Sunday, 21 December 2014

Anchors Aweigh!

Ships in New York Harbour, loading armaments for use by Britain and France. Germany tried to stir up Irish-Americans against the trade, and to otherwise interfere with the wharfs.

On 30th July, 1916, a giant explosion blew out thousands of windows in Manhattan when a New Jersey ammunition warehouse on Black Tom wharf was sabotaged. This wharf jutted out into the bay close to the Statue of Liberty, which suffered damage.

The explosion may have destroyed some war materials, but the damage caused to Germany's reputation was incalculable. I mean, what kind of imbecile would so casually jeopardize a universally recognized symbol of freedom?

Echoes of the Black Tom blast were heard in Maryland and Connecticut. And, in a metaphorical sense, in Washington.

Click here to see my latest novel - The Deadly Playground, 1914

Sunday, 14 December 2014

The Evil Septopus?

This German cartoon depicts John Bull, the personification of England, as a slightly crazed, seven-armed octopus which is grasping at American resources. British orders contributed billions of dollars to American prosperity, and Great Britain honourably paid back all her loans after the war - which is more than could be said for other countries, notably France.

If you are interested in this period of history, then click here to get a copy of my latest novel - "The Deadly Playground, 1914"

Sunday, 23 November 2014

The Walrus and the Carpenter

This German cartoon shows a portly Britain wearing Union flag underwear being shark-bitten by a U-boat. American president, Woodrow Wilson is helping to rescue the victim. Perhaps this is where Laurel and Hardy got the idea for their act.

Interested in this period?  Click here to get a copy of my latest novel, The Deadly Playground, 1914

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Meet A. Fokker

That's Anthony Fokker, Dutch aero engineer, who designed Germany's best planes. A little-known detail is that he wasn't born in the Netherlands at all, but in Indonesia.

Nor was it the Netherlands where he set up as an aircraft manufacturer. In 1912, he moved to Berlin, and when war came the German authorities took over his factory at Schwerin. He, or his group of designers, were responsible for the monoplane known as the Eindecker, the triplane flown by the Red Baron, and the widely-admired D.VII that appeared towards the end of the war.

Fokker also gave his name to something called the "Fokker Scourge." This was an affliction that came upon the Royal Flying Corps in 1915, when Fokker Eindeckers began appearing. They started shooting down unacceptable numbers of British aircraft, because Fokker had designed a mechanism that allowed a machine-gun to shoot through the propeller arc without putting bullets through the propeller itself. Quite an advance as it turned out.

Take a look at my latest novel - The Deadly Playground, 1914

Saturday, 8 November 2014

Death Valley Scotty


Furnace Creek, Death Valley, California
High Summer, 1905

A BEAUTIFULLY DESOLATE desert landscape shimmered in 130 degrees of heat. The ground down here was a cracked salt pan. To the west distant mountains rose up gray-purple. A little nearer, red bluffs, deeply fissured, eroded, guarded the way eastward.

A man with a white hat got down from his mule and wiped his face with his hand. He was looking intently at something in the brightness, blue eyes narrowed. When he pulled a red bandana up over his mouth and nose he looked like he was about to rob a train. But it was only to combat the stink.

The mule he had been riding was leading a second, loaded with gear. Both animals stood amiably in the dusty heat. They were apt to be a little stubborn at times, especially if they were asked to do something they didn’t think much of, but they were the right companions for this place, and hardier than any horse.

The man walked around the bodies of two horses lying dead in their traces and bloated by the heat. They had been pulling a four-wheel wagon. As he approached, a mangy black and white sheep dog crept out from the shadow of the wagon. The noise it made was pitiful. It seemed like the dog had survived by licking at the seepage from a water barrel warped by the heat. The dog might have been waiting here four or five days. It was now shaking and crazy with thirst, but its nature remained unthreatening and so he charmed it until it came to him.

“Hey, now, feller. How long you been here?” He unstoppered his canteen and gave the dog a drink of sweet water from his hand. “Who’s your master?”

The man finally steeled himself to look up at the body of the dead prospector. He was still sitting up there slouched over on the buckboard like the minute he had died. Only now he was attracting flies.
“Howdy. Weather’s a mite warm for this time of year, don’t you think?” As he searched the desiccated body the man talked to it as if it was still alive. It made things seem less spooky. “I guess your heart just give out. Happens to a lot of folks who try to get across here.”

