Archive for January, 2015

Night Will Fall: ‘superb if harrowing’

January 25th, 2015

So many images assail us daily, we can overlook the profound importance of some. I still remember the first footage I saw of Nazi concentration camps on the TV history series The World at War back in the Seventies. Engraved on memory, images that informed later history lessons at school, a trip to Dachau in adulthood, meeting concentration camp survivors in Israel.

The importance of making such images, and getting them out to the world, was the subject of Night Will Fall (Channel 4), a superb if harrowing documentary that told the story of the military film units that recorded the hidden nightmare of camps like Belsen, Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau and many others as they were being discovered by advancing British, American and Russian troops in the later stages of the Second World War.

On one level this was a film about a film: German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, put together in 1945 by the head of Britain’s wartime film department, Sidney Bernstein (with help from director Alfred Hitchcock among others), even as the footage was emerging, in order that the world might never forget – or have the opportunity to deny – what had happened in the camps.

Commissioned as Britain’s official film about the Nazi atrocities, it was shelved for being too “politically sensitive” and only reassembled for the first time in 70 years by a team at the Imperial War Museum last year. Clips shown here featured not only some of the most disturbing footage ever recorded, but also images of German civilians forced to acknowledge what had been done in their name and, uniquely, the Allies’ efforts to help survivors recover. In some cases, it is the only remaining evidence we have of what occurred. Shots of warehouses full of human hair, toys, suitcases and teeth bore blank witness to the industrialisation of evil. “If one in 10 men wear glasses, how many lives does this heap represent?” asked the narrator over a mountain of tangled wire-framed spectacles.

No doubt Bernstein’s film was “a forgotten masterpiece of British documentary cinema”. But art is not the point here, and much of the footage was used in the shorter American release, Death Mills (1945), directed by Billy Wilder. The wider story of the film as told in Night Will Fall is just as important: the memories, still raw after seven decades, of men who actually shot the film and helped clear the camps; the trauma of witnessing some of humanity’s worst crimes. Testimony, too, from camp survivors and how the rest of the world slowly woke up to what had been done.

As just one of a number of superb films in the ongoing Holocaust memorial season, and commemorating the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, Night Will Fall stands alongside the likes of Laurence Rees’s extraordinarily moving Touched by Auschwitz and The Eichmann Show, as a vital reminder of the continuing importance of testimony and remembrance.

World War Two

Tags: , , ,
Posted in WWII News | Comments Off

‘I thought anti-Semitism would be a thing of the past. Naïve really’

January 24th, 2015

We were put in prison until I was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I had to take my clothes off, my head was shaved and a number was tattooed on to my left arm. Having my head shaved was almost more traumatic because you were really reduced to a nobody. I happened to mention to the prisoner who was registering me that I played the cello. She looked at me and said, “This is fantastic. Stand aside. You will be saved.” If I had just been one of the crowd I probably wouldn’t be sitting here.

Alma Rosé was the conductor of the camp orchestra, and Gustav Mahler’s niece. Our job was to stand at the main gate and play marches as the prisoners marched out in the morning and again in the evening when they came back. [The camp was surrounded by factories where the prisoners worked.] Every Sunday we did a concert in the camp.

It is impossible to convey fully what life was like in Auschwitz. My experience was different because I was in the orchestra. But we all knew it was an extermination camp. The smell, the smoke is unmistakable. And it was burning non-stop. The system in Auschwitz was very clever. You rarely had much to do with the Germans because they delegated the power to prisoners. It was a system of fear.

We had to keep our shoes clean. The ground was a sort of yellow clay and the minute it rained or snowed this was impossible. There were endless roll-calls. Even when people had dysentery they would be made to stand outside, five deep in the freezing cold, in agony.

The girl who had registered me when I arrived had asked for my shoes and I had given them to her. They were black pigskin with red laces and big pompoms. The same girl was wearing my shoes when my sister arrived. My sister asked where she got them and she told her they belonged to someone in the orchestra. Auschwitz was huge and we might never have found each other otherwise.

In 1944 we were transferred to Bergen-Belsen. More and more people arrived and it was totally chaotic. The people in charge didn’t know what to do with us, so the best thing was to do nothing and let us die. We were surrounded by corpses. It was winter and we didn’t have proper clothes, but when it got warmer the bodies started to decay.

We were liberated on 15 April 1945. We didn’t have anywhere to go. I never thought about going home. I was full of hatred for the Germans. Anyway, home was in Poland by then. What would I find there? Another language spoken, nobody from my family, no friends, nothing.

