The Dieppe Raid – a summary

In August 1942, Winston Churchill, Great Britain’s wartime prime minister, flew to Moscow and there met for the first time the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin. Fourteen months before, on 22 June 1941, Hitler had launched Operation Barbarossa, Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, the largest military invasion ever conducted. Almost immediately, Stalin was urging Churchill to open a second front by attacking Nazi-occupied Europe from the West, thereby forcing Hitler to divert troops to the west and alleviating in part the enormous pressure the Soviet Union found itself under. Now, as Churchill prepared to meet Stalin, German forces were bearing down on the strategically and symbolically important Russian city of Stalingrad.

Churchill knew that if Germany were to defeat the Soviet Union then Hitler would be able to concentrate his whole military strength on the west. But although tentative plans for a large-scale invasion were afoot, to act too quickly, too hastily, would be foolhardy. Churchill withstood Stalin’s pressure. There would be no second front for at least another year. But, in the meanwhile, Churchill was able to offer a ‘reconnaissance in force’ on the French port of Dieppe, with the objective of drawing away German troops from the Eastern Front. Whether Stalin was at all appeased by this morsel of compensation, Churchill does not say.

Operation Jubilee

Dieppe Raid German defenceThus, in the early hours of 19 August 1942, the Allies launched Operation Jubilee – the raid on Dieppe, 65 miles across from England. 252 ships crossed the Channel in a five-pronged attack carrying tanks together with 5,000 Canadians and 1,000 British and American troops plus a handful of fighters from the French resistance. Nearing their destination, one prong ran into a German merchant convoy. A skirmish ensued. More fatally, it meant that the element of surprise had been lost – aware of what was taking place, the Germans at Dieppe were now waiting in great numbers.

Pictured: German soldiers defending the French port of Dieppe against the Anglo-Canadian raid, 19 August 1942.

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Two World Wars: The Hero Connection

Seventy years ago this past June, the armies of the Allies — young men who had grown up in the shadow of the previous war — landed on the beaches of Normandy to put an end to what had begun, in a sense, 30 Junes earlier on the streets of Sarajevo when Franz Ferdinand lost his life to an assassin’s bullet.

WW2 US heroesThe connections between the two world wars are myriad but one that most Americans never consider is this: both conflicts were fought with courage if not heroism. Americans make an immediate association between the concept of hero and the Second World War thanks, in part, to a continuous stream of related television and film productions featuring our Greatest Generation. But the First World War? Most of us know too little about it to make that connection.

And heroism requires a cause. World War II clearly had it. World War I did not, at least initially. The nationalism and related territorial claims that stirred Europe to war in 1914 hardly constituted a good vs. evil situation.

Brave Little Belgium

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Anne Hathaway, Shakespeare’s wife – a summary

As is the case with her husband, we know remarkably little about the life of William Shakespeare’s wife, Anne Hathaway. There is no record of either her birth or her baptism, but the inscription on her gravestone indicates that she was 67 years old when she died in 1623. This suggests she was born in 1556, which would make her eight years older than her husband.

Anne HathawayAnne was the eldest of eight children born to local farmer and landowner, Richard Hathaway. It is assumed that the first three children were borne by Richard’s first wife, and the woman listed as her mother, Joan Hathaway, was, in fact, Anne’s stepmother. We have no information as to the identity of Anne’s biological mother, nor do we know for sure if Richard had ever married her.

(Pictured: Drawing purportedly of Anne Hathaway).

Childhood

The family was raised in the village of Shottery, about a mile-and-a-half from Stratford-upon-Avon. Their home was a twelve-room farmhouse which has since become known as Anne Hathaway’s Cottage – a rather misleading nickname considering it is much larger than a cottage, and it never actually belonged to Anne. As the eldest girl, Anne would have been expected to help with the care of her younger siblings and with the upkeep of the farmhouse. We have no information about the education she received, although it is doubtful that she attended school. This does not necessarily mean, however, that Anne was illiterate, as has often been suggested. In fact, given that her family were ardent Protestants, it is likely she would have been taught to read, if only to enable her to study the Bible.

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Who Betrayed Anne Frank?

On the morning of 4 August 1944, a car drew up outside 263 Prinsengracht, a warehouse and office building in central Amsterdam. Several men exited the vehicle and made their way inside, among them an Austrian officer named Karl Josef Silberbauer and some members of the Dutch Nazi Party. They had been tipped off that Jews were hiding on the premises. Whoever had made the anonymous phone call that day was correct: in an annexe at the back of the building, Silberbauer and his men discovered eight Jews. The youngest among them was a 15-year-old girl named Anne Frank.

