Posts Tagged ‘British’

How Care packages sent by ordinary people helped save British lives after World War Two

November 16th, 2015

The shortages were so severe that to assist their allies over the Atlantic, the Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe (CARE) programme was established to allow US citizens to dispatch food and basic supplies to relatives – and strangers – living amid the rubble of Europe.

The programme was designed not merely to distribute luxuries, but life-saving necessities. During the first two years of operations more than 6.6 million packages were posted from America, 400,000 of which arrived in England – including several sent to the Anstis family by an uncle living in New York. The recipients say they have never forgotten those who reached out during their time of desperate need.

Seventy years on, Europe finds itself in the grip of the worst humanitarian crisis since the Second World War and once more CARE is working to save lives amid the chaos. The programme has grown into the charity CARE International UK which is supported in this year’s Telegraph Christmas Appeal.

Since the Syria crisis started, CARE has been working to distribute emergency food and hygiene parcels to the millions of refugees who have been forced to flee their homes.They are the victims of a very modern conflict, of course, but those British recipients of 70 years ago say they see close parallels between the plight of today’s refugees and that of their own generation.

“The refugees today are equally desperate to those poor souls who crossed Europe at the end of the Second World War,” says Mr Anstis. “Our job today is to accommodate them in all sorts of ways.”

Anstis, a retired architect and lecturer, grew up in Greenford in the West London suburbs and was six-years-old when hostilities erupted in 1939. His father, Herbert, a teacher and veteran of the First World War, remained in Britain working on the Home Front, but still the family found themselves constantly uprooted. In total, Anstis attended 13 different schools throughout the war.

“Our family was repeatedly evacuated,” he recalls. “Not in that picturesque situation of poor little toddlers with their gasmasks at railway stations. People were moved around with such rapidity.”

It was during a stay in one such temporary abode in Banstead, Surrey, in April 1942 that a bomb was dropped on an adjoining house during a Luftwaffe raid. “I woke to find myself covered in plaster and glass,” he says. “All the doors were gone and tiles and windows and ceilings. The rest of that night was spent cowering.”

It was not just food and safe accommodation in short supply but every basic necessity, including fuel. “Every winter during the war was very cold. We became used to chilblains and having frozen feet. When we got into bed we would put every available blanket and coat over us to make a sort of warm tunnel.”

The family only ate chicken once a year, for Christmas dinner, and even then it was an old broiler deemed long past its use. It is no surprise that Mr Anstis can still taste that tinned turkey today.

But the contents alone were not what made the packages so exotic. Similar to the modern refugees dreaming of a new life in Europe, America appeared to war-weary British eyes as a land of unimaginable plenty.

“It was very exciting to have these travel-stained parcels that had come all the way from New York,” he says. “At that time America was a great place of glamour and promise that was unrealisable.”

Tim Thomas, a now 73-year-old who was evacuated from Swansea to Wiltshire during the Blitz, can also still remember the excitement of receiving the CARE food parcels which were sent by a stranger in Boston called F. Prescott Fay. For his family, the steak and kidney pie, coffee, tea, powdered milk, tinned vegetables and peaches that came through the post several times a year were the pinnacle of luxury compared to the tapioca and corned beef they ate during rationing.

“We were very poor and very skinny,” Thomas says. “If that whole period has left me with anything it’s that feeling that a total stranger held out his hand in generosity when we needed help.”

Migrants and refugees prepare to board a train heading to Serbia from the Macedonian-Greek border near Gevgelija

Nowadays, the CARE packages being distributed to the never-ending lines of refugees snaking through the Balkans are rather more regimented in their contents. Each adult emergency package boasts 2,240 calories worth of non-perishable food items and high-energy sweet and savoury biscuits, as well as sanitary towels and basic first aid; with baby food, nappies, wipes and disinfectant distributed to young families.

Special winter CARE packages containing emergency shelter material such as sleeping bags and plastic groundsheets, warm clothes and waterproofs are also now being handed out as the cold starts to bite.

“I despair at the current refugee crisis,” says 79-year-old Janet Stevenson, a mother-of-two and grandmother-of-five who clearly recalls her own CARE packages which arrived at the school near Reading she attended as a child.

