- RSS Channel Showcase 9207876
- RSS Channel Showcase 6164124
- RSS Channel Showcase 8596907
- RSS Channel Showcase 5706937
Articles on this Page
- 07/25/17--01:00: _Harold Holt - 50 ye...
- 07/28/17--13:00: _Josef Stalin's cult...
- 08/01/17--01:00: _Nancy Wake - the wo...
- 08/04/17--13:00: _Italian Catholic ch...
- 08/08/17--01:00: _"Hot Milk" by Debor...
- 08/11/17--13:00: _A River Runs Throug...
- 08/15/17--01:00: _Contested history i...
- 08/18/17--13:00: _British children of...
- 08/22/17--01:00: _Daniel Cohn-Bendit ...
- 08/25/17--01:00: _Ragged Schools and ...
- 08/28/17--10:00: _Australia invented ...
- 08/31/17--17:00: _History Carnival, J...
- 09/04/17--23:00: _Great American art ...
- 09/08/17--13:00: _Bonnie Prince Charl...
- 09/12/17--01:00: _Arts precincts and ...
- 09/15/17--13:00: _Escape from Berlin;...
- 09/19/17--01:00: _Brave New World - A...
- 09/22/17--13:00: _WIlliam Morris, Edw...
- 09/26/17--01:00: _ Sex Lives of the K...
- 09/29/17--13:00: _Hitler's hangman Re...
- 10/03/17--00:00: _Spanish Flu - 50-60...
- 10/06/17--12:00: _Hedy Lamarr: Austri...
- 10/10/17--00:00: _Australian Impress...
- 10/13/17--12:00: _Smitten by the arti...
- 10/17/17--00:00: _Bevin Boys - WW2 co...
- 07/25/17--01:00: Harold Holt - 50 years since the Australian PM disappeared
- 07/28/17--13:00: Josef Stalin's cult of personality
- 08/01/17--01:00: Nancy Wake - the woman the Gestapo called the White Mouse
- 08/04/17--13:00: Italian Catholic chapel built by POWs on remote Orkney
- 08/11/17--13:00: A River Runs Through It - a moving American book and film
- 08/15/17--01:00: Contested history in films - "The Birth of a Nation"
- 08/18/17--13:00: British children of the Raj. Where was home - India or UK?
- 08/22/17--01:00: Daniel Cohn-Bendit 1968 - red hair and red politics
- 08/25/17--01:00: Ragged Schools and Industrial Schools
- 08/28/17--10:00: Australia invented cochlear implants!
- 08/31/17--17:00: History Carnival, July and August 2017. The best history posts
- 09/04/17--23:00: Great American art faker but not for profit: Mark Landis
- 09/12/17--01:00: Arts precincts and the City Beautiful in Melbourne and Philadelphia
- 09/15/17--13:00: Escape from Berlin; Thank you Shanghai!
- 09/19/17--01:00: Brave New World - Australia in the 1930s
- 10/03/17--00:00: Spanish Flu - 50-60 million dead in 1918
- 10/06/17--12:00: Hedy Lamarr: Austrian-American-Jewish-Catholic actress and inventor
- 10/13/17--12:00: Smitten by the artist Catherine da Costa
- 10/17/17--00:00: Bevin Boys - WW2 conscription down the coal mines
Harold Holt (1908–1967) completed high school in Melbourne and a law degree at Melbourne University. Holt worked as a solicitor, and pursued his interests in sport and politics. He won a seat in parliament in 1935 for the conservatives, and first became a minister at the young age of 30!
Harold Holt had met Zara Dickins when he was a student. Unable to persuade Holt to marry before his income grew, she departed on a round-the-world cruise to England where Zara met & married British army officer James Fell in 1935. For the next four years they lived in India and had a son. After the birth in 1939 of her twins, she lived in Melbourne.
Because the family all knew the twins were Holt’s sons, the Fells were amicably divorced in 1946. In Oct that same year, she married Harold Holt, now a well established solicitor and Parliamentarian. Is it an exaggeration to say that he was already being touted as a future leader of the conservatives? Certainly he had well placed friends, including Sir Norman and Lady Mabel Brookes, and Robert Menzies, then Victoria’s Attorney-General.
In opposition from 1941-49, Robert Menzies was elected prime minister in 1949 and young Harold Holt became a high profile member of his cabinet. Holt held senior portfolios during the next 16 years of the Menzies government including Minister for: Immigration, Labour and National Service, The Melbourne Olympics and finally Treasurer. Holt was ready for the prime ministership in 1960, but he had a long wait. Menzies did not retire until 1966!
Photo credit: National Archives
Channel 9 News wrote the definitive analysis of these events. It was a very hot day in Dec 1967 when the Prime Minister Harold Holt went for a swim, and vanished. A fit, keen swimmer and spear fisherman, he loved the rough waters off Victoria's Cheviot Beach behind Portsea, off Victoria’s Port Phillip Bay.
Holt's former Press Secretary and close personal friend, Tony Eggleton, remembered it was a very hot afternoon in Canberra when a phone call from a journalist came. There was a report of a VIP missing at Portsea. Eggleton phoned the Prime Minister’s Lodge, and the housekeeper at Holt's holiday home at Portsea, but noone knew anything. Finally he phoned the police in Melbourne who said they did believe that the missing person in the water was the Prime Minister.
Someone had to tell Harold's wife, Zara, who they tracked her down at a Christmas Party in Canberra. Soon Zara and Eggleton flew to Melbourne where police were lined up, providing them with a fast escort on the 200 ks journey to Portsea.
By this time the news that the PM was missing became public. Hordes of people on the Mornington Peninsula headed to the beach or lined the streets. All the media were waiting outside the army barracks. Zara was escorted down to the search zone, accompanied by her three adult sons.
Police divers, who leaped into the waters scouring the area for any sign of the Prime Minister, were joined by helicopters. Regular media conferences kept Australian and the world updated on the search. The search continued for 20 days but even by Day 2, everyone concluded that the tides had carried Holt out into the open ocean.
As the mystery deepened, another story emerged: that the PM had been at the beach with his lover Marjorie Gillespie. Mrs Gillespie later told the police that she looked back, wishing Harold would come out of the water. The water suddenly became turbulent around him and swamped him. She did not see him again and even Holt’s two personal body guards could add no useful information.
The Sun, 18th Dec 1967
According to the newspapers later, Holt was Australia's answer to John F Kennedy during the sexually permissive 1960s. Both men were spirited, charming, adventurous and handsome. Strangely, the PM's staff said they had never been aware of Holt’s affairs but Zara said she was very clear her husband was a womaniser. Nonetheless, she said, it was love that kept the Holts together. They had a nice holiday home in Queensland, and hoped to eventually retire there.
Because the disappearance was a tragedy Australia had never seen, conspiracy theories were rampant. Many people thought Holt was whisked away by a Chinese submarine near Cheviot Beach and had become a Communist spy. Others suggested that, at the height of the Red Scare, he'd been spotted in Russia as a defector. And there were many dark rumours of suicide.
Note that I have added published histories about Zara’s pregnancies and Harold’s many mistresses, in case there was a personal (as opposed to a political) element to the PM’s death. Note that Channel 9 News did not mention any personal misbehaviour by the prime minister or his wife.
Holt had been Prime Minister for less than two years when he vanished. He had campaigned for election on the basis of the Vietnam War, proudly declaring to his American allies that Australia was a staunch friend that would Go All The Way With L.B.J. It was a phrase that would go down in history. And Holt had formed a close personal friendship with Lyndon Baines Johnson.
Holt led Australia out of imperial measurements and into decimal currency. Plus he held one of the most historic referenda in Australia's history, guaranteeing Aboriginal Australians the right to vote. Most importantly he abolished the White Australia policy. The one thing the prime minister wanted to do (but died before he achieved it) was to visit European capital cities; he’d show that South-East Asia & the Pacific were going to be The Powerhouse Of The Future.
Holt's memorial service in Melbourne in Jan 1968 was an honour roll of world political leaders and heads of state. Soon after Zara left for a two-month world trip, during which time she lunched with the Queen at Sandringham and stayed with the Lyndon Johnsons at the White House. Her autobiography, My Life and Harry, was launched in 1968 and she was created a dame that same year. In February 1969 Dame Zara married another federal politician, Jeff Bate.
38 years after the disappearance a coroner finally ended all conspiracy theories in 2005, declaring that although his body was never found, Harold Holt probably drowned. A memorial plaque now lies on the sea floor in Cheviot Beach.
Edvard Radzinsky wrote Stalin: The First In-depth Biography in 1997. From the archives, he told the story of Stalin's search for total domination, first within the Communist Party and then across the Soviet Union. He described young Stalin's long-denied involvement with terrorism; the importance of his behind-the-scenes role during the October Revolution; his often hostile relationship with Lenin; the infamous show trials of the 1930s; his secret dealings with Hitler; and his plans to deport all the Soviet Union's Jewish doctors. Radzinsky also examined Stalin's rough relationship with his suicidal wife Nadezhda. All archive-based but shockingly brutal nontheless!
I wanted to read a more recently published history for a modern, balanced review of Stalin. So here is Stalin’s Cult of Personality: its Origins and Progression (2015) by Julia Kenny. Stalin was born as Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili (1878-1953) in the then-Russian town of Gori, now Georgia. His father was a rough, alcoholic worker who savagely used his fists on young Josef. His mother, soon an impoverished peasant widow, took in washing to feed the children. Worst of all Josef caught smallpox in primary school.
The Georgian married his first wife Ekaterina Svanidze in 1906, but she died of typhus in 1907. [Their one son, Yakov, later died in Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1943]. In 1919 Stalin married his second wife Nadezhda Alliluyeva who died by suicide from mental illness in 1932. The son and daughter of the second marriage both survived Daddy Stalin.
Poster of Stalin, Lenin and 'Long live the Komsomol generation!'
It was clear that modern Russia already had a history of autocratic rule i.e citizens were used to supporting a strong leader. The 1832 Fundamental Laws made the "Emperor of all the Russias" an absolute monarch. Secured by the Imperial line of succession, the Tsar also became the guardian and defender of the Orthodox Church. Visually the power of the Tsar was reinforced in architecture eg the Kremlin or Winter Palace.
The very intelligent Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov/Lenin (1870–1924) enjoyed cult-like status, given that he was the legitimate leader of the Revolution and the founder of Marxist-Leninism. This status only intensified after Lenin died in Jan 1924. He was embalmed and placed in a Mausoleum that still stands. Small shrines were placed in factories and villages, designed according to guidelines issued by the party in Feb 1924.
Stalin had climbed up party ranks by working his way into Lenin’s inner circle. As Lenin’s right-hand man, he had indeed been appointed General Secretary of the Communist party in Apr 1922. Little did Stalin know that, in old age, Lenin had begun compiling a political record that expressed horror of Stalin’s vulgarity and violence. Lenin urged that Stalin be removed from his position as General Secretary.
Lev Davidovich Bronstein/Leon Trotsky (1879–1940), Stalin’s main political rival, couldn’t attend Lenin’s funeral in 1924. Stalin wanted to emerge as Lenin’s inheritor, so the Georgian pounced. Trotsky was expelled from the Communist Party (1927), exiled to Kazakhstan (1928) and finally exiled from the Soviet Union. As head of the Fourth International, Trotsky could continue to oppose the Stalinist bureaucracy from exile. But on Stalin's orders, he was assassinated in Mexico.
Because of Lenin’s views, Stalin had to rewrite his own past. By portraying himself as the embodiment of Marxist-Leninism, Stalin could transfer the admiration and trust that Lenin had enjoyed as a leader figure, and could create his own cult. Stalin upheld the core principles of Marxist-Leninism: a] a centralised government and b] the ideology of a class-struggle on both a domestic and global scale. Stalin seemed in tune with the public sentiment.
Before 1932, most Soviet propaganda posters showed Lenin and Stalin together. Then Stalin propaganda was everywhere, programming citizens to believing that Stalin was working to achieve perfect socialism for the nation. There were Stalin icons in every home; marches and parades involved giant Stalin banners. Cinemas displayed Soviet documentaries, and Stalinist posters were common. His propaganda served well in masking Stalin’s darker side.
If Stalin had a brutal reputation, why did citizens trust his leadership? Citizens did NOT know that during the Great Terror of 1936-8, Stalin ordered hundreds of thousands of executions. As in the French Revolution, Russians were under constant threat of being monitored by the secret police NKVD and arrested. Stalin also had the power to have party officials arrested and replaced. And many people were interned in prisons. And the cruel famines in Ukraine were certainly Stalin-controlled.
Mainly they trusted Stalin because his regime generated success! Russian children were learning at good schools, and quality science education was actively promoted. Families were guaranteed top quality health care. Industrial development was rapid, unemployment was rare, and cultural and art facilities were well supported. How ironic that while the capitalist world was experiencing the Great Depression and grinding working-class poverty, Russia emerged as the second biggest modern industrial nation.
Stalin consolidated his power even more after WW2, with some very fine moments. He recognised that victory over the Nazis had been won by the tragic loss of 27 million Russian lives (and other Allies). And Stalin also played a vital role in the creation of the Jewish state in Israel. At the UN he had his Ambassador Andrei Gromyko give an fervent speech in 1947 on the catastrophe suffered by Europe’s Jews and their need to have a safe haven. Stalin had also organised the Eastern European Communist states to vote unanimously for the creation of Israel.
Even now it is difficult to know how genuinely popular Stalin was in his own country, because everyone who didn't agree with him became an Enemy of the People. Thus he remained leader of the Soviet Union until his 1953 death.
At the 1956 Party Congress the next party leader, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced Josef Stalin in a long speech and demolished his predecessor’s reputation. He proved that Stalin intended to use the Doctors' Trial to launch a massive party purge. Under Khrushchev, Soviet prosecutors further investigated the brutality of Stalin's later years.
I also recommend Simon Montefiore’s book Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar (2012) .
Nancy Wake (1912-2011) was born in the New Zealand city of Wellington, last child of Charles Augustus Wake and Ella Rosieur. The family moved to Sydney when Nancy was a toddler. Shortly afterwards, her father abandoned the family, so she rebelled and ran away as soon as she could leave home. With financial help from an aunt in 1932, Nancy sailed for Europe and trained as a journalist in London. Two years later she settled in Paris, starting work for the Hearst group of newspapers as a journalist.
I don’t think this New Zealand-Australian knew much about Fascism. In 1935 she was a tourist in Vienna and Berlin, having a pleasant time, when the violent anti-Semitism of Nazism became crystal clear to her for the first time.
In November 1939 she married Henri Fiocca, a cute and wealthy industrialist. It was a great life in Marseilles, filled with love, champagne, caviar and travel.
Six months later in 1940 Germany invaded France, so Fiocca and Wake joined the fledgling Resistance. Their growing involvement in the Resistance saw the couple helping Allied servicemen and Jewish refugees escape from France, across the north of Spain and onto the Portuguese coast.
After Henri was called up for service, Nancy enrolled as an ambulance driver. She began to help British soldiers trapped in Occupied France to escape back home, and this led to her risky undercover work with the famous escape line organised by Pat O'Leary.
Ms Wake was placed at the top of the Gestapo's most wanted list so she planned to flee France for England, as advised by husband Henri in May 1943. After several failed escape attempts and 4 days of interrogation in a Vichy prison, Wake escaped across the Pyrenees. The White Mouse, a nickname given to Nancy by the Gestapo for her slipperiness, had escaped their clutches again.
Husband Henri promised to leave France as well. But he was picked up by the Gestapo and shot in August 1943. For decades she blamed herself for his death, given she was more hated by the Gestapo than Henri was.
In June 1943 she reached Britain and began training in the French Section of the Special Operations Executive/SOE as a spy and courier. Her training reports record that she was a very good and fast shot.
