This website uses cookies to provide a rich user experience. Please consult our Cookie Policy to learn about what cookies this website uses, or to control the cookies you receive. You need do nothing if you are happy to receive cookies.
Look and Learn History Picture Library Image from the history picture library

Subject: ‘Bravery’

All of these articles and images are available for licensing: click on an image to see further details and licensing options; contact us about licensing textual content.

Stirling’s Raiders were officially called L Detachment S.A.S.

Posted in Africa, Bravery, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Weapons, World War 2 on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about the Second World War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 584 published on 24 March 1973.

Stirling's Raiders,  picture, image, illustration
David Stirling leads 'Stirling's Raiders' against German and Italian air forces in North Africa by Graham Coton

Hobbling on his crutches, the 6 ft. 6 in. Scottish subaltern presented himself at the main entrance of Middle East Headquarters in Cairo one July morning in 1941, only to be told that no one could enter without a pass. He moved away, waited until the sentries were busy with the occupants of a staff car, then left his crutches against a tree and slipped through a break in the barbed wire. “Stop that man!” roared one of the sentries, but by that time David Stirling, Scots Guards, attached to No. 8 Commando, had disappeared through the front door of H. Q.

Moving as fast as his back and leg injuries would allow – he had been in a parachute accident – he found a door marked Adjutant General and marched in. The major within not only told him to clear out, but reminded him that they had met before when Stirling had slept through his lectures on tactics!

So Stirling decided to aim higher and gatecrashed General Ritchie, Deputy Chief-of-Staff, Middle East, who liked the look of his unexpected guest and asked what he wanted. It turned out that the lame lieutenant wanted to destroy the German and Italian air forces on the ground!

Stirling had become convinced that as modern war was now so mobile, small groups operating behind enemy lines and destroying planes, ammunition dumps, repair shops and vehicles could achieve more than most air attacks. Ritchie liked the idea and summoned in his assistant, who turned out to be the fuming major that Stirling had just left. The major hoped he could arrest the young upstart, but instead found himself being ordered to help him. Ritchie passed Stirling’s plans on to the Commander-in-Chief, General Auchinleck, who liked them so much that he ordered the giant Scot to recruit six officers and 60 men and set up a training camp.

He collected his volunteers and soon proved his point by two “attacks” on an R.A.F. base and a naval vessel, using dummy bombs and then ringing up the next day to ask for them back! One of his men, Lieutenant Jock Lewes, invented a combined explosive and incendiary bomb for their raids, a time bomb which weighed under a pound, but could knock out a plane. A single soldier could carry 24 of them.

Stirling’s men were known as L Detachment S.A.S. – Special Air Service – which would make the Germans think that there were British parachute troops in the North African desert.

Even David Stirling’s quick brain did not at once stumble on the right method of transport for his men. Their first operation used planes to get them near their target and then the men dropped by parachute, but the raid failed because too many men failed to rendezvous after the drop. So it was decided to team up with the Long Range Desert Group, a reconnaissance unit, who could take them by truck exactly where they wanted to go and pick them up again after their raids.

Read the rest of this article »

Corporal York began his military career as a conscientious objector

Posted in America, Bravery, Historical articles, History, World War 1 on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about World War One first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 584 published on 24 March 1973.

One man with a rifle and a six-shooter against a whole German machine-gun battalion . . .

That was the line-up for one of the most sensational battles in the history of warfare.

For, single-handed, that one man killed 25 Germans, and captured four officers and 128 men. And then he marched them back through the German front-line into his own lines.

When his officers saw him, they couldn’t believe their eyes, and an inquiry was ordered into the exploit of Corporal York (later promoted sergeant) of the United States Infantry.

Sworn statements were taken from American and German soldiers. It was all true.

Yet York began his military career as a conscientious objector.

When America declared war on Germany in 1917, he applied for exemption from military service on the grounds that killing was against his religion.

Despite many appeals, he was called up, and in March, 1918, Private York was in training as an infantryman.

He still believed that he would refuse to fight, until something that happened on one of his leaves changed his mind. In his Tennessee drawl, he has recalled that event.

