Category Archives: France

A young German dies (2)

Last time I was talking about how much I had enjoyed hearing Norm Christie’s Canadian viewpoint about World War I:

But let’s move forward to World War II.
Probably my favourite story from Norm’s programmes is when he recounts an incident in Normandy in the weeks after D-Day in July 1944.
It’s a long time now since the glory days of 1940 and 1941, when leather overcoats were handed out free:

By July 1944, a lot of the Germans were beginning to realise just how gullible they had been, both as boys in the Hitler Youth, and then as proud young men in the German army.

Anyway, here’s the story, taken from the soundtrack of the programme. The events are recounted by a Canadian infantryman:

“I led my section down a small hill from the north into the main part of the city .The Germans were headed my way and we crossed at the end of the hedge. I had brought a Sten gun with me and I poked it through the hedge and fired. Three Germans went down. The rest put up their hands and surrendered.

I stayed with a mortally wounded German. He had a few words of English. He got across to me that he was 23 years old. He was a very good looking boy. He showed me pictures of his parents, his girlfriend. He gave me his parents’ address and asked me to go and see them when we got to Germany. He knew he was dying. I would have given anything to save his life. But I was helpless. And to make matters worse I was the one who had shot him.
He held both of my hands in his and cried, and then pulling them up tight under his chin, he coughed up blood all over my hands and then he died.

I threw away the things he had given me. I went back to my men and washed the blood from my hands.”

Only one person is guilty here.

The one who started the war.

 

 

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A young German dies (1)

Death in war is very strange.  As kindly old Uncle Joe Stalin used to say, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” He would frequently ease his constantly untroubled conscience with wise old peasant maxims like that one.

The Russian means “Glory to the Great Stalin!”

Let’s just take a look at a million deaths and a single death.

This account isn’t quite a million deaths but it makes a good contribution to the overall total. These are the statistics about a single night during the Second World War. They are taken from “The Bomber Command War Diaries and Operational Reference Book 1939 to 1945” by Martin Middlebrook and Chris Everitt.” This is one of the best, if not the best, reference work about the activities of Bomber Command. It is not in the slightest bit gung-ho. It is factual and leaves the reader to make up his or her own mind. And it relates the death toll both in the air and on the ground.

“April 22-23, 1944.  Düsseldorf bombed by 596 aircraft….323 Lancasters, 254 Halifaxes, 19 Mosquitoes.  29 aircraft… 16 Halifaxes and 13 Lancasters were lost, 4.9% of the force.”

In those 29 bombers, a minimum of 134 men were killed.

“2150 tons of bombs were dropped in this heavy attack which caused much destruction but also allowed the German night fighter force to penetrate the bomber stream. Widespread damage was caused on the ground. Among the statistics in the local report are: 56 large industrial premises hit, of which seven were completely destroyed, more than 2000 houses destroyed or badly damaged”:

“Casualties recorded by 2 PM on April 25th were 883 people killed, 593 injured and 403 still to be dug out of wrecked buildings ; at least three quarters of this last figure would have been dead.”

For my single death, I will go to the programmes of Norm Christie, one of my very favourite presenters of historical programmes on TV:

Christie always presents the Canadian point of view, which is very often different, and may well be a lot less favourable to the British ruling classes than, say, the BBC one.  One of his best programmes contained a portrayal of Arthur Currie, the leader of the Canadian forces in World War One and a man from very humble origins. He changed the face of warfare at the time. I realised that Norm Christie would have some interesting ideas when he contrasted a photograph of Haig’s Generals with one of Currie. Do you see what makes Currie a man apart?

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And Norm Christie is not directly related to an officer involved in masterminding the carnage of the First World War. At least one regular television presenter can’t say that and I refuse to watch any programmes he has made. To be continued.

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The Mosquito at Cosford

“Knock, knock.”

“Who’s there?”

“Yetta.”

“Yetta, who?”

“Yetta nother Mosquito.”

An even more terrible joke, but according to my Dad, a genuine RAF joke from World War II. Well, I suppose they had to do something while they waited for Premier League football to be invented.

We went to RAF Cosford in April 2011.  Like Hendon, they too have a Mosquito.

This is TA 639, which is a Mark 35 Target Tug. The website explained that “After the war Mosquitoes continued in use as fighters until 1952 and others, including this example, were converted to tow targets for anti-aircraft gunnery practice.”

How sad. A Mosquito pulling targets. It’s like going into the park and finding your greatest sporting hero as a fat, helpless drunk, semi-conscious on a park bench.

Mosquitoes could do anything.

Mosquitoes could free prisoners from Amiens jail.

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Here is a Pathé news broadcast:

And here is a film, almost an hour long:

In Operation Carthage, Mosquitoes could bomb the Shell House, headquarters of the Danish Gestapo, and destroy the buildings and the German records and release Resistance prisoners. Here’s a short video:

And a stretched version of 20 odd minutes

In a tragic twist, Operation Carthage went wrong and 86 schoolchildren and 18 adults were killed when a nearby school was bombed. I recently read a really good book about the Danish Resistance, “Hitler’s Savage Canary” and I must admit that the Danes of the time viewed events in a much more positive way than we would nowadays. Danes in 1945 seemed to consider the deaths an unfortunate price that had to be paid for a whole nation’s resistance network to survive.

