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Subject: ‘Heroes and Heroines’
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Posted in Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, London, World War 1 on Monday, 20 May 2013
This edited article about T E Lawrence originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 259 published on 31 December 1966.
Lawrence of Arabia
Near Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament is Barton Street, its fine 18th century houses secluded from the roar of London’s traffic.
The attic at No. 14 provided a haven for Lawrence of Arabia when he was trying to escape publicity after the First World War. “The best and freest place I ever lived in,” he declared. “Nobody has found me.”
It would be less difficult now, for a blue plaque there bears his name.
Of Anglo-Irish descent, Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in Wales. A bright boy, he could read newspapers at four years old, started Latin at six, and went to Oxford High School at eight. There he won enough scholarships to cover the cost of his further education, and went on to Jesus College at Oxford.
Very much a literary man, Lawrence also had a strong taste for the architecture of the Middle Ages. This resulted in a thesis: The Influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture, material for which he gathered in a solitary tour of England, France, and the Middle East. Later, he returned to Palestine and Egypt to work on archaeological surveys, acquiring a knowledge of Arabic and the habit of wearing Arab dress. In doing so he unwittingly laid the foundations for a legend.
Called up into the Army for the war, Lawrence was eventually appointed Liaison Officer to the Arabs, who were already in revolt. Lawrence soon discovered that desert Arabs would accept leadership only from a man who was more ‘man’ than they, and he accepted this as a challenge. He rode the desert with them, fought with them against the Turks, and devised the strategy whereby large enemy forces were stranded – he had simply broken their railway communications.
He encouraged the Arabs to believe that they could hold what land they could capture, and he was bitter about the European Powers’ betrayal of this trust after the war. He argued weightily on the Arabs’ behalf at the Paris peace conferences, and he was partly satisfied with the deal that resulted. He then retired from the public scene to write the story of his adventures, a book which later became widely known as The Seven Pillars of Wisdom.
After the war, Lawrence refused offers of prestige posts, and served in the ranks in the RAF and the Tank Corps, and then in the ranks again as Aircraftman T. E. Shaw.
Lawrence retired at the age of 46, took a cottage known as Clouds Hill at Bovington, Dorset, and refused all attempts to get him involved in jobs of importance. Surrounded with books and many gramophone records, he planned an extensive tour of England. It was not to be. On 13th May, 1935, he was thrown from his motor-cycle when avoiding some boy cyclists, and five days later he died.
Posted in Africa, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Friday, 17 May 2013
This edited article about General Gordon originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 258 published on 24 December 1966.
One of the stalwarts of the British Empire was born at 29, Woolwich Common on 28th January, 1833. A plaque there bears his name: General Charles George Gordon.
Himself a son of a general, Gordon first tasted military action as a young subaltern in the Crimean War.
He next fought in China where, in 1863, the Chinese appointed him a mandarin and commander of a small native force known optimistically as the ‘Ever Victorious Army’. Rough and ill disciplined, this ‘army’ of 3,500 men was to oppose the T’ai P’ing, a powerful and well-equipped rebel army.
Undeterred, Gordon knocked his men into shape, personally quelling two mutinies. He took them into battle himself. In two years he crushed the rebels and became known to the world as ‘Chinese Gordon’.
Refusing the rewards offered him, he returned to England and took up a quieter command at Gravesend, where he spent much of his time helping the poor, often providing food, clothing, education and work for children of the streets.
Appointed to the Danubian Commission in 1871, he one day met Nuber Pasha, Prime Minister of Egypt. As a result he became Governor of Equatoria – having first insisted that his salary be reduced to only a fifth of the £10,000 offered. In 1876, he became Governor-General of the Sudan, with responsibility for imposing order over one million square miles of territory occupied by savage and hostile tribes – a job he tackled with customary vigour.
He resigned in 1880, challenged the Egyptian premier to a duel for some unfortunate remarks about an English knight, received apologies, and returned to Britain.
Four years later he was again in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital city, charged with the difficult and dangerous task of evacuating the area and establishing a government. The job was virtually impossible because the country was in the throes of a holy war led by the powerful Mahdi. Nevertheless Gordon succeeded in sending 2,500 women and children to safety before the Mahdi’s army cut off all means of escape.
For nearly a year, at the head of a feeble and starving Egyptian garrison, Gordon kept the besiegers out of Khartoum. The feat was remarkable but in vain, for at home Gladstone and his government dithered, ignored appeals for help until too late, and solaced themselves with guilty grief when they learned that Khartoum was lost and Gordon dead, killed with his troops when the city was finally taken.
Posted in English Literature, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, Scotland on Monday, 13 May 2013
This edited article about Sir Walter Scott originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 252 published on 12 November 1966.