Wake then returned to Nazi-occupied France to work with the Resistance in preparation for the D-Day landings in Normandy on 6th June 1944. Parachuted back into France, Wake's job was to distribute arms among Resistance fighters hiding in the mountains. She was in the Auvergne region along with Major John Farmer, leader of the Freelance resistance circuit. Her orders were to help organise and arm the local maquis/a band of rural guerrilla French Resistance fighters, and soon Wake was fighting alongside them in pitched battles against the Germans.
A fortnight after D-day in June, a major attack by 10,000 Germans in tanks and aircraft was made on their positions, during the time when they became separated from the group's radio operator. To try to re-establish contact with London, Wake rode 500 kms by bike to make contact with a radio operator from another SOE group. Later, working with two American officers when the Germans launched an attack on another maquis group, she took command of a section whose leader had been killed and coolly got the rest of the group out safely. This was not a woman who worried about her nail polish being chipped or her lipstick smudged.
Nancy never quite adjusted to peace. She worked at the Air Ministry in Whitehall, but was bored witless. She resigned in 1957 and immediately married John Forward, an Australian bomber pilot. He liked a drink or five, and they were well matched. They returned to Australia and had a sociable and sporty life with trips back to Europe and interviews with journalists about WW2 history.
This ex-resistance fighter became a member of the conservative party’s NSW executive and stood for Parliament in the 1949 federal election. She stood for the seat of Barton, held by the Chifley Labour government External Affairs Minister Dr Herbert Evatt, unsuccessfully. In 1951 she again stood for parliament against Dr Evatt - who was by then deputy opposition leader, unsuccessfully. After a period living overseas, Wake again unsuccessfully contested the seat of Kingsford Smith for the conservatives at the 1966 federal election. Finally the couple retired to Port Macquarie.
Wake’s own book, The Autobiography of the Woman the Gestapo Called the White Mouse, was published in 1985, leading to a television drama in the late 80s. Several serious histories have been written about her since. Appropriately Wakes' medals are on public display in Australia’s most important War Memorial Museum, in Canberra.
John Forward sadly died in 1997, so Nancy returned to live in London. Well into her 90s, seated on her reserved bar stool in the Stafford Hotel bar, she remained as energetic and gutsy as she had been when fighting for women’s action back in her younger years.
Nancy Wake was undoubtedly the bravest women I know. She must have understood that her chances of survival were small, when she chose to return to France during the war as a resistance leader. But she was so energetic, so committed to women playing a full role in the war and so adventurous.. that she seemed oblivious to the risks.
In 1939 the German U-boat U47, under the command of Lt Gunther Prien, slipped undetected into Scapa Flow. Prien launched a torpedo attack on the battleship HMS Royal Oak which was lying at anchor in Scapa Bay and instantly the huge ship sank to the bottom of Scapa Flow with 833 crew deaths. U47 slipped away undetected.
The tragic terrible loss of life and failures of the Scapa Flow defences prompted the call for a substantial eastern blockage. In March 1940 Winston Churchill approved the building of causeways, to link the south isles to Mainland Orkney and to seal off the eastern approaches to of the naval port. Work soon started but was painfully slow; a shortage of local labour was causing delays. So 550 Italian prisoners of war, captured in the North African campaign, came to Orkney in 1942. These Italian POWs were shipped in specifically to work on the huge causeway building project, known as the Churchill Barriers to the east of Scapa Flow.
As a result, camps had to be established for the Italians on the previously uninhabited island. The biggest of them was Camp 60 on Lamb Holm.
The Italians POW status changed only in Sep 1943 when Italy left the Axis Powers, and instead joined the British and their Allies. The Italian workers in Orkney were given more freedom and began to be paid properly for their labours.
The Italians needed a proper place of Catholic worship. With the help of the camp's Catholic priest Father Giacobazzi, they persuaded Camp 60’s commandant, Major Thomas Buckland, to allow them to build a chapel on Lamb Holm. Permission was granted on the condition that all work on the church would be carried out AFTER working hours on the barriers. Thus the Chapel was built by tired Italian prisoners during 1943 and 1944. Thank you to the Spirit of Orkney and to The Guardian.
The Catholic Italian Chapel was a highly ornate building, surprisingly constructed by the prisoners from very limited materials. Two Nissen huts were joined end-to-end. The corrugated interior was then covered with plaster board and the altar was constructed from concrete left over from work on the barriers.
Most of the interior decoration was done by Domenico Chiocchetti (1910-99), a talented prisoner from Moena in Italy. He painted the sanctuary end of the chapel and fellow-prisoners decorated the rest of the interior. The light holders were made from food tins. The baptismal font was made from the inside of a car exhaust, covered in a layer of concrete. One end of the hut was lined with plaster board to form a sanctuary; an altar, altar-rail and holy water stoop were expertly fashioned from concrete. With the success of the adornment in the sanctuary it was felt the whole chapel should be lined, then painted the walls to appear as if they had bricks, carved stone, vaulted ceilings and buttresses.
Gothic facade in front of two Nissen huts
Altar, glass panels, frescoes
The paintwork was completed with frescos of angelic figures, stained glass windows and an altar piece depicting the Madonna and Child surrounded by cherubic figures. Two painted glass panels flanked the Madonna and Child, depicting St Francis of Assisi and St Catherine of Siena. The Italian artist frescoed the sanctuary vault with symbols of the four evangelists; low on either side, he painted two Cherubim and two Sepraphim with a white dove in the very centre of the vault.
All the materials for the decoration were scavenged from wherever possible. Wood was sourced from a wrecked ship for the tabernacle. A rod-screen and gates enclosing the sanctuary were expertly fashioned from scrap metal. They also made two candelabras which stood on the alter.
The POWs created a facade out of concrete, concealing the shape of the hut and making the building look more like a church. Then as work progressed inside, it was decided to construct a more beautiful façade for the front of the church with pillars, Gothic pinnacles, archway and bell-tower. Directly above the door on the front of the archway, a head of Christ was sculpted from red clay, complete with thorn crown. Finally a thick layer of cement was applied to the outside walls of the Nissen huts, to protect them from the Orkney weather.
When his fellow prisoners were released in Sept 1944, Chiocchetti remained on the island for a few weeks to finish decorating the newly consecrated chapel, particularly the font. The rest of the chapel was completed after WW2 ended. Given the restrictions on time and materials, the chapel became a clear statement of dedication to the Catholic faith.
Appropriately a statue of St George was placed in the grounds of the Italian Chapel as a war memorial. It was built from barbed wire and concrete.
War memorial with a statue of St George
More mdern events
In 1958, the Chapel Preservation Committee was set up by a group of Orkney residents. In 1960, Domenico Chiocchetti returned to assist in the restoration. He returned to Orkeney a second time in 1964 with his wife. Before going back to Italy this time, he wrote a warm, tearful letter of thanks to the people of Orkney.
When some of the other prisoners returned in 1992 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their arrival on the island, Chiocchetti was too ill to travel. In 1996, a declaration was jointly signed by officials in Orkney and Chiocchetti's hometown of Moena, poignantly reinforcing the war time ties between the two places.
Sadly he died in 1999. In the same year, the Chiocchetti family attended a memorial requiem mass at the Orkney Chapel in his honour.
Today, the tabernacle is still used as a chapel and remains a popular tourist attraction, receiving 100,000+ British and foreign visitors every year. It has become one of the best-known and most moving symbols of reconciliation in the British Isles. And has a category A listing.
2014 marked the 70th anniversary of the chapel's completion and at a commemorative mass the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Antonio Mennini read a message from Pope Francis. His Holiness said he was praying that the Chapel, built in times of terrible war, would continue to be a sign of peace and reconciliation. At that special mass in 2014, Domenico’s daughter Angela Chiochetti sang Panis Angelicus.
Born in South Africa in 1959, Deborah Levy’s family exiled themselves to London in 1968 as opponents of Apartheid. She started writing poems, plays and novels in the 1980s. Her 2011 novel, Swimming Home, a dark fable about a famous poet holidaying in the French Riviera, was eventually published after having been turned down by mainstream publishers. It went on to be nominated for the Man Booker prize. Last year she published a collection of short stories, Black Vodka. Now Penguin is reprinting her old novels.
Swimming Home depicted a sun-bleached, Mediterranean setting; explorations of troubled familial bonds, of sexuality and an examination of exile. Hot Milk shared these themes and obsessions with Swimming Home.
Levy’s Hot Milk 2016 (publisher Hamish Hamilton) sounded like an ironic title, given the connection with cosy and bland toddler food. Yet Sofia Papastergiadis was spending a nightmare holiday in a rented beach house with her mother Rose, in southern Spain. Rose had voluntarily re-mortgaged her London flat to live in Spain, to become a patient at a famous clinic run by a man called Dr Gómez. But her daughter-slave Sofia involuntarily had to abandon her PhD in anthropology, to work instead as a barrista in a London cafe.
on the cover of Hot Milk by Deborah Levy
Despite Dr Gómez’s clinic being built from rich material, there seemed to be no other patients being cared for. So why did the doctor need more staff? His daughter worked just as intensely with the patient(s) as Gomez did.
Dr Gomez treated ailments by unknown means, perfectly sensible since Rose was an arrangement of rapidly changing ailments. But could Dr Gómez cure the mysterious paralysis that confined Rose to a wheel chair and bound her daughter with chains of control and dependency? There was no clear cure in the book – only strange assertions from a doctor who might have been a charlatan; a relentlessly noisy dog on the beach that was forever chained up; boiling hot sun and a sea full of medusas i.e poisonous jellyfish.
Only the sea offered relief from Almeria’s summer sun but the sea was infested with medusa jelly fish. Note that in Greek mythology, Medusa was a monster, a winged female with living, venomous snakes in place of hair. Gazers upon her hideous face would turn to stone. Did the elusive, alien jellyfish in Spanish waters (and in this novel) refer to the ancient and monstrous Greek Medusa? Sofia was badly stung on her very first day in the sea!!
In Spain Sofia became closely involved with a German seamstress, Ingrid Bauer, whose body was long and hard like an autobahn. I wondered why the enticing Ingrid was included in the story - to test Sofia’s sexuality, or to present more stinging of her damaged heart and body?
Sofia was floating through her life, like the slimy medusa jellyfish that drove the tourists away from the white-hot beach. When Sofia was stung by those despicable jellyfish, a young medical student called Juan looked after her injury – and her sexual needs as well.
It came as a shock when Sofia suddenly deserted her mother in Spain to visit her estranged elderly father in Greece. If her father had truly been a wealthy man, why did he limit Sofia to a storeroom with no window and a temporary camp bed? Why did he have to marry a second wife who was barely out of her teens and start a second family in economically impoverished Athens? If he couldn’t love his first daughter, was he going to love his second baby daughter?
I was sadder reading about Sofia’s negligent father than I was reading about her manipulative mother. While her mother’s relentless and demanding illnesses overwhelmed Sofia’s life, her father’s new family wiped out her own past. Erica Wagner added another thought. What Sofia had built in the present, with Ingrid, Juan and Dr Gómez, was unstable and could pour away like sand at any moment.
Sofia’s life had been on hold because of her mother’s incessant demands and her confusion of her mother with herself. So to me Hot Milk was a powerful novel of the interior life, using the mother-daughter relationship to explore the nature of the feminine. But I disagree with Helen Elliot that this novel is as luscious, cruel and funny as it is revelatory. It is cruel and revelatory, but not funny!
I read the book only 18 months after my beloved mother died. Thankfully the book was easy to read, as well as being rich with meaning, research with truth and identity. However I am still not sure that the terrible jellyfish stings that made Sofia’s Spanish life a misery were not equally as painful for the reader. If the female reader loved her mother, or even if she did not, be warned: it is difficult not to absorb the mother’s suffering, just as Sofia did.
I personally agree with what Deborah Levy said about her own love of swimming. “I swim every day. It's good for thought-drifts and suits novel writing”. Especially with emotional, and sometimes toxic characters.
Both the book and film A River Runs Through It were set in Missoula Montana. The Maclean brothers, Norman 1902-90 (Craig Sheffer) and Paul 1906–38 (Brad Pitt), lived a rural life in the fresh air of Montana, spending much of their childhood running wherever they liked. The sons of a stoic Scottish Presbyterian minister (Tom Skerritt) and stoic wife (Blenda Blethyn), the boys eventually separated when well behaved Norman moved east to attend college. When Norman finally returned after 6 years away, the siblings resumed family life again.
Maclean grew up in the western Rocky Mountains in the first decades of the C20th. As a young man, he worked many summers in logging camps and for the United States Forest Service. Jessie 1931–1968 (Emily Lloyd) eventually became Norman's pretty and energetic wife in 1931.
The book, 1976
According to Rev Maclean, fishing provided spiritual education to men. And the natural world really did form an essential motif in the novel, symbolising spiritual power and healing fellowship. If you liked Robert Ebert’s view, fishing stood for Life in this film - the river, fish and the natural world were God's gifts to use wisely. I preferred to think that fly fishing stood for Male Bonding, especially where males were not verbally skilled or emotionally open.
A student of Norman Maclean, Andrew Rosenheim, explained that after deciding to become a lecturer of English literature at the University of Chicago instead of a forest ranger, Norman bonded with his students. They’d walk in the Palos Park Preserve in Chicago, sharing literary conversations. But Norman had published almost nothing throughout his career. When his wife Jessie died, Norman was lonely, volatile and drunk. Then his children suggested he recreate their old bedtime stories of Montana.
Thus these Montana stories were written long after Maclean retired. The book, published by Chicago UP in 1976, soon sold very well. At 70 Maclean produced what became a classic C20th American novel.
In the book Paul Maclean was shown to be a talented fly fishermen. I agree with Rosenheim that the spectacle of man engaged with nature was not usually pretty, but Norman managed to show the extraordinary grace of his otherwise messy brother waist deep in the cold, surging waters of the Blackfoot River.
The film, 1991
The cinematography reflected the natural, lush beauty of the Western states in the early C20th and the towns still looked Victorian. As the boys grew up, they did the shimmy with young flappers and planned their futures. Paul’s rebelliousness was shown in his closeness to a young Indian girl, in defiance of town opinion.
Director Robert Redford said the two boys understood that Rev Maclean's lessons and sermons asked the congregants to behave well. The manual labour was hard, the drinkers and prostitutes cunning, the bushfires dangerous, the public racist and the climate untrustworthy. But no matter what life brought, they should wade into the uncertain stream and greet events with courage and honesty.
The rural metaphors were not accidental! It was the tale of a male-dominated family in Montana, unable to ever fully express their love for each other in words or hugs. The mother was almost silent, busy making tasty food. The men were much louder and sporty, showing their familial bonds in the outdoors. And learning discipline.
Some of the men in the story looked hopeless. His brother-in-law Neal who was far worse than Paul – drunk, drugged, rude, self centred and a consummate liar. Paul and Neal’s mothers certainly loved their troubled sons, so it was difficult for the viewers to watch these men fall apart. Sometimes there was humour, but it was a sad humour.
Norman was unable to help his brother with gambling debts and alcoholism. The next May, Paul was beaten to death by a revolver handle in a drunken brawl. The whole family was devastated but given Paul’s history, no one was shocked.
Many years ago I decided to never see a film first and then read the subsequent book second. Even if the film was well done, a film can never recreate the original author’s motivations and insights. It is not that I didn’t enjoy the film A River Runs Through It; I did! But I would have hated to not fully appreciate Maclean’s vision first.
Dan’s Reviews said that this was one of the most significant books in his life. It spoke to a subterranean level of spirituality that he believed all people possess, but men find nearly impossible to express. I would not use the word spirituality, but I agree the book addressed men’s yearning in a subtle, emotional way. Few films could manage that.
