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Theresa May Not

Of course I caught on the news Mr Irresponsible‘s last Prime Minister’s Questions. What a parade of sycophancy that was (with a few exceptions.) The man has been an absolute disaster for the country and he ended up being applauded for walking away from it! [On which note whatever happened to the convention that applause was unparliamentary? They just make it up as they go along.]

And did anyone else notice the journalist’s comment that austerity was forced on him? Forced? FORCED? It was a choice, a political choice that could quite easily have been made otherwise. In all probability it contributed mightily to the situation we find ourselves in. They say journalism is history’s first draft. In this case it was history being rewritten before it was history. David Cameron’s place in history is of course utterly secure – as the worst Prime Minister since the office was instituted, with the possible exception of Neville Chamberlain (though even he managed to delay war with Hitler till the country’s defences, in the shape of the RAF, were just up to the task.)

Then there was the fawning over the new PM, Theresa May. Did nothing else happen in the world today?

I did notice her claim that her government will not be to the favour of the privileged few but for those who are struggling. This reminded me of “where there is discord may we bring harmony” and we know how well that worked out for the less privileged.

And in one of her first acts….. She has appointed Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary!

Words fail me.

Apart from:- on this evidence, Theresa certainly won’t.

In Memoriam

The Battle of the Somme began 100 years ago today. That first day saw the British Army suffer 57,470 casualties, its greatest ever one day loss in battle.* 19,240 of these were killed. Overall the battle (really a series of battles) lasted for four and a half months and resulted in 1.120-1.215 million casualties over both sides. Only the Russian Front battles of the Second World War were bloodier.

Like the Ypres Salient, the countryside where the battle(s) took place is dotted with Commonwealth War Cemeteries.

There is a particularly striking memorial at Newfoundland Memorial Park, Beaumont Hamel, in the form of a caribou.

Newfoundland Memorial Park, Beaumont Hamel

Newfoundland Memorial Park, Beaumont Hamel

The names of the British army dead who remained missing are engraved on the walls of the towering Memorial at Thiepval.

Thiepval Memorial

Visiting Thiepval is as sobering an experience as the Menin Gate.

The bagpipe tune below was composed by William Laurie who fought at the Somme. He was Pipe Major of the 8th Argyllshire Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Higlanders. He became ill as a result of trench conditions and died on Nov 28th 1916.

To all who fought:-

The Battle of the Somme

*More personnel (80,000) were lost by surrender at the Fall of Singapore in 1942.

Menin Road South Cemetery

The cemetery is well inside the boundaries of Ypres/Ieper and lies on the edge of the Menin Road. It contains the remains of 1,657 soldiers of whom 118 are unidentified but 24 of these are known or believed to be buried here.

Menin Road South Cemetery

This view from the east shows the Stone of Remembrance, the Cross of Sacrifice and (at the western end) the shelter building containing the cemetery register:-

Menin Road South Cemetery, View from West

Iron Fist by Bryan Perrett

Classic Armoured Warfare. Cassell & Co, 1998, 224p.

 Iron Fist cover

As the subtitle suggests in this book Perrett covers the history of armoured warfare from its beginnings in the Great War up to Operation Sabre during the first Gulf War.

In the beginning was the armoured car, whose first flourish in the British forces came in the form of a Royal Naval Air Service armoured car division. With the establishment of the Western Front’s trench system these quickly became unusable but squadrons of cars were subsequently sent to Libya, the Middle East and the Eastern Front and had notable success there.

The origins of the tank were less straightforward than just bolting armour to an existing chassis. An Australian, Mr Lancelot de Mole, in 1911 submitted to the War Office a design for an armed, tracked vehicle capable of crossing trenches. It was ignored; as it was by the Austro-Hungarian General Staff. Again it was the Navy, and the influence of Winston Churchill, a member of the Committee of Imperial Defence, which in 1915 set up a Landships Committee and the development of the tank began. (de Mole received recognition for his invention after the war in the form of an award.)

Perrett illustrates the development of armoured warfare by discussing representative engagements in the Great War, World War 2, the Arab-Israeli Wars, Vietnam and the liberation of Kuwait. He devotes a chapter to Hobo’s Funnies, the tanks adapted under the auspices of Major General P C S Hobart to “swim”, blow up mines, fill in anti-tank ditches etc, which contributed greatly to the success of the British and Canadian landings in Normandy and showed their worth as late as in the battles for Walcheren.

As well as Mr de Mole we find herein the fantastically named Count Hyazinth Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Camminetz who was a tactical genius with a seeming ability to read his Soviet enemies’ minds. Sometimes he had his tanks travel with their guns pointing backwards (traversed to the rear as the jargon has it) to fool the enemy into thinking they were friendly. In one such engagement he made his way behind Soviet lines with only four tanks. His tiny unit destroyed 105 Soviet tanks in one hour and made it back out intact.

For those, like myself, with a general interest in the military history of the twentieth century but perhaps lack in depth knowledge, the book illuminates some of its byways as well as giving an overview of its subject.