We reached England in March 1946. Nobody asked us about our experience. People just didn’t know how to deal with it. What do you say to someone who has survived a concentration camp?

My sister and I thought we would change the world, that anti-Semitism would be a thing of the past. Naïve really. It took me nearly half a century to return to Germany. I’m often asked about forgiveness. But you can’t forgive the unforgivable.

Bettine Le Beau, 82, was a ‘hidden child’ during the Holocaust. She was in a concentration camp in France with her mother and brother before being hidden on a farm for three years

Le Beau: ‘My mother told me, “All your life you’re going to be lucky.” I believed it.’ (THOM ATKINSON)

My war started in 1940 when the Germans marched into Belgium. I was eight. My father was a furrier and was in London on business. My mother told him to stay put and said she would go to Paris with me and my brother. From there we would get to England.

The Gare du Midi in Brussels was chock-a-block with people because everybody wanted to get out. We couldn’t get on a train, so my mother asked a taxi driver to take us to Paris. The roads were full of people walking. They had left their suitcases by the side of the road because they couldn’t carry them and they knew life was more important.

We arrived in Paris and went to stay with friends of my father’s. To try to make it exciting for me, my mother told me I was very lucky to see Paris. When the Germans arrived in Paris we moved to a village near Bordeaux. Then we were taken to an internment camp. Until then I kept thinking, “I’m going to see my daddy.” I didn’t realise what was happening.

The camp was terrible. It was the first time in my life I saw men crying. My whole outlook on life changed. We were moved to a concentration camp where the men, women and children were separated. Inside our barracks there were about 30 children. We slept on a sack with straw in it.

Kids are very resilient. We used to find games to play, we used to tell stories, make friends. We weren’t worried like the grown-ups. My mother had told me when I was about three or four, “You are a very lucky girl and all your life you’re going to be lucky.” It was very clever because I believed it.

One night a volunteer from one of the organisations helping children to escape smuggled herself into the camp. She said, “I can take out 10 children tonight.” A lot of mothers said no, but my mother said, “You can take them both but, if I ever get out of here, I want to know how to contact them.”The first night away I wet the bed from the trauma and I was so ashamed. I had lice, so they put powder on my head and tied a scarf around it.

In 1942 it was the Final Solution and the organisations knew they had to close the children’s homes or the Germans would come and take them. The OSE [Oeuvre des Secours aux Enfants] sent us to a chalet on the border with Switzerland and every week 10 children would be smuggled across. Finally it was the turn of my brother and me, but the week we were supposed to go the Germans caught the guide and killed him.

They found a farmer who would take two girls. But first they took me into a room and told me my surname was no longer Fallek. I had a new identity: I was French, my father was a prisoner of war and my mother was dead. “Whoever is nice to you,” they said, “even if you think they’re wonderful, stick to this.” The farmer and his wife were wonderfully kind and I was there for three years.

At the end of the war my brother found me and we went to our mother. She had been in concentration camps in France. She never told me anything that had happened to her and she didn’t want to know what happened to me.

We went to Paris, to the family we had first stayed with. Their two boys, whose beds we had slept in, had been sent to Auschwitz. The mother was crying. We eventually arrived in London, where my father had a house by now. But in the time he had been in London he had met someone else and had another child. My mother was devastated.

My experience made me want to be positive all the time. Be positive and it works. My mother said I was lucky and that’s what I believed.

Eve Kugler, 83, was born in Germany. She was separated from her parents and lived in a children’s home for displaced Jewish children until she was evacuated to America

Kugler: ‘I used to look at my parents as ordinary. But they were very special’ (THOM ATKINSON)

In 1933 I was two, living in a mid-sized German city, where my father had a business. The situation for Jewish people hugely deteriorated in the next five years. Jews were assaulted, arrested, and my father’s business began to decline. People didn’t want to trade with him.

On 9 November 1938 – Kristallnacht – Nazis came barging into our apartment in the middle of the night and trashed it. My sister Ruth and I were standing at the door of our room watching. My father was taken to Buchenwald, but with a forged visa he was able to leave for Paris (at that point, if you could produce a visa for a person in Dachau or Buchenwald, they could leave). My mother, two sisters and I were evicted, so my mother took us to live with her father in Leipzig and she stayed behind.

