The British and the Second World War in Yugoslavia post.

Replying to @Nik_Ilic @ukinserbia and 2 others

 

Drove up to Niš to see this exhibition last week & delighted to get shown around by curator Boban Janković & see some of his military artefacts collection. Some real examples of derring do & even some SOE James Bond type gadgets. @almurray would like the exhibition [famous UK comedian and World War 2 history expert, Al Murray].

Curator Boban at Historical Archive Nis exhibition on British SOE officers in Yugoslavia in World War 2.
Curator Boban at Historical Archive Nis exhibition on British SOE officers in Yugoslavia in World War 2.

 

https://www.facebook.com/arhivnis/

 

You can view much of the exhibition online here

https://www.britanciusrbiji.rs/en/

 

The adventure of Captain Peter Wilkinson at the Three Kings hotel

https://www.britanciusrbiji.rs/en/hotel-three-kings/

 

and the ‘toys’ that Charles Hargreaves carried are especially amusing

https://www.britanciusrbiji.rs/en/captain-charles-hargreaves-parachutes-into-serbia/

 

I didn’t know that the Allies evacuated partisan wounded, or that Jugoslavia had Hurricanes & later given Spitfires.

 

With so many needless wars in the Balkans it still shocking that hundreds and hundreds of WW1 shells were dug up at Bitola in N Macedonia just months ago. *Actually from 23 November to 4 December over 1,000 74mm artillery grenades were found in excavations in the city park near the football stadium. The city Rescue and Protection Directorate had already removed 12,500 ordnance from the same location. The pretty little town of Bitola (Manastir in Turkish) was on the front line in Balkan wars and World War 1.

 

 

Replying to Defence Attache Colonel Nick Illic.

https://twitter.com/Nik_Ilic/status/1359882574240301060

 

 

Definitely one for Dr. Jon Clarkson (a family doctor friend and WWII military history enthusiast). Curator Boban at the Историјски архив Ниш – Istorijski arhiv Niš Historical Archive Niš has I think he said over 800 military helmets from the early 2000s through both World Wars, Napoleonic, and even Medieval Serbian. He supplied some of the local items for this instalment of the travelling exhibition, and the Archive provided photographs of British officers in this third largest Serbian city after its liberation.

 

It is ironic that the only Ordnance Survey type map I have seen in Serbia, is a Ministry of War map in this display supplied to SOE officers, covering Niš down to Leskovac (a textile manufacturing centre known in Jugoslavia as little Manchester) which is a regional town in the area my office covers. Google Maps just is not comprehensive in Serbia and is totally not reliable in rural south Serbia. But there are no detailed paper maps – of course as everywhere in South Eastern Europe I’ve been local people don’t actually use maps.

 

Original tweet 11 February, my posts 6 March.

 

Capturing the Focke-Wulf factory.

Some Coronavirus time & VE Day 75 reading, shared previously with a few military history enthusiast friends. Originlly shared with Dr. Jon Clarkson and Bruce Hubbard, and radio producer friend Ashley Byrne.

Securing the Focke-Wulf factory.

Frances’s grandfather, Francis Carl Willmott, known as Billy, was always puzzled as to why he was mentioned in Dispatches for securing a telephone exchange near the end of the war, and promoted from Lieutentant to Captain Willmott.

Frances’ father wrote up his Dad’s wartime reminiscences in 2000. Recently he found that a German historian compiled more information about this action which sheds light on how it was a small strategic move. It’s quite a good story that you might like. I’ve attached a copy. 9 pages (6 text and 3 pictures). In a nutshell, Lt Willmott, his Sergeant, Cameron, driver / batman, Reed, and a Polish officer were attached from Signals to an RAF unit to secure the Focke-Wulf headquarters at Bad Eilsen which the RAF were to use as their HQ in Germany. Ahead of the British advance, but told the area was clear of German troops, it seems the small convoy went right in between two towns on the River Weser where the Americans were engaged in fierce fighting against stiff resistance. The plant they were to take control of was the Focke-Wulf design HQ, and the spurt caught the chief engineer, Kurt Tank, as well as securing the telephone exchange. The funny story about the Sgt and his Sten gun going off, is added to by a footnote in the pamphlet that is missed out in the attached extract and update. Footnote 34, added below.

