“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (6)

Last time I was looking at the relatively long list of motivations for the extreme violence used by the German army in World War Two. This list was supplied by Messrs Neitzel and Welzer in their book “Soldaten”. If you remember, Sönke Neitzel had discovered in the British National Archives that during World War II, British Intelligence had recorded German prisoners of war in secret and then transcribed their conversations. This process had produced 50,000 pages of transcripts as they chatted, mainly at Trent Park near Cockfosters, but also at Latimer House near Amersham and at Wilton Park near Beaconsfield, which are both in Buckinghamshire:

All the reasons on the list of motivations for extreme violence came together from 1939 to 1945, as a maniac only five feet seven inches tall and who couldn’t grow a full moustache claimed that the Germans were the Master Race and had the right to wipe out completely from the face of the earth one of the oldest communities on the planet, the Jews. How you eliminated the Jewish men, women, children and babies was not important, so long as they all died, every single one of them:

The conversations taped at Trent Park, therefore, are frequently way beyond incredible. How could you be a member of the human race and say things and do things such as these people did ?

First is SS Oberscharführer Fritz Swoboda:

“…there was a column of 500-600 men. They came in through the gate and went to the firing range. There, they were killed, picked up and brought away and the next six would come. At first you said, great, better than doing normal duty, but after couple of days you would have preferred normal duty. It took a toll on your nerves. Then you just gritted your teeth and you just didn’t care. There were some of us who got weak in the knees when shooting women and we had selected experienced front line soldiers. But orders were orders.”

Edwin, Graf von Rothkirch was recorded as saying:

“I was at Kutno. I wanted to take some photographs…that’s my only hobby…and I knew an SS-leader there quite well and I was talking to him when he said “Would you like to photograph a shooting?” I said “No, the very idea is repugnant to me.” “Well, it makes no difference to us. They are always shot in the morning, but if you like, we still have some and we can shoot them in the afternoon sometime. You can’t imagine how these men have become completely brutalised.”

Kammeyr, a mechanic in the Kriegsmarine said:

“Nearly all the men there were interned in large camps. I met a fellow one evening and he said “Some of them are going to be shot tomorrow. Would you like to see it?” A lorry went there every day and he said “You can come too”.

The lorry arrived and stopped. In a sort of sandpit there was a trench about twenty metres long. I didn’t know what was happening until I saw the trench. They all had to get into it and were hurried into it with blows from rifle-buts and lined up face to face; the feldwebel had a tommy-gun. There were five of them, they shot them one after the other. Most of them fell like that with their eyeballs turned up. There was a woman among them. I saw that. It was in Libau.”

Luftwaffe Lieutenant–Colonel von Müller-Rienzburg said :

“The SS issued an invitation to go and shoot Jews. All the troops went along with rifles and shot them up. Each man could pick the one he wanted.”

First Sergeant von Bassus, rather incredulous,  asked :

“You mean to say that it was sent out like an invitation to a hunt?”

And von Müller-Rienzburg replied: “Yes.”

Lieutenant-Colonel August von der Heydte also reported in hearsay, second hand fashion, that executions resembled hunts.

Lieutenant–Colonel von der Heydte recounted how:

The SS-Führer Böselager was having dinner and after dinner he said: “Now we’ll go and have a look at..(place of execution).     They drove out in a car and shotguns were lying about, ordinary ones, and thirty Polish Jews were standing there. Each guest was given a gun; the Jews were driven past and every one was allowed to take a pot shot at a Jew. Subsequently they were given the coup de grâce.”And finally, Luftwaffe First Lieutenant Fried: “I was at Radom and an SS captain said : Would you like to come along for half an hour? Get a tommy gun and let’s go.. I had an hour to spare so I went, We went to a kind of barracks and slaughtered 1,500 Jews.  There were some twenty men with tommy guns. It only took a second and nobody thought anything of it.”:

Although the types of appalling behaviour that Neitzel and Welzer have detailed in their book “Soldaten” have happened with disgraceful frequency, it would be wrong to think that the problem is an insoluble one.

Firstly, before young people are even old enough to consider the armed forces they should be made abundantly aware in their schools that racism is completely unacceptable. Outside the schools, the concept of free speech must not be applied to permit race hate. Punishments should involve custodial sentences, if only a few days. They should not include fines.

In the Armed Forces, old, experienced combat veterans should explain to new recruits what combat is like, what emotions you can expect to feel and what is unacceptable behaviour. War crimes should not be tolerated and the guilty parties should always serve time in prison, with minimum sentences the norm.

Hopefully, this would avoid a situation where civilians are just as frightened to see the arrival of the British, the Americans and the French as they would be with the arrival of any number of less disciplined armed forces.

 

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“A long forgotten war, wasted young lives” (7)

It’s a long time since Post No 6 in this series about the futility of the Boer War, but I would like to finish off with what is perhaps the saddest and most poignant tale of them all. The Second Boer War (1899 – 1902) was fought between the British Empire and the two independent Boer (Dutch) states, the Republic of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, over the British Empire’s influence in South Africa.

