The History Girls: Odette by Julie Summers

There are very few characters from the Second World War who are known by their first names but Odette is one of them. Probably the most famous female Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent to survive was born this day in 1912. She was christened Odette Marie Celine Brailly in Amiens and remarkably was blind for nearly…

Source: The History Girls: Odette by Julie Summers

N.B. I’m not currently responding to comments or visiting blogs because of ill-health but I much appreciate your support.

On this day: the world’s first motor racing contest | In Times Gone By…

The world’s first motorsport contest took place on the 22nd of July, 1894 from Paris to Rouen, France. First, a selection event was held in which sixty-nine cars participated. The main 127 ki…

Source: On this day: the world’s first motor racing contest | In Times Gone By…

June 10, 1793: At the Zoo | Wretched Richard’s Almanac

Originally created as a royal herb garden in the 1600s, the Jardin des Plantes opened in 1793. During the following year a ménagerie was added, the world’s first and, still in existence, toda…

Source: June 10, 1793: At the Zoo | Wretched Richard’s Almanac

World War I Combat Artists – Ernest Peixotto | The Unwritten Record

Guest blogger Jan Hodges became interested in World War I combat art as a result of her involvement as a volunteer in a holdings maintenance project for the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) documents at the National Archives at College Park. This article is part seven of the series about World War I Art and Artists

Captain Ernest Peixotto reported for duty as a combat artist in April 1918 at Neufchateau. A short, slightly built man, Peixotto was forty-nine years old, well past the prime age for a combat soldier.  After meeting up with fellow artists Wallace Morgan and André Smith, the three men traveled to Fontainebleau and then to a small suburb of Paris called Samois-sur-Seine.

Samois-sur-Seine was not unknown to Peixotto; he and his wife Mary had a “studio home” there that they visited often. Mary had been living in New York City when Ernest left on a troopship bound for France.  By June, she had found the means to return to France and worked at a hospital close to…

Source: World War I Combat Artists – Ernest Peixotto | The Unwritten Record

stones. | I didn’t have my glasses on….

the palais idéal in hauterives, france is a unique structure. it is made entirely out of stones that postman, ferdinand cheval collected on his mail route.

one night, cheval dreamed about building a palace. he thought nothing of this dream for years, until one day in the spring of 1879, when his foot caught on an unusual-looking rock during his postal route. the rock was so fascinating to cheval that he…

Source: stones. | I didn’t have my glasses on….

World War I Combat Artists – Andre Smith | The Unwritten Record

Local Identifier 111-SC-20139. Regimental Headquarters near Belleau Woods, located in the farm house known as Maison Blanc. It was occupied at the time of my visit, June 28th, 1918, by Colonel Neville of the Marines. By Captain J. Andre Smith

Among the many images drawn by Captain Andre Smith, several capture the American experience in Belleau Wood.  Belleau Wood is famous for exemplifying the courage, grit and determination of the Marine Corps which made up the 5th and 6th regiments of the 2nd Division.In early June 1918, the American 2nd Division joined with the French Army long the Marne River to drive the Germans out.  The division was…

Source: World War I Combat Artists – Andre Smith | The Unwritten Record

German Sausages and Flying Ambulances

When I first saw the term “flying ambulance” I thought it was something that had originated in Africa, or in the Australian outback, a vehicle for flying doctors. In fact it goes back much further than that. To the Napoleonic Wars, as I discovered only recently.

I was researching the Battle of Waterloo for my book, A Lady for Lord Randall, and it was impossible not to think about the casualties. More than 40,000 soldiers died on the battlefield and given the state of medical knowledge at that time, it is debateable which was worse, to be killed outright or seriously wounded. Dr Howard Martin has written two wonderfully detailed books on the subject (Wellington’s Doctors and Napoleon’s Doctors) if you want to find out a lot more fascinating details. One thing that became clear to me is that in the treatment and care of injured soldiers during the Napoleonic Wars the French had the advantage. Bonaparte was very forward-thinking when it came to the health of his army. He preferred prevention to medical treatment, he advocated good food, good hygiene, fresh air and high morale. He also supported the use of quinine and…

Source: German Sausages and Flying Ambulanc

Great Uncle Norman: ‘shot by a single sniper’

‘Five foot ten of a beautiful young Englishman under French soil. Never a joke, never a look, never a word more to add to my store of memories. The book is shut up forever and as the years pass I shall remember less and less, till he becomes a vague personality; a stereotyped photograph.’

Captain Noman Austin Taylor © Sarah Vernon

Captain Norman Austin Taylor © Sarah Vernon

Poor Norman.

Such a commonplace death.  Shot by a single sniper. Youngest child, only son.  Three sisters and a father left to grieve along with so many other fathers, mothers, sisters, wives, brothers, children.

“Poor Norman,” said my grandmother Joyce in the 1950s, and turned away so that her youngest son changed the subject.  Was she still, so many, many years later, too saddened by her brother’s death to talk or had he, for her, become nothing but a stereotyped photograph about whom she felt unable to talk?

A stereotyped photograph.  I have two in my possession, both of Norman in Army uniform. The round, boyish face of inexperience looks at me in the one [above]: a bland, almost formal, expression gives way to a makeshift confidence on closer inspection and, with arms folded, suggests a reluctance to be photographed.

