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: ‘Heroes and Heroines’

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.

General Robert E. Lee became a national hero after his surrender

Posted in America, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Wednesday, 19 March 2014

This edited article about the American Civil War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 599 published on 7 July 1973.

General Lee and his horse 'Traveller' surrenders to General Grant.
General Lee astride his horse 'Traveller' surrenders to General Grant by James E McConnell

The spring sunshine beat down on the long lines of ragged men. Suddenly a bugle blared and guns fired in salute, while into sight rode a tall, handsome, bearded man, in grey full-dress uniform. At once, a great yell, the immortal, unforgettable Rebel yelled of the Confederate Army, burst from thousands of throats.

The soldier on the horse, General Robert E. Lee, took off his hat to his men and the ear-splitting yell rang out again.

“Does it not make the General proud to see how these men love him?” asked an onlooker, who was standing by one of Lee’s staff.

“Not proud,” replied the officer. “It awes him.”

It was 1864 and the Confederacy, the group of Southern States which had broken away from the U.S.A. in 1861, had just a year more to live. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia were the key to Southern survival.

Lee was a Virginian. Born in 1807, he was the son of a hero of the War of Independence against Britain, and the Army seemed his destiny from childhood. He did well from the moment he entered it, in war and in peace, until the fatal year of 1861 found him, along with countless other Americans, in two minds as to which side to support.

As the finest officer in the Army, both sides wanted him to lead their forces! At this tragic hour, he had therefore to choose between State and Union. It was an easy choice for some, but not for him. He believed in the Union; and unlike many Southerners, he was passionately opposed to slavery, which was a part of the Southern way of life because the slaves picked the all-important cotton, and which was a cause of the war.

The other cause was the Southerners’ belief that a State had the right to decide what it did (like allow slavery) whatever the Government in Washington said. It was this that finally decided Lee. First and foremost he was a Virginian. He would side with Virginia.

The Confederates had to win fast before the sheer size of the North and its colossal industrial power swamped them. Lee’s men were born fighters and his officers were the pick of the old United States Army. His second-in-command was the granite-like “Stonewall” Jackson, so called because the sight of him and his brigade standing like a stone wall at the First Battle of Bull Run (July, 1861) had rallied the rest of the army. The two men made a matchless team.

Read the rest of this article »

‘Great God! This is an awful place . . .’ so wrote Captain Scott

Posted in Disasters, Exploration, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 19 March 2014

This edited article about Scott of the Antarctic first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 598 published on 30 June 1973.

Captain Scott,  picture, image, illustration
Scott reached the Pole only to find that he had been beaten by Amundsen, by Angus McBride

The race to the South Pole was on! Captain Robert Falcon Scott, RN, had not wanted a race, but now he had no choice. The great Norwegian explorer, Roald Amundsen, was out to reach the Pole first, having switched his plans to try and be the first man to reach the North Pole!

Captain Scott was leader of the 60-strong British Antarctic Expedition, which had headed south from New Zealand aboard the Terra Nova, surviving a terrible battering in heavy seas to reach the mighty southern continent on the last day of 1910. Scott was following up an earlier expedition to the fabulous, majestic land of ice and snows, a land of awe-inspiring, desolate beauty, of stupendous mountains and glaciers, of deadly danger and many other wonders to behold.

He and his men had come to learn first and reach the Pole second in an unhurried way. Now he had to decide at once whether or not to challenge Amundsen, for news had just reached him that the Norwegian had landed at the Bay of Wales, 60 miles nearer the Pole than he was, and Amundsen was interested in success, not science, and had more than 100 dogs to get him to the Pole.

Scott made up his mind. They would “go forward and do our best for the honour of the country without fear or panic.” From his base at McMurdo Sound it was 923 miles to the Pole. He decided to use motor sledges at first, then the ponies they had brought with them, then dogs. For the last lap, Scott and a few picked men would drag a single sledge to the Pole, having left the dogs and supplies at a depot for the return journey.

They started on November 1st, 1911, after the Polar winter was over, in high spirits and sure of success. The motor sledges had gone on ahead and they marched with the ponies and the dog-drawn sledges to One Ton Depot, which they had built the previous autumn. Twelve men, 10 ponies and a dog-team reached the depot on November 15th.

Then things started to go wrong. First the cylinders of the motor sledges cracked and they had to be abandoned. Then the ponies, despite every effort of Captain Oates of the Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, began to die. And the weather, which should have been good, turned nightmarish, with blinding blizzards and glaring sun in between them which caused snow-blindness. Twelve miles from the great Beardmore Glacier they were brought to a standstill and remained trapped in a camp for days.