Lochinvar is the hero of a ballad of that name which Sir Walter Scott included in his poetic saga ‘Marmion’. It was published in 1808. The ballad, which is written in the romantic style of the early 19th century, opens with the famous lines: -
Oh, young Lochinvar is come out of the West,
Through all the wide border his steed was the best.
and its rhythm is so exciting that one can almost hear the galloping of horses’ hooves, especially if it is read aloud.
The ballad, which is set in the Scottish Border country, tells how young Lochinvar’s beloved, ‘the fair Ellen’, is about to be married to an unworthy suitor of her father’s choice. Lochinvar arrives at the bridal feast and claims a dance with Ellen. They dance over to the door of the hall, he swings Ellen on to his horse and rides swiftly away with her. The wedding guests pursue them – in vain!
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) was one of the finest of British novelists and poets, his works being frequently set in his native Scotland. They include ‘Rob Roy’, ‘Ivanhoe’, ‘The Heart of Midlothian’ and ‘The Lady of the Lake’. He was created a baronet in 1820.
Posted in Bravery, English Literature, Famous battles, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Saturday, 11 May 2013
This edited article about the Crimean War originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 250 published on 29 October 1966.
The Valley of Death – The Charge of the Light Brigade
The Crimean War flared up from a petty quarrel. Britain, France and Sardinia allied themselves with Turkey to stop Russian plans for expansion, especially in the direction of Constantinople.
The Allies gathered their forces at Sebastopol, Russia’s great naval port, and laid siege to it. Speedy attack might have produced satisfactory results, but the Crimean War has become famous in history for the inefficient way the campaign was conducted. It was expensive in lives, money and time.
While the siege of Sebastopol was in progress, the harbour at Balaclava was being used as a base and, defending the hills connecting the two, were lines of earthworks. On 25th October, 1854, a Russian force attempted to relieve Sebastopol by destroying these defence lines. They managed to capture some guns from the Turkish forces defending the hills, and then they came down towards the plain lying between the hills and the sea. This plain has a ridge running down the middle, forming two valleys known as the North Valley and the South Valley.
The Russians were driven out of the South Valley by the Heavy Brigade, but as they retreated they began to take away the guns the Turks had been using in the hills.
Lord Raglan, the Commander-in-Chief, sent a quickly pencilled note to Lord Lucan, commander of the cavalry: “Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front – follow the enemy and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns”. Captain Nolan, who delivered the message had scant respect for Lucan, and when the cavalry leader, who from his position could not see what was going on in the hills, questioned the whereabouts of the guns he was to attack, Nolan scornfully waved his arm vaguely in the direction of the North Valley, where a host of Russian cavalry was also massed. Lucan supposed these were the guns he was to attack.
Lucan passed on the order for the suicidal charge to Lord Cardigan, Colonel of the Light Brigade. Cardigan pointed in astonishment at the batteries and riflemen on every side of the valley below. In spite of this, Lord Lucan answered, there was no choice but to obey.
The Light Brigade silently advanced at a slow trot: -
“Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.”
As they gathered speed, the Russian guns blasted at them: -
“Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them”
The guns played havoc with the charging men. Only a few survived to cut down the Russian gunners . . . and of these few only a wounded and stricken remnant returned.
Six hundred and seventy-three men had galloped down the valley on a mistaken mission! Fewer than 200 came back.
Posted in Bravery, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Royalty, World War 2 on Tuesday, 7 May 2013
This edited article about the George Cross originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 245 published on 24 September 1966.
King George VI inspects the wreckage outside St Paul's Cathedral after another night of the Blitz by Clive Uptton
For over a century, men of the British fighting services performing supreme acts of gallantry in the face of the enemy have been awarded the Victoria Cross. During the Second World War of 1939-45, however, millions of civilians were in the front line of battle, and their acts of gallantry could not be rewarded by the Victoria Cross, which is a military decoration.
On 23rd September, 1940, King George VI issued a proclamation creating the George Cross. The Royal Warrant governing its award dictates that the George Cross is to be bestowed only for acts of the greatest heroism, or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger.
Although intended primarily for civilians (both men and women), it can be awarded to members of the fighting services for actions for which purely military decorations are not normally granted. The immediate object of the institution of the George Cross was to reward acts of gallantry arising from enemy action in the Second World War, but the cross can be, and has been, given in peace-time.
The first person to be awarded the George Cross was Mr. T. H. Alderson, a civil defence worker, for his devotion to duty during an air raid on Bridlington, Yorkshire, in September, 1940. In April, 1942, the Cross was awarded to Malta in recognition of the gallantry of the Maltese during savage air raids on the island.
