Browne was the first British volunteer to die in the war. One of many female volunteers to fight, she travelled by car to Spain with her friend, Edith Bone. They arrived in Barcelona just days before Franco's attempted coup of 18 July 1936. Interesting story on her life. Her artistic work was recently given a special exhibition in the Tate Britain.
An interesting approach. Harding uses the inhabitants of a wooden summer house to tell the story of twentieth century German history. As they say with property, location is everything and this house certainly has the location to enable a good story to be told. Built by a Jewish family on the edge of a small lake on the outskirts of Berlin during the period of Weimar prosperity it is leased as the family flee Nazi Germany and then aryanised, each time occupied by families with their own tale of survival and/or deceit.
But back to location. At wars end the house finds itself just inside the Soviet zone of Germany and even has the 1961 Berlin wall built across its garden to block access to the lake and the west which is only a few hundred yards away on the other side. When the wall comes down the author (grandson of the daughter whose father built the house) returns to research the story and ends up setting up a charity to prevent its demolition and keep it as a monument.
In many ways the DDR part of the story is the most interesting, with its glimpses into everyday life, perhaps as this is the period with the most readily available material to the author. He is a journalist, and the approach relects that. Evidence is largely based on interviews (and as he confesses to little knowledge of German this suggests they were interpreted through a third party. Another admission indicates that interviewees were offered expenses for their time.), and the small potted history updates provided through the narrative to give the general reader a basic context are at times over simplistic (the explanation for the Berlin Blockade is one such case) or inaccurate (the Soviets did not fly jet fighters over Berlin or anywhere else in World War 2). Nonetheless the narrative is intriguing and compelling and reads easily. An attachment to the property soon develops.
The story is illustrated with ground plans that show how the design changed under different inhabitants. An accompanying web site also includes pictures and home movies taken by the original owners as well as updates on restoration progress. Unfortunately the publishers decision to put all explanatory notes at the back and not indicate in the body of the text where such a note exists has potentially deprived the reader of valuable insights. No doubt done to increase the appeal to the general reader who might be put off by footnotes this has been counter-productive as these notes are not academic, but rather complement what is in the main body of the book (background to interviews, additional details about decisions indicated in the narrative) and often are as interesting as the general text. Many readers will miss them until they are "discovered" after the last page is read.
Hundreds of soldiers wrote to families on eve of the battle of the Somme that saw 57,000 British casualties on first day. To commemorate the centenary of the Somme, the Imperial War Museum in London is opening access to many of these final letters that were given to the museum by descendants, along with treasured photographs.
The following are extracted from an article by the historian Antony Beevor which examines clearly the key factors in the origin of the EU today and also why it has the problems that it does. In conclusion Beevor acknowledges though that the EU has been a positive rather than negative force which Britain should remain attached to. The full article can be read here.
.......The origins of the EU lie in the second world war, but not in the way many people on both sides of the debate assume. Brexiters try to imply that European unification descends from Napoleon and Hitler, even though membership has hardly been imposed at the point of a bayonet. At the same time, defenders of the EU like to believe that it somehow prevented a third world war, when in fact peace depends rather more on good governance. Proper democracies do not fight each other.
Because Britain was not involved at the start we do not have a clear idea of the EU's development. Few in this country have even heard of Jean Monnet. He was an extraordinarily important Frenchman who neither went to university nor was ever elected to public office. Born into a family of cognac merchants, Monnet became the greatest behind-the-scenes fixer in modern history.
It was Monnet who, while based in London in the dark days of June 1940, working on the integration of the British and French arms industries, came up with the suggestion of an Anglo-French union to continue resistance to Hitler. The idea excited both Charles de Gaulle and Winston Churchill, but was crushed by Marshal Philippe Pétain, who described the plan as a "marriage to a corpse", since France was about to surrender. ..........
.......August of 1943, Monnet .... decided that European states would be so enfeebled after the war that they must unite into a federation. And yet the Monnet plan, which he expounded in 1945, proposed the French takeover of Ruhr coal production to rebuild France at the expense of Germany. De Gaulle supported the idea fervently, but then resigned because the infighting of French politics failed to live up to his own impossible dream that the country's conflicting views would become unified under his leadership.
