

This newly released footage of the September expedition shows divers swimming through the wreckage.


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Giant WWII bomb dug up by builders in London

March 27th, 2015

Second World War bomb blown up in Hackney’s Clissold Park
Dramatic footage of WW2 bomb raid emerges

The Met is warning the disruption could last for a long time yet as experts attempt to safely dispose of the potentially volatile device.

A Met Police spokesman said: “The device is huge – it is a big fuss. Self-evidently from the nature of the operation, it is a big one, it is being dealt with but it could be problematic.

“We are on the case along with partner agencies but this could take a very long time. We will be issuing a further statement shortly.”

A member of the Royal Logistic Corps Bomb Disposal team at the scene (Jamie Lorriman)

A spokesman for London Fire Brigade, which has crews at the scene assisting bomb disposal units and the police, said the operation was likely to be a protracted one.

He said: “A large number of people have been evacuated from that area including homes and businesses as a precaution.

“We are assisting at the incident and it is likely to be a protracted one that could go on for some time.

“Whether that is due to the nature of the device or some other difficulty we’re not sure. We are on the scene to ensure it is as safe as possible.”

Police and Royal Logistic Corps Bomb Disposal Unit securing the area (LNP)

A Scotland Yard spokesman added: “At this early stage, the unexploded bomb is thought to be approximately 5ft long and 1000lbs in weight.

“A cordon and a wider exclusion zone of 400 meters has been put in place as a precaution, whilst we deal with the incident.

“We are working with colleagues from the London Fire Brigade, London Ambulance Service and Southwark Council who are also on scene.

“There a number of road closures and traffic diversions in the area.”

A wartime digaram show different German bomb sizes


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Army experts safely destroy WWII Bermondsey bomb

March 25th, 2015

Army experts safely explode the bomb at a quarry in Kent. Credit: Ministry of Defence

SAT Lester, of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal, Royal Logistic Corps, said: “This bomb was a live munition in a dangerous condition. It had been disturbed by some pretty heavy building machinery, which is never a good thing. Bombs don’t like being bashed around.

“But once we’d uncovered it, we knew what we were dealing with and it was just a question of solving the puzzle quickly so we could get it away and the good residents of Bermondsey back in their homes.

“We knew we had to get it away to dispose of it safely because trying to deal onsite with a bomb that size, even under a controlled explosion, would cause significant damage to buildings, (and) property, and the risk of major loss of life in such a highly populated part of the city was very high.”

Buildings around The Grange were evacuated as British Army bomb disposal experts and engineers built a protective “igloo” around the 5ft (1.5m) device to protect the surrounding buildings in case of accidental detonation.


Bomb disposal teams from Shorncliffe Troop 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Royal Logistic Corps and Sappers from 33 Engineer Regiment Explosive Ordnance Disposal were involved in excavating the device (MoD)

The igloo was created from Hesco blast walls, like those used to build Camp Bastion and other military bases in Afghanistan during the conflict there.

The bomb was excavated last night by teams who had previously worked on Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. It was then transported to a site in Kent owned by Brett Aggregates for the detonation, allowing people in Bermondsey to return to their homes last night.

On Wednesday night, Simon Hughes, the Lib Dem MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, tweeted: “Thank u 2 members of the Armed Forces & all involved in moving the £UXB 2 Kent today & grateful 2 local £Bermondsey residents 4 patience.”


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Footage captures US air raids on Japan in dying days of WWII

March 17th, 2015

In one sequence, filmed on July 24, 1945, US forces attack the Imperial Japanese Navy’s aircraft carrier Amagi as it sits at anchor off Kure, Japan’s most important naval base during the war.

The footage also shows attacks on the heavy cruiser Tone and Oyodo, a light cruiser, with near misses clearly rippling out on the surface of Etajima Bay.

The grainy images also show rocket attacks on land targets, including factories manufacturing aircraft in Kure, while another clip, shot through the rear canopy of the US aircraft, shows a pall of smoke rising above the Kure Naval Arsenal after a raid on June 22, 1945. The war ended less than two months later.

Japanese records indicate that 162 B-29 Superfortress bombers attacked Kure shipyard – the home port of the battleship Yamato, which had only been sunk in April 1945 – dropping more than 700 tons of bombs.

“As this year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, we are hoping to pass down to younger generations the reality of war by collecting important wartime footage”, Soei Hirata, head of the civic group, told the Asahi.


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David Cameron to boycott Moscow’s WWII commemorations in protest over Ukraine crisis

March 12th, 2015

The Prime Minister’s Deputy Official Spokesman said: “We will be considering our representation in light of our ongoing discussions with Russia, and our concerns about their activity.

“We don’t have plans for the Prime Minister to attend, and I’m sure we will set out who will represent the government in due course.”

“We would consider our representation within our broader ongoing relationship with Russia. Recently, there have not been ministerial visits, and we will take that into account when we consider who attends.”

Vladimir Putin had sent invitations to the parade to a host of world leaders, but has been met with refusals from the Presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the German Chancellor. President Obama has also refused, citing a tight schedule. Mrs Merkel will attend a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier the following day.

In a re-emergence of old Cold War loyalties, the leaders of Vietnam, Serbia, the Czech Republic, China and North Korea are expected to attend.

“It will not affect the spirit, the emotional aspect and the scale of the holiday,” Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman said earlier, said of the apparent boycott.


Russian servicemen march during the Victory Day Parade in Moscow’s Red Square

Victory Day ranks among the most important days in the Russian calendar, with more than 20 million Soviet citizens killed in the war, and is marked with a mass parade of tanks, troops and missiles on Red Square in Moscow and the overflight of dozens of jets and bombers.

It falls on May 9 – the day after Britain marks Victory in Europe Day, and two days after the General Election is held.

This year’s event is likely to be highly politicised and feature the largest display of military hardware in years, including a newly formed aerobatics team named Crimean Wings.

Russian media daily compares the fighting in Ukraine to the Second World War, with claims that the Ukrainian government is a “Fascist junta” and warnings that Jewish people are in danger. The orange and black Ribbon of St George, widely associated with the Great Patriotic War, has been adopted as a symbol of the separist fighters.

David Cameron last visited Russia for the G20 summit in St Petersburg. That saw Mr Cameron launching an impassioned defence of Britain after it was dismissed by a Russian official as “just a small island”.

In 1995, during the post-Cold War thaw, John Major and Bill Clinton attended commemorations in Moscow to mark fifty years since the end of the war. In 2005, John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, represented Britain alongside President Bush. Tony Blair sent apologies, having only days before won a third general election.


Better times: Welsh Guards in Red Square on Victory Day, 2010

In 2010, Nato troops from Britain, France, Poland the US marched alongside 10,000 Russians.

The EU has imposed sanctions, including asset freezes and travel bans, on some 151 people and 37 entities, in response to the assault on Ukrainian sovereignty. The Foreign Secretary this week warned that Russia, which is rapidly modernising its military, as at risk of becoming the single greatest threat to British national security.

Britain may broadcast Putin’s financial secrets
The Ukraine crisis is too grave for Cameron to ignore
Video: David Cameron warns Vladimir Putin


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