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Bomber Command and War Guilt July 9, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
Bomber Command and War Guilt

One of the most terrifying statistics of the Second World War is that more died in planes flying out of British airfields than in British cities. Leaving the US out of this around 60,000 British and Dominion aircrew were killed defending British airspace or attacking enemy territory. About 40,000 British civilians, meanwhile, died in the […]

Creative Pretexts for War July 2, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary, Prehistoric
Creative Pretexts for War

In the good old days when we had spears and lived in tribal societies war was, for much of humanity, a seasonal activity like boar hunting and berry picking. You did not have to explain why you wanted to steal the cattle of the clan on the other side of the hill: you just got […]

Admiral Byrd and Nazi Cobblers June 6, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
Admiral Byrd and Nazi Cobblers

***Dedicated to KMH who, not for the first time, inspired the hunt*** The following is the record of an interview with American admiral Richard Byrd which appeared in El Mercurio, a Chilean paper, 5 March 1947: it was written by a US journalist, Lee Van Atta, but seems never to have been published in English. […]

Dare-Nots May 29, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
Dare-Nots

Beach fluttered around the edges of an Italian project a few years ago that affected him profoundly. A series of interviews were collected from families who had suffered violence at the hands of the partisans at the end of the Second World War. The vast majority of these partisans, particularly in Emiglia-Romagna and Tuscany, had been […]

Nashville Debutante Fights Imperial Japan May 15, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
Nashville Debutante Fights Imperial Japan

***With thanks to Larry*** A wish-i’d-been-there moment from 1941. Cornelia Fort was a twenty-three-year-old pilot and instructor flying a Cadet out of Honolulu in that year. Incredibly though CF had only been flying for a matter of months she was already deemed good enough to work as an instructor, putting a young Hawaiian through his […]

Freedoms Fliers by J. Todd Moye April 15, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
Freedoms Fliers by J. Todd Moye

Wars have the habit of shaking up the social order in a way that a hoary old conservative like Beachcombing finds rather disturbing. Children join militias: think the moving photographs of fourteen and fifteen year German ‘soldiers’ guarding the Atlantic wall or ‘that scene’ in Doctor Zhivago. Gender relations are bent in knots: women are […]

Singing Enemy Songs: Lili Marleen April 13, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
Singing Enemy Songs: Lili Marleen

One of the most moving moments in cinema is the extraordinary ending of Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. A young German girl is pulled in front of a crowd of French soldiers and forced to sing. The poilu mock her but as she nervously begins  the mood changes. The soldiers join in and drown her anxious, […]

Suicide and Historical Loopholes April 7, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Ancient, Contemporary, Modern
Suicide and Historical Loopholes

Suicide has proved abhorrent to most spiritual traditions. Certainly, the great monotheistic religions and most of the far Eastern religions have condemned ‘self-murder’: cue lots of pulpit bashing and descriptions of hell or unpleasant reincarnations. This begs the question though of what you can do if you live in 500 BC or 500 AD or […]

John Lukacs: The Legacy of the Second World War April 5, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
John Lukacs: The Legacy of the Second World War

John Lukacs’s The Legacy of the Second World War is, like most books by that brilliant and maverick historian, a bit of a mess. The chapter headings say it all. Chapter One, ‘Seventy Years Later’ and Chapter Two ‘the Place of the Second World War’ can pass muster. However, then everything is thrown off kilter. […]

Britain’s Obsession with the Second World War March 27, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Contemporary
Britain's Obsession with the Second World War

Anyone who knows Britain will be aware of the constant references to the Second World War in the island’s political culture, particularly when  national sovereignty is at stake. Harold Wilson decried appeals to ‘the Dunkirk Spirit’: and then shamelessly used the same trick himself. And the recent spats over Britain’s use of its ‘veto’ within […]

Churchill, De Gaulle and Waterloo March 15, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
Churchill, De Gaulle and Waterloo

Today a bit of modern British history/myth. Beach will write it out as it was told to him. He would be interested to see whether there is any basis to the tale: it sounds very Churchillian, but it also has the exquisite stench of cobblers. Towards the end of his life Churchill was visited by […]

Pulling Things Out of Rivers March 13, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval, Modern
Pulling Things Out of Rivers

Rivers are useful guardians of the past: often thousands of years roll by (and millions of tonnes of water) before things that have been thrown in are fished out (sometimes literally) several hundred or thousands of years later. Here are Beachcombing’s favourite they-were-found-in-river things. Others would be welcome: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com 1) Claudius’ […]

Gravestones: The Disparate Couple March 5, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
Gravestones: The Disparate Couple

Beachcombing has a thing about Italian cemeteries, which tend to be far more gaudy than their British equivalents, but are often also more moving. There the visitor will find paper or fabric flowers on every tomb, photographs of the resident dead, the graves cared for on an almost weekly basis by relatives, the ‘Christmas lights’ […]

Selling (Balkan) Europe by the Pound March 2, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
Selling (Balkan) Europe by the Pound

Beach has pioneered for some time his WIBT (‘wish I’d been there’) series. Those moments in the past where any historically-conscious person would just LOVE to be a half dead bluebottle on the windowsill watching the great men and women conspiring to create history. It is a nice idea, of course. However, as most of […]

Swallowing or Choking on (Operation) Mincemeat February 23, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
Swallowing or Choking on (Operation) Mincemeat

***Dedicated to Glyndwr Michael*** Operation Mincemeat is often celebrated as the single greatest act of trickery of the Second World War. In 1943 a Welsh suicide victim was dressed up in the uniform of a British royal marine, put on dry ice in a submarine, thrown into the sea off the coast of Spain with […]

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