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Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy New Year to Everyone

I would like to wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year, with plenty of spare time for reading, painting and gaming.

Thank you very much for reading my blogs.

(I pinched the picture from the Facebook site of the Regiment de Hainaut, a re-enactment group)

Sunday, 29 December 2013

2013/14 Ashes Series Australia 4 England 0

I am at the acceptance step - England have lost the fourth test. I've been through anger and denial, now I know - Australia have not won the fourth test, England lost it.....

I think I'm going back to anger......CATCHES WIN MATCHES YOU .!!!+**!!!

"Marshal of France" by Jon Manchip White

I have just finished this book. It is:

"MARSHAL OF FRANCE, The Life and Times of Maurice, Comte de Saxe (1696 - 1750)", the author is Jon Manchip White, published by Hamish Hamilton Ltd. in 1962. I bought it through Abe Books.

Many years ago I was told that French children are taught about Joan of Arc and her victories but nothing about the Battles of Crecy and Agincourt. I don't know if this is true or not but I know that in my Grammar School in the late sixties, we were taught about Marlborough and his victories (but not about Eugene), Wolfe and Wellington. The War of the Austrian Succession was not on the syllabus. It was a great surprise to me when, about five years ago, I came across an English translation of "Fontenoy" by Denis Gandilhon and learnt of Maurice de Saxe's great victory over the Pragmatic Army led by the Duke of Cumberland.

I knew of de Saxe as he was one of only four Marshals of France who were given the ultimate accolade a non-noble could achieve in Regal France, (the others being Turenne, de Villars and Soult), so I hunted down this biography.

Maurice de Saxe, painted by Jean-Étienne Liotard

De Saxe was born in the North German town of Goslar on 26th October, 1696. In German, he is Graf Hermann Moritz von Sachsen. He was the illegitimate son of Augustus the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony and Countess Maria Aurora of Konigsmarck, a Swedish countess. Maurice inherited his father's great physical strength and stature as shown in the Liotard portrait above.

Maurice de Saxe joined the ranks of the Saxon forces in Spring 1709, at the age of 12. This was the Saxon contingent that joined the forces of Marlborough and Eugene fighting against the French, first in the siege of Tournai and then at the Battle of Malplaquet, a bloodbath the memory of which stayed with him for the rest of his military career.

In the 1710's, Maurice fought in Northern Europe against the Swedes and then in the Balkans against the Ottoman Empire. In this period he experienced the light and irregular troops of Eastern Europe whose style of fighting he championed.

A commission into the French Army was received in 1720, in whose service he passed the rest of his military career. The highlights of his career were in the 1740's.

In the War of the Polish Succession, on 19th November 1741 he seized Prague by a coup de main, surprising the garrison of a bastion very early in the morning, then opening a gate to other forces. This really brought him fame in France.

In the War of the Austrian Succession he had three great victories over the Allies.

First, on 11th May 1745, at the Battle of Fontenoy, he defeated the Pragmatic Army commanded by the Duke of Cumberland, Prince Waldeck and Count Konigsegg.

Second, on 11th October 1746, at the Battle of Rocoux, he defeated the Pragmatic Army again, under the  command of Prince Charles of Lorraine, Sir John Ligonier and Waldeck.

Third, on 2nd July 1747, at the Battle of Laufeld, he defeated the Pragmatic Army again, under Cumberland, Waldeck and Batthyory.

He then captured Brussels. At the end of the War he captured Maastricht, a substantial fortress designed by Vauban.

After the War, the French Army was reduced in numbers and Maurice was unemployed. He retired to the Chateau of Chambord with his own  small Army. To quote the author, "The vast pile epitomized his life: it was grand and spectacular, sad and eccentric." He died here, probably after a stroke and catching a severe chill, on 20th November 1750.

The impression I have from the book is that de Saxe was something of a military genius, accepted by King Louis XV and the Court for that military ability, but not accepted into the French nobility. He was de Saxe, a German, a Protestant.

