Thank you, Colorado! This wonderful piece of wartime ephemera landed on my mat this week, unexpected but very welcome, from an address in Brush (population 5,463) in north-east Colorado. Whoever my benefactor may be, I'm very grateful.
It's a very delicate, almost tissue thin, propaganda handbill issued by the Germans during the Second World War. It would have been dropped over British troops fighting in Italy in the summer of 1944. The image of the city is memorably sinister. The text reads:
Just prick up your ears to this and guess what!
For months your politicians have been telling you that the new secret German weapon is just a bluff of propaganda, a mouthful of bombastic talk.
However, since June 16th, your so-called free press has been put under the most rigid censorship.
Because since June 16th plain facts are speaking:
V NUMBER 1
V Number 1, those roaring monsters of the air, are smashing London and the supply bases in England with dreadful precision.
Regarding V Number 1 the First Lord of the Admiralty Alexander made it plain that England is facing hard times, that the new German weapon is the most modern and the most deadly form of attack from the air.
You fellows on the Italian front are lucky to be far away from that hell turned loose over England.
The American Jew Baruch gave orders to "Bomber" Harris to indiscriminately kill German women and children, our women and children.
V NUMBER 1 is giving the answer.
And this from Wikipedia provides the context:
The V-1 flying bomb ... — also known as the Buzz Bomb or Doodlebug — was an early pulse-jet-powered predecessor of the cruise missile. The ... first V-1 was launched at London on 13 June 1944, one week after (and prompted by) the successful Allied landing in Europe. At its peak, more than one hundred V-1s a day were fired at southeast England, 9,521 in total, decreasing in number as sites were overrun until October 1944, when the last V-1 site in range of Britain was overrun by Allied forces. This caused the remaining V-1s to be directed at the port of Antwerp and other targets in Belgium, with 2,448 V-1s being launched. The attacks stopped when the last site was overrun on 29 March 1945. In total, the V-1 attacks caused 22,892 casualties (almost entirely civilians).
A gem of a find this morning in a second-hand bookshop near Tufnell Park station - though it's not really a shop, as Healthy Planet gives away the books it stocks (I don't quite understand the business model, but if it works for them it certainly works for me).
Frank Pitcairn was the pseudonym of the left-leaning journalist Claud Cockburn (according to the Wiki entry, the BBC's Stephanie Flanders is his granddaughter). The Spanish Civil War started in July 1936, and Cockburn's reportage was published (by the CP's publishing house, Lawrence and Wishart) in October. This is a first edition - and unusually, it still has the dust jacket.
... at the BBC today. And yes, this is all Martha Kearney's handiwork. Brilliant! If you are wondering what it tastes like, so am I. If I find out, I'll let you know.
If you are as impressed as I am, a modest donation to Children in Need is in order.
OK, I know you're dying to hear about my very successful day in Cambridge's second-hand book stores ... or more particularly in the antiquarian treasure trove at G. David, the city's premier spot for old books. So, first up - wonderful articles of an early trade society, the United Societies of Skinners, published as a broadsheet in Nottingham in 1816. The whole thing is a little bit bigger than A3 size. It's so exceptionally rare - a fantastic insight into how the artisan crafts regulated themselves.
Then ... a bound volume of William Cobbett's Weekly Political Register for the first quarter of 1821 - great political journalism from the period of ultra-radicalism during and just after the Regency. And - blow me down - bound into the back of the volume, three spellbinding political pamphlets from the era. Two of them are by Cobbett, and the third by an even more noted and intemperate radical.
William Hone's Political Catechism, from 1817, was one of his most celebrated titles - he published several Catechisms, Litanies and Creeds, both mocking the political and clerical establishment, and by their form also lampooning religious practise. In one of the most renowned political trials of the times, Hone was prosecuted - and acquitted - for offending public morals.
Of the Cobbett pamphlets, one also dates from 1817 - when he fled Britain for the United States fearing prosecution for seditious writings. He returned two years later. The other reflects his longstanding interest in the countryside and its cultivators, later reflected in one of his best-known titles, Rural Rides.