“It needs tackling at source but how you do it I don’t know. I just think it’s so tragic. I just want to help.

As Mrs Stevenson knows, it is not just the provision of basic items which makes the packages so important. The CARE parcel received by Mrs Stevenson ended up beginning a 60-year-long friendship with the US schoolgirl Shirley Meissner who helped send it over. The pair even met face to face in Virginia in 1986, before Shirley died five years ago.

Even during the greatest time of need, Mrs Stevenson – who nowadays donates to CARE through a seperate entrepreneurship scheme the charity runs – was never starving. Her father, a Gallipoli veteran tended an allotment throughout the war and could even on occasion venture to the end of the garden and wring a chicken’s neck – something the battle-scarred soldier loathed doing.

But she says her memories of such straitened times still stay with her today. “Even now I hate waste; I don’t waste anything – certainly food. Those are the values you learnt and they never leave you.”

There are other values, too, which those who experienced the kindness of strangers 70 years ago hold dear to this day.

“You can’t do much to help other people,” Mrs Stevenson says. “But you do what you can.”

To make a credit/debit-card donation call 0151-284 1927; go to telegraph.co.uk/charity; or send cheques/postal orders to Telegraph Christmas Charity Appeal, Charities Trust, Suite 20–22, Century Building, Tower Street, Liverpool L3 4BJ


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British and Japanese veterans shake hands in Second World War reconciliation event

November 12th, 2015

Mr Welland presented Mr Urayama and Mr Mikio Kinoshita, who served as a sergeant in the Japanese Railway Construction Army on the infamous Burma Railway, with photos of the Battle of Kohima memorial.

In return, Mr Urayama gave the British veteran a specially made tie, while Mr Kinoshita presented him with a traditional wooden doll made by his daughter.

Mr Welland, from Colchester, served in a special forces unit in Norway before being transferred to the Far East with the Royal Berkshire Regiment and sent to halt the Japanese advance into India.

The twin clashes of Imphal and Kohima were fought between early April and late June 1944 and involved heavily outnumbered British and Indian troops desperately fighting to deny the Japanese attackers the high ground.

The Japanese were forced to retreat south and the battle is considered the turning point in the land war in south-east Asia because it demonstrated that the Japanese were not invincible.

Mr Welland admitted that he suffered nightmares for many years after the war and recalled stepping over countless bodies on the battlefield. He travelled to Japan for the first time last year after meeting the daughter of a Japanese veteran at a meeting of the Burma Star Association.

The year, he attended a Remembrance Day memorial service on Wednesday at the Commonwealth War Cemetery in the Hodogaya district of Yokohama, and said he intended to return to build bridges with more Japanese veterans in the future.

“I want to keep doing things like this for a few more years, if I can,” he said. “It just keeps getting better.”


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Quiz: ten key battles in British history

October 24th, 2015

The battle of Agincourt between King Henry V and the French was a bloody war fought in northern France 600 years ago on October 25, 1415.

It still remains one of the best known English victories. Ahead of its 600th anniversary this Sunday, test your knowledge of ten key battles in British History.


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British D-Day veteran to receive highest French accolade

March 16th, 2015

Troops on Juno Beach, Normandy, during the D Day landings (HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY)

Mr Turner will receive his award from Captain Francois Jean, the consul honoraire of France, on behalf of French president Francois Hollande.

He said: “This is a great honour that I wasn’t expecting. I know that I’ll be thinking of those who didn’t make it, my friends who didn’t come back from the Normandy beaches after D-Day.”

The French government informed the UK Ministry of Defence last year that it wanted to recognise the selfless acts of heroism displayed by surviving veterans of the Normandy landings.

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Mr Turner was born and brought up in Hilsea, Portsmouth, and at 17 he decided to go to the city’s recruiting office and sign up for the RAF, but he was too young. Instead he was taken on by the Royal Marines in January 1943.

He and three other colleagues manned a landing craft which was based at Itchenor, near Chichester. On June 4, 1944, they sailed across to Lee-on-Solent and came alongside a Canadian troop ship.

And on June 5, they sailed across the Channel in their landing craft as part of the invasion.

