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Archive for February, 2014

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Tottenham Hotspur paid £21,000 for Alf Ramsey in 1949

Posted in Historical articles, History, Sport, Sporting Heroes on Thursday, 27 February 2014

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

1966 World Cup,  picture, image, illustration

Bobby Moore collecting the football World Cup trophy from the Queen in 1966 by John Keay

He is the one hundred per cent professional, a chunky, determined man, ruthless if need be. When he took over as England’s soccer boss, the game – which Britain had given the world – was in a poor way in its homeland. But Alf Ramsey, now, rightly, Sir Alf, changed all that from the moment he made his electrifying announcement, which seemed to his many critics like so much hot air: “We shall win the World Cup!”

He uttered those fighting words a full year before the 16 leading nations of the soccer world assembled in England for the 1966 World Cup finals. It was Alf Ramsey’s job to build, control and inspire England’s team, and to anyone who asked him his object, he went on repeating: “We shall win!” That was his mission.

As even football-haters know, England did win, beating West Germany 4-2. Alf Ramsey’s critics crawled away and hid, or joined in the cheering! July 30th, 1966, was the day of days. Everyone knew Alf Ramsey’s leading part in the triumph, but when England’s captain, Bobby Moore, received the Cup and he and his team gathered on the Wembley turf, England’s soccer Supremo was nowhere to be seen.

One hundred thousand fans made their feelings plain. “We want Ramsey!” they roared, and the man who so typically had stayed in the background in his finest hour came out to join his boys. The crowd erupted even more than before.

Ramsey is a fighter. He has needed to be, for his dictatorial methods provoked storms of controversy at first. He is famed for his belief in his own judgement and flair, and, being a man who believes in action, not words, he was often regarded as unfriendly and “difficult.” The fact that he was such a professional in contrast to too many of the men who had bossed English soccer for years made no difference. The critics were out for his blood, and even some of his fellow club managers refused to accept his modern outlook on the game.

Not so his players, men like Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton and Alan Ball and the rest of the team. They respected him and admired his fairness, understanding, honesty and complete dedication to the game. Ramsey has always demanded – and got – co-operation and discipline from his men – and they have never complained. When he was knighted in the New Year’s Honours of 1967, he remained the same as before, not only because it was in his nature, but because he had been a player himself and understood his men as only an ex-player can.

Alf Ramsey was born in 1920 at Dagenham in Essex. His first job was as a grocer’s boy, but while he was in the Army in the war, his football prowess became clear, and when he was demobbed in 1946, he became a professional with Southampton, first as a centre-half, then as right-back. Two season later he was playing for England, then, in 1949, he was transferred to Tottenham Hotspur for £21,000, a big fee at that time, and his great days as a top footballer had begun.

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The first Impressionist exhibition was considered an insult

Posted in Art, Artist, Famous artists, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 27 February 2014

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

The Impressionist exhibition,  picture, image, illustration

The notorious Impressionist exhibition in 1874 by Andrew Howat

He wanted to paint fogs, but the critics, apparently blind to the vivid colours to be found in shades and mists if you really looked, objected. So Claud Monet decided to paint Africans fighting in a tunnel!

However, he dropped that idea and chose instead the Gare St Lazare, one of the railway stations of Paris. The smoke there was so thick that hardly anything could be seen!

As usual Monet was penniless, but he dressed himself in his best clothes and called on a railway chief, announcing himself as the painter, Claude Monet. The official fortunately knew nothing about Art and assumed that he was a lion of the Salon, Paris’s Royal Academy, which hated Monet and his friends like the plague. He said he would stop all the trains for Monsieur Monet, empty all the platforms, and have every engine filled with coal so as to get the maximum amount of steam and smoke. Monet thanked him and was bowed out of the building.

The result was a masterpiece, the “Gare St Lazare” of 1877, but it was hailed by most critics as an insult to the public. That was the usual fate of Monet and his fellow Impressionists in the 1870s and 80s, though now many of their pictures are worth king’s ransoms.