And there's more - a copy of the Rowlatt report of 1918 into revolutionary activity in India, which led the following year to the passing of the infamous Rowlatt Act, the extension of wartime emergency measures to curb political expression. The report also contains fold-out maps locating acts of political violence in Bengal, and in its principal city, Calcutta:
And at the more pedestrian - and moderately priced - end of the expedition, but no less delightful ...I got an 1889 election address for G.F. Chambers, seeking to represent Eastbourne on the East Sussex County Council.
The greater part of the pamphlet is given over to an abstract of the previous year's Local Government Act. 'The Local Government Act is, by the common consent of all parties in the State', Chambers asserted in his address, 'a great legislative experiment. The success or failure of the experiment will entirely depend on whether the Electors make choice of men of administrative experience, good business habits, and personal independence.'
These would have been the first contests for County Councils, one of the innovations under the Act. My guess is that Mr Chambers won the Eastbourne seat - does anyone out there know?
Today was seventy years on from the country's worst civilian disaster of the Second World War - and there is a fitting new memorial for the 173 who died in the Bethnal Green Tube Shelter Disaster. All these photos were taken this afternoon at the memorial and at St. John's, Bethnal Green, just the other side of Roman Road, where 600 people packed into a memorial service. The inscription (above) on the memorial reads:
THE BETHNAL GREEN TUBE SHELTER DISASTER
On 3 March 1943 the air raid warning sounded at 8.17pm. People made their way in the pitch dark of the blackout to file in an orderly manner down the steps of the single entrance to the unfinished Bethnal Green underground station next to this memorial. It had been in regular use since 1940 as a deep air raid shelter.
Over the next 10 minutes local pubs and cinemas emptied so that some 2000 people were already in the shelter by 8.27pm when the searchlight went on. Those still waiting to enter were alarmed by the deafening sound of a new anti-aircraft rocket battery opening fire for the first time nearby. They assumed it to be enemy bombs falling. At that time three buses set down their passengers at the unsupervised shelter entrance. The crowd hurried down the poorly-lit 10 foot wide flight of 19 concrete steps which had no central handrail. On this wet, slippery stairway a woman with a child fell on the 3rd step from the bottom and others tumbled over her. The crowd above continued pressing forward unable to see the horror of what was happening below. Within seconds the whole staircase was a solid, tangled mess of 300 people trapped five or six deep.
Despite heroic efforts, rescuers working above and below found it difficult to release them before they suffocated in the crush. It was 11.40pm before the last of the total 173 dead was pulled out - 84 women, 62 children and 27 men. Sixty-two people were hospitalised and at least 30 more walked away wounded. Many more suffered life-long trauma. This was the worst civilian disaster of the Second World War.
To Cambridge by train yesterday in the unaccustomed role of dutiful Dad. I am forbidden by the terms on which I conduct this blog (no mentions of family without explicit consent, which in this case has been rudely refused) to say more about how I turned out to be the only person of my generation - and I don't mean 'one of the only', in the ugly and imprecise modern formulation - in a lecture room with 200 (mainly female) teenagers. But I was eventually released and allowed to roam free for the rest of the day.
Which I did! And a really nice, bright afternoon to spend at leisure in this welcoming city. I visited the Roundchurch (admission £1.50 - do it!) built in 1130 by returning Crusaders - the second oldest building in the city (sorry, don't know which one is older). I poked, pryed and wondered, and strolled round college grounds in a not entirely 'compliant with the notices' manner.
And then there was the visit to the antiquarian room at G. David - the most exciting finds in a bookshop since, well, for quite a long while. Details will follow in a separate blog - but it roams from Hone and Cobbett pamphlets, to Bengal revolutionary groups a century ago, and early trade society documents. Gems, the lot of them!
And about the nicest part of the day was heading out of Liverpool Street, cutting alongside London Fields, and making our way through the Lea Valley. Not a part of London I know well, but the view from the railway tracks is well worth the trouble.
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