In June 1939 we flew to Paris on another forged visa. My father had rented a room in a boarding-house for the five of us with an outside toilet. When war broke out the French arrested my father as a German national and put him in a concentration camp. My mother was now destitute with three children, so Ruth and I went to a home for displaced Jewish children run by OSE.

My story is one of constant separation: my grandfather was arrested at the end of October, then my father disappeared, came back, and disappeared again. Then we were separated from our mother and sister. But I don’t remember anything because you can’t be selective in what you choose to forget. I’ve just wiped out everything that happened in those years.

When the Nazis reached Paris, OSE put us in a home near Limoges. My mother, who had stayed behind with my sister Lea, eventually arrived. Incredibly, my father was let out of the camp and we were all reunited at the children’s home. The American state department had issued visas for a couple of hundred Jewish children in concentration camps, but it wasn’t possible to get the children out of them, so they gave the visas to children’s homes.

Two days before they were due to leave, two children got sick and lost their health clearance. We were the only ones able to go at such short notice – my parents were there, so could sign the papers. They argued the whole night, my mother saying, “They can’t go, they’re too little, it’s too far.” My father said, “But that’s the point.” In the end they decided Ruth and I could go but that Lea was too little. Even after the war I had the guilt of survivors.

I survived because somebody else could not go. I have no idea who those two children were, nor if they survived. I was 10 when we sailed for America but I have no memory of boarding the ship or the two-week journey.

During the war I was in three different foster homes in New York. I was miserable, but I felt I always had to be good and not make trouble. I was sure that my parents must be dead.

In fact, my parents survived the concentration camps and my little sister Lea was hidden by the Resistance. In 1941 we were reunited in America.

I used to look at my parents as very ordinary people. When they settled in New York, they lived lives that were not very special. But they were obviously extremely special. We were an entire nuclear family who survived. We were very lucky.

World War Two

Tags: , , , , , ,
Posted in WWII News | Comments Off

Churchill embodied Britain’s greatness

January 23rd, 2015

When the airplane was in its infancy – barely 10 years after Wilbur and Orville Wright had taken off from Kitty Hawk – he was repeatedly going aloft in these hair-raising contraptions. And when his instructors were killed, and when his family and friends were begging him to desist, he continued to fly. He got lost in a storm over France in 1919, and almost perished. He had a serious crash in Buc aerodrome in France, when the plane’s skis hit the edge of a concealed road at the end of the runway, and the machine did a somersault – like a shot rabbit, he said – and he found himself hanging upside down in his harness. The following month he had an even worse crash at Croydon – smashing into the ground so hard that the propeller was buried, his co-pilot knocked out.

You read these accounts of disaster and you wonder what was going on in his head, that made him continue with something so obviously risky. Why did he push it? Why, when he served in the trenches in the First War, did he go out into No Man’s Land not once but 36 times, going so close as to be able to hear the Germans talking? Yes, he wanted to be thought brave, and yes, to some extent he was a self-invented person. But in the end the man he created was the real Churchill.

He dared to say things that no one would dare say today, and to behave in ways that would terrify the milquetoast politicians of the 21st century. When Bessie Braddock, the Socialist MP, told him he was drunk, he really did retort that she was ugly, but he would be sober in the morning. On being told that the Lord Privy Seal was waiting to see him, it seems that he really did growl out – from his position on the lavatory – that he was sealed in the privy and could only deal with one shit at a time. During one of his many infuriating conversations with Gen de Gaulle, in the depths of the war, he really does appear to have used his superb and menacing franglais: “Et marquez mes mots, mon ami, si vous me double-crosserez, je vous liquiderai.”

He imposed his own exuberant and uninhibited style on events. Who else could have wandered naked round the White House, or appeared before the US press corps wearing a bizarre purple romper suit of his own design, tailored by Turnbull and Asser? He truly did begin the day with champagne, or a glass of whisky and water, and then go on all day to consume quantities of booze that would have felled a bullock. He could have a three course dinner accompanied by champagne, white wine, red wine and brandy – and then go into his office at 10 pm, and start dictating vast periods of prose, much of it brilliant and original.

He didn’t just pose with cigars, or wave them around for Freudian effect. He smoked with a gusto that would today be unforgiveable – perhaps 250,000 in his lifetime, mainly Romeo y Julietas. The stubs were collected and given to the gardener at Chartwell (the poor chap died of cancer).

He seemed to be running, in other words, on a type of high-octane hydrocarbon that was available to no one else; and it was this energy, combined with his boldness, that produced his astonishing political fertility.

