Throughout her life, the queen has cared for more than 30 corgis, starting as a young girl when her father, King George VI, brought home one of the dogs from a local kennel in 1933, naming him Dookie.
A British soldier gives a “two-fingered salute” to German POWs captured at the Second Battle of El Alamein, Egypt; ca. 1942
The “two-fingered salute”, is commonly performed by flicking the V upwards from wrist or elbow. The V sign, when the palm is facing toward the person giving the sign, has long been an insulting gesture in England, and later in the rest of the United Kingdom; though the use of the V sign as an insulting gesture is largely restricted to the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia. It is frequently used to signify defiance (especially to authority), contempt, or derision. The gesture is not used in the United States, and archaic in Australia and New Zealand, where the finger tends to be used in such situations instead.
“War is organised murder and nothing else….politicians who took us to war should have been given the guns and told to settle their differences themselves, instead of organizing nothing better than legalized mass murder”
Harry Patch was the last Tommy to survive the horror of the trenches of WWI. He died aged 111 in 2009.
He never forgot those lost and always made sure to remember lost Germans as well as Allied troops. A quote from Harry: “Irrespective of the uniforms we wore, we were all victims.”
We were the PBI. That’s what we called ourselves. The poor bloody infantry. We didn’t know whether we’d be dead or alive the next day, the next hour or the next minute.
We weren’t heroes. We didn’t want to be there. We were scared. We all were, all the time. And any man who tells you he wasn’t is a damn liar.
Life in the trenches was dirty, lousy, unsanitary. The barrages that preceded battle were one long nightmare. And when you went over the top, it was just mud, mud and more mud. Mixed with blood. You struggled through it, with dead bodies all around you. Any one of them could have been me.
Yet 90 years on, I’m still here, now 109 years old. It’s incredible to think that of the millions who fought in the trenches in the First World War, I’m the only one left – the last Tommy.
So now, on Remembrance Sunday, it is up to me to speak out for all those fallen or forgotten comrades. But today isn’t just about my generation. It is about all the servicemen who have risked or given their lives, and the soldiers who are still doing so.
My comrades died long ago and it’s easy for us to feel emotional about them. But the nation should honour what we did by helping the young soldiers of today feel worthwhile, by making them feel that their sacrifice has been worth it.
Remember the men in Iraq and Afghanistan. Don’t make them wait eight decades, like my generation had to wait, to feel appreciated.
The time for really remembering our Forces is while they are at war or in the years immediately after they return, when they are coping with the shock and distress or just the problems of returning to civilian life.
That is what upsets me now. It is as if we have not learned the lessons of the war of 90 years ago.
Last year, the politicians suggested holding a commemoration service at Westminster Abbey to honour the remaining First World War veterans. But why? What for? It was too, too late.
Why didn’t they think about doing something when the boys came back from the war bloodied and broken? And why didn’t they do more for the veterans and the widows in later life?
It was easy to forget about them because for years afterwards they never spoke out about the horrors they had experienced. I was the same. For 80 years I bottled it up, never mentioning my time in the trenches, not even to my wife or sons.
I never watched a war film either. It would have brought back too many bad memories.
And in all that time, although I never said it, I still felt a deep anger and resentment towards our old enemy, the Germans.
Three years ago, at the age of 106, I went back to Flanders for a memorial service. I met a German veteran, Charles Kuentz. It was 87 years since we had fought. For all I know, he might have killed my own comrades. But we shook hands. And we had so much more in common than I could ever have thought.
He couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak German. We had a translator but in a way we didn’t need him. After we had talked, we both sat in silence, looking at the landscape. Both of us remembering the stench, the noise, the gas, the mud crusted with blood, the cries of fallen comrades.
Once, to have shaken the hand of the enemy would have been treason, but Charles and I agreed on so much about that awful war. A nice old chap, he was. Why he should have been my enemy, I don’t know.
He told me: “I fought you because I was told to and you did the same.” It’s sad but true.