And another thing. I normally do not enjoy the use of the first person narrating books and films. The characters and events tend to be seen exclusively through the eyes of the narrator, reducing the world. This film chronicled their intertwining and often conflicting lives, focusing only on Norman's perspective. However Maclean won my heart at the beginning: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”
Personal narratives are only useful when viewers/readers can share them. Older brother Norman was constantly filled with a frustrating sense of helplessness concerning his loved baby brother and with his unloved brother in law. I understood totally ☹
Paul was arrested for drunkenness and brawling more than once, and the family knew he had large gambling debts. Norman tried to intervene, failing every time. Then in 1938 Paul was found murdered, his body dumped in a bar’s alley. Decades later the elderly Norman Maclean still needed to understand the tragedy of his brother’s death, to honour him, and to thank the late Reverend for his fatherly wisdom.
British historian Suzannah Lipscomb was interested in how film makers did, or did not analyse historical evidence accurately in their films. A review of David Rieff’s book In Praise of Forgetting was rightly scornful of the practicality of forgetting past atrocities, just for modern audiences’ comfort. Remembering, not forgetting, was important in the pursuit of recognition and restitution and, ultimately, reconciliation.
Two recent films were designed to remember historical atrocities. Both were love stories set against geopolitical events. Viceroy’s House by Gurinder Chadha told of the Partition that accompanied the granting of independence to India in 1947, in which a million people died and c12 million were displaced. Bitter Harvest by George Mendeluk recalled one of the least-known tragedies of recent history; the Holodomor, the 1932-33 famine in Ukraine in which 3-9 million people died.
Both examples achieved one of the purposes of historical films: they left Lipscomb with the desire to know more. But each step has taken her into murkier territory, for both films told contested histories.
For a discussion of the British Raj, Jon Wilson’s fine 2016 book India Conquered, challenged the idea that there was ever a civilising mission. Shashi Tharoor’s new books, Inglorious Empire in Britain and An Era of Darkness, gave an even more damning verdict. Viceroy’s House played fair with its depiction of British divide-and-rule policies on one side and growing Hindu-Muslim tensions on the other. It dodged one allegation i.e the affair between Edwina Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru. But it made another i.e that Winston Churchill was personally responsible for the catastrophically shoddy division of British India into India and Pakistan.
Bitter Harvest told an even more charged interpretation of the past. As the first English-language film, it espoused many historians’ view that the Holodomor was genocide by starvation, a man-made famine imposed by Stalin’s collectivisation policies. Soviet and Russian histories, by contrast, considered it to be a tragedy, but not man-made or intentional. This historical interpretation was therefore politically loaded and tied to Ukrainian national identity. This film was motivated by a desire to get this atrocity ‘the recognition that history demands’.
The film depicted Stalin as the agent of evil, imposing starvation on millions because he is frustrated by disobedience. What made Lipscomb uneasy was that these things were almost certainly true, but the desire to tell the story in such piebald terms rendered the atrocity almost unbelievable. Lipscomb wrote the way films remembered historic events was troubling. A film can convey a convincing interpretation that cannot be rebutted or it can make even the truest of events far-fetched.
The Birth of a Nation was an excellent 1915 American silent drama, directed by DW Griffith, with actress Lillian Gish in the lead role. The screenplay was adapted from Thomas Dixon's novel The Clansman. The film recounted the relationship of two families in the American Civil War and Reconstruction era: one pro-Union and one pro-Confederacy.
Despite African-American rallies against racism, the film opened in April 1915 to delighted white audiences. So how can we in 2017 know how controversial the film was 102 years ago, for its portrayal of black men as unintelligent and sexually aggressive towards white women? Was the film’s portrayal of the Ku Klux Klan as a heroic force truly believed back then? Apparently yes.
Certainly Rev Thomas Dixon's 1905 book The Clansmen paid warm tribute to the Ku Klux Klan. And the director DW Griffith was also an admirer of the Klan. As Griffith said in his auto-biography and as he championed in the film: “The members of the Klan ran to the rescue of the downtrodden South after the Civil War.” The actress Lillian Gish explained “The idea was to tell the truth about the War between the States. It hasn't been told accurately in history books”.
We have to assume from contemporary documents that the film's storyline was mostly accepted as historically accurate. To reinforce this view, a message from Griffith flickered on the screen as the orchestra started: "This is an historical presentation of the Civil War and Reconstruction Period, and is not meant to reflect on any race or people of today."
The KKK was delighted! The film's release was credited as being a factor that stimulated the second coming of the Ku Klux Klan at Stone Mountain Georgia. Along with a 1913 trial and lynching in Atlanta, this film was specifically used as a recruiting tool for the KKK. To celebrate the opening of The Birth of a Nation, a dramatic Rev William Simmons took 15 racist whites up Stone Mountain, made declarations about purity and honour, then lit a cross and re-ignited the KKK. “The occasion will be remembered long by the participants,” the Atlanta Constitution boomed, “KLAN IS ESTABLISHED WITH IMPRESSIVENESS.”
To ban The Birth of a Nation, blacks could not just show that the film knowingly distorted African American history. Boston's National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People and newspaper editor William Trotter argued that the film was a threat to public safety, it heightened racial tensions and could incite violence. Boston’s mayor responded by holding a public hearing where the mayor claimed he could only censor the film if it was indecent and immoral, but not if it was racist. After the filmmaker agreed to cut explicitly sexual scenes, the film opened in Boston.
Ironically the film had one empowering effect against the KKK. Across the country, blacks filed petitions, appealed to legislatures, met with mayors, picketed theatres and organised protest marches, to ban the film. Even when they failed, the film brought national attention to the NAACP and black Americans had an opportunity at least to be heard. And three states did eventually ban the film.
Did the writers of The Birth of a Nation not realise that their presentation of the Civil War and the Ku Klux Klan was only one side of a vigorously contested history? I assume they deliberately chose to depict life after the Civil War in a way that glorified Klansmen as the "Saviours of the White South". Since the film makers wanted to attract a large white audience to cinemas across the country, it would have been financially counter-productive and ideologically unsound for them to have remembered historical events more accurately. This 1915 film was therefore as politically loaded, and as tied to just one national identity, as the film Bitter Harvest later became.
Last Children of the Raj: British Childhoods in India was edited by Laurence Fleming and published by Radcliffe Press in 2004. This book is a collection of retrospective reminiscences contributed by people late in their lives, the 120+ story tellers having all spent most of their childhood and adolescence in British India, the Princely States or Burma. The most evocative stories were the personal accounts of powerful emotional experiences while growing up in India - the sights, smells and sounds of India, their homes, families, staff, schools and holidays.
The book was presented in two volumes, perfect for history bloggers who tend to read only one chapter at a time. The first volume (1919-39) was organised by geographic regions of India and grouped all of the stories of the children by those areas. The second volume (1939-50) was arranged chronologically, covering WW2 and soon after. Most of the contributors’ stories were split up and were divided into a few sections. An index would have made it possible to go back and forward, within each individual’s story.
These children’s fathers were railway engineers and other professionals, army officers, teachers, members of the Indian Civil Service, plantation owners and businessmen. In India during the last 30 years or so of British rule, the fathers' careers were important since they were the very men who were there to develop and modernise India.
Plus the fathers’ careers meant the children grew up in a society even more stratified than Britain by income and occupation. Inevitably these children grew up with the nice houses, good schools and plenty of household staff that were the distinctive features of life in British India. A comfortable life-style, but one unprotected from epidemics, vicious heat, mosquitoes, snakes and wild animals. [I was not coddled as a child, but one sight of a scorpion in my bedroom would have got me into a ship home, the NEXT morning].
Unless forbidden to do so by their English-speaking nannies, many of the contributors in this book had spoken Indian languages as children. Since picking up Indian languages from doting servants, some children spoke English almost as a second language.
These children, born in 1914-40, provided a social history during the last decades of the British Raj that occurred during a hectic era: world war, self-rule movements and the violent birth of independent India and Pakistan. Nonetheless these privileged children of the Raj remembered an exciting and exotic childhood. Still we have to ask: did they fully acknowledge being a part of expatriate life in both countries – an expat in India and in the UK? Where was “home”?
Separation from family was a dominant theme, even for those children sent to distant schools within India’s hill stations eg Simla. Those children who went to boarding schools in the hill stations were taught together with Anglo-Indians and Europeans born in India. At least those educated in India were only separated from their families for 10 months each year. But it came at a price. The children who stayed in Indian schools would not have had access to the lessons and examinations that groomed lads towards the best career paths.
When WW2 erupted in 1939, many children who were in school in Britain were recalled to India, moving into temporarily-created schools in India. In 1940, in one convoy the P&O troopship Stratheden carried at least 200 children back to India. Dangerous to be sure, but at least the parents got their sons and daughters safely by their sides. As WW2 went on, the older sons joined up as officers in the British and Indian armies.
Many suffered emotional traumas; children of the Raj had needs and feelings of their own that were not being listened to! But according to the stories in the book, most children adapted to their predicament - this was a cost of Empire and of keeping the family in its appropriate class position. Even more, the Raj made them proud to be British; history had given them a special role in the world.
Upon retirement, Raj families had to face a reduced income and important decisions about where to live out the rest of their days. I felt very sad for those families, even though I never lived in any colonial service. Losing the one home a family had lived in for a generation ..was always tragic.
Of course the Raj was about rule, not about power sharing. So Indians could only serve the Raj as servants or friends; Indians could never be central to the events in their own nation. For as long as the Indians were not governing their own country, they could only show their true feelings within the various independence movements. So the alternative name of the book, Orphans of the Imperial Dream, probably reflected the times better.
I have not seen Elizabeth Buettner's Empire Families (2004), and Margaret MacMillan’s Women of the Raj: The Mothers, Wives and Daughters of the British Empire in India (2007) but they seem to touch many of the same themes found in the Fleming book.
In 1968 I saw Daniel Cohn-Bendit on tv and decided straight away who I would marry. The man of my dreams would have to be a red-head, Jewish, European-born and educated, politically left wing and a great Bridge player. In 1969, I met my now-husband Joe who was a red-head, Jewish, European and great at Bridge. Only in politics could Joe have been more active – much more active!
Now let us look at 1968, as described by David Del Testa* and Sean O’Hagan*. Paris was the place where political action and utopian fantasy came together in the most spectacular fashion. The 1968 protesters initially comprised a few student activists at the Nanterre University in Paris. Protests began against the lack of facilities on their bleak suburban campus. Extraordinarily, the authorities called the French riot police to quell the small demonstration, and suddenly politicised students joined the rebels.
They had a leader, Daniel Cohn-Bendit (b1945). Born in Monatuban in southern France, he was the son of German citizens who had fled the Nazi machine before WW2 started. He moved to Germany with his parents in 1958 and attended high school near Frankfurt. Cohn-Bendit took out German citizenship, then returned to France in 1966 to study sociology at the Nanterre University.
Cohn-Bendit was soon called Danny the Red by the media, a reference to his ginger hair as much as his politics. Cohn-Bendit's grin and non-dogmatic radicalism made him the antithesis of dour theoretical Marxists.
After another sit-in at Nanterre, they closed the university and ordered Cohn-Bendit to appear before a disciplinary board. Thus the protests shifted to the centre of Paris where media crews were already assembling to cover the imminent Vietnam peace talks. The students were now becoming an embarrassment to President De Gaulle. He sent police into the Sorbonne to arrest 600 students and ordered the university’s closure.
The police charged, leaving students unconscious on the cobbled street. The students regrouped and fought back around the Sorbonne, overturning cars and building barricades for hours. These were people who knew nothing of revolution; there was no organisation, no planning.
As news of the uprising spread, young people from all over Paris arrived to support the students. Petrol bombs and Molotov cocktails lit up the streets as night fell. 600+ protesters were injured in one day and about half as many police. The rioting continued for another week and images of the clashes with police were everywhere.
On the streets of Paris in those few weeks, people from different backgrounds came out in support of the students. Groups of Parisians gathered around the barricades to organise and agitate. Posters appeared across the Left Bank and beyond. The two main Parisian art schools combined to form the Atelier Populaire, producing hundreds of silk-screened images in an impressive outpouring of political graphic art. The real 1968 represented liberation and a sense of community. Order and authority were challenged.
Cohn-Bendit, who would soon receive a deportation order from the French government for his involvement, had gone from "local student activist" to "international figurehead for revolution". In just three weeks Danny the Red was famous all over the world. And in my heart.
The catalyst for Danny the Red’s fame in 1968 was TV. Two technological innovations transformed news broadcasts: a] use of cheap, reusable videotape, instead of film; and b] same-day broadcasts. While the Left argued over the meaning of the unrest, Cohn-Bendit did not care about its meaning. But he did care that images of rebellion were quickly disseminated.
Anti-Vietnam War protests
Images of frantic battles in the Vietnam war were quickly broadcast to the USA, a nation who were not used to seeing their soldiers killing civilians. The carpet bombing, napalm and American massacres of Vietnamese families shocked, then angered viewers. In late 1967-1968, c30 colleges a month were protesting with sit-ins and street marches.
In Germany a strong anti-Vietnam war movement had grown on campuses in 1967. By April 1968, highly organised rioting started in Berlin, following the attempted assassination of left-winger Rudi Dutschke. Students and activists directed their ire at the right-wing Springer Press organisation in Berlin, laying siege.
In Poland the government closed down eight university departments in Warsaw, and imprisoned 1,000 students after protests against state censorship. In Italy the University of Rome was shut down for two weeks after violent demonstrations against police brutality. In Spain students marched against the Fascist regime of General Franco, so he closed Madrid University for a month. In Brasil protesters were killed during marches against the military junta. In France, just as the Nanterre protests gathered momentum, thousands marched against the war in Paris. Then 10,000 German protesters gathered in West Berlin. Worst of all, Soviet troops rumbled into Czechoslovakia, abruptly ending the brief Prague spring of reforms.
By then, the spirit of 1968 had dimmed in France, too. To the astonishment of both students and government, the French trade unions had called for a general strike for more pay and better conditions. France ground to a halt to the horror of the beleaguered President De Gaulle. It looked as if France would undergo another revolution, but the unlikely alliance of students and workers did not last. Cohn-Bendit himself admitted that the workers and the students were never properly together.
After the May Riots, Cohn-Bendit’s political opponents took advantage of his German passport and had him expelled from France as a seditious alien. He became active in Frankfurt instead.
That youthful unplanned idealism, carried for a while by a surprising momentum, quickly faded. 1968 ended with De Gaulle still in power, President Nixon was now president and the Vietnam war escalating. In Mexico hundreds of young people in the student movement were slaughtered by the Olympic Battalion in Tlatelolco Square in Oct 1968.
The youth revolution might have been over, but 1968 remained the epicentre modern protest and the dawn of a new geopolitical order. It was also the beginning of the many struggles that followed, especially Women's Liberation. Cohn-Bendit, hero of May 1968, is now a Green Party leader in the European parliament.
*See Government Leaders, Military Rulers and Political Activists by David Del Testa and Sean O’Hagan in The Guardian, Jan 2008.
Thomas Guthrie was born in Arbroath Scotland in 1803, 12th child of his father David, a merchant and banker. The young Thomas went to Edinburgh University at 12 where he studied as a divinity student, then studied surgery and anatomy. In 1829 Guthrie was appointed to a parish where he introduced classes for young people every Sabbath. He also started a village library.
In 1837, Guthrie became minister at the Old Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh where he saw at first hand the ragged children who lived by begging and stealing. Presumably he knew of Sheriff Watson in Aberdeen who had formed his Industrial Feeding School in 1841. Guthrie converted a room beneath the church as a kitchen and he soon had his first class going. Within a year he had started three Ragged Schools in Edinburgh! In his 1847 pamphlet Plea for Ragged Schools, Rev Guthrie described a unique curriculum - education, meals, clothes, industrial training and Christian instruction. Pupils learned cobbling, tailoring and cooking. And by doing jobs for local shops, the children could earn a small wage and learn its value. The effect was to clear the streets and prisons of young beggars.