Our children are taught roughly what he did in the Second World War – but we have been in danger of forgetting his crucial role in helping to win the First. It is no exaggeration to say that he was one of the fathers of the tank – whose battlefield breakthroughs were eventually of critical importance; and it was his sedulous preparation of the Fleet, as First Lord of the Admiralty – not least the historic geo-strategic decision to convert the dreadnoughts from coal to oil – that meant England never lost control of the Channel.

His legacy is everywhere in the modern world. He helped to found the modern welfare state, pioneering unemployment insurance and other social protections in the years before the First World War. He was instrumental in the creation of modern Ireland, of Israel, of the map of much of the Middle East. He was one of the very first, in the Thirties, to adumbrate the idea of a “United States of Europe” – though he was ultimately ambiguous about exactly what role Britain should play.

It is Churchill’s shaping mind that still dominates our thinking about the world role of Britain – at the centre of three interconnecting circles: the Atlantic alliance, the relationship with Europe, and the relationship with the former Empire and Commonwealth.

Yes, of course he made catastrophic mistakes. He cannot be entirely exculpated for Gallipoli; he misread the public mood over the Abdication; it is hard to read some of his remarks about Indian independence without a shudder of embarrassment. But in these very disasters we see his boldness and determination to stick with the course he had embarked on, even if everyone was saying he was wrong.

And it was precisely that stubbornness and that bravery which was required in 1940. Think yourself into that smoke-filled room in May, that fateful meeting of the seven-strong War Cabinet. France had fallen; Europe had been engulfed by the Nazis; the Russians had done a nauseating deal with Hitler; the Americans were standing on the sidelines. Britain was alone, and the pressure to do a deal was overwhelming. The City wanted it; much of the media wanted it; Halifax wanted it; Chamberlain wanted it; Labour would have gone along.

It was Churchill and Churchill alone who was decisive in ensuring that Britain continued to fight. It was Churchill who was crucial to bringing America in – more than two years later. If Churchill had not been Prime Minister in 1940, there seems little doubt that Britain would have made an accommodation with evil – letting Hitler have his way and plunging Europe into darkness and barbarism. No one else round that table had the guts to do what he did; and it is to him, therefore, that the world owes thanks for the eventual victory over Nazism, and the 70 years of peace that have followed.

The more you study Churchill, the more I hope you will share my conviction that there has been no one remotely like him before or since.

World War Two

Tags: , , ,
Posted in WWII News | Comments Off

The Churchill files: How the Telegraph covered Sir Winston’s death

January 23rd, 2015

On January 15, 1965, Winston Churchill suffered a severe stroke. The long-retired former Prime Minister was now 90 years old, and so his death nine days later was not a surprise. But Britain’s mass media, including the Telegraph, followed him ever step of the way. Read on to see how.

World War Two

Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in WWII News | Comments Off

Nazis ‘built underground nuclear weapons facility using slave labour’

January 22nd, 2015

The town was the site of the notorious Gusen II concentration camp, one of the Mauthausen-Gusen group, where forced labourers were worked to death. Some 320,000 people are believed to have died in the camps.

The inmates of Gusen II were made to dig the huge Bergkristall underground complex where V-2 rockets and the Messerschmitt Me 262, the world’s first jet fighter, were built.

Mr Sulzer believes the network of tunnels he has discovered nearby may have been a separate facility of the Bergkristall project.

But while the main Bergkristall complex was extensively investigated by the Allies after the end of the war, the Nazis appear to have gone to far greater lengths to conceal the second complex, sealing the entrance with huge granite slabs, and it has remained largely undisturbed.

Mr Sulzer and a team unearthed the entrance to the bunker last year, but were ordered to stop excavations by the authorities because they did not have the proper permits.

Now Mr Sulzer claims he has found Nazi blueprints for the complex of tunnels, and is demanding a proper investigation of what lies within.

World War Two

Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in WWII News | Comments Off

Munich ban on Holocaust memorial plaques ‘may be overturned’

January 21st, 2015

The scheme, started in 1996 by a German sculptor, has spread across Europe and there are now 50,000 stumbling stones in more than 1,000 cities from France to Russia, prompting claims it is the largest memorial in the world.

Now that ban may be on the verge of being overturned, according to a report on The Local website.

A new mayor elected last year, Dieter Reiter, is in favour of allowing the stumbling stones, and a local initiative to bring the memorials to Munich led by Terry Swartzberg, an American Jew living in the city, believes it has enough votes on the city council to have the ban reversed.

