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Thursday, 30 April 2015

Visit to Plymouth and Bristol

I have had a great time on a visit to Plymouth and Bristol in the South-West of England.

First, two days on the Fortress Study Group Away Weekend in Plymouth, visiting some of the forts and batteries built in the 1860s to defend Plymouth from a land based attack. This postcard below is from the biggest fort in the defence, Crownhill Fort, now owned and operated by The Landmark Trust.

Map in the fort entrance 
My thanks to Keith Phillips for organising this and making a very good group of eighteen. We visited six works - I will sort out my photos and some maps and write a proper report over the next few days.

Second, I met with my Partner, B,to spend a couple of days in Bristol. What a lovely city this is, a great place for unwinding and eating too much.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

"A Little Chaos"

B's turn to choose the film. This was her choice and at the end of two very long hours she admitted she had chosen badly. It was dull, boring. Some nice camera work, nice locations, great costumes, but on the whole, dull.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Last Meeting - here comes the summer

University of the Third Age, York Branch, Europe - In or Out?

Yesterday was our last meeting of this U3A course. It was sad in a way as this has been a very good group, six meetings since October, usually eight or nine people. All of us were undecided and in want of knowledge. We've all done pieces of research, we've all had our say, no one person has dominated or shouted down the others, we've had a lot of laughs.

At the end of this last meeting, we had a poll. The results:-

1. Should the UK be in or out of the EU? Seven for in, one for out.

2. Should the UK hold a referendum on the in or out question? One for yes (me), seven for no.

One thing we all found very interesting, we could not get someone from UKIP to come and talk to us, to explain why we should leave the EU and talk through their alternatives. No reasons given.

On a different subject, this week my Ashes match tickets have arrived for the Saturday of the Trent Bridge Test. (For those non-cricket readers, on Saturday, 8th August, we will drive to Nottingham for Day 3 of the England v Australia Test Match, the third of a five match series). I'm really excited already - i can't wait - roll on the summer.

The last photo is what it is all about. The player in the centre (Matt Prior) with the England flag on his shoulder, he holds a small urn which contains the Ashes. That is the winners' trophy, the object of our desire.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

"Captain Alatriste"

If you have an interest in 17th century history I would like to recommend this film to you. Made in Spain in 2005/6, it is based on the Captain Alatriste novels of Arturo Perez-Reverte.

The story follows the twenty years period of 1622 (fighting in the Low Countries) to the Battle of Rocroi, May 1643. This period is a little before my chosen period of study but it looks authentic to me. It is beautifully filmed with great visual flair, full of atmospheric internals and externals. The combat sequences look very realistic, confused and bloody. The sword play is realistic and some of the best I've seen..

The film is long at 140 minutes. It is in Spanish so I needed the subtitles. It flags a little in places but the last twenty minutes, at Rocroi, are really well done.

Monday, 13 April 2015

"German Strategy and the Path to Verdun" by Robert T. Foley

University of the Third Age, York Branch, Military History Group.

For the last two years I have written papers for the group. This year I have decided to talk about the Battle of Verdun as next year will be the centenary of the ten-month long conflict, a "war within a  war".

To start off my research, I have read "German Strategy and the Path to Verdun - Erich von Falkenhayn and the Development of Attrition 1870 - 1916" by Robert T. Foley.

First published in 2005, the author was able to use archive material released in Germany since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

This is a fascinating book. I have owned it for a few years, I read it when purchased but it did not really sink in, I did not understand it fully, however, it starts with the Franco - Prussian War of 1870/71 which was the subject of my talk for 2014. The understanding I got from that talk made this second reading much more accessible. For example, there are two distinct phases of the FPW. First, the hammer blows of the Germans, the major battles that lead to the collapse and surrender of the French Army and with it the Second Empire. Second, with the establishment of the Third Republic, the declaration of  the People's War, the Volkskrieg, this dragged the war on for several months until the late Spring of 1871. After the war, two camps developed within the German Army. There were those that favoured the hammer blow strategy, they advocated strict adherence to the Schlieffen Plan. The minor camp were those that realised that Volkskrieg was the new way and that a strategy of attrition would be needed to win. Falkenhayn was appointed Chief of the General Staff in November 1914 as the two sides dug-in. He was in the second camp. The book details how he and his staff developed the theory of attrition, using it very successfully on the Eastern Front in 1915, then decided to use it on the French Army at Verdun.

As I say, a fascinating book and a great jumping-off point for my talk.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Bank Holiday Fortress Visit

Yesterday, here in the UK was a public holiday, Easter Monday. Most people got the day off work, including my partner, B. I managed to persuade her not to spend the day at the stables but to visit a historic site in North Yorkshire.

Signpost for Stanwick camp, with our chariot

Stanwick St. John is about 30 - 40 miles from us. It is a few miles north of Richmond, on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. The village is in the centre of an Iron Age fort that pre-dates the Roman Invasion. Over the centuries the fort has been eroded, the ditches have half-filled and the ramparts have become overgrown. Some archaeological excavations were undertaken in the 1950s and a little preservation work since then.

The site is very large. The ramparts were four miles in length and surround an area of 310 hectares. The fort was an important centre for the Brigantes tribe that controlled Northern England when the Romans arrived.

On the right of the ramparts is outside the fort

Overgrown ditch

Top of the ramparts

Steps down into the ditch between the outer and inner embankments

Me, trying to give an idea of the depth of the ditch

From the bottom of the ditch, looking back up the steps

1950's excavation and rebuilding of the wall along the ramparts.
Today, much of the site is agricultural but we could still see much of the ramparts.

I think this is the main entrance

Trees growing on the ramparts

My first fortress visit of 2015, a good start to the year.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

"Duck Soup"

Weather wise - this afternoon was probably the warmest and sunniest we have had so far this year - so we went to the cinema.

"Duck Soup". Very funny - full of slapstick and one-liners - the parental warning was "this film contains very mild innuendo, slapstick comedy and smoking" - and the mirror scene with Groucho and Harpo is probably the best ever.

Groucho to Chico "I'm going to join a club and beat you with it."

I'm still smiling just thinking about the film.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

French Tanks of World War 1

Recently I found this photo on the internet. No explanation or dates given. The stamp in the bottom right corner says "Signal Corps U S Army" Of interest to me is the FT17 turret that has been set/built into the dock wall, suggesting this is a harbour somewhere on the Atlantic Wall. This got me thinking, As a chap with an interest in artillery fortifications, I would like to know more about the Atlantic Wall and as a chap with an interest in French history, I would like to know more about French tanks of WW1.

This morning, I got my stuff together, ate, dressed and walked into town (about three miles) to do some shopping. I went into York's largest bookshop, for no particular reason, just to see what was there. I found this, Osprey Publishing's book "French Tanks of World War 1" by Stephen Zaloga.

The book seems to be to the usual Osprey high standards, lots of photos and some line drawings. It concentrates on the three main tanks built, the Schneider, the St-Chamond the the Renault FT17 and on the development of battlefield tactics.

I thought this was a serendipitous find so I bought the book in the shop. I caught the bus back to the village, one walk per day is enough. Whilst sat on the bus, I realised I could have bought the book cheaper on-line but there is something more satisfying about a spur-of-the-moment purchase.