Mr Turner said: “It was very quiet, no one spoke. Then when we got close to the beach, the Germans started firing and it was pretty noisy. I was used to it, as my dad had been in charge of the firewatch in Portsmouth, so I’d heard air raids and gunfire anyway.

“I wasn’t frightened. I was only young, so it felt a bit like an adventure to me, even at that stage. We landed the Canadian engineers and their equipment on the beach and then backed off, so we could see what was going on. Some landing craft were hit and started sinking, some Canadians were being shot around us.

“We slept on the beach that night, and I remember a German plane coming over and flying very low. We were all firing at it. The next day, we started unloading all the ships by landing craft. Most of the boxes we unloaded seemed to be food.

“The next day, the Canadians dug a trench for the dead bodies and covered them over. But we saw a few bodies still floating on the tide, even a week after D-Day.”

Mr Turner will receive the award on Monday March 23.


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How rationing in World War 2 democratised the British table – and made us all healthier

January 8th, 2015

Though to most of us food rationing seems almost an infringement of liberty, nearly everyone agrees that the sale of food needs to be regulated to protect its quality (that it contains nothing harmful, is not adulterated, is appropriately described and labelled) and quantity (that it is not short measure). In any case, our current ideas of food rationing owe more to memories of Russians queuing at food shops during the Cold War period, or of the hungry refugees looking for nourishment that we see most nights on the television news. The very idea of rationing life’s chief necessity runs counter to most people’s views about the operation of the marketplace, and there is no way in which curtailing the consumer’s choice of what he buys and eats contributes to the aesthetic enjoyment of food or to morale. Wartime rationing was one matter; peacetime restrictions on what food you could buy was quite another, as Labour found to its cost.

Rationing was instituted to deal with food shortages, but these had many complicated causes. Imports had to be reduced drastically, to save merchant shipping for purposes directly related to warfare (and was retained post-war for essential contributions to economic recovery); grazing was ploughed over to grow vegetables rather than to feed livestock. Though demand for red meat was still widespread, caviar, anchovies, parmesan and exotic fruit were not then to the taste of the majority of the population, but remained available to the travelled, educated and rich through most of the war via an ingenious points system. Driver says it created a sort of stock exchange “in such luxuries as sardines and sultanas, too scarce to be distributed in bulk as a ration-book entitlement.”

As for the admin, Driver’s hero, who made rationing succeed, was the Minister of Food, Lord Woolton, “one of the most powerful retailers in the land,” Armed with a social conscience gained from working in Liverpool before 1914, he was also the beneficiary of a scientific education. These qualifications were rare among the Tory ministers, but opened Woolton to listening to the advice of nutritionists and medical researchers. He was what we would today call media-savvy: he managed to convince housewives to cook his Woolton pie, despite its description by a Liverpool friend of his as “looking on the outside exactly like a steak and kidney pie, and on the inside just like a steak and kidney pie – without the steak and kidney”. The recipe actually relies on six ounces of “chopped spinach, or cabbage or carrots, or a good mixture of vegetables.”

Much of the nutritional know-how came from another hero, Sir Jack Drummond, “a fundamental scientist” and foodie avant la lettre, who had “a rare gift for popular exposition.” (Drummond and his second wife, Ann Wilbraham, wrote a major 1939 study of the British diet, The Englishman’s Food; they were more famous, sadly, as the victims with their daughter of a triple murder as a camping site in Provence in 1952.) With Drummond at his side, says Driver, Woolton was “Churchill’s most effective minister on the Home Front.”

The pair of them even managed to persuade Britons to buy the grey-crumbed 85 per cent extraction National Loaf, and got local authorities to establish “British Restaurants.” Frances Partridge’s diary describes a meal in one at Swindon: “Thousands of human beings were eating … an enormous all-beige meal, starting with beige soup thickened to the consistency of past, followed by beige mince full of lumps and garnished with beige beans and a few beige potatoes, thin beige apple stew…”

In 1954, of course, we neither appreciated the role of rationing-enforced nutrition in the general health of the nation, nor had any inkling of how dangerous it could be to have too much to eat.