Opposition to the stumbling stones in Munich has come from an unexpected quarter: the elected leader of the city’s 4,000-member Jewish community, 82-year-old Charlotte Knobloch, herself a Holocaust survivor.

“People murdered in the Holocaust deserve better than a plaque in the dust, street dirt and even worse filth,” she said in a statement.

But support for the stumbling stones appears to be growing in Munich, with other Jewish residents and Holocaust survivors coming forward to say they want the memorials.

Gunter Demnig, the sculptor behind the stumbling stones, said he got the idea when he heard an elderly German woman at the unveiling of another memorial deny any Holocast victims had lived in the area.

“I called them stumbling stones because it would make people who came across them pause from their everyday lives and remember that an individual killed by the Nazis once lived at that address,” he said.

World War Two

Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in WWII News | Comments Off

How Britain will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Sir Winston Churchill’s death

January 21st, 2015

Morning: John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, will speak at a special remembrance service at the Houses of Parliament.

11:50: A wreath (specially made at the Royal British Legion Poppy Factory in Richmond) is carried from the Church of St Peter, within the Tower of London, to the Havengore, the vessel that carried Sir Winston’s body along the Thames in 1965

13:03 Havengore will salute, and have the salute returned by HQS Wellington.

13.05-13.15: Havengore will continue past Festival Pier (the end of the original funeral route) towards the Houses of Parliament.

13.15 The event will culminate in a short service and wreath-laying in the waters of the river opposite the Palace of Westminster.

13:35: The service concludes.

Evening: After evensong a commemoration will take place at Westminster Abbey, where leading politicians and historians will join well-wishers to pay their respects. A wreath will be laid at the Abbey’s green-marble memorial stone unveiled by the Queen shortly after Sir Winston’s death.

World War Two

Tags: , , , , , ,
Posted in WWII News | Comments Off

The death of Winston Churchill was the day the Empire died

January 20th, 2015

Another famous writer, the novelist V?S Pritchett, thought he could discern, “an undertone of self-pity. We were looking at a past utterly irrecoverable.” (To what extent is illustrated by a 2014 survey of British teenagers, 20 per cent of who thought Churchill was a fictional character.)

On learning of Churchill’s death, the man responsible for organising his funeral, the Earl Marshal, the 16th Duke of Norfolk, Bernard Fitzalan-Howard, put into effect a plan that was codenamed “Operation Hope Not”. Ever since Churchill had suffered a stroke while at No 10 in 1953, meticulous arrangements had been made for his funeral.

The Queen instructed Norfolk that the occasion should be “on a scale befitting his position in history”, thus guaranteeing that it would be the grandest state funeral for a commoner since that of the Duke of Wellington in 1852, even overshadowing William Gladstone’s in 1898.

The arrangements for the funeral had to be constantly updated due to Churchill’s great longevity. Lord Mountbatten joked of how “the problem was that Churchill kept living and the pallbearers kept dying”.

Churchill himself played relatively little part in planning the event, although he promised Harold Macmillan, “there will be lively hymns” and said to his private secretary, Anthony Montague Browne: “Remember, I want lots of military bands.” He got nine.

Churchill’s body lay in state in Westminster Hall for three days and nights, his coffin draped with a Union Jack on which rested his insignia of the Knight of the Garter. No fewer than 320,000 people filed past the catafalque that was guarded by members of the Services who stood statue-still, their heads bowed in respect and homage.

Even more people might have come had the thermometer not dipped below zero. Indeed on the day of the funeral itself, there were even casualties among the police horses on duty. The Salvation Army and Women’s Volunteer Service handed out soup, tea and sandwiches, further inspiring memories of wartime.

Across the country, flags flew at half mast, newspapers printed lengthy obituaries, black armbands were worn, football matches were rescheduled, shops closed, the National Association of Schoolmasters even cancelled a strike. Nothing was allowed to spoil what everyone knew would be an extraordinary historical occasion.

No fewer than 28 wartime bombs had fallen on St Paul’s Cathedral, one of them a massive five-hundred-pounder, yet Sir Christopher Wren’s masterpiece miraculously survived, partly due to its courageous and committed fire-watchers. The famous photograph of its dome standing undaunted above the fire and smoke of the Blitz still has the capacity to move Britons, and the church that survived Hitler’s bombers was the obvious place to stage the ceremony.