The catalyst for the war was the discovery of diamonds and gold in the Boer states:

Richard Truman Fitzhugh was born on June 8th 1873. He was educated first at Shrewsbury Grammar School and then at Nottingham High School. There are at least four boys visible in this picture of the School, taken from a spot near what was then the old Caretaker’s House:

Richard arrived at the High School on May 4th 1891, with the sole intention of passing the examination needed to enter university and to become a doctor.  His success was duly recorded in the School List :

“London Matriculation Examination, First Division, June 1891”

Having accomplished exactly what he had come for, Richard left at the end of the school  year, in July 1891.

Richard was particularly talented and popular, but sadly he became a totally innocent victim of a greedy overseas war, started by men eager for gold and diamonds:

“It is with deep regret that we record the death of Dr Richard Truman FitzHugh, the only son of Mr Richard Fitzhugh, JP, of Clumber Crescent, The Park, Nottingham. His death occurred on June 15th, 1900 as the result of enteric fever (typhoid), at the Imperial Yeomanry Base Hospital at Deelfontein, South Africa.”

Richard was only 27 years old.

The first intimation of his illness had reached Nottingham at the end of May. In his letter, Richard mentioned that he was suffering from shivering fits.

Then a telegram arrived in Nottingham saying that Richard was seriously ill.

On Friday, June 15th, another telegram arrived, with the first indication of anything life-threatening:

“Regret to inform you that your son, Richard, is dangerously ill with enteric fever”.

Two days of anxious suspense followed, then a third telegram arrived:

“Deeply regret to inform you of the death of your son, Richard, from enteric fever, an irreparable loss to this hospital, he having endeared himself to all.”

Richard had gone straight from Nottingham High School to Guy’s Hospital for his medical training. He passed important examinations in 1892 and in 1895. He became a Member of the Royal College of Surgeons, a Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians and then a Bachelor of Medicine in 1898. Here is a ward in the hospital with what may be an oxygen tent in the rear right corner:

Richard worked as Assistant House-Surgeon and House Physician as well as Obstetric Resident, Clinical and Gynaecological Assistant, and Dresser in the eye wards. Here’s one of the operating theatres:

His obituary came from his colleagues:

”He was a man of culture and ability, held in high regard by his associates at Guy’s, not only because of his medical skill, but because of the part he played in its social life. He was a fine sportsman and soon took a prominent place in athletics. He was a leading cricketer and helped to win the cup in 1892. He was best of all at Association Football. Indeed, Richard was one of the best players of recent years, and won the cup in 1894, besides captaining the team from 1894-1896.

He was Assistant Secretary of the Student’s Club, President of the Residents, and foremost among the singers at Christmas.

Richard was a man with a keen sense of humour and the most popular performer at the smoking concerts which cheered us up so well. One of his songs was so admired that, however many others he sang, he could never leave the piano until he had sung that favourite one.

Behind his good humour and cheeriness, though, there was a solid character, and an honest straight forwardness that made us all trust and admire him. An old friend wrote:

“There was nobody I worked with at Guy’s for whose character I had greater respect, or whose society gave me greater pleasure.

He was a sterling gentleman and there is some consolation that he died amongst his friends, and that everything was done for him.”

The news of “the termination of such a promising career by a malignant disease which is causing more deaths than the enemy, has evoked enormous sympathy for his family.”

Mr Fripp was the Senior Surgeon at the Imperial Yeomanry Base Hospital at Deelfontein:

He wrote:

“Everybody felt they had lost a friend. He was popular with his colleagues and the nursing sisters, the NCOs and the orderlies, and also with the patients. It seemed he would attain a very high place in his profession, but he also had many characteristics which endeared him to everyone.

Poor “Fitz” will never be forgotten. There “was an enormous congregation at his funeral. All ranks of the hospital were represented. They formed a long procession to the cemetery. The coffin was carried by orderlies, and some of his fellow Guy’s men acted as pall-bearers.

I doubt if the cost of war was ever brought home to us as fully as when we heard of poor FitzHugh’ s death. None of us even knew he was ill.”

Dr Fitzhugh’s death is commemorated on the Nottingham Boer War Memorial in the Forest Recreation Ground. It used to stand in Queen Street in the city centre but was moved in 1927. No war memorials last for ever. Sadly, after a certain period of time, they have to be relocated elsewhere to make room for the new war memorial.

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The Carvings in the Tower (3)

Last time, we met Richard Milnes who left the High School on the last day of the Summer Term, July 30th 1940. Further south, the Battle of Britain was about to reach its peak.

Neither he, nor his friends, when they carved their names and their message on a stone window sill  in the High School Tower would have known how the war would turn out.

The Germans were certainly well ahead so far. And to add to England’s troubles, the American President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt chose this day to give his firm promise that he would never ever send “our boys” to war.

