Did 863 Commonwealth Soldiers really have to die on the last day of WW1?

Nowadays most generals are extravagant in their use of ammunition but parsimonious with the lives of their troops. Not so during WW1. By the end of WW1, the British Commonwealth had suffered more than 1.1million deaths and countless millions more maimed and injured. Most of the deaths on the last day occurred between the Armistice being signed at 5:10am within a railway carriage in Compiegne Wood and the ceasefire coming into effect at 11am that same morning. How could 10 000 soldiers become casualties that day when the Deed of Cessation of hostilities had already been signed?

For those with a conspiratorial disposition, be assured that there was no significance in the fact that the time and date of the cessation of hostilities comprised the number eleven. This was pure happenstance. The German delegation led by a civilian Matthias Erzberger had arrived some days earlier to conclude a peace treaty. In spite of the Allies being aware that the German’s mandate was peace at any cost, the Allies under Marshal Ferdinand Foch was truculent and in no mood to make any concessions to the Germans. This truculence was to delay the peace by three days.

Main picture: Carriage in which the Deed of Armistice was signed
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Photographs of Berlin in 1945 and Today

Hitler’s decision to fight until the last man and boy had been killed resulted in Hitler retreating from the Wolf’s Lair in Eastern Prussia and ensconcing himself in the so-called underground Fuhrerbunker near the Reich’s Chancellery in Berlin. Large swaths of Berlin had already been laid to ruin due to the continual bombing sorties by the British and American Air Forces. Now it was the turn of the Russian Army to complete its destruction.

Main picture: These photographs, taken by the Boston Globe, show the same location in 1945 and in 2015.

Cloistered within the fetid and otherworldly atmosphere were Adolf Hitler and his mistress Eva Braun together with the Goebbel’s family – Joseph, Magda and their six children. In spite of the German Wehrmacht being woefully inadequate to prevent the demise of Deutschland, Hitler and his closest aids still lived in a dream world. Accompanied by Albert Speer, Hitler even took a tour of the Reich’s Chancellery in order to view a model of the future Berlin; such was Hitler’s unwavering belief in Germany’s invincibility in spite of the deteriorating military situation.

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Are these really South Africa’s Top 10 Landmarks?

This is the list compiled by the Trip Advisor. It is always highly debatable what the top ten items are in any category; similarly with this list. Do you also have other landmarks in mind which are more significant like Kimberley or the Castle in Cape Town which should be on that list? Being totally unbiased I nominated Number 7 Castle Hill Port Elizabeth for the top position. The owner of the oldest extant house in Port Elizabeth and I have something in common. The Reverend Francis McCleland was my great great grandfather and the minister of the first church in Port Elizabeth.

According to the Heritage Collection:

No 7 Castle Hill was the residence of Rev. Francis McCleland and his family. He built his parsonage in 1825. The picturesque cottage is one of the oldest remaining dwelling houses in Port Elizabeth and is furnished as a family home of the mid-Victorian period, depicting the early Settler way of life. The house was declared a National Monument in 1962 and became a museum (No 7 Castle Hill Museum) in 1964.

Main picture: Number 7 Castle Hill in Port Elizabeth


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Churchill’s WW1: From Humiliation to Redemption

Being born in Blenheim Castle, built by his ancestor the 1st Duke of Wellington, the victor at Waterloo, would leave an indelible imprint on the impressionable youngster. He believed that he was born to greatness. Another streak also drove the red haired youth; a deep desire to impress his parents both of whom, due to their social commitments, neglected the youngster who craved their affection.

Churchill’s humiliation during WW1 was unquestionably the folly and slaughter at Gallipoli but what was his ultimate redemption and what did it take to overcome the stigma?

Main picture: Churchill’s favourite pasttime – painting which he only discovered later in life

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Britain’s Greatest Military Disaster by a Third World Nation

What possessed Britain to attempt to subordinate a primitive, desolate country that was trapped in the Middle Ages? How was it possible that a third rate force could massacre 17 000 British soldiers with only ten survivors – a surgeon and an officers wife amongst them? This defeat even exceeded that against the Zulus at Isandlwana in Natal.