“I went out on to the mountainside and asked Him sorter straight from the shoulder . . . I knelt down and I prayed and prayed all afternoon, through the night and part of the next day. And as I prayed there alone a great calm came over me and I received my assurance. He heard my prayer and He came to me on the mountainside. I arose and thanked Him and went home over the mountains singing a hymn.”

Private York went back to his unit and said: “God wills that I should fight and that I’ll come back unharmed.”

By the end of May he was in France. By the time his unit was moved up for the battle of the Argonne Forest, he had been promoted corporal.

Read the rest of this article »

Gordon Campbell V.C., scourge of the German U-boats

Posted in Bravery, Historical articles, History, Ships, World War 1 on Friday, 7 March 2014

This edited article about World War One first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 583 published on 17 March 1973.

 HMS Farnborough,
British Q-ship HMS Farnborough by Graham Coton

She could have been the original “dirty little collier with a salt-caked smoke-stack.” She was about as shabby looking as any ship that ever put to sea, and the grey Atlantic waves upon which she rolled under a leaden sky did nothing to enhance her appearance.

She was called H.M.S. Farnborough and on that gloomy March day in 1916, when the sea was filled with predatory U-boats, the commander of U-38 watched her through his periscope and chuckled to himself at the ease of the kill which she presented.

Leisurely, the German submarine captain fired a torpedo. It missed. Suppressing a bored yawn, he surfaced. He would finish the wretched collier with his guns.

On board H.M.S. Farnborough all was panic and confusion as the crew leapt into the lifeboats. One boat slipped awkwardly and hung stern down in the water, adding to the terror. The U-boat captain watched indifferently from 800 yards away as he ordered his gunners to take action stations.

Then, in the next few seconds, occurred one of the astonishing scenes of the First World War.

From the bridge of H.M.S. Farnborough, her captain, Lieut.-Commander Gordon Campbell, rapped out a terse order. Suddenly, one side of the dirty collier dropped downwards on well-oiled hinges and four lethal looking long-range guns spat out a fusillade of fire.

Within a minute the submarine had dived desperately below the waves. But she was out of control and like a drowning man came up again, head first, to reveal a great jagged rent along her superstructure – a rent caused by the collier’s concealed guns. Then U-38 slid beneath the surface for ever.

Read the rest of this article »

Pierre Bayard – the last great knight from the Age of Chivalry

Posted in Bravery, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Royalty, War on Thursday, 6 March 2014

This edited article about Pierre Bayard first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 581 published on 3 March 1973.

Pierre Bayard,  picture, image, illustration
How brave Bayard held the Bridge by Peter Jackson

Watching from a hilltop the fierce battle raging below him, King Charles the Eighth of France nudged an aide at his side.

“There is a young knight of our army who is forever in the thick of the fight,” he observed. “You see him yonder, covered with blood. What is his name?”

Following the King’s outstretched arm, the aide replied, “He is Pierre Bayard, sire, a knight of Dauphine.”

The scene was the Battle of Fornovo in Italy; the month and the year, July, 1495. Charles had set out for the southern country determined to win back for France the city-state of Naples, which had been taken by the Spanish. He had succeeded in the task but now, on the way back, the people of northern Italy were standing their ground at Fornovo and fighting the invaders. They wanted to make the French army pay for the looting they had practised on their outward journey through Italy.

Right was on the Italians’ side, but might was with the French. They swept the Italians aside at Fornovo in a bloody day of fighting. And of all the brave men who performed deeds of valour on that field, none was braver than the 20-year-old knight Pierre Bayard, whom King Charles himself had noticed.

Twice Bayard had a horse killed under him and each time he vaulted on to a fresh mount and plunged anew into the fray. His zeal took him into the core of the Italian army; there, flailing with his sword, he uprooted an enemy banner. At the end of the day he presented the trophy to the King. Impressed, Charles gave his loyal young knight a reward of 500 crowns.

France was to hear much more of Pierre Bayard for, as some men grow up with a single-minded ambition, Bayard’s aim from his earliest boyhood was to become a famous soldier – to make himself a legend of chivalry and honour in the Renaissance times in which he lived.