I don’t know if it was a desire to leave something defiant that could not easily be wiped away, but Richard and his friends climbed up into the School Tower, the one that dominates the skyline of the city, and carved their names and their message on a stone window sill. It is still there today:

“The following were members

of the anti-parachutist squad

May 20-21, 1940 (being first to do so)

RA Palmer, JS Gibson, DJ Furley,

RM Gunther, RB Holroyd,

RV Milnes, R Mellor, JMT Saunders”.

JS Gibson worked in the Preparatory School from September 1938. He left in November 1941 and served, it is believed, in RAF ground crew, although these particular men are members of the RAAF:

By 1943, nine of the 32 members of staff had gone off to fight for their country. They were CH Beeby, AR Davis, JS Gibson, F Greener, WD Gregg, JS Hunter, KC Lewis, AR Pears and AW Thomas. All of them survived as far as I know. Mr Gibson left the RAF in 1945 but did not return to the High School.

Another member of the anti-parachutist squad, Robert Bernard Holroyd, lived at 4 Bonington Road in Mapperley:

Robert came to the High School on September 20th 1934 as Boy No 5844 and he left on February 11th 1941. He had passed his School Certificate in 1939.

In the OTC and the JTC he reached the rank of sergeant and passed his Certificate ‘A’. The latter attested the holder’s abilities in battle drill, command, including drill commands, drill, map reading, range work requiring a minimum score with .22 rifle and weapon training. The holder was considered “eligible for consideration for a commission” in the Territorial Army. In the first few months of the conflict, many holders of Certificate ‘A’ were also considered eminently capable of teaching conscripts how to march, salute, shoulder arms and so on:

Robert also attended the Air Cadets and became a Lance Corporal, a Corporal and then a Sergeant by 1940. In sport, he won his First XV Colours and was Captain of Rugby in 1940-1941:

He was “An enthusiastic  footballer whose keenness is an example. An accomplished hooker. Defence sound.”

At the School Sports Day in 1940, he was the “Victor Ludorum”, the best all round athlete. He was a good, enthusiastic rower and was awarded his “Blazer for Rowing”.

During the war, he became a Signalman in the Royal Corps of Signals. Let’s hope that he never exhibited the same levels of criminality as Reginald Lawson, the clergyman’s son, punished in 1911 for “signalling words of an indecent nature by semaphore”.

On May 23rd 1942, that Certificate ‘A’ paid off when Robert Bernard Holroyd was made a Second Lieutenant. He stayed in the forces after the war, because on May 3rd 1952 what had been an emergency commission as a Lieutenant was firmed up to a real commission. I have found out no more than that, and Lieutenant Holroyd can now walk off into history. Let’s hope he was happy and lived to be a hundred!

 

 

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (5)

Last time, we were looking at “Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer:

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The book relates how German prisoners of war were listened to by German speaking operators, usually Jews, who wrote down the horrific tales they told. Here are some Wehrmacht prisoners, crossing one of the Great Lakes on their way to a Prisoner of War camp:

And here is one of those listeners, back in England:

Towards the end of their book, “Soldaten”, Neitzel and Welzer provide a brief summary of what they have discovered:

“A lot of what appears horrible, lawless, and barbaric is part of the normal frame of reference in wartime. Stories about German cruelty don’t attract any more attention in World War II than they do in reports by US soldiers in Vietnam. Instances of cruelty rarely seem spectacular to the majority of soldiers. Such violence is instrumental in nature. It’s hardly any surprise that it occurs in war.”

To be honest, I’m not too sure that I agree with all of that. My perception is these horrific events were much more the norm with the German forces in World War Two than they were with either the British or the Americans in World War II or in other wars.

Having said that, the Germans did not carry out My Lai and the Germans were not present in the Korean War. My Dad’s friends in the RAF, not Germans, were the ones who sank two U-boats after VE-Day and, as a little boy, I remember a friend of mine telling me how his Dad, a soldier in India, Burma and Siam witnessed appalling incidents of violence, cruelty and murder in native villages, and he wasn’t in the Japanese army. He was in the British army.

During World War Two, though, the majority of the incidents of extraordinary cruelty and barbarity took place on the Eastern Front, committed by Germans on Russian victims. One of the tapes mentioned in Post No 1 was of a man whose surname was Graf. He was an ordinary Wehrmacht soldier:

“The Russian POWs had nothing to eat for three or four days, then the guard would hit one over the head and he was dead. The others set on him and cut him up and ate him as he was.”

Here are some Russian prisoners:

All of the various motivations for violence come together when the Final Solution is considered:

As far as the Final Solution is concerned, this type of violence is seen as one possibility in the list of possible social actions between communities. In this case, it was violence by more or less every German against every Jew they could find:

In Allport’s Scale, it is Stage Five of five, namely “the extermination or removal of the out-group”. Other examples include Cambodia, Rwanda and Armenia.