The word Impressionist was originally meant as an insult. The group of friends who became known by that name staged their first exhibition in 1874 and, short of actually destroying the pictures, both critics and public did their best to kill the movement stone dead by their sneers and abuse. The critics in particular had a field day, dipping their pens in venom to describe what now seems the greatest single day in the history of modern art when, in a photographic studio turned gallery, over 160 works by Monet, Sisley, Cezanne, Degas, Pissarro, Manet, Renoir and others were publicly shown for the first time.

Surpassing even the critic who described what he had seen as the work of four or five lunatics – though actually 39 artists contributed pictures – was a writer called Louis Leroy. He stared at a haunting, evocative picture by Monet called “Impression: Sunrise,” a study of morning mist on water with two boats in the foreground, masts barely visible in the background and a red sun breaking through. Then he returned to his paper.

In his article, having first made offensive remarks about the picture being suitable for wallpaper, he coined the word “Impressionist,” and it stuck. Impressionism became one of the great movements in the history of Art.

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“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.

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The lost treasure of Lima is hidden on Cocos Island

Posted in Historical articles, History, Mystery, Ships on Thursday, 27 February 2014

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

Mary Dear at Lima,  picture, image, illustration

In 1823, the Mary Dear was filled with gold from Peru and Spanish nobles – only to be murdered by William Thompson, the captain of the ship, and his crew, by Barrie Linklater

An island bristling with hidden pirate treasure has been the target of adventurers for over a hundred years. It’s Cocos island in the Pacific which was the bolt hole of countless pirate ships whose spoils were buried on this haven of wealth off the west coast of South America.

Sailors, convicts, admirals, a racing driver, aristocrats and even a president of the United States have tried to find the treasure.

Lives have been ruined, possessions lost and maps and charts re-drawn in the eternal quest for the island’s riches.

But, still the lonely and uninhabited reef keeps the bulk of its treasure. This is not surprising, for it is a nightmare island with torrid heat, incessant rain and plagues of ants.

For most of the coastline, sheer rock faces make access impossible. There are only two small bays, where the jungle comes right down to the shoreline. Cocoa trees, climbing plants and tall wiry pampas grass make journeys into the interior painfully slow.

Yet, despite the constant failure of the treasure hunters, people are still drawn to this island, only eight miles in circumference. They are lured by the prospect of riches somewhere within the jungle, and encouraged by the fact that it is only 350 miles from the American mainland. This made it a convenient refuge for people wishing to escape the bloodthirsty fighting in the rich South American colonies as they strove for independence from Spain.

The first treasure cache is said to have been made in 1684 by the remarkable pirate Edward Davis. He was the supreme commander of more than 1,000 pirates and, apart from plundering many Spanish ships, he led a series of daring raids on rich South American cities, capturing and looting several. Seven boat loads of bullion, jewels and pieces-of-eight were hidden on the island by Davis, but when, 18 years later, he returned to Cocos to recover it he disappeared, and was not heard of again.

An equally enterprising Portuguese rogue, called Don Pedro, next appears on the scene, and the year 1820 saw his greatest triumph.

He and his men sailed from Cocos to Central America in good time for the annual gold shipment from Mexico to the port of Acapulco. Disguised as muleteers, they gradually joined the teams already helping the convoy over the difficult, mountainous roads until their comrades were ready to waylay them. The surprise was complete and, with enemies apparently on all sides the escorting soldiers were soon overcome. Even then, the convoy was worth the staggering sum of eleven million dollars.

Don Pedro and his crew made good their escape and returned to Cocos Island. There the treasure was divided into three parts – for officers, crew, and Don Pedro himself. The latter hid his in a cave, but within weeks he was captured by the Spanish and he hanged himself rather than be taken alive.

Yet, the biggest and most valuable hoard was yet to come. Only a year or so after Don Pedro’s visit to the island, the great city of Lima, in Peru, was besieged by rebels, and the Spanish viceroy had to consider what to do with the city’s wealth.