He found the man’s dusty jacket, took out a well-worn blue notebook. In the front was a name, but not a whole lot besides.

“Pleased to meet you Mr. – Jeremiah Wilson,” he said, looking up at the discolored face. “Walter E. Scott’s the name, but folks call me Scotty, and you can too, if you’ve a mind.”

Scotty set the jacket aside. He’d go through the rest of the pockets when he’d done what he knew he should.

“Say, you wouldn’t have a cold beer on you? No? Least you could do for a fellow prospector. I should have asked them in Barstow if they had any grave-digging shovels.” He grinned, despite the bad air. “Don’t mind me. Just my idea of a little joke. I can see this is going to be one hell of a job.”
He unshipped a spade and a pick from the flank of one of his mules and began to bite laboriously into the rock-hard ground ...

A couple of hours later, with the grave dug and filled in again and Mr. Jeremiah Wilson decently sent to his reward, Scotty jabbed the pick and spade back into the ground with finality. He composed himself and addressed the mound of broken earth.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” he said. “Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me. Amen.”

It was as much as he could recall.

The jacket wasn’t of a quality worth keeping. But one of its pockets might have been worth all the tea in China because it contained a little piece of rock – a very special little piece of rock.

Scotty took off his hat and mopped his brow. “Mr. Wilson, now where in the world did you find that?”

It was what they called ‘picture rock’. A vein of yellow glittered in it. Scotty turned the rock over this way and that, appreciating the value of what he had found. Then he clasped his hand around it, knowing that he had been well paid for his labor today. A plan was already forming in his mind, a plan to multiply that payment a thousand-fold.

Want to read some more?  Buy yourself a copy here

Thursday, 6 November 2014

A Flying Tram?

Actually, not a tram but a Vityaz, Igor Sikorsky's 4-engined bomber of 1913.

Perhaps surprisingly, the Russians possessed some advanced aircraft in World War One. Igor didn't care much for the Bolsheviks, and emigrated to the USA in 1919, where he continued to develop aircraft, particularly helicopters, machines with which his name eventually became synonymous.

The bomber played a minor role in the Great War compared to the devastation it wrought in World War two. Apart from its Zeppelins, Germany famously operated twin-engined Gotha bombers, which terrorized London and other cities. From 1916, the British introduced the Handley-Page O-type (That's a capital letter "O".) And later the Vickers Vimy, which was too late for the war, but was the first aircraft to cross the Atlantic non-stop.

If you are interested in this period, take a look at my latest novel “The Deadly Playground, 1914” – just click here

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Patching up Aircraft?

Everyone has heard of the Luftwaffe, the German air force of World War Two, but what about 1914?
The correct term is a bit of a mouthful - "die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches" Рthough often the word "Luftstreitkräfte" was used, which is hardly much better.

It's not obvious to a casual observer what early aircraft were made from. The rough answer is a wooden framework with a fabric of some kind stretched over it.  When these planes were shot at, many of the bullets and lumps of shrapnel that scored hits actually did little damage - they passed through the fabric and, so long as they didn't hit the wooden skeleton inside, passed out again.

When aircraft came back from patrol, there was a morbid fascination in the game of going over the fabric to look for holes. Repairs were then effected by gluing on patches and sewing round the patch.

The chaps in the picture are doing just that.

Interested in finding out more?  Click on this link to get a copy of my latest novel - The Deadly Playground, 1914

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

German cavalry, Polish children

In this photograph, we see German cavalry trotting through the streets of a Polish town, lance pennons flying. Dozens of Polish children have been attracted to the spectacle - note the bare feet - and are gleefully absorbing the sight of real soldiers.

It is perhaps a sobering thought that other Germans, attempting to renew their original plan of conquest in the East, would turn Poland into something resembling Hell just about the time when these children were entering the prime of life.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The U-boat Threat

Sir Winston Churchill famously remarked that the only thing that gave him serious cause for concern during World War 2 was the threat posed by Germany's submarines.

They were quick and cheap to build in large numbers and they usually sank many times their own tonnage before being sunk themselves. For an island nation dependent on maritime trade, this was bad news.
What is less well known is that U-boats existed in World War One also, and sank many ships, Royal Navy and merchant marine alike -- about five thousand of them, or twelve million tons in all.

