Monthly Archives: November 2021

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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