When Charles and I met, we’d both had a long time to think about the war and all that had happened. We both agreed it had been a pointless exercise. We didn’t know each other, we’d never met before, so why would we want to kill each other?
Charles has died now, but after our meeting he wrote me a letter. It said: “Shaking your hand was an honour and with that handshake we said more about peace than anything else ever could. On Sunday, I shall think of you, old comrade.”
Now, finally, I feel I can talk about those times. I’ve even written a book about my life and they say that makes me the oldest ever first-time author. Isn’t that something? I hope it helps people understand how the young men of my generation suffered.
I was conscripted into the 7th Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry in 1916, by which time enthusiasm for the war had fallen away. I knew when I watched the White Cliffs receding as I sailed for France that I might never see England again.
I was put in a Lewis gun crew with three others and we became a very close team by the time we were ordered up to the front line during the Battle of Passchendaele. It was August 16, 1917, and just a couple of months after my 19th birthday.
It doesn’t matter how much training you’ve had, you can’t prepare for the reality of the front line – the noise, the filth, the uncertainty, the casualties, the call for stretcher-bearers.
Exactly 90 years later, in July this year, I returned to that very spot with The Mail on Sunday. There, in the sleepy Flanders countryside, I stared out at what was once No Man’s Land and it all came back to me.
The bombardment like non-stop claps of thunder, the ground we had to cover, the stench of rotting bodies who would never be buried.
You lived in fear and counted the hours. You saw the sun rise, hopefully you’d see it set. If you saw it set, you hoped to see it rise. Some men would, some wouldn’t.
Then the war, for me, suddenly came to an end. We were crossing open ground at Pilckem Ridge on September 22. In my mind, I can still see the shell explosion that took three of my pals and nearly did for me too.
I wasn’t told until later that the three behind me had been blown to pieces. My reaction was terrible and it’s still difficult to explain. It was like losing part of my life. The friendship you have during a war, it’s almost like love.
It was because of those three men that I did not speak about the war for most of my life. It was too painful. Today I have forgiven the men who killed them – they were in the same position as us. I find it harder, though, to forgive the politicians.
Somebody told me the other day that at homecoming parades for our men in Iraq and Afghanistan, barely anyone turns up. I was shocked. Even in our day there would at least be some kind of welcome.
I hope that today people will take the time to remember not just those who have died but those who are alive and fighting for our country. Please don’t forget them – or leave your thanks until it is too late.
(Harry Patch was talking to Nigel Blundell.)
- From The Last Fighting Tommy, by Harry Patch with Richard van Emden (Bloomsbury). Britain’s Last Tommies, also by Richard van Emden (Pen & Sword).
His joy is to reproduce its pictures artistically, his grief is to fail to do so. -Captain Robert Scott, 1911
Herbert Ponting began his career in photography relatively late in life. After moving from Salisbury England to California in his early twenties, he dabbled unsuccessfully in mining and fruit-farming before turning to photography. He became correspondent on the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05, and afterwards continued to travel around Asia, exploring Burma, Korea, Java, China and India. During this time he delivered magnificently created images back to newspapers, periodical and magazines, and in 1910 released his book In Lotus-land Japan.
In 1911 Ponting joined Scott’s British Terra Nova Expedition, which set out to collect scientific data about the Antarctic continent, with its main goal to reach the South Pole. Ponting was the first professional photographer on an Antarctic expedition and went on to set other precedents in Antarctica. He took some of the first still color photographs in Antarctica using auto chrome plates, and was one of the first men to use a cinematograph to capture short video sequences on the ice.
Coining the term to ‘pont’, meaning ‘to pose until nearly frozen, in all sorts of uncomfortable positions’, Ponting thought it imperative to get the picture just right. On the expedition he could often be found rigging up a device to allow himself to suspend from the ship, sometimes creating risky situations for himself and other crew mates.
During his fourteen months at Cape Evans he documented the Antarctic landscape, wildlife and expedition life, and often kept the men entertained by showing lantern slides of his travels through Asia.