Lima was the richest city in the whole of South America. Inca gold, sackfuls of jewels, the produce of the silver mines, church treasures; all these and more, said to be worth twenty million pounds, needed to be safeguarded. So great was the wealth of the area, that the local nobility had carriages with silver-rimmed wheels and mules shod with silver shoes.

Who could be trusted with such an immense hoard? Providentially, as the guns thundered nearer, an answer to this question seemed to be at hand. The English two-masted brig from Bristol, the “Mary Dear”, anchored in the bay and her Captain, William Thompson was known to be an upright and reliable man.

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Mad, bad and dangerous to know – the peerless Lord Byron

Posted in English Literature, Historical articles, History, Politics on Wednesday, 26 February 2014

This edited article about Lord Byron first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 571 published on 23 December 1972.

Lord Byron,  picture, image, illustration

Lord Byron in Albanian costume by T Phillips

The townspeople of Cambridge were used to some strange happenings during term time, when the high spirits of the undergraduates were often demonstrated in fights or frolics in the town. So, too, were the Tutors and Fellows of the University when the peace and quiet of their beloved Colleges were shattered by the noise, bustle and excitement which seemed always to follow the young men around. There had been duels and boxing matches, people climbing church spires, others falling into the river – it sometimes seemed as if no one did any studying at all.

But in 1808 even those who thought they had experienced everything and could no longer be surprised, were seen rubbing their eyes in astonishment. One of the undergraduates from Trinity College had acquired a new pet and was taking it for a quiet stroll through the town. The only problem was that the pet was a tame bear! The huge animal shuffled amiably along, its lumbering gait causing chaos. A friendly pat from it could knock a man head over heels and when it tried to change direction horses bolted, baskets were overturned and ladies dashed for shop doorways.

It came as no surprise to the College authorities to learn that the owner of this beast was the young Lord Byon. He was rich, brilliant, witty and completely spoiled and despite his ability almost the only thing he had managed to do since he arrived at the University was get head over heels in debt. Byron was summoned and asked why he had brought the bear to Cambridge. His answer made him even less popular with the tutors. “Why, to sit for a Fellowship,” he replied.

The incident of the bear was just one of many in an extraordinarily colourful life that started in poverty, saw wealth, fame and disgrace in quick succession and ended with a hero’s death. In between, Byron’s poetry and satire had captured the imagination of Europe and he remains one of the best known of English poets.

Byron was born into a family noted for its eccentric characters. His grandfather had been an Admiral, known as “Foul Weather Jack” because he seemed to attract storms every time he put to sea. Early on in his naval service he had been shipwrecked off the coast of Chile and only survived after tremendous hardships. His grandson used some of the old man’s tales in his poem “Don Juan.” Byron’s father was known as “Mad Jack” and with some reason; he was a handsome but profligate man who squandered a fortune and let his family fend for themselves as best they could.

As if to complete the picture, Byron inherited his title from an uncle known as the “Wicked Lord” (he had been tried by the House of Lords for murder). It was a strange and not particularly happy heritage and much of Byron’s odd behaviour and disregard of other people’s feelings has to be seen against the extraordinary background from which he came.

He was born on 22nd January, 1788, with a club foot and was always very sensitive about being lame. Until the age of ten he lived with his mother in Aberdeen, poor and apparently forgotten by the rest of the family after his father died. Yet suddenly life changed overnight – he became a Lord, inherited a vast estate and exchanged the life of his local grammer school for the imposing buildings of Harrow.

Battles with the boys and quarrels with the masters gradually faded as he took more interest in sport and despite his disability he swam, boxed and played cricket with skill and enthusiasm. So, too his time at Cambridge passed with a mixture of learning, gambling, sport and riotous behaviour which shocked many but which somehow seemed to be expected of the young Lord Byron.

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Saint Boniface gave pagans the first Christmas tree

Posted in Christmas, Customs, Historical articles, History, Religion, Saints on Wednesday, 26 February 2014

This edited article about Saint Boniface first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 571 published on 23 December 1972.