Despite the points system, rationing also democratized food. For the first time members of all socio-economic classes were eating the same diet, even taking in about the same number of calories. The middle classes, though, were chafing under rationing. Even those women who had formerly employed them had seen their cooks recruited by factories and canteens; they now cooked themselves and they and their families were bored, demoralised, and some would say their tastes had coarsened. Elizabeth David’s Mediterranean Food inspired them and made them long to be able again to go to Europe. But when it was published in 1950, there were four years of rationing to go, and her abundant lemons, aubergines and olive oil were pure fantasy.

Though our supermarket shelves now boast ingredients unknown to Mrs David, and though we’re all foodies now, the truth is that our collective taste has managed to sink to the lowest common denominator, represented by American-origin fast food outlets such as KFC and McDonald’s. Somewhere in this tale there is a political message about the British reaction to austerity policies. Maybe we need today’s equivalents of Woolton and Drummond to read the foodie runes.

Paul Levy chairs the Oxford Symposium on Food & Cookery and co-authored The Official Foodie Handbook (1984)


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British soldier: ‘Field Marshall Rommel gave me beer and cigarettes’

November 20th, 2014

Rommel, known as the Desert Fox, asked the Briton if there was anything he needed, to which Capt Wooldridge cheekily replied “a good meal, a pint of beer and a packet of cigarettes”.

To his astonishment, his wish was granted when he was ushered into Rommel’s mess where all three items were waiting for him.

Capt Wooldridge ate the food, drank the stein of lager and smoked the German cigarettes, but kept the empty packet as a souvenir. Thanks to Rommel, he survived and was sent on to a prisoner of war camp.

Now aged 95, Capt Wooldridge is to appear on BBC1′s Antiques Roadshow on Sunday, where he will tell expert Graham Lay his story.

He will also show off the cigarette packet along with his Military Cross and Bar, which he was awarded for a death-defying mission to clear a path through a minefield in Alamein while under mortar fire.

He will also include a photo of him being presented with a ribbon to his MC by British army chief Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery.

Left: Roy Wooldridge in 2014. Right: the cigarettes Rommel gave him (BNPS.CO.UK)

Capt Wooldridge was one of the very few soldiers who came face to face with both Field Marshall Montgomery and his great adversary, Field Marshall Rommel, during World War Two.

Capt Wooldridge, from Hendy, Glamorgan, said: “I was on my honeymoon in London and when we returned to our hotel from the theatre there was a telegram asking me to report to my unit immediately and that Mrs Wooldridge was not to travel with me.

“I went to Dover straight away. Reconnaissance photos had spotted these obstacles just below the waterline and they couldn’t determine from the pictures what they were.

“They suspected they were some form of mine just under high tide so that a landing craft coming in, lowering its door, would get blown up.

“I was assigned to X Troop commando and four of us were taken by motor torpdeo boat across the Channel and anchored one mile off shore. We took two dingies to the shore.”

Under the cover of darkness, Capt Wooldridge shinned up a post at Onival beach, Picardy, and found a German tank mine on top.

The group returned for the next four nights to carry out further inspections, but on the last mission they were caputred by the Germans.

Capt Wooldridge said: “We were taken to a house and interrogated for two weeks – they wanted to know what we had been doing but I didn’t say anything.

“After that I was taken to a chateaux and in the guard room I was given a cup of tea and some cake. I was told to have a wash and smarten up because I was going to see someone very important.

Wooldridge’s medals (BNPS.CO.UK)

“I was marched into a room and there stood behind a desk was Rommel. I recognised him immediately because I had studied photographs of him while in the Western Desert.

“His boss, Field Marshall von Rundstedt was also there – two of the most powerful men in the German army. Rommel asked me what I was doing in France but I didn’t say anything.

“He then asked me if there was anything I required. I just said I could do with a pint of beer, a packet of cigarettes and a good meal. Then I was dismissed.

“I was taken to his mess and served by his waiter and on the table was a stein of beer, cigarettes and a plate of food. I could’t understand it.

“I was told that Rommel always wanted to meet men who had been doing something unusual when they were captured.

“I was meant to have been shot. I was told on several occasions during my interrogation that is what would happen unless I talked.