The Arrest

Anne FrankThe warehouse staff had pointed Silberbauer in the direction of the first floor offices on his arrival to 263 Prinsengracht. Upon entering, a pistol was drawn and Viktor Kugler, the director of the company, was ordered to show the men where the Jews were hiding. Unwillingly, Kugler took them to a bookcase, which concealed the door to what people around the world now know as the Secret Annexe. This was where the Frank family, the van Pels family and a dentist named Fritz Pfeffer had been living clandestinely since 1942, supported by Kugler and other helpers. All of them were German Jews who had fled Nazi rule in the 1930s, only to find their lives endangered once more following the occupation of the Netherlands and the implementation of anti-Semitic laws.

Otto FrankOtto Frank (pictured) was giving 17-year-old Peter van Pels an English lesson when the Nazis entered the Annexe. They joined their families and Pfeffer on the lower floor, where they were ordered to give up their valuables. Looking for something in which to transport the loot, Silberbauer picked up Otto’s leather briefcase, the private place where his youngest daughter Anne had chosen to keep her diaries. Her writings were unceremoniously emptied on to the floor as what little cash the Franks had was stashed away by the Gestapo.

Initially, the Jews were told they had just a few minutes to pack a small bag, but Silberbauer then saw Otto’s trunk, evidently the property of a German war veteran. He was astonished that a Jew had served in the German army and subsequently told everyone to take their time. Similarly astounding was Otto’s revelation that they had been in hiding for over two years. As proof, Silberbauer was shown the pencil lines where Otto had charted Anne and Margot’s growth since 1942 and a map studded with colourful pins, charting the progress of the Allied invasion. D-Day, on 6 June 1944, had been jubilantly celebrated in the Annexe, as everyone had believed that the liberation could not be far away. Now, however, it was evident that for them, the Allied invasion had begun too late.

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The End of the East India Company in India

The Indian ‘Mutiny’, or Rebellion, started on 10 May 1857 and lasted until about mid-June 1858. But by then, the mutineers were a spent force. For the British, having brought in reinforcements from overseas, it remained only to launch a series of mop-up operations to quash every last pocket of resistance. Revenge was very much the motivating force. The Times demanded that, ‘every tree and gable end in the place should have its burden in the shape of a mutineer’s carcass.’ The avengers needed no encouragement – thousands of Indians were killed indiscriminately, whether they had been involved in the rebellion or not; and whole villages set ablaze.

Two years and two months on from the initial outbreak in Meerut, Lord Canning, the first viceroy of India, who served from 1858 to 1862, was able to issue on 8 July 1859 a proclamation declaring: ‘War is at an end; [the] rebellion is put down.’ 11,000 Britons had died, 75 per cent from disease, while the number of Indian casualties, be it sepoy or civilian, remains unknown but numbered many thousands more.

Post-mutiny: the British Raj

East India Company coat of armsLord Canning then managed to quell the bloodthirsty British, earning the contemptuous name ‘Clemency Canning’ from his revenge-driven soldiers. The rebellion may have been dealt with but now the questions were asked – namely, how did it happen and how to ensure that such a catastrophe should never again occur. The East India Company, the de-facto rulers of India, blamed the British Christian evangelicals for having upset local religious sensibilities; while the evangelicals blamed the Company for hampering its efforts.

(Pictured: Coat of Arms of the East India Company).

The uprising may have been far-reaching across northern and central India but Britain’s success was ultimately down to the vast majority of Indian sepoys that had remained loyal to the British. Without their support, the conflict would have had an entirely different ending. Nevertheless, the British Army in India was reorganised so that the proportion of sepoy to British soldiers never exceeded two to one, and the handling of artillery was to be the exclusive responsibility of British-born soldiers. Local religious and linguistic groups were mixed up within regiments to avoid any one group dominating.

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Thomas Cromwell – a brief summary

Like his mentor Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell came from a modest background: his father was variously a cloth merchant, fuller and blacksmith, and the owner of both a brewery and a hostelry (where he allegedly watered down the beer). Born around 1485 in Putney, Cromwell’s birthplace is now, ironically, where the Green Man public house stands. He acknowledged that he had been a ‘ruffian in his younger days’, when he left his family for the Continent and became a mercenary who marched with the French army. He later entered the household of the Florentine banker, Francesco Frescobaldi.

