Archive for November, 2014

British ex-POW in Japanese camp ‘disgusted’ by guard demands for compensation

November 11th, 2014

“I want to ask that our honour be restored very soon,” Lee said.

Lee complained that while former servicemen convicted of war crimes receive monthly pensions, non-Japanese nationals receive a smaller amount.

“It’s a tough situation and it’s continuing,” Lee said. “I would like to ask for support.”

But Arthur Lane, who was a bugler with the Manchester Regiment and captured at the fall of Singapore in February 1942, says the troops from Japan’s colonies were the most vicious abusers of prisoners.

An emaciated British POW in a Japanese Camp

“The Japanese guards were bad, but the Koreans and the Formosans were the worst,” he told The Telegraph from his home in Stockport.

“These were men who the Japanese looked down on as colonials, so they needed to show they were as good as the Japanese,” he said. “And they had no-one else to take it out on other than us POWs.”

Now 94, Lane was sent to work on the “Death Railway,” which was designed to run from Thailand to the Indian border and to serve as the Japanese invasion route. An estimated 12,400 Allied POWs and some 90,000 Asian labourers died during the construction of the 258-mile track.

“After my capture, I witnessed many atrocities – murders, executions, beatings and instances of sadistic torture – and I was on the receiving end myself on a number of occasions,” he said.

“I was also one of a handful of buglers in the camps and played my bugle at thousands of burials for the victims of the ‘sons of heaven’,” he added.

“That’s why I have no sympathy for this group’s claims,” he added. “These men volunteered and they all knew exactly what they were doing. And they mistreated us because they wanted to please their masters and knew they could get away with it.

“They joined up for kicks, when Japan was winning the war, and they took advantage of that for their own enjoyment,” Lane said.

“They won’t get an apology or compensation from the Japanese government,” he added. “I think a more fitting result would be to have then taken out and whipped for what they did to us.”

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Jeremy Paxman: Why silence is not enough

November 10th, 2014

The teenaged Evelyn Waugh was scathing, calling the plan “a disgusting idea of artificial nonsense and sentimentality… a disgraceful day of national hysteria”.

If people wanted to remember loved ones they had lost in the war, they should do so “whenever the grass is green, or Shaftesbury Avenue brightly lighted”. It is as dyspeptic as you’d expect from him, but did he have a point?

Though he would not have welcomed the company, there were some on the Left of politics who felt similarly uneasy. In 1921, unemployed former servicemen in Liverpool marched through the streets during the silence, with cries of “What we need is food, not prayers” and “Anyone want a medal?”.

But the Left-wing Daily Herald welcomed the silence as an opportunity. Those taking part should “swear to yourself this day at 11 o’clock, that never again, God helping you, shall the peace and happiness of the world fall into the murderous hands of a few cynical old men”.

Instead, old men turn out at the Cenotaph to lay wreaths. Organisation of the event remains in the hands of the military, with little recognition of the fact that the armies of both world wars comprised civilians, most of whom couldn’t wait to get out of uniform.

Even in 1919, some of those who had fought found the whole thing uncomfortable: one thoughtful veteran, Charles Carrington, thought that marching to the Cenotaph was “too much like attending one’s own funeral”.

In a paunchy age like ours, the Royal family are some of the very few public figures who have worn military uniform. We expect to see City suits and overcoats, as poor Michael Foot discovered when the tabloid press unleashed their yahoos on him for the crime of wearing what they called a donkey jacket. (It wasn’t: his wife had bought the coat for him, and he’d thought it rather smart.)

The obsequies are mainly the business of those who have never had their contented middle-class lives disrupted by having to perform military service. In their well-nourished comfort, our political leaders aren’t so different from the rest of us.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not against the two-minute silence. A couple of minutes is a pitifully short period to spend recalling those who lost the opportunity to grow older and see their children grow up. Silence is such a rare commodity in modern life that it seems even more appropriate today than in 1919.