In the Second World War, say the authors, individuals tended to repeat their previous behaviour, especially if they had escaped punishment for it. One of the most frequent actions on the Eastern Front was the massacre of defenceless people as a reprisal for the death of a German soldier:

If people commit acts of violence and nobody is ever punished, we have “inhumanity with impunity”, which describes perfectly German behaviour in captured Poland and the Soviet Union. Killing young children was not a problem:

“Autotelic violence” is violence for its own sake, because the perpetrator finds it exciting and entertaining, whether it is the first killing or the thousandth:

Individual soldiers usually did what the group did. The group was their entire world and their standards of behaviour were considered the ones to follow.

If some of the group wanted to kill Jews and then throw them into a ditch, it soon became acceptable behaviour. So did the mechanised slaughter of the death camps :

One other, final, factor helping to trigger off the violence by the Germans in the Second World War was their desire for revenge after defeat in 1918. In German thinking, their defeat came about not because the Allied armies were victorious, but because the German army was betrayed by the people back home in Germany, such as the Communists, the Socialists and the Jews. (And most of the Communists and the Socialists were Jews anyway.)

The solution was easy. Kill them all. The Communists, the Socialists, the Jews, the Gays, the Gipsies, Black People, everybody who didn’t agree with you. That’s a long road to go down. And it’s marked with a corpse every few yards:

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Classics Illustrated

In the 1950s and the 1960s, there was always a desire among middle class parents not just to encourage their children to read, but to read what people called at the time “classic books”, books which might improve you. One way of luring children to, mainly, 19th century masterpieces, was to introduce them to a very large collection of such books for sale, an act which would encourage children, hopefully, to buy more and more from the “approved” library.

When I was a child, I had a very small collection of “Olive Classics”, dark green books with a kind of faux-leather cover, and a cardboard mini-box to hold them in. I still have them all, and I was looking at them the other day. I think I read the lot, although this may be more a reflection of the small number of books I possessed than the quality of the works in question:

I bought them based on whether or not I had seen the film (The Hunchback of Notre Dame), whether I had heard of the book and thought it was a good one (Ivanhoe) and if my parents just bought it for me as a stocking filler at Christmas (South with Scott). I also had Ben-Hur (tedious and over long), Allan Quartermain (a fabulous book):

Another way to read books which would be good for you were the magazines entitled “Classics Illustrated”. These were a series of American comic books which told the stories in pictures with very few printed words, usually just a caption. I had one or two of these as well, and certainly read them all avidly. It was marvellous to see pictures bringing books to life, although, if truth be told, the standard of the artworks was very, very low. Let’s compare them with “Eagle” comic. “War of the Worlds is really quite crude, whether it is the cover:

or the inside, where there seems to have been a problem with the printing;

Here’s “Eagle”, a weekly comic:

I can remember owning relatively few Classics Illustrated. There was “White Fang” which I really enjoyed. It was a “Ripping Yarn”, well told:

And then there was “Black Arrow” which I had never heard of, found really unexciting and I couldn’t understand the plot, anyway. The two I liked best were technically not Classics Illustrated, but, in one case, a “Special Issue”. This was a one-off publication about “The Royal Canadian Mounted Police”, which I loved. I particularly liked the fact that they were originally the “North West Mounted Police”:

What a wonderful cover!  One thing I did like especially was the dog on page 54 which looks as daft as a brush:

And I also fully endorsed, at the tender age of 11, the largely wise approach of the Canadians to their own First Nation communities.

The magazine which I liked even more was one of the “Classics Illustrated World Around Us” special series which was called “The Crusades”. I was intrigued by one particular sentence which said, roughly:

“Things took a turn for the worse when, in IIII, the king decided to…..”

At the age of eight or nine, I just could not work out what “IIII” meant. It  never occurred to me that it was a date.

Overall, I wish I had had quite a few more Classics Illustrated than I did.  I would have liked to have had a chance to read “Alice in Wonderland” or “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”, or perhaps even “Gulliver’s Travels”:

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And don’t forget………….

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The Carvings in the Tower (2)

In May 1940, the senior members of the OTC (Officers Training Corps) had climbed up to the School Tower and carved their names and their message on a stone window sill. It is still there today, eighty odd years later:

Richard Milnes again had a poem published in the School Magazine in December 1936. It was entitled:

“SINGEING THE KING OF SPAIN’S BEARD”:

“The sun beat down on the Spanish fleet,

As loaded with treasures she lay;

Her sailors slept in the noonday heat,

Not a guard watched over the bay.

We wound in the cable as evening fell,

When a mist rose up from the sea.

My heart beat fast as we breasted the swell,

For all alone were we.

The night was black, not a single star,

Smiled down on the “Golden Hind.”

We could hear the billows over the bar,

And we blessed the darkness kind.

We waited, three score of British Lions,

Our cannon and pistols primed;

I heard the clatter of grappling-irons,

Then over her rail we climbed.

Then suddenly rose a warning shout

From a ship just over our lee.

We tried the swarthy Dons to rout,

But all alone were we.

Then as we fought with our backs to the mast

There came a cry from the right.