Even Captain Scott confessed his deep depression to his diary, though to none of his men. By December 7th, there was hardly any food for the ponies and the men were eating into their advance rations. Then at last the wind dropped.

Read the rest of this article »

Madeleine de Vercheres defended the fort called Castle Dangerous

Posted in Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History on Monday, 17 March 2014

This edited article about Canada first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 592 published on 19 May 1973.

 The Iroquois,  picture, image, illustration
The Iroquois attacked many settlers in Canada, whether French or British, by Ron Embleton

Madeleine de Vercheres (1678-1747) was a bright, lively girl. She lived in 17th century Canada where life in addition to being rough and rugged, could also be fun. Madeleine made use of every opportunity for enjoying herself. During the long winter months, she loved playing snowballs, and building snow figures. Her winter evenings were spent around the blazing log fire listening to her father talking about the “old days” and his dreams for their future.

When the winter’s snows had cleared, there were the pleasures of spring to be enjoyed – the buds appearing on the trees and shrubs, the animals coming out from their winter hibernation; the rebirth of all animal, plant and insect life.

Madeleine’s favourite seasons were summer and autumn, when Canada was at its most beautiful. Day after day was filled with the pleasures of long walks in the countryside, bathing in the rivers and lakes and romping through her father’s fields. It seemed to the young girl that nothing could mar the pleasant life she enjoyed so much.

But, in 1692, when Madeleine was fourteen, something happened that made her realise that life was not just one long game.

At that time, the various Indian tribes were locked in perpetual war, against each other and against the white man. Eventually the French settlers achieved friendship with one tribe, the Algonquins. But this produced an increased animosity from the other major tribe, the Iroquois, towards the French intruders of their inherited lands. Being great fighters, the Iroquois, having acquired rifles and knives from Dutch traders, controlled all the Indians in the area now bordered by the states of Maine, Michigan, Tennessee and North Carolina. To defend themselves from such a powerful enemy, the French built communal forts wherever they settled.

Madeleine’s family had chosen to settle by the St. Lawrence River south of Montreal, known as the Vercheres, which was directly on one of the war trails used by the Iroquois. It is no wonder that their fort was called “Castle Dangerous.”

Read the rest of this article »

The Brough Superior was the Rolls-Royce of motor cycles

Posted in Engineering, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Sport, Transport on Saturday, 8 March 2014

This edited article about motor cycles first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.

T E Lawrence,  picture, image, illustration
T E Lawrence on his Brough Superior motor cycle by John Keay

The lean figure settled into the saddle of his motor cycle as he left the R.A.F. camp. Fingers moved the throttle lever and the throaty burble of the twin exhausts rose to a harsher note as the needle of the speedometer swept round to 60 – 70 – 80 mph. Overhead, the pilot of a Bristol fighter plane noticed the swiftly moving dot below and, swooping down to the tree tops, he pointed along the road in challenge. The rider of the motor cycle grinned and urged his mount past the 90 mark. Motor cycle and plane gobbled up the miles as they fought out their odd duel, till, as they neared Lincoln, the rider slowed his machine to a sedate pace and the pilot wheeled away waving a salute.

The rider was Aircraftsman T. E. Shaw – better known as T. E. Lawrence – the famous Lawrence of Arabia. The motor cycle he was driving was a Brough Superior SS100 – a machine which was so far ahead of its time that even now, 40 years later, its looks would command attention and its guaranteed speed of over 100 mph would outpace many modern machines.

As early as 1922, the journal “The Motor Cycle” had called the Brough Superior, the Rolls-Royce of motor cycles and the firm had adopted this as its slogan. Rolls-Royce took great pride in its name and there is a story that an official was sent down to inspect the Brough works at Nottingham to see whether this slogan should be permitted.

He was taken into a room where two men in spotless white coats and white gloves were fitting a petrol tank to a machine that was gleaming in its perfection. This so impressed him that he went back satisfied. It was just as well, the story goes on, that no one told him that the men were building a special machine to be displayed at the next motor cycle show.

In fact, the slogan was fully justified, for throughout their history Brough Superiors were built with the utmost care and without regard to price. George Brough had worked in his father’s firm which produced the Brough motor cycle before World War I. In 1919, George decided that the time had come to market a superb and powerful luxury machine for the connoisseur. His father disagreed, so George left and set up on his own to make the Brough Superior.

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 »

Lord Nelson was cruelly killed in the hour of Britain’s victory

Posted in Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, London, Rivers, Ships on Wednesday, 5 March 2014

This edited article about Lord Nelson first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 580 published on 24 February 1973.