Judged too old at the age of forty-two to sustain another grueling year on the ice, Ponting, along with eight other men, was sent home after the first year of the expedition. Back in England he was devastated to learn of the deaths of Scott and the Polar Party. He spent the remainder of his life lecturing on Antarctica and the expedition to ensure that the splendor of Antarctica and the heroism of Scott and his men would not be forgotten. His book The Great White South was published in 1921, and in 1933 his moving footage in full sound version Ninety Degrees South: With Scott to The Antarctic was released.
“The Sleeping Bag” (Herbert Ponting’s poem, outlining preferences on how to orient one’s reindeer-skin sleeping bag):
On the outside grows the furside. On the inside grows the skinside.
So the furside is the outside and the skinside is the inside.
As the skinside is the inside (and the furside is the outside)
One ‘side’ likes the skinside inside and the furside on the outside.
Others like the skinside outside and the furside on the inside
As the skinside is the hard side and the furside is the soft side.
If you turn the skinside outside, thinking you will side with that ‘side’,
Then the soft side furside’s inside, which some argue is the wrong side.
If you turn the furside outside – as you say, it grows on that side,
Then your outside’s next the skinside, which for comfort’s not the right side.
For the skinside is the cold side and your outside’s not your warm side
And the two cold sides coming side-by-side are not the right sides one ‘side’ decides.
If you decide to side with that ‘side’, turn the outside furside inside
Then the hard side, cold side, skinside’s, beyond all question, inside outside.
Some of the Antarctic Photographs of Herbert Ponting:
The fatal impact impression of Zeppelin commander Oberleutnant-zur-See Werner Peterson who chose to jump to his death rather than burn up with his ship, the L 32, 1916.
From the Wikipedia Article “Zeppelin“, under the category “History”:
L.31 approached London from the south, dropped a few bombs on Kenley and Mitcham and was picked up by a number of searchlights. Forty-one bombs were then dropped in rapid succession over Streatham, killing seven and wounding 27. More bombs were dropped on Brixton before crossing the river and dropping 10 bombs on Leyton, killing another eight people and injuring 30. L.31 then headed home. Also coming in from the south was L.32, running late due to engine problems, it dropped a few bombs on Sevenoaks and Swanley before crossing Purfleet at about 01:00. The Zeppelin then came under anti-aircraft fire as it dropped bombs on Aveley and South Ockendon. Shortly thereafter, at 01:10, a BE2c piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Sowrey engaged L.32. He fired three drums of incendiaries and succeeded in starting a blaze which quickly covered the entire airship. The Zeppelin crashed to earth at Snail’s Hall Farm, Great Burstead. The entire crew was killed, with some, including the commander Oberleutnant-zur-See Werner Peterson, choosing to jump rather than burn to death.
German Army and Navy hydrogen filled Airships began their bombing raids over Southern England with varied success on the 19th January 1915. Their bomb load consisted of both high explosive bombs and incendiaries. The incendiaries consisted of simple metal canisters filled with a mix of thermite, tar, and benzol; then being being wrapped in tarred rope and fitted with a simple fuse.
British aerial defences had up until 1916 proved ineffectual. In February 1916 the British Army took over full control of ground defences and a variety of sub 4-inch calibre guns were converted for anti-aircraft use. Searchlights manned by Police were also introduced, initially manned by police. By mid1916 there were 271 anti-aircraft guns and 258 searchlights across England.
Aerial defences against Zeppelins were haphazard, with the Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS) engaging enemy airships approaching the coast and the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) taking responsibility once the enemy had crossed the coastline. Due to the lack of an interrupter gear (to enable machine guns to fire forward) in early fighter aircraft the basic technique for downing Zeppelin airships was to simply drop bombs on them. Initial trials of incendiary bullets in mid-1915 had unfortunately shown unimpressive results.
New BE12 fighters now fitted with interrupter gear and Lewis machine guns firing a mix of explosive, incendiary and tracer rounds were slowly introduced from mid 1916. But the German’s were also further developing their airships. Their new Q-class Zeppelin with an additional 100,000 cubic feet of gas enabled the length to be extended to 585 feet, improving both ceiling limits and bomb-load.
