Archive for May, 2012

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During the Cold War a Soviet spy network was established in America

Posted in America, Communism, Espionage, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Thursday, 31 May 2012

This edited article about espionage originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 716 published on 4 October 1975.

Surveillance, picture, image, illustration

During the Cold War not only spies but sophisticated electronic surveillance were used by the Soviets and the West, by Wilf Hardy

The very first country in the world to use spies immediately created a new job in the ranks of its enemy. That job was the one of spy-catcher. For as soon as you have espionage, you must have counter-espionage – and some of the best spy stories involve counter-espionage men to just as exciting a degree as they involve espionage men.

During the Second World War, the greatest of all the counter-espionage men was Lieutenant Colonel Oreste Pinto, a Dutchman.

As a spy-catcher, Pinto has probably never been equalled. He mastered every trick in the game; he could speak 13 languages fluently, and he was a brilliant interrogator, actor and psychologist. One remarkable story from his exploits with Allied Counter-Intelligence demonstrates the relentless way in which he worked and was successful.

One day in 1944, during the Allied invasion of Belgium, a suspect was brought into Pinto’s office. The man, Emile Boulanger, described himself as a Belgian farmer, and he looked the part. He was big and weather-beaten, and his hands were rough with toil and grained with earth. He knew all the answers to the most searching questions about farming and replied to them in a rough Belgian country accent which was difficult to imitate.

To the statement that he was suspected of being a German spy, Boulanger merely shrugged. He didn’t even speak German, he said.

But Oreste Pinto was not satisfied. He put Boulanger into a cell and then he had an idea.

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Dyfed – a Welsh county of splendid castles and modern eisteddfods

Posted in Architecture, British Countryside, British Towns, Castles, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Music on Thursday, 31 May 2012

This edited article about Dyfed originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 715 published on 27 September 1975.

Pembroke Castle, picture, image, illustration

A picture history of Pembroke Castle by Pat Nicolle

Carmarthenshire which was formerly the largest county in Wales, has now been amalgamated with its neighbours, Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire, to form a new county called Dyfed. The rivers Towy and Taf flow through wooded valleys from the western slopes of the central Welsh moorlands, in the north-east.

The Towy flows into Carmarthen Bay, where women go out at low tide to collect cockles from the broad sands.

Carmarthen stands at the lowest bridgeable point of the river. Here history has made its mark. Roman soldiers paced the ramparts of the fort they called Maridunum, and Norman knights rode out from the castle which the Conqueror built hundreds of years later. On the upper reaches of this river, the occasional coracle can still be seen. This simple kind of boat, made of skins stretched on a light wicker frame, is light enough to be carried on a man’s back, and the design has remained unchanged for many hundreds of years.

Another relic of ancient times is the site of an Iron Age settlement at Carn Goch, and on the hills and headlands of the coast many cromlechs, or stone monuments still stand. These are relics of ancient invaders who came from the western Mediterranean more than three thousand years ago.

Welsh coal is famous throughout the world. In the days when steamships were not yet stoked with oil, the coal from the valleys of Wales found its way into the bunkers of coaling stations from Shanghai to San Francisco.

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Dutch Elm disease changed the historic landscape of England

Posted in British Countryside, Disasters, Insects, Nature, Plants on Thursday, 31 May 2012

This edited article about originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 715 published on 27 September 1975.

Tree killers, picture, image, illustration

The Elm bark beetle (top) by R B Davis

The small, flying beetle alighted on the trunk of a large elm tree, to be joined soon afterwards by another of the same species. The pair of beetles were both less than 6mm long but they were to be responsible for the premature death of the great elm in which they laid their eggs. They were elm bark beetles (scolytus scolytus), a species which has destroyed more than half the elms in Southern England during the last few years. The female began to burrow into the bark until she reached the sapwood. Then the male took over and constructed a nuptial chamber in which pairing took place. He then left the female to continue burrowing a vertical tunnel just under the bark. As she worked her way upwards, the female laid single eggs at regular intervals on both sides of the tunnel.