The George Cross has a silver medallion in the centre, showing St. George and the dragon. It is worn before all other decorations except the Victoria Cross.
Posted in English Literature, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Royalty, War on Tuesday, 7 May 2013
This edited article about Sir Philip Sidney originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 245 published on 24 September 1966.
On 22nd September, 1586, Sir Philip Sidney, often described as the finest example of an Elizabethan gentleman, received a wound from which he was to die a few days later.
Sir Philip Sidney was a rare combination of poet, classical scholar and soldier. He was born on 17th October, 1564, and as a young man travelled extensively on the Continent.
In his spare time he wrote a great deal. Most famous are his prose works Arcadia and An Apologie for Poetrie and his sonnet sequence Astrophel and Stella.
Nevertheless, literature was only a hobby with Sidney; he was first and foremost a soldier and man of action. He took an active interest in the colonising enterprises of Sir Walter Raleigh, Richard Hakluyt and Martin Frobisher, and was a bitter enemy of Spain.
In 1585, he was appointed Governor of Flushing, a port in the Netherlands then an English possession, and he distinguished himself fighting in the Queen’s service in the Netherlands. On 22nd September, Sir Philip joined a small force sent to intercept a supply convoy near Zutphen. In the battle that followed, he received a serious bullet wound in the thigh.
He was laid against the trunk of a tree while his wound was dressed. When someone offered him a drink of water, he refused and, pointing to a badly wounded soldier, said: “Let him have it – his necessity is yet greater than mine.” On 17th October, 1586, Sir Philip Sidney died, at Arnhem, from his wounds.
Posted in Cinema, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History on Friday, 3 May 2013
This edited article about T. E. Lawrence originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 240 published on 20 August 1966.
Lawrence of Arabia
At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Turkey joined forces with Germany against Britain and her Allies. The Arab people, long under the domination of occupying Turkish armies, rose in revolt. The Arab revolt was led and inspired by one man: T. E. Lawrence, born on August 15, 1888, now popularly known as Lawrence of Arabia.
Already familiar with the language and culture of Arabia through archaeological expeditions, at the outbreak of war Lawrence was sent to Egypt as an intelligence officer.
When Sheriff Hussein of Mecca began the rising against the Turks, Lawrence was sent to Hussein’s headquarters as British representative. He lived among the Arabs, dressed as one of them and rapidly gained their trust. The Arabs wanted complete independence from Turkey, and Lawrence assured them that, if they rose in rebellion to aid Britain and her allies, they would achieve their aim.
The success of the war in Arabia was largely due to Lawrence’s efforts. But when it was over and Arabia did not achieve full independence, Lawrence felt he had betrayed their trust in him. He retreated from the publicity and honours which surrounded the legend of Lawrence of Arabia, changed his name to Shaw and joined the R.A.F. Lawrence had a passion for fast motor-cycles. Speeding along a country road near his cottage at Clouds Hill in Dorset, he swerved to avoid two cyclists and crashed. He died five days later on May 19, 1935. Since his death, the legends surrounding this enigmatic man have steadily grown. His fame was further spread by David Lean’s film of his exploits in the desert, Lawrence of Arabia.
Posted in Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Politics on Wednesday, 1 May 2013
This edited article about Simon Bolivar originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 238 published on 6 August 1966.
“Impossible, Senor!” shouted a voice from the back of the draughty barn. “It would be difficult for one man to cross the Andes on foot. But to march a whole army over the mountains – nobody could do it!”
Simon Bolivar, the man the people of South America called “The Liberator”, looked scornfully towards the spot from which the voice had come.
“Then I,” he declared loudly, “shall be the first to do it.”
There were no cheers at this brave speech, for most of the raggedly uniformed men gathered in the secret hide-out on a Venezuelan farm were already convinced that such a march would be impossible.
It would mean crossing first the steaming basin of the Orinoco river, then climbing over the snow-topped Cordilleras (part of the Andes range which splits the South American continent from top to bottom). The little army of two thousand five hundred men, only recently landed in Venezuela to liberate South American countries from Spanish rule, was ill-prepared for hard travelling.
But, though they did not cheer, the men obeyed.
Such was their devotion to the man who in a few brief years had helped to free much of South America from oppression. Bolivar had sworn to aid revolutionaries struggling for freedom in Nueva Granada, on the other side of the Andes from Venezuela, and therefore they would follow him, to defeat or victory.
So on that spring day in 1819, when they heard Bolivar’s final order: “We march at dawn!” they did not argue the matter further but returned to their tents to await daybreak.
Bolivar was left alone, studying a map which showed the country to be crossed and, on the far side of it, the town of Tunja, in Nueva Granada, where they would almost certainly have to fight a powerful Spanish Army.