We often say of well-born people that they were born with a silver spoon in their mouths. In the case of le Seigneur de Pierre Bayard it was not a silver spoon so much as a sword of honour. For in the two centuries before his birth nearly every head of his noble family at their magnificent chateau in Dauphine had fallen in battle.

Like all his famous ancestors, Pierre’s father had the scent of battle in his nostrils. He belonged to the fast-dying medieval school of knightly chivalry and each day he indoctrinated young Pierre with the chivalric code of honour: “Serve God. Be kindly and courteous to all men of gentle breeding. Be humble to all people. Be neither a flatterer nor a teller of tales. Be faithful in deed and in speech. Always keep your word.”

The great passion of chivalry, symbolised in tournaments, parading ladies and sumptuous banquets, was fast ebbing away when Pierre Bayard was born into a family that would not let it go.

At the last of the great tournaments young Bayard spurred his horse and broke his lance several times by driving it into the ground – a favourite trick of jousting knights to show the strength of their arm. The ladies clapped and cheered shrilly. When the day came for him to leave the family castle to seek his fortune we are told that “finding himself astride his well-bred roan, he deemed he was in Paradise.”

Read the rest of this article »

The heroes at Rorke’s Drift earned eleven Victoria Crosses

Posted in Africa, Bravery, Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Thursday, 6 March 2014

This edited article about Rorke’s Drift first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 581 published on 3 March 1973.

Rorke's Drift,  picture, image, illustration
Battle of Rorke's Drift, Natal,during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 by Joseph Ratcliffe Skelton

Dust flicked into the horseman’s eyes and caked on to his skin still prickling with fear and shock. The rocky landscape flashed by, a cheerless, inhospitable vista which, for all its surface calm, could easily hide clutches of warriors, ready to pounce, not content, as Lieutenant Vane well knew, merely to kill their victims. After what had happened at Isandhlwana, Vane had no doubt about the fate that awaited him if he fell into Zulu hands.

A gentle rise in the ground brought him within sight of Rorke’s Drift. It looked pitifully vulnerable, just a couple of long, stone buildings with the slopes of Mount Oskarberg rising behind them, and it had no defences, no ramparts and no entrenchments.

The wave of Zulus swarming over the few miles from Isandhlwana could swamp the place in minutes and “wash their spears,” as their ruthless king had commanded, in yet more human blood.

The ferocity and dedication of the Zulu warrior was well known and well feared in the Transvaal a century ago. The Boers, who first ventured there in 1835, had found them a constant danger to their farms, their herds, in fact to their very survival, and when the British annexed the Transvaal in 1877, they inherited the problem.

Their solution was both imperious and arbitrary: the only way to remove the Zulu menace was to annexe Zululand.

It was to provide an excuse for annexation that in December 1878, the British presented Cetawayo, the Zulu king, with demands they knew he could not meet: for to do so would have meant handing his land and people over to the British and dismantling his army.

As expected, Cetawayo ignored the ultimatum, and the result, as planned, was the invasion of Zululand in mid-January 1879 by 13,000 British troops.

When their entry went unopposed, many British soldiers presumed that this was to be yet another colonial war in which wild, disorganised savages would be quickly overcome by the superior weapons and fighting methods of the white man.

The first troops to discover the fatal falsity of this notion were those who were encamped, casually and without defences, at Isandhlwana on 22nd January. That morning, a great tide of Zulus poured down from the surrounding hills and erupted into the camp, slashing and stabbing with their assegais until over 1,300 men lay dead.

Read the rest of this article »

The Black Prince won his spurs at the Battle of Crecy

Posted in Bravery, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Royalty, War, Weapons on Wednesday, 5 March 2014

This edited article about the Battle of Crecy first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 579 published on 17 February 1973.

Battle of Crecy,  picture, image, illustration
Battle of Crecy

The day after the battle of Crecy King Edward III of England walked with his sixteen-year-old son, Edward, between the bodies of the French and English dead on the battlefield and said:

“What think you of battle, eh? Isn’t it a grand game?”