“Golden Hind !  Ahoy ! Avast !”

And we knew ‘twas the “Silver Sprite.”

Over the plank stepp’d the Dons of Spain

And her treasure lay in our hold.

There never will be such a fight again,

As was fought in those days of old.”

Given that he was only 13 years old, not a bad effort! At least it rhymes, something which few poets achieve nowadays. The following year saw Richard move into the Upper Fifth Form Classical with Mr Duddell aka “Uncle Albert”. As always for examination purposes, the 27 boys in the Form were combined with the 29 in Mr Palmer’s Upper Fifth Form Modern. Richard came 13th equal of the 56.

Here’s Mr Duddell in 1932 and 1942:

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This year Richard passed his School Certificate. In 1938-1939 he moved into the Classical Sixth Form, where Mr Gregg was his Form Master in a form of 13 students. The following year was Richard’s last in the High School. He spent it in the same Form, this time with Mr Beeby. Richard left on July 30th 1940, presumably the last day of the Summer Term. He was 17 years old and had achieved quite a lot this year. He had passed his Higher School Certificate (Classics) and in what was now called the Junior Training Corps, the JTC, he had joined the Air Cadet branch where he became a Lance-Corporal. He was awarded his much coveted “Certificate ‘A’” qualification which proved his good knowledge of military basics, and allowed him to be considered there and then as a potential officer in the part time Territorial Army. Richard also won the JTC contingent’s Musketry Prize. In the realm of sport, he won his full First XV colours in Rugby after being awarded his Second XV Colours the previous season.

This year, in Rowing, he also won his Colours and Blazer for the Second IV.

Richard then, left the High School on that last day of the Summer Term, July 30th 1940. Neither he, not his friends, could have been particularly sure about how the war would turn out and whether England would be invaded and conquered by Christmas. Still less did Richard know that he had 1,281 days left before he died in a place which, at this point, he had never heard of.

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“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (4)

In my very first blog post in this book review, I mentioned how German academic, Sönke Neitzel, had discovered that during World War II, British Intelligence had taped German prisoners of war in secret and then transcribed their conversations. This process had produced 50,000 pages of foolscap transcripts. These transcripts have in their turn inspired a four hundred page book called “Soldaten” in which Neitzel and his co-author, Harald Welzer, examine the reasons for the war crimes committed by the Germans, and indeed, by the personnel of a number of other nationalities. Here are our authors and their book:

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The bugged prisoners were kept in three locations – Latimer House near Amersham, Wilton Park near Beaconsfield, both in Buckinghamshire, and Trent Park near Cockfosters in north London. The first two held captured U-Boat submarine crews and Luftwaffe pilots, who were bugged for a week or two before being moved on to conventional captivity. Trent Park was often used for high-ranking officers of the Wehrmacht, whose own personal vanity led them to betray many secrets:

There were large numbers of pro-British German speakers, usually Jews, listening to prisoners’ conversations in a place known as the “M room”. The “M” stood for “Microphoned”. According to Helen Fry, the author of a book about this particular episode, the information pouring out of these pampered Prussians was so top secret that Churchill gave the whole operation an unlimited budget.

Last time we were looking at the reasons that men in war are capable of the most vile violence. Here are the ideas put forward by Neitzel  and Welzer so far . I have tried to include a few short clues of the examples they used:

“There is a  vast gap between what people believe about their moral standards and their actual behaviour”.  (The Good Samaritan episode at Princeton University)

“When you have reacted once in a particular way to a certain situation, you will continue to apply the very same rules.” (German soldiers killling Jews on a large scale)

“The unit was the entire world….what they thought was right, was right and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.” (Only one man refused to take part in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam)

“inhumanity with impunity…..if soldiers commit crimes, and are never punished, they will repeat their behaviour.” (German soldiers raping passing women in Kiev)

“a dynamic of violence” ……… anybody who tries to flee is automatically an enemy who should be shot.” ( A frequent attitude in Vietnam, probably because the Vietcong guerillas were difficult to identify)

One final extremely large motivation towards violence is revenge. In a film, revenge will be the simple, basic story of how a soldier is killed by the enemy, usually in particularly appalling circumstances, and, as he dies, his friend swears to avenge him. For every military revenge film, though, there are many more set in a civilian context.  This may not be the best example, but it’s certainly the most obscure:

In real life,  there were GIs in Vietnam who had re-enlisted to avenge their best buddy who had been killed in the fighting, or tortured to death, and so on. The authors have found a quote:

“I did not hate the enemy for their politics but for murdering Simpson, for executing that boy whose body had been found in the river…Revenge was one of the reasons I volunteered for a line company. I wanted a chance to kill somebody.”

In the Second World War, the situation could be slightly different. American GI, Joseph Shomon said:

“Even in hopeless situations, the Germans would fight to the last, refusing to surrender. Then, when their ammunition was gone, they were ready to give up and ask for mercy but because many Americans had been lost in this delay, our troop often killed the Germans.”

