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Monday, 31 March 2014

Captain America 2

We went to Cityscreen in York yesterday, to watch this film "Captain America 2 - The Winter Soldier".

This is the latest from the Marvel Comics franchise and it was very enjoyable. Some nice performances from the lead actors, some interesting cameos such as Jenny Agutter and Stan Lee, very good CGI. The plot line was typical Marvel, just what we expected. So, in the round, a good sci-fi action film.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Werneth Low Country Park

Finally, a walk. The ground is drying and recovering from the wettest winter on record. Yesterday, as my partner was competing in a dressage competition in Northallerton, I took the train over the hills to see my parents and to go for a walk.

My parents live in Hyde, about ten miles to the East of Manchester. This was in Cheshire when I was growing up but it is now in Tameside. The town is on the edge of the Pennines and is overlooked by Werneth Low. When I was young I was confused by the name, how can the highest hill around be called a Low; I now know this is a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon word of "lough" meaning hill.

After lunch I left my parents as they have always been big football fans and they wanted to watch the football on tv, Manchester United were playing somebody. I went for a walk up the Low, something I have not done for almost forty years since I left Hyde. The climb is from around 100 to 279 metres. The weather was warmish, sunny but hazy which restricted the views towards Manchester or the Pennines from the top.

Nearing the top

The War Memorial, erected in 1921

War Memorial with the Wireless Transmission Station in the background.

My route was behind the bench then along the ridge to the left

View from the top, not much to see through the haze.

Looking back towards the War Memorial

Down, towards Broadbottom 

Back Wood, still rather muddy
The walk was around five miles, about 2.5 hours. It felt really good. I caught the train from Broadbottom station within ten minutes so I timed that well, back to Manchester then changed to a train back to York.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Take-away Chicken, 1918 Style

Near Amiens, 28th March 1918, French style fried chicken for lunch...(Photo from IWM Collection)

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Bomb Disposal

This week, here in the UK we have had a reminder that the First World War continues to make its presence felt as two Belgian construction workers were killed and two injured by an unexploded artillery shell. Every year, the Belgian authorities dispose of 200 tons of unexploded shells. Across the border in France, the Armée deals with 900 tons just from around Verdun.

Anyone that's been walking or touring in Belgium or North-East France will have seen the piles of shells around fields, particularly at this time of year, around the ploughing season.

Shells found in a field in Belgium (photo from the Irish Times)

Shells collected from Sanctuary Wood

In 2008 I went on a Holt's Tours trip to Verdun. Our guide, Richard Holmes, had been told of a newly discovered German trench at the back of Le Mort Homme so we went for a look.

This is a photo of the group in the trench. Then we found this.

It looked like a 105. We promptly retreated, except for one group member. He was a very clever chap but was somewhat lacking in the social sense. He went up and KICKED THE SHELL.

"Its all right, it's a dud" he shouted.

"You f*****g a******e" and "Are you trying to kill us?" were the answers he got.

I was stood about five metres away when he did it. In the next thirty seconds I became very aware of my mortality.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014


This wonderful image is from a Facebook page, the image is called "Un Recrute Francais Parmi Les Poilus" (A French Recruit Amongst the Poilus) is by J. Simont and was drawn in 1916. A very good representation of a new boy probably being baited by the old hands.

Reenactors, showing a realistic mix of uniforms and equipment

From the blog "Analogue Hobbies" a poilu in the mud

This 28mm figure is from "Forgotten and Glorious"

Unfortunately I don't know the name of the painter but this is very well done.

Verdun, summer 1916, going to the trenches, a fantassin flanked by two artillermen

Verdun, summer 1916, returning from the lines. A very damp looking, tired squad. Note the mix of equipment, the man front line second right has chauchat cartridge magazine packs.

No doubt, they will be anticipating something from one of these, a cuisine roulante. This restored cuisine was on the Facebook page of Fort de Seclin.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Seven Samurai

Today's classic film at Cityscreen - Seven Samurai - wonderful. My partner forgot just how long the film is (3h 15mins) she had to text her stablemate to reschedule. I love this film, it is my number 3 of all time great films. Unfortunately this season of classic films is coming to an end next week (sigh) and they have not shown my number 2, Les Enfants du Paradis.

