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  • 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 […]

    Somehow Still Walking February 16, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    Somehow Still Walking

    Beachcombing used to live on a farm next to an SS veteran who had escaped from a Soviet prisoner of war camp with four ‘through and throughs’, a lot of random shrapnel and with one of his eye balls conspicuously absent: he was a bit of a ‘card’ and refused to wear a glass eye. […]

    I was afraid to move: I was gasping for breath February 12, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    I was afraid to move: I was gasping for breath

    As those who favour the death penalty have found, killing a human being is surprisingly difficult. How much more difficult if you have a hundred, or a thousand or a hundred thousand human beings to kill and little time to do it. Bullets will only do so much, men and women can be filled with […]

    Stalingrad’s Madonna December 25, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    Stalingrad's Madonna

    In late 1942 Kurt Reuber (obit 1944) found himself in the Stalingrad Kessel where 300,000 Axis troops awaited almost certain death, surrounded by an understandably vengeful Soviet enemy: only 6000 would survive the war. As the festivities drew near Reuber – curiously, given his subject a Protestant pastor – sketched this beautiful madonna that became […]

    Review: Five Days in London December 19, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    Review: Five Days in London

    John Lukacs, Five Days in London, May 1940 (1999) has a simple thesis. The United Kingdom could not have defeated Hitler alone, but she could have lost the war before the Soviet Union and the USA entered as Allies. And she never came nearer to this, according to Lukacs, than 24-28 May 1940 – the […]

    Dunkirk and Golden Bridges December 13, 2011

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary
    Dunkirk and Golden Bridges

    Dunkirk is one of those moments in recent history that you have to look at sideways to have even a modest chance of understanding and still then there is something that defies analysis. How was it that the British Expeditionary Force, demoralized, bloodied and on the run, with the greatest army of the twentieth century […]

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