But honouring the lives lost, and recognising that the comforts we take for granted were bought so expensively, surely ought to oblige us to do something more positive than stopping our mouths for 120 seconds.

Britain no longer sends expeditionary forces off around the world to police its empire. It cannot afford to do so, when the entire Army can be accommodated in Wembley Stadium.

Yet, as soldiers returned from two less-than-conspicuously successful missions in Afghanistan and Iraq know, American presidents have only to say “jump” for the British Cabinet to ask “how high?” At every two-minute silence, we add more names of dead and mutilated young people to the numbers who have gone before.

The laying of wreaths has not prevented 21st-century politicians sending young people off to questionable wars. A more meaningful gesture, surely, would be a mechanism that prevented them deciding so casually to chance the lives of their young people in future.

Even in the late Thirties, the social anthropologists of Mass Observation had detected a widespread feeling that the ceremony was out of date and should be scrapped.

After the Second World War, with the terms of the treaty ending the First War well and truly trampled in the mud, Armistice Day ceremonies were largely replaced by the Remembrance Sunday service with which we are all familiar.

The brilliance of Paul Cummins’s enormous field of poppies at the Tower of London is its capacity to provide a sense of the great amalgamation of private tragedies that created a national tragedy, in the knowledge that each poppy is one death among hundreds of thousands.

There is an uncomfortable sense that Remembrance Sunday, by contrast, allows us to generalise and compartmentalise feelings that ought to be part of the fabric of our daily lives.

For H?G Wells’s “war that will end war” turned out to be nothing of the kind. How many have died in conflicts since? A hundred million? More? The numbers aren’t the point – whatever the ambitions of the two-minute silence, it has demonstrably failed to prevent war.

This year, being the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, the silence will carry a greater resonance than for many years.

There is a strong argument for saying that, in marking the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, we commemorate the wrong event. Better, surely, to mark the conclusion of such an awful catastrophe.

The actual ending of the war, on November 11 1918, had been celebrated with searchlights playing across the clouds, fireworks in the skies, much singing, dancing and drinking, and children spared school and homework.

“We have won a great victory, and we are entitled to a bit of shouting,” Lloyd George told the crowds in Downing Street. A group of Australian soldiers tore down hoardings encouraging people to buy war bonds, and started a bonfire in Trafalgar Square – you can still see the scorch marks on the base of Nelson’s Column. Relief, surely, is the right response to the end of war.

It was a year later that the two-minute silence was created. There were laudable reasons.

Grieving families had no grave on which to focus their sorrow, for there had been simply too many corpses to bring home.

It was calculated that if the dead of the war were to march in column past the Cenotaph four abreast, as the first four entered Whitehall, the last four would be leaving Durham.

The silence had been suggested to the king by a South African, Sir Percy Fitzpatrick. The King liked the idea, and so did the Cabinet, although there were some worries that it might set “an inconvenient precedent”. It has not turned out very inconvenient.

The focus of the national commemoration is the Cenotaph in Whitehall, Sir Edwin Lutyens’s inspired “empty tomb”, which had been designed as a temporary structure in wood and plaster, but was so engulfed in flowers and wreaths that public pressure ensured it was replaced with something identical but permanent.

Brilliantly, the monument is devoid of religious symbols, and makes no mention of “triumph” or “victory”. It speaks of the “glorious dead”.

Britain’s warriors have met their ends in a thousand terrible ways, and of course, we should remember them. But is a venerable, moving and resonant ritual enough?

Jeremy Paxman’s Great Britain’s Great War is published by Penguin

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Respect those who fight for their country – and for our freedom

November 9th, 2014

Fittingly, the online canadian pharmacy last of 888,246 poppies to complete the display will be planted on Armistice Day. That final poppy recalls the life of Pte George Edwin Ellison of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers. He was one of the first to be involved in the fighting at the outbreak of war, having participated in one of the British Expeditionary Force’s earliest campaigns at Mons, in 1914. He survived being gassed and the harrowing experience of the Somme, and is believed to have been the last British soldier to fall.