As well as revenge, of course, this shooting of surrendering Germans is a good example of a couple of other reasons for the occurrence of war crimes previously mentioned by Neitzel & Welzer. Firstly, if everybody commits acts of violence and nobody is ever punished for it, then clearly, they can:

“follow what they had already done”.

And secondly:

“what (the unit) thought was right, was right and what (the unit) thought was wrong, was wrong.”

Sometimes soldiers in the two World Wars were actually ordered not to take any prisoners. The latter were then very much more likely to be executed than to be taken back to base. In the Second World War, the German military were ordered by the Führer to hand over immediately to the Sicherheitsdienst (SD, or Security Service) all British Commandos, SAS, SOE and any other type of “irregular” soldier. This was the famous “Kommandobefehl” which you can read about here.

In actual fact, my own Grandad was placed in a similar position on at least one occasion during the First World War. It must have been on the anniversary of the execution of Edith Cavell on ‎October 12th 1915 that he and his colleagues in the Canadian army were told to take no prisoners during that day’s attack. Whether my Grandad carried out the order, I have no idea.

My own perception, though, is that rather than refuse to take prisoners in the usual way, and instead to kill them, it was far more frequent in World War One, to try and spare the lives of the men who had been ordered to attack but who were now in a situation which could only have one outcome. Harry Patch, for example,who at 111 years of age was “the Last Fighting Tommy”, has spoken of how he refused to kill a German soldier:

“Patch came face to face with a German soldier. He recalled the story of Moses descending from Mount Sinai with God’s Ten Commandments, including “Thou shalt not kill” and he could not bring himself to kill the German. Instead, he shot him in the shoulder, which made the soldier drop his rifle. However, he had to carry on running towards his Lewis Gun, so to proceed, he shot him above the knee and in the ankle.”

My Grandad was wounded in the legs on two occasions, so perhaps the Germans did the same kind of thing.

We have a long, bloody way to go with “Soldaten” yet, so let’s finish with some wise words from Harry Patch, the last British soldier of World War One, who lived to become a pacifist:

When the war ended, I don’t know if I was more relieved that we’d won or that I didn’t have to go back. Passchendaele was a disastrous battle—thousands and thousands of young lives were lost. It makes me angry. Earlier this year, I went back to Ypres to shake the hand of Charles Kuentz, Germany’s only surviving veteran from the war. It was emotional. He is 107. We’ve had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it’s a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that ? “

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Roy Cross, the world’s greatest artist

As a small boy of nine or ten, I was very keen on Airfix plastic kits. They came originally in see-through plastic bags with a folded piece of paper stapled over the open end of the bag. The instructions for making the kit were inside the folded paper.

The smallest Series 1 kits were one shilling and threepence, or perhaps one shilling and sixpence. Series Two were three shillings and Series Three were four shillings and sixpence. Series Four cost six shillings and Series Five seven shillings and sixpence. Series Six, of which for many years there was only one, the Short Sunderland, was twelve shillings and sixpence. At this time I used to get around two or three shillings pocket money per week. As life grew more sophisticated, Airfix decided to put most of their kits into boxes and to decorate them with illustrations of that particular aircraft in action. The absolute toppermost of the poppermost of the Airfix artists was a man called Roy Cross (born 1924). Let’s take a look at his talents as an artist.

After initially helping illustrate Eagle comic  Roy moved to Airfix in 1964 and started his career with the Dornier Do 217. Here is the box art:

Notice how he makes the Dornier’s opponents the Polish Air Force, something out of the ordinary. Below is the original drawing. Both illustrations featured on an auction website, where Roy’s first ever aircraft sketch was on sale for £790.

Let’s take a look at some more of Roy’s best work. Here’s a Series 1 Spitfire, with the plastic bag still in place and the model unmade.

Series 2 included the de Havilland Mosquito, the Fairey Battle and the Bristol Blenheim. This one is flown by the Free French Air Force. Roy’s work never seems to drop in standard:

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A Series 3 kit might have been the Junkers Ju-88 and Heinkel III. A bigger box allowed him to make his pictures more and more complex. Notice again how he makes the Heinkel’s opponents somebody out of the ordinary, in this case the Soviet Red Air Force:

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In Series 4 was the Vickers Wellington:

The mighty Avro Lancaster was in Series 5, as was the B-17 Flying Fortress. Notice how the very large box has enabled him to portray accurately the huge wingspan of both aircraft:

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Here’s the Short Sunderland:

The Boeing B-29 Superfortress was of such a size that it probably was in Series 29. This box is big enough to portray a defensive “box” of B-29s, and a Japanese fighter:

I was not very good at making the kits, as I would be the first to confess. With biplanes such as the Roland Walfisch of World War I or the Handley Page HP 42, the 1930s airliner, I was hopeless at gluing the top wing to the bottom one and soon there were gluey fingerprints all over the place:

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Quite a rare kit in my experience was the de Havilland DH.88 which won the race from England to Australia in 1934 with an official time of 70 hours 54 minutes 18 seconds. The raw plastic for it was bright red. I am not wholly sure if Roy Cross did this artwork. The kit may have appeared pre-1964:

There are some kits that I would like to have made but never did.  There was the Mitsubishi “Dinah” which was reckoned to be the most aerodynamically perfect aircraft of World War II. This is one of Roy’s very best pieces of work in my opinion:

The Spitfires defending Darwin in the Northern Territory of Australia certainly couldn’t catch the Dinahs that flew high above them day after day.