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The greatest of all Mosquito squadrons, although fictional, was 633 Squadron. Originally it was a book:

And you could name your own price for a mint condition film poster:

Here is just one of almost 250 videos taken from the film on Youtube….

Here are my photographs from Cosford. Here’s a general view. It seems to be painted as a bomber but I bet given half a chance it would be back with those targets, dragging them around the sky:

From behind it looks as if the mystery line has been omitted from this aircraft:

The great lumbering brute behind is an Avro Lincoln. I already did a post about this development of the Lancaster. Indeed, it was called the Avro Lancaster Mark IV until somebody pointed out that it didn’t look that much like a Lancaster.

Last look at the Mosquito. If only I could see one doing what it does best, rather than just sitting in a museum:

 

 

 

 

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Vive l’Empéreur !! (3)

Last time I was busy listing all the things that Napoléon did to help his country and its ordinary people. They are the reason that he was so hated by the British aristocracy with their mad king and his disgraceful son. They were all afraid that Napoléon’s ideas would sweep away their comfortable and lucrative world.

The best book about Napoléon was the source of the author’s TV series on BBC2:

cover

In it, Andrew Roberts summarises Napoleon’s legacy:

“The ideas that underpin our modern world–meritocracy, equality before the law, property rights, religious toleration, modern secular education, sound finances, and so on–were championed, consolidated, codified and geographically extended by Napoleon. To them he added a rational and efficient local administration, an end to rural banditry, the encouragement of science and the arts, the abolition of feudalism and the greatest codification of laws since the fall of the Roman Empire.”

Napoleon had no time for the idea that men were superior just because of their birth. He believed totally in having people around him who were genuinely talented rather than members of the nobility:

napoleon-passant-en-revue

Napoleon had between 20-25 “Marshals of the Empire”. Here is a list of the occupations of their fathers. Nobody got a job with Napoleon because his Dad owned huge tracts of land:

“An officer in the Engineers, a Hussar, a well off farmer and an innkeeper, a small town lawyer, a surgeon (although his son enlisted in the army as a private), a shopkeeper, a fruit seller and servant, a small town prosecutor, a lawyer, a country solicitor, a surgeon barber, two farmers, a master barrel-cooper and ex-soldier, a farmer (whose son served in the army as a drummer boy), a Jacobite rebel, exiled from the Outer Hebrides, a brewer, a farmer and distiller of brandy, a silk manufacturer and a tanner.”

Napoleon made use of the nobility, with four major nobles and two members of the petty nobility. None of the noblemen he used, though, were from the absolute top of the Nobility Tree.  Napoleon chose one petty noble who was a Seigneur de Sort. His bizarre job was to act as a mole-catcher at the king’s horse breeding stud. Another was a mere sergeant in the city of his birth and had the job of locking the city gates every night. Another one had begun his career as a lowly page-boy.
This wasn’t how the English kings organised things. Nor indeed, the way anybody has ever organised things in England, right up till the present year.
No wonder the English upper classes wanted Napoleon dead. And that is why they exiled him to a place where the appalling weather would soon kill him off, housing him in a property where water ran down the walls when the weather was damp:

napoleondeath

When the ship with Napoleon’s coffin arrived back in France from St Helena, a million people were waiting there to shout “Vive l’Empéreur !!” And this was 25 years after he was exiled from France for ever.

In Paris, between the River Seine and the site of his funeral at Les Invalides, another crowd of around a million people were assembled. There were in excess of 150,000 ex-soldiers there too, loyal veterans of the Emperor’s army. There would, no doubt, have been more spectators, had there not been a blizzard that particular day. Here is his ornate sarcophagus:

tomb

And here is how his people remember him. The man who crowned himself Emperor:

Napoleon[1]

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Vive l’Empéreur !! (2)

Last time, I wrote about how Napoleon wanted to export the liberal values of the Enlightenment across Europe. And how the British upper classes wanted none of it. They wanted to keep society as it was, rotten the core, but with them in charge of every facet of life. And that’s why they paid countries such as Austria and Russia £65,000,000 over the years to attack and annihilate Napoleon, without any English lives being lost:

What a chance we missed by ignoring the ideas Napoleon eschewed. Just look at what Napoleon achieved in his own country.

The Code Civil was “a fundamental change in the nature of the civil law legal system with its stress on clearly written and accessible law”.  It was created by committees of experts and closely monitored by the Emperor. He set up other codes for criminal and commercial law:

code civilxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

He set up a system which established “due process”, the requirement that the state must respect the legal rights of its citizens, and which protects the individual from a powerful government.
Napoleon carried out steps which would allow both Germany and Italy to emerge within less than a century as unified nations. He helped the USA to expand with the Louisiana Purchase:

lousisa n purchase

He founded the Légion d’Honneur, awarded for excellence and achievements not just in war, but also for achievements by civilians which helped the French nation. Here is the first ever award, presented by the Emperor himself:

Debret_-_Premiere_distribution_des_decorations_de_la_Legion_d'honneur[1]

Napoleon abolished the ancient system which forced peasants to work as medieval serfs for their lord and master, carrying out specific jobs every year. This helped the growth of a money based economy, rather than paying rent, for example, by any other means, such as barter or the carrying out of physical tasks.