Strange question! But this was the year 1346, the medieval age of chivalry, and niceties like disliking the act of killing at sixteen years of age were unheard of.

And young Prince Edward, despite his age, had certainly killed plenty on that battlefield. The Black Prince they called him, from the black armour which he always wore. At Crecy Frenchmen learned to hate this tall, handsome youth, Englishmen to admire him.

As no other battle belonged to one man, Crecy was the Black Prince’s battle. . . .

It began on July 11, 1346, when the king sailed to France with an army of 12,000 men, most of whom were bowmen. The object was to protect English possessions in France which King Philip of France was threatening, although pretty soon it degenerated into an English plundering expedition across the north of France.

At this a French army, four times as strong as the English, not unnaturally began to give chase. At one point they nearly got close enough to pull the English tail as the impertinent invaders just scraped across the River Somme in the nick of time. Then the English marched to the village of Crecy, a tiny place with a windmill.

“We will wait for them here,” said King Edward simply.

The king’s scouts soon reported that they were waiting for a huge army – an army at least four times as big as their own. And that Philip of France had hoisted above his banner the notorious Oriflamme flag.

The Oriflamme was a French standard that signified that no prisoners would be taken and that no conditions of surrender would be accepted – in short, that the enemy could expect no mercy. Philip of France evidently felt that he was in a position to dictate thus.

Read the rest of this article »

Trooper Frederick Potts V.C., loyal and gallant hero at Gallipoli

Posted in Bravery, Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Invasions, World War 1 on Monday, 24 February 2014

This edited article about Frederick Potts V.C. first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 563 published on 28 October 1972.

Gallipoli,  picture, image, illustration
Gallipoli by Andrew Howat

The Turkish peninsula of Gallipoli is a wild, scrubby, sun-hardened place. Few people live on it. A tourist can drive a car down the seaside road beside the Dardanelles Strait, the stretch of water that connects the Black Sea with the Aegean and see no other vehicles for dozens of miles.

On the peninsula a few signs crudely painted point the way to war cemeteries; on the wide straits only a small boat occasionally disturbs the emptiness. Everywhere there is an utter soundlessness – Gallipoli and the Dardanelles are like inseparable twins who sleep silently in a tormented past.

That past belongs to the year 1915 the second year of the First World War. It was the outcome of a plan that had grown in the previous year in the mind of Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty.

Poring over his maps of Central Europe at the headquarters of the War Council, Churchill stabbed a finger at the fat tongue of land marked Gallipoli, reaching out from the Turkish mainland. “A combined naval and military attack here,” he said, “would allow our armies to thrust rapidly upwards to Constantinople. We would command the Dardanelles and the Black Sea. In that one thrust we would eliminate Turkey from the war.”

On the map it looked splendid. Turkey was Britain’s second great enemy after Germany in that frightful war and the primary Turkish threat was to Britain’s ally Russia. If the Black Sea could be opened the Russians, fighting the Germans in Poland, could receive reinforcements through Turkey’s “back door” – Gallipoli.

Even so, the British War Council hesitated to make a commitment so far from the real action in France. While they hesitated the Turks, ably supported by their German allies, had all the time they needed to dig themselves in on Gallipoli.

But the Allies were now committed to help Russia. Thus on April 25th the first wave of 90,000 British and French landed on the southern end of Gallipoli and were at once exposed to a merciless, withering fire from the 200,000 Turks entrenched on high ground. At an appalling cost in lives, the Allies gained a tenuous footing.

For the invaders, every item of provisions had to be brought in by sea to the bombarded beaches and from there carried laboriously by hand through narrow communication trenches to the front line. Water was most precious of all. Even the Allies’ machine-guns at times became unworkable through lack of water to keep the barrels cool.

As the merciless Turkish summer broke, the invading troops were almost prostrated by the tropical heat and plagued relentlessly by flies, until exhausted soldiers vied with each other to see who could swallow food and eat the least number of flies in so doing.