It is to the soldiers of the trenches, such as Pte Ellison, that our thoughts will inevitably turn today on Remembrance Sunday. Yet we must not forget that the attritional battle in the trenches was just part of a vast war effort by men and women, Service and civilian, from across the globe. It was a war fought over a sprawling canvas, both on land and at sea, defeating the U-boat blockade and winning the battle of the Atlantic.

But the poppies at the Tower don’t just remind us of the sacrifice of the soldiers, sailors and airmen of the First World War, but also of those who followed them in later conflicts – those who stepped on to the beaches of Normandy 30 years later, those who fought in Korea, and those who, more recently, have fought in the heat of Iraq and on the dusty plains of Helmand.

Particularly this year, as we conclude our combat operations in Afghanistan, we remember those who have died and who have suffered life-changing injuries. And we particularly think of their families.

Yet, at the same time as we remember their sacrifice, we should also remember their service. The thousands of personnel who served in Afghanistan from all three Services have achieved an enormous amount. Through their efforts, they have made that country more secure and ensured that millions more Afghans can receive an education and experience a better quality of life. They have put that country on a road to recovery.

Above all, they have succeeded in our principal strategic purpose: stopping terrorists from using Afghanistan to mount attacks on British people on British streets.

And already, our forces have turned their service to new threats – policing Baltic airspace to deter Russian aggression; targeting the Isil menace in Iraq; helping to combat the spread of Ebola in West Africa.

Reflecting on the service of our Armed Forces over the years has another powerful effect. By recalling their fortitude, we come to a greater appreciation of what service itself means.

We appreciate that those soldiers, sailors and airmen were not just fighting for their country, they were fighting for our freedom and our future. It is service that connects all our Armed Forces past, present and future.

So today, as we come together as a nation, either standing at the Cenotaph or conducting acts of remembrance, let there be pride for the service, as well as sorrow for the sacrifice.

We will remember the fallen not just with sadness, but also with eternal respect and gratitude, in the knowledge that we are living the future they fought for.

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The bravest of all are those veterans who can keep a secret

November 7th, 2014

By day Roberts was a humble banker, but his alter ago, Jack King, was central to national security. When his role was revealed, his daughter was astonished. “We’re still reeling from it,” she said. Her father was not around to tell her himself, for he had taken his secret to the grave, in 1972.

Suburban bank clerk Eric Roberts

And while it would be bad news for spy novelists and espionage thriller directors if everyone kept tight lipped for ever, I cannot help feeling astonishing, redoubled admiration for those brave souls who are not only prepared to risk life and limb in the service of their country, but also willing to forgo any applause for having done so.

That is selfless heroism of a rare kind. Yet it is the heroism that I saw time and again as obits editor at the Telegraph, when stories of eye-popping wartime bravery emerged only because documents were found after someone’s death. We also frequently wrote sentences such as: “Her military exploits only came to light when, for a school project, her grandchild asked her about what she had done during the war. It was the first time she had discussed it in 55 years.”

Sometimes we ran something along the lines of: “He rarely discussed his service after the war, merely stating that he had fought alongside many brave men.” The full details only emerged in records held at the National Archives.

You have to admire that reticence, diffidence even. Take Rose Robertson, for example. She died in 2011 aged 94.

“Sworn to lifelong secrecy,” our obit stated, “she underwent tough counter-interrogation training. For the rest of her life she was very reluctant to speak about her secret work. On the rare occasions when she did, it was with self-effacing modesty, though it was clear that her memories caused her considerable distress.”

Doubtless many spies and special forces soldiers are left in “considerable distress” by the memories of what they have gone though. How that distress must be exacerbated by the loneliness of not being able to tell anyone.

War correspondents, who suffer their fair share of PTSD, sometimes say that they are spared the worst mental hangover because they relentlessly tell and retell the stories of their scrapes. In fact there is little they like better. Rob O’Neill didn’t have that option, that comfort. And there seems little doubt that he was an extremely courageous man. How can anyone who has endured less possibly condemn him?