Thomas CromwellReturning to England, he married Elizabeth Wyckes and had three children. In 1523, he became a member of the House of Commons, and in 1524, he was elected as a member of Gray’s Inn and entered the service of Cardinal Wolsey. He served Wolsey as his lawyer and was heavily involved in the dissolution of nearly thirty monasteries, which raised the funds to found both The King’s School, Ipswich and Cardinal College, Oxford. When Wolsey fell from power in 1530 he was appointed to the Privy Council.

(Pictured: Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein the Younger, c1532).

Thomas Cromwell was possessed with genuine reforming zeal and a loathing for what he perceived to be the superstitions and corruptions of the Catholic monks. Along with his fellow Protestants, Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cranmer, he was instrumental in the achievement of the break with Rome. At the height of his career, Cromwell was central to the annulment of the marriage to Catherine, the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn, the execution of Thomas More, and the dissolution of the monasteries. In 1536 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Cromwell of Wimbledon, and in April 1540 he became Earl of Essex. Yet his support for the disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves led to his abrupt downfall in 1540, followed by his botched execution on 28 July 1540 and his head on a pike on London Bridge. He was 55 years old when he died.

That other famous Cromwell, Oliver Cromwell, the Parliamentarian leader during the English Civil War and later Lord Protector, was a great-great-grandson of Thomas Cromwell’s sister, Katherine Williams, whose husband assumed the Cromwell name.

Henry VIIISimon Court.

Henry VIII: History In An Hour, published by William Collins, part of HarperCollins, is available in various digital formats, only 99p / $1.99, and downloadable audio.

See also Thomas Cranmer and Thomas More.

The Hidden World of World War One

When photographer Jeffrey Gusky was given exclusive access to records all but forgotten of the underground cities of World War One lying beneath private farms in France, he had no idea what to expect or the impact it would have on others. Now captured in thousands of striking images, Gusky has titled the collection The Hidden World of WWI. The beautiful art and emotionally charged inscriptions, carved in stone by WWI soldiers, have been virtually untouched for almost 100 years. They are a direct human connection between then and now.

Jeff GuskeyGusky, a Dallas emergency physician, fine-art photographer and explorer, is believed to be the first person to bring to light the large number of underground cities beneath the trenches of WWI. The Hidden World of WWI reveals the artifacts, sculptures and evocative graffiti left behind by soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Landowners determined to preserve the past have zealously protected these underground treasures for decades.

Messages to the Future

“Seeing these subterranean cities for the first time was one of the most moving experiences of my life,” Gusky says. “Finding hundreds and hundreds of messages to the future, written by soldiers in their own hand, made time seem to stand still. I feel a tremendous responsibility to the people who trusted me enough to share their secrets about these places. It was also amazing to realize that while some people knew about some of these spaces, no one knew about all of them.”

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Hannah Szenes – a summary

Hannah Szenes was one of thirty-two Jews from Palestine who parachuted into Europe as members of the British Army in the spring of 1944. Their goal was to rescue other Jews, although their British leaders emphasized that this objective must be secondary to reconnaissance tasks and enabling the escape of captured Allied airmen. After working with partisans in Yugoslavia, Hannah attempted to cross the border into her native Hungary, but was captured and executed five months later, aged just 23. A passionate Zionist and a gifted writer during her brief lifetime, Hannah is remembered as a national heroine in Israel.

Hannah SzenesHannah Szenes (also known as Hannah Senesh) was born in Budapest on 17 July 1921. Her father, a journalist and playwright, died when she was six, but Hannah inherited his gift for writing, becoming a talented poet and regular diarist as she matured. Although the Szenes family were assimilated Jews, Hannah experienced anti-Semitism first-hand when she enrolled at a private high school in the early 1930s and was forced to pay triple tuition fees because of her religion. An intelligent and studious pupil, she became increasingly interested in Zionism, the movement to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Emigrating to Palestine

In September 1939, the same month that the Second World War broke out, Hannah’s dream of travelling to Palestine became a reality. Despite her strong academic performance, she chose to enrol in the Nahalal Agricultural School instead of a traditional university, as she firmly believed that Jewish youth should build the new country. She became particularly interested in poultry farming and after two years of study, joined a new kibbutz near the ruins of an ancient Roman city, between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

As news of the war and the increasing persecution of the Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe trickled through to Palestine, Hannah grew ever more concerned for her brother George, who was studying in Paris, and for her mother, who was still living in Budapest. Despite the natural beauty of the kibbutz’s location, Hannah failed to find contentment in her new work and longed to actively assist her compatriots in Hungary. In 1943 she joined the Haganah (an underground Jewish military force) and was subsequently accepted for a British Army mission that would enable her to travel back to Central Europe. Her seemingly fearless nature, particularly when it came to parachute training, earned the respect and admiration of her fellow volunteers.