Also less well known, at least in the Anglophone nations, is the fact that Austria-Hungary had a small submarine fleet, but the French managed to keep it bottled up in the Adriatic for the duration.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

A Russian Suffering German Ambitions

The Russian Empire in 1914 was a vast, backward absolute monarchy that extended right across present-day Ukraine, Belarus and Poland. Most people lived mediaeval lives, as subsistence farmers, in small villages or in poorly-developed towns. It seemed to the Germans a region ripe for improvement. The trouble was, "improvement" would mean replacing the Russians and Poles who lived there with Germans.

The imminent collapse of Russia eventually alarmed the United States into joining Britain and France in deploying troops. German divisions which had been fighting against Russia could now be entrained to fight in the West. It was believed that American soldiers would be required to shore up the Western Front against the expected German offensive.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

The Germans in Poland

Take the points off those helmets, and this could easily be a scene from 1941 instead of 1914.

Want to find out more about this period?  Click here to get a copy of The Deadly Playground, 1914, my latest novel. 

Sunday, 21 September 2014

All tied up ...

This cartoon shows the German chancellor's dogs of war chewing over the bones of Europe. The Reichskanzler in question is Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg, who held the post from 1909 to 1917. Our cartoon shows Bethmann Hollweg in uniform. He was never in the army, but did wear a general's uniform while about his business in Berlin. Odd, to say the least, but in 1914 Germany, a military uniform of some description was apparently de rigeur if one was to be taken at all seriously.

Bethmannn Hollweg's diplomatic deceptions in 1914 helped lead Europe to war. (His attempts beforehand to butter-up the British had failed to convince.) Just as well the British spurned his advances, because his so-called "September Programme" of 1914 revealed truly aggressive expansionist plans in which a quick European war was to be followed by grandiose victory demands.

These were the annexation of Luxembourg, Belgium and parts of Northern France, including a generous slice of the Channel coast. A fine of ten billion Reichsmarks was to be levied on France, along with crippling war reparations. The French would be forced to disarm, and their economy would be henceforth controlled by Germany. In the east, a new German empire would be created from the westernmost parts of the Russian Empire, while German Africa would be formed from French colonies and the Belgian Congo, and positioned so as to rival British overseas possessions.

In the event things didn't quite turn out that way, even after Adolf Hitler tried and failed to implement the plan a second time.

In a very real sense, what we are accustomed to call World War Two, is in reality just World War One Part Two.

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."

Interested in reading more about WW1?   Click here to get a copy of my latest novel, 
The Deadly Playground, 1914

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.

Monday, 11 August 2014

War and Cholera - 1911

This hard-hitting German poster of 1911 shows what lies in store for those leaders who fail to steer their nations away from war. The piles of naked corpses in the bottom of the picture seem eerily prescient, reminding people of a later generation of footage shot at Belsen concentration camp in 1945.

Get a copy of my latest novel - The Deadly Playground, 1914 here:

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Not Much Change Since Napoleon.

Another misconception frequently held by people not sufficiently steeped in historical research - and that means 99% of us - is that the Great War was all about mud-filled trenches. In fact, the Great War was fought in many places around the world, and only in the northern end of the Western Front was it like that.

Of course, that's the part of the line the British army had to endure - the legendary mud of Ypres and Paschendael - so the static war looms large in British memory. But in the early part of 1914, the war in the West was a mobile affair, with cavalry units and horse artillery playing a notable part. In the East, where the Germans were fighting the Russians, the war continued to be mobile.

In 1914, British soldiers wore cloth caps, French infantry had bright red pantaloons and cavalrymen of all persuasions rode into battle with lance and sabre. By 1916, the last vestiges of the kind of warfare that Napoleon would have recognized had disappeared forever.

Why not click on this link and get a copy of my latest novel - The Deadly Playground, 1914

Monday, 4 August 2014

Business Must Go On

Say "Peugeot" today, and you'll likely think of the range of French cars, but did you know that the firm started out making coffee grinders? By 1858 they had turned to making steel and various consumer items, among which bicycles numbered. By the 1880's "Cycles Peugeot" was a well known French trade mark.

During the Great War, Peugeot built 63,000 bicycles a year, along with 9,000 cars and lorries, 1,000 motorcycles, 10,000 aircraft engines, and 6 million artillery shells.

After most wars, a howl generally goes up about the people who have done well out of the conflict.

"Filthy profiteers!" goes the cry. "You made money out of the war while others shed their blood!"

True, but it's hard fighting a mechanized war without truck, shells and aircraft engines.

Why not click on this link and get yourself a copy of my latest novel - The Deadly Playground, 1914?