The second kit I yearned for was the Angel Interceptor used in the TV series “Captain Scarlet”. That too, was a fairly rare kit during my modelling years:

I can’t bring this post to an end without showing you the last few masterpieces by Roy Cross. They are the B-25 Mitchell, with a choice of either a glazed or a solid nose:

Here’s the Aichi “Val”, looking for all the world like a Stuka that’s put on a lot of weight:

The Westland Whirlwind was a very advanced concept for 1938. It was one of the fastest combat aircraft in the world and with four Hispano-Suiza HS.404 20 mm autocannon in its nose, the most heavily armed. Prolonged problems with the Peregrine engines delayed everything and few Whirlwinds were built……only 116 in actual fact:

And let’s not forget the Blohm und Voss Bv 141 reconnaissance aircraft, one of the few aeroplanes ever to have had an asymmetrical structure. And yes, it flew very well, but was never produced in numbers because of the shortage of the engines of choice.

One last detail I found out about Roy Cross. He was apparently highly amused by the modern practice of taking his artwork, but photoshopping out any explosions and burning aircraft in case they upset anybody and reminded them what most of these aircraft were designed to do.

If you want to see more of Roy Cross’ art, then, please, use google images to sort out some pictures of other aircraft whose boxes he decorated. Roy may not be a famous artist, but his images of planes are irrevocably etched for ever in the memories of so many men of my age.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, Humour, military, Pacific Theatre, Personal, the Japanese

The Carvings in the Tower (1)

Nottingham High School has a very obvious high and splendidly Gothic tower, complete with a tiny turret. It totally dominates the skyline of the city. The tower was even mentioned by DH Lawrence in his first novel, “The White Peacock” as “the square tower of my old school.” A brand new flagpole was erected on the top to celebrate the Jubilee of Queen Victoria on Tuesday, June 21st 1887.

This tower has always been accessible to the boys, one way or another. For years, it played host to the deliberations of the School Prefects, and the beatings they inflicted. In May 1940, with England expecting to be invaded at any moment, the senior members of the OTC (Officers Training Corps) climbed up there and carved their names and their message to the future on a stone window sill. They are still there today, eighty odd years later:

“The following were members of the anti-parachutist squad May 20-21,1940 (being first to do so) RA Palmer, JS Gibson, DJ Furley, RM Gunther, RB Holroyd, RV Milnes, R Mellor, JMT Saunders”.

But who were these young men, and what happened to them during their lives? After all, they must are all be dead today. But, sadly, not every one of them even made it through to the end of the war.

Richard Vernon Milnes was born on March 29th 1923. His father, William Vernon Milnes, died when Richard was quite young. His wife, Florence Annie Milnes became the bread winner, working as a school teacher, one occupation which was more open to women than most at this time. The family were living at 8 Langar Close, in the triangle between Mansfield Road and Valley Road:

Richard entered the High School on September 20th 1934 as Boy No 5855. He was only eleven years of age and he was a Sir Thomas White Entrance Scholar. He went into Cooper’s House and Third Form A with Mr Gregg as his Form Master. There were 29 boys in the Form and Richard finished the year in second position.

Richard then moved into the Upper Fourth Form A with Mr Bridge.Here he is, in the darker blazer, looking fairly angry, as he often did:

(back row)  “Beaky” Bridge, “Wappy” Parsons, Reg Simpson, the future Test cricketer,  Arthur Mellows, the future paratrooper, killed in “Operation Plunder”, the crossing of the Rhine into Germany, 1945. (front row) Bruce “Farmer” Richardson, killed while defending the perimeter of Dunkirk so others could get onto the boats, 1940. John Louis Pilsworth, Prefect, and Eric James Dickenson, Captain of Cricket and of Rugby.

There were 29 in the Upper Fourth Form A and Richard was one of the four boys who were “not placed” in the end of the year examinations, absent, I would presume, for reasons of illness. Only six boys joined the Officers Training Corps that year but Richard was not one of them. During this year Richard wrote a poem which was published in the School Magazine. It was entitled “Winter”, and it was a lovely little poem for a boy of thirteen:

Winter

The wind goes whistling round the eaves,

Scattering far and wide the leaves.

The leafless oak-tree creaks and heaves.

Winter is here.

Clammy fog is swirling drearily,

Ghostly buildings looking eerily,

Cars are crawling, hooting, wearily.

Winter is here.

The snow is falling, smooth and white,

Covering the earth with a canopy bright,

Luminous in the pale moonlight.