Peter Tatchell’s campaigning anti-Nazi work gets a surprising mention at the end of the story.

The original 52 page pamphlet is here:
http://nicholaswillmott.tripod.com/id37_m.htm

Though not in booklet form that might be more accessible. It’s a lengthy webpage. There is a rugby connection. At Catterick, Willmott found that his bunkmate was the tamous Welsh international rugby player, Haydn Tanner. Tanner features several times in the anecdotes, including giving Francis his nickname Billie. (I thought it was Billy and after some noted footballer of the time).

Referring to p. 38 of the original pamphlet and bottom of page 2 of the attached.
34. The Small Arms Training Pamphlet No.22 (1942), devoted to the Sten Machine Carbine as it was officially known, includes the following advice:
“If the working parts are forward [i.e. the weapon is cocked, ready to fire] with a full or partially full magazine in the magazine housing, a smart jerk may cause a round to be fired.”

Peter Tatchell’s article about tracing evil Buchenwald Concentration camp doctor Carl Vaernet is here: https://www.petertatchell.net/lgbt_rights/usercybercity/~dko12530/hunt_for_danish_kz.htm.html
Wikipedia explains to me that KZ means Concentration camp: Das Konzentrationslager Buchenwald (KZ Buchenwald).

Capt FC Willmott Bad Eilsen 8.4.1945.docx (1694 downloads )

75 years after World War Two ended and Britain lets its WW2 heritage fall into ruins.

Pill box by Garston Docks
Can you see it?
View of site of pillbox1
Can you see the pill box?
view of site of pillbox 2
Pill box by Garston Docks
A pill box at Allerton, south Liverpool.
Spring pill box. Not conserved it seems or explained but not derelict either.
A pill box at Allerton, south Liverpool. Google verson
Google improved this image and I quite like it.

VE Day is an appropriate day to come back to this. Last month I saw on Facebook pictures of a WW2 gun battery on the edge of Bristol I had never seen before. A spot I lived quite near, and have driven past many times but until the pictures of the derelict battery, next to the BT Tower, were posted by my friend, the former MP Stephen Williams, I’d never heard of it. I made my usual comment to a friend that in Britain our World War Two heritage is neglected but there is an appalling romanticism about World War 1.

I entirely agreed with a comment by a James Davies. These should be restored and used for education and to explain about history.

Our country had a whole appalling World War 1 nostalgia fest, much romanticising war, but our actual visible, existing World War 2 everyday heritage is almost totally ignored. I think this and am angry every time I see a pill box or gun emplacement (various posts on my website). They are very occasionally preserved, usually neglected, totally forgotten and often left decaying and crumbling. It is shocking that as the last men and women who remember the Second World War die that this built history will also be lost. It is lazy to always blame the authorities but in this case heritage and local authorities seem to not be bothered.

Here are a couple of photos of pill boxes local to me, in Allerton and along the River Mersey at Garston Docks by Cressington Park, to add to the others I’ve noted.

On a different note, I am not a Royalist, but am neither pro or anti the British Royal Family in Britain. The Queen is good for tourism and members of the family do much good public work. I like many of Charles’ political views and his campaigning on ecology. William and Kate are nice and I love cheeky Harry and have come to be a fan of Harry and Meghan. She’s pretty cool. I respect the Queen because of her experience and actions during the War, and I have to say I thought her Coranavirus crisis broadcast was almost spot on perfect. Just the right content, tone and mood for the nation. Her broadcast today, which I saw excerpts from on the BBC News, was again really good. I’ve never listened to a Queen’s speech but now twice in a few weeks I’ve been impressed and appreciated listening to Queen Elizabeth. (A good Irish name after all, the name of my Irish grandmother and my big sister).

Catalan nationalists are wrong but crushing peaceful political dissent is not the answer.

