Monthly Archives: August 2011

My work at the Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth

Around six months ago I was comissioned by Continuum, the operators of the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth, to provide some historical research about the Tower, Portsmouth and the surrounding area. The aim was twofold – one, to enhance the visitor experience, and two, to increase visitor numbers.

My work focused on two aspects. I researched as many interesting and enlightening statistics as I could about Portsmouth, the Harbour, the Solent and everything you could see from the viewing platforms. And on the viewing platforms itself, I worked on interpreting what exactly you can see and where, and putting the history of it all into some kind of context.

In all, from comission to hand-in the project took two weeks, working in my spare time, and included one site visit.

Some of the results can be seen below:

As you can see, the Tower’s designers have come up with some eye-catching triangle shaped graphics panels around the base of the tower, which are aimed at ‘pulling-in’ passing trade with facts and figures and pictures of sites you can see from the top of the tower.

It’s a great example of what can be done quickly and on a sensible budget, but professionally. I hope it helps increase visitor numbers for the Tower.

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Filed under Local History, site news

Memorial plaques to Portsmouth’s Blitz dead stolen

I’ve just read something pretty disappointing on the Portsmouth News website. Apparently thieves have stolen plaques from a memorial in Kingston Cemetery, remembering victims of the Blitz in Portsmouth.

http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/local/east-hampshire/i_hope_and_pray_the_thieves_see_the_error_of_their_ways_1_3005015

The memorial is granite, and around 1.5 metres high, with four plaques listing over 120 names, including many whose bodies could not be identified. The inscription reads:

“Erected to the memory of those men, women and children both known and unknown who died as a result of enemy bombing on this city and whose last resting place is near this spot.”

What really makes me sad about this is that either the thieves managed to prize the metal from the memorial in broad daylight (you can drive around the cemetery, so perhaps they took a van right up to it), or they did it at night when the Cemetery is closed. It is locked at dusk, because I have almost been locked in beforeĀ (my Grandad was once years ago). I doubt very much whether people who are willing to go to those lengths will be too bothered about defacing a war memorial, sadly. Many of my family were in Portsmouth during the blitz, they could very easily have been killed and their names ended up on these plaques. A memorial is the same as a grave, and to steal a memorial is like grave-robbing.

It’s by no means the first time that metal has been robbed from a war memorial – perhaps the most high profile case is that of the Naval Memorial in Portsmouth, where one large bronze plaque was taken from the memorial on Plymouth Hoe. We are told that the price of scap metal is at an all-time high at the moment, and certainly there have been a lot of thefts of lead from School, museum and church roofs in the last couple of years. And then theres the theft of copper railway signal cabling.

One has to look at scrap metal dealers in this kind of situation. Someone, somewhere, will be no doubt receiving some big lumps of metal that are quite obviously from a war memorial. If scrap metal dealers had more scruples about what they accepted from dodgy characters out the back of vans, then people wouldn’t bother going out and nicking it in the first place. For me, it is time legislation got tough with the scrap metal industry.

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Filed under Remembrance, Uncategorized

Hitler: Dictator or Puppet? by Andrew Norman

Plenty of theories have been advanced about Adolf Hitler – his background, his inspirations and his mental state. But to my knowledge this book by Andrew Norman is one of the first to assert that he was suffering from Schizophrenia.

Norman begins by taking a detailed look at Hitler’s childhood, his family and his upbringing. One assertion is that Hitler knew plenty of Jews early in life and was certainly no anti-semite until later in life. Indeed, anti-semitism had existed in Europe long before 1933, and certainly long before Hitler. Add to this mix his attitudes to Marxism, the impact of World War One, the crisis in Germany between 1918 and 1933 and we have what we could describe as either a toxic mix of causes, or an extremely unfortunate set of circumstances coming together to create a monster.

One of the most striking things in this book is the examination of Hitler’s early influences. One is particularly distubring, namely Lanz van Liebenfels. Liebenfels was a former monk, no less, who edited and produced a rather cheap, base anti-semite magazine entitled Ostara. Hitler never seems to have acknowledged his sources, particularly once he hit the ‘big stage’. Perhaps, as Norman suggests, Hitler did not want to lessen his own image. One influence I was not aware of is that of Houston Stewart Chaimberlain. I’m even more surprised, given that Chaimberlain was born in Southsea in 1855! Chaimberlain left Britain at the age of 14 to undergo treatment for poor health, and while visiting health resorts in Germany was accompanied by a Prussian tutor. Chaimberlain was influenced towards German history and culture. Chaimberlain was later a great supporter of Hitler.

The conclusion is that Hitler was unhinged by his disfunctional family background, under the influence of some particularly nasty influences from an early age, and particularly susceptible given his possible schizophrenia. The former condition would certainly explain his undoubted delusions, be it his faith in astrology, or his ‘command delusions, which led him to follow the advice of a mysterious ‘voice’ rather than his generals sound reasoning. Clearly not a decision making policy that one would vote for in the next general election, thats for sure.

