Archive for December, 2015

Guy Martin: my grandfather fought for the Nazis

December 15th, 2015

An authentic antidote to the high jinks of Messrs Clarkson and co, he went on to renovate a narrow boat, reconstruct a beached Spitfire and investigate Industrial Revolution technology. And most eye-catchingly of all, in Speed with Guy Martin on Channel 4, he attempted to break a wacky series of hair-raising records on land, water, ice and in the air.

Martin’s grandfather was conscripted by the Nazis in 1941. No one in the presenter’s family had a clue

One of the most impressive of his feats was breaking the British record for outright speed on a bicycle – he hit an extraordinary 113 mph by using the slipstream created by a specially-modified lorry. (He has since said that he wants to reach 200mph.)

He also broke the British hovercraft speed record on Loch Ken, in Dumfries and Galloway, and the speed record for a toboggan, although, when he attempted to break the world record for the hovercraft, a change in wind direction saw him fly 100ft into the air at 76 mph, damaging the craft and forcing Martin to abandon ship.

A show on Channel 4 next year will see him attempting the world speed record for the Wall of Death, the epic fairground stunt that involves riding a motorcycle around a vertical wall. Martin – who, on top of his crash this year, broke his back and eight ribs in 2010 in a crash on the Isle of Man – is fearless.

But, outside of these adrenalinefuelled pursuits, he has a simple life. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is reluctant to become a full-time TV presenter, doesn’t even own a television (or a smartphone) and, while out on location, often spurns the hotel to sleep in his van with his dog. But it’s exactly this combination of eccentricity and humility that makes him so popular with viewers.

What choice did he have? You look at the bare bones of it, that’s all he could have done. I’d have done the same

Guy Martin

Knowing a good thing when they see one, Channel 4 persuaded him earlier this year to film a travelogue. Our Guy in India took Martin on a 1,000-mile motorbike trip around the country. And now he has made his most personal documentary yet.

“After Our Guy in India they asked me if I wanted to shoot abroad again. I said, ‘I’m not a big holiday person but I’ve always wanted to go to Latvia. Just to find out what it’s like.’” Researchers delved a little deeper and found that there was a much more compelling programme than a bog-standard portrait of modern Latvia.

It turned out Martin’s late grandfather, Walter Kidals, whose original first name was Waldemars, came from Latvia and had been conscripted by the Nazis in the Second World War.

He had then spent two years in a Belgian prisoner-of-war camp, before arriving in Hull as a refugee in 1947. No one in Martin’s family had a clue. Martin’s main memory is of a man who liked his shed and “didn’t say much”.

“His English wasn’t the best,” he says. “He could get his point across. He was just different, just the way he ate and the way he drank his tea. He’d mix anything with anything.” Walter shared so little that even his wife Lill, now 92, had no idea that he was an orphan.

Like tens of thousands of Latvians, when Germany occupied the country in 1941, Walter was offered a choice: fight for the Nazis, or face death. At 80,000, the Latvians formed one of the largest national groups of Nazi conscripts. What would his grandson have done? “You had no choice,” he says. “What other option was there? You look at the bare bones of it, that’s all you could have done. I’d have done the same.”

• Sons suffering the sins of their Nazi fathers

After the war Latvian soldiers were exonerated by the Nuremberg trials and surviving conscripts were allowed to settle in the US and Britain as political refugees.

For Walter, there was no option of going home to a country which was now part of the Soviet Union. To simulate the kind of welcome his grandfather would have received, Martin visited a former prison which offers a quasitotalitarian experience in which curious tourists are brutalised and shouted at in Russian.

“There was no friendly atmosphere at all. We didn’t have a chat beforehand. They wouldn’t shake my hand, told me to sign this form, and from there on it was a bit of a battering. I genuinely was bloody scared.”•• •

In Our Guy in Latvia Martin once more reveals himself as a hugely likeable one-off. His down-to-earth aura, and eagerness to throw himself into anything, would have brought a welcome injection of unmediated spontaneity to Top Gear, so it is all the more regrettable that he turned down Chris Evans’s invitation to join. Instead, he’s sticking to fixing lorries while nipping off to make programmes for Channel 4. “It’s not for me,” he says. “I’m sure it would have been good for a pay cheque but I think I’ve got the best job in the world.

“Television opens up some bloody great doors. That’s the plus. The minus is the attention it brings. It is a bit of a pain now just doing a few hours of television a year. I don’t want to be famous. And that would have been a whole new level if I had gone and done Top Gear. It would be just stepping into Jeremy Clarkson’s shoes.

“What we do on Channel 4 is like our own version. If they keep coming up with interesting ideas I’ll do them. If they come up with crap ideas I’ll just go to work.”