On 2 January 1946, just before his departure, De Gaulle appointed Monnet to head the Commissariat Général du Plan. This was to provide centralised planning writ large. Monnet brought in almost the whole team from the Délégation Générale à l'Equipement National, even though it had been created by the collaborationist Vichy regime. These bright young "technocrates" from the top schools of the French administration had worked on projects to modernise France within the "new European order" of the Third Reich. After the war they were the very same people who were to run the European Coal and Steel Community, headed of course by Monnet, and then in 1958, the European Economic Community. Thus the top cadres of the European bureaucracy were not merely elitist from the start, they had little patience for democratic consultation. They knew best what was needed.
The Marshall Plan in 1948 saved western Europe from economic and political collapse. The formation of Nato the following year also provided the first measure of unity as the sudden intensification of the cold war imposed a form of geopolitical straitjacket. The development of the EU in subsequent years was not a rival to Nato, as some seem to imply. The two organisations existed perfectly well in parallel, while the EU greatly encouraged and aided the emergence of countries such as Portugal, Spain and Greece from reactionary military dictatorships. It also contributed to the return of democracy in central European nations after more than 40 years of Soviet dictatorship...........
Clearly the EU has not fulfilled its objective of "ever closer union" and now, as Tusk acknowledges, it never can. That raises the interesting question of whether any ideology – of the left, the right or, in this case, the centre – could ever achieve its founding purpose. I doubt if any utopian plan has survived contact with the unpredictable reality of events. Ideals may inspire, but all too often they contain a self-defeating element. In the case of Europe, the very process of unification was bound to excite the nationalistic reactions that the whole project was hoping to eliminate.
But the EU's flaws do not justify its destruction. Alliances are fragile entities. They take time to create and are always vulnerable to vicious circles of suspicion and resentment. Whatever we might think of the EU – whether we love it or loathe it – one thing is certain. If Britain pulls out and thus provokes or accelerates its disintegration, we will instantly achieve most-hated nation status, not just in Europe but far beyond. It could well turn into the worst example in history of cutting off your nose to spite your face.
The publication of Dikötters well reviewed new work on the Cultural Revolution led me to reading this earlier prequel in his Moa's China histories as preparation for the recent book.
This book covers the period from 1958 to 1962 when Mao Zedong ordered the Great Leap Forward, an attempt to catch up with Great Britain in less than 15 years. The reality was very different. Farmers were taken from the fields to work on enormous irrigation projects, which themselves were largely flawed. The split from the Soviet Union saw remaining villagers involved on village level schemes of industrialisation to produce the materials once obtained from the USSR using backyard furnaces to manufacture products that were of very poor or unusable quality. To replace the shortfall imports were required which were largely paid for in grain and other agricultural produce. The reduced rural workforce and hair-brained farming techniques from the centre cut food production that the population could be fed with and produced a perfect storm that led directly to a widespread famine that may have led to upwards of 45 million deaths.
In a clear and well supported structure Dikötter shows how this disaster fell into place and grew in magnitude illustrating points consistently with examples drawn from careful research. Chapters are laid out methodically so that the work is convenient to use for studying aspects of the famine. The role of party officials, the apparent need to disguise and inflate production figures and the inability of Mao to be presented with, or to accept, the true reality of his policies until too late form the first part of the book. Later chapters also examine the of the famine on specific groups such as children, women and the elderly.
Ideally suited to the general reader this is at times overwhelming in the magnitude of the (very necessary) specifics provided to support the narrative and reinforce the extent of the famine and its consequences. The reader is left wondering just how it was that policies so clearly failing could be followed so blindly (or drawn up in the first place). Ultimately there is central criticism of the policies, but not of Mao explicitly, which sees amendment to the policies and ending of the famine - but also the unleashing of the Cultural Revolution, to be used by Mao to rid himself of those who opposed his policies of the Great Leap Forward.