Yes, winter is here.

During the following year of 1936-1937, Richard was with “Fishy” Roche in Lower Fifth Form A. The Form contained 31 boys of whom sixteen, including now Richard, were in the Officers Training Corps.

More about Richard next time.

 

 

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Filed under cricket, History, military, Nottingham, The High School, Writing

“Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer (3)

Last time, I continued with my review of “Soldaten” by Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer. The authors were illustrating the idea that:

“The only thing that counted was how people thought of you in the here and now…the unit was the entire world…what they thought was right, was right and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.”

They used the My Lai massacre of 1968 as their example of how group behaviour can turn apparently decent young men into madmen and war criminals :

A subsequent chapter makes reference to the violence of our own time, 2010 to be precise. It discusses a movie which was released onto WikiLeaks. The film shows the indiscriminate killing of more than a dozen people in the Iraqi suburb of New Baghdad. These victims of violence included two Reuters news staff.

The whole sorry tale is told by Wikipedia on this page here. You can view the video on this page here.  There is a shorter version of some 18 minutes and the full version at around 40 minutes.

According to WikiLeaks:

“The video, shot from an Apache helicopter gun-sight, clearly shows the unprovoked slaying of a wounded Reuters employee and his rescuers. Two young children involved in the rescue were also seriously wounded.”

I found three stills to look at, although the content is such that I have decided that I could not not display them. The first was entitled:

“The men try to cover as the first rounds of shots hit them from the Apache helicopter” :

The second still shows how “one man falls to the ground”:

And the third still shows how “Namir Noor-Eldeen runs for his life. ”

I really would recommend that you follow the link and watch the film, perhaps the shorter version. Alternatively, the Wikipedia page does have one or two stills to look at.

This film does not show an incident in the fog of war, as the full version lasts around forty minutes. The footage concerns a number of Iraqi men, including some who were armed and who were standing where insurgents earlier that day had shot at an American vehicle. Among the group were two Iraqi reporters working for Reuters.

The group of American military personnel  seem so quickly to transform events into some kind of appalling video game. Their opinion of events is exactly the same as that witnessed by Michael Bernhardt at My Lai. It was that same idea, namely that with groups of soldiers in war:

“What they thought was right, was right, and what they thought was wrong, was wrong.”

So, everybody in the group in Iraq is OK with “it’s a guy with a weapon”

which becomes firstly:

“I have individuals with weapons”

and then “he’s got an RPG.”  (Rocket Propelled Grenade)

and then “Yeah we had a guy shoot”

at 02.49 “Let’s shoot”

at 02.50 “Light ‘em all up”,

at 02.52, “Come on, fire”

at 02.57, “Keep shooting, keep shooting”

at 02.59, “Keep shooting”

at 03.02, “Keep shooting”

at 03.10, “All right, we just engaged all eight individuals”

at 03.23 “All right, hahaha, I shot ‘em”.

That was topped off at 04.31 with “oh yeah, look at those dead bastards”.

At 04.36 and 04.44 it was “Nice….”

At 04.47 it was“ Good shot”

And at 04.48 with “Thank you”.

The last still shows how “The helicopter pilot inspects the pile of dead bodies. ”

These men see the world with their own group vision. Observations and comments which have only been made once and by just one person are soon confirmed by the entire group, and indeed are quickly developed by other people within the group. Thus a single weapon soon becomes a number of individuals with weapons. A number of individuals with weapons are soon transformed into a Rocket Propelled Grenade. And then an individual, is seen to shoot. This imaginary event gives the group the justification they crave to open fire. And then they can kill what were, in actual fact, merely passers-by. Now though, they have become combattants.

Neitzel and Welzer call this phenomenon “a dynamic of violence” or “group thinking”. At the end:

“everything is crystal clear. the targets are dead, order has been restored, the delivery truck was an enemy vehicle, the would be rescuers in it were further terrorists”

More specifically, the authors explain how:

“The behaviour of those defined as “enemies” confirms the truth of that designation.”

The only characteristic of “target persons” that counts is that they pose a threat. Any indication to that effect provides sufficient reason to kill.

So, by that thinking, babies may carry hand grenades, children can be partisans and women can be insurgents.

This had already been put forward by Berndt Greitel, writing about the Vietnam conflict who said:

“Anybody who tried to flee was automatically an enemy who should be shot.”

The attempt to escape merely confirmed the group’s suspicions that an individual was a Vietcong.

Taken to its extreme, we finish up with the much repeated idea that “Whoever we said was a Vietcong was a Vietcong.”

But not everybody could have been a combattant. The US 9th Infantry Division killed a total of 10,899 people, but only found 748 weapons during their searches.

And even those figures may be suspect as some GIs apparently placed Soviet weapons in villages so that they could come back to find them on a later occasion.

Next time, the tapes made by the Germans at Trent Park, and, believe it or not, a genuine RAF joke. Well, the first half of it, at least.

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, Criminology, History, Politics