Pedant’s corner:- the latest generation were (was,) produced in (produced, or resulted in,) not prepared the maintain (to maintain,) handed them over the Senussi (to the Senussi,) Sirelius’ (Sirelius’s,) coped with the mud better the heavier cars (better than,) gild the lily somewhat that by (gild the lily somewhat by,) on 8th January the Soames (no “the”,) set too (set to,) of which were never enough to fill the gaps (there were never enough,) have been in dominant element (a dominant element,) nor aware of (nor was aware of,) the line of German tanks form (forms,) were several of new corps (no “of”,) Kirponos’ (Kirponos’s,) overlaying its rear areas (overlying makes more sense,) the minefields gaps (minefields’) the first of a succession that were to continue (that was to continue,) Volgagrad (Volgograd,) that tide of war had turned (that the tide,) was all but isolated with due course it had to evacuated by sea (all but isolated and in due course,) breath in (breathe in,) an Small Box Girder Bridge (a,) floatation screen (I prefer flotation,) infantry were pinned down (was,) a paragraph break in the middle of a sentence, referred to a Kangaroos (as Kangaroos,) who he invited to surrender (whom,) phosphorous (phosphorus,) the division … and were (and was,) on the eastern sector the British Eighth Army (of the British Eighth Army,) one the best (one of the best,) the cavalry… were (was,) his map told (indicated?) Hollands’ (Hollands’s,) Grossstein (I assume Grosstein,) a variety of ingenious techniques were developed (a variety was,) like that other conventional armies (like that of,) around a arc (an arc.) Perrett describes the Gulf of Tonkin incident as an attack on US warships by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. The USS Maddox fired first. The US authorities described these as warning shots.

Hooge Crater Cemetery

Almost the first thing we did after checking in to our hotel just 3 kilometres from Ypres was to visit Hooge Crater Cemetery which was literally just the other side of the Menin Road, and lies immediately below the Bellewaerde ridge. The circular area surrounding the cross represents the area’s many craters created by mines.

Hooge Crater Cemetery Entrance

The first graves we came up to are dedicated to men either known or believed to be buried in this cemetery but whose exact grave location is unknown:-

Hooge Crater Cemetery Memorial Stones

One known soldier of the Great War and two who are in Kipling’s memorable phrase “Known Unto God”:

Hooge Crater Cemetery Graves

A memorial stone to men whose previously known graves were destroyed in subsequent battles:-

Hooge Crater Cemetery Memorial

As in all Commonwealth War Cemeteries the graves are beautifully kept:-

Hooge Crater Cemetery Line of Graves

The gravestones with regimental insignia on them are for individuals. The ones to the front here commemorate respectively five, five, five, five and four soldiers “Known unto God”:-

Hooge Crater Cemetery Communal Graves

Grave Panorama. There are now 5916 Commonwealth soldiers buried in this cemetery of whom 3,570 are unidentified.

Hooge Crater Cemetery Panorama of Graves

As the inscription on the alcove where the register of graves is kept says the cemetery is the free gift of the Belgian people for those who fell:-

Hooge Crater Cemetery  Dedication

The now peaceful scene looking back over the cemetery boundary into what was the Ypres Salient:-

View from Hooge Crater Cemetery

The Menin Gate (iii), The Last Post

There is a stairway halfway along each internal wall of the Menin Gate leading to the upper level. Here are laid wreaths brought to the Gate by various organisations.

Menin Gate Wreath Holders

The evening we were there the representatives of several schools performed that duty during the nightly Last Post ceremony to which this flag bearer was the prelude:-

Prelude to Last Post Ceremony, Menin Gate

The Last Post is played every evening at 8pm by members of Ypres Fire Brigade, a ceremony only ever interrupted since its inception by the German Occupation in World War 2 when it was apparently conducted at Brookwood Military Cemetery, in Surrey, England. On the evening of liberation in 1944 the ceremony was resumed despite fighting still taking place elsewhere in the city. A photograph of the ceremony in 1964 in In Flanders Fields Museum had few onlookers in it. The Last Post now attracts large crowds no doubt due to the greater ease of travel to Ypres from Britain and the countries of the British Commonwealth:-

Last Post Ceremony, Menin Gate

Click on the picture below to go to a short video I shot of part of the ceremony:-

Last Post

The Lighthouse Stevensons by Bella Bathurst

Harper Collins, 1999, 304 p, including i p preface, ii p acknowledgements, i p list of illustrations, viii p introduction

 The Lighthouse Stevensons cover

Had Robert Louis Stevenson not gained such fame as a writer his surname would now be more associated with – and more widely remembered for – the astonishing achievements of his immediate forefathers, beginning with his grandfather Robert, who under the auspices of the Northern Lighthouse Trust (Scotland’s lighthouse authority, which later became the Northern Lighthouse Board) were in total responsible for the building of no less than ninety-seven lighthouses round the Scottish coast.

