Monday, 23 March 2015

The Hindenburg Disaster ...

Most people today remember the name "Hindenburg" in connection with a huge bag of hot air that set itself on fire and fell to earth - well, to Lakehurst, New Jersey at any rate.

But before the hydrogen came the soldier. Paul Ludwig Hans Anton von Beneckendorff und von Hindenburg, to give him his full unassuming due, was a bit of a snob.  (Actually, he wasn't born in present-day Germany, but in what's now Poland.) A Prussian through and through, he looked down on his mother, a woman whom his aristocratic father had stooped too low to marry – in Paul's opinion.

He spent all his adult life as a soldier, from 1860 until 1911, creeping gradually up the promotion ladder, and then he retired. Three years later, the big war he had been so anxiously awaiting arrived, so, instead of dedicating his retirement to teaching himself flower arranging or going off to do a spot of trout fishing, he went back to soldiering.

As is now well known, his greatest achievement was stubbornly not losing the Great War until 1918. In that year, he fell out with his pal and co-conspirator, Erich Ludendorff, who despite what some people think had no "von" in his name. They bickered like a couple of convicts over who had been responsible for losing the war.

Hindenburg became president of Germany in the 'Twenties and disgusted just about everybody by refusing to admit that Germany bore any responsibility for the ruination of Europe. In the 'Thiries, he disgusted even more people by cosying up to Adolf Hitler who played him like a cheap fiddle.

Hindenburg died in 1934, and his body was buried by the Nazis (in what's now Poland) in a giant mausoleum later dismantled by the Poles, who regarded it as rather offensive. In fact, Hindenburg's body was buried several times as the Red Army rolled westward before being eventually captured by U.S. troops who had it shipped to Marburg in the American Sector. Sic transit gloria mundi - another failed German Field Marshal.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

The German War Machine ...

The German War Machine, gruesomely illustrated by the famous Belgian cartoonist, Raemaekers, who having been driven into exile in London by the German invasion of his country, decided on a spot of moral outrage.

Cartoonists are valuable people. Some good advice to would-be despots might be: never persecute a cartoonist. It's like flapping at wasp. If you annoy it, it will inflict pain on you out of all proportion to its size in the scheme of things. And even if you kill it, there'll be a whole hive of them who will come after you.

The wilful fellow in the pointy hat should be familiar to you by now, Noble Readers. The inscription on his platform reads, "von Gottes Gnaden", which was once a component of the familiar phrase:

"Seine Kaiserliche und Königliche Hoheit Wilhelm der Erste, von Gottes Gnaden Deutscher Kaiser und König von Preußen, Markgraf von Brandenburg, &c."

"His Imperial and Royal Majesty Wilhelm the First, by the Grace of God, German Emperor and  King of Prussia; Margrave of Brandenburg, &c."   By the grace of God ... Quite.

Interested in WW1?  Click here to see my latest novel - The Deadly Playground, 1914

Saturday, 21 February 2015


In this old photo we see three Turkish soldiers posing for a studio photograph with their grisly trophies.  

It's not known who the two heads on the table might have once belonged to, but it's certain they won't be giving the Turks any more trouble. Beheading prisoners has such a medieval flavor to it. A sign of desperation? Very likely. After all, the Turks were soon after crushed by British and British-Indian troops and their shaky empire removed from them.  

After the war, Turkey was reduced to something like its present-day borders, and much of the erstwhile Ottoman empire put under the rule of either the British or the French who were to set about modernizing it – without terribly much success.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Germans driven by Turks

This photograph shows German officers being driven about in Turkey in a gigantic car. If you can identify the make, I would be interested to know. It looks to me as if it might be German, but that's a guess.

Turkey controlled the Ottoman empire, which had been slowly collapsing for centuries, but which managed to retain a strong sense of its own usefulness. It was reputedly labelled "the Sick Man of Europe" by Tsar Nicholas I.

Turkey made the mistake of siding with the Germans in the First World War. (The Germans gave them a cruiser and a battle-cruiser, which may have helped.) During the war they famously took against the Armenians and behaved badly, slaughtering large numbers, for what reason I still do not know. British forces, having failed to force the Dardanelles strait and lay siege to Istanbul, then pushed up from Egypt. General Edmund Allenby entered Jerusalem on 11th December, 1917, and subsequently went on to capture Syria.

After the war, the Ottoman empire was cut up and the parts given to Britain and France to administer – and what a thankless task that has proven to be! Turkey itself, reduced more or less to the borders we know today, began to modernize. It eschewed religion in favour of secular government and got rid of Arabic script. It now makes more refrigerators than you could comfortably shake a stick at, and is becoming an absolute hive of industry.

It's a shame that a few other places I could mention, don't choose to do the same.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Call to Empire

Australia, a land quite familiar to me, since I was partly brought up there, was of course once part of the British Empire. Those wishing to disparage Australia will often call attention to the origin of certain cities Down Under which began life as penal colonies, but this, as you will see, is somewhat unjust.

This poster, designed to be put up in the Australian city of Adelaide calls particularly upon "South Australians." Why? you may ask.

Well, back in 1914, Australia had officially been one nation for only a dozen years or so, and therefore people felt allegiance to their particular states rather than Australia collectively. South Australia, incidentally, was never a penal colony, but started out as a settlement of free men. 

The myth put about by the odious Mel Gibson and certain others of that ilk that Australians fighting in the Great War were all Outback lads duped into dying at Gallipoli, is nonsense. Most volunteers were city dwellers, more stockbrokers than stock-herders, who joined up out of a sense of patriotism. Most proved to be superb soldiers who fought extremely well.

Want to find out more about WW1?  Click here to see my latest novel - The Deadly Playground, 1914

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Recruiting in 1915

As the war grinds on, the supply of volunteers runs out, and the British government realize that some kind of conscription must be introduced. Initially, Lord Derby proposed a scheme to register volunteers, in which it was promised that single men would be called up before married men. Two hundred thousand came forward immediately, and over two million put their names down to join later.

Want to find out more about WW1?  Click here to see my latest novel - The Deadly Playground, 1914