But that only confirms the point that the greatest heroes are those who you will never know about, at least in their life times, because they just don’t talk about it. They all deserve a medal. A big one. They just won’t ever be able to wear it in public.

Thinker, Failure, Soldier, Jailer… – An Anthology of The Telegraph’s Greatest Ever Obituaries

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Berlin Wall anniversary: photographs from the symbolic rise and fall of the Iron Curtain

November 7th, 2014

November 9, 2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Here, we take a look through some of the best photographs from the rise and fall of the ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart’

West Berlin citizens continuing their vigil atop the Berlin Wall in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin on November 10 1989

Picture: Reuters

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Great battlefields: which do you recognise?

November 6th, 2014

Ahead of Remembrance Sunday, we’ve devised the following quiz on famous battlefields. Which can you recognise with the help of our clues?

Reading this on our app? Take the quiz by tapping here.

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Remembrance Day poems: 10 poems for the fallen

November 5th, 2014

Read full poem

The Soldier – Rupert Brooke

During the First World War, Brooke joined the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, and died of an infection in 1915 en route to Gallipoli. The most famous lines from his poem The Soldier are often read in remembrance of those who die far from home fighting for their country, suggesting that soldiers take a part of their home nation with them to the grave.

If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is for ever England.

Read full poem

Drummer Hodge – Thomas Hardy

Hardy’s Drummer Hodge uses a similar device to Brooke’s The Soldier. It was written before Brooke’s more famous lines, however, and was composed by Hardy in 1899 in response to the Anglo-Boer War. It focuses on the very young British drummers – usually boys in their early teens – who accompanied soldiers into battle overseas and faced death alongside them.

Yet portion of that unknown plain

Will Hodge for ever be;

His homely Northern breast and brain

Grow to some Southern tree,

And strange-eyed constellations reign

His stars eternally.

Read full poem

In Flanders Fields – John McRae

Written in 1915 from the perspective of dead soldiers lying in their graves, John McRae’s poem urges the reader to avenge slaughtered men’s deaths. Almost as soon as it was written, the poem became hugely popular and was used in motivational posters and armed forces recruitment leaflets across Britain and North America during the First World War. As the first war poem to refer to poppies as a symbol of remembrance, the poem is still read across the world on Remembrance Day.

McRae was a Canadian doctor and Lieutenant Colonel in the First World War, fighting and overseeing medical care in Boulogne with the Canadian Expeditionary Force. He died of pneumonia on the battlefield in January 1918.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Read full poem

Charge of the Light Brigade – Alfred, Lord Tennyson

This narrative poem about the noted battle in the Crimean war was written by Tennyson in 1854. It has become one of the defining war poems, capturing the thrill of battle as well as the futility of conflict and the brutal reality of fighting. It was widely popular at the time, and one couplet in particular has passed into the vernacular: “Theirs not to reason why,/ Theirs but to do and die”.

When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made!

All the world wonder’d.

Honour the charge they made!

Read full poem

And Death Shall Have No Dominion – Dylan Thomas

Written between the wars in 1933, Thomas’s poem takes on a broad theme of remembrance and the eternity of the human spirit.

They shall have stars at elbow and foot;

Though they go mad they shall be sane,

Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;

Though lovers be lost love shall not;

And death shall have no dominion.

Read full poem

An Irish Airman Foresees His Death – WB Yeats

Yeats’s poem in the voice of an Irish airman doesn’t glorify fighting – in fact, speaking as the soldier, he says, “Those that I fight I do not hate,/ Those that I guard I do not love”. Instead it’s a measured meditation on being in the firing line during war, and being drawn to “a tumult in the clouds”.

The years to come seemed waste of breath,

A waste of breath the years behind

In balance with this life, this death.

