First Night History | Taking a Sabbatical | Update

Update 12 November 2018

I have been finding it far easier and less time-consuming to post on my accompanying Facebook page so if you’re on FB, join me there!

First Night History on Facebook

Take care and keep laughing!


Nineteen Years | In Times Gone By…

A picture of one of 1999 Russian apartment bombings.

A picture of one of 1999 Russian apartment bombings.

Today is the nineteenth anniversary of the start of the Russian apartment bombings, when Vladimir Putin orchestrated a series of attacks that killed hundreds of citizens across Russia in order to boost his popularity and win…

via Nineteen Years | In Times Gone By…

The Secret London Exhibition for Spies’ Eyes Only – Atlas Obscura

Installation shots from inside the exhibition. THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES: HS10-1-3

Installation shots from inside the exhibition. THE NATIONAL ARCHIVES: HS10-1-3

When Ealing Studios released a feature film in 1948 that showed a secret wartime spy workshop hidden in London’s Natural History Museum, the plot was too far-fetched for critics and the public. The New York Times said Against the Wind conveyed only “a minimum of the truth” behind Second World War sabotage efforts. Its director Charles Crichton—perhaps best known for the comedy A Fish Called Wanda—was also rebuffed: “Only Crichton would think of having his secret London headquarters in a museum of stuffed dinosaurs” scoffed…

via The Secret London Exhibition for Spies’ Eyes Only – Atlas Obscura

Michael Rosen: The Pig-man

The tide of war retreated across the suburbs

leaving gas-masks in attics, a man with one leg

on the bench by the library, an air-raid shelter

in the park which one day, the kid with the

most nerve took us down and where we found…

via Michael Rosen: The Pig-man

Ireland’s Holocaust heroine | historywithatwist

Mary Elmes during the war years and in later life

Mary Elmes during the war years and in later life

The great events of our past – the wars and the genocides – are just a series of small steps strung together… steps that when looked back upon appear to be a seamless, momentous journey.

And because of that, we tend to overlook many of those very people who created the events that make history so extraordinary.

The name Mary Elmes is not one that conjures up any special memory to most people, and that’s probably just the way the Corkwoman would…

via Ireland’s Holocaust heroine | historywithatwist

Nazi spy or sad fantasist? Newly-released files finally shed light on the seaside B&B landlady sentenced to death for treason | Daily Mail Online

Unassuming: Dorothy O'Grady's neighbours knew her as a guest house landlady whose greatest pleasure was walking her Labrador, Rob

Unassuming: Dorothy O’Grady’s neighbours knew her as a guest house landlady whose greatest pleasure was walking her Labrador, Rob

To her neighbours, Dorothy O’Grady was a pleasant middle-aged woman who liked walking her Labrador around their sleepy seaside town.

So when the unassuming landlady of Osborne Villa in the Isle of Wight was suddenly arrested in 1940 on suspicion of being a Nazi spy, few believed it possible…

via Nazi spy or sad fantasist? Newly-released files finally shed light on the seaside B&B landlady sentenced to death for treason | Daily Mail Online

Today is the 199th anniversary of the Peterloo by Christopher Oxford

Written by my friend, Christopher Oxford.

Today is the 199th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre, an epochal event in the development of British democracy.

On August 16th, 1819, St Peter’s Fields, a large open space in the centre of Manchester, was the scene of an atrocity in which mounted soldiers attacked a crowd of over 60,000 peaceful suffrage protesters. Eighteen people, including four women and a child, died from sabre cuts and trampling, and nearly seven hundred more received grievous injuries – all in the name of political emancipation.

Peterloo occurred during a period of immense social tension and mass protests caused by political repression, economic depression and widespread poverty in aftermath of the Napoleonic wars. Fewer than one in fifty people had the vote, and hunger was widespread, with bad harvests, and the disastrous Corn Laws, making the people’s staple food barely affordable.

On the morning of August 16th, crowds began to congregate, coming in from the outlying districts of Manchester, and the surrounding towns; all conducting themselves, according to contemporary accounts, with dignity and discipline, the majority of them dressed in their Sunday best.