“Hitler had issued orders that commandos were to be shot but Rommel declined to obey that instruction. Rommel saved my life. He was a very fine German and a clean fighter.”

Capt Wooldridge was taken to a PoW camp in northern Germany where he remained for the rest of the war.

He returned to Britain where he become the principal of Derby College of Art and Technology.

His wife Phyllis died 25 years ago. He has two sons and three grandchildren.


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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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‘British Schindler’ Sir Nicholas Winton honoured for saving children from Nazi death camps

October 29th, 2014

Following the German annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938, Winton arranged transport for 669 children, most of them Jewish, from Czechoslovakia through Germany to Britain ahead of the outbreak of World War II.

The first transport left on 14 March 1939, the day before the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, according to the Holocaust Memorial Museum.

A final train load of 250 children, due to depart on 3 September 1939, was prevented from leaving when Poland was invaded.

The children were taken by train to foster families in England who were willing to put up the then-huge sum of 50 pounds sterling and had agreed to look after them until they were 17.

Sir Nicholas was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003.


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Celebrated British warships being stripped bare for scrap metal

October 25th, 2014

But having stripped the wrecks of those components, the scavengers have now started to take other ferrous metals, primarily brass and copper, as well as large chunks of steel, such as the propellor shafts, and high-grade aluminium.

“There are no longer any propellors or shafts left on either of the wrecks and there are now a number of locations on both ships that have been extensively damaged by the use of explosives,” Mr Shaw said.

In a video taken as recently as May of this year, a propellor shaft is clearly visible on HMS Repulse, with the White Ensign of the Royal Navy – placed by divers as a mark of respect to the dead – floating in the current in the background. Both have since been removed.

Video footage of the wrecks shows some of the damage – including thick steel plating peeled outwards under the force of detonations within the hull. Coffee tins are packed with explosives by scavengers and forced into cavities in the vessels’ hulls.

“Up until this salvage work began, the wrecks were in fairly good condition,” Mr Shaw said. “But now there is a lot of loose plating and many areas where all the rivets have been blown out.”

While Mr Shaw and the recreational divers who have visited both ships do not enter the wrecks, it is likely that blasting the bottoms out of the vessels will expose the remains of their crews. Some 508 officers and men went down with HMS Repulse, while a further 327 were killed aboard HMS Prince of Wales, which sank just a few miles away.

The destruction of the vessels – just days after the Japanese attack on the US base at Pearl Harbor – came as a major blow to the British in the Far East as they attempted to resist the invasion of Malaya and, ultimately, the occupation of Singapore and Indonesia.

Identified as Force Z and comprising the modern battleship Prince of Wales, the battlecruiser Repulse, which had been launched in 1916, and four destroyers, the flotilla had been dispatched to intercept Japanese invasion convoys in the South China Sea.

Critically, they put to sea without air cover and the fleet was attacked by waves of land-based aircraft on December 10, with eight torpedoes striking their targets.

The Prince of Wales and Repulse became the first capital ships to be sunk solely by air power on the open sea, rewriting the military tactics of the day.

HMS Prince of Wales

Both ships turned over as they sank, with Repulse now at a depth of 183 feet and the Prince of Wales in 223 feet of water. The wrecks are still Crown property and designated as a Protected Place under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.

The bell of the Prince of Wales was removed in 2002 by a team of Royal Navy divers because there were fears that it would be stolen. It is now on display in the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool.

“We have twice turned up at the Repulse at around 7:30 in the morning to find what looks like a fishing boat moored up, but they don’t have fishing nets on board,” Mr Shaw said.

It appears that the crews of the smaller boats are placing charges on vulnerable parts of the wrecks and, once a sufficient amount of salvageable metal has been broken off, a larger vessel with a crane arrives to collect the debris.

“They have always seen us coming and managed to cast off and make a run for it before we get close enough,” he said, adding that he has to bear in mind the safety of his customers and crew – “And I’m pretty sure these guys will be armed.”

Some men survived the sinking. James Wren, a former Royal Marine, clung to a piece of flotsam until an escort ship picked him up. He said that protecting the wrecks was a “a vast job”.

“It’s very distressing to everyone but there’s very little we can do about it,” said Mr Wren, who was 21 when the ship sank in 1941 and is now one of only a few remaining survivors.