A week or so later the eggs hatched into small white grubs (larvae). These grubs immediately began eating into the wood, constructing tunnels of their own roughly at right angles to the main one and carefully avoiding the tunnels of their neighbours. The tunnels naturally broadened as the grubs grew bigger. When they were fully grown they stopped feeding and each made a little chamber in which to change into a pupa. Eventually, when the adult beetles emerged from their pupal cases, they gnawed through the bark to the surface and flew off in search of other elm trees.

Although the beetles are blamed for killing the elms, it is not their burrows which do the damage but a fungus which is carried from one tree to another by the beetles.

The spores of this fungus are so small that a microscope is needed to see them. Just one of these minute specks, however, carried on the foot of a bark beetle, can develop in the sapwood of a healthy tree and gradually spread through the whole tree.

The first sign of the disease is the leaves on a few branches turning prematurely yellow and dying.

In its early stages, the epidemic might have been stopped by cutting down infected trees and burning them but now it is too late and, unhappily, there is no effective known remedy.

Bridges are an essential feature of civilisation

Posted in Architecture, Engineering, Famous landmarks, Geography, Historical articles, History, Rivers, Sea on Thursday, 31 May 2012

This edited article about bridges originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 715 published on 27 September 1975.

Royal Albert Bridge, picture, image, illustration

The first truss is raised on the Royal Albert Bridge at Saltash across the River Tamar, by Harry Green

‘Without bridges,’ it has been said, ‘civilisation would have been impossible. We would still be savages.’ Perhaps that sounds to you an exaggeration? But just think. In almost every single part of the world where people live, there are rivers that have to be crossed, True, the nomadic Bedouin roam from oasis to oasis in the riverless deserts. And the Australian Aborigine lives much as his forefathers did in the outback. Civilisation has passed him by.

Man has always needed to travel. In search of food, or a better site, or for contact and barter between one community and another. A wide, shallow river could be forded. Or boulders could be placed across the river bed in dry weather for use when the level rose. There are good examples of these in Dovedale, in Derbyshire, and near Ambleside, in Cumbria, and elsewhere.

But deep water had to be bridged. The earliest bridge was a tree-trunk, either deliberately felled by man on one bank so that it spanned the stream to the far bank, or, by chance, uprooted by wind or erosion naturally. None of these, of course, survive. But some very ancient bridges, of stone, do survive. One or more slabs of stone would be laid across from bank to bank, on a series of piled rocks. These are known as clapper-bridges, and there are good specimens near Postbridge, on Dartmoor, and even better, Tarr Steps in Somerset.

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Juno’s sacred geese on the Capitoline Hill saved Rome from the Gallic hordes

Posted in Ancient History, Birds, Historical articles, History, Invasions, Legend on Thursday, 31 May 2012

This edited article about Ancient Rome originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 715 published on 27 September 1975.

Juno's geese, picture, image, illustration

In 390 BC Juno’s geese on the Capitol warned Rome of the Gallic attack

“The Gauls are coming. Prepare to defend the city,” gasped the exhausted and dust covered messenger as he ran through the gates of Rome. “We’re not afraid of a few foreigners,” scoffed the military leader. “Call out the guard. We’ll give those Gauls a taste of Roman steel that they’ll not forget in a hurry.” Their shields and armour glinting brightly in the hot Italian sunshine, the legionaires of the highly-trained Roman army, renowned for its bravery and efficiency, marched out of the garrison and formed themselves into a human barrier outside the city.

When the Gauls arrived the Romans were visibly shocked. These barbarians from Western Europe were much taller than the average Roman warrior, they fought with strange and unknown weapons, and as they marched they shouted furiously in a strange and frightening language. As the foreign horde appeared over the brow of a hill in front of the city, the colour rapidly drained from the faces of the Roman soldiers.