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Posted in Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, Ships, World War 2 on Tuesday, 30 April 2013
This edited article about the Second World War originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 237 published on 30 July 1966.
The merchant cruiser Jervis Bay fought to the death when a British convoy was ambushed in the North Atlantic by Graham Coton
By the autumn of 1940, the RAF had won the Battle of Britain and saved the country from invasion by the enemy. But the Royal Navy was only beginning the long-drawn-out Battle of the Atlantic. Already losses in merchant shipping had reached the appalling figure of over one million tons lost in three months, with only five U-boats sunk in the same period. The convoy system, so successful in World War I, had been introduced, but as yet protection for the convoys was hopelessly inadequate.
On the evening of Monday, 28th October, 1940, Convoy H.X.84 left Halifax, Nova Scotia escorted by the armed merchant cruiser Jervis Bay. For ten days or more they would face the dangers of the North Atlantic, not only from the enemy, but from the gales and icy winds which took their own toll of ships and men.
On board Jervis Bay there was a mixed ship’s company. Some, like Captain Fogarty Fegen, were regular naval men. The majority were in the Royal Naval Reserve or came from a motley assortment of civilian occupations.
Captain Fegen controlled his crew of 256 officers and men with a sure touch which knitted them together into one of the most efficient and keen ship’s companies in the Navy. They had learned how to fire their seven guns as well as could be expected of them, considering that the majority of these guns were stamped with dates around the 1900 mark!
Of the 37 ships in the convoy, 11 were tankers, and a few were from foreign countries – from Norway, Holland, Greece and Sweden.
Six days earlier, Captain Krancke, commander of the German pocket battleship Scheer, had manoeuvred his ship from alongside the quay at Kiel and sailed for northern waters. Like the Jervis Bay, Captain Krancke had a mixed crew, and among the 1,300 men on board there was a fair sprinkling of reservists.
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Posted in Exploration, Famous news stories, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, London on Wednesday, 24 April 2013
This edited article about Captain Scott originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 231 published on 18 June 1966.
Captain Scott's South Pole expedition, 1910-1912: eating a meal in the tent may have reminded Scott of his comfortable house in Chelsea
When living in his small and insubstantial hut in the Antarctic snows, Captain Scott must sometimes have thought of his pleasant London house at 56 Oakley Street, Chelsea. You will find a blue plaque there bearing his name.
As a young officer in the Royal Navy, Scott seemed all set for a normal naval career. The big break came in 1899, when his name was put forward for Britain’s first expedition to the Antarctic.
The expedition was organized by the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Society. The ship was the Discovery, which now lies alongside the Thames Embankment opposite the Temple underground station.
Discovery was specially built for this expedition, and Scott commanded her, proving himself a capable and eminently suitable leader. The voyage lasted several years and paved the way for his second and fatal visit to the Far South.
In the interval, he advanced rapidly in his naval career, and by 1909 was assistant to the Second Sea Lord. The following year he sailed again for the Antarctic.
His vessel this time was the Terra Nova, and the expedition was very nearly lost before it had truly begun, for the little ship was caught in a severe storm and nearly foundered before she reached the Antarctic. Scott confessed in his diary that he was worried, which was hardly surprising, for the ship was leaking and the pumps were choked; the coal fuel broke loose and threatened to capsize her; horses and dogs were lost overboard, and much of the vessel’s superstructure was carried away by the sea.
Battered but safe, the expedition made its headquarters near Discovery’s former winter quarters. Now plans were carefully laid for an attempt on the Pole. Caches were established at intervals en route for the use of the returning party. A support group accompanied the explorers on the first leg of their journey. They were still together on Christmas Day when they nearly lost a man – whose forty-fourth birthday it was – down a deep crevasse. He survived with the aid of a rope.
That evening they enjoyed a most unorthodox Christmas dinner; the menu ran like this:
Pemmican and horsemeat, flavoured with onion and curry and thickened with Arrowroot. Cocoa and biscuit hoosh. Plum pudding and cocoa with raisins. Caramels and ginger.
Scott commented: “All slept well thereafter!”
The support group left them and Scott, Wilson (doctor and artist), Bowers (officer of Indian Marine), Oates (cavalry officer), Petty officer Evans, R.N. pressed on alone. On January 18 they reached the Pole only to discover that Roald Amundsen had arrived before them.
Disappointed and exhausted they retraced their steps. Evans was the first to die. Captain Oates, badly frost-bitten, walked out into a blizzard to avoid delaying the survivors further, but in vain, for another blizzard prevented them covering the last few miles to the large cache known as One Ton Depot.
Weakness and the intense cold killed them all.