Regular readers will probably need no introduction to Paul Reed. A prolific military historian, he is also a battlefield guide and a regular expert on the TV screens when it comes to military history. One of those people who makes you wonder, how do they fit it all in?!
Hopefully one day I will get myself to the Somme, and when I do this book will be in my rucksack. But until then a read of this is not a bad substitute. I wonder how many people, like me, own plenty of battlefield guides but have never been anywhere near the places? I find that because they are written in a manner aiming to interpret the lie of the land, and bring the battle to life, battlefield guidebooks come across like that even if you’re reading them in the comfort of your own home. And surely that is the whole intention of writing history? It’s something that Paul Reed does very well here. My understanding of the Battle of the Somme has been vastly improved thanks to this book. In particular, I have a much stronger grasp on what happened to the Portsmouth Pals- the 14th and 15th Hampshires – at Flers and Guillemont respectively. And considering I’m quite new to studying the Great War, but looking to publish a book on it myself in the non too distant future, thats a very useful thing.
The battlefield of the Somme is ‘broken up’ into a series walks, logical in scope and and sensible in duration. The book is amply illustrated, with photographs, archive maps and sketch maps – which somehow are very evocative of the great war, a nice touch. I also like how it concentrates far more on the common soldier than it does on the Generals, which is not always the case with First World War books! Sensibly, Paul has concentrated on the battlefields themselves, without swamping the reader with ancilliary information. Most of us have the internet at hand nowadays, and tourist information for Albert should be at our fingertips with a quick google search. Hence theres no need to overload the book with hotels, trains and toilets, when there is far more interesting stuff to think about.
This book was actually first published almost twenty years ago. And I have to say, considering the changes in technology and the shifts in military history since then, it has ‘aged’ remarkably well. I guess its comparable to, say, writing a battlefield guide now, say, for an iphone app, who knows what innovations might take place between now and twenty years time? So to pass the test of time is no small achievement.
Walking the Somme is published by Pen and Sword
Heston Blumethal (Image via Wikipedia)
This is a heads-up for anyone interested in the Royal Navy, and especially those interested in what goes on below the depths and dietary matters.
Heston Blumenthal goes onboard HMS Turbulent, a nuclear-powered Royal Navy attack submarine, where he plans to shake up the crew’s diet. His first menu of blueberries, mackerel and dark chocolate – foods said to enhance concentration – does not go down well, and amid budgetary pressures he is forced to consider a radical new idea that would mean a revolution in the way Navy chefs prepare meals.
It’s not the first time a lovie chef has tried to overhaul military catering. Whilst you often hear complaints from serving and ex-servicemen about corned beef and the suchlike, at the same time I doubt very much whether Jack was ever going to be too keen on mackerel and blueberries. Theres variety, but then there’s frippery. Think of WHO you’re cooking for. What do servicemen want and need? Nutritious, healthy, but enjoyable and not toooo boring. Food is one of the last bastions of human morale, after all.
However the idea that he comes up with – I have heard rumours about this – is so simple its a wonder they didn’t come up with it before. During the war Royal Navy submarines struggled in the catering department. Some of the smaller subs had such a small crew there was no room for a dedicated chef, and little room for food stowage. Even on a larger, modern sub cooking for hundreds of men must be a problem. And as we all know, it must be boring eating the same plain food all the time.
Heston’s Mission Impossible onboard HMS Turbulent is on Channel 5 tonight at 9pm.
Well now we’ve finally seen the two-part Drama ‘The Sinking of the Laconia‘. If you haven’t already seen it, you can catch it on BBC iplayer here.
My impressions? I found it very gripping and very moving. I don’t mind admitting that I was choked in a few places. Historically, it seems to have captured the essence of the story and with no major embellishments or historical licence. From what I can tell, the writers used real events quite well, albeit changing some names and circumstances slightly. Perhaps there was a little too much time given to romance and flirting, but hey that’s just TV I guess. I’m not althogether sure that the character of Hilda Smith existed, perhaps someone can enlighten me.
I have a feeling that the actions of the American B-24 Liberator crew may come in for criticism now. The drama’s portrayal of them was as hapless, inexperienced trigger-happy young men. I have to say that from what I know, their actions were irresponsible and sadly added to the loss of life and suffering from the sinking. But on the other hand, they were by no means the only men in wartime to make a bad call in a difficult situation. It would be nice to think that it was simply a mistake.
Overall I’m glad that such a heart-rendering story of humanity amongst war has finally got the recognition that it deserved. For too long the Laconia has been virtually forgotten in the annals of history, quite why is hard to explain. Hopefully that will change now.
Thank you to everyone who has visited here in the past few days, visits to my blog have gone through the roof. My record for daily visits was smashed by three times the old record, and today’s total will be even more too.
Finally, to anyone who was on the Laconia, or has a family story connected with it, please keep in touch, I will try and write about the story from time to time here. I’ve really enjoyed all of your contributions. There is also a Laconia group on Facebook that is a great way to keep in touch and exchange news and stories. Let’s make sure that the story of the Laconia is remembered.