"The Battle of Fontenoy" by Horace Vernet

Saturday, 28 December 2013

I'm feeling very low... Ashes Test Match no. 4

(Photo from ECB Facebook)
At the end of day 3, England have thrown away their best chance of a substantial lead after the third innings. (Sigh, downcast look, shaking of head). Do I get up early again tomorrow?

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Greetings of the Season

Merry Christmas to one and all. I hope you are all nice and warm and cosy.

Christmas 1916 (IWM Collection)
On to lunch.......

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Fort Villey le Sec Moulin Turret Part II

I was having another look at the Facebook page for Fort Villey le Sec. The listings include the following pictures.

This is a copy of the proposed walk around the site. The turret is right in the centre of the reduit, the block on the right of the Fort. This plan is drawn upside down, with North at the bottom and South at the top. The two batteries face East, up the Moselle valley and look to give enfilading fire up the valley.

 This arial photo is taken from the lower right of the plan. The turret can be seen centre-right almost surrounded by trees, in its pre-restored form before receiving its new coat of paint. I think that many of the trees within the fort have been removed. The village is also clearly visible.
 A recent picture, a frosty early winter morning.

Fort Villey le Sec is an unusual shape for a Rivieres fort Most of the forts built in the 1870's and 1880's are polygonal, such as Fort Vaux at Verdun.

This photo of Fort Villey le Sec's South Battery demonstrates the reason for the different ground plan. When the French Army Engineers went to choose the site, they found a village already on the best site. The villagers did not want to move, so rather than pay a lot of compensation, the Army designed the fort around the village.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Ashes Tour 2013 - 2014 : Perth Test Match

After the third test match (of five):


Australia have regained the Ashes. It hurts me to admit it, but Australia have totally outplayed us.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Fort Villey le Sec Moulin Turret

This fort has a very good Facebook page - I'm not sure who runs the page - that has a lot of very good photos from the friends who are restoring the fort.

The fort was built in the 1880's and 1890's as part of the new defences following the Franco-Prussian War and the loss of Alsace and large parts of Lorraine to Germany.

The French provinces that were lost in 1871.

It is located just outside Toul, to the west of Nancy and on the River Moselle.

The friends have been restoring the fort for some time and have completed the Mougin turret.

The turret was designed by Commandant Mougin in 1875 and built by the de Bange artillery company. The cannons are 155mm. They were pivoted at the end of the barrel so that to increase or decrease range the breaches swung through a vertical arc. The cannons were fired at the enemy, then the turret would revolve so that the thicker armour would face any incoming fire whilst the cannons were being reloaded and relaid. By the time the turret had turned through 360 deg, the cannons would be ready to fire again.

I have copied the photos from the Fort Villey de Sec Facebook page. This contains many more photos of the work in progress and open days, and of some highland cattle which I assume are used for ground maintenance.

Friday, 13 December 2013

The Hobbit Part 2....and long-tailed tits

This afternoon we went to the cinema to watch the new film "The Hobbit Part 2 - the Desolation of Smaug".

We loved it - almost three hours long, but it seemed like 50 minutes to me. I understand that Tolkienites have a few reservations as the film does not slavishly follow the book, but we loved it.

This was followed by a visit to M & S to buy some supplies for dinner and found this in the square outside the shop.

The dots in the trees are a flock of long-tailed tits, about 200 of them, who roost in these two trees. There was another flock at the other end of the square.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Red Sky in the Morning

The BBC tells me the South of England is shrouded in fog

Come to sunny Yorkshire for clear morning air

Although .... the old saying is red sky in the morning, shepherd's warning.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Miniatures Page - Maginot Line

I have a daily look at This is a site primarily for modellers and wargamers but an occasional history question is asked.

Someone has posted "The Maginot Line - was it ineffective?". There has been a huge response - 43 postings - from the knee-jerk hindsight answers to the very considered answers. This appeals to both of my main history interests, in fortifications and in French history. After many years of reading and thinking about this, my conclusion is that the Maginot Line was very successful, it was not breached and it kept the Germans from crossing the Rhine. There are several reasons for the defeat of the Allies in 1940, a lack of understanding of blitzkrieg, of tank to tank action, of combines forces offensives, a lack of communication and control. At the core of these factors is a complete misunderstanding of modern warfare by all the Allies' command structures. If anyone would like to enter constructive dialogue about this, I would be extremely pleased to hear from you.