Read full poem

Adlestrop – Edward Thomas

Edward Thomas chose to enlist in the Artists Rifles in 1915. Though not much of his poetry deals explicitly with war, the war is often referred to obliquely. Adlestrop is a haunting portrait of the quiet calm of England, in contrast to the horrific fighting taking place abroad, as remembered by Thomas when his train made a stop in the Cotswolds just before war broke out in 1914. Thomas was killed in action at Arras on Easter Monday, April 1917. Adlestrop was published soon afterwards.

And for that minute a blackbird sang

Close by, and round him, mistier,

Farther and farther, all the birds

Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Read full poem

MCMXIV – Philip Larkin

Larkin’s heartbreakingly poignant poem reflects on the patriotic optimism of the young men queueing up to enlist in 1914. The poem was written in 1964, when some critical distance from both wars had been reached. In the wake of colossal destruction, Larkin looks back with devastatingly sharp hindsight at the doomed notion that war would be akin to “an August Bank Holiday lark” for those about to fight.

Never such innocence,

Never before or since,

As changed itself to past

Without a word – the men

Leaving the gardens tidy,

The thousands of marriages,

Lasting a little while longer:

Never such innocence again.

Read full poem

Hear Larkin reading MCMXIV

Dulce et Decorum Est – Wilfred Owen

Owen’s poem Dulce et Decorum Est, written during the First World War, was published posthumously in 1920. It brings vividly to life the desperate human misery of warfare, condemning and raging against the “lie” that war is noble. Owen served on the front line in the Manchester Regiment, suffering severe shell shock, and was killed in action on November 4 1918. His mother was informed of his death on Armistice Day, seven days later.

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est

Pro patria mori.

Read full poem

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Britain’s hidden heroes

November 5th, 2014

Commissioned as a second lieutenant into the 6th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, he was awarded the Military Cross in 1940 for rescuing three men, including one who was seriously wounded, from a burning house during the retreat to Dunkirk. He was then tasked with holding a bridge over the Canal des Moëres at Téteghem, which he did for three days before taking one of the last boats – a paddle steamer called the Medway Queen – back to Britain.

Garland then volunteered for service with the newly formed No?11 (Scottish) Commando, members of which would later join the fledgling SAS. After rigorous training in the Scottish Highlands, he flew with the rest of his unit to Palestine to take part in the invasion of Vichy-controlled Syria and Lebanon. The plan was for the commandos to carry out an amphibious assault landing on an enemy position on the Litani River.

Garland distinguished himself in this famous operation by drawing the fire of a sniper who was picking off Allied soldiers. He deliberately revealed himself to ascertain the sniper’s position, then manned a Bren gun, shot him dead, climbed into a boat and became the first man to cross the river – a display of bravery that earned him a bar to his Military Cross.

Land, sea and air: Lt. Eric Garland (Photo: Christopher Cox)

After this, not content with his efforts on land, Garland applied to the RAF to become a fighter pilot and, in March 1942, was posted for pilot training in Southern Rhodesia. He carried out numerous sorties over the Western Desert and was promoted to flight lieutenant in November 1943, before moving to Italy to fly Spitfires.

Shot down behind enemy lines in May 1944, he was taken prisoner. For lesser men, being a prisoner of war would have been a respectable end to their part in the conflict, but Garland – despite splintering his shinbone and receiving burns to his hands and face when his fighter plane caught fire – simply saw it as a new challenge. In a letter to his parents in August 1944, he explained: “I was taken prisoner immediately on reaching the ground and spent seven weeks in hospital at Mantova. I made three unsuccessful attempts to escape from there, but finally managed to escape from the hospital train to Germany on June 17 by jumping out of the window at night.”

Garland evaded capture, fought alongside the Italian partisans and eventually secretly returned to Allied lines in January 1945. Finally, more than a year after the war ended, he was awarded his third and final decoration, an MBE.

Bill Pickering

Bill Pickering, who is still alive, still married and goes to the gym every day at the age of 91, was a Special Operations Executive (SOE) wireless operator who, after being parachuted into northern Italy in February 1945, spent almost three months fighting with the partisans towards the end of the Second World War.