Saint Boniface,  picture, image, illustration

Saint Boniface, Saxon Missionary, shown cutting down "Thunderer's Oak" which was sacred to the god Woden, by Michael Godfrey

There is no doubt that many of the customs which we observe around Christmas time belong to religions that are much older than Christianity. In the bleak northern lands, from which so many of our ancestors came, Midwinter’s Day, which falls in the same week as our Christmas, was always a time of strange rites and festivities. Some say that it is from the old Norse legends that the popular figure of Father Christmas comes, for he is really a memory of the old god Woton (who we also remember in “Wednesday” – Woton’s day) driving across the winter storm clouds in his sleigh! The decoration of the house with evergreens, the lighting of candles, the burning of the yule log, are all signs of the promise of the returning Spring, and the hope of longer days of sunshine.

All this has since been linked up with our Christmas festivity, and is as harmless and enjoyable today as it was long ago. But these old pagan religions had a darker side which, happily, we have long since abandoned. In very ancient times people had the idea that the gods and goddesses who controlled such vital things as the sun and rain, thunder and lightning, or a successful harvest, were often jealous and angry. They had to be soothed and coaxed, and even fed with delicacies, and the best way of doing this was by offering them sacrifices. Of the offerings made to the gods, the most terrible of all was that of living people, for there were some who believed that only the death of a human person was enough to win the favour of these terrible forces. Many a family must have gone in terror of losing one of its members in this way, through the mistaken demands of their priests and rulers.

Human sacrifice lasted far longer in Northern Europe than it did in the lands to which Christianity had spread. Not much more than a thousand years ago it was still being practised in parts of Scandinavia and Germany. These were still wild, uncivilised lands, which neither the law of the Roman empire nor the influence of the Christian religion had yet reached.

It was no wonder that the bravest of men hesitated when they were asked to go to such places and preach the Christian message of peace and love. It was left in the end to an Englishman from Devon to make the “breakthrough.” Born at Crediton in about 680 A.D., his original name was Wynfrith. “Boniface” was a nickname, and had nothing to do with his appearance; it is the Latin for “doer of good.”

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Charles I was held in Carisbrooke Castle throughout 1648

Posted in Castles, Historical articles, History, Politics, Royalty, War on Wednesday, 26 February 2014

This edited article about Charles I and Carisbrooke Castle first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 571 published on 23 December 1972.

Charles I at Carisbrooke,  picture, image, illustration

Charles I imprisoned in Carisbrook Castle

It was late afternoon on November 11th, 1647. The wind howled round the walls of Hampton Court Palace and the driving rain lashed against the windows. In one of the upper rooms, King Charles the First paced up and down impatiently. All the arrangements had been made. All he had to do now was to wait for night to fall.

King Charles had reigned for 23 years. He had been an extravagant and obstinate King. He had quarrelled with his Parliament, dismissed them, and governed without one for eleven years. This had been one of the reasons for the first Civil War, a war which had ended with King Charles surrendering to the Scots. They had handed him over to the English Parliament who had imprisoned him. Then a new dispute had flared up, this time between Parliament and the Army. The Army had seized King Charles and put him in this new prison at Hampton Court. Now the King had heard new rumours. He was to be murdered.

He went to the windows and pulled back the curtain. It was now dark outside. Quickly he drew his cloak round him and slipped from the room. The back staircase was unguarded. He made his way down this and out into the night.

Loyal friends and horses were waiting for him. They dug their spurs into their horses and galloped south. Twenty-four hours later they arrived at Titchfield on Southampton water. Beyond was the Solent and the Isle of Wight.

Word was sent secretly to Colonel Hammond, Governor of the Isle of Wight. King Charles knew that he might be sympathetic and asked for no more than to be allowed to stay in the comparative safety of the island while he negotiated with Parliament. Colonel Hammond agreed and he came in the boat to escort King Charles across to the island. They stayed that night at Cowes Castle. Next morning they travelled inland to the sprawling fortifications of Carisbrooke Castle, the Governor’s home.

