Thursday, 18 September 2014

Bridge Over the River Rhine

By September 1944 the tides of war had turned, and the Allies were slowly washing inwards across Europe. Paris had been liberated and, five long years into World War Two, there was talk that it all could be over by Christmas. Integral to making this happen was a decisive entry into Germany.

Approaching Germany from the west, the Siegfried Line marked a significant obstacle for the Allies to cross. Heavy fortifications had been in place along almost 400 miles stretching the length of Germany's western border since before the war had begun - Hitler planning the 'Westwall' of his nation as early as 1936. Alongside thousands of bunkers lay 'dragon's teeth', which acted as tank traps.

The Allied solution to the Line was an airborne attack that was to be codenamed Operation Market Garden. The plan called for the largest ever aerial movement in military history, and would allow for the Siegfried Line to be broken from both sides. Near to the Dutch town of Arnhem troops were to be dropped, and were to take control of the bridges that crossed the Rhine. On September 17th 1944 the massive task was undertaken and, though there were plenty of initial successes, the attempt quickly stalled.

André Deutsch's book 'Victory in Europe', Julian Thompson looks at the battle that ensued after the initial landings and considers the individuals who found themselves surrounded once more by the terrors of war. Below is a letter sent during the battle at Arnhem, written by Daily Express reporter Alan Wood, and featured in the book.

For more on the battle, the operation and the decisive actions that would win the war for the Allies (albeit not by Christmas), read Julian Thompson's 'Victory In Europe'.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

A Visit to the Imperial War Museum

This week marks the precise point, one hundred years ago, at which the first conflicts of World War One broke out in Europe. It's natural, as a military history publisher in 2014, that our thoughts have very much been centred on the First World War in recent months - but we never like to separate ourselves from the true artefacts for too long. With the re-opening of London's own Imperial War Museum this month, and memories of war at their peak, we thought it was high time we paid the refurbished museum a visit!

The first thing that strikes visitors as they enter the IWM is a (fairly) modern weapon of war, hanging in beautiful comparison with a much older one. The arch that separates the entrance hall from the glorious main atrium offers a sneak peak at both the Harrier (above) and Spitfire.

Growing up with an overly-eager aeroplane-adoring father, we were often subjected to his (not so) internal debates over which of these two was his favourite plane. Was it the lovingly nicknamed Jump Jet, a fighter that had become immediately iconic upon its 1969 introduction due to its ability to launch vertically into the air? Or was it the more sprightly, but no less iconic, Spitfire? We're huge fans of both, but the Spitfire probably wins our favour, having captured the public's imagination (and loyalty) during WWII's Battle of Britain. It's also a beautiful beast, formed of gentle curves and terrific design points.

One of the biggest attractions at the refurbished IWM is the museum's new First World War galleries. These curve around the base of the atrium and, as you can see above, attract quite a queue even in the initial hour after opening.

Unlike the atrium, which offers up grand artefacts with little context - planes, cars and rockets - the First World War galleries are an intensely intimate and emotive affair. With that in mind, we didn't really feel it appropriate to take photos. The whole experience is terrific, and beautifully curated. A reconstructed trench, though obviously lacking in mud, water and constant threat to one's life, is nevertheless a moving experience. The shouts of soldiers evoke the terror of gas attacks as the deafening roar of a warplane rumbles overhead. A small boy walking down the trench with his mother was suitably unnerved that he kept on having to be chased down and brought back so he could understand that though he was safe, this was a terrifying reality to many young men in years now passed.

Indeed, though the exhibition is filled with mostly small items - heavy rifles that can be lifted to demonstrate the burden they put on soldiers, camouflage gear and bullet-ridden hiding places - they build a tremendous, awe-inspiring picture that becomes much more than the sum of its parts.

Back out in the atrium, we climbed the huge staircase towards the top floors. Though there are lifts hiding at the back, these are the best way to view the treasures in the huge hall of the museum. Every stair opens up a slightly different angle on the past, and on the weapons (and casualties) of war that surround you.