Bill Pickering, a Special Operations Executive (SOE) wireless operator during WWII. (Photo: Lord Ashcroft)

Despite the death of two officers who were with him, he took part in an epic episode of clandestine warfare. In his memoir, The Bandits of Cisterna, Pickering describes in vivid detail an ambush by an estimated 60 German soldiers on one of his team’s hideouts.

“[Capt John] Keany said: ‘Don’t be silly, Bill. They couldn’t creep up a hill like this without us seeing or hearing them.’ To the best of my recollection, those were Keany’s last words. I had been standing by his side as we spoke, with my radio transmitter in a pack on my back and my Marlin slung over my shoulder. For no reason I could ever explain, I suddenly felt frightened, vulnerable and exposed. I moved two or three paces away from Keany’s left side. As I did so the German submachine-guns opened up. I flung myself to the ground and saw Keany’s chest neatly stitched with a row of bullets.

“Four other partisans had been cut down by the initial burst from another submachine-gun to our right. The rest of us hurled ourselves full length on to our stomachs as the bullets whistled inches overhead.

“Everything that happened next did so without any conscious pause for thought or consideration. First, I loosed off several rounds from my Marlin in the general direction of the enemy guns. The Calabrian, Tony and another partisan named Gino on my left followed my example. Then I motioned for the Calabrian to fire a burst while I scampered round on my hands and knees to get behind him. I fired a burst and he crawled at top speed to the other side of Tony. Then the Calabrian gave covering fire while Tony dashed to the far side of Gino.

“In this way, by keeping the Germans’ heads down and running like hell, we retreated off the hill. Whether it was our fear or our geographical advantage that benefited us most was hard to tell, but as we escaped from the immediate danger, we ran into more trouble from an attack on our left flank. Germans with submachine-guns were hiding behind trees as we ran down the slope. They were 200 yards away but well within firing range.

“For a few agonising moments we were pinned down. We knew it was impossible to stay flat on our faces behind what little cover was available. In a few more seconds, the Germans ahead of us would have reached the top of the ridge.

“In the cowboy movies I had watched as a child, this was the time when the 7th Cavalry arrived on the scene with bugles blaring and sabres flashing.

“On this occasion it was Renato who came to the rescue without any fanfare of trumpets, just his usual calm efficiency. He and his men had got across to the shelter of some trees on our hill a minute or two before us, running at full pelt as soon as the first shots were fired. They were now our saviours as they poured a hail of withering fire into the trees where the Germans were hiding…”

Pickering took part in a lot more action, until April 1945, when Allied forces finally reached Turin. He was awarded the Military Medal for “outstanding qualities of courage, determination and resourcefulness”.

Graham Watts

Graham Watts, a former member of the secret 14 Intelligence Company. (Photo: Christopher Cox)

Graham Watts is a pseudonym requested by the individual concerned because of his crucial role in what was almost certainly the most successful surveillance coup during the whole period of “the Troubles”. Watts, who worked for a secretive Army unit called 14 Intelligence Company, was at the heart of an undercover operation that all but wiped out the Provisional IRA command structure in Belfast at the time through the arrest of 17 of its leading members.

Among those seized were the entire hierarchy of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade and arguably the three most wanted men in the city at the time: Gerry Adams (officer commanding), Brendan Hughes (operations officer) and Tom Cahill (finance officer).

Watts’s award was the first DCM to any member of the Special Forces in Northern Ireland.

Earlier this year, the undercover operative gave me an astonishing account of the surveillance operation he staged:

“By mid-1973 we were building up the first comprehensive picture of the IRA. But there were still huge gaps in our picture; we had photographs of many suspects but we didn’t know their names. And we had many names, but no photographs to put them to. And there were others who were no more than rumours – no picture, no name.