One break with precedent was the decision of the Queen to attend personally, a special mark of royal favour as sovereigns do not usually attend non-family funerals. In all six sovereigns, six presidents and 16 prime ministers were present that day.

On the morning of the funeral, Big Ben struck 9.45am but thereafter remained silent for the rest of the day. The great procession left New Palace Yard on its slow journey via Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, the Strand and Fleet Street up to St Paul’s. The gun carriage on which the coffin rested was pulled through the streets by 120 Royal Navy blue-jackets, a reminder of Churchill’s two terms as First Lord of the Admiralty. The sight as it left the Palace of Westminster was likened by one spectator to that of a great warship leaving harbour. Other troops in the procession, which included detachments of no fewer than 18 military units, marched carrying their rifles reversed. It took four majors of the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars to carry all of Churchill’s orders and decoration behind the gun carriage.

The funeral service in St Paul’s Cathedral

As the cortège passed the Cenotaph in Whitehall, 100 flags carried by men and women of the wartime resistance movements of France, Denmark, Norway and Holland were raised in a final salute. (After the coffin had passed, a group of Danish under-cover soldiers laid a wreath of lilies at the Cenotaph. When asked for their names by a journalist, one answered, before slipping back into the crowd, “We were unknown at war, it must be the same now.”)

In all, some 350 million people watched on television worldwide; indeed the American TV audience was larger than for President Kennedy’s funeral 15 months earlier. No fewer than 112 countries were represented at St Paul’s. Only China refused to send an envoy, while the Republic of Ireland chose not to broadcast the occasion live.

Laurence Olivier contributed to the ITV coverage, but it was Richard Dimbleby’s commentary on the BBC that won the most plaudits. After the ceremony, President Eisenhower and the Australian prime minister Sir Robert Menzies made impressive broadcasts to the American people and the Commonwealth respectively.

Just as Churchill had promised, there were indeed some “lively” hymns. Hymns were not sung at Wellington’s funeral because they were considered unsuitable for solemn occasions, but 113 years later they were a central feature in Churchill’s. His half-American parentage, as well as his belief in the potency of the English-speaking peoples, were reflected in the choice of The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, while his lion-hearted personal and political courage were recalled by Who Would True Valour See and Fight The Good Fight With All Thy Might. At the end of the service, the congregation sang the National Anthem, heard the Last Post and then the Reveille, and the Dead March from Handel’s Saul was played on the organ. The coffin was carried out of the Cathedral to the withdrawal hymn, O God, Our Help in Ages Past. The pageantry was solemn, superb, sublime.

One of the most evocative images of the day was of “the Captains and the Kings” standing on the West steps of St Paul’s watching the coffin of the Great Commoner being taken on to its next destination, Temple Pier on the River Thames. Charles de Gaulle standing tall in his military greatcoat and kepi, Prince Philip in his Admiral of the Fleet uniform saluting the coffin, the gorgeous gold uniforms of Garter King of Arms and his fellow heralds, the massed ranks of world statesmen: it all made an unforgettable historical tableaux. As one of the papers put it: “It was an act of history in itself.” (And one that cost the taxpayer £48,000, the equivalent of £650,000 today.)

Churchill’s coffin transported through Parliament Square towards St Paul’s Cathedral

Because, unlike Nelson and Wellington, Churchill had chosen not to be buried in St Paul’s Cathedral, the coffin was taken aboard the launch Havengore, to the booms of a 19-gun salute. As it set off upstream, pipers played the haunting lament Flowers of the Forest, and then 16 RAF Lightning aircraft swooped low in a fly-past. From Temple Pier, the coffin was taken to Waterloo station, and from there it travelled to Hanborough by train. The private burial took place in Bladon in Oxfordshire, near to Blenheim Palace, where Churchill was born in 1874. (Lady Churchill had gently talked him out of his original intention, which was to be buried on the croquet lawn at his country house, Chartwell, in Kent.)

In 1965, London was still one of the world’s greatest seaports, its docks served by vast cranes stationed on innumerable quays. When the Havengore passed these giant structures at Hay’s Wharf, on the South Bank, their operators dipped the tops of each in turn, as even these enormous machines bowed their heads in tribute to the nation’s dead chieftain.

For many, it was the most moving moment of the day. When Noël Coward saw it he burst into tears – for him, the whole funeral was “a great and truly noble experience”. In his history of the funeral, Churchill’s Final Farewell, Rodney Croft records how the 36 crane drivers involved had willingly given up their time without asking for overtime pay. Sir David Burnett, the managing director of the company that owned the machines, arranged to cover their expenses anyway.