Our Guy in Latvia is on Channel 4 on December 14 at 9pm


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

December 9th, 2015

George Rhodes, 99, and Graham Brown, 93, live in the same block of flats, but have only just found out one inadvertently helped the other during an Allied mission.

Before Mr Rhodes and his fellow Army soldiers entered a railway yard, the Royal Air Force were called to drop bombs on the city to clear their way.

One of the pilots who dropped the bombs was Mr Brown – making sure Mr Rhodes and his men could get through. Both men ended up living next door to each other in Wells, Somerset.

George Rhodes in the army

Mr Rhodes said: “Graham and his boys did a good job. The place was ruined. All the rails had been bombed so much that they were all curled up.

“No train was going to run on those again and the bombs meant that we could enter.”

An army sergeant, Mr Rhodes signed up during his university days in 1942 – where he was sent to the Middle East, north Africa and Italy before the bombing raids in Europe.

While Mr Brown was the pilot of a Wellington bomber. Graz was liberated in 1945 and the two returned to normal lives after the war.

Mr Rhodes became a mortician in the pathology department of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, married Ruby and had one son.

Mr Brown returned to Bristol University and completed his engineering degree started at the beginning of the war and then became the manager of Underwood Quarry in Wells.

After finding out that their jobs in the war were dependent on each, the two are best of friends and share an apartment building together.

Mr Rhodes added: “Graham is a great bloke and we talk about the war, thank heavens he and his aircrew were around to support us at that time.”

Soldier reunited with wallet lost in Austria 70 years ago
War veteran reunited with dog tag after 69 years


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Seven decades after Pearl Harbor, DNA testing used to identify remains

December 8th, 2015

Seventy-four years later, the navy is using DNA testing in hopes of at last returning the men’s remains to their families.

The bones of the unidentified crew members have been exhumed from a military cemetery in Hawaii and transported to a laboratory in Nebraska.

The righting and refloating of the capsized battleship USS Oklahoma was the largest of the Pearl Harbor salvage jobs

Seven men have been identified thus far, with 381 members of the Oklahoma’s crew remaining unidentified.

“We need to get these guys home,” Carrie Brown, the anthropologist in charge of the identification initiative told the Washington Post. “They’ve been not home for too long.”

Ms Brown said that while some people may wonder “who’s even alive” to remember the sinking of the Oklahoma, for some people it remains a seminal moment “in their family history”.

Second World War: The battleship USS Arizona belches smoke as it topples over into the sea during a Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on Dec 7, 1941. The ship sank with more than 80 per cent of its 1,500-man crew, including Rear Admiral Is

One family from Wisconsin lost three brothers on board the Oklahoma.

Franklin Roosevelt, then-US president, declared December 7, 1941 “a date which will live in infamy”.

More than seven decades later, Pearl Harbor Day commemorations took place across the US on Monday to honour the 2,403 Americans killed in the surprise attack that prompted US entry into the Second World War.

The day after the Japanese attack in Hawaii's Pearl Harbor, young men line up to volunteer at a Navy Recruiting station in Boston, Massachusetts

Of those killed, 1,177 were on board the USS Arizona, which exploded during the attack. They remain trapped inside to this day.

Joseph Langdell, the last surviving officer from the Arizona, died in February at the age of 100. His ashes were interred in the ship during a ceremony on Monday.


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Appeal for public to attend World War Two veteran’s funeral

December 7th, 2015

Eric Gill died aged 99 at his home in Edlington, Doncaster, on November 30, and his carer and friend Gwen has launched a Facebook appeal for members of the public to attend his funeral.

Mr Gill was part of the 49th West Riding Infantry and was one of six D-Day veterans from Yorkshire to receive France’s highest military honour, Legion d’Honneur, in April.

The award was given to all surviving British veterans of the 1944 Normandy landings for their efforts in the liberation of France.

“Eric served in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry … he took part in the D-Day and Operation Market Garden and was recently awarded the Légion d’honneur by the French,” says the Facebook appeal.

“Eric only had a small circle of friends and family, some of which are unable to attend his funeral, either due to illness or location.

a great man always talked about his medals and the royal family on the 15 bus when he used to get on, i was thinking…

Posted by Darren Paul Sables on  Monday, 7 December 2015

What a gentleman, will miss all the stories from you, RIP eric,,xx

Posted by Anne Mccormick-green on  Monday, 7 December 2015

“We call upon the entire nation to consider attending his funeral in Doncaster.

“Let us show the world how much respect we have for Eric and the men who helped keep this great nation of ours free!”

His funeral will take place at the Rosehill Crematorium in Doncaster but a date has yet to be set.