Within a few hours, the party was clattering over the bridge that led across the dried-up moat into Carisbrooke Castle. King Charles thought that at last he had found a temporary refuge. He did not realise that he was riding into his own prison.

King Charles and his servants quickly settled in. Colonel Hammond appeared friendly. But Charles made a mistake, one of the many errors that he had committed during his reign. He secretly entered into an alliance with Scotland and at the same time he rejected the proposals that the English Parliament had sent to him. In doing so, he left Parliament and the Army no choice but to join forces again. And he also lost the loyalty of Colonel Hammond.

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Father Christmas receives thousands of letters from children

Posted in Christmas, Customs on Wednesday, 26 February 2014

This edited article about Christmas first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 571 published on 23 December 1972.

Victorian Christmas Card,  picture, image, illustration

Victorian children posting letters to Father Christmas

“Dere Santa Claus, please could you bring me a pram for my doll Patsy, what you brort me last Krismas. She is growing now, and I can hardly carry her.”

That letter was just one among the many thousands addressed to Father Christmas last December. Indeed, the immense amount of mail handled by post offices all over the world, just before Yuletide, invariably includes a substantial number of requests intended for him.

Bearing such fanciful addresses as Icicle Palace, Fairyland, Reindeer House, or Toyland, as well as less imaginary places like the North Pole, Greenland, Lapland, or Eskimoland, the correspondence comes from children who are not content with the old custom of calling to him up the chimney. Instead they write to him, describing the gifts they would like him to bring on Christmas Eve, and then pop the letter into a postbox.

The London headquarters of Britain’s postal service alone deals with about 10,000 such items each Christmas. They are even more widely known in the U.S.A., and the post office regulations there include definite instructions for dealing with Father Christmas’s fan mail.

All these letters are opened and read. Any which indicate poverty are handed to charities founded for its relief. Private benefactors, as well as members of the charities, are asked to assume the role of Santa, ensuring that no needy child writing to him shall have its hopes go unanswered.

Altogether, about 250,000 requests of this sort are found in the mail throughout America each December. A separate section of the postal laws requires every postmaster in the country to take all due care of the correspondence, and to see that it is dealt with in the way just described.

In other words, every postmaster in the U.S.A. is an official agent of Santa Claus, and no matter what the address on a letter intended for him, delivery is usually effected.

In Britain, the fate of Father Christmas missives depends on whether they bear the sender’s address or not. If they do, they are returned as “undeliverable.”

The remainder are usually destroyed, but this doesn’t mean that the post office staff are heartless. When an exceptionally pathetic letter to Santa Claus has been opened, postal workers have jointly bought the wanted gift and delivered it with a note “from Santa,” if the child has quoted his or her address.

Returned letters often achieve their purpose, too, for in this way parents are made aware of the present which will give the most delight.

Correspondence addressed to Father Christmas sometimes contains advice to help him. One young “fan” feared that Santa might enter the wrong chimney, so a carefully drawn picture of the house roof was enclosed, with an arrow pointing to the correct one!

Another thoughtful boy finished his letter with a little sum showing clearly the total cost of the presents he wanted.

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Fortifications are still built despite the power of Nuclear bombs

Posted in Historical articles, History, Invasions, War, Weapons on Wednesday, 26 February 2014

This edited article about fortifications first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 571 published on 23 December 1972.

Allies attack bunker,  picture, image, illustration

Allied soldiers attack a steel and concrete anti-aircraft gun site with a flamethrower

As the dazed German soldiers scrambled up from their deep concrete bunkers a terrifying sight met them down the barrels of their guns. The sea seemed covered with landing-craft beyond which lay the big ships, their sides twinkling with flashes of gunfire as they sent salvos of shells high overhead to pound the rear defences of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.