Suddenly the Gauls charged, sweeping down on the quaking legionaires, and shouting loud battle cries. This was just too much for the already scared Romans. Shields and swords were dropped hastily on the battlefield and the Romans fled for their lives.

Many of the Romans were killed by the enraged Gauls and many more were drowned as they tried to swim the River Tiber in their efforts to get back into the city. Most of them never reached the other bank for their armour was too heavy and it dragged them down to the bottom. Those that did manage to reach Rome safely were so concerned with their flight that they did not even bother to shut the gates behind them. Luckily, this act of cowardice helped to save the day for the Romans. “It must be a trick,” reasoned the Gallic leaders. “The Romans are famed for their skill in battle and they would not run in fear. It must be part of a plan to ambush us in the city.” And so the Gauls decided not to enter Rome but set up camp beyond the city walls. What they did not know was that the Roman retreat was caused by sheer cowardice.

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Did William the Conqueror’s wife, Matilda, commission the Bayeux Tapestry?

Posted in Art, Arts and Crafts, Conservation, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, Invasions, Royalty on Thursday, 31 May 2012

This edited article about the Bayeux Tapestry originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 715 published on 27 September 1975.

Matilda's Bayeux Tapestry, picture, image, illustration

Queen Matilda and her famous Bayeux Tapestry by Kronheim

Soon after William of Normandy had conquered England a beautiful tapestry was woven to record the historic event.

It is believed that it was commissioned by William’s half-brother, Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux, but other sources attribute the origin of the idea to William’s wife, Matilda.

What we know, with more certainty, is where and when it was made. It was probably begun in about 1070 in Kent and took about ten years to complete.

The tapestry is about 20 inches (half a metre) wide and 230 feet (69 metres) long. The pictures on it were worked in eight different coloured wools on small strips of canvas, and then sewn together into the long piece when they were finished. The colours were gay and bright, with blue trees, horses with unusually-coloured legs, and red and green beasts.

The story of the Norman Invasion is told in 72 scenes. One of these shows Harold with his hand on a chest covered with a decorated cloth. He is making a solemn promise to allow William of Normandy to become King of England when Edward the Confessor dies.

The tapestry then shows how Harold broke his promise and became king himself. It shows in great detail Duke William’s preparations for war and his ship, with a figure-head of a boy blowing on an ivory horn, crossing the English channel.

The last scene shows the English fleeing after the death of Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The end part of the tapestry has, unfortunately been lost.

The Bayeux tapestry is a fascinating and important record of history. Apart from showing the actual events leading up to, and including the Norman Invasion, it tells us a great deal about the people of the time. It shows, for example, the kind of weapons and armour used at the time and it has the only known picture of Edward the Confessor’s Westminster Abbey, which was pulled down in 1245.

The bright colours have, of course, faded over the years and the tapestry is now kept under glass in a museum at Bayeux. A copy of it, however, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Frederick Delius was industrial Bradford’s greatest musical son

Posted in Famous Composers, Historical articles, History, Music on Thursday, 31 May 2012

This edited article about Frederick Delius originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 715 published on 27 September 1975.

Bradlaugh, picture, image, illustration

Charles Bradlaugh MP and iconoclast, who so impressed the young Delius by Spy

To be forced into a clerk’s job, in the office of a wool merchant, does not sound a promising start for the career of a composer of music, but it was what happened to the Yorkshire-born, musician Frederick Delius. And Delius, whose music always sounds so very “English” had a German father, a half-Dutch mother, and a Norwegian wife, and lived most of his life in France.

The wool trade was booming in the 1880s, when Delius was a young man. There was money to be made, and his prospering father could not understand why Frederick took so little interest in the family business.

Among the hard-headed business men of Bradford, there were also some disturbing rebels, and one of these appealed to Frederick. His name was Charles Bradlaugh, and one day he stood in the centre of the city square, and in front of a large crowd, called on his creator – to strike him dead in two minutes. Young Frederick was in that crowd, and watched in breathless fascination as Charles Bradlaugh stood there, defiantly looking at his watch till the two minutes had passed without anything happening. The scene made a deep impression on the young man, and perhaps drove out the last traces of religious feeling which he had.

