Monthly Archives: January 2023

Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (6)

About a year ago I bought a collection of more than 12,000 photographs of World War Two. Most of them were not British or American but were either Russian or German. I would like to share some of them with you because a number of these photographs have great merits as photographs, as well as capturing a split second in history. None of them have a caption, so I have tried to work out what might be going on.

Today, I’m going to look at the return of the Russian civilian population to their homes.

Some came home on foot, walking, perhaps, hundreds of miles, many of them barefoot:

 

Many pulled handcarts:

And others pushed handcarts, although, if you look carefully, occasional individuals travelled in style, even if they looked slightly startled:

The Red Army travelled in top quality, luxury cattle trucks. The large slogan means “We (are) from Berlin”. The present tense of the verb “to be” does not exist in Russian. The word “Berlin” is decipherable, however.

I think that this is an ex-soldier who has been demobbed recently, and he is having a look round Berlin before he makes his way home. That huge statue used to stand in front of the city palace above the River Spree, and commemorated Kaiser Wilhelm I. It’s clearly a place where soldiers would hang out, and that is one of the reasons that I think that this well dressed young lady, who is not walking but just standing there, is actually a prostitute:

Some areas were still very dangerous and a Red Army escort was sometimes necessary to get home. Notice how the lady is carrying the family icon. Christianity saw a big revival during the war as it provided somebody to pray to who had a lot more credibility than Uncle Joe Stalin:

Here are two young women meeting in a shattered, desolate city, possibly Stalingrad. One has just been to do the shopping and the other one has just got off the train with her suitcase. There are still fires burning and some buildings still have the dark marks of a recent fire.

As the liberating armies come ever closer, the first jeeps arrive, to be greeted by delirious crowds. Except that that isn’t happening here. Some of the people actually look really quite aggressive. Are they Poles, assembled in the streets to shout “Welcome to the Red Army” or perhaps “Soviets, stay as long as you like”?

If there’s going to be a harvest, somebody needs to start ploughing at some point. I saw horses used widely in Polish fields as late as 1969:

If the horse isn’t up to it, see if the family can help you out:

And if all goes well, you will get your just deserts:

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Filed under History, military, Russia

Why I am what I am (3)

 

I have always had a soft spot for the RAF because Fred was in the RAF and he talked about it a lot.

I have alway been fascinated by aircraft because Fred liked aircraft, ever since one of Sir Alan Cobham’s finest landed in Startin’s Field at the back of his house.

Fred always admired the Spitfire as the aircraft that saved England……

And he always said that the Wellington was “a reliable old crate”……

But he always reserved his most emotional words for the Avro Lancaster. “It would always get you back home, no matter what”, which wasn’t strictly 100% true, but it gave him sufficient faith to get into the aircraft in the first place……

 

I have always tried to do my duty and to carry out all of my obligations. This is probably connected with Fred’s belief that there were two types of men in the world. One kind was the fighter pilot who was mercurial and brilliant, but occasionally capable of great inconsistency.

In contrast, the bomber pilot was always dependable like some kind of stolid, courageous bus driver, who could always be relied on to deliver the goods, in considerable quantity, to the right place at the right time.

When I was young, I as always very upset when I was told  that I was the bomber pilot type. I always felt that Fred was saying that I lacked flair and imagination, that I was boring and that I was incapable of the type of success which is spectacular and excites people. Only in later years did I realise how from Fred’s point of view the bomber pilot was exactly what you needed. As one author has put it, the relationship between the bomber pilot and the wireless operator was that “his fate was my fate”. At least nineteen times, therefore, Fred entrusted his very life to a bomber pilot, and then had this faith rewarded by not becoming one of the 55,573 Bomber Command casualties…..

As a negative, I have always been partial to a drink, because Fred always used to have a drink when he wanted to. With his PTSD, though, he had a much better excuse than me.

Another negative related to this is my own great anxiety in the face of any future event or, especially, a journey to somewhere unfamiliar. Fred had exactly the same problems. In his case, I suspect that he still had that old fear of getting into his bomber and facing the possibility of an imminent and violent death.

I always felt great anxiety about being sacked from my job because Fred  always had the exact same fear. That was because he worked for a clay mining company before the war, and they did not hesitate to sack people. “One strike, and you’re out!” as you might say. Here’s Fred at Ensor’s, with the rest of the workforce. It’s around 1937…..

I have very little self-confidence because Fred was always very keen that I should never stand out from the common herd. He therefore prevented me from getting big headed by criticising whatever I did and at best giving it minimal praise. He would say “Never stand out. Never be different” because that was what the upper echelons of the RAF hierarchy wanted to happen. Unfortunately, to succeed, you need to stand out, and you will have to be different to do that.