“When we identified a ‘player’, or even if we just had a name or photo, we gave him a code; C3, B2, D1, etc. The white-haired, stooping old man I was watching this day on the Falls Road was C5.

“He was on foot and I was sitting in my car, a grey Triumph Dolomite, from where I could see him amble up the road in front of the red-bricked terraced housing. The road was wide and busy, I knew I didn’t stick out and was confident that C5 wouldn’t get too close to me. He let himself into a house through a poorly maintained front door.

“It looked promising. Even if we identified some more players, put a couple more pieces in our picture, it would be a success. However, what we all hoped for was a major bust, lifting some of the IRA’s top men.

“The man we really wanted, who was on the top of our list, was just known as A1. We had no other details, but it was believed he was dangerous, ruthless, the heartbeat of the Provisionals. Apparently, no act of terror from the IRA in Belfast went ahead without his express say-so. For a while nothing happened at the house and I reported [via radio] the lack of movement back to my boss, Harry. Then another character arrived. He walked past the house, then walked back again, then past the house again. I could tell something was up, he was checking out the locality before knocking on the door. I sensed an IRA brigade meeting was going ahead. Sure enough, the man returned quickly to the house, knocked on the door and went in.

“Then it happened again, another dodgy-looking, steely faced man walked towards the house. He was tall, thin, bearded and bespectacled, and he certainly wasn’t out for a summer stroll. He followed the same routine as the first visitor.

“I sent the commentary to Harry [over the radio]. Then another suspicious-behaving character arrived and followed the same routine as the first two. I was certain I had a brigade meeting on my hands. It was quite probable that the length of people’s lives was being determined inside the house. They could be drawing up a hit list, arguing about whom to kill, where to plant the bomb and whether to warn the authorities about it.

“Whatever was going on I knew these were ‘players’ we had to lift. When I felt that all who were going to turn up had arrived, I advised Harry to get the regular Army in and let the RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] in on it.

“My adrenalin began to flow as I waited for the raid. But then a man started walking across the road towards me. I’d been clocked by a lookout.

“The man rolling towards me was squat and youngish, a new recruit I guessed. He wore dirty blue jeans and a crinkled shirt with the sleeves rolled up. I didn’t think he was carrying [a gun], but I checked my weapon again. When he got to me, he announced that he was from the ‘Civil Defence Community’ – a synonym for Provisional IRA.

“‘I don’t want anything to do with your f—ing Irish s—,’ I bellowed at him. There was no point in trying to put on an accent to disguise my West Country roots; if he had only half a brain, he would have seen through it.

“‘My boss is doing some business around the corner, I’m waiting for him,’ I explained.

“‘What f—ing business?’ the lookout screamed in my face.

“‘F—ing insurance,’ I returned, with equal volume. ‘I don’t give a s — about your Irish s—, I don’t f—ing want to be here.

“‘F—ing watch it,’ he warned, before storming off. My cover was shot to pieces and I fully expected the lookout to dash to the house and inform those inside of my presence. But, remarkably, he seemed to buy my lie and then wandered off. I assumed he was still watching me, to see what I did.

“Then, within 30 seconds, I saw Bill, one of my team, dressed in shirt, tie and carrying a briefcase, walking towards the passenger door. An insurance salesman. Nice one, Harry.

“Bill opened the door and got in. I drove off quickly.

“‘You’ve got to drop me off and get to the safe house at the edge of the city. Your cover is blown.’

“‘He might have bought the lie,’ I tried.

“‘Got to assume he knows – he will after the raid, anyway.’ I grudgingly admitted what I knew was the truth and dropped off Bill before leaving for a secret address.

“I had never known frustration like it. I had done everything properly and we’d got lucky – then it all went pear-shaped, my cover was blown and I had no idea of knowing how the raid finally went. When I reached the address in a safe, Protestant area of Belfast suburbia, I sat in my car with the radio waiting for news.