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Restored locomotives of the railway age celebrate 150 years of progress

Posted in Anniversary, Historical articles, History, Railways, Transport, Travel on Thursday, 31 May 2012

This edited article about the railway age originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 715 published on 27 September 1975.

Stockton and Darlington railway, picture, image, illustration

George Stephenson’s succesful locomotive carrying passengers on the inaugural run on the Stockton and Darlington railway

The fastest diesel train in the world made its slowest ever journey on Sunday, 31st August, when it formed the tailpiece of a parade which may never be repeated.

More than thirty historic steam locomotives from preservation centres all over Britain, headed by a full-size working replica of George Stephenson’s Locomotion No. 1, ran under their own power over part of the original 1825 route of the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

The rear position of the cavalcade – travelling at under ten miles an hour to allow a good view for the crowds – was taken by British Rail’s HST (high speed train), holder of the 143 mph world record for diesel traction on rails.

The grand cavalcade marked 150 years of railways. On only two occasions has anything quite like it been seen before, in 1875 and 1925. The parade started at Shildon, Co. Durham, and ended four miles away at Heighington, where the original Locomotion first took to the rails all those years ago.

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HMS Dasher was a ship which probably sank through negligence

Posted in America, Disasters, Historical articles, History, Ships, World War 2 on Thursday, 31 May 2012

This edited article about World War Two originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 715 published on 27 September 1975.

HMS Dasher sinks, picture, image, illustration

The sinking of HMS Dasher by John S Smith

After the fall of France in 1940, when Britain stood alone against Hitler, U-boats and giant long-range bombers began destroying allied merchant shipping on a terrible scale. British land-based planes could not oppose them because they lacked the range, while the fleet aircraft-carriers could not be spared.

The British converted a small captured German merchantman into a mini-carrier and when this vessel was placed on convoy duty, her effect was so marked that the Admiralty acquired four more merchant hulls for conversion. Some oil-tankers and grain-carriers were also fitted with flight decks and some planes, and these took on a dual-purpose role of cargo ship-cum-carrier.

The real backbone of this successful new counter-measure, was the lease-lend escort-carriers from the U.S.A.

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Michel Hollard discovered Hitler’s Doodlebug launching pads in Holland

Posted in Aviation, Espionage, Historical articles, History, Weapons, World War 2 on Thursday, 31 May 2012

This edited article about the V.1 rocket or ‘Doodlebug’ originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 715 published on 27 September 1975.

doodlebug, picture, image, illustration

British planes attacking a V.1 rocket or ‘Doodlebug’ by Wilf Hardy

A single message can earn immortal fame for a spy. His career can sometimes last for years without incident: then, suddenly, comes the “big event” – the one which makes all the lurking, watching and waiting worthwhile.

For Frenchman Michel Hollard the big event came with Hitler’s decision to launch the pilotless V.1 rockets – called “Doodle Bugs” by the people of southern England – against Britain. The British Secret Service knew something about the V.1 rockets. What they wanted to know more precisely was exactly where the rockets would come from. The answer was to be supplied by Michel Hollard.

Hollard was in Rouen in 1943 when he overheard a conversation about some unusual building construction that the Germans were supervising in northern France. Posing as a workers’ welfare officer, he asked some carefully framed questions about the site, and discovered that it was about 20 miles away.

To get on to the site, Hollard decided, he would need to be something more appropriate than a welfare officer. So he cycled to the construction, found a wheelbarrow and, filling it with bricks, he joined in with the workers.

What he saw on the site was a strip of concrete about 50 yards (45 metres) long, pointing northwards towards England.

Hollard didn’t stay to make his presence felt by asking too many questions. He had already made contact with the British Intelligence forces in neutral Switzerland, and now he hurried off to make a clandestine border crossing and report his findings.

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