Fred always used to watch out for me coming home if ever I was late. He would lean over the front gate as if by accident or coincidence. I absolutely hated it, and I could cheerfully have shot him. I hated the idea of being controlled. Now I have my own daughter, and although my methods have always been, I hope, a little bit more subtle, I have always done pretty much the same thing. Still, worrying about your child is better than just not bothering where they get to.

When I was a little boy, Fred took me to a local medieval church where I could see where Robin Hood used to sharpen the tips of his arrows on the stones of the back wall. I now live in Sherwood in Nottingham. Less than half a mile away is an ancient ford over a stream. This site has been seriously suggested in at least one book as the location of Robin Hood’s camp.

The local medieval church was St Michael with St Mary’s in Melbourne, Derbyshire. ……….

Some of the grooves for Robin Hood and his Merry Men’s arrowheads are visible in the bottom right of the picture. The church is Norman as is shown by the shape of the arch and the many concentric rings of decoration around the top of the door……..

The columns are stout and broad, just like Durham Cathedral, and the arches similarly rounded, not pointed. Notice the Australian flag which commemorates the links between Melbourne in England and Melbourne in Australia……

And finslly, as I slowly but surely morph into my own father, I have started telling the same old stories over and over again, just like Fred did.

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Filed under Aviation, Bomber Command, History, my Dad, My House, Nottingham, Personal

Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (5)

About a year ago I bought a DVD with more than 12,000  images of World War Two . Most of them were either Russian or German.

This first photograph shows a little Russian boy who appeared in one of the previous photographs in the Blog Post “Photographs of the Eastern Front in World War Two (4)”. Both he and his grandad stand in the smoking ruins of their house, and of their village. We can only guess at the circumstances. Personally, given the fact that the two individuals do not look particularly shocked or desolate, I think that the Germans have set fire to their village as they retreat back to Germany with the Red Army keenly pursuing them.

In this winter scene, Grandad and grandson are planning the future, perhaps where they will live, or where they hope a neighbour will help them rebuild their house and so on. Grandad is carrying his cane, but what’s that in his left hand? Incidentally, after much careful examination with Blog Post No 4, I do not think these two are the same individuals featured there, although, of course, you may not agree.

With victory in sight, though, and the tide of war now relatively far away, the refugees gradually came back. Here’s Granny, with her two daughters and five, perhaps six children. Everybody is barefoot, but they’re going home, so walking’s easy. And the two fathers? Well, they could have been starved to death in a POW camp, or worked to death as slave labourers in Poland or even in the Channel Islands.

This careful close up excludes any adults and focusses on the children with two brothers making manful efforts to carry as much as they could on a handcart. The baby sleeps the sleep of the innocent little child. Notice how she may well be strapped in for safety.  We will never know if the family’s house was still there when they arrived. In Byelorussia alone, up to 1500 villages were razed to the ground.

As the conquering hero returns, it’s the village kids who spot him first. He has a smile wide enough to indicate that he has already asked somebody whether his family is still alive. Under the German occupation, nobody was safe.

If I were going to give this photograph a title, it would be “The Love of a Mother”. Ordinary young soldiers walked back home, starting as a group which lost a member or two as they passed by each village. These were villages where the inhabitants would not have known whether a particular young serviceman was alive or dead. Yuri Gagarin’s two brothers performed slave labour in Poland, escaped and the Red Army conscripted them. The rest of the family thought both of them were dead, and Yuri became seriously ill with “grief and hunger”. They got back home in late 1945:

And still the refugees stream westwards to their homes. These bring two cows with them and a sturdy cart with substantial wheels. There are eight people, with, for me, two grannies, two mothers, two boys and a young woman. They all have boots and one boy has a Red Army infantryman’s cap. Did they find their house even vaguely intact? And what about at least two husbands?

Even more so, what about the bear who appears to be asleep on the back of the cart? Or have I got to take more water with it?

Most stories in Russia, though, had a sad ending. A house smashed to pieces by a German tank, because the crew wanted to use it as a hiding place. A woman with perhaps five mouths to feed and no husband in sight. It’s enough to make even  tough little Russian lads burst into tears. But don’t worry. Everything will be made good within a few years.

Indeed, things did get better ! So smile and enjoy being alive, enjoy sitting in the summer sunshine of 1945. As many as 20 million Russians were not able to say that.