See what we mean about different angles on the past? It seems strange, but something about the ability to view everything in the atrium from almost every possible direction really opens up the idea of the items. Technology develops before your eyes - planes, then rockets, and then planes with jet engines. Below you can see the destruction these instruments are capable of delivering. Again, here, we see the queue for the WWI exhibit. It was heartening to see such crowds on a Wednesday morning, all willing to wait so that they might spend time remembering the sacrifices made by men born more than a century ago.

Upstairs offered different sorts of horror - these came from the reminders that war is still all around us. It can be easy to distance ourselves from the terrors of WWI. The upper floors of the IWM bring us back to reality. Here a peace-keeping tank sits in stark comparison with a mural of Saddam Hussein. Around the corner sat a rusted, twisted window frame from the World Trade Center. That too, like the First World War exhibition below, we couldn't bring ourselves to photograph. It wasn't a souvenir, but rather a cold home truth. It did not look like a window frame. It did not look like it had ever been fresh, new, a provider of a crisp view over New York City. Such was the destruction brought upon it.

Elsewhere upstairs there was a segment of the Berlin Wall and, bringing things closer to home than anything else, a newspaper from one of the buses destroyed in London's 7/7 terror attacks. We were reminded that the last time we had visited the fully open IWM it had been one day before these attacks.

This was, perhaps, what we took away from our trip to the Imperial War Museum. The separation from wars passed, and yet the complete connection to those that still wage around us. There were personal realisations, and communal ones. The renovation done to the museum is wonderful, and it stands to educate and remind more emotively than ever before for many years to come.

André Deutsch has published numerous books with the Imperial War Museum. Our latest, 'The First World War on the Home Front' by the museum's senior historian Terry Charman, is available here.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Live from the Western Front!

It was one hundred years ago yesterday - at 11am, precisely, that World War One broke out. The initial declaration of war involved only two countries - Austria-Hungary and Serbia - but over the weeks that followed peace tumbled into the exclusive realms of recent memory, and the first great international conflict arose.

One hundred years is ultimately little more than a cultural landmark - a big round number that has been given its own title, a 'century' and seems beyond comprehension to many. One hundred years ago is history to all but a select few who might still recall it from their infancy. Though a cultural construct, it also marks a sort of separation from our past. More than ever, it becomes vital that we remember the horrors and heroics that brought us to the world we live in today. One of our favourite approaches to this challenge comes by way of the various Twitter accounts that have pledged to report the First World War, day by day, as it happened one hundred years ago. We've rounded up our favourites in hope that we can further their efforts to keep history alive!

7000+ followers

Real Time WWI might be the third most popular of the accounts we're featuring here, but it's certainly earned its followers. A comprehensive study that often lets its statuses overflow into more than one tweet, and is prone to sharing interesting photos that pair with the news. Yesterday's understated tweet announcing Austria-Hungary's declaration of war was followed with a copy of the telegrammed document itself.

50+ followers

Like @RealTimeWWI, this account has been tweeting for roughly a month - since the centenary of Archduke Ferdinand's assassination. It's clearly a passion project for whoever is behind it; though tweets are frequent and informative, we're still waiting on one to mark the declaration of war that started it all off. Still, plenty of detail ensures the account sometimes feels like a behind-the-scenes of the war we all know so well.

10700+ followers

Having been around since early 2012, @CenturyAgoToday isn't strictly dedicated to WW1. Nevertheless, it will have to focus on the war more and more over the coming years, and it offers all sorts of wider historical context both socially and otherwise. Ever since this morning's declaration of war, @CenturyAgoToday have been the most prolific tweeters, sharing all sorts of information in the few short hours that the war has had to develop.

350+ followers

Efficiency is the name of the game with @WW1Now - their updates are short, sweet and to the point. It's possibly the most Twitter-friendly of our selection, with frequent hashtags allowing easy exploration of the topics at hand. The account's brief tweets are an excellent kicking off point for personal historical exploration, though. Coverage of the future HMS Agincourt's construction led us to discover much more of the ship's rich history.