Friday, 1 August 2014

Death Valley Scotty - on sale just $1.99 this week!

Around the beginning of the 20th Century, Walter E. Scott - Scotty to his friends -  was passing through Death Valley, California, when he happened upon a dead man. Beside the corpse was a dog dying of thirst, and in the man's pocket was a piece of rock glittering with pure gold ...

So begins one of the most endearing tales to come out of the American West.

Scotty seized he day. He buried the body, saved the dog and worked out a plan that would change not only his own life, but that of many others. One of the lives Scotty changed was that of Albert M. Johnson, a wealthy but disabled Chicagoan who yearned for adventure. Johnson wanted for nothing in material terms, but he had suffered a broken back in the train wreck that had killed his father. Despite inheriting the biggest insurance company in the Midwest, he was not a happy man, until Scotty appeared, that is.

Scotty loved to have a good time and to be the centre of attention. He was a romantic soul, a natural-born showman with a talent for making things happen. He used whatever money that came his way to enjoy life and enhance his reputation as a gold miner, but he also enriched the lives of others in a way that was his and his alone.

Scotty played the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst at their own game. He ran financial risks that would make the average person dizzy, but he remained the kind of man that folks always wanted to see win. 
Death Valley Scotty is a tightly crafted story that follows the life of a loveable rogue through more ups and downs than you'll find in the Sierra Nevada. See how his luck changes as his plans start to unravel. Follow him as he works himself out of yet another tight corner and stays one step ahead of the law. Who knows what will happen next? "Death Valley Scotty" is reminiscent of "True Grit." It has the uplift of "It’s a Wonderful Life."

Set in a time when freedom seemed easier to find, this is a read that will surely make you smile.

Why don't you click here and get yourself a copy?

Thursday, 31 July 2014

The Commonwealth Games - Who? What? Where?

Having wryly commented on the colourful goings on in Brazil, Noble Readers, I think it only right that I should point out a few interesting features of the Commonwealth Games, now rolling along in glorious Glasgow.

The Scots, in a last minute orgy of spending before their peninsula separates itself from the United Kingdom, are hosting a sort of mini-Olympics which is confined to those nations formerly under the steel jackboot of British domination.

Not all of our ex-colonies have joined that great successor to the British Empire, the organization secretly known as the British Commonwealth – Ireland (Southern Branch) and the United States being notable exceptions -- but the Mother Country has now been forgiven by most of its other children, and so the Games stirs interest in the following places:

    Anguilla                   Mozambique
    Antigua and Barbuda        Namibia
    Australia                  Nauru
    The Bahamas                New Zealand
    Bangladesh                 Nigeria
    Barbados                   Pakistan
    Belize                     Papua New Guinea
    Botswana                   Rwanda
    Brunei                     Saint Kitts and Nevis
    Cameroon                   Saint Lucia
    Canada                     St Vincent & the Grenadine
    Cyprus                     Samoa
    Dominica                   Seychelles
    Fiji                       Sierra Leone
    Ghana                      Singapore
    Grenada                    Solomon Islands
    Guyana                     South Africa
    India                      Sri Lanka
    Jamaica                    Swaziland
    Kenya                      Tanzania
    Kiribati                   The Gambia
    Lesotho                    Tonga
    Malawi                     Trinidad and Tobago
    Malaysia                   Tuvalu
    Maldives                   Uganda
    Malta                      Vanuatu
    Mauritius                  Zambia

Most of these domains will doubtless be unfamiliar to all but professional geographers. Many will sound like anagrams or specks in the ocean, and indeed are. But perhaps surprisingly, these territories account for a couple of billion inhabitants spread over eleven and a half million square miles of the earth. For some unknown reason places at one time ruled by Britain - such as Egypt, Iraq, what's now Israel and so on - have stubbornly neglected to join the Grand Club, whereas other places over which we Brits never had any dominion at all, such as Mozambique and Rwanda, have been surreptitiously welcomed in, despite having suffered under the jack boots of Portugal and France respectively.

For the purposes of the Games, the United Kingdom is divided up into four big bits and three tiny little islands. (Nobody knows why.) I give the populations so you have a sense of proportion about the whole thing.