 

As far as the present war in the Ukraine is concerned, I would expect the Russians to remember the destruction wrought on so many towns, cities and villages of the old Soviet Union, and to begin face-to-face discussions before resorting to the senseless violence they have evidenced so far. But, as we know in the West, hardly any people who witnessed the Second World War are still alive, and that must have been enough for a glory seeking politician to forget the ways of peace and to take up the pointless violence of the invader.

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Filed under History, military, Politics, Russia, war crimes

Why I am what I am (2)

Last time I mentioned a number of things that linked me to my Dad insofar as interests, hobbies and sports were concerned. I soon discovered that that was really only the beginning of the story.

I rather think that I studied Russian because Fred used to speak so frequently of the Russians during the Second World War. In the bookcase at his parents’ house, he had a pamphlet borrowed from an RAF library. It was entitled “Our Soviet Friends”, and it had pictures of the dam at Dnepropetrovsk:

He told me how, in the RAF, anybody wth knowledge of Russian could name their own price for helping to liaise with our new surprise allies, once the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. Towards the end of the war, Lancasters, on rare occasions, used to bomb the Germans and then carry on to Russia to land. When they came back they brought more bombs and often, one or two souvenirs.  On one occasion, my Dad had had a drink from a flask of coffee made up for the aircraft’s crew in Leningrad. I had to satisfy myself with my early attempts to learn the language, with the woman of my dreams…..

I may like French because, in 1940, Fred had wanted Britain and France to merge into one country just like Churchill had said. Fred was a keen European and, like Churchill,  he wanted a “United States of Europe”. As members of Bomber Command he told me, though, that the French could often be difficult to work with. Here is a Bristol Blenheim of the Free French Air Force in North Africa…..

I have always had great regard for the Poles because Fred said they were great blokes, and that he had joined up so that Poland could be freed from the invading Germans. A few years ago, I was in hospital for a operation, and there was a Polish van driver there that nobody would talk to because he was Polish. Except me, and if Fred had been there, he would have spoken to him, too. Racism can be amazingly petty.

I try to like poetry, because I know that Fred had claimed so often that poetry was an integral part of his life. He liked to read peoms out loud to his classes at school, his favourite being “Flannan Isle”.

I did a series of five blog posts about the mystery of Flannan Isle, as portrayed in the poem, and the first one is here. The rest can be found by merely searching for  “Flannan”. And when you’ve done that, don’t forget to watch this film with its own, made-up, explanation of the three men’s disappearance….

I’m sure that I became a teacher because Fred was a teacher and I felt that a teacher was a good thing to be. In the mid-1970s, the money was excellent and I didn’t automatically have to live in London.

I always worked hard as a teacher because Fred told me that at the end of each day, you should always ask yourself the question, “Were you just given your wages, or have you earned them ?”

I worked all my life at the High School, 38 years, because when he took me there for a job interview in 1975, I could see that Fred was enormously impressed by the school. To him, and to me, it looked like something out of a film, such as, perhaps, the old version of “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”…….

In actual fact, after his death, I found that, when he was a boy in the 1930s, Fred’s Uncle George  had bought him a present, the book of the film “Tom Brown’s Schooldays”.  They didn’t shoot this film at The High School, but if they had wished to, it would have been entirely appropriate from the architectural point of view….

Fred read a lot about the Second World War, and one of his favourite books was a German doctor’s story of Operation Barbarossa, a book called “Moscow Tram Stop”. The High School has its own tram stop, called “High School”. That fact has always reassured me that I had made the right decision to work there for so long.

 

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Filed under Film & TV, History, Literature, military, my Dad, Nottingham, Personal, Russia, Wildlife and Nature

Phonetic Alphabets (2)

Last time we looked at a number of phonetic alphabets. There was the British Army in 1904, the  British Post Office in 1914 , the  Royal Navy in 1917 and the  Western Union in 1918. Then came the good sense of the US Army and the US Navy in 1941 to have the same alphabet (for both) in contrast with the four different alphabets used by the RAF in different periods of World War II.

But what about the foreigners?

Here’s the Luftwaffe alphabet  in 1940. The very same one was used by the Wehrmacht, the German army:

Anton, Ärger, Bertha, Cäsar, Charlotte, Dora, Emil, Friedrich, Gustav, Heinrich, Ida, Julius, Konrad,

Ludwig, Martha, Nordpol, Otto, Ödipus, Paula, Quelle, Richard, Siegfried, Schule, Theodor, Ulrich, Viktor,

Wilhelm, Xanthippe, Ypsilon, Zeppilon

It is obviously different from the Allies’ alphabet, being based on names, but that must surely have made it quite easy to learn. Incidentally, “Ärger” and “Ödipus” were used for any words which contained either ” ä ” or ” ö “. Notice too how they have a code word for Ä and Ö. There is also a quick way of doing ‘c’ and ‘ch’ with Cäsar and China along with ‘s’ and ‘sch’ with Siegfried and Schule.