Anyone who has even flicked through Mein Kampf will be well aware that it is full of ranting and raving, and is a disparate collection of diatribes on various subjects, from Judaism, Bolshevism and even sexually transmitted diseases and poverty. It certainly adds to the feeling that Hitler was not a person capable of rational thought processes. I guess this is where the title of the book comes from – rather than being a Dictator in control, Hitler was in fact a puppet of his influences and his illness.

Hitler’s relationships with women also come under scrutiny. Namely, that he had an improper relationship with his young niece, who died in suspicious circumstances, and also that his relationship with Eva Braun was unusual to say the least. This all adds to a picture of a person who, clearly, was not quite right in the head in any sense. Even his own close family seem to have had very little time for him.

But does all of this really matter? Firstly, we can chew over the causes of Hitler’s behaviour all we like, but it doesn’t change the fact that he and his regime commited some of the most heinous crimes in history. Contrary to popular opinion, men such as Stalin may have killed more people, but it is the horrific, industrial and hateful manner of the Nazi regime that still shocks today. And surely understanding how such a person came into being, is crucial to recognising evil today. Thankfully, I doubt very much whether someone in Hitler’s condition would reach prominence in the modern world, and for that we must be very grateful.

Hitler: Dictator or Puppet? is published by Pen and Sword

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Filed under Book of the Week, politics, Uncategorized, World War One, World War Two

Historian for hire!

Just a little reminder that I’m available for helping out with any of the following:

  • Family history research – Ordering and interpreting birth, marriage and death certificates; drawing up family trees; overcoming those little snags in your family history!
  • Military history research – researching and interpreting individuals service records; war diary look ups; medal winners; casualties; Prisoners of War
  • Archive and library research – particularly in the Portsmouth/Hampshire/West Sussex area; also London, such as the National Archives, Imperial War Museum, British Library etc.
  • Talks and lectures, workshops, etc. – I can give talks to any local history group, which can be tailored to the audience. Also workshops etc.
  • Researching and writing articles and other publications – I have previously written articles for Britain at War Magazine
  • Researching and writing text for Exhibitions – I have previously written text for display at the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth

And absolutely anything else that you can think of, to do with history! Contact me to discuss what I can do, rates etc.

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Shoreham Airshow – the pictures

Here’s some pictures from Shoreham Airshow last weekend:

And last but by no means least, an archive pic of the Red Arrows in a slightly happier time – at the Trafalgar Fleet Review in 2005. This great pic was taken by my sister Nicola:

 

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The Battle of the North Cape by Angus Konstam

Angus Konstam is a consumate naval historian, and in the past I have made much use of his work on pirates and motor torpedo boats. Here, he turns his attention to one of the least-known naval battles of the Second World War, that of the North Cape, which resulted in the sinking of the German Battlecruiser Scharnhorst.

In 1943 the Western Allies were reinforcing the Soviet Union via the treacherous Arctic Convoys, in the main from Scotland to the ports of Archangel and Murmansk. By supplying large amounts of lend-lease material, the Western Allies were helping the Soviets to fight the Germans on the Eastern Front. Hence the Arctic Convoy route became a vital point for the allies to defend, and the Germans to attack.

Although the German Navy was nowhere near the size of the Royal Navy, it was still feared that surface raiders such as the Scharnhorst might slip out of their Fjords in Norway and wreak havoc on the convoys. That is to say nothing either of the threat of U-Boats. As a result of these threats of the importance of their cargoes, convoys were shephered by naval escorts, and significant convoys were shadowed by larger units of the Home Fleet.

Convoy JW55B had sailed from Loch Ewe in Scotland, and the Scharnhorst, along with her escorting destroyers, sailed out of Altenfjord in Norway to intercept. Thanks to Ultra intelligence decrypts the Royal Navy knew that she had sailed. The convoy was escorted by a powerful force of Cruisers, and the commander of the Home Fleet, Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, sailed from Scapa Flow in his Flagship HMS Duke of York. Bruce Fraser is possibly one of the least well-known fighting Admirals of the Second World War.

The Scharnhorst was eventually detected by the shadowing force of Cruisers, which after engaging her briefly, reported her presence to Fraser in Duke of York. Eventually the Royal Navy’s ships circled in on the Battlecruiser as she steamed back to Norway. Superior gunnery skills from the British ships pounded the Scharnhorst into scrap metal, and a torpedo attack from British destroyers finally sent her below the waves.