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Napoléon abolished the medieval guilds, allowing the birth of the entrepreneur.

He abolished ghettos for Europe’s Jews who were made equal to everybody else. In fact, everybody enjoyed equality in every field.

The power of the church was vastly reduced, especially their ecclesiastical courts. The Inquisition came to an end. (Nobody expected that.)

monty-python-spanish-inquisition_article_story_large[1]

His military innovations led Wellington to say, when asked who was the greatest general of the day: “In this age, in past ages, in any age, Napoleon.”

1415357107592.cached[1]

Napoleon gave enormous support to the metric system, introduced by the French revolutionary government in 1799. He made use of the process of storing and preserving perishable food in tins. His armies were the first to use the baguette:

French became the official language of the state. No more Basque, Breton, Corsican, Occitan nor, indeed, any of the countless dialects spoken in Europe’s second biggest country. Instead, everybody spoke French.

Secondary education was supported by the state, and lycées were established. State secondary schools followed the same system as nowadays. He made major efforts to keep education totally free from church interference. He introduced scholarships for poor students.

He introduced science into the school syllabus. In England, the church were still busy at this time trying to stop vaccination being introduced as anti-religious. Not so in France:

And that is not the end of Napoléon’s list. More next time.

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What do you do with your Freed Slaves ? (5)

In my last article I posed the question of  “How did the British free their slaves?”. They had none of the difficulties faced by the USA (a bloody civil war), Russia (a bloody revolution and a bloody civil war) or France (a bloody revolution in Haiti).

west injdies plantation

Unbelievably, a decision was taken that the government would use taxpayers’ money, taken from the ordinary man in the street, to buy the owners’ slaves from them. This was a very cunning plan on so many levels. The government remained popular with the rich people. The rich people who owned no slaves remained rich. The rich people who owned slaves also remained rich. Nobody lost any money whatsoever except the poor old taxpayer, who now had to wait a little longer for his free medical care, free education, sanitation, decent roads, law and order in the streets and so on.

And what about the slave owners?

Carried_Slaveowner

Well, by this windfall, they became even more unbelievably rich. And then they went on to invest their cash in other ventures so they could make even more money.

They didn’t hate the politicians who had abolished slavery either, because the slave owners had suddenly been made so rich by their actions.  You can probably guess who came out of it badly…

The population of black ex-slaves who now had nowhere to go. They couldn’t go down to the docks and catch a boat to West Africa. Instead they had to stay where they were and work for a pittance at their old job. This man’s family (218 slaves) made a good profit on the whole deal. They received £4,442 compensation, the equivalent of £3 million today. Don’t know who he is?:

orwell

And this man’s father received £106,769, the modern day equivalent of £80 million. Don’t know who he is?:

1271754717_william-e_-gladstone

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Vive l’Empéreur !!

I watched a fantastic programme, or rather series of programmes, last winter on BBC2, I think it was. They were so good that I bought the book:

cover

They were all about Napoleon.
I had always wondered why the British hate Napoleon so much and the French love him. Why the British call him names and the French name streets after him.
Both the programmes and the book were by Andrew Roberts:

andrew-roberts
He did a great job at explaining exactly why this situation has arisen.

It was because on the one hand, the England of the Napoleonic era had always prided itself on being full of free men, free to say what they wanted, to go where they wanted and so on. With a parliament and a monarch beloved by all, bless him, who never interfered in the running of an almost perfect society. Deep down though, the English knew that this portrait of their land was a complete load of rubbish.

They knew that Napoleon was a child of the Enlightenment, the fullest and finest flowering of ideas in the history of Mankind:

stamp-napoleon-france

Napoleon wanted to export the values of the Enlightenment across Europe. And the British wanted none of it. That’s why they coughed up £65,000,000 over the years, paying for countries such as Austria and Russia to attack and annihilate him, without any English lives being lost:

wallpaper_cossacks_2_
The British saw Napoleon as a direct threat to “England’s Green and Pleasant Land”.

A “Green and Pleasant Land” where the rich seized the poor’s common land and called it their own.

Where Corn Laws prevented hungry poor people from eating bread made from cheap imported foreign wheat, so that rich English farmers could stay wealthy.

Where all of the people in charge of anything, the army, the navy, the government, everything, was a nobleman and had a title:

house-of-lords4[1]

And parliament was full of greedy men elected by unbelievably tiny numbers of voters. This practice made use of “Rotten Boroughs” and Pocket Boroughs”. Here are two of the “Four Prints of an Election” by William Hogarth.  You can see them in greater detail here.

This is the “Election Entertainment“:

chairing

This one is called “Chairing the Members”:

election enter
Next time, we will look at the achievements of Napoleon. They are many and apply to so many different fields, from giving a mole catcher a more important job to making the arrangements to educate young women:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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