Tag Archives: History

Winston Churchill – The Greatest Briton

The 24th January 2015 is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of Sir Winston Churchill.

I have mentioned before that, in his memory box, dad kept the front pages of three newspapers: 7th February 1958, the Munich air disaster, 23rd November 1963, the Kennedy assassination and finally the Daily Mail of 25th January 1965 which reported the death of Sir Winston Churchill.

I think that few would argue that Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was probably the greatest Briton of all time.  I know that I can say this with some confidence because in 2002 the BBC conducted a nationwide poll to identify who the public thought this was.  The competition was virtually pointless and the result was a foregone conclusion and Churchill topped the poll with 28% of the votes.

He died 50 years ago this month at the ripe age of 90. A miracle, considering he had drunk an estimated forty-two thousand bottles of Pol Roger champagne through his life; he thought nothing of starting the morning with cold game and a glass of hock and ending it in the late afternoon  with the best part of a bottle of cognac.

After losing the 1945 election, he went on holiday to stay at Lake Como, with Sarah, his daughter, and Lord Moran, his doctor. It must have been one hell of a holiday but I doubt they would remember very much about it.  Between them they polished off nearly one hundred bottles of champagne in a fortnight; Churchill also drank six or seven whisky and sodas a day, as well as three daily brandies.  Earlier this year I was chastised by my doctor for drinking half a bottle of red wine a day!

The BBC project first identified the top one hundred candidates and the final vote was between the top ten.  Second in the poll was the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel who received nearly 25% of the votes.  These two I fully agreed with but in third place, and goodness knows what the public must have been thinking, was Princess Diana!  Mind you, to put that into some sort of perspective in 2005 there was a similar poll in the United States and Ronald Regan was voted the greatest American of all time.  Ronald Regan – Ronald McDonald would have been a more worthy winner, at least in Britain we only put Margaret Thatcher in sixteenth place.

At this time lots of other countries ran similar polls, some of the results were equally predictable, South Africa voted for Nelson Mandella, Spain for King Juan Carlos, Greece choose Alexander the Great and, ignoring politics, Italy went for Leonardo Da Vinci.  Some results were less obvious, in France there was surely someone more famous than Charles de Gaulle (Napoleon perhaps) and Germany overlooked Otto Von Bismarck and Martin Luther and choose Konrad Adenaur. My favourite is Canada, where, despite being the second largest country in the World, there are so few famous people to choose from that the long list was restricted to fifty and the top ten included three Scots, the public voted for a man called Tommy Douglas!  In Australia the newspaper ‘The Australian’ selected Andrew ‘Banjo’ Patterson who pushed the World’s greatest ever cricketer, Don Bradman, into second place.

Winston Churchill was so great that he was awarded a State Funeral and that doesn’t happen very often because this requires a motion or vote in Parliament and the personal approval of the Monarch.  A State Funeral consists of a military procession using a gun carriage from a private resting chapel to Westminster Hall, where the body usually lies in state for three days.  The honour of a State Funeral is usually reserved for the Sovereign as Head of State and the current or past Queen Consort.

Churchill Funeral Message from the Queen

Churchill Funeral TV Coverage

Churchill State Funeral The Route of The Procession

Very few other people have had them:  Sir Philip Sydney in 1586, Horatio Nelson in 1806, the 1st Duke of Wellington, 1852, Viscount Palmerston in 1865, William Gladstone, 1898, the 1st Earl Roberts of Kandahar, 1914, Baron Carson in 1935 and Sir Winston Churchill.   So this is a very small list indeed although it might have included one more but Benjamin Disraeli, the Queen’s favourite Prime Minister, who was offered the honour of a State Funeral refused it in his will.  We might have to wait a very long time for the next one.

Scrap book Project – Houses, Tyndale Street, Leicester

16 Tyndale Street Leicester

My parents were married in 1953 and around the same time dad was appointed to a job as a clerk with Leicestershire County Council.  They moved from living in Catford in South London with my mother’s family to a house in Una Avenue in Leicester where they lived with my dad’s grandmother, Lillian.  Shortly after that my mother was pregnant and I was on the way.