The main address was to be given by the inspirational speaker Henry “Orator” Hunt, from a hustings platform consisting of a large agricultural cart, and the Fields were filled with banners – REFORM, UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE, EQUAL REPRESENTATION and, ironically, LOVE. Many of the banner poles were topped with the red cap of liberty – a powerful symbol from revolutionary France (it was only 26 years since the Terror).

Watching the ever-increasing assembly from a window overlooking the Fields, a local magistrate who had been charged with keeping the peace became uneasy, and after a brief consultation, decided to have the crowd disperse by the officially sanctioned method of reading the Riot Act aloud. Above the hubbub preceding the event, the words could scarcely be heard; but that gave legal cover for what happened subsequently.

In neighbouring streets, an extensive military force had been assembled, in anticipation of disorder: unbelievably, there were six hundred mounted Hussars; two hundred infantrymen; an artillery unit with two six-pounder guns; four hundred men of the local Cheshire cavalry; and additionally, four hundred rapidly sworn-in special constables.

With all these troops held in reserve, the local Yeomanry, led by Captain Hugh Birley and Major Thomas Trafford, a paramilitary force drawn from the ranks of the local mill and shop owners, was given the task of moving and arresting the speakers. Many of them had been drinking while they waited, on an unusually warm summer day. On horseback, armed with sabres and clubs, many were familiar with, and had old scores to settle with, the leading protesters. (In one instance, on spotting a reporter from the radical “Manchester Observer”, a Yeomanry officer was heard to cry “There’s Saxton, damn him – run him through!”)

As the Yeomanry approached the hustings, people in the crowd linked arms to try and prevent the arrests. An order was given to advance regardless, and the first rank of the Yeomanry drew their swords, and proceeded to cut down banners and slash at protestors below them with their razor-edged swords.

The surge of panicked people trying to get out of the way was interpreted from a distance as the crowd attacking the Yeomanry, and the Hussars (experienced professional soldiers led by Lieutenant Colonel Guy L’Estrange) were ordered in. Their vanguard cut a swathe through the crowd from the far side of the Fields.

Despite this, there were unlikely heroes among the military. An unnamed cavalry officer attempted to strike up the swords of the Yeomanry, crying, “For shame, gentlemen: what are you about? The people cannot get away!”; while the Cheshire cavalry did not move forward. The Hussars, though, disciplined and relentless, rapidly cut through the crowd and joined up with the Yeomanry, in some cases striking down fleeing protesters.

In only a few minutes, by 2 pm, the carnage was over, leaving St Peter’s Fields piled with abandoned banners and the bodies of the dead and wounded – and the whole of Manchester reeling in shock. The term ‘Peterloo’ was rapidly coined, to mock the soldiers who had attacked unarmed civilians – contrasting their cowardice with the valour of troops at Waterloo, four years earlier.

On the orders of the magistrates, journalists who had been present at the event were arrested; others who went on to report the event were subsequently jailed. As a direct reaction to what he’d seen at St Peter’s Fields, the businessman John Edward Taylor went on to raise a subscription to set up the Manchester Guardian newspaper.

In the weeks that followed, most of the speakers and organizers of the rally were arraigned in court – a charge of High Treason only reluctantly being dropped by the prosecution after a public outcry. The Hussars, and the magistrates, by contrast, received a message of congratulation from the Prince Regent, and all the authorities policing the event were cleared of any wrongdoing by the subsequent official inquiry.

The indignant reaction to Peterloo was hugely influential in prompting a long-lived national debate about who should have the right to vote. After the Great Reform Act of 1832, the late 1830s saw the rise of the mass Chartist movement, with its Six Demands, which pressured governments for nearly twenty years. All those demands bar one (annual Parliaments) were later enacted, in the franchise reforms of 1867 and 1884, and successive Representation of the People Acts in the 20th Century.

via Today is the 199th anniversary of the Peterloo… – Christopher Oxford

The Lost Artist: Love Passion War – A Search for a Famed Illustrator Uncovers a WW II Hero


1934: A 13-year-old Jewish boy escapes Nazi Germany to become the highest decorated WWII Palestinian (future Israeli) soldier in the British Army.

2010: A top Israeli computer scientist searches for her favorite artist of her youth.