For the men manning the pill-boxes and strongpoints along the beaches of Normandy on that 6th day of June in 1944, the threat was more immediate. Even as the roar of the bombers died away and the dust of their bombardment still hung in the air, Allied infantry swarmed ashore and amphibious tanks churned across the open beach. Those Germans who could still stand, fought back with the courage of desperate men, manning their tiny fortresses to the last.

Hitler had said that the Allied invasion must be stopped at the beaches. He boasted that where a German soldier once stood, no other soldier would ever stand again. He would allow no army to drive the Germans from their newly-conquered lands. But his much vaunted Atlantic Wall, part of the Festung Europa (Fortress Europe) which had been built to defend Hitler’s new lands, was neither complete nor capable of resisting an attack like the one which the Allies launched in 1944.

Two years earlier, in 1942, Field Marshal von Runstedt, the man who had led Germany’s blitzkrieg attack on France, was put in charge of defences. It was a strange choice of commander. The Fuehrer put his faith in concrete and steel to meet the threat of an Allied invasion, but Runstedt had already outflanked France’s Maginot Line of static defences back in 1940. He was hardly likely to have much faith in fortresses like those which he had himself defeated.

The French Maginot Line and Hitler’s Atlantic Wall had much in common. In 1930 France started to build a line of fixed defences along her German frontier. The Maginot Line was certainly a strong line of defence. Some of its forts were sunk 200 feet in the ground with subterranean living quarters, stores, communications centres and railways. In addition, the air pressure was kept high to stop poisonous gas from seeping in.

All that could be seen on the surface were steel turrets and acres of concrete. Around and between the main forts were minefields, tank traps, barbed wire and communications trenches. It was an amazing piece of engineering, but it had one outstanding flaw – it simply was not long enough.

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Amundsen reached the South Pole on 14 December, 1911

Posted in Animals, Dogs, Exploration, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History on Wednesday, 26 February 2014

This edited article about Roald Amundsen first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 571 published on 23 December 1972.

Roald Amundsen,  picture, image, illustration

Roald Amundsen's journey to the South Pole with dogs by Luis Arcas Brauner

Roald Amundsen, the great Norwegian explorer, spent Christmas Day 1911 in the icy wasteland of the Antarctic. On December 14th at 3 o’clock in the afternoon he had become the first conqueror of the South Pole. Amundsen and his men unfolded the Norwegian flag. Five cold weatherbeaten hands gripped the flagpole as Amundsen proclaimed, “And so I plant you, our beloved flag, on the South Pole, and name the plateau on which it lies, King Haakon VII’s Plateau.”

There was no champagne, and they were cold, exhausted and worried about the long perilous journey home. That evening in their tent they celebrated by eating a small piece of seal meat in addition to their meagre rations.

The early 1900s are among the most dramatic and eventful in the history of Polar exploration. In 1905 Amundsen discovered the elusive North West Passage. It took him three years of hazardous adventures to find this maritime route through the Arctic regions from the Atlantic to the Pacific which navigators had been seeking for hundreds of years. Now the struggle to reach the North and South Poles was reaching a climax.

On 9th August 1910 Amundsen set sail from Norway in the Fram, apparently on his way to the North Pole. When he arrived at Madeira he released the sensational news that he was going to the Antarctic and would try to reach the South Pole. He now became a serious rival to Captain Robert Falcon Scott, the great British explorer, whose expedition was at that moment in an Australian harbour putting the final touches to preparations before setting out for the Antarctic. It now became a race between these two men to reach the South Pole.

Both explorers had had considerable experience in the Antarctic, but the British expedition seemed to have a great many advantages. Scott was returning to familiar ground in the McMurdo Sound, and full details of the route from here to within two degrees of the Pole were available. Amunsden based his expedition entirely on sleigh dogs. He believed it was essential to take a large quantity of provisions, and he planned to go by another route across vast tracts of unknown territory. Eminent polar explorers, among them Scott, considered it was impossible, because of the extreme cold, to reach the South Pole with a large team of dogs still alive. He intended travelling light and using skis for the final stages of his journey.

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