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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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Winston Churchill refused to pay £197 tailor’s bill, archives reveal

December 3rd, 2015

The 130 handwritten books detail hundreds of high-profile clients and their orders, from British aristocracy to European royalty, actors, authors and the toast of high society.

File photo: Alex Cook performs a fitting at Henry Poole on Savile Row in central London, 2010

Thought to be the longest surviving record of any tailor in the world, it includes orders from General de Gaulle, Prince Otto von Bismarck, Benjamin Disraeli, Napoleon, Queen Alexandra and Wilkie Collins.

Surviving an oil bomb falling on Savile Row in 1940 and left to gather dust for decades, they have now been rebound and are to be open to the public for the first time.

Among the records are details of Sir Winston’s wardrobe, after Henry Poole began making his clothes as a child at Blenheim Palace.

He went on to order formal apparel as the Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, a Privy Councillor, President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty, Secretary of State for War, Chancellor of the Exchequer and an Elder Brother of Trinity House.

By 1937, however, his outstanding bill was at £197.

James Sherwood, the historian tasked with examining the archive, said: “We continued to make clothes for him until just before the Second World War, when he fell foul because he didn’t want to pay his bill.”

Mr Sherwood added Henry Poole was not the only establishment which struggled to get Sir Winston to pay, added: “He said it was for morale, it was good for us to dress him and he wasn’t aware we were short of cash.

File photo: Tailors work on bespoke suits at Henry Poole on Savile Row in central London in 2010

“He never did pay, and never came back – he never forgave us.”

Sir Winston was not the only customer who did not pay on time, with Henry Poole leaving so much debt when he died that his belongings had to be auctioned off.

The company ledgers reveal that Edward VII, then the Prince of Wales, also made “infrequent payments on account that accumulated over years” for clothing, including the prototype short dinner jacket he commissioned for informal evenings at Sandringham.

King Edward VII, as Prince of Wales

After Poole’s death, a bill was sent to him at Marlborough House who paid the balance but, so offended, he withdrew his custom for 22 years until his 1901, when he patronised Poole’s Livery Department.

The Henry Poole & Co archive shows each and every garment made since 1846 for clients including Count Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Bram Stocker, Lillie Langtry and Serge Diaghilev.

Actress Lillie Langtry

The 5th Earl of Carnarvon took a Henry Poole three-piece-suit with him to explore Egypt, Emperor Napoleon III gave the shop its first Royal warrant, Queen Alexandra bought her family gifts, and Buffalo Bill was dressed up for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.

Records for Lillie Langtry, the actress, show that her orders were to be paid for by a Mr Frank Gebhart, the millionaire thoroughbred trainer with whom she was having an affair.

The archive also includes the signatures of some of the most famous faces of the day, from actors to authors.

Charles Dickens, not famous for his own dress sense, is known to have paid off the debts of his eldest son Charles Dickens Jr, after he had run up a substantial bill with the tailors.

Charles Dickens Jr

His authenticated signature can be found on a cheque from his Coutts & Co account.Other authors visiting the shop include Bram Stoker, who first appears in the records in 1895 while he was writing Dracula, and Wilkie Collins, who places orders from 1863.

Actors appearing in the records include Sir Henry Irving, who regularly used the tailor. He was captured for posterity in a Henry Poole frock coat for a sculpture by Sir Thomas Brock RA .

Other unusual additions to the records include Madame Tussauds, which used Henry Poole to make all its uniforms and livery for waxworks of the European Royal families.

The archive, said to chart the “rising and waning fortunes of Henry Poole’s illustrious clients”, will be available to view by appointment on Savile Row from today.


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Germany’s first new copies of Mein Kampf in 70 years aim to shatter myth of book

December 2nd, 2015

The first run of Hitler, Mein Kampf. A Critical Edition would be limited to between 3,500 and 4,000 copies, he said.

Plans to publish the new version have been controversial and drawn fire especially from Jewish groups, who have argued the book is dangerous and should never be printed again.

“We have to strip away the allure of this book and show the reality,” said Mr Wirsching

One of two rare copies of 'Mein Kampf' signed by the young Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and due for auction, photographed in Los Angeles, California on February 25, 2014

Mein Kampf (My Struggle) was written by Hitler in 1924 while languishing in prison after a failed coup.

Authorities in the southern state of Bavaria were handed the copyright by Allied forces after the Second World War.

For seven decades, they have refused to allow it to be republished out of respect for victims of the Nazis and to prevent incitement of hatred.

But at the end of the year the copyright runs out so that Mein Kampf falls into the public domain on January 1.

“This is not just a source” for the study of Nazi ideology, said the historian responsible for the project, Christian Hartmann. “It is also a symbol and it is one of the last relics of the Third Reich.”


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