Ragged Schools provided free education for children too poor to receive it elsewhere but they were not pretty. Charles Dickens thought a particular London Ragged School was the most wretched place he’d ever seen. By 1841 c2 million people lived in London, but without compulsory schooling only a fraction of them had attended school. The Empire was expanding, but much of London was still impoverished.
Field Lane Ragged School opened in 1842. The school consisted of two or three miserable rooms where ragged, filthy children huddled together on a bench. Not to be trusted with books, the pupils were taught orally by a voluntary teacher. By the 1850s Field Lane consisted of a day school, which taught reading, writing, counting and the Bible; two night schools, one for vagrant adults and another for boys who were employed during the day. There were classes in shoe-making and tailoring for boys, and sewing classes for girls. Field Lane also fed and clothed its students, ran a night refuge and a weekend Bible school. Evangelical Christianity was at the heart of Ragged schooling!
In 1844 the Ragged School Union was founded as a movement of individual schools, sustained by charity or government grants. In under a decade, 300+ free schools for poor children were established in Britain. London, Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh of course, but Manchester, Liverpool and other cities became equally important.
There was criticism. Dickens thought the movement was not secular enough.
In 1850 journalist Henry Mayhew noted ongoing juvenile delinquency. In his 1851 report, London Labour and the London Poor, Mayhew noted the Mudlarks who traipsed along the banks of the Thames looking for coal, copper and rope scraps to sell. Few of these children had been to church or school. Indeed, due to their acts of petty theft brought about by hunger, they were often in prison.
Many poor families believed the classes on offer were irrelevant, so the Ragged School Union began to establish Brigades for boys in 1857. These groups provided certified jobs in street vending or shoe shining, with a proportion of the boys’ earnings being placed in a personal bank account. The police approved.
Were the Ragged Schools popular among the poorest in society? In the Ragged School Union’s Annual Report for 1857, only 21,500 out of London’s half a million children had attended their lessons. Eventually Parliament agreed that Ragged schooling alone would not solve the problems. The introduction of universal, compulsory schooling in London under the 1870 Education Act finally arrived.
The Jews' Free School in Spitalfields, in London’s East End, taught c20,000 pupils between 1856-1907. By 1900, the school had 4,250: it was the largest school in Europe. .Since my grandmother lived in Whitechapel, sharing the two rooms with the 12 other people in her impoverished family, I must investigate her Jews’ Free School detailed records. Grandma went on to become a singer/dancer in the three Yiddish Theatres AND in the English-speaking pantomimes. So for at least my family, the Free School did a great job.
He gave up his medical training to pursue his local missionary and philanthropy works and in 1867 opened his first ragged school, Copperfield Road School in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. Copperfield Road School (and his other properties in the East End) educated tens of thousands of children over the years. It only closed in 1908 when enough government schools were available to serve the local families (although the Factory Girls’ Club lasted until 1916). Was this the last Ragged School to close?
Australia invented surf life saving, pavlova, rotary clothes hoists, plastic bank notes and black box flight recorders. But now I want to concentrate on cochlear implants.
This was the situation until the early 1980s when Dr William Gibson became aware of the cochlear experiments. Now we need to read Bill Gibson: Pioneering Bionic Ear Surgeon written by Tina Allen, 2017.
Bill and his identical twin were born (in 1944) in the British city of Devon, into a family of doctors. Their father was still fighting the war in France! Bill Gibson eventually decided he wanted to be a doctor, moving to study in London in the 1960s. Later, as a medical graduate, he specialised in London in otology-ear surgery. Gibson was eventually one of the top Ears, Nose and Throat consultants in the UK.
There was already a primitive version of the bionic ear available in Britain but it provided only a dot-dash sort of sound. Developing this into a multi-channel device that could convert sounds into electronic impulses that the brain could hear was progress.
Bill knew about Australia’s Prof Graeme Clark's research into cochlear implants, work that was largely dismissed in the UK. In particular, Prof Graeme Clark and his team in Melbourne University’s Otolaryngology Department swere examining ways of using new technology to help deaf people. They focused on the cochlea, the part of the ear that passed sounds to the brain.
Understanding the potential of the Melbourne work, Gibson saw the opportunity to join his surgical skills to the device. The Gibson family emigrated to Australia. It was great that Prof Graeme Clark was very supportive of the recent British arrivals and it was great that Bill’s twin brother had already married an Australian.
In Australia, Julia Patrick noted, the Melbourne ENT hierarchy regarded Prof Clark as eccentric and his work futile; apparently they considered the idea of following speech without lip reading and signing to be silly. Fortunately the University of Sydney was open to individual research, so Gibson applied for, and accepted the first Professorship of Otolaryngology/ENT at Sydney University.
Encouraged by a small group of perceptive supporters at Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (spouse’s alma mater), Gibson received the green light to go ahead: two patients successfully received the first cochlear implants in 1984.
Surgically inserted in the ear of these two patients, the implants did not actually cure deafness; it was a prosthetic substitute for hearing that did the work of the damaged hair cells of the inner ear, the cochlea, to send sound signals to the brain. When it worked, there was a great excitement, seeing the joy on the face of deaf patients when they realised they were part of a hearing world.
There were inevitable failures as the medical teams learned more about distinguishing between patients who were suitable for implants and those who were not, but the profession noted clear progress. The device became compact and Gibson developed a way to implant it.
The first generation of recipients were people who had lost their hearing in adulthood, because they understood the concept of spoken communication. Gibson believed that while restoring hearing to adults was important, the focus should be on youngsters who had been deaf from birth and had never learned to speak. By the age of 7, their speech organs would have effectively atrophied.
By 1986 the cochlear team in Sydney had successfully carried out 20 implants for adults and Gibson was ready, willing and able to perform the surgery on congenitally deaf children. If they received an implant from 9-18 months of age, speech would naturally follow hearing. Gibson chose a four-year-old girl for an implant in 1987, which involved convincing medical regulators that the process was ethical and practical. She was the first paediatric recipient of the Australian-designed bionic ear in the world. This brave little girl learned to both understand and use speech.
When Dr Gibson controversially decided to implant cochlear devices in children, he received many letters criticising the plan. One group in particular, The Signing Deaf Group, believed that congenital deafness should not be seen as a disease to be cured. Instead the focus should be on signing, itself a valid alternative language.
Gibson’s goal was now to identify babies born deaf, allowing them to have an implant. With Gibson’s persuasion, NSW initiated a successful early-detection programme, now Australia-wide. With a cochlear implant, children born congenitally deaf could go to a regular school and lead the life of a normal child. Between 1984 and 2014, he performed the bionic ear operation 2000+ times!
More recent progress
Dr Gibson helped establish Cochlear Implant Club and Advisory Association, a group that enabled implant recipients to meet regularly, providing support to each other and feedback to doctors. And to obtain funding for specialist facilities and post-op therapy.
The vital personal accounts of 40 of Professor Gibson’s patients are included in the Australian chapters of the biography. The book also considered the issues Dr Gibson experienced in establishing a top class cochlear implant programme, known today as the Sydney Cochlear Implant Centre. The twelve branches of the Centre were one of the many legacies of his career. Another success was the small incision he developed for cochlear implant surgery, to reduce wound breakdown to practically zero. Plus he advised a NSW Ministerial Committee on the best screening test to be used in hospital on new-born infants.
Prof Gibson is now overseeing research into the cause and cure for the debilitating Menière’s Disease. This condition of the ear has resisted medical knowledge since the condition was first identified in France in 1861 by Prosper Menière. Sydney now has the first laboratory in the world dedicated solely to Menière’s Disease Research.
Thank you for the nominations. Let me know which you enjoyed most.
BRITAIN & EUROPE
The late Norman “Little Malvern Priory Church” was ready in 1171. In 1480 the Church & lodgings were ruined, so Bishop Alcock had the site repaired. See Cherie’s Place.
"The Literal Bones of the World" is in Myths 'n Monsters.
“Cold Sea Bathing in the Georgian Era” is in Geri Walton. Its therapeutic properties were most helpful for those who indulged in idleness or debauchery. The salt was important.
In A Visitor's Guide to Victorian England, “Victorian Crime: Murder in the Suburbs” noted that crime was low. Yet in the early 1880s, there were two Manchester murders that had an uncanny link with shocking events c30 years later.
“Meet the Man Who Saved Kenilworth Castle” is in English Heritage Blog. Sir John Siddeley bought the castle in the 1930s and made it public. See his story and see the exhibition of Armstrong Siddeley’s cars and planes.
The British royal family dropped their German surname in 1917 and refashioned themselves. The equivalent anti-German campaign in South Australia is in “The Centenary of the House of Windsor 1917–2017”, in History Matrix.
“Fitzrovia, London” in To Discover Ice tells of the suburb that became a artistic and bohemian community. Centred around Fitzroy Square, the area celebrates historic pubs, restaurants, media companies and literary homes.
In Heritage Bulletin, “Tothill Street, our first Headquarters” showed how the Women’s Voluntary Services for Air Raid Precautions was founded in 1938. The hidden histories of one million wartime women have been digitised.
The blog Dirty, Sexy History has a] "I Thought they Had Been Nuns: Great Wine & Failed Sexual Transactions", b] "Fanny Burney and Her Mastectomy" and c] "Sex, Contraception, and Abortion in Medieval England".
By 1775 rebellion entered New York’s Albany County. Armed night watches and prisons intimidated British loyalists."In Addition to Disarming Them...” in Historical Nerdery.
"New England’s Darkest Day" appears in The New York History Blog. “Solar Eclipse Tips From John Quincy Adams” is published in Plodding Through the Presidents.
See The Secret Victorianist for “Governors Island: Castle William NYC”. Built to stave off British attacks that never occurred, Castle Williams became barracks for Civil War Union soldiers. Then it had new uses.
Regarding the popularity of cycling in 1900 and the laws that the riders broke, see"Breaking the Law on Two Wheels" in The Chemung County Historical Society.
In Mental Floss see “A Forgotten George Gershwin Musical just made its American Debut”. In 1982, crates of musical manuscripts by Porter, Rodgers & Gershwin were discovered in New Jersey. His 1924 musical Primrose was discussed.
“Webster Hall Will Return” was published in The Bowery Boys. From 1886, the hall hosted the Greenwich Village Ball till the 1930s, a dancing bacchanalia for artists, bohemians and drag queens. It's now a New York City landmark.
“Laundry Methods During the American Revolution” is in 17th Regt. of Infantry in America. See a] formal guides to washing laundry b] civilian & military notations about laundering in the American colonies, and c] personal observations.
With Jim Crow restrictions, African Americans were barred from mainstream holidays. From 1890-1960s, special coastal resorts arose, a haven against racism! "Summer Resorts Once Offered African Americans” is in Edwardian Promenade.
Naomi Clifford wrote “The Eruption of La Soufrière on the West Indian Island of St Vincent” in 1812. Alas the British were preoccupied with imminent naval war against the US. Worse, St Vincent was the centre of the Anglo-French War.
“A Montesorri School, Tchaikovsky and a Murder” is in Daytonian in Manhattan. The Queen Anne style, 4-storey brick-stone dwellings were in West 74th St NY. Read of the different owners, illegal speakeasies and a 1932 murder.
“Who should own the Koh i Noor Diamond?” is in Art and Architecture, mainly. Nations in Central Asia will be in court over this diamond. When does an historical treasure need to be repatriated abroad? And to which country?
WAR “The Barge Canal: New York’s Patriotic Contribution to WWI” appears in The Friends of Schoharie Crossing.
The Second World War Research Group has a] "French Recruitment of Colonial Soldiers in Morocco after German Occupation of Paris”; b] "When Britain meets Free France: Coalition Warfare in French Equatorial Africa" and c] “The Italian Navy and Japan: Strategy and Hopes, 1937-1942”.
Mark A. Landis (born 1955) was born in Virginia but was constantly on the move with his Navy father. At age 17, the young man suffered a schizophrenic breakdown when his beloved father died. Art therapy helped, so Mark enrolled in School of the Art Institute of Chicago and then San Francisco Art Institute. But neither lasted for long.
Educating people about forgery and letting people know about Landis was the only way to stop him, said the director of the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum in Lafayette La. This museum had been duped in 2010 with a Landis donation of a work supposedly painted by American Charles Courtney Curran.
Supposedly a work by C19th French painter William-Adolphe Bouguereau.
The fake was shown at the University of Cincinnati exhibition.
Landis vaguely acknowledged his trickery. He told The Associated Press he made his first forgery donation to a California museum in 1985. "They were so nice. I just got used to that, and one thing led to another. It never occurred to me that anyone would think it was wrong." Oh really??
Art experts said not accepting payment for his forgeries helped keep Landis from ever being charged with a crime. However museum officials said there was a real price to pay - forgeries hurt their reputation and cost time and money researching suspected fraud.
Landis typically targeted smaller museums that did not have the resources to thoroughly check donations. While museums did not pay Landis, some treated him to receptions and gifts, before realising the works were fakes.
The exhibit used Landis’ story to show how forgeries occurred and demonstrated that institutions and the public should not take art at face value. The exhibit didn't increase the value of Landis' works — considered worthless except as educational tools on forgery — and the curators heard no objections to spotlighting his works. Landis was thrilled.
Intent to Deceive: Fakes and Forgeries in the Art World (2015) was a ground-breaking exhibition at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art that highlighted 60+ works by some of the world’s most notorious con artists. It illuminated their dubious legacies and examined how their talents, charm and gall ensnared the art world of the C20th. Several ingenious forgers were profiled in this show, representing some of the most infamous scandals of our times. The exploits of Han van Meegeren, Elmyr de Hory, Eric Hebborn, John Myatt and Mark Landis had shaken the art world at various times, gathering each of them worldwide notoriety.
Included in each forger’s profile were their original works, personal effects and ephemera, photos, film clips and representations of the material and techniques used to create these convincing fakes. Also included were original works of art by modern masters such as Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Paul Signac and others, shown alongside several of the world’s most accomplished art forgers - to test the viewers' perceptions of authenticity.
Landis may be the most famous art counterfeiter who never committed a crime. But Landis implied the works were by Old Masters, he falsified documents and he used aliases. I think the exhibition of fakes was an excellent idea, but not for the reason given i.e. “to educate the public about art forgery”; “to ensure that institutions and the public don't take art at face value”. We should be asking if, as long as a talented artist didn’t explicitly lie about his works coming from Old Masters, "have his fakes nonetheless devalued the Old Masters"?
The Jacobites, supporters of King James II, were the original opponents of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. The Act of Union in 1707 had led to the creation of Great Britain, with a single parliament at Westminster. Scotland did not adapt easily to this new relationship because, for many Scots, the union delivered misery and economic disadvantage. So half the nation wanted to return to the independence of Stuart Scotland.
For landed and business-minded Scots who had increased access to a new British trading empire, the Union was loved. And Presbyterian Scots, who were still fearful of popery, certainly did not want to see another Stuart king in Scotland.
The Stuarts’ main strongholds remained in the Scottish Highlands and Islands. By the early C18th the Highlanders were not the only people looking to overthrow the British government; unhappy citizens on both sides of the border, including persecuted Irish Catholics and unhappy English Tories, shared the goal. And the Jacobite cause received support from France, Spain, Sweden, the Papacy and Russia, all of whom wanted to weaken the British government.
Charles Edward Stuart aka Bonnie Prince Charlie (1720-88) was born in Rome, where his family had been living in exile. He was the grandson of the deposed Catholic King James II who’d escaped the Protestant William of Orange's takeover in 1688. James’ grandson soon became the popular focus of the Jacobite cause. However to the British government, the Young Pretender was just another rebel insurgent.