Funeral procession of Nelson,  picture, image, illustration
An accurate view from the house of W Tunnard on the Bankside, adjoining the site of Shakespeare Theatre, on 8 January 1806, when the remains of the great Admiral Lord Nelson was (sic) brought from Greenwich to Whitehall, by J T Smith

It was the thickest fog that London had endured for many years, but some carriages on that November night in 1805 crawled slowly towards their destinations, carrying passengers with urgent business to attend to. Two of them went through the gates of the Admiralty at around 1 am, each containing a Naval officer who by sheer coincidence, was bearing the same news.

The news was at once triumphant and tragic. On October 21, the British fleet had smashed the combined fleets of France and Spain, but Lord Nelson, Britain’s greatest sailor had been killed in the hour of victory.

The newspapers carried the story on November 7, but by then most people had heard the news. People meeting in the streets first spoke of Nelson, then of his victory. Even the London mob, which normally celebrated victories riotously was stunned and still.

It was to be two full months before the funeral, the most grief-stricken public funeral in British history. Horatio Nelson was no saint. He was not much to look at; a small, one-armed, one-eyed man, not a good husband, sometimes loathful, a man who could lose his temper. But he was brave and lovable, a kindly man adored not only by the ordinary people of Britain, but, more significantly, by his crews.

The Navy of 1805 was no place for weaklings. Many sailors had been “press-ganged” into service, where they found the food as bad as the discipline. The lash was freely administered. Yet, given a fine captain, most British tars were as proud and happy as they were adored by their countrymen.

Nelson was not just a fine captain; he was a perfect one, whose men would do more than their very best for him. When he was killed, the heart went out of the Fleet. One letter will suffice to show the general feeling. It was from a sailor called Sam, who simply and memorably wrote to his father: “I never set eyes on him (Nelson) for which I am both sorry and glad; for to be sure I should like to have seen him, but then, all the men in our ship who have seen him are such soft toads, they have done nothing but Blast their Eyes and cry ever since he was killed. God bless you chaps, that fought like the Devil, sit down and cry like a wench.”

Read the rest of this article »

The Charge of the Light Brigade, “The Times”, 14 November, 1854

Posted in Famous battles, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Wednesday, 5 March 2014

This edited article about the Crimean War first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 578 published on 10 February 1973.

The Charge of the Light Brigade,  picture, image, illustration
The Valley of Death – The Charge of the Light Brigade

Throughout the Crimean War a special correspondent of “The Times” newspaper – William Howard Russell – accompanied the troops. Russell’s brilliant, vivid reporting can be seen in his description of the Charge of the Light Brigade, as printed in “The Times” of 14th November, 1854. It begins with an order for an advance against the Russians brought by Captain Nolan to Lord Lucan, who was in command of the British cavalry division and led the charge at Balaclava:

“When Lord Lucan received the order from Captain Nolan and had read it, he asked, we are told, “Where are we to advance to?” Captain Nolan pointed with his finger to the line of the Russians and said, “There are the enemy, and there are the guns, sir, before them; it is your duty to take them,” or words to that effect, according to the statement made since his death.

Lord Lucan, with reluctance, gave the order to Lord Cardigan to advance upon the guns, conceiving that his orders compelled him to do so.

The noble Earl, though he did not shrink, also saw the fearful odds against him. Don Quixote in his tilt against the windmills was not near so rash and reckless as the gallant fellows who prepared without a thought to rush on almost certain death.

The whole brigade scarcely made one effective regiment, and yet it was more than we could spare. As they passed towards the front, the Russians opened on them from the guns in the redoubt on the right with volleys of musketry and rifles.

They swept proudly past, glittering in the morning sun in all the pride and splendour of war. We could scarcely believe the evidence of our senses. Surely that handful of men are not going to charge an army in position? Alas it was but too true – their desperate valour knew no bounds, and far indeed was it removed from its so-called better part – discretion.

Read the rest of this article »

The selfless heroism of Eyam’s 300 villagers saved thousands of lives

Posted in British Countryside, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History on Tuesday, 4 March 2014

This edited article about the village of Eyam first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 577 published on 3 February 1973.

Eyam,  picture, image, illustration
Eyam during the Plague Year

There was one day in the life of Samuel Pepys that the famous diarist was unlikely to forget as he made up his journal each night. It was June 7, 1665 – “the hottest day I ever felt in my life.” Walking up Drury Lane in London, Pepys saw several houses marked with a red cross and the words, “Lord have mercy on us.”

Pepys hurried on, disturbed. He had never seen such signs before, but he had heard about them. They meant that the dreaded bubonic plague was within.

As the plague killed thousands in London that summer, those families who discovered it among them were obliged to shut themselves up in their homes either to die or, if they were lucky, to survive with the infestation. It was a rough kind of social justice that neighbours, in dread of the sudden fatal disease, generally made sure was enforced.