I don’t sympathise with Catalan nationalists at all, and don’t buy all the ‘perfidious Spain’ nonsense. And it’s not Easter 1916. But on the day of the unofficial referendum I thought the heavy handedness (or rather the probably provoked filmed heavy handedness) of the national police would turn people over to the secessionists. Jailing democratically elected political leaders, forcing others into (self-imposed) exile for entirely peaceful political actions is not the way for a confident democratic State to behave. The extreme prison sentences of 14 October imposed on peaceful political leaders are making the same mistake that the British authorities made in Ireland in 1916 – short of killing people – overreacting and alienating the majority who did not sympathise with a minority of extremists or romantic (if violent) nationalists, instead relying on ridicule and horror to undermine the ‘radical’ cause. Though there was an actual war on and armed rebellion at that time, so the British failure to realise they were making a serious tactical error with public opinion was understandable. How the Spanish Supreme Court can think such sentences are justified for peaceful, political illegal acts, is flabbergasting.

 

Spanish nationalists are as bad as Catalan ones – many nationalists in Catalonia / Catalunya seem motivated only by financial self interest; and taking peace, democracy and quality of life for granted. Spanish nationalists promote intolerance and stifling conformity of thought, ferment nasty petty rivalries and stir hatred with hypocrisy. Their blinkered hatred of Gibraltarians’ self-determination reduces Spanish and Gibraltarian stability and economic prosperity when Spain and Britain, local and regional Spanish authorities and Gibraltar could all work together for the benefit of the whole region. Catalonians stirring secession should look at how disastrous for each statelet the break up of larger units in the last thirty years has been, the pain and suffering – personally, economically and culturally – that has occurred. This is no reason in principle for people not to have self-determination, but it is high high time to stop and be careful what you wish for, and to stop and think you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. A mistake that a majority of voting British public have made in destroying a key basis of our country’s cultural, economic, security and environmental progress over the last forty years, because they – many of the public – have believed lies, blamed others for their misfortunes, and taken a good life for granted.

 

Spain and Britain, Catalonia, London and Madrid, Barcelona, Gibraltar, we’re all better when we work cooperatively together in a fair and non-exploitative way. Easier said than done perhaps but remember as people we all get on. Politicians and youth who stir difference and divides should remember that. And judges are sometimes advised to use commonsense and judicial discretion rather than following the letter of an unjust law.

Sefton Coast & Wirral more WW2 heritage neglect.

Cycling several times this Summer along the coast between Crosby and Hightown has reinforced how Sefton Council really is terrible at marking and commemorating World War II history and heritage. You can pass within yards of the gun emplacements defending the mouth of the River Mersey and have no idea that they are there. Fields just inland retain pill boxes but there is no effort to work with farmers to give access to these or mark them, explain what they were for. Nothing to see but they are actual physical reminders of that most terrible conflict and the direct effect that it had on every part of our country as well as the rest of the World. Sefton is also pretty bad on countryside access, maybe because the borough is artificially cut off from its rural West Lancashire hinterland. Hightown, a large commuter settlement in the middle of the borough is totally cut off inland from any on foot or safe cycling access to the countryside.

In Bootle (also Sefton borough) along the Leeds Liverpool canal there are some signs indicating engineering to stop flooding being caused by bomb damage during the War. These look like they were put up by British Waterways / the canal authorities, or a local regeneration initiative rather than directly by the Council. Is Sefton however worse than other boroughs in the Liverpool City Region? From cycling and walking on the Wirral it looks like Wirral is nearly as bad. There is some commemoration done by local public spirited citizens, especially the posters remembering ships bombed in the river Mersey pinned up along the Seacombe, Wallasey, New Brighton promenade. Elsewhere on the Wirral there is the same startling ignoring of World War 2 physical history. There are pill boxes guarding a key strategic bridge near the chemical works at Port Sunlight, between historic Port Sunlight and Bromborough. They are there but nothing is done to explain their significance. Surely those younger than us who were brought up on War films in the 1970s may not appreciate this. There is a prestige housing development next door, has the Wirral Council (Wirral MBC) asked if they would contribute to some upkeep and explanation? A very small but extra historic feature for visitors to Lord Lever’s model workers’ village to see.