         United Kingdom    61,609,500

         England           53,012,456
         Scotland           5,327,700
         Wales              3,063,456
         Northern Ireland   1,841,245
         Guernsey              65,345
         Isle of Man           84,497
         Jersey                97,857

My theory is that we enter seven different teams in order to let Australia top the medals table, which they do pretty well all the time. (They sulk if they don't win, you see.)
Some places do not appear on the list, maybe because they don't think very much about sport, or maybe they're too busy being tax havens or exotic holiday destinations:

     Bermuda                    Maldives
     British Virgin Islands     Montserrat
     Cayman Islands             Niue
     Cook Islands               Norfolk Island
     Falkland Islands           St Helena
     Gibraltar                  Turks & Caicos Islands

At least one of the above, and I'm not going to tell you which, is neither an accountant's heaven nor a beach resort but an absolute disaster zone, half of it having exploded some years ago. No, John of Devizes, it wasn't Ginbraltar. (Here the "n" is silent.) I personally watched it exploding (from a nearby island I'm glad to say) and couldn't help thinking that God had got that one notably wrong.

Yet other places are in the queue to join the groovy British Commonwealth, but haven't yet got the green light:

                  South Sudan

All of these have obviously made-up flags, and so may not be actual countries but bits of Empire that fell off and were forgotten about.

There is but one more country to name. It is a naughty country that has not been allowed to come to the Games at all, but has had to stand in the corner while all the other countries had jelly and cake and sang songs.  Yes, I'm sure you know of it - it's called Zimbabwe. Actually, that country and almost all its people are not naughty but lovely and cuddly. However, it has a president who is very naughty indeed, in fact he's a psychopathic Marxist despot, and you don't get much naughtier than that. He has also accumulated a gang of most unseemly types around him which he calls "a government" and whose job it is to beat people senseless with rubber hoses - so that's probably what's holding the nation back.

Stay tuned to this channel, Noble Readers, because with the Games 2/3 over, there will be more soon on how the Games' spoils are being divided.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Royalty Too ...

Then as now, the British royal family had to show that it was getting stuck in just as much as any other family, perhaps more so, because of its German connections. 

The rather slight, if not gaunt, figure in the center of this 1914 photograph is the 21 year-old Prince of Wales. He was the eldest son of the then monarch, King George V, and he later became King Edward VIII - and even later the Duke of Windsor, and Governor of the Bahamas, but the less said about that the better...

Known to his friends as "David", the future Edward VIII had a huge number of given names, as presumably befits the heir to the throne. In 1914, he joined the Grenadier Guards, one of Britain's elite regiments. By all accounts he was anxious to go to the Front, but Lord Kitchener would not let him.

He wrote to a friend, "... mine is a most rotten position ... I'm not allowed to fight. Of course I haven’t got a proper job which is very painful to me and I feel I am left too much in a glass case. I long to be taking my chance in the trenches with my brother officers and in fact all able-bodied Englishmen. But both seem to be impossible, so I have to carry on here at HQ ... It's a dull, monotonous life. This is a most rotten war unless you are actually fighting. It's a rotten war altogether and the sooner it ends the better for everyone concerned."

Nevertheless, he did manage to get into the trenches from time to time, and his father awarded him the Military Cross in June, 1916, a medal given for acts of “exemplary gallantry."

David thought his MC was undeserved, and so do I, but there was a war on, and figureheads have to do their figure heading, even when it be noxious to them. The man eventually took control of his life and told his handlers where to get off -- and you can't help admiring him for that.

My latest novel, The Deadly Playground, 1914, is out now.  Why not click on this link and get yourself a copy?

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Louvain: German "frightfulness"

When the German invasion of Belgium began on 4th August, 1914, civilians began to be rounded up and shot in order to persuade the Belgian army to surrender. Now, this was definitely not playing fair, not even playing by the rules - rules laid down by the Hague Convention, a sort of predecessor of the Geneva Convention, to which Germany was a signatory.

But the German army decided to put that piece of paper to one side, just as they had done with their promise not to violate Belgian neutrality. Within a week, over a thousand innocent civilians had been murdered.  Wherever German advances were frustrated, officers would report that civilian snipers (called francs-tireurs) had been firing on them, and "reprisals" were carried out.

But there was nothing defensive about these actions.  They were the stamping of an iron boot-heel on a population, a method to quickly terrorize them into supine complicity. In the university town known to Flemish speakers as Leuven and to French speakers as Louvain, a library of ancient manuscripts was reduced to ashes and 250 inhabitants shot.

