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Archive for May, 2012

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How can Venice be saved from flooding and even sinking into the Adriatic?

Posted in Architecture, Art, Conservation, Engineering, Historical articles on Wednesday, 30 May 2012

This edited article about Venice originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 714 published on 20 September 1975.

Sinking Venice, picture, image, illustration

Venice is slowly sinking and many schemes have been considered to save the city, like this sea wall

Twentieth century progress has for years been undermining one of Europe’s most historic cities, Venice, the city on a lagoon, whose picturesque image of romantic gondolas on narrow canals is being threatened by a strange disaster

After years of dilly-dallying, the Italian government has ordered a £200 million rescue operation to save Venice from sinking into the sea.

For decades, this city of gondolas, medieval palaces and 20,000 fabulous art treasures has been descending inexorably into her lagoon. The rate may have been measured in millimetres annually, but Venice’s doom has been as certain as the wind that blows from the south-east, sending tidal waves sweeping into the canals, across the squares and streets.

For at least 20 days between October and April every year, when the flood threat is at its height, Venetians still roll up their ground floor carpets and move their furniture upstairs. They know, too, that Venice is actually rotting as she founders from the pollution of oil-discharging ships, the tankers that ply across the sea to the mainland, and the smoke and effluent from chemical factories on the distant horizon. The story of the gradual disaster is made complete with the realisation that in ten years, the romantic gondola may well have vanished, a victim of rising costs and the competing motor launch.

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Richard Sorge – the most intellectually brilliant spy in the Second World War

Posted in Espionage, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Wednesday, 30 May 2012

This edited article about espionage originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 714 published on 20 September 1975.

Stalin and Zhukov, picture, image, illustration

Richard Sorge told Stalin of the imminent Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, and thus helped the Soviet dictator and General Zhukov to bring back a  vast army in the East and save Russia from the German attack, by Severino Baraldi

The last place one would have expected to find a top-ranking Nazi in the Second World War was among the leaders of the Soviet Communist Party. And the last place one would have expected to find a leading Communist was in the Nazi Party, a man who was on conversational terms with Adolf Hitler himself.

But Richard Sorge was both these things, and many others as well. As such, he emerges as the most brilliant spy of the Second World War, and perhaps the most brilliant of all time.

Indeed, it has been said with much truth that Soviet Russia probably owes its existence today to this Communist spy, who supplied Moscow with some of the most important German and Japanese secrets of the war.

Sorge, working in Tokyo under the cover of being a newspaper reporter, told the Russians the exact date of Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, and exactly how many divisions would form the attack.

And when the German army was at the gates of Moscow, it was Sorge who produced the invaluable information that Japan had abandoned her half-found plans to invade Eastern Siberia. Russian troops were brought back from the East to aid in the defence of Moscow and the city was saved.

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The fortresses and fortitude of mountainous Gwynedd

Posted in Architecture, British Countryside, British Towns, Castles, Historical articles, History, Royalty on Monday, 28 May 2012

This edited article about Gwynedd originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 713 published on 13 September 1975.

Harlech Castle, picture, image, illustration

A picture history of Harlech Castle by Gerry Embleton

To most modern Englishmen, the Welsh are the people over the border who supply us with coal, who love singing and Rugby football.

But there was a time when, for Englishmen, the Welsh border was the gateway to disaster. Because the Welsh were not only the first guerilla fighters the world had known, but also the fiercest.

For nearly a thousand years, the Welsh border rang to the clash of arms as the Romans and then the English attempted to conquer the “Kingdom in the West.” Even William the Conqueror’s forces failed to make any impression against the fanatical Welsh resistance.

However, by the 13th century, King Edward I had completed the conquest of the whole of Wales, and even in heroic Caernarvon, resistance ended.

Now this county is combined with the island of Anglesey and Merionethshire to form a new division called Gwynedd.

But the glorious mountainous country remains unchanged and attracts thousands of visitors every year. Many come from all over the world especially to climb lofty Mount Snowdon which towers 3,560 feet (nearly 1,085 metres) into the sky.