But the turning point came on the night of the 2nd September 1916 when Lt. William Leefe Robinson, firing three drums of bullets from his Lewis gun, managed to set alight German Army Airship SL.11 commanded by Hauptmann Wilhelm Schramm. Built by Luftschiffbau Schütte-Lanz (and therefore not actually classed as a ‘Zeppelin’), it carried four Maybach engines developing an impressive 960 hp capable of propelling the airship at 91.8 kph. The airship, which quickly became enveloped in flames, crashed at Cuffley in Hertfordshire. Propaganda possibly intentionally misidentified the airship as one of the already feared “Zeppelins”. The crew (listed at the bottom of this page) were initially buried at Potters Bar Cemetery but in 1962 were re-interred at Cannock Chase German War Cemetery in Staffordshire.
For downing the first rigid airship on British soil and for the first ‘night fighter’ victory Robinson received the Victoria Cross. Robinson, his health being badly affected during his time as a Prisoner of War in 1917-18, succumbed to Spanish Influenza during the Pandemic and died on the 31st December 1918.
The loss of SL.11 ended the German Army’s interest in Airship warfare over England but the German Navy continued to aggressively pursue this form of aerial combat. On the night of the 23rd September three M-class airships, including L.32, attacked London. L32 was the second of the 650ft M-class “Super Zeppelins”, being powered by six engines and capable of operating at 13,000 ft (with another 5,000 ft to its maximum ceiling) while carrying up to four tons of bombs.
At 1.10am a BE2c fighter plane piloted by 2nd Lieutenent Frederick Sowrey attacked L.32. Despite fire being returned he fired three drums of explosive bullets until a fire finally took hold, possibly helped by a burning petrol tank. Flames swiftly spread throughout the airship, bursting through the outer envelope in several places. An eye-witness recalled that “The flames crept along the back of the Zeppelin, which appeared to light up in sections… until it was burning from end to end.” The great airship finally crashed to the ground near Great Burstead in Essex. Again, there were no survivors, the Commander, Oberleutnant-zur-See Werner Peterson, choosing to jump rather than burn to death in the inferno. Sowrey survived the war and died in 1968.
The same night L.33, despite being at 13,000 feet, was hit by anti-aircraft fire, thereafter being forced to the ground, landing near Little Wigborough. The crew set the Zeppelin alight but sufficient of the wreckage remained to be of valuable use to the British in their own rigid airship research.
There were a total of 23 Zeppelin raids in 1916 in which 125 tons of ordnance were dropped, killing 293 people and injuring 691. British anti-aircraft defences were becoming tougher but still new Zeppelins were introduced with an increased operating altitude of 16,500 feet and a maximum ceiling of 21,000 feet. Airships raids continued to be feared and to do great damage. It was only by 1918 that Zeppelin raids markedly decreased, primarily as a result of supply issues and the allied bombing of Zeppelin production lines and sheds in Germany.
The Zeppelin attacks had a profound psychological impact on the Allies. In total there were 159 Zeppelin attacks against England during World War I which resulted in the deaths of 557 people, mainly civilians. Under the Treaty of Versailles Germany was ordered to hand over all their airships, but as with their Navy, the crews attempted to destroy as many of them as they could.
The Zeppelin’s greatest achievements were undoubtedly to tie up numerous squadrons in home defence and for their psychological value but as an effective weapon of war they proved themselves unsatisfactory and were ultimately not a military success. Of the 115 Zeppelin Airships employed by the Germans, 53 were destroyed and a further 24 were too badly damaged to effectively carry out their missions. The Airship crews suffered a 40% loss rate. Additionally, the cost of constructing those 115 Zeppelins Airships was approximately five times the cost of the actual damage they inflicted.
The crew of both SL.11 and L.32 (listed below) are now buried at Cannock Chase German War Cemetery in Staffordshire, England.