One of the 90,000 who made the landing was Trooper Frederick Potts of the Berkshire Yeomanry. At 22 Potts of the Berkshire Yeomanry. At 22 Potts knew nothing about grand military strategy, but he had seen plenty of army service and in his first hour on Gallipoli he was able to describe the peninsula with feeling as “this horrible, awful country”.

The heart of the Turkish defence was a strongly fortified position which stretched, in anonymous army terminology, from Hill 70 to Hill 112. Here, on the afternoon of August 12, 1915, Potts and his friends were ordered to deliver a massive frontal attack.

Read the rest of this article »

The exemplary fortitude and heroism of Edith Cavell

Posted in Bravery, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Medicine, World War 1 on Thursday, 30 January 2014

This edited article about World War One first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 532 published on 25 March 1972.

Edith Cavell,  picture, image, illustration
Edith Cavell by James E McConnell

At midnight they had only a few hours to live and in the first light of dawn they were taken out and shot. The man died bravely – and so did the woman.

The woman was Edith Cavell, her execution stirred up a world-wide storm of protest, and her nobility in the face of danger and death won her undying fame as one of the finest women in history.

Edith Cavell was born in 1865, in a small town in Norfolk. She was a vicar’s daughter who grew up in the quiet environment typical of a country clergyman’s home.

When she was 25, Edith did what many young ladies of her sort did in those days. She became a governess, but perhaps a little more adventurous than most in that she took a job abroad, looking after the children of a well-to-do Brussels lawyer.

While still in her twenties, she inherited a little money, and this enabled her to spend some time travelling on the Continent. It was while she was in southern Germany, that she first became interested in hospital work and soon after this she decided that what she really wanted to do was to become a nurse. In 1896, when she was 31, she came back to England to train at a big London hospital.

Edith was scarcely out of her training when she had a chance to show that she was not going to be just an ordinary nurse. With complete disregard for her own health, or even her life, she worked tirelessly and devotedly right through an epidemic of typhoid fever which broke out in Kent. Not long after that, while she was matron of a nursing home in Manchester, she worked with the same dedication to improve the health of the working-class people of the area.

But her destiny lay elsewhere – abroad, in that same city of Brussels where she had taken her first job. In 1907, when she was in her early forties, a famous Belgian surgeon invited her to Brussels to undertake the modernisation of his nurses’ school along the lines of the one that had been founded by Florence Nightingale.

Edith soon proved herself worthy of her famous predecessor. It was due to her efforts that a widespread and efficient nursing organisation was built up throughout Belgium.

She also did a great deal to improve the status of the nursing profession. Before her time, nursing in Belgium had been undertaken by nuns, or by domestic servants. By training her nurses properly, insisting that patients treat them with respect, and by getting the doctors they worked with to give them their support, Edith Cavell made nursing such a well-regarded profession that wealthy and even titled Belgian families began to permit their daughters to take up this kind of work.

But storm clouds were gathering over Europe. The First World War was imminent and when it broke out, Edith was on holiday in England. She could have been excused for staying there, too, but she wasn’t that sort of woman. She hurried as fast as she could back to her nurses’ home, which had now been turned into a Red Cross hospital.

Read the rest of this article »

The invention of the parachute came long before its time

Posted in Aerospace, Bravery, Famous Inventors, Historical articles, History, Inventions on Tuesday, 28 January 2014

This edited article about parachutes first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 529 published on 4 March 1972.

Garnerin jumps with prachute,  picture, image, illustration
The first parachute jump was made by Jacques Garnerin, by Ferdinando Tacconi

“The world’s biggest step.” This is the slogan which Captain Joseph Kittinger of the United States Air Force saw painted on the floor by his feet as he stepped out of the gondola of his balloon on an August morning in 1960. He was certainly taking a leap that had never been equalled.

Captain Kittinger was about to make the world’s longest parachute drop. It may well be that, as he checked his equipment, he thought briefly of Jacques Garnerin, the fourteen-year-old boy whose enthusiasm and bravery had made it all possible. When Garnerin had made his first jump from a balloon, over 160 years before, he could have had no idea of the way his invention would be developed. Powered flight, free fall acrobatics and paratroops would come in time, but he was then stepping out into the unknown.