At Criccieth on Tremadoc Bay, one of the most famous of our Prime Ministers, Lloyd George, first practised as a solicitor.

Apart from the ever-present mountains, this stretch of Wales boasts some of the finest beaches in the west. On July 1st, 1969, the popular Prince Charles became Prince of Wales. It is fitting that he should have been presented to the Welsh people at Caernarvon, a promise made by his mother the Queen when Charles was only nine years old. He is the twenty-first holder of this title which is a good indication of the long-existing respect between England and Wales.

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A social conscience begins to stir in divided Edwardian Britain

Posted in Historical articles, History, Philanthropy, Politics on Monday, 28 May 2012

This edited article about the Edwardian appetite originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 713 published on 13 September 1975.

Edwardian kitchen, picture, image, illustration

Cooking in Edwardian times was done on elaborate coal-fired cast iron ranges with several ovens, by Pat Nicolle

He had searched for gold in the mountains, streams and desolate wastes of the Klondike, but now he was after another goal, a wasteland where hundreds of thousands were packed together in one unending slum. Jack London, journalist, author and all-American adventurer with a burning social conscience, had arrived in the East End of the greatest city on earth, the city that shared his name.

For years, American visitors to Britain had expected to find a land with a large proportion of fair-haired, tall Anglo-Saxons, but instead, especially in the industrial cities, they saw a tribe lost in squalor. As London put it, “a new and different race of people, short of stature, and of wretched or beer-sodden appearance, and from each cross street and alley flashed long vistas of brick and misery.”

He sampled the hated workhouses, where the utterly destitute could earn their keep by picking oakum and breaking stones. After a regulation cold bath, he was given supper, six ounces of bread and “three parts of skilly”. “Three parts” meant three-quarters of a pint, and “skilly” was a fluid concoction of three quarts of oatmeal stirred into three buckets and a half of hot water, hardly the diet for tough manual labour.

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Brodick Castle, one of Scotland’s most picturesque historic buildings

Posted in Castles, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Scotland on Monday, 28 May 2012

This edited article about Brodick Castle originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 713 published on 13 September 1975.

Brodick Castle, picture, image, illustration

Brodick Castle, Isle of Arran (top left)

The Isle of Arran, a beautiful island of mountains, low hills, streams, glens and lochs, is situated off the west coast of Scotland.

Brodick is on the east coast of the island and the bay is dominated by the castle, set amid woodland gardens.

The castle was developed as a fort by the Vikings who gave it up to the founder of the Macdonalds, (the lords of the Isles).

In the 15th century the castle, then royal property, was ransacked twice by the English and seriously damaged in 1455 when the island was devastated.

In the 16th century, the castle was the home of the Dukes of Hamilton. The story goes that Sir Gilbert Hamilton fled with his servant from the court of Edward II of England in 1323 by changing clothes with two woodcutters. When their pursuers caught up with them they were in the act of felling a tree, and their cry of “Through”, which later became the Hamilton motto, was taken to mean that the hunted pair had passed on through the forest.

The castle contains much fine furniture and collections of porcelain, paintings and silver, and is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland.

Protecting the Indian tribes while opening up the jungles of Brazil

Posted in Anthropology, Conservation, Historical articles, Nature, Technology, Transport, Travel on Monday, 28 May 2012

This edited article about Brazil originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 713 published on 13 September 1975.

Chavante tribe, picture, image, illustration

The Chavante in the Matto Grosso by Ron Embleton

Opening up the heart of the Brazilian interior with a network of roads, farms, towns and scientific establishments has placed a grave question mark over the Indians who live in the depths of the jungle. The advent of 20th century progress aimed at exploiting the riches that exist in the virgin lands of South America’s biggest nation, has aroused controversy between its champions and the defenders of the Indians’ simple way of life.

Over the past 10 years, the Brazilian Government has often been severely criticised for its policy towards the Indian, climaxing with allegations that it was actually engaged in genocide, (extermination of a whole race). The government answered the challenges by inviting international organisations, including the Red Cross, to investigate the charges. Inquiries were carried out and the missions all reported that the allegations of genocide were completely without foundation. The Indian population of 100,000, they said, was actually increasing.