In 1745, Charles left France for the Scottish Highlands to enlist the clans in rebellion against the proper Hanoverian British King George II. Charles’ plan was to make his father, James Francis Edward (1688–1766), the British king.
At first the few clan chiefs Charles contacted showed little interest in the Stuarts. But the social structure of the Highland clans allowed him to raise a sizable body of men. At first the Stuart campaign went well. After the capture of Edinburgh and assuring his forces that support was on its way from France, Charles marched south. They defeated the British government’s army in East Lothian, then crossed into England and successfully laid siege to Carlisle then Derby. The “invaders” caused great anxiety in the south.
Once it became clear that no help was coming from France, Charles retreated to Scotland. After several more battles, in Ap 1646 they fought at Culloden Moor, near Inverness. The Duke of Cumberland’s 9,000-strong force immediately destroyed the Jacobite army of 5,000 Highlanders.
height 165 mm
After the Rebellion, the Hanoverian British government decided to permanently end the Jacobite threat. Many Jacobites were imprisoned or executed; estates were forfeited, the clan system dismantled; weaponry, traditional dress and bagpipes were outlawed. The powers that had underpinned the authority of clan chiefs over their clansmen were abolished. Charles survived the Battle of Culloden but became a fugitive for five months. He eventually escaped to France and never set foot in Scotland again.
Once Bonnie Prince Charlie was permanently gone, the Jacobite cause quickly became a nostalgic theme, expressed through poetry and song, especially in Scotland.
The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh has a large exhibition from May-Nov 2017. The Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites Exhibition includes 300+ objects, plus a selection of works on rare loan from the Vatican.
My favourite exhibit was a silver travelling canteen, filled with every implement a prince could possibly need. The outer case of the canteen was decorated with the 3-feathered badge of the Prince of Wales, while the lid was chased with bands of linked thistles, a figure of St Andrew and Charles’ motto. Because the so-called Prince of Wales was made a Knight of the Thistle shortly after his birth, the collar and badge of the Most Nobel Order of the Thistle was prominent. This was the highest honour in Scotland.
The canteen set contained 31 pieces, including a perfectly fitted: wine-taster, cruet, teaspoon and marrow scoop, corkscrew, nutmeg grater, salt and pepper shakers, wine beakers, drinking bowl and a knife-fork set. The outer case, a beautiful example of rococo craftsmanship, was decorated with bands of linked thistles, flowers and leaves, representing the collar of the Order of the Thistle.
Charles brought the canteen with him to Scotland in 1745. When the Rebellion ended in Ap 1746 with the defeat of the Jacobite army at Culloden, the canteen was lost. The victorious government commander, William Duke of Cumberland, captured the canteen and gave it to one of his aides, George Kepple, later the Earl of Albemarle. The silver canteen remained in his family until 1963; after a successful fundraising campaign to prevent it being sold abroad, it was finally acquired by the Museum in 1984.
Who made the canteen? The entire extended family of Edinburgh goldsmith Ebenezer Oliphant were dedicated Jacobite soldiers or Jacobite lay supporters. This elaborate travelling set, made by Ebenezer Oliphant in 1740-41, seemed to have been a 21st birthday gift for Prince Charles.
The Stewart Society was very proud of Oliphant who ended his apprenticeship in 1737. He had learned the skill from James Mitchellson, his master and the most gifted goldsmith in Scotland. I have seen other Oliphant silver art from the 1740s, largely clean, minimally decorated silver footed bowls, tea pots or salvers. By 1753 Ebenezer had prospered so well that he was able to help the family buy back the estates which had been forfeited after the 1746 defeat. Did he continue with richly decorated silver, like the canteen? Or was this a one-off art work, specially designed to proclaim Prince Charles’ right to the British throne?
Alan Ramsay’s previously lost portrait of Bonnie Prince Charlie,
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
There are two ironies in this story. Firstly after having spent a total of only 14 months in his “homeland”, Prince Charles eventually escaped to France and never set foot in Scotland again. Secondly the greatest gold and silver artists EVER were Protestant Huguenots expelled in 1685 from France by the Catholic king, Louis XIV. How ironic that when Catholic Prince Charles wanted the best silver art in 1740, he had to commission the pieces from British silver artists.
I never liked King James II, the Old Pretender, the Young Pretender or any part of the Jacobite cause, but I would sell my house and the beloved spouse’s soul to own that piece of Jacobite silver art.
Melbourne has become renowned as Australia’s cultural capital. Note Southbank’s Arts Precinct located next door to Southgate, stretching from the Yarra to the end of Sturt Street. Over the years it has become home to performing arts companies, venues and galleries. This pedestrian-friendly Arts Precinct includes Sidney Myer Music Bowl (1959), the newest National Gallery Victoria building (1968), the city’s premier concert venue Hamer Hall (1982), Arts Centre Melbourne (1984) and its spire, Malthouse Theatre (1990), Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (2002), Melbourne Recital Centre (2009) and Melbourne Theatre Company’s Southbank Theatre (2009).
The Melbourne Arts Precinct Blueprint 2014 is a co-ordinated approach to the future development of the precinct. The study has been co-ordinated by the key arts stakeholders: City of Melbourne, Arts Victoria and State Government. Whilst each individual organisation has its own plans for the future, the Blueprint sees the precinct as a coordinated plan for this part of the city. A vibrant Southbank precinct needs mixed-use activities with a strong arts focus, vibrant street activity and energy. And as ever, tree-lined streets and beautiful Victorian buildings were/are well preserved.
Was Melbourne’s Art Precinct based on the ideas of the City Beautiful Movement, imported from an overseas city? In the C19th, I might have examined the Vienna’s Ringstrasse. But in the C20th, I would be looking instead at Benjamin Franklin Parkway Philadelphia.
A formal Parkway plan was developed in 1907 by Horace Trumbauer, Clarence Zantzinger and Paul Crét for the Fairmount Park Art Association. It was a region of educational activities grouped around Logan Square as the central anchor, an artistic centre developed around the Fairmount Plaza, at the entrance to Philadelphia’s best park. Work started in 1917, cutting a very wide (160’) corridor through Fairmount’s residential housing. Philadelphia had thus created a Champs Elysee-like boulevard that connected the centre city to Fairmount Park.
Fortunately Philadelphia celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1876 with America's first World's Fair. And the Philadelphia Museum of Art was originally chartered in 1876 for the World Fair. The City Council funded a competition in 1895 to design a new museum building, and by 1907 architectural plans from Zantzinger and Charles Borie started construction in the Fairmount Parkway. The main museum building opened in 1928. Across from the Museum’s main building, a newly renovated and expanded building opened in 2007.
The Town Hall was completed in 1901. Designed by architects John McArthur, John Ord and Bleddyn Powell, it was the largest municipal building in the USA.
The main branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia opened its main branch doors alongside Logan Square in 1927. The first section of the Pennsylvania Museum was opened in 1928 on the Parkway, designed by architects Borie, Trumbauer and Zantzinger. It was renamed Philadelphia Museum of Art ten years later.
Designed by John Windrim, the Franklin Science Institute opened its new building on the Parkway in 1934-38, after 110 years in other Philadelphia locations. Note the imposing statue.
As much time was put into transforming the Parkway outside (sculpture, gardens) as was put into the individual buildings’ architecture eg Swann Memorial Fountain was designed by sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder and completed in 1924, as the centrepiece of Logan Square.
I wasn't very interested in the secure detention Youth Study Centre which was constructed on the Parkway in 1952 (by J Roy Carroll, John Grisdale and William Van Alen). But I was fascinated in 2009 when the youth centre was demolished to make way for the Barnes Foundation which had been in Merion for decades. It opened in 2012.
Moore College of Art and Design moved to its new campus on the Parkway in 1959. And was expanded in 2000.
Other American cities were planning similar projects during those years, creating America's first important contribution to urban design, the City Beautiful Movement. The city planners wanted a model of an orderly, classical metropolis, crossed by boulevards and dominated by contemporary Beaux-Arts and neoclassical buildings. Philadelphia could rightly claim it met the urban challenges of the new era, with a grand boulevard evoking the energy of the C20th.
Washington Monument Fountain, Philadelphia
facing down the Parkway.
Philadelphia Museum of Art
In 2009 critic Anthony Tommasini noted that if a sprawling multi-disciplinary performing-arts complex were proposed in a big city today, it would probably never be built. Talking about the Lincoln Centre for the Performing Arts in New York, he said the community assumed that orchestras, opera companies, ballet troupes and theatres would gain a lot by becoming partners in a centralised complex. But, he asked, is that still true? Firstly the promise of arts organisations working together can become a daily grind of competing boards. Secondly such complexes tend to result in an arts ghetto, away from the broader community. He concluded that because an Arts Precinct allowed arts lovers to travel from their suburbs, dine, attend a performance and return home, it placed functional convenience above the desirability for the arts to be owned by the community.
Once Hitler came to power in 1933, Germany’s 572,000 Jews faced catastrophe as was made perfectly clear in Peter Nash's book Escape From Berlin (Impact Press, 2017). So how did some European Jews receive visas to the Far East? Just as the German industrialist Oskar Schindler saved the lives of 1200 Jews in Poland, three less-known diplomats helped Jews to get to Shanghai.
In 1940 Chiune Sugihara was the Japanese consul general in Lithuania. He issued visas to 6000 Jews, against his Tokyo superiors’ instructions, allowing Jews to transit through Japan. When he ran out of authentic visas, Sugihara threw signed sheets of paper stamped with his consular seal to the Jews as the train left Lithuania to take him back to Japan.
Ho Feng-Shan was Chinese consul general in Vienna. After the Anschluss in 1938, the only way for the 200,000 Austrian Jews to escape was to get an entry visa from a foreign nation. Against the orders of his superior in Berlin, Ho issued thousands of visas for refugees going to Shanghai. Until he was ordered to return to China in 1940.
Tadeusz Romer was the Polish ambassador to Japan. When many of Sugihara's Jews reached Japan, they could still have been sent back to Nazi-occupied Poland. So Romer intervened, granting them new passports and visas to neutral countries. When the Polish embassy was shut down in 1941, “his” Jews were sent to safety in Shanghai.
Born in Berlin in 1936, three-year-old Peter Nachemstein and his parents were forced to escape Nazi Germany by fleeing to Shanghai. The SS Scharnhorst was a German liner that they boarded in Genoa in April 1939. They almost missed the boat. When the Nachemsteins were served with an eviction notice straight after the infamous Kristallnacht destruction in Nov 1938 Herbert and Ingeborg wanted tickets to Argentina. When that failed, Ingeborg's father saved them.
The voyage took Peter (aged 3) and his family through the Suez Canal with stops at Colombo, Manila and Hong Kong before the ship finally docked at Shanghai. Despite their fine surroundings on the Scharnhorst, the Nachemsteins were in fact "boat people". They were persecuted refugees who had fled their homeland with little more than their clothes. And they were disembarking, without visas, funds or language, at a Chinese port that had been invaded by the Imperial Japanese Army in 1937. Fortunately in those final few months before Hitler invaded Poland in Sept 1939, Shanghai was an open treaty port, a haven that accepted refugees without an entry visa.
Peter's friends, the Witting family, fled Berlin and arrived in Shanghai in May 1939 on the SS Conte Verde. The Wittings were met by Jewish representatives and taken to the Heime/-former refugee camps military barracks. Although 30 people packed into double bunk beds, the Wittings were fortunate. Relatives in South Africa sent money, allowing them to rent a single room in Hongkew, for eight years.
Today this massive Chinese city is glamorous for tourists. In WW2, less so. Shanghai was divided into four distinct zones along the northern banks of the Yellow River: a] Old Chinese City, b] French Concession, c] International Settlement and d] Chinese Districts which had most of the city's 4 million population.
New arrivals were issued with a blanket, sheets, tin dish, cup and spoon, and access to a soup kitchen. There were various Shanghai Relief Aid Committees which received funds from overseas donors, especially the American Joint.
The trickle of European refugees that began in the mid 1930s had become a flood by late 1939. Meanwhile thousands of impoverished Chinese were pouring into Shanghai, seeking work. Beggars were everywhere. Death was everywhere; coolies pushed carts around, picking up Chinese bodies.
The small room had 2 beds, sink, stove, table and cupboard. The Nachmensteins shared an unsewered toilet and a bathtub with two other families. Every morning Chinese workers arrived and cleaned out the toilets. The tap water had to be boiled.
Fortunately the women could collect food each day from the Heime kitchens. Survival in Shanghai was risked by poor diet, bad sanitation and low resistance to tropical diseases, but it was much better than any alternative. Compared to Europe’s death camps, Shanghai was a haven of safety.
Any Jewish refugee who could raise enough money would leave the Heime. Most hoped to settle in Hongkew in the International Settlement, which had been partially destroyed by 1937 bombs. As streets were cleared and houses rebuilt, Hongkew offered the Nachemsteins one single, subsidised room in a terraced house in Hongkew.
By Nov 1940, the Shanghai authorities were trying to stem the tide of refugees by issuing entry visas. Just in time, Ingeborg's sister and brother in law took the only escape route - they caught the train from Berlin to Moscow, the Trans-Siberian Express to Vladivostok and a boat to Shanghai. Then Hitler declared war on Soviet Union and escapes ended.
The Shanghai Jews did not have to face anti-Semitism. Neither the Chinese nor the Japanese, Confucianist or Buddhist, treated Jews any differently to other foreigners. Life was stable until Dec 1941 when Japan bombed Pearl Harbour. Suddenly Shanghai was swamped with Japanese military and civilian personnel searching for housing. A very polite Japanese family moved into the Nash’s terrace house, occupying the entire first floor. The Japanese only targeted American and British nationals. Some Sephardic Jews from the Middle East or India had British passports and were treated brutally, but only because they were British!
The real change didn't come until Mar 1943. Under pressure from senior Nazis, the Japanese agreed to move all the stateless refugees into a Designated Area i.e Shanghai Ghetto in Hongkew, patrolled at night. The one villain was the brutal Japanese commander of the Designated Area, Kanoh Ghoya.
At its peak, Shanghai had a Jewish community of c35,000 people with a school, synagogue, hospital, refugee hostels and bakeries. Both Nash and Witting attended the Shanghai Jewish Youth Association School, established by the famous Kadoori family, Middle Eastern Jews who’d had a commercial base in Shanghai.
Shanghai was liberated by US troops in Aug 1945. Peace freed 3.5 million Chinese residents in this city, 6,000+ foreign citizens interned in the Civil Assembly Centre and 23,000 Jewish refugees in the Shanghai Ghetto. Most of the Shanghai Ghetto residents re-applied to the countries where they had originally wanted to go, back in 1939.
Shanghai had been the Nash family’s sanctuary, albeit a chaotic one. They left Shanghai for Australia in Feb 1949, as soon as their application for entry was finally accepted. For 60 years, the Shanghai survivors in Australia shared regular Hongkew newsletters and reunions.
In 2015 thePeople’s Republic of China and the World Jewish Congress commemorated the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Shanghai Ghetto and the end of WW2. The photo credits belong to WJC. Jewish Refugees in Shanghai was displayed at Sabes Jewish Community Centre in Minnesota in 2015. The Prague Jewish Museum opened an exhibit on the Jewish Refugees living in Shanghai ghetto in 2016. The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museumis always worth visiting.
Peter Nash, now 82, retired after a successful career in the textile industry. He launched his book Escape From Berlin at the 2017 Sydney Jewish Writers Festival. Thanks Australian Financial Review for some of the details in this post.
The Jewish Museum of Australia in Melbourne had a fine exhibition in the 1990s called The Story of a Haven: The Jews in Shanghai. To read of the earlier waves of émigrés, see a] Jews fleeing persecution in Czarist Russia who arrived just before WW1, settling in Shanghai's French Concession and b] German speakers who arrived after the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933.