Captain Kittinger’s balloon was high above the United States; at 102,200 feet, nearly eighteen miles above ground which had long since been hidden by banks of cloud below. For sixteen miles, he rocketed downwards without opening his main parachute and covered this distance in just over four and a half minutes. Despite having a small stabilizing parachute to keep him from falling in a corkscrew motion, he reached the terrifying speed of 614 miles per hour. Finally, a special mechanism operated and opened his main parachute and the last nine minutes of his earthward journey were completed more gently. After 13 minutes and eight seconds it was all over, and the world’s most spectacular parachute drop could go into the record books.

Our story starts on the other side of the Atlantic at the end of the eighteenth century but, although Jacques Garnerin did not realise it, the use of parachutes had been considered nearly three hundred years before. Leonardo da Vinci had sketched in the design for one and, like so many things he designed, it would almost certainly have worked if the right materials had been available. But his notebooks were lost to the world, and although the Chinese were said to use “aerial umbrellas,” Europe was still waiting for the idea to be reborn.

It was largely because of the interest in hot-air and hydrogen balloons that men’s thoughts became centred once more on the way in which they might come back to earth more safely. In 1783, the provincial town of Montpellier in France became the scene of the first rather dangerous and daring jumps when Louis Le Normand gave his public demonstrations. He used an observation tower at the local botanical gardens to jump from with a “parachute” which was a strange contrivance which managed to look like a conical umbrella.

Read the rest of this article »

William Wallace – Scotland’s greatest freedom-fighter

Posted in Bravery, Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Royalty, Scotland on Tuesday, 21 January 2014

This edited article about Scotland first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 520 published on 1 January 1972.

Battle of Sterling Bridge, picture, image, illustration
William Wallace and his Scottish army defeat the English at Stirling Bridge by C L Doughty

On 4th August, 1305, Sir William Wallace – the outlaw who was known as the “Guardian of Scotland” – received a message from Sir John Mentieth, asking him to leave his hideout in the mountains, and meet near Glasgow to discuss the liberty and future of the Scottish people.

At the time, Sir William had been on the run from the occupying English forces for seven adventurous years. During that period he had lived like one of the wild eagles, that inhabited the Highlands.

He was constantly on the move, seldom staying long enough in any one place for his pursuers to catch up with him. His flight took him across burns and mountain crags in conditions that would have killed many.

Frequently he had to sleep in the open with snow and rain descending on him in cold, icy sheets. But due to his reputation and distinctive appearance, he could not take shelter in even the remotest cottage or inn, for fear of someone giving him away.

Sir William was a tall, sturdy man with a thatch of thick fair hair, piercing blue eyes, and a jagged scar running beneath the left side of his chin. The scar was a souvenir from one of the many battles he had fought with the English, and it marked him as surely as a convict might have a number branded on his arm.

His one ambition in life was to drive the troops of King Edward I from Scotland, and it was on account of this that the monarch had proclaimed him an outlaw. Harried from loch to glen, Sir William was unable to raise and maintain a regular army of his own.

Instead, he conducted a fierce guerrilla campaign which embarrassed and annoyed the English soldiers. In the hope of raising more guerrillas, he was anxious to confer with his fellow patriot, Sir John Mentieth – whose love for Scotland was said to be second only to his own.

Before leaving his mountain hiding-place, however, Sir William was warned against going to Glasgow. “It could well be a trap,” his followers told him. “What if Sir John is now a supporter of the king, and is hoping to capture you and take you to Edward as a prize!”

But the patriot would not listen to their words of caution. He had risked his life for Scotland for too long to show fear now. If he had to be trapped and die, then it was in the cause of his fellow countrymen.

Sir William told the messenger from Glasgow to go back and say that the meeting would take place the following day. “Tell Sir John,” he said, “that I shall be pleased to talk with him and bring about the end of Edward’s tyranny.”

The messenger hurried back to his master, bearing the news that Scotland’s greatest warrior was going to show his face in public for the first time since his defeat by Edward at the Battle of Falkirk, seven years earlier.

Read the rest of this article »