The Crew of SL.11
Wilhelm SCHRAMM Hauptmann
Jakob BAUMANN Obermaschinist
Hans GEITEL Leutnant
Rudolf GOLTZ Vizefeldwebel
Karl HASSENMULLER Feldwebel-Leutnant
Bernhard JEZIORSKI Gefreiter
Fritz JOURDAN Untermaschinist
Karl KACHELE Untermaschinist
Fritz KOPISCHKE Obersteuermann
Friedrich MODINGER Obermaschinist
Reinhold PORATH Obermaschinist
Rudolf SENDZICK Obersteuermann
Heinrich SCHLICHTING Unteroffizier
Anton TRISTRAM Unteroffizier
Wilhelm VOHDIN Oberleutnant
Hans WINKLER Untermaschinist
The Crew of L.32
Werner PETERSON Oberleutnant Zur See
Adolf BLEY Obersignalmaat
Albin BOCKSCH Obermaschinistmaat
Karl BORTSCHELLER Funkentelegrafieobermaat
Wilhelm BROCKHAUS Oberheizer
Karl BRODRUCK Leutnant Zur See
Paul DORFMULLER Maschinistenmaat
Richard FANKHANEL Obermaschinistenmaat
Georg HAGEDORN Obermaschinistenmaat
Friedrich HEIDER Oberbootsmannsmaat
Robert KLISCH Funkentelegrafieobergast
Herman MAEGDLFRAU Obermaschinistenmaat
Bernhard MOHR Obersegelmachersgast
August MULLER Matrose
Friedrich PASCHE Bootsmannsmaat
Karl PAUST Obermaschinistenmaat
Ewald PICARD Obersignalmaat
Walter PRUSS Maschinistenmaat
Paul SCHIERING Obermatrose
Bernhard SCHREIBMULLER Steuermann
Karl VOLKER Obermaschinistenmaat
Alfred ZOPEL Oberbootsmannsmaat
This is a sad and brave poem about accepting the suffering of unrequited love—an experience that Auden was apparently familiar with. In this poem, he makes his peace with his experience of “stars” whose beauty inspires such passion and longing, but which care nothing for him in return.
Being treated with indifference is not so bad, Auden says, in the first stanza; there are worse things in life. To love, even if one is not loved back, is more than enough, he suggests in the second stanza. And, in the final two stanzas, Auden tells himself that even if that which one loves were to disappear from one’s life, one would survive the grief and the emptiness—even if, as he poignantly understates it in the last line, being reconciled with that loss may “take a little time.”
Firstly a little bit of leadership theory to put Churchill into context, specifically that of Transformational Leadership.
Transformational leaders inspire their followers to achieve more than would normally be expected by a combination of:
- Looking after followers’ individual needs, acting as a coach or mentor and developing them.
- Challenging followers intellectually. Asking them to consider complex problems and come up with solutions by conducting their own research.
- Providing inspirational motivation. Articulating a vision of the future, setting lofty goals and being optimistic about the team’s ability to achieve them.
- Being a role model. Exemplifying everything they want their followers to be, setting high ethical and behavioral standards thus gaining respect and trust.
Whenever Churchill took charge of a government department, the work rate would increase considerably. He was a man of energy and ideas who was always keen to understand the latest innovation or cutting edge technology. For example, by the time the neutron had been discovered, he had already written about the potential of nuclear power, especially in the military context.
This energy was most apparent when he became PM in May 1940, coincidentally on the day that the German Invasion of Belgium and France was launched. Thus the first six weeks of his premiership saw one of the worst strategic set backs in British military history as the BEF was defeated and forced to abandon France. In the face of exceptional pressure form the French to stay in France and to commit further reserves, he trusted his commanders and accepted that a withdrawal was the best option. Throughout this period he did as best a job as he could to placate the French (possibly even lying to them) in order to give his commanders the space they needed to effect the withdrawal. He moved between the tactical, operational and strategic levels of command on an almost hour by hour basis in order to understand, support and decide.