I have been informed by a reliable source – via the BBC – that the Docu-drama ‘The Sinking of the Laconia’ is going to reach our screens on 6 and 7 of January 2011. It will be on BBC at 9pm each night.
The programme was originally due to be on screen in the Spring of 2010. However the BBC asked the producer to edit it from a feature length drama to two shorter episodes. It’s been a long time coming, and there have been several false starts before, but it’s listen on the BBC website so fingers crossed!
For those of you who aren’t aware, my great-uncle Leading Stoker Thomas Daly was onboard the Laconia when she went down, so I’ve got a personal interest in the programme.
The Airborne Cemetery at Oosterbeek (Image via Wikipedia)
I’ve just finished watching the second and final part of this very interesting programme, taking a group of young people from Croydon and training them as 1940’s Paras. The programme culminated in parachute jump from a C-47 Dakota over Arnhem during the annual anniversary celebrations. My, how I wish I was ‘young’ again!
My impressions are that it was a very well put together and well thought out programme. Staffed by ex-Paras and youth workers – an interesting combination! – the young people were put through a taster of the physical training required to join the 1940’s Parachute Regiment. Some of the kids found the physical training pretty hard – are we softer nowadays?… answers on a postcard. Modern day favourites such as the log race were in evidence. The kids were also taken out on a mock exercise with re-enactors, but unbeknown to them a group of German re-enactors had set up an ambush, very similar to the kind that might have taken place in Arnhem during September 1944.
We also got an insight into the social problems of being young nowadays, when three were sent home for sniffing aerosols. Obviously pretty stupid and dangerous, not to mention wasting an opportunity of a lifetime. But then again, whilst the 60’s generation thought they were ‘expanding their minds’ on LSD and speed and god knows what else, their parents during the war had probably taken far more Benzedrene in the course of duty. The programme makers also made a decent effort to get the kids to wear contemporary uniforms, eat contemporary foods, and such like.
The parachute training was also fascinating. Some of the kids in particular had trouble getting to grips with the parachute landing – feet and knees together, roll etc (I can remember my Grandad telling me that!). Their trip to Brize Norton in particular was an eye-opener – jumping out of a mock-up fuselage, and from the old-style fan, which would have been familiar to second world war Paras. No barrage balloon jumps, however! Most of the kids seem to have taken the parachuting side of the programme well in their stride.
On the whole, this was a very grood programme, and exactly the kind of living history that brings teaching to life and really enthuses young people. I wasn’t too sure about the reality TV feel, how when individuals had to leave for various reasons it had the feel of Big Brother and being evicted.
The veterans accounts were very moving, however. But most of all I found the ending of the programme very touching – the young lads sharing a pint with some of the veterans at the crossroads, and placing flowers on the graves in the Airborne Cemetery in Oosterbeek. It really seemed to me like the young people ‘got’ the spirit of the programme. I hope all the nay-sayers are happy.
Arnhem: Tour of Duty can be watched on the Channel 5 website
Garrison Church (Image via Wikipedia)
Tomorrow night’s episode of Time Team on Channel 4 comes from Portsmouth.
Last year the arachaeology programme carried out a dig in Old Portsmouth, on the Governors Green area. The existing Garrison Church used to be part of a larger Governors House, and prior to that it used to be part of a much larger complex – the Domus Dei, or Gods House. Domus Dei acted as a hospital and travel lodge.
I’ve had a bit of secondhand inside knowledge on what happened on the dig, but I’ll let you all watch the programme and make what you will of it before I spoil it with my gossip!
Time Team at Governors Green is on Channel 4 tommorrow night (Sunday 24th October) at 5.30pm
Heres my round up of this weeks historical action on the box
Monday – Coal House at War As the families settle into their routines, the men face a tough training period to equip them for life at the coal face and in the Home Guard (BBC2, 7pm)
Tuesday – Heir Hunters Probate detectives search for the surviving relatives of a man who left £70,000 (BBC2, 7.30pm, also on Wednesday)
Wednesday – Railway Walks Julia Bradbury traces the route of a lost railway line from Weymouth onto Portland (BBC2, 7pm)
Wednesday – The Lost Symbol: Trutch or Fiction? examines the story behind Dan Brown’s new novel. Expect plenty of flustered freemasons! (Five, 8pm)
And sadly thats it, very quiet week this week!
This weeks picks for historically interesting telly:
Monday 12 October 2009 – The start of a new series, Coal House at War (BBC2, 7pm)
Also on Monday – In Saving Britain’s past Tom Dyckhoff looks at the history of Brick Lane in London (BBC2, 7.30pm)
Why did my son die? looks at protecting troops on the battlefield (ITV, 8pm)
Tuesday 13 October 2009 – In Heir Hunters we see the search for relatives of a man who left £350,000 (BBC2, 7.30pm, also same time on Wednesday)
Wednesday 14 October 2009 – Labour MP John Prescott looks at the North/South Divide (BBC2, 9pm).
Thursday 15 October – In The Red Lion Sue Bourne investigates the role of Pubs in British Society (C4, 9pm)