Brave New World: Australia 1930s is a special exhibition at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV in Melbourne until mid Oct 2017. The 1930s was a turbulent time in Australia’s history. Major world events, including the Depression and the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe, shaped our nation’s evolving sense of identity during this decade.
See a multitude of artistic styles, both progressive and reactionary, which were practised during the 1930s: fashion, commercial art, architecture, industrial design, film and dance. The exhibition presents a detailed picture of this dynamic time and reveals some of the social and political concerns that were pertinent then.
The Brave New World Exhibition is accompanied by a top quality, fully-illustrated hardback publication, featuring essays by leading writers on each of the exhibition themes.
The exhibition presented 200+ works spanning photography, painting, printmaking, sculpture and décorative arts as well as design, fashion, film and dance. Abstraction, Surrealism and Expressionism emerged, and women artists arose as trailblazers of modernism. Consider modernist artist Grace Cossington Smith with her flat colours and abstracted forms. And Hilda Rix Nicholas.
Modernism in architecture, interior design, industrial design and advertising was becoming fashionable. In Melbourne a group of designers was the first to pioneer modern design in Australia eg furniture designer Fred Ward at his home-furniture workshop in Eaglemont. In 1932 Ward opened a shop in the City, selling furniture, linens and Scandinavian glass. Fabrics for curtains and upholstery were printed by Australian designer Michael O’Connell with bold designs.
When Robert Menzies (later Prime Minister) proposed the formation of an Australian Academy of Art, Melbourne modernists were concerned that their departure from conventional art would be marginalised. Especially when Menzies opened the Victorian Artists' Society show in April 1937 and singled out for attack a wall of modernist art.
It took time before design and architecture became closely integrated with the changing realities of contemporary life... when the last vestiges of the conservative art establishment were unpopular.
Fashioning the modern woman
In the 1930s the new Modern Woman emerged as a more serious version of the dizzy 1920s flapper. A working woman, she often lived alone in a new block of flats, visited night clubs and showed less interest in traditional marriage and child rearing. And she valued loved urban living, freedom and equality. With clothes introduced by French couturier Jean Patou in 1929, her lean body type was enhanced by lengthened hemlines and defined waists. In addition to the clothes, the Modern Woman was fashioned through her gestures, behaviours, beliefs and self presentation (eg smoking casually).
The Modern Woman became one of the most potent images of 1930s life, being celebrated in women’s magazines like "Australian Women’s Weekly", launched in 1933. Such magazines congratulated the Modern Woman and promoted new consumer goods to her, yet at the same time she was criticised by conservative commentators.
Note artist/photographer Max Dupain’s iconic depictions of the Australian body and beach culture. It was a tourist play ground that was considered distinctively Australian. Male lifesavers were used by artists in promoting Australia to tourists: a poster commemorating the Sydney Harbour Bridge opening in 1932 cited the lifesaver as the quintessential representative of Australian manhood and virility. His muscles were as strong as the steel girders above.
The lifesavers that helped protect the beach-going public were regularly praised as physical exemplars who could build the eugenic stock of the nation. As WW2 approached, the connection of these trained lifesavers to military servicemen became painfully apparent.
The body beautiful
The terrible physical losses and psychological traumas of WW1 changed Australian society and prompted anxiety about our strength. For some this meant an inward-looking isolationism, a desire that Australian culture should develop untouched by the degenerate influences of Europe. The search for rejuvenation involved explorations of the vulnerabilities of the human body. For artists, corporeal forms came to symbolise nationhood, often expressed via Classical Greek art. So the evolution of a new Australian type was proposed – a white Australian drawn from British stock, but with an athletic and streamlined shape honed by years spent swimming and surfing on local beaches.
Enthusiasm for body culture with its undesirable fascistic overtones is now seen as problematic.
The 1930s were framed by the 1928–29 tour of Anna Pavlova’s Dance Company and the three tours of the remnant Ballets Russes companies (1936–40) that excited many aspiring modernist artists. These tours predicted subsequent ballet narratives in Australia, because the eruption of war in 1939 meant that Ballets Russes dancers, including Helene Kirsova and Edouard Borovansky, stayed here and established ballet companies.
Aboriginal Art and Culture
During the 1930s the Australian Government continued to enforce a divide and rule assimilationist policy. Determined by eugenics, this entailed removing Aboriginal people of mixed descent from their families and reserves, and absorbing them into the dominant Anglo society. Increasingly, Aboriginal people formed their own organisations and agitated for full citizenship rights.
The exhibition explores artists’ responses to the call for Indigenous rights during the 1930s. Albert Namatjira astonished Melbourne audiences at his first solo exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in 1938. His 41 watercolour paintings sold in three days! The following year South Australia’a Art Gallery purchased one of Namatjira’s works. Indigenous art also inspired non-Indigenous artists like Margaret Preston, who appropriated design elements in their works, to travel to the outback to appreciate Indigenous history.
Australia tuned into the world by radio
Radios in the 1930s at a time when this new method of communication became an integral part of every home. They reflect the rapid spread of the streamlined style to Australia from Europe and the USA, where industrial designers applied machine-age styling to everyday household appliances. The use of new synthetic plastics (Bakelite) and mass production helped to make radios affordable for ordinary people, even during the Depression, and radio transmission brought the world into every Australian home.
Colourful and elegant radios of the 1930s are now loved as core examples of Art Deco styling, and one of the first expressions of art meeting industry. Alas the exhibition’s radios were too high for my grandchildren to see, to change channels and to listen to an old news broadcast.
The Great Depression and the brave new world of cities
Unemployment rate rose to 32% by 1932, second only to Germany in awfulness. The photographer F. Oswald Barnett displayed powerful images of impoverished inner Melbourne suburbs, with hungry children and decrepit houses. In paintings we see similar images, firstly in the works of emigres Danila Vassilieff and Yosl Bergner. Then Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker became committed to depicting Australia’s unemployed workers and destitute families.
The towering Manchester Unity Building emerged in Melbourne
in 1932, giving employment to Depression-hit workers.
Efficiency and speed depicted modernity. Many artists celebrated the city and technological advancements in works utilising hard-edged forms, flat colours and dynamic compositions. The engineering marvel of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, opened in 1932, fascinated artists, as did city buildings, industry and modern transport.
The skyscraper was THE powerful symbol of modernity, once the Great Depression seemed to stop progress. In 1932, as the Depression hit rock bottom, Melbourne’s tallest building was opened: Manchester Unity Building. With its ornamental tower and tall spire, the building became a new symbol of enterprise and confidence, and provided much-needed employment during the Depression.
A national myth evolved around the Australian bush. Although most Australians lived in cities, the post-WW1 nation learned that the bush was a nostalgic touchstone of traditional values. The classical pastoral ideal of a land in which only sheep and cattle roam became a dominant theme in landscape art. Elioth Gruner depicted the Australian bush as a respite from the frenetic pace of modern city life.
Pastoral landscapes were admired above all as representing the antithesis of decadent modern life. Conservative gallery director JS Macdonald said such art would point the way in which life should be lived in Australia, with the maximum of flocks and the minimum of factories. Of course such works affirmed white landownership.
The Museum of Manufactures and the Government School of Design were located in Marlborough House, an impressive Pall Mall residence. When a new home for this Museum (later Victoria & Albert) had to be found in South Kensington, they used the estate bought by the Commissioners for 1851’s Great Exhibition. The Museum was established in 1852 with 3 founding principles i.e to make works of art available to all; to educate working people; and to inspire British designers and manufacturers. All plans had to be approved by Prince Albert, including approval for Sir Henry Cole (1808–82) to become first V & A Director. The financial surplus from the Great Exhibition went to the V & A!
The South Kensington site architect was Captain Francis Fowke (1823-65), Inspector of Science and Art. Instead of Gothic architecture, Fowke proposed to focus on a North Italian Renaissance style, two storeys high, with a grand Lecture Theatre complex as centrepiece.
In 1861 designer Godfrey Sykes (1824-66) was invited to London by Henry Cole to assist with the horticultural gardens and arcades. The decorative schemes in the North and South Courts were mainly Sykes’ work, especially the choice of terracotta as the decorative medium.
In the showpiece Lecture Theatre building’s main feature was the red brick, terracotta and mosaic-faced façade, three large recessed arches and terracotta columns bearing figures. Portraits of key members of the Museum team, and names from the arts and sciences, appeared in the mosaic panels, lunettes and door panels.
The Gamble, Poynter/Grill & Morris/Green Rooms were to be the interlinked Museum’s restaurants. Although they were to be functional spaces, these restaurants would highlight the Museum's lavishly decorated public face. Victorian designer William Morris had been Pre-Raphaelite friends with architect Philip Webb, Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1861, all partners in the interior decorating-furnishing business. Henry Cole was truly avant-garde in his determination that these three eating rooms should reflect the simplicity of Morris Company's designs.
A] The walls and columns of the Gamble Room, influenced by Prince Albert's Frogmore Dairy of 1858–61, were faced with Minton majolica. The lofty and light room was opened in 1867, and The Building News in 1870 found the room bright and cheerful, like a richly adorned cafés of Paris. BHO noted that John Everett Millais (1829-96) selected the colours. But in 1874–5 the plaster ceiling was replaced by the Enamelled Iron Company with one of sheet-iron enamelled in colours suggested by the metal ads on railway stations. Visitors ate at attractive tables.
Opposite the Museum’s main entrance, the Gamble Room was the visitor's first view inside. The amazing decoration was part of Cole's concept of a “museum restaurant as a way of getting people to enjoy culture”. The windows and frieze were full of Victorian sayings on the joys of eating and drinking. Ventilation grilles in the ceiling of the Gamble Room were surrounded by heavy enamelled-iron railway-type plates. The ceramic tiled walls and columns were provided a hygienic, washable site for eating.
The Poynter Room was furnished with small iron tables with white marble tops. The catering contractor offered a long breakfast menu, divided according to social standing. The 1st class menu was elaborate and expensive; the 2nd class menu was more limited and cheaper. The 3rd class menu was only available to workmen at the Museum. In a related theme, the V&A was the first public museum in the world to be artificially lit. Workers could come in the evenings, “furnishing a powerful antidote to the Gin Palace”, and giving working families culture instead of booze.
This room shows that in the later C19th many designers were influenced by Japan. The wave patterns on the stove doors, the peacocks on the frieze tile panels, and the flower motifs on the blue-and-white tiles … all come from the east.
C] The western most room, the Green Dining Room-Morris Room, was designed by Morris. The subdued gold and greens colours of the scheme show that he was still under the sacred influence of the Gothic Revival. He decorated the walls with Elizabethan wooden panelling, below a section of green plaster with olive branches in low relief. And the stained-glass windows had female figures painted by Edward Burne-Jones and Philip Webb. Each table had matching myrtle-green Burleigh crockery.
In 1864 the Museum bought some stained glass from Morris, Marshall & Faulkner Co. The estimate for the windows was accepted in Sept 1866 and the estimate for the ceiling and panelled dado was accepted in Oct 1867. The work was finished in 1868–9. Burne Jones' dado rail art displayed the signs of the zodiac and his designs for the windows showed medieval domestic tasks.
Sir Henry Cole retired in 1873 but by 1889, public opinion demanded that Museum work be somehow completed. The Victoria and Albert Museum was built from 1899 and opened in 1909, representing a return to the idea of the museum of priceless treasures in marble halls. The lavishly decorated, historic refreshment rooms that stunned and delighted visitors in the Victorian era were way beyond my personal taste, but these treasures are still well worth visiting today.
Nigel Cawthorne’s book Sex Lives of the Kings and Queens of England (Carlton Publishing, 2004) proposed that there was more to fascination with royal sexual antics than mere prurience. Throughout history, the sexual partners of royals could be a matter of life or death. Political alliances were often made on royal marriages, so the success of a marital relationship could influence the nation’s foreign policies. Yes the British royal family no longer enjoys the power it once did, given that the constitutional monarchy is only a Head of State. Yet he also proposed that gross sexual misconduct by any of them could seriously undermine the position of the monarchy. How could those views compatible? I would have loved the author to provide his sources.
I loved every chapter, but my favourite was The Greatest Love Story Ever Told that dealt with the Edward Prince of Wales (1894-1972). During WW1, the Prince was taken to a Calais brothel where he found the sight of female genitalia revolting. He had his first sexual experience in Amiens, then took up with a courtesan in Paris.
Back in London, the Prince courted Lady Sybil Cadogan, his sister’s best friend, and wanted marriage in 1917. The next affair was with Lady Rosemary Leveson-Gower, a society beauty who the prince wanted to marry in 1918. Edward loathed his parents, incensed that they prevented him from marrying Lady Rosemary. Anyhow she married William Ward, 3rd Earl of Dudley, in March 1919.
Then Edward chose married woman - the still-married Marian Coke, his much adored lover Freda Dudley Ward (divorced wife of an MP who was vice chamberlain of the Royal Household) and the married American heiress Audrey James. Best of all was Lady Thelma Furness, the daughter of an American diplomat who eloped at 16, divorced and then married the shipping magnate Viscount Furness. Thelma joined the Prince in Kenya in 1928 where the two fell passionately in love.
In time Thelma complained her royal lover had been poorly endowed and was a lacklustre performer. Did Thelma’s lack of excitement come from the Prince’s homosexual preferences, as described by the writer Lytton Strachey (1880–1932)? Luckily Thelma soon met the well-endowed playboy Aly Khan, son of the Aga Khan.
Louis Mountbatten drew up a list of 17 eligible young royals, including Greek Princesses Margarita and Theodora, and 18-year-old Princess Ingrid of Sweden who arrived in London in 1928. But for the Prince of Wales in his mid-30s, there was little of interest amongst these royals.
Note that Thelma Furness’ best friend was the American Wallis Simpson whose first husband had been the sadistic, bi-sexual navy flier, Earl Winfield Spencer (married 1916). To make married life less miserable, Wallis had affairs with foreign diplomats. In Shanghai and in Peking she enjoyed delightful affairs with wealthy American men, then a fine lesbian affair with Admiral FH Sadler’s wife. And Italian men must have been very attractive to Wallis Simpson since she went out with the Italian Naval Attache Alberto de Zara and with the married Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini’s son in law & Italy’s Foreign Minister.
Wallis returned to the USA and met British shipping executive and Coldstream Guards officer, Ernest Simpson. As both Wallis and Ernest were married to other people, they had to arrange hasty divorces. They married in 1929 and returned to Britain to live. Soon Wallis travelled to France with Consuela Thaw and Gloria Vanderbilt, who was in the middle of a torrid, gay affair with another aristocrat.
By 1935 King George V was alarmed that his son was having an affair with Wallis Simpson, but the Prince didn’t care.
Wallis noted the extreme lack of virility that Thelma Furness had complained so explicitly about years ago and it is doubtful whether the couple ever had sexual intercourse. Wallis taught him erotic games based on nanny-child scenes in which he was happily submissive.
Although Wallis was entertaining Edward's foot fetishes, she still had her own needs. While Nazi Germany was invading the demilitarised Rhinelands, Wallis was having an affair with Germany’s ambassador to Britain, Joachim von Ribbentrop. Ribbentrop believed that the Prince of Wales would eventually dictate British foreign policy, so he convinced Hitler that the Nazis had the Prince's support. How much did the German ambassador know from the Prince of Wales himself, and how much did he learn in bed from Wallis?
Wallis made it clear in her letters that she did not love her Prince, but she enjoyed her power over him. He was a masochist who liked being degraded, as Freda Dudley Ward had also noted.
Prince Edward admired Hitler's economic and social reforms, infuriating the British government by saying that Britain should offer the Nazis friendship. Edward wanted to speak privately with Hitler and claimed he would abandon his eventual throne, if the British Prime Minister declared war on Germany.