13600+ followers

The celebrity of the war-tweeting scene, Sky News specialises, like several others, in quick and tidy summations. The account limits itself somewhat by seemingly insisting on only one update a day, and we wonder how this will be maintained once the war is in full swing and events come thick and fast. For now though, @SkyNewsWW1 has one overwhelmingly fun factor - in keeping with their main function in the modern world, the biggest stories often come with a 'breaking news' warning! This is the war, as seen through the eyes of a news channel in ways they otherwise might never have been able to.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

A Blog From WW1: Women at Work

It's a busy week for military history! While the Imperial War Museum teases the world's media with their newly renovated London museum, the week also sees the release of 'The First World War on the Home Front', by the IWM's senior historian Terry Charman. To celebrate this new book, which takes account of the domestic toll of the Great War on Britain, we're blogging direct from the war. Charles Balston, a 61 year-old retired civil servant, kept a diary throughout the war - his is one of many that Charman drew on to reveal the situation on the Home Front.

Today we see Balston's thoughts on the way the war changed the lives of women:

"Young women had realized their opportunities & the daughters of the cultured & leisurely homes were responding to the call of service and sacrifice with enthusiasm. Gone... are the young ladies of Fanny Burney, Jane Austen, Thackerey & Dickens and the ladies of Cranford would have been scandalized if asked to do the things their descendants cheerfully performed. They had learned the luxury of doing good in the hospitals of France, Gibraltar, Malta & in Serbia - where typhus was raging - hundreds of British women were performing heroic duties and thousands more were seeking all manner of employment.

In July Mrs Pankhursy - the leader of the suffragette movement - employed the Women's Social and Political Union to form a procession in London on the (Saturday) 17th of women eager to give their services to their country and announced that Mr Lloyd George would receive a deputation of them.... In bad weather she led the procession of 40,000 women through London preparatory to meting him at the Ministry of Munitions on the Thames Embankment."

Charles Balston is one of dozens of everyday Britons whose stories come together to form a picture of life in Britain throughout World War One in Terry Charman's 'The First World War on the Home Front'. You can buy a copy here, and don't forget to check back tomorrow for more of Charles' war experiences!

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

A Blog From 1914: Lord Devonport's Rationing

This week, André Deutsch are pushing the boundaries of time as a linear concept, and bringing you all what might just be the world's first blogs direct from 1914. Back then, of course, 'Blogger' was just the name of the family butcher down the street, and the stories we'd type up today we written down in an ancient paper-format referred to as a 'diary'. Terry Charman's new book 'The First World War on the Home Front', produced in association with the Imperial War Museums (and coinciding with the re-opening of their magnificent London galleries), is filled with the stories of Britons (and, indeed, Britain) during the Great War.

Over the next few days we'll be posting excerpts from the diary of Charles Balston, a 61 year-old retired civil servant from Dulwich who features prominently in the new book. Today we explore rationing with him.

"[Food Controller Lord Devonport] started by putting the country on rations and on its honour not to exceed them. Sugar, potatoes, bread & meet were rationed. In the case of bread, no loaves under 12 hours could be sold by bakers and the flour was mixed with husks. We were enjoined to eat less of it and to help us in doing so the price of bread as increased to a shilling a quartern loaf. The manufacture and sale of pastry was also restricted, lest we should adopt Queen Marie Antoinette's suggestion to substitute cakes for bread.

The sale of paste for putting up wallpaper and of starch for stiffening linen was prohibited. Racing was restricted to reduce the consumption of oats. [These restrictions] had an inevitable effect on the health of the nation, especially as the quality of the standard flour issued by millers varied and some bakers were not so skilful or scrupulous as others in making palatable bread and this was shewn in the loss of fat and reduction in weight and also in skin-troubles and ill health.

