Sunday, 7 September 2014

Germans Cast Themselves in an Heroic Light.

While Edith Cavell was being shot and the rest of Belgium trampled under invading jack boots, the Germans were congratulating themselves on a job well done.

Once again, the man with the chicken on his head, Wilhelm II, is playing superhero. Here he is riding about, pinning iron crosses on wounded infantrymen while a Valkyrie looks on approvingly. According to Norse mythology, it was the Valkyries who were supposed to do the riding about.

The job of the virgin Valkyries was to choose among those who died in battle and bring the bravest to Valhalla. Most of the time Valkyries went about disguised as swans and, should a Valkyrie ever be spotted by a mortal without her disguise, then she herself would become mortal and could not re-enter Valhalla. So this one appears to be well and truly snookered, poor gal.

Can you believe that 100 years ago people actually fell for this preposterous rubbish?

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Medals for the murdered nurse, Edith Cavell

Edith Cavell was a British nurse who was working in Belgium when the Great War began. When she helped allied soldiers to escape from German-occupied territory, the Germans took a dim view of it. She was tried by a military court and sentenced to be shot by firing squad.

She was then, with Teutonic inevitability, shot by firing squad. Well, by October 1915, the Germans had shot so many innocent people in Belgium that shooting a genuinely guilty one seemed quite reasonable. The rest of the world couldn't bring themselves to agree, and Germany took one more step towards pariah-dom.

The medal on the left of the picture is the Maidstone Medal, given Nurse Cavell for her service in helping to halt an outbreak of typhoid in Kent, the worst ever in Britain. The second medal Noble Readers will recognize from a previous blog as the French Legion d'honneur. The medal on the right is the Belgian Civic Cross First Class.

By the way, her name is usually mis-stressed - ca-VELL. It should be CA-vel, as in "travel."

Friday, 29 August 2014

Humanity shatters "Kultur"

Much anti-German sentiment during the Great War was directed at something called "Kultur." What was it, and why was it reviled?

It means in German roughly what we would mean by "culture" in English, but was used sarcastially in Britain to lampoon the supposed German belief that their culture was superior to all others - "Uber alles", and all that. The British naturally found this belief both risible and self-evidently inaccurate, and started depicting Germany as a drooling ape in a pickelhaube helmet running around with a large club with the word Kulture engraved on it, presumably looking for victims to educate.

But "Kultur" also has another shade of meaning relating to something called "Kulturkampf." Those Noble Readers steeped in 20th Century lore, will notice that word "kampf" - as in Mein Kampf, the title of a peculiar fantasy penned by infamous jail-bird Adolf Hitler.  "Kampf" means "struggle" or perhaps "battle," and "Kulturkampf" refers to late 19th Century efforts in Prussia to cleanse the domain of Roman Catholic influence. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck introduced increasingly stringent curbs on Catholic institutions, which had an effect later when, in August, 1914, the Germans overran Belgium and Poland, both notably Catholic countries.

Click on this link to get a copy of my latest novel - The Deadly Playground, 1914 

Friday, 22 August 2014

The British Are to Blame for Everything.

Most Americans will nod with recognition when it is suggested that you can't be Top Nation without attracting enormous jealousy, not to say envy, from nations of lesser wealth and magnificence.

What is directed at Americans today we British had to put up with a hundred years ago. The jealousy was most apparent among the Kaiser's clique, and indeed in Wilhelm's own attitude.

He was completely out of his mind, of course, but still it almost beggars belief that, having invaded France and Belgium, the Germans could depict Britain as the cause of all the woes afflicting those benighted countries.

Talk about a regime deep in denial.

Click on this link to get a copy of my latest novel - The Deadly Playground, 1914 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Jonah Jessop?

The name of this lovely lady was Violet Jessop, Violet Constance Jessop to be exact, whose Irish parents emigrated to live in Argentina. You'd want to think twice before you bought a ticket to ride on any ship Violet was travelling aboard, and let me tell you why.

In 1911, Violet was working as a stewardess aboard the world's biggest liner, the Royal Mail Steamer Olympic when she was in collision with HMS Hawke - the liner, not Violet. She was reassigned to another ship, the Titanic which promptly ran into an iceberg as a billion movie-goers are now aware. Nothing daunted, she then joined the Red Cross and went off to serve aboard the hospital ship, Britannic, just in time for it to be torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat. (Some say it was a mine.)

Violet died in Suffolk, England, in 1971. She was 83 years of age. Talk about the luck of the Irish ...

Saturday, 16 August 2014

"Like the Titanic, only worse"

In 1914, the Germans were in possession of 30 submarines, the famous U-boats. These were not the ocean-going craft familiar to students of World War 2, but smaller craft designed to operate in coastal waters. They were, however, armed with numbers of self-propelled torpedoes, and were deadly enough. Of the 360 submarines Germany built during the Great War, half were captured or sunk, but they did succeed in destroying more than 12 million tons of shipping.

In May 1915, U-20, captained by one Walther Schwieger, torpedoed the passenger liner RMS Lusitania, killing over a thousand people, including some pretty irritated Americans.

But when Titanic went down didn't she take over 1,500 people with her? Yes, indeed, but what made the Lusitania sinking worse was the fact that the Titanic disaster was an accident, the Lusitania was sunk on purpose.

They say that he who lives by the sword dies by the sword, so it's perhaps no surprise that Captain Schwieger's own remains are still aboard his last command, U-88 - at the bottom of the North Sea. His submarine was sunk by the British Q-ship HMS Glenfoyle alias Stonecrop alias Dunlevon alias Winona.

A Q-ship was a fake merchantman equipped with hidden guns. These decoys were used by the Royal Navy to literally lure U-boats to their doom, hence the confusing array of names.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Artists and Writers

If artists contributed to the British war effort, so did writers. In fact, in the twenty or so years leading up to the First World War, growing concerns over Germany's war-like intentions created an atmosphere of anxiety.

Novels such as The Battle of Dorking and The Riddle of the Sands led people to expect a German invasion, or at least to mistrust the Kaiser.

This pre-war poster is advertizing a play being staged at Wyndham's Theatre in London, entitled, "An Englishman's Home". The title refers to the popular saying, "An Englishman's home is his castle", which attempts to promulgate the notion that the ownership of property was inviolate in England, that the homeowner's status was well protected by law, and woe betide anyone who tried to interfere with his privileges.

Here we see Britannia, the spirit of Britain. She was a figure familiar to British people of the time through her appearance on the penny coin. She seems to be warning a gent peaceably enjoying his hearth that the enemy are at the gates.

My latest novel - The Deadly Playground, 1914 might also be of interest to you.  Click here to take a look.