In Jan 1936, King George V died & Edward was crowned King Edward VIII, still determined to marry Wallis! A divorce was speedily arranged for Mrs Simpson, but prime minister Stanley Baldwin said it wouldn’t help – the king could never marry a multi-divorced foreigner. When the scandal broke in the British newspapers, Wallis fled to France. But King Edward abdicated in Dec 1936 anyhow, after only one year. Wallis’ divorce was finalised in May 1937.
The Duke and Duchess with Adolf Hitler, 1937
The Duke of Windsor finally got married in June 1937. Cut off from the British royal family, the Duchess became the closest friend of Diana Mitford, wife of the British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley. Diana’s sister Unity, an intimate of Hitler's, had introduced Diana to the Fuhrer back in March 1935. Note that Lady Mosley’s marriage took place in Joseph Goebbels’ home, with Adolf Hitler as guest of honour.
Edward wanted to become a figurehead for an international movement for peace on Hitler's terms, meeting the Fuhrer at his mountain retreat of Obersalzberg. He also met Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess twice, planning to see him re-installed as puppet monarch, if the Nazis invaded Britain.
In 1947, Cawthorne reported, the Duke was involved in a torrid affair with Jimmy Donahue, New York heir to the Woolworth fortune. Noel Coward, who became a close friend of the Windsors after the abdication, also liked Jimmy Donahue. The Duke, Duchess and Donahue travelled together, but the menage a trois foundered because of the growing entourage of rent boys.
So I don’t mind if Edward was straight, gay, celibate, submissive or a pole dancer. No do I mind that Wallis was divorced, foreign and sexually exotic. But I do care that both of them were close to Nazi politics, social policy and economics. They had an association with the British Union of Fascists, Oswald and Diana Mosley, Hitler, Goebbels and Hess, and planned to retake the British throne on behalf of the Germans.
Naval officer Heydrich specialised in signals and communications. And he specialised in sexual affairs. In Dec 1930 he met Lina von Osten at a sports club ball. They soon announced their engagement, so he left another senior naval officer’s daughter to whom he had been engaged. A military court of honour found him to have dishonoured the officer corps of the Reich Navy and forced him to resign his commission in 1931. Heydrich’s dismissal was terrible; he was suddenly unemployed. In Dec 1931 he married Lina, already a convinced Nazi Party supporter, and went on to have four adorable children.
But instead of fulfilling his father's dream to study music, Reinhard joined the navy in 1922. Impressed by the security, free education and pension it offered, he became a naval cadet at Kiel, Germany's primary naval base. In 1924 he was promoted and sent to officer training at the Naval Academy Mürwik.
29-year-old Heydrich played a leading role in the Night of the Long Knives in June 1934, leading to further promotion within the SS. In 1934 Heydrich was given command of the Berlin Gestapo, a position that suited his very skilful brutality. Under his leadership, they compiled complete details about potential spies and enemies.
The SD entered Austria after the Anschluss in March 1938; and then entered the Sudetenland after itsannexation in Oct 1938. They quickly secured intelligence and arrested Germany’s enemies. In Nov 1938 SD experts and police provoked the violence of Kristallnacht throughout Nazi Germany, exclusively directed against Jewish synagogues and homes. In the wake of this pogrom, they implemented the first roundup of c30,000 Jews.
When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, six Einsatz-gruppen Mobile Killing Units moved into Poland behind the front-line troops. They killed thousands of members of the Polish nationalist and cultural elite.
After Germany invaded Poland, Himmler formally linked the Security Police and SD by establishing The Reich Main Security Office/RSHA in Sept 1939, under Heydrich's command. Like Himmler, Heydrich had to “guarantee the security and survival of the German race” and they did it by suppressing all internal and external enemies of the Nazi state: World Jewry, Marxists (Communists, Social Democrats, trade unionists), churches who opposed the regime (eg Jehovah's Witnesses), traditional nationalists & Freemasons. The Gestapo incarcerated these groups in camps.
When the previously dormant Czech communist resistance movement started carrying out acts of sabotage, Hitler dismissed Reich Protector Konstantin von Neurath (Germany’s ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs). Instead he appointed Heydrich as Acting Reich Leader of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia from Sept 1941 on.
Heydrich first ordered a terror campaign against real and possible leaders of the Czech communists. In Oct-Nov 1941, German Protectorate courts had 342 people executed and gave 1,289 to the Gestapo. Heydrich opened Theresienstadt camp-ghetto in Nov; under his rule 14,000 German and Austrian Jews, plus 20,000 Czech Jews, were deported from Theresienstadt. The Butcher of Prague’s role was to stamp out all Czech rebellion via terror and mass executions.
Nonetheless I was surprised to read that Heydrich became known as one of the main architects of the Final Solution. In Jan 1939 Hermann Göring authorised Heydrich to develop plans for a Final Solution to the Jewish Question in the German Reich. By Jan 1942 Heydrich had invited key officials from various Reich Ministries to a conference at a villa on the Wannsee Lake, in SW Berlin. At this Wannsee Conference he presented plans, authorised by Hitler himself, to coordinate a European-wide Final Solution. Heydrich and the SS had to coordinate the resources of the Reich, and submit the final plan. To guarantee success, he requested the active participation of all Ministries represented at Wannsee.
The Special Operations Executive/SOE was an espionage and reconnaissance unit created by Winston Churchill in June 1940. The BBC reported that the British SOE planned the assassination of Heydrich in Prague. In the top-secret Operation Anthropoid, the SOE trained a group of Czech resistance members to kill Heydrich. Operation Anthropoid reported to Winston Churchill and to Edvard Benes, President of the Czech-government-in-exile.
Heydrich was so self-confident that he travelled around Prague in an open vehicle. In May 1942, as he was travelling to the airport to fly to Hitler's headquarters, two Czech partisans rolled a hand grenade under Heydrich's car. The grenade splinters throughout his body led to an infection that killed him a week later.
Hitler was so enraged by Heydrich’s assassination that he ordered murderous reprisals against the Czech population; the SS troops captured the two Czech towns of Lidice and Ležáky, executing every man and destroying every home. At Heydrich’s state funeral in Berlin, both Hitler and Himmler mourned one of their best Final Solution Executors, a skilled killer of the Enemies of the Reich.
Heydrich, the man from a cultured, educated family, oversaw Occupied Czechoslovakia and the murderous death squads. His utter brutality was high even by Nazi standards. The details of the British SOE's involvement in his assassination are still unclear.
Thanks to Hitler's Hangman: The Life of Heydrich by Robert Gerwarth and The History Place.
The 1889–1890 Flu Pandemic was similar to the great Spanish Flu pandemic and might have prepared doctors and armies in WW1. It was first noted in different countries: China (1888); Athabasca in Canada (May 1889); Greenland (summer 1889), Tomsk in Siberia and Bukhara in Uzbekistan (Oct 1889), St Petersburg in late Oct 1889, and expanded rapidly via railway across Europe. In Paris, the first cases were recorded on 17th Nov; in Berlin and Vienna on 30th Nov; in London in mid Dec, and in southern European countries in late Dec. The flu spread overseas to Boston and New York in Jan 1890. And then throughout North and South America, Africa, Asia and Oceania by mid 1890. The most tragic period was between Dec 1889 and Jan 1890; the majority of the million deaths were older than 50.
So how different was the Spanish Flu Epidemic of WW1? Even before the arrival of air travel, Spanish flu swept around the world in just 3 catastrophic months from Oct 1918 to Jan 1919 - and killed more people than WW1 had.
The 1918 flu came in two waves. The first wave was a benign bout that began in March 1918 in Spain. The epidemic was remarkable for the millions of victims struck down; high temperatures; aching limbs; headaches and sore throats. Mostly the illness quickly passed and few deaths occurred.
As France lost its own men in The Great War, hundreds of thousands of troops in indigenous army units were organised in the French colonies in Africa, Asia and Oceania. Of the 50,000+ Indo-Chinese soldiers sent from the old Annam kingdom (now Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia) to France, half of them were assigned to active battalions, or as nurses and lorry drivers on the Front. But was there a connection with flu?
Medical records reported that an American flu epidemic began in Feb 1918, in Sing-Sing Prison in New York. Others mentioned an acute infectious outbreak among young farmers in Haskell County in Kansas. This too occurred in Feb 1918, especially once these young farmers enlisted and were incorporated into Kansas’ Funston military camp. The later link to the Spanish Flu in Europe might have been explained in terms of the Chinese workers in Kansas i.e to the new combination of viruses of Chinese and Indochinese origin
The Paris ASSA archives affirmed that the first cases of flu in France appeared in the Third Army in Villers-sur-Coudun and in the Fère-Briange training field in April 1918. At the same time, flu broke out in the American army which was based in the outskirts of Bordeaux. And there were flu cases reported in 1st and 2nd battalions of the British army in France, in the German army at the Western front, and in the Military Hospital of Cabour in Belgium. Without a vaccine or antibiotics, public health authorities watched as the pandemic raged. People best avoided infection via face masks and staying away from crowds.
But after a period of calm in mid 1918 the virus mutated, becoming extremely virulent. This more deadly second wave probably first started in Spain. Thus the label “Spanish Flu”. Spain had been neutral in the Great War, but it permitted the passage of Portuguese troops, workers and merchandise towards France. This important communications hub between the Iberian Peninsula and Paris was in the Basque Country, at the outlet of a marshy bird-filled river - a frontier region that could have been one of the places in which the virus mutated and became invasive.
From Oct 1918 on, the flu moved to the general population across Spain, eventually affecting Portugal, then French and Italian cities. Frightening mortality quickly emerged. Fluid entered the lungs; faces turned blue; the cough brought up the blood-stained sputum and the feet turned black. The lucky victims quickly drowned in their own lungs. The unlucky victims developed bacterial pneumonia as an agonising secondary infection. In the morning, the dead bodies were stacked about the morgue. But between the speed of the flu outbreak and effective military censorship in WW1, families didn’t know what had happened to their loved ones.
The Allies had been boosted by hundreds of thousands of strapping young American recruits pouring into France aboard every trans-Atlantic troopship. How tragic it was that these fit young men who appeared most susceptible to the flu virus; in the crowded troop ships and training camps they fell ill and dropped dead. In October 1918, while 50,000 Americans died in battle, 70,000 of them were hospitalised with flu, of whom 32% died. The Allied offensives almost ground to a halt because so many soldiers were sick. Had the Allies known it, the starving Germans were worse off.
Australian Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment members,
working as flu doctors in Sydney, 1918.
Photo credit: Australian War Memorial
The Great War, which had ravaged Europe for four years, was ending. But in the week in which The Armistice was signed, 11th Nov 1918, flu deaths in Europe reached their peak. British prime minister and US president, who met in Paris to design the Treaty of Versailles, both caught the flu and lived. But Sir Mark Sykes, whose Sykes-Picot Plan was to carve up the Middle East, died from flu.
I thought snow protected citizens against the flu, but the Spanish flu reached Sweden in June 1918, and a one-third of the population became infected. c34,500 persons died from flu during the pandemic or from acute pneumonia.
A milder third wave occurred in early 1919, while the fourth wave spread during early 1920. The majority of those who died were young, healthy adults aged 15-44 but mortality rates varied between countries. By the end of the epidemic, in less than 2 years, 50+ million people had died worldwide.
The Spanish Flu pandemic was inextricably linked to the millions of young men in army barracks, military camps and trenches; this is where the Flu virus developed, became virulent and spread worldwide in Oct-Nov 1918. Soldiers and workers, from Europe, Asia, America, Africa and Oceania, mixed on French soil. The causal factors were poor living conditions, stress, fear, war gases used indiscriminately, shocking winters, and contact with birds and pigs.
I’ll soon be seeing Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, directed by Alexandra Dean, at the Jewish Film Festival. The festival programme says: Known for her striking looks and electric onscreen persona, Lamarr’s fans never knew she possessed such a beautiful mind. An Austrian Jewish émigré who acted by day and drew mechanical and electronic inventions by night, Lamarr came up with a secret communication system to help the Allies to beat the Nazis. Bombshell is for lovers of history, film and science. But locating the truth about her life was tricky. All the facts below come from Encyclopaedia of World Biography.
Hedwig Kiesler (1913–2000) was born in Vienna. Her parents were Jewish and cultivated; her father Emil Kiesler was a Bank of Vienna director and her mother Gertrud Lichtwitz a concert pianist from Budapest. Hedwig attended schools in Vienna then was sent to a Swiss finishing school.
After an unsuccessful audition with her acting teacher and stage director, Max Reinhardt, Hedwig moved into films. Her screen career began in 1930 with two Austrian films.
Hedy Lamarr and Clark Gable
Comrade X, 1940
She had several other small German-language roles, but it took controversy for Hedwig to be famous. In 1932 she made the film Ecstasy in Czechoslovakia, released in 1933. The film told of a young woman whose husband was impotent, causing her to seek a younger man. Two scenes were responsible for the film's notoriety and bans: a] Hedwig ran nude through a sunlit forest and b] a sex scene in which she experienced an intense orgasm.
Ecstasy attracted the attention of millionaire Austrian arms dealer Fritz Mandl, whom teenage Hedwig met in Dec 1933 and then married. Mandl had converted from Judaism to Catholicism in order to be able to do business with Germany's fascist regime, and Lamarr also converted from Judaism to Catholicism in 1933. Apparently Mandl tried to buy and destroy every outstanding copy of the film Ecstasy. Whether out of revulsion to her husband's politics or not, Hedwig packed a case with jewellery, drugged her maid and fled to Paris, London and New York in 1937.
Hedwig began negotiating with producer Louis B Mayer of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who wanted new exotic European talent. Hedwig had refused Mayer's dismal contract offer in London, but by the time the ship docked in New York she had a handsome MGM contract and the brand new name of Hedy Lamarr. Mayer called her The Most Beautiful Woman in the World.
Lamarr's first American film was Algiers (1938) opposite French actor Charles Boyer. A successful launch for her American career, this film was followed by two flops, Lady of the Tropics (1939) and I Take This Woman (1940), co-starring Spencer Tracy. The actress's fortunes improved in 1940 with Boom Town starring Clark Gable, and Comrade X, an anti-Communist romance.
During WW2 Lamarr was an American sex symbol and star with Come Live with Me (1941), Ziegfeld Girl (1941), The Heavenly Body and the steamy White Cargo (both 1943), in which Lamarr played a mixed-race prostitute on an African rubber plantation. In 1943 Lamarr wanted the Casablanca role that eventually went to Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman.
Lamarr also appeared in celebrity gossip columns. She dated silent comedian Charlie Chaplin in 1941, and had flings with Burgess Meredith. Lamarr married producer Gene Markey in 1939, then divorced. Then she was married to English actor John Loder and had children. Later Lamarr was married three more times.
Hedy Lamarr and Victor Mature
Samson and Delilah, 1949
Modernist American composer George Antheil also played an important role in Hedy's life. Antheil was as well-connected as Lamarr; he met & in 1925 married Hungarian Boski Markus, niece of Austrian playwright Arthur Schnitzler.
Lamarr knew maths very well and had cleverly picked up practical munitions-engineering knowledge from Mandl. In 1940 she “solved” the problem of controlling a radio-guided torpedo. Electronic data broadcast on a specific frequency could easily be jammed by enemy transmitters, so Lamarr suggested rapid changes in the broadcast frequency. Antheil, who had experimented with electronic musical instruments, devised a punch-card-like device that could synchronise a transmitter and receiver.
The pair were jointly awarded a patent for their important discovery. But credit did not help the frequency-hopping idea; it was never applied by the military during WW2. The real payoff of frequency-hopping came only decades later, when it became integral to the operation of cellular telephones and Blue-tooth systems that enabled computers to communicate with peripheral devices. Too late for Lamarr and Antheil's patent.