If you would like to see the responses, go the the TMP website, enter "Zones of Interest" - "Historical" - "World War 2 Land" then scroll down the Message Boards to the posting.

BBC TV : The Silent War

Yesterday I watched the first part of "The Silent War", part of the BBC TV Cold War series.

"The Silent War" is a two part programme on the submarine war during the cold war, with plenty of interviews of submariners from the UK, US and USSR navies. Lots of stuff here that I did not know, for example, in the 1950's the US put a listening cable across the 3,000 miles of the North Atlantic to the UK, which allowed them and us to log every USSR submarine that left the Baltic and Arctic bases. I know almost nothing about naval history in its own right, almost everything I know is as part of land campaigns, such as D-Day in 1944, or the occasional documentary on Trafalgar or the Battle of the North Atlantic. Can anyone recommend an introductory history book or documentary series?

I look forward to part two of "The Silent War".

Monday, 9 December 2013

Ashes Series 2013/14 Australia 2 England 0

We lost the second match and in a five match series that does not bode well for England retaining the Ashes.


England scored 312 in their second innings and so lost the match by 218 runs. A better result than Brisbane but still.... a thrashing. Well done Australia. On to Perth for match 3, starting Friday 13th.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

AWI Re-enactors at Fort Ticonderoga

A nice photo from the Facebook page of Fort Ticonderoga. American War of Independence reenactors test firing a small piece on a fortress carriage.

The patriots or rebels (depending on your point of view) had captured Fort Ticonderoga very early in the AWI/ARW.

On 11 April 1775 the New England militia laid siege to Boston. The militia successfully cut the land routes but could not close the port. In November, Henry Knox was given the task of bringing heavier cannons from the Fort to the siege lines. The ground was frozen so this probably helped the transfer, but it was February before the cannons were established in the siege lines, on Dorchester Heights. This position overlooked Boston harbour and so threatened British shipping. The British artillery could not hit the new position, so at the beginning of March the British commander, William Howe realised they could not hold the city and he chose to evacuate by sea. This was delayed for about 10 days by unfavourable winds. On 17th March 1776, 120 ships took 10,000 British troops out of Boston harbour to Nova Scotia.

An interesting siege. It lasted 11 months and ended not by storm or starvation but by manoeuvre.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Channel 4 - "1066: the Lost Battlefield - a Time Team Special"

Another good history programme on the television, UK Channel 4's "1066: the Lost Battlefield - a Time Team Special"

I'm not a fan of the Time Team format, although I will watch any military history edition. This programme was really good, really interesting. The Radio Times description was:-

"The Battle of Hastings is arguably the most famous in English history, but due to a lack of archaeological evidence, have historians put the battlefield in the wrong place?"

"Digging alone is inconclusive but cutting-edge aerial technology offers some surprising new evidence about the traditional battlefield site."

I wont give too much away, just in case someone wants to see the programme. I will say Sir Tony and his crew put forward a good arguement for relocating the battle away from the slopes and field of Battle Abbey. We enjoyed it (it's not often I can say my partner enjoys one of my military history programmes).

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

BBC TV - "Strange Days : Cold War Britain"

BBC has launched a series of programmes on the Cold War. On BBC Television, they have aired "Strange Days : Cold War Britain", written and made by Dominic Sandbrook, a historian who seems to be specialising in post-war history.

I have watched this three part programme and I found it to be very interesting. As I was born in 1953 I recognise many of the events and issues, participated in some and with friends sat up long into the night discussing them, usually with a large quantity of alcoholic lubrication. I enjoyed the programme and I recommend them.

By coincidence, the film "High Treason" arrived in the mail on Friday from Lovefilm. This film is discussed in programme one as an example of the anti-USSR paranoia that was prevalent at the time. This British made film from 1951 had a storyline of left-wing saboteurs working in Britain as part of a wider Soviet plot. The saboteurs were not trade unionists or CNDers but intellectuals with a love of modern music and duffel coats, rather prescient as the major spies found in Britain to be working for the USSR, Burgess, McLean, Philby, Blunt, and Cairncross, were all at Cambridge together.