But today amid all the development, building and exploration concentrated on the Brazilian jungle, doubts are arising again about the future of the Indians. They are looked after by the National Foundation for the Indian, a body responsible for providing medical and sanitary services, schools and farming techniques, which are aimed at gradually integrating the tribes into the larger Brazilian society. The Foundation has 150 posts throughout the country supervising about 80,000 Indians.

As the road builders hack their way through the jungle, special teams from the Foundation go ahead and contact the Indians to inoculate them against diseases for which they do not possess natural protection. Gradually, they are moved into reservations set up by the Foundation where several tribes live together.

The reservations are administered by specialists dedicated to the ideal of preserving the Indian and his environment. Perhaps the most famous of Brazil’s experts on natives and their background, are the Villas Boas brothers, who have worked in the Amazon jungle for more than 30 years. They have sad misgivings for the future of the Indian.

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The Sun King’s palace at Versailles symbolised the Ancien Regime

Posted in Architecture, Famous landmarks, Historical articles, History, Revolution, Royalty on Monday, 28 May 2012

This edited article about Versailles originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 713 published on 13 September 1975.

Versailles, picture, image, illustration

The French court at Versailles by C L Doughty

Ten miles south west of Paris lies the town of Versailles, famous all over the world for the enormous palace which was built there by Louis XIV, known as ‘The Sun King,’ in the 17th century.

It was this king’s father, Louis XIII, who decided to build a hunting lodge there because he loved to go hunting in the woods around what was then the small village of Versailles.

It was probably Louis XIV’s famous visit to the sumptuous new home of his Minister of Finance, Vaux-le-Vicomte, that made the king want a palace that would be finer than any in France.

So furious was he at the clever, unscrupulous statesman’s ostentation, that Louis had him arrested and thrown in jail.

Work on the palace was begun in 1661 under the architect Louis Le Vau and, after he died, Jules Mansart took over.

From the beginning, Louis took great interest in the project. Wherever he was he had to be sent a daily report on the work in hand on his house down to the tiniest detail. In 1682, the King moved his court and his ministers from Paris to Versailles.

The enormous palace with its magnificent rooms, richly furnished, allowed him to live in greater splendour than any other European monarch. Its grounds were designed by Andre Le Notre, and graced with artificial lakes, elegant fountains and countless sculptures.

Since the days of Louis XIV, the palace has been witness to some fascinating episodes of history. Louis XIV gave the Little Trianon, a tiny palace in the grounds, to his wife Marie Antoinette. She had a miniature village built near it complete with a church and mill.

In 1789, soon after the French Revolution broke out, a huge mob from Paris marched to Versailles and forced the King and Queen to return to the capital with them.

Eighty years later, while France and Prussia were at war (1870-1) the Prussians captured Versailles and made it their headquarters. On January 18th 1871, King William of Prussia was proclaimed Emperor of Germany in the famous Hall of Mirrors in the palace.

In the same room, on June 28th, 1919, the famous Treaty of Versailles was signed after France, Britain and their allies had defeated Germany in World War I.

The palace is now a museum and thousands of visitors and tourists flock to visit it every year.

Not aboriginal burial mounds but the Mallee fowl’s mound-nests

Posted in Birds, Nature, Oddities, Wildlife on Monday, 28 May 2012

This edited article about mallee fowl originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 713 published on 13 September 1975.

Strange nests, picture, image, illustration

The mallee fowl and its mound-nest by D.E.W.

Two mallee fowl, about the size of chickens, were busily engaged in scratching out a hole in the forest floor 3ft. (90cm.) deep and 10ft (3 metres) across. When this was completed they began filling it in again with a mixture of sand, leaves and small plants. Standing on one leg and raking back with the other, each bird worked for many hours until not only was the hole filled but a huge mound, 3ft. (90cm.) high and 18ft. (5.4 metres) in diameter, was formed over it. At the top of the mound was a shallow depression. Then they moved off to scratch in another area – this time for food.