What Konstam does really well here, is to demonstrate the fighting qualities of both navies. The Royal Navy was adept at sailing snd fighting anywhere – be it freezing cold seas, with mountainous waves. In fact, in Nelsonian tradition, it was expected of Captains to lay their ships alongside enemy and pound them into razorblades. The Kriegsmarine, for the most part, hid its major ships away from danger, and did not wish to risk their loss. The Admiralty devolved much responsibility to its commanders, who could fight their ships as they though fit. In contrast, Hitler, Donitz and the Fleet Command in Kiel interfered constantly with Konter Admiral Bey’s command. Konstam also emphasises the superiority of British technology, particularly the use or radars in gunnery direction.

This is a very gripping read, and one that I enjoyed immensely. The North Cape was a dramatic battle, and Angus Konstam tells its story engagingly.

The Battle of The North Cape is published by Pen and Sword

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Filed under Book of the Week, Navy, Uncategorized, World War Two

Shoreham Airshow 2011

After giving it a miss last year, three generations of Daly’s made a return to Shoreham Airshow yesterday. There was so much to see, I do apologise if I forget anything. We missed the first couple of displays stuck in traffic on the A27 – I believe it was a glider display.

The Consolidated Catalina is a real special aircraft that I was very pleased to see. A flying boat not dis-similar to the Short Sunderland, the Catalina played a vital role during the Second World War in reconnaisance, transport, and in all manner of maritime roles. It’s not an aircraft that you see too often.

There was a very minimal representation from the RAF this year – only training aircraft in the Hawk, the Tutor and the Tucano. I’m actually quite a fan of the Hawk, a nippy little jet. The RAF also provided one of their distinctive yellow Search and Rescue Sea Kings, which marked the 70th anniversary of RAF Search and Rescue by giving a demonstration of winching, from an RNLI RIB on a trailer on the runway.

I might be biased, but the Parachute Regiment Red Devils Parachute Display team are easily the best around. In fact, I’m not sure why other Regiments are allowed to waste time and money having parachute display teams. They always land on a sixpence.

The Great War display is always very interesting, evocative of the magnificent men in their flying machines. It’s incredible that these such basic airframes fly like they do. Something that occured to me is how similar the Sopwith Camel is to the Fairey Swordfish, which was present this year. The little ‘Stringbag’ was obsolete at the start of the war in 1939, but still managed to cripple the Bismarck in 1941.

My Grandad and myself were pondering which has a more evocative sound and sight – the B17 Flying Fortress or the Avro Lancaster, both of which displayed at Shoreham this year. We came to the conclusion that the Lancaster is like a solid, dependable truck, while the B17 is like a Humvee – big and bold, but with some bling too.

Some of the most interesting aircraft are some of the lesser known jets – the Hawker Hunter and the De Havilland Vampire are fantastic aircraft, and look and sound beautiful.

The centrepiece of every Shoreham airshow is the Battle of Britain style airfield scramble. We are quite fortunate to see this, where every year a couple of Messerschmitt’s blitz the aerodrome, before the Spitfires and Hurricanes get up and chase them off. It is great to see, with the pyrotechnics, and Dads Army firing on the sidelines, but when you go every year, I can’t help wonder if I’m the only person who knows exactly what is going to happen and when. But then again, if they didn’t do it, you would feel let down!

Shoreham always has plenty of aerobatic teams. The Yakovlevs, flying Russian WW2 vintage aircraft, the SWIP team, the Blades, and the Breitling wingwalkers (young ladies who have to be seen to be believed!).

After the Vulcan had to pull out at the last minute with fuel tank problems, the organisers obviously had to find something unique to close the show. Step forward Christian Moullec. This frenchman’s act really is unique. A conservationist, Moullec raises birds (Geese or Cranes) from hatching, and trains them to fly along with him, in his microlight. It is a fantastic spectacle.

It did feel like there wasn’t quite as much at this years show as there has been in the past. The Red Arrows have never been allowed to make a ful display at Shoreham, apparently due to aviation rules and the proximity of air routes out of Gatwick. It is sad that the British Armed Forces could not provide more display aircraft, but then again they are probably all busy in Afghanistan or Libya. It is a shame, because seeing a Typhoon or an Apache at an airshow could be the thing that recruits a pilot of the future.

It is wonderful that the Shoreham Airshow takes place every year, and raises money for the RAF Associations appeal. Remember, unlike many free airshows, Shoreham is a charity event raising for a good cause. It would be nice to see something different sometimes – about 75% of the prgramme is the same most years, which obviously if you go each year, is a bit repetitive. But then again, I’ve never organised an airshow, and it can’t be an easy thing to do, so hats off to the guys at Shoreham!

(whisper it quietly, but lets just say I believe there might be an airshow a lot closer to Portsmouth sometime soon… I can’t reveal my sources, but fingers crossed eh!)

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Filed under airshow, event, Royal Air Force, Vulcan Bomber, World War One, World War Two