The BBC is scheduled to show more programmes in this Cold War series.

Dominic Sandbrook in Moscow, photo from BBC website

The saboteurs in their duffle coats

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Poilus en hiver

Thursday - I went for a walk from the village of Copmanthorpe back into York, about 7 miles. This was the first time I realised that winter is coming, a flock of fieldfares flew over. They stay for the summer in Scandinavia, then fly here to overwinter.

The cold nip in the air made me think of winter in the trenches and of several pictures. This first is a painting by Camille Godet of a very cold and damp looking poilu, marching somewhere.

This is a poilu trying to keep warm to eat his lunch. He has a sheepskin, a balaclava and very fancy overshoes, much to the amusement of his fellow soldiers.

A snowy patrol. I'm not sure what the poilu on the right is doing, clearing his throat or his nose?

Winter of 1939/40 and the drole de guerre, this Hotchkiss m1914 on an anti-aircraft mount, in a really heavy frost. I wonder if they actually hit anything.

(All these pictures were found on Google Search - I would like to thank the people who posted them)

Monday, 25 November 2013

Richard III & Gravity

Another great weekend has passed (putting the cricket to one side).

Saturday afternoon, we went to the Theatre Royal in York for a very fine production of Richard III, with Ian Bartholomew taking the lead. A huge hump, a hint of a withered left arm and no crutches, which sounds closer to the recently found skeleton in Leicester than some theatrical productions. There was an actor on crutches, Charles Daish played Clarence and was using the crutches for real following an accident.

A terrific production ,thoroughly enjoyed by both of us.

Sunday afternoon, we went to Cityscreen cinema to see Gravity. 3 o'clock on Sunday afternoon and the showing was sold out, I got the penultimate pair of tickets.

Wow, this is what 3D was invented for. Some fine acting from Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, but really, the film is about the visuals. Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, whose previous films include Children of Men and Y Tu Mamá También. I know this is a lot of CGI and green screen filming but the overall effect is jaw dropping. See this at a good cinema with 3D specs.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

2013/14 Ashes Series : Australia 1 England 0

Australia have won the first test match. Very begrudgingly, I have to say they won it with some style and panache. I'm going into the dark to sulk for a while. This was a serious defeat.

Ten days to test no. 2, enough time for England to get their s**t together, in particular KP, Trott, Bell. Adelaide will be an easier track for us.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Brisbane Test, day 3

I got up at 6 o'clock to watch a bit of cricket from Brisbane, with some apprehension.

the Australian cricket team posted a score of 401 for 7 and declared to give them a lead of 561. England were 24 for 2 at the close of play with two full days of play left. That's quite a mountain for England to climb. The highest winning score for a 4th innings in a test match is 541. The last time England played Australia at Brisbane in 2010, in their second innings they close play on 517 for 1. So, a draw is a long shot but not off the cards.

One good thing I saw at the end of play. The Australians Michael Clark and David Warner both scored centuries. As the teams were leaving the field, Kevin Pieterson went to both Clark and Warner to congratulate them and shook their hands, a nice touch of sportsmanship.

Friday, 22 November 2013

2013 Ashes Series Part 2 Test Match 1


Up at 5 - 30 this morning, turned on the tv for day 2 of the Test only to find:-

Australia all out for 295 (good) - well done Stuart Broad with a 6for.

England all out for ....136.....136...(oh oh)

Thanks to Daily Telegraph
This chap, Mitchell Johnson, has taken this opportunity to find his form, with a very fine spell.

Australia are back in and have a lead of 224.

I might sleep in tomorrow.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Jean Gabin as a Moroccan Spahi

While trawling Facebook this morning, I came across this fantastic stdio portrait photo of Jean Gabin as a Spahi NCO from the film "Gueule d'Amour".

This is not a film I have watched. It is translated as "Lady Killer", the director was Jean Grémillon and was made in 1937.