By the year's end, thousands of innocents had been singled out: men women and children, publicly murdered to show the rest not to mess with the Kaiser's boys. I say "murdered," because although the perpetrators were wearing uniforms, they were breaking the law – and they knew they were.

Why not click on this link and get a copy of my latest novel - The Deadly Playground, 1914

Friday, 18 July 2014


German troops entered Brussels, Belgium's capital, on 20th August, 1914. The Belgian government had already moved out to the port of Antwerp, which had the same kind of out-of-date fortifications as Liege, and so it was surmised that as soon as the Germans could move up their Big Bertha guns, it would be curtains for Antwerp.

As for Brussels, it was a pretty city, so rather than have it smashed up for no good reason; the German army were offered unopposed entry. It was hoped that the invaders would behave themselves with decorum.

As this photograph shows, the German army were an orderly lot when they wanted to be. Someone in their military hierarchy could not resist organizing a Brussels victory parade - the photos would doubtless play well in the newspapers back home. But it was the start of an appallingly oppressive occupation. It soon became apparent that in their haste to conquer their little neighbour, they had overlooked one rather important detail – how to feed the population.

It wasn't long before Belgium had had its chips.

My latest novel The Deadly Playground, 1914 is out now. Why not click on this link and get yourself a copy?

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Who was Louis Raemaekers?

I like to think of my job as writing novels that will give Noble Readers pleasure. The pleasure comes mostly from an interesting story told in such a way that readers can insert themselves into a different time and a place, and so vicariously live a different life for a few hours.

But there is another pleasure to be had, and that is the satisfaction of finding out something new, something that illuminates the past and escapes the clutches of historical cliché. I get pleasure from that, so why shouldn't you?

Noble Readers will likely already know that Holland did not share the fate of Belgium in World War I - lucky for them. But as a neutral country, Holland was in a difficult position.

The man I want to introduce you to in this blog was a cartoonist. His name was Louis Raemaekers. In 1914 he was working in Amsterdam, drawing illustrations for DeTelegraaf. In recent blogs I've mentioned some of the ways in which artists contributed to the war effort. This was true of Raemaekers, whose punchy drawings characterized German aggression so effectively that the Berlin government first demanded that the Dutch put him on trial, and when he was acquitted they actually went so far as to put a "dead or alive" bounty on his head.

This was a move so gobsmackingly stupid that instead of getting Raemaekers shot, it shot Raemaekers to international fame. Raemaekers own move in reply was to cross the Channel and live in England, where his artwork went straight into The Times, was sent on travelling display around the country and ended up being syndicated by periodicals across the United States.

Louis Raemaekers didn't just sit at home and make it all up, you know, Noble Readers. He actually crossed into Belgium to witness at first hand the atrocities inflicted by the Germans on their hapless victims.

Six and two-threes historians - the ones who like to put present-day reconciliation ahead of truth, and who therefore like to say that all countries involved in the Great War were equally culpable in moral terms - those guys tend to dismiss Raemaekers as a "propaganda cartoonist." I don't do that. I recognize the moral rage this unassuming - and remarkably talented --artist felt towards the Prussian clique who were traumatizing Europe at the time.

Some of us just can't stand bullies.

Friday, 11 July 2014

A City with a Medal

As can be seen from the postcard, France awarded the Belgian city of Liege the Legion d'honneur. The order is France's highest and Liege was the first non-French city to receive it.

Liege was in the way of the German army in 1914, and its stand against them bought precious time to allow the French to prepare for the coming blow.

Following the Franco-Prussian war of 1870, twelve modern fortresses had been built around the municipality and were defended in August, 1914, by General Leman and 35,000 Belgian troops. Unfortunately for him, concrete fortifications built in the 1880's were not steel-reinforced, and so were unable to match subsequent improvements in artillery fire-power.

The battle of Liege saw the debut of Germany's new wonder weapon, the so-called "Big Bertha", a giant mortar which fired 1,800-pound shells, and could batter just about anything to bits. One such shell penetrated Fort Loncin and set off its magazine. The explosion killed more than 300 defenders. It also knocked General Leman unconscious. He was captured and hauled off to Germany to spend the rest of the war as a guest of the Kaiser. He died in 1920.

General Leman's heroic defence was not in vain. The twelve days that Liege withstood the German advance helped to bring about the Anglo-French victory on the Marne which prevented the capture of Paris. Hence the medal.

My latest novel The Deadly Playground, 1914 is out now. Why not click on this link and get yourself a copy?