I was born the following year and lived my first few months in that house.

As I understand it the domestic arrangements were less than perfect so Lillian’s sister, Aunty Mabel, stepped in with a loan for a deposit that allowed my parents to buy their first house.  It wasn’t a great deal of money, I don’t know exactly how much, possibly around £100.  My scrapbook records of dad’s employment reveal that his annual salary at that time was £240 a year just £4.60 a week!  The house that they bought would sell now for about £150,000 so in 1954 it probably cost somewhere between £300-400.

They chose a house in Tyndale Street, quite close to the Leicester City Centre.  Tyndale Street is in an area of the city called West End because it was outside of the western Braunstone Gate and on a previously marshy area west of the River Soar.

It was developed around about the 1900s when affordable housing was required to provide accommodation for the workers in the booming footwear and hosiery industries in the city.  The land was acquired from a wealthy protestant landowner who had some residual say in the naming of the streets – Luther, Latimer, Ridley, Cranmer and Tyndale, all sixteenth century Protestant martyrs.  The area is predictably called the Martyrs and the Church of the Martyrs stands nearby.

William Tyndale, the man who first translate the Bible into English…

I can only find one other Tyndale Street and that is in McLean, Virginia, USA, a much more upmarket sort of place than Leicester West End. It is the most expensive place to live in Virginia and houses sell for millions of dollars.

Wiki puts it into some sort of perspective… “Mclean is an unincorporated community in Fairfax County in Northern Virginia. McLean is home to many diplomats, military, members of Congress, and high-ranking government officials partially due to its proximity to Washington, D.C., The Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency. It is the location of Hickory Hill, the former home of Ethel Kennedy, the widow of Robert F. Kennedy”.

So, back to reality. They lived there for two years.  Mum worked evening shift at a biscuit factory.  They took in a lodger to help pay the bills.  People had to stand on their own two feet, in the 1950s,  no constant whining about inequalities and unfairness in society.  No Universal Credit and no free school meals.  Mum and Dad couldn’t afford tattoos and takeaways paid for by the State/Taxpayer.

It was a very basic two bedroom terraced house with a front door that opened directly onto the street and with a small garden and back yard at the rear and typical of any Midlands artisan house of that period.

The house today is now well over a hundred years old but still has some of the original decorative features over the doors and windows, but the doors and windows are plastic, there is a satellite television dish and there is a refuse bin outside the front door.

Naturally I have no real memories of living in this house and we had gone by the time that I was two years old.  Dad had been promoted at work, he was working in the Education Department, he had an increase in salary and they aspired to move up a notch or two on the property ladder.

Whilst living there I did have my very first bike…

Tyndale Street Back Yard

Scrap Book Project – The State Funeral of Sir Winston Churchill

the 25th January is the anniversary of the 1965 State Funeral of Sir Winston Churchill

I have mentioned before that, in his memory box, dad kept the front pages of three newspapers: 7th February 1958, the Munich air disaster, 23rd November 1963, the Kennedy assassination and finally the Daily Mail of 25th January 1965 which reported the death of Sir Winston Churchill.

I think that few would argue that Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was probably the greatest Briton of all time.  I know that I can say this with some confidence because in 2002 the BBC conducted a nationwide poll to identify who the public thought this was.  The result was a foregone conclusion and Churchill topped the poll with 28% of the votes.

The BBC project first identified the top one hundred candidates and the final vote was between the top ten.  Second in the poll was the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel who received nearly 25% of the votes.  These two I fully agreed with but in third place, and goodness knows what the public must have been thinking, was Princess Diana!

In fact Winston Churchill was so great that he was awarded a State Funeral and that doesn’t happen very often because this requires a motion or vote in Parliament and the personal approval of the Monarch.  A State Funeral consists of a military procession using a gun carriage from a private resting chapel to Westminster Hall, where the body usually lies in state for three days.  The honour of a State Funeral is usually reserved for the Sovereign as Head of State and the current or past Queen Consort.