“We could do with more protection out there but you just can’t have someone sitting there 24 hours a day.”

Maurice Pink, another Repulse survivor, was just 19 when he was plucked out of the water by a British destroyer. He is now chairman of the Force Z Surivivors Association.

“You just can’t stop it unless you patrol all the time,” said Mr Pink.

“You can turn round and say it’s a grave for the people that gave their lives for the country. It’s alright saying that but people aren’t interested in words.

“If they want to dive down and pinch something they are going to. You can’t prevent robbers robbing a bank if there’s no one there to stop them.”

Given the large number of military maritime gravesaround the world, the Ministry of Defence does indeed have a vast job on its hands. There are 60 wrecks designated under the Protection of Military Remains Act, 12 of which are ‘controlled’ – meaning that diving them is strictly prohibited – and 58 which have the lesser designation of “protected”, including the Repulse. These sites can be dived under a “look but don’t touch” policy.

Short of actively patrolling the wrecks the MoD, which owns them, can only attempt to prevent the sale of salvaged items.

In May this year, it confiscated a number of parts stolen from the wreck of the Repulse – including the ship’s Morse telephone – from an Auction in Australia and returned them to the British High Commission.

A spokesman for the MoD said it works closely with foreign governments and others “with the aim of preventing inappropriate activity on the wreck of HMS Repulse”.

The Malaysian authorities have intervened in the past to stop wrecks being pillaged, but with hundreds of sunken vessels in thousands of square miles of the Pacific to monitor, it faces the same problem.

“We are very concerned to hear that the wrecks are being plundered by scrap metal merchants and I have asked for a plan to be drawn up for a survey of HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales,” Rossid bin Musa, director of the Marine Department of Malaysia, said.

“Our department cannot carry out patrols as we do not have the vessels, but I have asked the Coast Guard and the Maritime Enforcement Agency to provide assistance and to patrol the area,” he said.

But any scavengers who are caught are likely to get off with minimal fines. A charge of violating Malaysian maritime laws and operating without a permit usually incurs a fine of around GBP19,100, according to the Malaysian newspaper The Star, while the cost of stealing from a wreck is just £191.


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Germans are ‘bewildered’ by British obsession with the Second World War, director of British Museum says

September 27th, 2014

In an interview with the Radio Times, MacGregor disclosed the aim of the series is to examine “what else” happened in Germany, detailing the “new country” which has emerged since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Speaking of the German people, he said: “They have huge admiration for the political traditions, the political stability, huge admiration for the way Britain fought the Second World War, fascinated and delighted by the sport…

“But very dismayed that when they come to Britain, they’re greeted with Nazi salutes!

“Bewildered that Britain doesn’t want to appear to know about Germany now, but wants to freeze the relationship as it was 70 years ago.”

He added the image of German history being centred on the Second World War is “constantly reinforced” in Britain “in a way that it isn’t in other countries”, including those which have “far more reason to be obsessed with German evil, having been occupied”.

“It’s one of the tragic things of the 20th century that 100 years ago everybody like us would have known so much about German culture and history,” he said. “We’d all have read German at school or university, we’d expect people to read German, we would know about Germany – and all that stopped after 1945.”

Speaking of the current political and cultural situation, he told the magazine: “Germany wants allies. One of the things they’ve learnt from the past is not only that power is dangerous, but acting alone is also dangerous.

“So they want counsel and friends and they would be very happy for Britain to play that role. Whether Britain wants to play that role, and whether Britain sees itself as wanting to be Germany’s friend, I don’t know.”

The new BBC Radio 4 series follows a successful partnership with the British Museum for A History of the World in 100 Objects.

The Germany series will now be told in 30 episodes, focusing on around 70 objects from the VW Beetle, Meissen porcelain, and the art of Richter, Durer and Holbein, to the Reichstag and Brandenburg Gate. An accompanying exhibition opens at the British Museum in October.

MacGregor said: “The point of the series is not so much to put the history of the 20th century in a bigger context, but it’s also saying, ‘What has Germany done since 1990?’ This is a new country, and a new country needs a new history.”


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