Readers should not put the book down without reading the very useful Essay on the Sources. This does exactly what it says, commenting not just on the sources used, but also on the particular problems relating to researching the history of post Revolution China. Finally the historical debate in calculating the actual numbers who died as a consequence of the famine is surveyed in the context of sources used by different researchers.
As an introduction to Mao's China this is highly recommended. This was not genocide or mass murder as was the case with Hitler, but the callous disregard by a war hardened elite of the devastating impact of their unopposed policies on the vulnerable masses they believed themselves to be serving. The result though was the same: death on a massive scale.
A poor (mean?) month for free access to longer articles, but many interesting pieces from the sites History Matters section. Unsurprisingly there is a focus on items linked to the UK Europe referendum....
The European Union: To leave or not to leave? Martyn Rady (Masaryk Professor of Central European History at University College London) and Richard Overy (Professor of History at the University of Exeter) take opposing sides on Britain's EU referendum
Boris Johnson's Abuse of Churchill By Felix Klos In using Churchill to justify his Brexit campaign, Boris Johnson 'paints a barbarically simplified and ill-informed picture of what Churchill stood for'.
The Personal Cost of Jutland Andrew Choong Han Lin On the centenary of the Battle of Jutland, it is important to remember that the losses were not just felt during the engagements but at home, too, as the story of Joseph Burns and his young family shows.
Face to Face with History By Suzannah Lipscomb Practical details from historical sources may convince us that historical fiction is fact, but, warns Suzannah Lipscomb, such novels are fraught with danger for one in search of the past.
The Medium Goes to America By Simone Natale The forgotten story of celebrity medium Eusapia Palladino and her seance tour of the United States.
Pocahontas in England By Jane Dismore Arriving as Rebecca Rolfe in 1616, Pocahontas' trip to London was used to raise support for Britain's struggling colonies.
The Art of Advertising By Anna Jamieson. Paris' golden age of advertising bred a bold, exciting new art form and changed the face of the city.
Guardians of Greek Identity: Edited by Carlos A. Picón and Seán Hemingway. The forehead is the plainest part of the face. Compared with the eyes or the cheeks, there is little one can do to alter it, which is why, of all the fashion accessories of the ancient world, the diadem is most...
A Cultural History of Mortal Remains: Thomas W. Laqueur. Do the dead matter? This is the central question in this meticulously researched, all-encompassing exploration of our mortal remains. At its heart is Diogenes' suggestion that his body should be thrown to the beasts after his death.
Frederick the Great: King of Prussia: Tim Blanning offers a telling comparison at the beginning of this magisterial and insightful new biography. In 16th-century Brandenburg, the Reformation brought a windfall of land to its ruler and, in contrast to England, the new landholding was...
In the Ruins of the Reich:Lara Feigel. It is one of the most startling pictures of the end of the Second World War, taken in May 1945, soon after Hitler's death. Lee Miller, the American photojournalist, sits in the bathtub of Hitler's apartment in Munich. His portrait stares at her...
Pericles and the Conquest of History: Professor Samons is no stranger to what he (but not all of us) call the 'age of Pericles', having edited a Cambridge Companion to that supposed entity and devoted a careful monograph to the finances of 'imperial' Athens, through much of which...
The Medieval Islamic Hospital: Ahmed Ragab. Medieval hospitals used to be represented as hell holes: overcrowded reservoirs of infection lacking medical facilities; places in which to die, not recover. Scholarship of recent decades has done much to modify this depressing picture. We now...
Sir Joseph Banks, Iceland and the North Atlantic: Anna Agnardotter. Ash and cod have long dominated foreigners' notions of Iceland. While other countries' ships fished the well-stocked seas, naturalists found the island's glacial ice and volcanic fire fascinating. First-hand information was scarce; some even...
A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps: Nikolaus Wachsmann. The concentration camp was an enduring and defining feature of the Third Reich. Internment camps have existed before and since, but only in Nazi Germany were they seen as such an important means of controlling and operating undesirables. The...