From the rise of the Nazi Party through the formation of the State of Israel, across a sea of time, their worlds collide…

via The Lost Artist: Love Passion War – A Search for a Famed Illustrator Uncovers a WW II Hero

The Diary Of Renia Spiegel: Another Teen’s Remarkable Record Of Hiding From The Nazis

Renia Spiegel

Renia Spiegel

Almost everyone has heard of Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl who kept a diary during her time in hiding from the Nazis in 1942.  It has recently come to light that another diary of a World War II-era teenager has been found.  Renia Spiegel, from the village of Uhryńkowce in the Tarnów region of Opałszczyce in Poland, kept a diary from January of 1939 until…

via The Diary Of Renia Spiegel: Another Teen’s Remarkable Record Of Hiding From The Nazis

Lambert Simnel and Edward V | Matt’s History Blog

pitt-006-hardback-dust-jacket-bookshelfWhen I wrote The Survival of the Princes in the Tower, I posited a theory, one of many alternatives offered. This particular idea has grown on me ever since, and I find myself unable to shake it off. I’m beginning to convince myself that the 1487 Lambert Simnel Affair was never an uprising in favour of Edward, Earl of Warwick, as history tells us. I think I’m certain I believe it was a revolt in support of Edward V, the elder of the Princes in the Tower. Sounds crazy? Just bear with me…

via Lambert Simnel and Edward V | Matt’s History Blog

The “wrong” sort of survivor?

rebel notes

The controversies that emerged this week, over the  harsh words about Israel uttered by

1523128801-marek-edelman Marek Edelman

a Holocaust survivor at a meeting eight years ago, have made me think about Marek Edelman, the last surviving member of the command group who led the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.  He died in 2009. I was fortunate and privileged to meet him briefly at a conference in Warsaw in 1997. In the current “debates” I have no doubt that in some people’s warped minds he too would be derided and disdained as the “wrong kind of Holocaust survivor”.

Edelman was a Bundist (Jewish socialist) – a lifelong anti-nationalist and internationalist,

6a00d834522bcd69e200e5545120b98833-800wi Mustafa Barghouti

and opponent of Zionism. He remained in Poland – his homeland – after the war, fought against the post-war Stalinist regime from a left-wing and democratic position, and continued to struggle for a better and more humane world. His work in this…

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Primo Levi: Chemistry and the Holocaust


41vTGy5xYuLOn the 31st of July 1919, the Italian Jewish chemist and writer Primo Levi was born in Turin, Italy. A survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, he emerged after the war as one of the most incisive and candid intellects among those writers who had experienced the Holocaust. He grew up during the years preceding World War II in the relative comfort of a middle class at a time in Italy when being of Jewish ancestry had not yet become a cause of segregation and persecution. In 1937, he enrolled at the University of Turin to study chemistry, which was only one year before the promulgation of the Fascist racial laws. Along with other restrictions, the latter prohibited Jews in Italy from attending public schools. However, due to the fact that he had already begun his studies, he was allowed to remain at university until the completion of his course…

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bobbiesA fog had settled over London on July 28, 1948.  All was quiet and seemingly normal. But of course it wasn’t. Visualize if you will a large shipment of gold bullion awaiting transport at London Airport. A gang of evildoers determined to make off with it.  And an elite throng of intrepid crimestoppers known as the Metropolitan Police Flying Squad. You have all the ingredients in place for the adventure known as

via JULY 28, 1948: THOSE MAGNIFICENT MEN WITH NO FLYING MACHINES – Wretched Richard’s Almanac

Thank You, David: One ugly woman’s message to David Starkey – F Yeah History


What a delight!…

via Thank You, David: One ugly woman’s message to David Starkey – F Yeah History

The French Invasion | The Isle of Wight | The History Project

21july1545iowIt was on this day, 21st July back in 1545 when the French tried to invade the Isle of Wight but failed when their troops were repelled.  The invasion attempt came just days after the Mary Rose sank whilst battling against a French invasion fleet, said to be larger than that of the Spanish Armada years later.  Following years of unrest in Catholic Europe, the King of France…

via The French Invasion | The Isle of Wight | The History Project