The country in question is Afghanistan, a country wedged precariously between two expanding Empires – the Russian and the British. The Russians under the Tsars during the nineteenth century were rapidly expanding eastward towards Alaska whereas the British were initially content on the Indian subcontinent.

Main picture: Alexander Burnes – Scottish explorer and adventurers & fluent Persian speaker

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Some Politically Incorrect Comments by World Famous People

Exceptions notwithstanding, probably none of the persons whom society has beatified with sainthood has an unblemished record. The lessor mortals fare less well. By now, Jacob Zuma is well known for his racist and misogynist comments. What about the Zulu King, Goodwill Zwelithini fanning the flames of xenophobia with his ill-advised comments? Finally it was an article by Jan Vermeulen entitled “This is why Gandhi’s statue was vandalised?” which propelled me to investigate further.

A case in point is Winston Churchill who is indubitably my history hero. Like all such luminaries Churchill was human. In the heat of moment, Winston did make some crass comments. Being an old-fashioned Imperialist and Royalist at heart – the last of a dying breed in the Nineteen Thirties’ – his vitriol was often directed at the Indian people & Gandhi in particular.

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What is the origin of “Kilroy was here”?

Most people are vaguely familiar with the expression “Kilroy was here” but how did it arise and what was it real significance? This story must rate as no more than a footnote to history. Nonetheless it is tales like this that comprise the rich mosaic of life and provide its human interest.

Most people have sometime in their life seen the drawing of a bald head with an overlarge nose peering over a fence as it is now an iconic picture. Like us today, the Allies during WW2 – but mainly the Americans – had seen this quirky image adorning everything from tanks, vehicles to planes sometime during their service in the American military.

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A Footnote to History: Boys as German Soldiers during WW2

I have always been fascinated how a youngster would cope with the ardours of war. In the case of the indoctrinated youths of the Hitler Jugend perhaps that were able to endure it as they were supposedly the Herrenvolk, Master Race. Notwithstanding that, can the level of brainwashing overcome the trauma of war? This blog contrasts two such callow youths.

The best known example is a 15 year old lad by the name of Wilhelm “Willi” Hubner in March 1945. Hubner, short for his age, possessed the visage of a 10 year old and the vocal register or pitch of a young child. With a naivety belying the deadly job that he was performing, he fixed his gaze on Hitler as he approached the squad of German youths about to be rewarded for their acts of valour.

Main picture: Adolf Hitler congratulating Hitlerjugend boys including Wilhelm Hubner
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The Golden Age of Air Travel

Cabin service on board an intercontinental Boeing 707 during a flight with the West German airline Lufthansa, April 1967

Cabin service on board an intercontinental Boeing 707 during a flight with the West German airline Lufthansa, April 1967

What is the first thought when contemplating flying somewhere: cramped conditions with stodgy unappetising meals? Business Class is completely different experience but who can afford a seat which can cost anywhere from 5 to 10 times that of an economy class seat.

This series of photographs will reveal the elegance of flying during the 1950s and 1960s. Women would be dressed up to the nines and for the men suits and ties were de rigeur. In effect the whole plane was in current terms First and Business Class. The prices reflected that fact too. The plebeians were not allowed to lower the tone. There was no need to discriminate against them overtly. The price ensured that they could not enter these hallowed cabins.

Main picture: Passengers enjoy a drink and a game of cards in the cabin of an Imperial Airways plane in 1936

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Scott’s Fatal Polar Expedition contrasted with a Modern One

The ways in which Scott and Shackleton explored the Polar Regions is moribund. Even the manner in which Randolph Fiennes manhandled all his kit across Antarctica need no longer be the modus operandi. Whilst even his odyssey to the South Pole is remarkable in terms of endurance and tenacity, it lacked the one ingredient that continues to make Scott’s and Shackleton’s attempts enduring: no Plan B. 

Robert Falcon Scott was to die on the 29th March 1912 in his heroic attempt to become the first person to reach the South Pole. Amundsen, using dog sleds instead of manhandling their equipment, had beaten them to it. The only solace and consolation was to return with their samples which was the ostensible reason for the trip. Reaching the Pole first was pure bravado, vanity and for the glory of the British Empire.

Main picture: Robert Falcon Scott in full Polar regalia

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