It is only once you cross the modern administrative boundary from the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral into the South Wirral district of Neston (under the modern Cheshire West and Chester Council) that there is one really clever, innovative and welcome initiative. A war time pill box turned into a bat box. I first saw a neglected looking pill box crossing the road between Neston and Parkgate on a short walk on the Wirral Way. Turn your head to the right, towards the car park (if heading south) and there it is. I’d cycled past it several times before over some years without ever noticing the structure. A closer look – at this pill box in the actual car park – reveals that it is not neglected at all. It has been turned into a home for bats. A fantastic local environmental initiative that also both utilises and recognises one of our important parts of Second World War infrastructure. Well done to those involved.

Photos:
Explanation for cyclist at pill box photo. Cycling with my friend Dr Jon Clarkson (a World War 2 enthusiast and expert) by chance I saw for the first time this pill box slightly inland of the A565 at Formby. Local GP Jon also pointed out the dragons teeth anti-tank obstacles along the former railway line and drainage ditch at key choke points on Downholland Moss. There are a few still in place of the Quality Street like triangular concrete blocks. These sites are just over the administrative boundary of Sefton MBC into West Lancashire Council. There is no interpretation or information about the features visible.

 

Parkgate Bat Box. See also about the significance of the pill box location on Station Road explained on the Parkgate Heritage Trail site: http://www.parkgateheritagetrail.org/home/locations/stationroad/

 

For those interested there is detail on different types of anti-tank obstacle on the Pillbox Study Group site. http://www.pillbox-study-group.org.uk/other-wwii-defensive-structures/anti-tank-obstacles/

The site is a mine (no pun intended) of useful and interesting information.

http://www.pillbox-study-group.org.uk/

81 years since the battle of Jarama.

 

Last year the New European newspaper published a feature by me on the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Jarama, the first major engagement in the Spanish Civil War for the British and Irish International Brigades. That feature, edited and made more readable by Jasper Copping, was an extract from this long essay. Attached to this post.

The battle of Jarama K Reid 2018 web

For the published article there is a link to the .pdf file at the end of this page: https://kironreid.co.uk/2017/02/18/recent-writing/

 

The photographs here relate to Britain, Ireland and the Spanish Civil War but are not illustrations to the essay.

Al Murray’s ‘Watching War Films with my Dad’ Century 2013. Review.

Watching War Films with my Dad is much more than a memoir or the book on war films and growing up in the 1970s. Yes it covers each of those aspects. It is much more interesting than being a memoir (where it is in the Where did it all go right upbeat category) and it does include a lot of anecdotes, career history, tour highlights and some introspection. The latter mostly to reinforce points in the narrative. Yes it is a book about war films and war toys of every type, and with Al Murray being an enthusiast for World War Two history he of course delves into the facts, the errors and inaccuracies in the movies and toys. Told while he is flying a Spitfire at RAF Museum Duxford or filming a documentary about Arnhem. Anyone of our post war generation who grew up in the 1970s watching war movies will find the book interesting (he covers much more recent too). It is a book with anecdotes about modern Britain – in the comic incisive style of the Pub Landlord. What you can’t tell from the ‘A Memoir’, endearing title or comic Al Murray at D Day picture, is this is a book about history. Mostly about World War 2 and also World War 1. But Murray covers many other historical examples and periods as well. He tells you a lot that you didn’t know that you thought you knew about (how close the German victory on Crete was), unless probably you are another war history buff like my mate Dr. Clarkson. I didn’t know that writer Ben Elton was the nephew of Tudor history scholar Geoffrey Elton, which might explain why the first Blackadder, my favourite (co-written by Elton) seems to have some great attention to detail. Murray clearly loves France and Germany and likes to explain about these countries to his British and wider audience. He loves Europe but as a patriotic kid of the ’70s he loves Britain – the good Britain of values and being on the right side. Obviously he isn’t uncritical. His chapter on the history of history is excellent and very educational.

I borrowed Al’s book from Liverpool City Council’s Sefton Park library, Aigburth Road, Liverpool.

Note. I neglected to declare an interest. Al Murray was the drummer in my brother, Pat’s, band at and after Oxford, they’ve appeared in short films together by Martin Pickles, and I once had my hair cut in Al Murray’s kitchen.