Jean Gabin plays the romantic lead, a Spahi NCO from the Moroccan Spahi Regiment, Mireille Balin is the woman that wrongs him, takes all his money, loses it in gambling and then leaves him. He leaves the Army to track her down. Cor...women eh...

Friday, 15 November 2013

Tosca meets Richard II meets Vauban

What a week.

Saturday night was opera night - a live broadcast from New York Met Opera of Puccini's opera "Tosca", screened at Cityscreen cinema in York. A marvellous night, wonderful singing with Roberto Alagna as Cavaradossi, Patricia Racette singing the title role and George Gagnidze as Scarpia.

Tuesday night, back at Cityscreen, for a live broadcast of the Royal Shakespeare Company production of "Richard II". The King was played by David Tennant, Bollingbrook by Nigel Lindsay. Another marvellous night. Michael Pennington played Bollingbrook senior and delivered a great "This Sceptred Isle" speech. We were sat in row A, so we had a 3 metre tall long-haired, gold finger nailed, Doctor Who looming over us.

Yesterday morning, Thursday, I gave my 45 minute talk to our local U3A Military History Group on the development of artillery fortresses in 1700. It went well with a good Q & A at the end, then several members coming over to ask further questions on a one-to-one basis. I enjoyed this, which is good as I am doing the talk again to another group in May. I liked doing this, I have been reading about and visiting fortresses for some years, this talk forced me to think about this and focus on it.

French history reading is to continue. A few weeks ago I bought a biography of Saxe - "Marshal of France, the Life and Times of Maurice de Saxe" written by Jon Manchip White (a great name) and published in 1962. I shall start this tomorrow.

Nothing more cultural this coming week, except "Gravity" at Cityscreen on Sunday.

Ah - "The News Quiz" has just started on Radio 4, time for a laugh.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Poilu 1916

Pinched from Facebook this morning, an excellent painting of a poilu. In my mind's eye, this is how I see the ordinary, everyday fantassin of France of 1916. No clues to allow me to acknowledge the artist.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Thor : The Dark World

We went to the cinema yesterday afternoon to see "Thor : The Dark World". This was my partner's choice; she really likes the Marvel Avengers series of films (as do I, just not as much).

The first 40 minutes were rather dull. Good performances, good CGI, just dull, my partner leaned over and whispered that she was not enjoying this. Into the second half and things improved. We left the cinema saying it was just OK, scored 5 out of 10.

Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman took the lead roles, they were adequate.
Christopher Eccleston (my favourite Dr Who) played the principal baddie, I was not impressed but it must have been hard with such poor dialogue, I mean why bother to make up a language.
Tom Hiddleston reprieved the role of Loki to very good effect. It was nice to see Anthony Hopkins and Stellan Skarsgard again and always good to see Idris Elba.

Tom Hiddleston with models

Thor 3 is clearly in the minds of the producers.

A note of explanation. I am sitting here at my keyboard, trying to think of a good occasion when a science fiction or fantasy film used an invented language to good effect. Usually they are delivered with a very flat, monotone speech pattern.  Chewbacca's growls and C3PO's beeps were terrific and fitted well into Star Wars, but they both never spoke more than four words and they had a human interpreter to say the dialogue. I cannot think of another example. Klingon? I'm in two minds, its use is always very wooden and monotone although I think maybe it was meant to be. I am open to comment and ideas.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Where is this blockhouse?

I was looking at the Facebook page - Forteresses Alpines - who had this photo and asked the question - where is this blockhouse?

A very Maginot Line look to the ouevre, but look closer. There is a T34 in the background. This is in the Czech Republic at Hlucin, near Ostava. It is close to the border with Silesia, in 1938 part of Germany, now in Poland.

"Cambrai 1917" by Alexander Turner and Peter Dennis

When I was at grammar school in the late 60's, history stopped somewhere around 1850. We were taught nothing about the 20th century. In English Lit we looked at the War Poets and we were taken to the theatre in Manchester to see "Oh What A Lovely War" but in history classes, nothing. What I know about the British in WW1 comes from general works like John Keegan's excellent book "The First World War", a few talks at the Western Front Association and documentaries on tv. I thought I would change that.