Some time later the birds returned to the mound. By this time the vegetation in the heap had begun to rot causing the temperature in the mound to rise to over 90 degrees F (32 degrees C).

Both birds examined the mound carefully. The cock bird thrust his half-open beak below the surface, using his tongue as a thermometer. After many such tests he appeared to decide that the temperature was just right and he made way for the hen. She too tested the temperature before scratching a hole in the shallow pit at the top and laying an egg in the fermenting mixture. Then the male took charge again and carefully covered up the egg.

The procedure of temperature testing and egg laying was repeated during the following 16 weeks until altogether 30 eggs had been laid. Each day the cock inspected the nest, scratching away some of the rotting material if the temperature rose too high and adding more if the temperature dropped.

By the time the last egg was laid the first one was ready to hatch and the young chick had to force its way up to the surface unaided. Exhausted by the effort, it was a full day before the chick was able to wander off on its own to look for food.

Mallee fowl, also known as brush turkeys, are natives of Australia. When the first settlers arrived there they saw the large mounds made by the birds and assumed they had been built by the aborigines to cover the graves of dead warriors. It was not until 1840 that a naturalist solved the mystery by digging into the mounds and finding the eggs.

The Russian winter and the Red Army defeated Germany at Stalingrad

Posted in Communism, Famous battles, Historical articles, History, World War 2 on Monday, 28 May 2012

This edited article about the Battle of Stalingrad originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 713 published on 13 September 1975.

Stalingrad, picture, image, illustration

The German retreat after Stalingrad by Severino Baraldi

The Russian winter had arrived, bringing with it a temperature below zero and heavy falls of snow which carpeted the landscape and blocked the roads with huge snow drifts, making it impossible for the relief force under General Von Manstein to proceed any further. Exhausted and half frozen to death, the German troops who had fought their way from the Don to within thirty miles of Stalingrad, were now faced with the bitter realisation that the weather conditions had made it impossible for them to rescue their comrades trapped within its ruins.

Inside Stalingrad, General Von Paulus was preparing to make his last stand with the remnants of his starving army which had just had the dubious consolation of being informed that General Goering had made a speech on the radio saying that a thousand years from now, Germans would speak of the battle of Stalingrad with reverence and awe. Buried below ground in his bunker, listening to the Russian guns beginning their final barrage, Von Paulus knew that Goering’s high sounding speech was in reality nothing more than an epitaph to a venture which had been doomed from the very beginning.

Stalingrad was only a small part of that venture, the invasion of Russia, code named Operation Barbarossa, which had been prepared and undertaken against the advice of most of the German generals who were violently opposed to committing the German army to a war on two fronts. But Hitler had remained adamant. The subjection of Russia had always been a fundamental part of his policy, as it had been for Napoleon. But unlike Napoleon, Hitler saw the Russian people only as a great army of potential slaves in which all those who were unfit for work would be eliminated. It was a policy calculated only to stiffen further the resistance of an already strong minded and resolute nation.

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Despite the Welfare State we still need the NSPCC

Posted in Historical articles, History, Philanthropy on Monday, 28 May 2012

This edited article about the NSPCC originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 713 published on 13 September 1975.

NSPCC, picture, image, illustration

An officer of the NSPCC by Dan Escott

As a young minister working amongst the disease-ridden slums of London’s East End, Benjamin Waugh had seen for himself what appalling poverty could do to people. He had seen how the hopelessness of their wretched lives could lead men and women to the empty solace of drink and violence. And what had moved him above all else was the realisation that it was their children who were the saddest victims of all.

Sent out into the streets to beg or steal, kept from school so that they could go out and earn money to help the family keep from starvation, children often found themselves helpless at the hands of cruel, drunken, neglectful parents who sometimes cared little whether they lived or died.

It was in order to help protect such neglected children that Waugh formed the London Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and the first cases recorded in the Society’s first report shows all too clearly how desperate was the need for such an organisation to exist. The report related countless cases of parental brutality; of children being treated as less than human by their parents.

In the first few years of its existence, the Society rescued many children from the hands of cruel parents, and placed them in its Shelter in Bloomsbury until suitable permanent homes could be found for them.

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