The most frequent marks of the Messerschmitt Bf109 such as the 109D, the 109E, the 109F and the 109G were frequently known by their phonetic letters, the Dora, the Emil, the Friedrich and the Gustav.

Here’s a young man and an old man who are the one and the same man. He was a Luftwaffe radio operator in WW2. The shape of his ears is a giveaway. Age yourself by seventy years but you’ll never change your ears.

And here is the cloth badge to be sewed on the uniform of a crewmember that the Luftwaffe called a “bordfunker”:

The German Navy, the Kriegsmarine, had a very slightly different alphabet, but , again, it was based on names:

Anton, Ärger, Bruno, Cäsar, China, Dora, Emil, Friedrich, Gustav, Heinrich, Ida, Julius, Konrad,

Ludwig, Martha, Nordpol, Otto, Ödipus, Paula, Quelle, Richard, Siegfried, Schule, Theodor, Ulrich, Viktor,

Wilhelm, Xanthippe, Ypsilon,  Zeppilon

The Wehrmacht used pretty much the  same alphabet with:

Anton, Ärger, Berta, Cäsar, Charlotte, Dora, Emil, Friedrich, Gustav, Heinrich, Ida, Julius, Konrad,

Ludwig, Martha, Nordpol, Otto, Ödipus, Paula, Quelle, Richard, Siegfried, Schule, Theodor, Ulrich, Übel, Viktor,

Wilhelm, Xanthippe, Ypsilon, Zeppelin 

 I couldn’t find a guaranteed French phonetic alphabet for World War II, but I did find this one, which is obviously based on first names:

Anatole, Berthe, Célestin, Désiré, Eugène, François, Gaston, Henri, Irma, Joseph, Kléber,

Louis, Marcel, Nicolas, Oscar, Pierre, Quintal, Raoul, Suzanne, Thérèse, Ursule, Victor, William, Xavier,

Yvonne, Zoé

That was a real list of sex bombs for French soldiers of every sexual persuasion to drool over. I don’t know what a “Quintal” is, but this happy curly haired chap is Ryan Quintal:

Actually I did look up “quintal” and one website said “a hundredweight  or a weight equal to 100 kilograms”. Another website said “backyard”. I often confuse the two.

The Italians, like many other nations, base their alphabet on towns and cities:

Ancona, Bologna, Como, Domodossola, Empoli, Firenze, Genova, Hotel, Imola, Jolly, Kursaal,

Livorno, Milano, Napoli, Otranto, Padova, Quarto,Roma, Savona, Torino,

Udine, Venezia, Washington, Xeres, Yacht, Zara.

Surely we all know the telegram sent by the humourist Robert Benchley to the New Yorker magazine:

“Have arrived Venice. Streets full of water. Please advise.”

I did find a Soviet spelling alphabet. The Russian alphabet, though, uses 33 letters, so it was quite complicated.  I decided to transcribe only the words for our Western letters. That came to:

Anna, Boris, Konstantin, Dmitri, Yelena, Fyodor, Grigory,

Khariton, Ivan, Zhenya, Leonid, Mikhail,

Nikolai, Olga, Pavel, Roman, Semyon,

Tatyana, Ulyana, Vasiliy, Zinaida.

Some letters such as ‘k’, ‘q’,  ‘w’, ‘x’ and ‘y’ do not really exist in Russian. Here’s a link to some of the letters of their alphabet.

Here are some Soviet signallers, giving a report to Headquarters in an unknown German town that has just been captured:

Two final points. If you can understand this, you’re a better man than me. This is perhaps 20% of a very large presentation of the Japanese phonetic alphabet. My best guess is that a word stands for a syllable, so that “suzume” stands for the syllable “su” and so on:

And finally, here’s the weirdest phonetic alphabet I found, taken from Tasmania in 1908:

Authority, Bills, Capture, Destroy, Englishmen, Fractious,

Galloping, High, Invariably, Juggling, Knights, Loose,

Managing, Never, Owners, Play, Queen, Remarks,

Support, The, Unless, Vindictive, When, Xpeditiously,

Your,  Zigzag

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Aviation, History, Humour, military, Russia, the Japanese