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Thomas More – a summary

A dominant intellectual force of his generation, a devout Catholic and lawyer whose interests extended to philosophy, statesmanship and humanism, Thomas More was born 7 February 1478, the son of Sir John More, himself a successful lawyer and judge. Thomas studied at Oxford and then Lincoln’s Inn before being called to the Bar in 1502. Elected to Parliament in 1504, he became increasingly influential as an adviser to Henry VIII. In 1521, he assisted Henry in writing the Assertio, a formal response to the Protestant radical Martin Luther’s attack on Catholicism. In 1523, More became the Speaker of the House of Commons, and succeeded Thomas Wolsey as Lord Chancellor in 1529.

Thomas MoreMore became increasingly worried about Henry’s leanings towards the Protestant Reformation, which he considered to be heretical. He had earlier assisted Wolsey in preventing the spread of the writings of Luther, and was later to suppress the use of William Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament in churches. His spiritual life is reputed to have included practices such as wearing a hair shirt next to his skin and occasional self-flagellation.

(Pictured: Sir Thomas More painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1527).

In 1530, More refused to sign a letter from leading churchmen and aristocrats to Pope Clement VII requesting the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine, and by May 1532 he was forced to resign as Lord Chancellor. After refusing to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn a year later, he was charged with accepting bribes and conspiracy but successfully defended himself. When he and John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester, refused to take the Oath of Supremacy or to acknowledge that Catherine’s marriage was lawfully annulled, he was arrested for treason in 1534 and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

God’s servant first

In July 1535, More was brought to trial. A lawyer to the last, he sought to rely on the legal precedent that ‘who is silent is seen to consent’ and he argued that he could not be convicted of high treason for failing to take the Oath of Supremacy if he did not expressly deny that the king was the Supreme Head of the Church. However, the Solicitor-General Richard Rich testified that More had made such a denial in his presence, and although this testimony was highly dubious, it took just fifteen minutes for the jury to find More guilty. Mounting the steps of the scaffold on 6 July 1535, More said ‘see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself’, and declared that he died ‘the king’s good servant, but God’s first’. In 1935, Pope Pius XI canonized both Thomas More and John Fisher.

Henry VIIISimon Court.

Henry VIII: History In An Hour, published by William Collins, part of HarperCollins, is available in various digital formats, only 99p / $1.99, and downloadable audio.

See also Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell.

The Post Office Rifles Regiment of World War One

It was one of the largest conflicts in history and World War 1 claimed the lives of a vast number of military personnel and civilians. 16 million people perished with a further 20 million wounded.

To commemorate the centenary year of World War 1 the Post Office Shop blog team have been researching the General Post Office’s participation in the Great War and the lives of the Post Office employees that were involved.

The Post Office’s contribution to military operations during the war was on a scale that had never been seen before, with 75,000 Post Office employees serving in some of the most hostile environments during World War 1 and 8,500 of these employees lost their lives fighting for their country.

Post Office RiflesThe Post Office actively encouraged their staff to join in the war effort. Of the 75,000 men who left their jobs with the Post Office on our home shores 12,000 of these brave men joined the Post Office Rifles Regiment which had been in existence since 1868. (Pictured: The Post Office Rifles marching in London, 5 July 1919. Click to enlarge).

During the Great War the Rifles fought at many of the major battles including Ypres, the Somme and Passchendaele which were fought with the intention of strategically restricting the supply of munitions to the army of the German Empire.

Many stories of the individual soldiers who fought these battles will have been sadly lost in the carnage of these hostile battlefields. However, one of these soldier’s stories made it home and is still remembered today due to the kind deed of a German soldier. During a battle near the town of Longueval, 300 Post Office Rifles were killed. The wife of one of these men by the name of Captain Home Peel, was sent a letter by the German Soldier E.F Gayler informing her of his death so his fate was not left unknown on the frontline.

One member of the Rifles, Alfred Knight was awarded the Victoria Cross for a series of brave maneuvers. One of these maneuvers included the daring act of capturing an enemy machine gun position by taking on 12 German soldiers, killing three of them and causing the rest to flee the melee.

These brave soldiers who contributed to winning the Great War and their stories are being commemorated by the Post Office with a series of blog posts on the Post Office Shop blog and a range of commemorative products.

Brook Chalmers