American visitors to Britain were shocked at the supposedly buttoned-up Britons crying in public. The writer Laurie Lee observed: “Not since the war has there been such emotion.” John Lukacs, an American historian who visited Britain specially for the spectacle, also recorded how, “in the crowd lived the spirit of 1940, there was a great democratic upsurge of Englishmen, with men in bowler hats and elegant women standing with the cockneys and stevedores”.

The pallbearers did not, in fact, carry the coffin at any stage – Clement Attlee was 82 years old at the time and several others were in their seventies – but they did march before it down the aisle. (The casket itself was hewn from English oaks on the Blenheim estate, and it took 12 white-gloved Guardsmen to carry it up the West steps of St Paul’s.)

The 10 official pallbearers included such important wartime figures as Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer, General Lord Ismay, Marshal of the RAF Lord Portal, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Mountbatten of Burma, Field Marshal Lord Slim and Field Marshal Lord Alexander of Tunis.

The split-second timing of the ceremony left even De Gaulle impressed, who spoke with genuine feeling about the efficiency with which the Earl Marshal had organised the vast enterprise. Churchill’s widow, Clementine, in the opinion of everyone present and the words of one reporter, “carried herself like a queen”. As she retired to bed after that exhausting, hugely emotional day, she told her daughter, Mary Soames: “It wasn’t a funeral, it was a triumph!”

By the end of the week, no fewer than 100,000 people had filed past the grave at Bladon churchyard in Oxfordshire, an astonishing number considering how freezing it was. Buried between his parents and his brother in the Spencer-Churchill family plot, his grave is still visited by thousands of people from around the world every year.

Invited to mourn with the Spencer-Churchill family was Churchill’s last private secretary, Anthony (later Sir Anthony) Montague Browne. The whole occasion brought on in him, “black melancholy thoughts of the decline and decay of so much of what Churchill had stood for. Well might the nation mourn him.”

As if to underline this moral decay, when Montague Browne got back to London after attending the private family burial at Bladon, he discovered that his flat had been burgled.

For more information on Churchill 2015, visit; and on Winston’s living legacy:

World War Two

Tags: , , , ,
Posted in WWII News | Comments Off

Foyle’s War, final episode review: Is this really goodbye?

January 19th, 2015

We all like to see a great series go out with a bang, and Sunday night’s episode of Foyle’s War (ITV) certainly finished on a big one. But I’m not at all sure that – if I hadn’t been forewarned by last week’s sudden announcement by ITV – I would even have realised this was supposed to the swansong of one of British television’s best loved characters.

Far from it. With a plot packing in an audacious assassination attempt, postwar black-marketeering, Soviet spymasters, a scandal within the Security Service and a conspiracy to falsely incriminate a member of parliament – this felt more like a series at the height of its powers rather than an invitation to bid farewell to dear old Christopher Foyle, that most decent and understated wartime copper who latterly morphed so successfully into MI5’s only reliable chap in the Cold War’s early days.

As such, for ITV to let the axe fall on the series at this particular point seems remarkably bone-headed. Foyle’s War has, since its debut in 2002, been a firm audience favourite (recent episodes pulled in around five million viewers, or a 20 per cent audience share).

Famously, viewer protest pulled the show back from the brink of cancellation twice before. Such fanaticism can be attributed largely to a unique charm of character and performance – not only in Foyle himself, brought brilliantly to life by Michael Kitchen’s muted, charismatic acting style. Honeysuckle Weeks, too, as his impeccably mannered sidekick and driver, Sam Stewart, is another unobtrusive yet magnetic presence; her home life (Foyle doesn’t really have one) offering a window onto the times. Even her departure last night, forced by pregnancy, felt more like a momentary obstacle than a conclusive end.

For viewers inclined to hark back to a Britain united against a common foe, the series’ wartime setting had been a huge attraction. Yet Foyle’s seamless transition to the tensions of the burgeoning Cold War era cleverly maintained the hunkered down attitude while introducing us to an intriguing new era when enemies were still all around, yet no one (not even MI5) knew precisely who or where they were.