Churchill Funeral Message from the Queen

Churchill Funeral TV Coverage

Churchill State Funeral The Route of The Procession

Very few other people have had them:  Sir Philip Sydney in 1586, Horatio Nelson in 1806, the 1st Duke of Wellington, 1852, Viscount Palmerston in 1865, William Gladstone, 1898, the 1st Earl Roberts of Kandahar, 1914, Baron Carson in 1935 and Sir Winston Churchill.   So this is a very small list indeed although it might have included one more but Benjamin Disraeli, the Queen’s favourite Prime Minister, who was offered the honour of a State Funeral refused it in his will.  We might have to wait a very long time for the next one.

Scrap Book project – Decimilisation and the end of Pounds, Shillings and Pence

The pre-decimalisation British system of coinage was introduced by King Henry II. It was based on the troy system of weighing precious metals. The penny was literally one pennyweight of silver. A pound sterling thus weighed 240 pennyweights, or a pound of sterling silver.

On 15th February 1971, after five years of planning by the Decimal Currency Board, Britain abandoned this medieval currency system and converted to a much simpler decimal system based on pounds and new pence.

This was much simpler because in the years just prior to decimalisation, the circulating British coins were the half crown (2s 6d), two shillings or florin, shilling, known as a bob, sixpence (6d), the tanner, threepence (3d), thruppenny bit and my favourite pre decimal coin, penny (1d) and halfpenny (½d). The farthing (¼d) being practically worthless had been withdrawn as long ago as 1960.

Under the old currency the pound (denoted by the letter l for libra) was made up of 240 pence (denoted by the letter d for Latin denarius and now referred to as “old pence”), with 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings (denoted by s for Latinsolidus) in a pound.

Amounts of money were written as l s d, for pounds, shillings and pence.  5s was 5 shillings, often just written as 5/-. And 5s 6d was 5 shillings and sixpence – and was often, instead, written as 5/6.  In spoken English, the “shilling” word was often missed out – so a shopkeeper might say, “that’ll be 5 and 6, please”, meaning 5 shillings and six pence.

In an era before widespread computer use, monetary calculation, such as adding up sums of money, was more complicated than with a decimal currency.  When I was at primary school between 1959 and 1966 I had to learn arithmetic based on this confusing system and in Mrs Bull’s class three it was time for adding up and taking away and we would sit and chant out the times tables over and over again until we knew them off by heart.  That was boring but useful because I have never forgotten them.  Doing sums was a lot harder then because we were still ten years away from decimalisation and had to add things up in pounds, shillings and pence and that was difficult let me tell you. Try adding this lot together and you will see what I mean:

£4.12.06

£1.15.11

£   19.11½

—————

After decimilisation there was a completely new set of coins to get familiar with.  The 50 pence coin had been introduced in 1969 to replace the paper 10 shilling note and in 1971 we had the 10 pence, 5 pence, 2 pence, 1 pence and ½ pence coins. Between 1969 and 1971 we used to take half crowns into the school metal work shop and file down the edges to convert them to 50 pence pieces in a crude attempt to quadruple their value and then try and pass them off in the sweet shop down the road where the shop keeper had poor eyesight.

To commemorate decimilisation the Royal Mint sold souvenir wallets with each of the new coins and a short explanation.  Mum and dad bought one for me and my sister but I just popped the coins out from the cardboard holder and spent them and then a few days later I spent my sister’s as well and I feel really bad about that now!

The 20 pence piece was introduced in 1982. The half penny was withdrawn from circulation in 1984.  A smaller, lighter 10 pence piece was circulated from 1993 and similar changes were made to the 50 pence in 1998.  In June 1998 the £2 coin came into general circulation.

The answer to the sum is seven pounds, eight shillings and fourpence ha’penny.  I told you it was hard!