"Paths of Glory - The Life and Death of General James Wolfe" by Stephen Brumwell

Published 2006, this paperback edition published 2007.

I read this over the last three weeks, finishing it last weekend. It is the second biography I have read from Stephen Brumwell and I liked it very much. I had forgotten that at Primary school in the early '60s we were taught Wolfe was a great soldier who died too early in the service of his country.

James Wolfe was born on 2nd January 1727 to Lt Col Edward Wolfe of the Foot Guards and his wife Henrietta at Westerham, Kent. He was a sickly child and suffered throughout his life, but James was destined for a military career.

In 1740, when aged 13, his father was part of the force sailing to lay siege to Spanish-held Cartagena in the West Indies. James was to go with the force but suffered terribly from sea sickness so was sent home - there is no record of how he felt about this - but this probably saved his life as about 80% of the British force died through disease.

Victory and defeat were both experienced. Victories came when James was at Dettingen with 12th Foot and then ADC to General Hawley, serving under Cumberland  at Culloden. Defeat came from the hands of a genius, Maurice de Saxe who beat the Pragmatic Army led by Cumberland at Laufeld in 1747.

It was in North America that Wolfe made his name. My reading of the book suggests he was known as a soldier's soldier, strict with high standards but also caring for his men. 1758, he played a leading role in the successful siege of Louisbourg and the subsequent expelling of the Acadians (a bit of ethnic cleansing?). The following year, the British government and military devised a three pronged strategy to eject France from North America. Amherst was to take Fort Ticonderoga, Johnson to take Fort Niagara, Wolfe was to command the British forces to take Quebec. All three were successful. On 13th September 1759, British troops climbed up from the St Lawrence River and onto the Plain of Abraham and met and defeated the French forces of Quebec. Both Army commanders at Quebec died there, Wolfe and Louis-Joseph, Marquis de Montcalm, on that day.

Stephen Brumwell thinks that Wolfe may have planned to make the Quebec campaign his last, that he planned to retire when he returned to England. The travelling and campaigning had taken a heavy toll on his body, he had wanted to campaign in Germany. He was engaged to marry Katherine Lowther on his return and he planned to have a family.

"The Death of General Wolfe" by Benjamin West
At the time and for the next two centuries, Wolfe's death was seen as heroic, as the epitome of imperial sacrifice. West painted the scene, the engraving of which sold extremely well, Nelson had a copy.

Brumwell ends the book with this opinion, Wolfe helped to establish Britain's tradition of martial success and set Britain down the path of Empire. If Wolfe had lived and been persuaded to stay in the Army, he may have matured into one of the great generals, ranking with Marlborough and Wellington. I agree.

To sum up - I really liked this book. This was the second work by Brumwell that I have read, the first being his work on Washington, I find his style of writing to be easy to read and enjoyable.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Buster Keaton's "The General" (1926)

Buster Keaton as Johnny Gray, the engineer  of The General

Buster Keaton with Marion Mack playing his sweetheart Annabelle Lee

Today's classic film at York's Cityscreen was "The General", the 1926 silent film about the kidnapping of a railway engine named "The General" and its rescue.

Written and directed by Clyde Bruckman and Buster Keaton and based upon an actual event from the ACW, it has an epic chase by trains through great wooded and hilly locations. The film was poorly received when released but is now seen as a masterpiece and probably Keaton's best film.

Personally, I thought the film was marvellous, still very funny.

Friday, 7 March 2014

BBC TV "37 Days"

Lunchtime - I have just watched Part One of BBC Television's dramatisation of the 37 days leading up to the declaration of war in 1914. I have to say - bravo BBC - very good programme.

First class acting all round, with two more one-hour episodes which I am sure will maintain the standard.

I know there are some in our hobby who do not like dramatisation of historical events and those who dislike the political side of history, but if you can I recommend that you find time to watch these programmes.