The first lighthouses were built against no little opposition, rescue from shipwreck being seen as thwarting God’s will and prevention as a threat to the livelihoods of those who benefited from salvage – or were, indeed, active wreckers. The technical difficulties at some of the sites were enormous, the hazard only visible at high tide, their bed-rock virtually unworkable – or both. Nevertheless, Robert built the lighthouse at the infamous Bell Rock which threatened the entrances to the Firths of Forth and Tay and the passage of shipping up and down the east coast. His sons Alan, David and Thomas respectively built at the even more difficult Skerryvore, Muckle Flugga (occasionally swept by two hundred feet high waves) and Dhu Heartach. Before finally settling on a writing career RLS, Thomas’s son – known to the family as Louis – had a hand in the construction of that last.

Patriarch Robert was a hard taskmaster and his sons – especially Alan, whose leanings towards poetry Robert regarded as suspect – relatively reluctant lighthouse builders. Alan, never in good health, was later wracked with conscience over his insistence that the men at Skerryvore should work on the Sabbath. Bathurst says of this, “The God that Scotland believes in has always been unusually retributive, quick to punish and slow to forgive, making, particularly in His more zealous, Calvinistic, manifestations a particular speciality of guilt. After his retirement Alan seems to have worshipped a uniquely Scottish God.” The lighthouse keepers were also subject to a strict code and inspection at any time (principally for untidiness indicating a general laxity and signs of, among other things, “hunnish practices.”) Very few let Robert down.

In the course of his duties Robert often travelled to London, to which he did not take. He was of the opinion that England had little except government to offer Scotland. (Perhaps coincidentally Trinity House – the lighthouse authority for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar – has frequently had a predatory eye on its northern counterpart.)

Bathurst incidentally sheds some light on the wider history of the Scotland of the time. Lighthouse construction gave employment in road building and the like for those affected by the Highland Clearances and the potato famine (not as devastating in Scotland partly due to government relief whose co-ordinator was the unforgettably named Sir Edward Pine Coffin.)

She also makes several asides on the peccadillos of the strange country in which these endeavours took place. “Scottish history was not generally taught to Scottish children until the 1960s” (I can attest that in some cases it did not come in till even later: apart from Iron Age brochs – safely distant in time and so not contentious – I was taught none at all; having to rely on my own background reading and absorption from the general culture) and “(Edinburgh) managed to sustain several wildly contradictory faiths: anti-Englishness and fervent Britishness; improvement and nostalgia; depression and vivacity” which is actually remarkably few contradictions for a Scottish town……

The Lighthouse Stevensons is an engrossing book on a fascinating subject. A fine tribute to all those who contributed to what even today would be daunting tasks.

Pedant’s corner:- Prince’s Street (Princes Street,) Secretary at War (Secretary of War?) canon ball (cannon,) copice (coppice,) row-boats (rowing boats,) throve (I prefer thrived,) “it was a simpler design that Winstanley’s” (than,) (John Rennie) was jointly responsible for widening the Clyde to allow for deeper hulled vessels (dredging and widening the navigable channel?) “a tangle of rocks….. with the sea beating against their sides” (against its sides,) stancheons (stanchions,) the only matter … were proceedings (was; or else, matters,) the next generation .. were appearing (was,) “holophotal meaning ‘whole light’ in Greek” (no; holophotal means ‘whole light’ in English,) “but here was no time” (there was,) supernumary (supernumerary,) “caught comprised” (compromised,) I can imagine what “hunnish practices” might mean but it isn’t spelled out (and the internet is surprisingly unenlightening on the subject.) “Then Thomas Smith began his work” (When Thomas Smith began,) the number of incidents have… (the number has.)

Napoleonic Eagle

This is the Napoleonic Eagle captured at the Battle of Waterloo by Ensign Ewart.

Napoleonic Eagle

The eagle is usually kept in Edinburgh Castle but I photographed it in its temporary home at the Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, Edinburgh. You can see my faint reflection in the glass of the museum case

Interior of Monk’s Cell, Mount Grace Priory

The interior of the monk’s cell was far from as spartan as I had previously imagined it would be.

Sleeping accomodation:-
Mount Grace Priory Cell LIving Space

Devotional area:-
Mount Grace Priory Cell Interior

Living space:-
Mount Grace Priory Cell Living Space

Upper floor:-
Mount Grace Priory Cell Upper Floor

Small cloister:-
Mount Grace Priory Cell Cloister

Sanitary arrangements:-
Mount Grace Priory Cell Sanitary Provision

All my Mount Grace Priory photgoraphs are on flickr here.

Monk’s Cell, Mount Grace Priory

Most of the monk’s cells at Mount Grace Priory (see previous post) are in ruins like this one:-

Mount Grace Priory Cell Ruins.

The cells were at the perimeter of the priory grounds. This is the entrance to the one cell that has been restored. The square area to the right of the door was a kind of hatch which allowed food to be passed into the cell without any interaction between the occupant and the outside:-

Mount Grace Priory Monk's  Cell Entrance

The (restored) monk’s cell is a substantial building in its own right, not just the size of a single room:-

Mount Grace Priory Cell from Garden

Each cell had its own garden, as in the restoration:-

Mount Grace Priory Cell Garden

Cell garden (opposite view):-
Mount Grace Priory Cell agrden

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