Scrap Book Project – William Shakespeare

In 1930 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust purchased a property in the village of Wilmcote near Stratford-upon-Avon, made some improvements to it, added some authentic Tudor furniture and other contemporary everyday items and declared it to be the birthplace and home of William Shakespeare’s mother, Mary Arden.  This belief was based on supposed historical evidence dating back to the 18th century, when a historian unearthed records of the Arden family in Wilmcote who made the connection with the property based on the rather flimsy fact that Mary’s father, Robert was a wealthy farmer who lived in the village.

For many years after that the Trust proudly showed thousands of tourists and school children around the beautiful half timbered house facing the road in leafy Wilmcote, telling people all about the time when Mary Arden lived there in the sixteenth century.  The image of the lovely house (top of page) was on chocolate box lids, tea towels and postcards and tourists bought dozens of mementoes of Mary Arden’s House to take home with them.  This for example was a jigsaw puzzle box lid from the 1940s:

My first visit to the house was on a school trip from the Hillmorton County School near Rugby, also in Warwickshire, on a day visiting Shakespeare’s town of Stratford sometime in the 1960s.  I don’t have any real recollection of that trip because it was over forty years ago but I do remember visiting with French town twinning guests from Evreux  in 1977 and later taking visitors there when I lived in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1986 to 1987 on every occasion sticking to the official Mary Arden Story.

On 12th February 1995 I took my ten year old daughter Sally to visit Stratford and naturally included a visit to Mary Arden’s House which by this time was also a countryside and agricultural heritage museum and inside the house Trust members were on hand to provide a comprehensive historical narrative.  A very comprehensive narrative indeed by an elderly gentleman and one that went on at great length about Tudor life and how Mary Arden had sat in front of the fire in the Great Hall, helped prepare food in the kitchen and had slept in one of the bedrooms on the first floor.  It was all very interesting information but it subsequently turned out to be a lot of old nonsense!

In 2000 the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust had a huge shock because during routine timber treatment, it was discovered that the timber used to construct the house was dated too late to be linked to Mary Arden’s early life and this couldn’t therefore be her house after all, she hadn’t sat in the Great Hall or helped out in the kitchen and further historical research revealed that the large house actually belonged to a family called Palmer, and had to be promptly re-named Palmer’s Farm.

For a while it was thought that Mary Arden’s family home was lost to history and the Trust had lost a valuable asset and tourist trap.  Lucky for them then that another small house on the estate which they had purchased in 1968 with a view of demolition and close to Palmer’s Farm, was also wood tested and technology was able to pin point the time the wood in this house was cut. The Birthplace Trust declared this to be the Spring of the year 1514, the dates tallied with Mary Arden and the members of the Trust breathed a huge collective sigh of relief.

This time the Trust carried out more thorough research and what the records revealed was that Shakespeare’s grandfather, Robert Arden, had bought the land in Wilmcote in 1514 and built the house that had sat next to Palmer’s Farm,  The house that for hundreds of years was largely overlooked and ignored because it was considerably less interesting than the farm house.  Mary Arden’s house had been there in Wilmcote all the time, smaller and more modest than anyone had thought.

The last time I visited Mary Arden’s house (the real one that is) was in 2010 and as I paid my admission charge I was minded to ask for a refund on all the previous visits on the basis that I had been seriously misled and provided with false information on several previous visits.  Sadly however, although the Birthplace Trust itself is now clear about which house belonged to who many other tourist web sites still show a picture of Palmer’s Farm instead of Mary Arden’s house because it is significantly more picturesque and interesting.

Scrap Book Project – Job Referencies and Employment Records

When I took possession of the Scrap Book I was intrigued to find details of a life that I had never known or appreciated. This really shouldn’t have come as a great surprise because there are many dimensions to a life but the only one that I was fully familiar with was in his role as my father. In what many would describe as an ordinary life this was a task that he excelled at I have to say!

But beyond the responsibility of being a parent I wonder what else he was like. I have been looking at his old employment records and these have revealed some interesting and important clues.

He was educated at Wellingborough Grammar School in Northamptonshire (Sir David Frost is a famous old boy) during the years of the Second World War and I can only imagine that this must have been a huge distraction for the country with a corresponding lack of attention paid to educational standards. This must have been good fun if you were a pupil then but it didn’t lead to a fistful of GCSEs to help you set out in life.