As everyone knows, 1665 was London’s year of terror. But the plague touched many places outside the city, wreaking fearful havoc. And it touched one village whose heroism passed all human belief.

Two months after the plague signs were first seen by Pepys in London, it was still far from the thoughts of the 300 villagers of Eyam in Derbyshire. At the August harvest festival the young were courting, the wives were chattering and the men were quaffing pints of ale oblivious of the invisible terror torturing the city that none of them had ever seen.

Over this truly English pastoral scene the Rev. William Mompesson presided with aloof solemnity. He was the Conformist, Oxford-educated rector of Eyam, and after only a year in the parish, not yet wholly familiar with simple rustic ways.

Never far from Mompesson’s elbow, acting as a kind of conscience, was another minister. Thomas Stanley was the dissenting nonconforming clergyman who had been dispossessed of the living after refusing to take Charles the Second’s Oath of Conformity. Both these ministers were to play vital roles in the events of the next few months.

Both now watched the harvest festival merry-making on the green with urbane indulgence, unaware of the drama that was about to unfold in their parish – unaware that in less than a year six out of every seven of the revelling flock would be dead.

A few days after the harvest festival in Eyam, George Vicars, the local tailor, opened a parcel of cloth newly arrived from London. Because the material was damp, he told a servant to dry it before the fire. Steam rose from the cloth and permeated the room. A few hours afterwards the servant, his body horribly marked, his limbs contorted, was dead of bubonic plague.

George Vicars’ cloth had brought the disease from London to shatter the rural happiness of Eyam. Before the month was out, five other parishioners were similarly dead – agonising confirmation that the virus had come to stay. Those who could afford to – there were probably about 50 of them – shut up their homes and speedily disappeared to other places.

Read the rest of this article »

“A miracle of deliverance” – the epic story of Dunkirk

Posted in Boats, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Ships, World War 2 on Thursday, 27 February 2014

This edited article about Dunkirk first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 572 published on 30 December 1972.

Dunkirk,  picture, image, illustration
Escape from Dunkirk by Graham Coton

The armada of small boats was on its way to France to save the British Army. There were almost a thousand of them, yachts, pleasure steamers, fishing trawlers, barges, tugs, cabin-cruisers, towed lifeboats and motor boats, and they had come from ports and tidal rivers all along the East and South Coasts to rendezvous in selected harbours and get their orders from the Navy.

They set off before dawn on May 30, 1940, from Ramsgate, Dover, Margate, Portsmouth, Folkestone and other places best known for jolly holidays by the sea, not the grim realities of war. It was a gallant little fleet, manned by every sort of sailor from ex-Navy men to weekend yachtsmen. There were 60-year-olds and teenagers and men of every age in between, some of them dressed in true seaman fashion, others in suits, raincoats and a wide variety of headgear.

Few of the boats had accurate charts, fewer still had much in the way of medical supplies, or experience of sailing far out at sea. And not many could boast any armaments. The Deal beach-boat “Dumpling” with a skipper of 70, had been built in Napoleon’s time! But every sailor in that strange but magnificent fleet was determined and ready for anything. Hardened naval men, watching from destroyers as the little ships went by, were sometimes almost moved to tears at the gallant sight.

The part-time sailors needed every scrap of gallantry that they could muster as they approached the beaches of Dunkirk and its harbour, once a bustling port, now a raging inferno. The full impact of the nightmare was soon grimly apparent. It was a nightmare that had really started at dawn just 20 days before, when the Second World War, which, on land at least, had become something of a joke, suddenly and violently came to life.

The war had begun in September 1939 and, after the initial German conquest of Poland, had settled down into stalemate, with the French and British behind the heavily fortified “impregnable” Maginot Line staring at the Germans behind their Siegfried Line. So little happened, except at sea, that the war was dubbed the Phoney War! Even the German conquest of Norway in the spring of 1940 did not alert the Allies. Yet the danger had been seen by a few British and French military thinkers.

These few were not convinced that the British Expeditionary Force 390,000 strong, was, as was officially claimed, “as well if not better equipped than any other similar army.” Actually, it had inferior tanks and mostly inferior guns, and many of the soldiers were undertrained. As for the French, though their army was bigger than the Germans’, it was riddled with defeatism and its leaders were rooted in the past. Most British and French generals failed to realise what their German opposite numbers knew – that in modern war air power and mobile, powerful tanks were destined to play major not minor roles.

They were soon to find out. And, to make things worse, the much-vaunted concrete masterpiece, the Maginot Line, did not even extend to the sea. All the Germans had to do was to invade Holland and Belgium and strike at France at the same time, and this they did on May 10, 1940, by land and air. The result was one of the most brilliant campaigns in history.

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 »