Experiment Perilous (1944) was a great film. As was the Cecil B DeMille film Samson and Delilah (1949), with Victor Mature and Lamarr as the stars. The film combined a Biblical evangelical Christian moralism combined with hot sex!
Lamarr made several films in the 1950s, outside the Hollywood system. In the Italian-made feature The Loves of Three Queens (1954) she played Helen of Troy, and then Joan of Arc in The Story of Mankind (1958). But her heyday was past. In 1950 she auctioned off her possessions and retired from films.
In 1967 she published an autobiography, Ecstasy and Me: My Life as a Woman, but sued her ghost writers, claiming that the book was scandalous. She complained that she’d had a $7 million income but was now subsisting on a grotty pension. More litigation followed in 1974.
Lamarr was reclusive in her last years. The story of her radio transmission invention became widely publicised and she received an Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award in 1997. She died in Jan 2000 and was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.
Why did Mussolini and Hitler attend lavish parties at the Mandl home during their marriage? If one of Mandl's favourite topics at these gatherings was the technology surrounding radio-controlled missiles and torpedoes, did the American government acknowledge Hedy’s military knowledge and want to exploit it? If Lamarr was involved in a system that would allow American torpedoes and guided bombs to always reach their Nazi targets, were the Germans interested in how much knowledge she took with her to the USA after 1937? And in how much expertise she was developing with George Antheil in the USA?
We were often told that Eugene von Guerard (1811–1901)’s Australian landscapes of the 1860s and 70s were indebted to the romantic art of Caspar David Friedrich, two generations earlier, or that there was an affinity between his work and that of American landscape painters like Frederic Church. But Christopher Allen (The Australian 8th Oct 2017) wrote that if von Guerard’s style was distinctive, the sociocultural milieu within which he worked in Australia was also significantly different from that of the Americans to whom he was sometimes compared.
The USA established the core of its identity as a nation around the Declaration of Independence from Britain in 1776. The founding fathers of the new nation were men of the Enlightenment. A century later, America was a great modern industrial nation that had absorbed many more influences, including romantic sensibility and religious revivalism. So by the time Church and his colleagues painted their luminous, sublime landscapes, America was already an established nation with a strong sense of its own identity. Their landscapes evoked westward expansion, and the discovery of the wilderness as a spiritual symbol.
In von Guerard’s time Australia had not yet reached a comparable level of national identity. Federation (1/1/1901) was still more than a generation away and post gold-rush colonial society was growing rapidly, with a boom in urban population. Australia was still transitioning from a collection of small colonies.
Credit: National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Credit: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
So why did the 2007 exhibition at the NGV, Australian Impressionism, call the most loved group of Australian artists “impressionists”, not “Heidelbergers”. The title of the 2007 exhibition reflected the view that Heidelberg School art was a credible Australian expression of the move towards naturalistic, plein-air painting that was popular in France, across Europe and in North America. Australians were part of internationalism and modernity!
Even as recently as 2016, the National Gallery of Australia sent Australia’s Impressionists Exhibition to London’s National Gallery. But British critics were puzzled. Streeton’s Fire’s On! (1891) was far from what they thought of as Impressionism, and Roberts’s A Break Away! (1891) could not be fitted into a European framework.
I created the same mix-up in this blog, absorbing the specifically Australian Heidelberg School into International Impressionism. “By 1901, Elioth Gruner’s first work was accepted for hanging in the Society of Artists Spring Show. See the small oil sketches of Sydney beaches 1912-4, very much in the tradition of the 9 x 5 Impressions shown at Buxton’s Rooms in Melbourne in Aug 1889. Gruner claimed his big influence was Roberts, possibly explaining why he was eventually seen as the heir to the Impressionist pastoral tradition of Australian art of the Heidelberg school”.
Now Allen is asking us to understand the specificity of C19th Australian art, distinguishing it from the superficially comparable Impressionism in Europe or the USA. Consider the times. In 1870-71, France was humiliatingly defeated in the Franco-Prussian War, Emperor Napoleon III abdicated, the republic was proclaimed and Paris was besieged by the German army. Then it was taken over by a radical movement called the Commune 1871, which was quickly put down in a bloody repression.
There was little sign of any of these traumatic events in the Impressionists’ art. French Impressionism was specifically reacting to historical circumstances by avoiding the pain. Their emphasis was on the personal, authentic experience of transient phenomena. In Claude Monet’s idyllic Le bassin d’Argenteuil (1872), the emphasis was on delight in the clearing clouds and dawn light. French Impressionism wanted nothing to do with nationalist themes.
The Heidelberg painters, on the other hand, were intimately connected to the nationalist spirit in pre-Federation Australia. For example see Roberts’s portrait of a young Australian woman, An Australian Native (1888). And Streeton’s Golden Summer Eaglemont (1889) was an early morning scene with long dawn shadows and moving shade. The emphasis here was about inhabiting this land. The rising sun covered the Australian land in typical baking hot heat.
Charles Conder was never as clearly focused on nationalist identity as Roberts or Streeton. But Conder still contributed to the theme of being at ease in a new land, in works like The Yarra Heidelberg (1890).
Australia’s Impressionists exhibition in London, 2017
Credit: National Gallery London
Fire’s On, 1891, by Arthur Streeton is on the right hand side. See it more clearly in Australian Bush Fires in Art
Of course these images had little in common with Monet and the other Impressionists’ palette. Rather than a high-keyed French palette, most of the pictures were tonal a la JAM Whistler. And they were less often studies of natural effects and more about modern life in Melbourne or in the rural outer suburbs, the booming economy and travel.
Allen made a couple of exceptions. The late paintings of McCubbin and turn of the century work by Emanuel Phillips Fox, Ethel Carrick Fox, John Peter Russell and Tudor St George Tucker were more directly taken from French Impressionism, but only because those artists had direct contact with the French. I agree. Phillips Fox had no major social or political theme, and the leisured life he depicted was not particularly Australian. Phillips Fox left Australia in 1887, before the inspiration of the Heidelberg artists’ camps had fully developed. And he was outside Australia during all the nationalist excitement leading up to Federation. Like Mary Cassatt, Auguste Renoir and Berthe Morisot, Phillips Fox’s long white Edwardian dresses captured the light and atmosphere of a summer's day anywhere.
Dr Henry Lew wrote Smitten by Catherine, the story of Catherine Rachel Mendes da Costa (1678-1756). Lew was strolling through an auction house looking at furniture, and noticed a special C18th watercolour copy of a Rubens oil painting, attributed to Catherine da Costa. Since I am particularly interested in the era when Jews were permitted to return to England in mid C17th, my question became: who was this little known artist?
Lew started the story back in Spain and Portugal, from where the Jews were expelled in the 1490s. The author focused on the strength of Manasseh Ben Israel whose family had fled to Amsterdam from Madeira in Portugal. In his 1652 book, The Hope of Israel, Manasseh noted that countries tolerant of Jews were also those that flourished economically. Manasseh had tried to find a solution to counteract the Christian concept of the oppressed homeless Jew; he reminded Whitehall that Jews always displayed civic loyalty. Manasseh was a man of grand vision, and had his portrait done by Rembrandt in 1636. But the man was a realist - he had to accept less favourable terms for Jews, if they were to be tolerated in England eg synagogues would only be permitted inside private homes.
Catherine’s father, Fernando Mendes (born 1647), came from the town of Trancoso in Portugal, which had a Jewish community surviving as crypto-Jews. Under difficult circumstances, Fernando eventually moved from Portugal in c1660, first to France and then to England. His timing was excellent; Oliver Cromwell had allowed Jews to be readmitted as recently as 1656.
Fernando Mendes was sent to study Medicine at Montpellier University in 1666, graduating with his Doctorate in 1668. In 1669 he returned to London and went into business with his very wealthy first cousin, Alvaro Rodrigues da Costa. Alvaro was a man who was hugely successful trading inside the East India Company. So clearly Dr Mendes never had to rely on Medicine as his sole source of income. The quid pro quo for a successful life was that neither men could be Jewish - Fernando was a Catholic and Alvaro became a Protestant.
Catherine de Braganza came from a senior noble house in Portugal, and lived there until she married King Charles II of England in 1662. An article of the marriage treaty was that Queen Catherine was allowed freely to practise her faith; her chapels in St James’ Palace and Somerset House were the only two places in London where Catholics could legally worship. Once again timing was critical. In 1678 Dr Fernando Mendes was appointed physician to King Charles II and Queen Catherine de Braganza. Mendes was paid a salary, and was provided with his own apartment in Somerset House, the Queen’s royal palace in London.
Dr Mendes married Isabel Rodriques Marques, daughter of a devout Jewish merchant. Their first baby was born in Somerset House in late 1689. Queen Catherine, who could not have any babies herself, was delighted with the little girl, had her baptised in the palace and asked that she be called Catherine. Even after King Charles’ death in 1685, Dr Mendes remained in the Dowager Queen’s service. And Catherine Mendes remained the god-daughter of Queen Catherine.
I am sorry we learn so little about Catherine’s values, hopes and goals in the book. We DO know that she became a pupil of the famous miniaturist Bernard Lens III (1682-1740), a painter at the courts of kings George I and George II. In 1707 Lens became the first British artist to replace vellum, the most common material for miniatures, with ivory. (As Catherine did later). Catherine’s copy of Lens’ painting, The Victorious Hero Takes Occasion to Conclude Peace, must have been very influential on the young woman.
In 1698 Catherine married her cousin Anthony Moses da Costa, a young merchant, and had three children. Like his father, Anthony became a leading figure in East India trade, and in banking. He was admired by Voltaire, rejected by the Russian Company because of being Jewish and was appointed commissioner for the new American colony of Georgia.
Why would a Jewish artist paint a Madonna and Child? Henry Lew reiterated that Portuguese Marranos had been living as Christians since the 1490s. And remember that Catherine’s father Fernando and her father-in-law Alvaro were both committed Christians. Perhaps Catherine saw Sofonisba Anguissola’s Madonna and Child (1556, p65) and adored it.
Catherine’s oeuvre was worth examining. Her Self-Portrait was my favourite (1720, p64); the well-dressed artist was busy working at her easel. The Portrait of her Father Dr Fernando Mendes showed a well dressed gentleman in a wig, in front of his impressive library (1721, p46). And her portraits of her son Abraham da Costa (1714, p66) and her Double Portrait of Two Children were sensitive (not dated, p68). Only the portrait of London merchant Francis Jacob Salvador (1720, p67) was, in my opinion, not very sensitive.
Dr Lew, an opthamologist for 40 years, authored 6 other books. For Smitten by Catherine, he has published a limited edition of 500 copies in hardback. This beautiful book was complete with plates of Catherine’s art, works by her teacher Bernard Lens III, and the original painting by Rubens that Catherine copied. Readers might like to locate an old catalogue of the exhibition Jewish Artists in England 1656-1956, held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, Nov-Dec 1956.
Apologies. If my Comment Section doesn't work, email your comment to email@example.com and I will post it under your nick.
Coal was essential for military production during WW2; somehow Britain had to match the quotas needed to keep factories churning out the munitions required at the front. And as Britain was unable to import coal in wartime, the production of coal from local mines had to be increased. But how? 36,000 miners were already conscripted for army duty and had left their collieries.
Ernest Bevin, wartime Minister of Labour and National Service and a former Trade Unionist, believed the shortage could be remedied by using conscripted men to fill the vacancies in the mines, keeping production at the rates required. In Dec 1943 he announced a scheme in Parliament.
A ballot would take place to put a fixed percentage of conscripted men into the underground collieries rather than into the armed services. “We need 720,000 men continuously employed in this industry. This is where you boys come in. Our fighting men will not be able to achieve their purpose unless we get an adequate supply of coal.” Any refusal to comply with the Direction Order would result in a heavy fine and/or imprisonment under the Emergency Powers Act in force back then.
Photo credit: Express
Bevin boys training with a pit pony
Photo credit: Bevin Boys Photo Grallery
Every month, 10 numbers were placed in a hat; 2 numbers were drawn and those whose National Service registration number ended with those numbers were directed to the mining industry. Along these ballotees were the optants, men who had volunteered for service in the coal mines, rather than the armed services. From 1943-8, 48,000 young men between the ages of 18-25 were conscripted for National Service Employment in British coal mines.
After medical examinations, travel warrants & instructions, the men had to report to one of the thirteen Government Training Centre Collieries in England, Wales and Scotland. Accommodation was provided in either a purpose-built Miners Hostel similar to an army camp, or billeted out to a private home at £1.25/week from a weekly wage of £3.50.
Each new miner was taught mining in a 6 weeks training course: classroom lectures, surface-and-underground training and physical fitness. Only a minority of Bevin Boys were actually employed cutting coal on the coal face, and others worked as colliers' assistants, filling tubs or drams. The majority worked on maintaining haulage roads, or controlling underground conveyor belts. The few who had previous electrical or engineering experience were given similar work in the collieries.
This alternative to army service caused much dismay; many of the Bevin Boys wanted to join the fighting forces, or felt that as coal miners they would not be valued.
The Bevin Boys came from a range of backgrounds and skill sets. A few were true conscientious objectors who were being conscripted for essential but non-military work. Some were sons of privilege, and many were lads from big cities who had never even seen a coal mine. Whatever their background, by Dec 1943 one in ten conscripts found themselves in the mines instead of at the front.
6 weeks of training for each intake of conscripts
in classrooms, via vigorous physical training and in the underground mine
Photo credit: PressReader
Finally a large number of reserved occupation miners also disliked the Bevin Boys. They saw the lads as a threat to their livelihoods and also as dangerous liabilities, given that most did not come from mining backgrounds. Worse, the local mining families had already seen their own sons conscripted into the armed services, only to be replaced by very young, reluctant outsiders.
Unlike the ordinary miners, who wore their own clothes, Bevin Boys were issued with overalls, safety helmet and working boots. But it was unfortunate that Bevin Boys a] were not given an identifiable war service uniform and b] were not released from their coal mines until several years after the war ended. This was long after their counterparts in the armed forces had been demobbed.
The mine-work was done in appalling conditions with no toilet facilities, working in areas that were hot, cold, wet, dusty or dirty. The constant noise of machinery was deafening. And there was always the fear that there could be an explosion resulting in fire or rock fall. [I am claustrophobic. That would have been my worst fear].
The ballots were suspended in May 1945, with the last of the 50,000 conscripts working in the coal mines. The Bevin Boys had all been demobbed in 1948. A small number stayed in mining after the war, but most couldn't wait to leave.
Unlike other conscripts, they had no right to go back to their previous occupations, they received no service medals, demob suit or even a letter of thanks. And because the official records were destroyed in the 1950s, former Bevin Boy ballotees could not even prove their service, unless they have kept their personal documents.
Bevin Boys in Durham
They were just teenagers, away from home for the first time
photo credit: WW2inColor
Many men who spent their war on the so-called underground front went unrecognised for almost half a century. Perhaps they were still embarrassed about not serving on the front. In any case, some men did eventually form the Bevin Boys Association in 1989 in Dorchester Dorset. The first official Bevin Boys reunion was held at the former Chatterley Whitfield Mining Museum in 1989.
It took until 1995 for the British government to formally recognise the contribution of these men, by then old age pensioners. The Queen made a speech and unveiled the Home Front Memorial in Coventry. And in 2007, the Prime Minister Tony Blair announced that a special honour was to be presented to all conscripts who served in the mines. This was on the 60th anniversary of the last Bevin Boy being demobbed. Any living Bevin Boys are now officially allowed to take part in the Remembrance Day service at Whitehall.
Many thanks to The Forgotten Conscripts by Warwick H Taylor and the BBC’s The Coal Industry in Wartime by Dr Martin Johnes.
Apologies. If my Comment Section doesn't work, email your comment to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will post it under your nick.