The school in line with the custom of the time, was selective, which meant that an entrance examination had to be passed to get a place. Until 1945 the school charged fees for attendance but following R. A. Butler’s great Education Act of 1944, all places became free of charge. The eleven plus exam and secondary education obligations were also introduced in the Education Act.

According to school records, in summer 1947 Dad was in the fifth form remove (the school tried at this time to push the brightest boys for School Certificate in four years, Dad was clearly not in the bright boys form and took the usual five years). This extra time didn’t help a great deal because in summer 1948 he was in 5B (unexamined fifth form class) and sadly he didn’t manage to get the School Certificate. The School Certificate was not like GCSE but was a group certificate and you had to do well in five subjects, miss on one and tough, you got nothing, this is what must have happened to Dad because no school certificate is mentioned when he left in the Autumn of that year. The following term, he left to join his father’s business, a grocery store at 110 Higham Road, Rushden.

After Wellingborough Grammar School his own CV tells us that he did more studying at the South East London College of Commerce and the Leicester College of Art and Technology. None of these educational establishments exist any longer and although there is an interesting old boys web site for the Wellingborough Grammar School I can find nothing about the other two.

His first real job was as a Film Librarian working at Jessops in Leicester and then in June 1950 when he was eighteen years old he started his National Service in the Royal Air Force at the Air Ministry in London.

This sounds awfully exciting but I suspect that it probably wasn’t. From 1949, every healthy man between the ages of 18 and 26 was expected to serve in the armed forces for a minimum period of eighteen months. Men were exempt from National Service if they worked in three ‘essential services’, which were coal mining, farming and the merchant navy, so not film librarians then! I’d like to tell you that he was a fighter pilot or a commando or something thrilling but the plain fact is that he worked at the Air Ministry in London in the office as a clerk/typist whose job was ‘the compilation and maintenance of officers’ and airmens’ records and documents’. I can only imagine that this was exceedingly dull but it prepared him for life in the public service as a local government officer.

He must have enjoyed it however because he completed over two years and his discharge paper of 13th July 1952 says that his conduct was exceptional and his ability was very good, he was described as ‘smart’ on a scale of ‘very smart’, ‘smart’ or ‘untidy’ and he was summed up as ‘a very reliable and efficient clerk who has done good work and helped in the tuition of others’. I can understand that because he was always the most helpful person with lots of patience when dealing with other people – sadly I didn’t inherit that characteristic.

The records now reveal that he was doing a bit of moonlighting because if he was discharged on 13th July 1952 it is interesting that he started work with Lewisham Borough Council in South London two weeks earlier on 1st July 1952 as a general clerk. I think Mum’s Aunty Glad got him the job because she worked in the staff canteen and was good terms with some of the senior staff (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) and she put a good word in for him! He stayed there for six months and when he left the Town Clerk, Alan Milner Smith, wrote of him “I found him to be an intelligent boy…and a thoroughly satisfactory officer”, I wonder how well he knew Aunty Glad.

He left Lewisham and a week before his twenty first birthday and took up a new appointment at Leicestershire County Council as a general clerk in the Common Services Section of the Education Department where he stayed until May 1957.

In that time he got married, I was born, and he bought his first two houses. I think he must have been a sociable chap because he was enthusiastic in running the County Offices football and cricket teams and he kept meticulous records of games and performances from 1953 until 1956. From my own experience I know that he was a well liked man and the Supplies Officer F E Collis wrote in a reference in March 1957 “ he is very popular with the staff and an enthusiastic member of the office football team” he also said, in an old fashioned sort of way, “I have found Mr Petcher’s work perfectly satisfactory and he brings to it an enthusiasm which is all too often lacking in junior officers today”. I imagine F E Collis was about a hundred years old and remembered what administration was like in the days of Baden-Powell and the Raj!