Whilst all this was going on, he took the time to familiarise himself with Britain’s air defences knowing all too well that this was the next line of defence. He trusted Hugh Dowding and Charles Portal, he trusted the air defence system and he supported Dowding’s recommendation not to send any more spitfires to France, knowing it was a lost cause. He then set about instilling his confidence into the British public. The “finest hour” speech is not simply a masterpiece of rhetoric, it is the cornerstone of a concerted effort to reassure Britain that its Air Force, by this point untested in any major campaign for 22 years, was up to the job of defeating a highly capable, more numerous and more experienced Luftwaffe. Whatever went on behind the scenes, he maintained the high vision of victory and portrayed an almost relentless optimism, whilst reminding everyone of the gravity of the situation.
Deep down he knew that the Royal Navy would be the deciding factor in case of invasion, but the opportunity to stop the enemy before he even reached the shores was one he seized upon and a cause he triumphed as if it were his own.
This pattern repeats itself throughout Churchill’s tenure: the frenetic activity surrounding him, the detailed interest in an important area of responsibility, the campaign (supported of course by excellent speeches) to reassure the public that everything would be OK and then exploiting successes. Note too that he took very little credit for himself, instead focusing the public’s attention on the men and women fighting the war and crediting them with success.
So we can see that WSC was highly adept at challenging his followers intellectually and providing inspirational motivation, but what of the other two elements of Transformational Leadership?
Churchill’s weakest suit, in my opinion, was looking after individual followers. He had a terrible habit of befriending people, using them for what he needed and then dropping them. He could even do this to entire organisations and has been heavily criticised for abandoning Bomber Command in the face of criticism about the strategic bombing campaign which he had supported.
He was, however, an excellent role model. The pugnacious, stoic face of defiance in adversity, portrayed famously as the archetypal British bulldog, he set the tone for the British public to adopt – he was the archetype for the stereotype of the down-trodden but bloody-minded blitz victim. His military experience, including some remarkable individual heroics as a young subaltern and command of a battalion during the Great War, set him in good stead and enabled him to wear the uniform and rank of a commodore/brigadier/air commodore credibly.
He was not, however, perfect. He was a contrary character who wouldn’t ordinarily have become Prime Minister, let alone a successful one. He was prone to flights of fantasy and was prepared to allow incredibly risky activities. He would often be reeled in by the likes of General Hastings Ismay, his chief military assistant for most of the war, who maintained a well-informed, realistic brief and was able to recover him from his more audacious fantasies. He was also prone to depression, his “black dog” and there is immense credit to be found in his ability inspire people as he did despite his own personal demon. These two quotes do a good job of reflecting on WSC:
In 1940 the American journalist Ralph Ingersoll reported:
Everywhere I went in London people admired [Churchill’s] energy, his courage, his singleness of purpose. People said they “didn’t know what Britain would do without him.” He was obviously respected. But no one felt he would be Prime Minister after the war. He was simply the right man in the right job at the right time. The time being the time of a desperate war with Britain’s enemies
Field Marshal Alanbrooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff from 1941, wrote in his memoirs:
…..And the wonderful thing is that 3/4 of the population of the world imagine that Churchill is one of the Strategists of History, a second Marlborough, and the other 1/4 have no idea what a public menace he is and has been throughout this war ! It is far better that the world should never know, and never suspect the feet of clay of this otherwise superhuman being. Without him England was lost for a certainty, with him England has been on the verge of disaster time and again…….Never have I admired and despised a man simultaneously to the same extent. Never have such opposite extremes been combined in the same human being.
True genius treads a fine line between triumph and disaster. Churchill knew this line all too well.
Bass, B.M. & Avolio, B.J. (1994). Improving organizational effectiveness through transformational leadership
Bungay, S. (2009), The Most Dangerous Enemy: A History of the Battle of Britain
Jenkins, R. (2001), Churchill: A Biography
Storr, A. (1997) Churchill’s Black Dog and Other Phenomena of the Human Mind
Thompson, J. (2009), Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory