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Friday, 9 March 2018

Talk on Fort Eben Emael

Yesterday I gave a talk at the Military History Group of York U3A, entitles "Hitler's Opening Gambit : The Fall of Fort Eben Emael, 10th May 1940". The talk was received extremely well and I was very pleased with the reception.

I put this idea forward to the Group organiser as I have been to the fort on two visits and I thought it would be a good, complete event to talk about. I have spent many weeks on this talk, first on reading, then on finding photos, then on writing and on practise.

I started the background reading with Alistair Horne's book "To Lose a Battle, France 1940", the first 280 pages cover the interwar period and up to 11th May. then onto Kaufmann & Jurga's "Fortress Europe" which has a chapter on Belgium. Then onto more subject specific books.


The three books above were from my bookshelves, but that is not enough research so I bought two more.

(The photograph of the three paratroopers and the glider must be one of the most used photos of WW2)

From there, I outlined the talk, found suitable photos from own visits and from Google Images. Searching for pictures always takes a long time due to a lack of discipline, Google Images always throws up a lot of very interesting but unrelated images that have to be explored. Then, sit down with the outline and images and Powerpoint and try to cut it down from six hours of  material to just ninety minutes; and then practise. This talk I got bang-on ninety minutes.

So now that is finished and that is enough WW2 for a while. This is my next book, back to the Mediterranean in the 16th century.

The next scheduled talk is in May when I travel to Pocklington in the Yorkshire Wolds, to give my already written talk on the Battle of Verdun. B says she has not heard one of my talks so she is coming as well - make a day out of it.

Thursday, 8 February 2018

"Land of Mine"

A war film of a different kind. I am writing to recommend this Danish film.

World War II. During the Occupation, the Wehrmacht laid around 1.2 million landmines along the beaches of the West coast of Denmark. At the end of the war, thousands of German POWs were forced to dig them up (you laid them, you find them) despite this being outlawed under the Geneva Convention. The film follows a group of German teenage conscripts, boys really, being forced into the work by the Danish authorities and supervised by a Paratrooper sergeant.

For me, even after 24 hours I find myself conflicted by the ethics of the action, is this justice or is it vengeance?

Saturday, 3 February 2018

"Darkest Hour"

Yesterday afternoon - I went to the cinema on my own; B did not wish to see this film.

This is very much an actors' film. Gary Oldman's role as Churchill and Kristen Scott Thomas' as his wife Clemmy, both are amazing and outstanding performances and their scenes together are intimate and moving. There is great support work from Ronald Pichup (Chamberlain), Stephen Dillane (Halifax), Ben Mendelsohn (Bertie/King George VI) and Lily James (Elizabeth Langley, Churchill's personal assistant) make this film a wonderful ensemble piece.

This is a good film - not great - but good. The location work and the mise en scene are very good but the story, the plot, these are fine but jarring; the idea that Churchill used the London Underground as a way of getting close to the populace, to judge the popular mood, no, that does not fly for me.

Monday, 15 January 2018

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri"

Yesterday, after a fine Italian lunch, we had our first cinema outing of 2018, to see "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri". We have been waiting for this film, we were not disappointed, we thoroughly enjoyed it. Great writing, very funny but also sad. Frances McDurmand puts in a wonderful performance, slow, low-key, just magic.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Gloucestershire House-sitting

We have been house-sitting for ten days and a good time was had by both of us. Our friends wanted to go to India over the post-Christmas and New Year period. They asked us to move in to look after their three Jack Russell terriers, three ponies and about thirty chickens. Their house is at the bottom of a very narrow and steep valley on the edge of the village of Horsley, a few miles south of Stroud.

The caring duties were split between us. B looked after the ponies and the chickens as she owns a horse and she has talked about owning a few chickens. I got the terriers, Daisy (the matriarch), Piggle and Lula, both young dogs. These two followed me around the house all day long, which was nice but a little disconcerting, for example, I would forget to close the bathroom door firmly and sitting on the toilet I would have an audience.

The house is located within easy driving of a number of attractions and sites for us to visit.

Tewkesbury. A very fine Norman Abbey, one of the loveliest I've been in.

Several medieval and Georgian buildings

I know that nearby, there was a large War of the Roses battle and the battlefield is very accessible but it was very cold and wet and muddy so we did not walk that way.

Slimbridge Wetland Centre, run by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.

The view from the Obs Tower

A good day out, lots of different and unusual swans, geese and ducks, such as the smew.

Other day trips included Bath and Cheltenham - I shall sort out some photos for those trips.

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Star Wars : The Last Jedi

We went to the cinema to see this latest addition to the Star Wars canon on Monday afternoon.

I believe there is some controversy around this film. Many long term Star Wars fans are not impressed.

As members of the paying public, as film watchers, B and I thoroughly enjoyed this film, it is a good story that stands on its own merit, it is well written and directed, it has great performances but it is long. As Star Wars followers, both of us felt this film added nothing to the canon but what the heck, we had a good time. So I encourage you to see it.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

New books

This morning, just after B had gone to work, I was stood in the shower waiting for the hot water I hot water. I dressed and checked the boiler and it's not working. Now I am sat here, waiting for the plumber to come so I thought I would write another entry about my reading. A few weeks ago I wrote about two books I had received, "The Last Crusaders" by Barnaby Rogerson and "Maginot Line Gun Turrets" by Clayton Donnell.

I have finished "The Last Crusaders"; this was a terrific read, I enjoyed it very much, it was just what I needed. The author's style was easy, almost non-academic, not much detail because of the geographical spread and the time spread of the subject matter. This was what I wanted and I learnt a great deal, for example I did not know that first Portugal then Spain tried to annex large parts of the Maghreb in the 15th and 16th centuries, these annexations were largely unsuccessful. The main conflict that evolved was between the Spanish Empire and its allies in the Holy League and the Ottoman Empire and their allies the Corsairs, for control of the Med and led to the Siege of Malta and the Battle of Lepanto. All very interesting stuff.

About three weeks ago I found a copy of this book online and at a very reasonable price.

I have read the first two chapters; this is a very different style of book and of writing, lots of maps and tables and numbers. A much more academic work and I think I will finish it but in bite-sized chunks over a period of time.

I was tempted to this course by another book. The Murphey book is my third Middle East history book in a row and I have heard the siren call of my main interests- those of French history and artillery fortifications. Clayton Donnell, mentioned above, has released another book on one of my favourite subjects, the Maginot Line.

Three chapters in and I am very much enjoying it. I have reached 10th May 1940 and Operation Fall Gelb is about to start the invasion of France and the Low Countries. Exciting stuff.