In May 1957 he left Leicestershire County Council and took a job at Hinckley Urban District Council as a Land Charges and General Clerk. He bought his third house, Lindsay, my sister, was born in October and he cycled to work and back every day, a distance of about ten miles, later he got a moped but I seem to recall that it wasn’t especially reliable and sometimes he had to push it all the way home so he went back to the push bike.

This wasn’t sustainable of course so in 1959 they sold up and we sensibly moved to Hinckley to be close to his work. That didn’t last long either and he left Hinckley on 31st December 1960 and moved to Rugby Rural District Council and that’s how we came to move to Hillmorton.

I especially like his reference from F J Warren the Deputy Clerk of the Council who described my dad as “a useful, promising and reliable member of staff… I cannot speak too highly of his integrity and desire to give satisfaction” and he added in a quaint sort of way that you would never find today “he is of pleasing appearance and courteous to all with whom he comes in contact”.

That’s how I remember him too!

Scrap Book Project – Winston Churchill and Other British Heroes

When I was young my dad gave me a book called ‘The Boys’ Book of Heroes’.  It was one of his own that he had had as a young lad, it was printed during the second world war sometime between 1941 and 1945 and was reproduced on thick low quality yellowing paper and the reason that I can date it reasonably accurately is because the chapter on Douglas Bader states that that at the time he was in a prisoner of war camp in Germany.

Dad loved history and always had books and stories to share with me the tales of the past and I know that he passed down his interest to me and this led directly to me developing my own interest and ultimately to studying and gaining a degree in history at Cardiff University in 1975.

I think that few would argue that Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was probably the greatest Briton of all time.  I know that I can say this with some confidence because in 2002 the BBC conducted a nationwide poll to identify who the public thought this was.  The result was a foregone conclusion of course and Churchill topped the poll with 28% of the votes.  The BBC project first identified the top one hundred candidates and the final vote was between the top ten.  Second in the poll was the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel who received nearly 25% of the votes.

There were eleven Kings and Queens and eleven politicians, ten military heroes, eight inventors and seven scientists.  This is what I would expect but then there were eight pop musicians including Boy George!  Now, surely there must be dozens of people who could be more appropriately included on the list than that.  Even if you do accept that pop stars are great Britons what is even more unbelievable is that Boy George beat Sir Cliff Richard by seven places!  John, Paul and George were included in the eight but there was no place for Ringo, which doesn’t seem very fair.  Enoch Powell was one of the politicians and he was an obnoxious racist.  Richard III, who some say murdered the Princes in the Tower, is in but not Henry VII who defeated him at the Battle of Bosworth and founded the Tudor dynasty.

There is a huge issue of equality because of the one hundred only thirteen were women and I can’t help feeling that there must be more than that with a good claim for inclusion.  Here are some suggestions of mine; the prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry, the philanthroprist Octavia Hill, the pioneering aviator, Amy Johnson, the nineteenth century gardener, Gertrude Jeckyl and the very embodiment of Britishness, Britannia herself.  Interestingly this inequality isn’t something new because in the ‘The Boy’s Book of Heroes’ all of the fifty-five people included were men but inside the book it did make reference to a companion volume called ‘The Girl’s Book of Heroines’, which was nice but I can’t help wondering why they had to be kept apart like this?

I have still got the book and hope to pass it on one day to someone who will appreciate its value just as much as I do.  All of the pictures here are from the book.

Scrap Book Project – Good Losers

There is something about coming second or even outright failure and disaster that is important about being British because, unique amongst nations, we have a talent for turning disappointment into success and accepting failure equally as we embrace victory and triumph.  This ability to absorb failure and turn it into a triumph is an exclusive characteristic that contributes to the British Bulldog spirit.

Captain Robert Falcon Scott was a Royal Navy officer and explorer who led two expeditions to the Antarctic regions, the Discovery Expedition, 1901–04, and the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition, 1910–13.  During this second venture, Scott led a party of five which reached the South Pole on 17th January 1912, only to find that they had been preceded by Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian expedition.  They Failed!  Let’s not misintepret this, they Failed!  On their return journey, Scott and his four comrades all perished from a combination of exhaustion, starvation and extreme cold.   And here is the point because even though he failed in his quest Scott became an iconic British hero, a status maintained ever since.