Whilst on holiday in September, I read Gary Sheffield's pocket-sized book on the Somme 1916 and I learnt quite a lot.

Our October meeting of the Military History Group at York U3A was given by Major Robin Russell, a retired officer in the British Army, who now acts as a tour guide of Gallipoli, which was his chosen subject. A very fine talk it was.

Two weeks ago, whilst mulling over these two learning experiences, I decided to do at bit more research into the British Army in WW1. Nothing very deep, I don't want to stray very far from French history. So I bought this book.

I love these Osprey books, they are not very long, this one is 96 pages including further reading and index, some maps, drawings and photographs, both contemporaneous and current, of the battlefields and the fighting units. They hold enough to tell the reader what happened with some guidance as to how to dig deeper if the reader decides to follow up. "Cambrai 1917" exemplifies  this very accessible format.

Cambrai is a very famous battle as it is the first major tank battle, or rather a major attempt at a combined arms attack in which tanks played a major role. I did not appreciate how small scale the battle was. The British attacked with two corps, seven divisions of infantry, a cavalry corps and the tank corps, about 430 tanks. The battlefield was about 12 miles X 6 miles. It started on 20th November and was all over by 1st December. No casualty figures are given in the book.

A very interesting and informative book but for now it's back to the French history for a book or two.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

"Georges Clemenceau" by Edouard Manet

Portrait of Georges Clemenceau, painted in1879 by Edouard Manet, when the sitter would have been 38 or 39 years of age.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Filmwatch : "The Hunt" and "Petit Nicholas"

This is one of the best social dramas I have seen for a long time. Mads Mikkelsen is a teacher in a small Danish village, he is a lonely divorcee struggling for custody of his son. He is wrongly accused of sexually assaulting a child. Almost all of the village turns against him, he is arrested and fired from his post, but the case falls apart and he re-enters village life....or does he? I think this is a very current film as we, in Britain, struggle to come to terms with child abuse, this film reminds us that society can quickly spin out of control when a person pulls the right strings for their own ends.

At the other extreme I watched the French film, "Petit Nicolas"

The film is based on a series of French children's books, written by René Goscinny and illustrated by Jean-Jacques Sempé, that are not well known on this side of the Tunnel. Nicolas lives in a perfect world, very happy, nice parents, nice school, nice friends. A little bland, maybe, but a very good, gently humorous film.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Fiasco 2013

A very fine morning at Fiasco 2013 at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. It is the annual show of the Leeds Wargames Club.

I am not a wargamer but I do like a bit of painting, mainly mid-18th century imagination regiments. This was an opportunity to talk to some gamers and collectors.

The most interesting gaming table was by a group called Rune Lords with "Mad Max". The game is based on the film "Mad Max II : The Road Warrior". 54mm figures and scratch built vehicles, including the petrol tanker. It looked very impressive.

I spent some time watching a 10mm game of Bosworth Field, run by Kallistra with Hordes & Heroes figures on a hex table. At the end of the game both Richard III and Henry Tudor were dead, leaving the field to the young Lord Stanley - just think - we might have had a King Stanley. I had a very good chat with the organiser (name unknown, sorry) about artillery on the battlefield in 1485.

The nice chap on The Pike & Shot Society table gave me a very good pack of papers, including this:

 Together with three back copies of their journal, "Arquebusier". I shall peruse them all. They had three very good books on the uniforms and flags of the armies of Louis Quatorze which I am very tempted by, but the  cheapest was £55, so  thought maybe I should put them on my Christmas list, see if Santa will bring them.

One table I stopped at was for "History Club", a chap that was taking wargames into schools, using old Airfix figures. Keep up the good work.

As for soldier purchases, well not much really. I bought two blister packs from AW Miniatures, each containing eight Rogers Rangers and a blister pack of three pack mules from Midlam Miniatures. I was tempted by a few other items, but I resisted. I did have a very good chat with the guys from Offensive Miniatures, I do like their Spanish Napoleonic figures, maybe next time.