Charles Balston is one of dozens of everyday Britons whose stories come together to form a picture of life in Britain throughout World War One in Terry Charman's 'The First World War on the Home Front'. You can buy a copy here, and don't forget to check back tomorrow for more of Charles' war experiences!

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

A Blog From 1914: Kaiser Wilhelm and Attila the Hun

Kaiser Wilhelm delivers the infamous 'Hun' speech to German troops disembarking for China in 1900.

Throughout this week, André Deutsch will be celebrating the release of Terry Charman's comprehensive account of 'The First World War on the Home Front'. The book is an ambitious attempt to rediscover Britain during World War One, and features insight from a number of contemporary diarists. These were, for the most part, ordinary people caught up in a war that dragged on longer than anyone might have hoped. Over the next few days, we'll have one of these World War One diarists blog for us with extracts of his writing as featured in the book.

Charles Balston was 61 when war was announced, a former Indian civil servant who had retired to Dulwich. His diaries throughout the war paint vivid pictures of the home front experience, and of the ever-evolving public opinion of the war, the enemy, and life in war-torn Britain. Enjoy his first blog, as extracted from Terry Charman's 'The First World War on the Home Front':

"The men who do these things [German atrocities in Belguim] were rightly called Huns. But who gave them that name? Who was it that urged them to emulate Attila and his Huns?

Attila's proclamtions to his troops before battle sound as if they were falling from the lips of the Kaiser ... that the Kaiser sought to emulate his progenitor there can be no doubt. Even so far back as 1900 when he sent his brother Henry to China [sic] he enjoined them "to strike out with his mailed fist and spare not". To strike Attila and his Huns. Did he not also invoke the grace of God & did he not allow his armies to strike as the Huns did when he had the Belgians at his mercy. The term was not of enemy origin. It was the appellation expressly chosen for his troops by the Kaiser - and it suited them."

Charles Balston is one of dozens of everyday Britons whose stories come together to form a picture of life in Britain throughout World War One in Terry Charman's 'The First World War on the Home Front'. You can buy a copy here, and don't forget to check back tomorrow for more of Charles' war experiences!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Letter to an Unknown Soldier

"On Platform One of Paddington Station in London, there is a statue of an unknown soldier; he's reading a letter."

So begins one of the most creative commemorations of the First World War we've seen in this centenary year. 'Letter to an Unknown Soldier' encourages people of all ages and backgrounds to imagine what words might be found on the Paddington soldier's letter. When Stephen, one of the André Deutsch team, first saw the project he knew immediately what he wanted to say to the unknown soldier. You can read his letter below:

Dear Us,

I have to admit, I’d never really noticed you before, standing quietly to the side with a letter in your hand. I’d like to say it’s because life doesn’t often take me through Paddington’s bow-legged concourse, but I don’t think that’s true. Rather, I suppose I have ignored you. Consciously uncoupled myself from the past in favour of Samsung phones and pop culture references.

You see, I worry. I worry that were I to stop before you, instead of shuffling past with my head buried in the present, I might see something of myself in your sunken features and war-torn stance. I might realise that you are not the unknown soldier everyone says you are, but rather some earlier form of me. My mind, my heart, born to another time. And then, reluctantly, I would have to face up to your war as though it were mine.

I would have to place myself some hundred years outside of my comfort zone, and make decisions I’d rather not have to make. I would have to consider the consequences of my choices – not just for me, but for people I’ve never even met. For people not yet born.

I would have to consider how I might react under enemy fire, if I could react at all. I would have to imagine the feel of a revolver's grip in my hand, and whether it might scare me or elicit something even worse. Whether it might tempt me. Would I be a hero, or just another young man entrenched overseas, and out of his depth?

I’d like to say that sometimes I stand below you for minutes at time, considering these things, but I can’t. I just walk past, head down, locking you out with my headphones and touchscreen.

Read Stephen's letter and more on the 1418 Now website! We've also curated a playlist of World War One songs that you can listen to here.