History is in fact littered with failed military battles and disasters that we have perversely turned into iconic moments of British history.  1066 and the Norman invasion – we were invaded and conquered!  Dunkirk was a defeat and a miltary withdrawal,the Charge of the Light Brigade was a disaster but my favourite example is the Battle of Isandlwana on 22nd  January 1879, which was the first major encounter in the Zulu War between the all conquering British Empire machine and the  Zulu Kingdom of South Africa.

Eleven days after the British commenced their invasion a Zulu army attacked a portion of the British main column consisting of nearly two thousand mixed British and colonial forces.  The Zulus were armed with the traditional assegai iron spears and protected by cow hide shields and the British were armed with the then state of the art Martini-Henry breech loading rifle. Despite a vast disadvantage in weapons technology, the Zulus ultimately overwhelmed the poorly led and badly deployed British, killing over one thousand, three hundred troops, whilst suffering only around a thousand casualties of their own.

The battle was a decisive victory for the Zulus and caused the defeat of the first British invasion. The British army had received its worst ever defeat fighting against a technologically inferior indigenous force. However, the defeat of the British forces at Isandlwana was turned into a victory just a few days later with the successful defence of Rorke’s Drift which simply erased the memory of the ignominious defeat!

Other disasters have also been turned into iconic successes.  The RMS Titanic was the largest passenger steamship in the world and pronounced unsinkable when she set off on her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on 10thApril 1912.  Four days into the crossing, at twenty to midnight on 14th April, she struck an iceberg and sank just over two hours later the following morning, resulting in the deaths of 1,517 people in one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history.

In sport, the boxer Henry Cooper became a national hero for failing to beat Cassius Clay in a 1966 World heavyweight championship fight, Tim Henman is revered for only ever reaching the Wimbledon tennis semi-finals which is another example of the British stoic acceptance of failure.  Sir Stirling Moss never won the world drivers’ championship, but became a hero to millions through his chivalrous conduct on the racetrack. He famously did himself out of the title in 1958 by leaping to the defence of a rival who was in danger of being docked points.  John Francome would have won the National Hunt jockeys’ championship in 1982, but chose to share it with a rival who had been injured. Judy Guinness would have won fencing gold for Great Britain at the 1932 Olympics if she hadn’t pointed out errors which the judges had made.

And let’s not forget that in the world of entertainment we actually seem to enjoy the annual ritual humiliation of the Eurovision Song Contest.

Scrap Book Project – The Death of Winston Churchill

I have mentioned before that, in his memory box, dad kept the front pages of three newspapers: 7th February 1958, the Munich air disaster, 23rd November 1963, the Kennedy assassination and finally the Daily Mail of 25th January 1965 which reported the death of Sir Winston Churchill.

I think that few would argue that Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was probably the greatest Briton of all time.  I know that I can say this with some confidence because in 2002 the BBC conducted a nationwide poll to identify who the public thought this was.  The result was a foregone conclusion and Churchill topped the poll with 28% of the votes.

The BBC project first identified the top one hundred candidates and the final vote was between the top ten.  Second in the poll was the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel who received nearly 25% of the votes.  These two I fully agreed with but in third place, and goodness knows what the public must have been thinking, was Princess Diana!

Now, the only thing that I can see that Princess Diana ever did was to whine a lot about having to live in Palaces, wear expensive jewellery and eat gourmet food and try to undermine and destroy the Royal Family.  Not so long ago you could have your head cut off for that sort of thing but by some bizarre twist the British have turned her into a heroine.  As low down as number twenty-seven was Emily Pankhurst who fought for women’s suffrage and much further down the list at number fifty-two was Florence Nightingale and in my opinion these two women’s personal legacy to the development of Great Britain as a nation is much, much greater than that of Princess Diana.