“Eventually, it crackled into life. ‘Success, Graham,’ announced Harry. I could almost see his chest puffing up with pride. ‘We’ve basically lifted the IRA’s Army Council. We couldn’t have had a better result.’” Later I got a look at the terrorists from behind one-way glass at the RUC’s Springfield Road barracks.

“’That one there,’ said a Special Branch officer, ‘is Brendan Hughes. Nasty character. He’s a murderer, terrorist and IRA leader. His speciality is bombing. The next is Owen Coogan, Brigade intelligence officer [later the alleged director of operations]. Then there’s Tom Cahill, 38 years old, can’t get much higher than him in the IRA. See his face, the scars: that’s from when the Official IRA tried to assassinate him two years ago.

“‘And the bearded one is Gerry Adams, Brigade Commander. He’s been interned before, even had secret talks with the British Government about a peace prospect. We’ve been after him for over a year. He’s the biggest catch.’

“Harry and I smiled in satisfaction, then Harry said to me: ‘We knew of them all, at least by reputation. Gerry Adams is A1.’”

READ: Special Forces obituaries

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German police ‘have leads’ on Dachau sign theft

November 4th, 2014

It remains unclear why the Nazis erected signs reading “Work sets you free” at the entrances to concentration camps where millions were sent to die, but they have become such a potent symbol of the suffering of Holocaust victims that Poland declared a national emergency when the Auschwitz sign was removed.

It was found three days later, cut into pieces, and later restored. Hoegstroem and the five Polish thieves were convicted and imprisoned.

The theft of the sign at Dachau has caused widespread revulsion. “This desecration is horrible and shocking,” the president of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Dieter Graumann, told Bild newspaper. “Whoever did something like this is either sick or evil. Probably both.”

The head of the Dachau memorial centre, Gabriele Hermann, called the theft a “deliberate, reprehensible attempt to deny and obliterate the memory of the crimes committed in this place”.

More than 200,000 prisoners were held at Dachau. It was originally intended to hold political prisoners,and later used for to hold slave labourers and Jews. There were 32,000 documented deaths at Dachau, and thousands more that were not recorded.

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The Passing Bells, review, BBC One: ‘unconvincing’

November 3rd, 2014

Bleak House has a lot to answer for. Until Andrew Davies’s masterful adaptation of the Dickens classic was broadcast back in 2005, few would have dared to run a serious half-hour serial in a soap-opera slot, often several times a week. Yet this gamble became a gimmick and the latest to try this method is Tony Jordan’s five-part First World War drama The Passing Bells, named after a line from Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth. Giving 30 minutes over to one year of the conflict every night this week, it follows the inevitably converging paths of two young men – boys, really – from opposing sides.

Not that the latter was immediately apparent. Against a pastoral background seemingly worthy of Constable, farmer’s son Michael (Jack Lowden) was failing to get his oats. Interrupted from a roll in the cornfield by his girlfriend’s parents, he received the news of war – carefully accompanied by clear explanations of the wider political context – with relish. Likewise small-town delivery boy Tommy (Paddy Gibson, in the more lightly sketched of the two roles), as both defied their parents and slipped on a uniform. At which point, it became clear, Michael would be fighting for the Kaiser.

From there, it was a rapid whirl through training and bonding in the barracks, with supporting players briskly and effectively introduced. Already, I was wondering who, if any of them, might survive – and finding myself caring about it. Tommy was briefly captivated by the birdlife of northern France, and a poppy was prominently framed as the two men marched to the Front in their battalions. But this was the calm before the greatest storm the world had ever known. By the end of the first episode, Michael’s first pal been felled and the loss of innocence was underway. Danny Dyer will have nothing on the pre-watershed horrors about to ensue.

It wasn’t a wholly convincing start to the series, with a strain of sentimentality only underscored by the sweeping strings and penny whistle on the soundtrack. But things can only get bleaker from here. With fine performances, a welcome absence of jingoism and the beginning of a trajectory of inevitable tragedy, this offered a solid foundation for a serial which will surely accumulate emotional impact night after night. Do stick with it.

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