Not everything about Foyle’s War was great. The two-hour format that invited some to curl up for an absorbing night in, was for others off-puttingly slow and old hat. And if the reward was a feature-filmish sense of involvement and high production values that lavished attention on costume and period detail (not always accurately, as evidenced by many an incensed reader post on the Telegraph website), Foyle’s unhurried investigative style meant the pace rarely picked up above the stately.

Still the series had a renewed vigour of late. For many – myself included – Foyle’s bleak Cold War escapades rekindled a flagging interest. Creator Anthony Horowitz’s decision to root the postwar stories in real life cases brought new grit and relevance, exploring the early nuclear arms race and resurgent anti-semitism in recent episodes. This episode juggled wartime and postwar eras, echoing a scandal in which young British agents were sent to certain death in occupied Europe by a Special Operations Executive unwilling to admit its network had been compromised, while a subplot involving spivs and police corruption kept bringing us back to 1946. Around this was spun the mystery of an attempt on the life of former SOE bigwig Hilda Pierce (Ellie Haddington), who survived – thanks to Foyle – long enough to inflict her own brand of explosive summary justice upon her weaselly former SOE boss.

As an episode ending it certainly had a grim satisfaction. But for Foyle himself, the closing scenes had nothing of the finale about them. Quite the opposite. The determined set of his jaw, his lingering final glance towards enigmatic Elizabeth Addis (Hermione Gulliford) spoke, if anything, of many adventures to come.

Given this series’ history of resurrections, it doesn’t seem too great a stretch to hope that some day we’ll enjoy more of them.

World War Two

Tags: , , , , , ,
Posted in WWII News | Comments Off

Don’t be fooled – Eichmann was a monster

January 19th, 2015

But the idea that Eichmann was a normal, banal bureaucrat who was just doing his job like any one of us is junk history. It is high time that we dismissed the televised image of the halting figure in the bulletproof box as being representative of Eichmann the man, and the system of which he was a part.

Eichmann was not just some cog in an industrialised and depersonalised killing machine, he was a keen instigator of genocide, a zealous bigot who eagerly forged a career out of anti?Semitism and extermination. We only have to read the words he uttered well before his abduction and trial to realise that he loved the job that involved marshalling an entire people to its destruction. He remarked that when he died, he would “jump into my grave laughing, because the fact that I have the death of five million Jews on my conscience gives me extraordinary satisfaction”.

Eichmann did not just enjoy his work, he really believed in it. When he was hiding in Argentina after the war, he confided in a Dutch former SS man and journalist called Willem Sassen. “If we would have killed 10.3 million Jews, then I would be satisfied and would say, good, we annihilated an enemy,” he said. “I wasn’t only issued orders, otherwise I’d have been a moron, but rather I anticipated – I was an idealist.”

Eichmann on trial in 1961

Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, was an admirer. “Eichmann is 34 or 35 years old, a very active, adventurous man,” Höss said in April 1946, while he was imprisoned. “He felt that this act against Jews was necessary and was fully convinced of its necessity and correctness, as I was.” And no less a figure than the head of the Gestapo, Heinrich Müller, was also a fan. “If we had 50 Eichmanns,” observed Müller, “we would have won the war.”

So how did this come about, this contrast between the perception of Eichmann and the reality of the man? The answer is that when he was on trial, Eichmann was playing a part. He knew that acting the role of the anonymous, dutiful bureaucrat would do him more favours than presenting his true self. Unfortunately, observers such as Arendt were taken in by this performance.

There are many reasons why this error took hold. Perhaps the most important is that there was a strong need for people to believe that the enormity of genocide and anti?Semitism was rooted in something systemic, rather than being the product of a relatively small handful of crazed, but influential, individuals. When the Mossad found Eichmann living in a shack in a crummy part of Buenos Aires, the agents were appalled and even insulted that a man who had eradicated millions was not living in a huge, diabolical lair in the middle of the jungle. Somehow the size of the crime did not match up to the size of the man.

We can see this desire even today, when we look at what lies behind the recent murders of Jews in cities such as Paris and Marseille. Again, it is more palatable to suppose that the enemy is something large and systemic – in this instance, Islamism – rather than an increasing number of violent cranks who have perverted an ideology in an attempt to give their murderousness a sort of respectability.

Ultimately, we should realise that some people are not normal, and that they do not think like us. For want of a better word, the Eichmanns of this world are indeed monsters.

Guy Walters is the author of ‘Hunting Evil: The Nazi War Criminals Who Escaped and the Hunt to Bring Them to Justice’

World War Two

Tags: , , ,
Posted in WWII News | Comments Off