There were other anomalies on the list as well.  There were eleven Kings and Queens and eleven politicians, ten military heroes, eight inventors and seven scientists.  This is what I would expect but then there were eight pop musicians including Boy George!  Now, surely there must be dozens of people who could be more appropriately included on the list than that.  Even if you do accept that pop stars are great Britons what is even more unbelievable is that Boy George beat Sir Cliff Richard by seven places!  John, Paul and George were included in the eight but there was no place for Ringo, which doesn’t seem very fair.

Enoch Powell was one of the politicians and he was a raging racist.  Richard III is in but not Henry VII.  There is an issue of equality because of the one hundred only thirteen were women and I can’t help feeling that there must be more than that.  Here are some suggestions of mine; the prison reformer, Elizabeth Fry, the philanthroprist Octavia Hill, the pioneering aviator, Amy Johnson, the nineteenth century gardener, Gertrude Jeckyl and the very embodiment of Britishness, Britannia herself.  John Churchill the 1st Duke of Marlborough, military genius and ancestor of the great Sir Winston didn’t even make the list.

In fact Winston Churchill was so great that he was awarded a State Funeral and that doesn’t happen very often because this requires a motion or vote in Parliament and the personal approval of the Monarch.  A State Funeral consists of a military procession using a gun carriage from a private resting chapel to Westminster Hall, where the body usually lies in state for three days.  The honour of a State Funeral is usually reserved for the Sovereign as Head of State and the current or past Queen Consort.

Very few other people have had them:  Sir Philip Sydney in 1586, Horatio Nelson in 1806, the 1st Duke of Wellington, 1852, Viscount Palmerston in 1865, William Gladstone, 1898, the 1st Earl Roberts of Kandahar, 1914, Baron Carson in 1935 and Sir Winston Churchill.   So this is a very small list indeed although it might have included one more but Benjamin Disraeli, the Queen’s favourite Prime Minister, who was offered the honour of a State Funeral refused it in his will.  We might have to wait a very long time for the next one because I really can’t imagine that it is going to be Boy George.

Scrap Book Project – Military Battles

 

Reveille Story

Dad always liked military stories of bravery and daring-do and Reveille was a popular British weekly tabloid newspaper that was first published during the second world war and would certainly have appealed to him. 

Launched in May 1940, it was originally the official newspaper of the Ex-Services’ Allied Association.  It was bought by the Mirror Group in 1947 and in In the 1950s it moved away from its military base and increased its light-entertainment pages.  During the 1960s and 1970s it became known as Reveille Magazine and would publish large double-page pop posters and also feature glamour models.

I think it would be absolutely certain to say that my dad’s favourite military story was the defence of Rorke’s Drift as told in the film ZULU!

Zulu has to be one of my favourite ever movies because it was one of the first grown up films that I was ever taken to see at the cinema.  As I have explained elsewhere dad was fond of anything military or heroic and stories don’t come much more heroic or military than this.

These are the facts: On 22nd January 1879 the Imperial British army suffered one of its worst ever defeats when Zulu forces massacred one thousand five hundred of its troops at Isandlhwana in South Africa.  A short time after the main battle a Zulu force numbering over four thousand warriors advanced on a British hospital and supply garrison guarded by one hundred and thirty nine infantrymen at Rorke’s Drift.  The film tells the true story of the battle during which the British force gallantly defended the hospital and in doing so won eleven Victoria Crosses, which is the most ever awarded for one single engagement. The film takes a few historical liberties but it remains one of my favourites and of course I have a copy of it in my own DVD collection.

Talking about historical liberties what I find interesting is that if you buy the DVD now, Michael Caine is billed as the star but if you watch it Stanley Baker had top billing and he was the film’s producer as well, the film simply introduces Michael Caine in his first big film role.  That’s how easily history is rewritten.

I like battle films and perhaps could have chosen ‘Waterloo’ or ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ but the fact is that none of these comes close to the dramatic impact of ZULU!  Later that year dad bought the Zulu soundtrack LP for Christmas to play on our new record player. I’ve still got it but I don’t play it any more.  I’ve also got dad’s book on the Zulu wars and his favourite Royal Doulton water colour painting of the defence of Rorke’s Drift.