In the other [below], he leans against a pillar with engaging insouciance; a cigarette holder, the ash about to drop, rests between sturdy fingers.  Three or four years, maybe less, separate the pictures. The poise in the latter cannot mask the face of a man who has experienced the muck and the noise, the unutterable panic and horror of trench warfare.

Captain Noman Austin Taylor © Sarah Vernon

Captain Noman Austin Taylor © Sarah Vernon

‘He was hit at four o’clock on the morning of 24th March 1918,’ wrote Joyce the following year.  ‘I felt that icy hand on my heart which I shall never now feel again.’   When I first read my grandmother’s words, I took her to mean that only her brother’s death could produce such an icy hand.  I look at the words now and see only that she felt her heart would never feel anything again.  Perhaps that is why she turned away from her son.

We will remember them.

Captain Norman Austin Taylor 1895-1918

@ALBerridge I thought you might enjoy this post about my great-uncle during #WWI

— First Night Design (@FirstNightArt) May 15, 2014

@FirstNightArt That’s beautifully written and very moving. No high drama, just the reality of human loss in a war. Great post – thank you.

— Louise Berridge (@ALBerridge) May 15, 2014

@ALBerridge I’m so glad you like it.

— First Night Design (@FirstNightArt) May 15, 2014

Take care and keep laughing!


Originally posted on First Night Design.

Marie Antoinette’s Last Letter

5502This is the letter Marie-Antoinette Queen of France wrote to her sister-in-law Madame Elisabeth a few hours before her execution. (Letter translated from French to English by Charles Duke Yonge)

16th October, 4:30am

It is to you, my sister, that I write for the last time. I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, for such is only for criminals, but to go and rejoin your brother. Innocent like him, I hope to show the same firmness in my last moments. I am calm, as one is when one’s conscience reproaches one with nothing. I feel profound sorrow in leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister. You who out of love have sacrificed everything to be with us, in what a position do I leave you! I have learned from the proceedings at my trial that my…

Source: Marie Antoinette’s Last Letter




This vintage real photo postcard extols the glory of war. We see an image of a cute little boy playing with his toy soldiers. Above him, we see an image of a smiling World War I soldier looking down on the young lad. Perhaps this photograph can be interpreted as a soldier at war fondly remembering his days playing with toy soldiers. A second interpretation may be that a little boy is fantasizing fighting in a “real war” while he is playing with his militaristic toys. It is clear that this photo postcard was aimed to stimulate feelings of patriotism during a time of war. Many generations of young boys have had a skewed view of war. Fighting wars has been viewed as glorious and exciting. One teenager once told me that he didn’t want to live his life without having the experience of going to war. When these young…

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Napoleon was not really short



Napoleon Bonaparte is known for two things, conquering most of Europe and being short. Napoleon being short is true if we compare his height to now a days standards but for back then he was of average height.

In modern international units, Napoleon was about of 5 feet 7 inches and the average height of a male in France at that time was about 5 feet 5 inches in modern times. So for that time he was  considered rather tall.

However, there is still evidence that Napoleon was already considered short at the time of his death even though he was above average heigh among other French people. This is because his personal bodyguards were tall and broad. So wherever he went, he always looked smaller compared to his bodyguards earning him the title “Le Petit Caporel” or in English “The Little Corporal”.

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The Murder of Jean Joures – July 31, 1914

We need a million such men today to halt the tide.



 Jean Joures

“What will the future be like, when the billions now thrown away in preparation for war are spent on useful things to increase the well-being of people, on the construction of decent houses for workers, on improving transportation, on reclaiming the land? The fever of imperialism has become a sickness. It is the disease of a badly run society which does not know how to use its energies at home.”

Oh to hear such words in the Presidential debates to come!  Written more than a century ago, we are no closer to them now than we were then.

Jean Jaures was the leader of the French Socialists, one the first true social democrats.

A brilliant orator and philosopher,  co-founder and Editor of the newspaper L’Humanite, leader of the French Section of the Worker’s International, he had spent decades supporting workers in their daily struggles.

Above all he was…

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A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life: The Pious Life of Louise-Marie de France

Originally posted on A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life.

Louise-Marie de France (Versailles, France, 15th July 1737 – Saint-Denis, Paris, France, 23rd December 1787)

Louise-Marie de France by Jean-Marc Nattier, 1748

Louise-Marie de France by Jean-Marc Nattier, 1748

Whether you knew her as Madame Septième, Madame Dernière, or Madame Louise, the tenth child of King Louis XV and Queen Maria Leszczyńska was born into a world of great privilege and it would be one that she ultimately rejected, choosing instead to forge a path of her own making.

Born into the splendour of Versailles, Louise was sent as an infant to be raised at the Abbey of Fontevraud with three of her sisters. The impact of this early decision was to have a profound impact on Louise’s life. From birth, a good marriage and respectable society life lay in store for the girl but she wanted to serve only her religion, with all efforts to arrange a marriage ending in failure.

At the age of thirteen Louise returned to Versailles in 1750 and remained there through twenty tumultuous years, witnessing births, scandals and deaths. After two decades at court and with Louis enjoying the company of Jeanne Bécu, Madame du Barry, Louise went to her father and begged leave to return to the convent as a Carmelite nun. Tormented by the king’s apparently low morals, she intended to give her life to God by way of…

via A Covent Garden Gilflurt’s Guide to Life: The Pious Life of Louise-Marie de France.

Marie Antoinette: An Intimate History | Madame Guillotine

Originally posted on Madame Guillotine

Marie Antoinette

I’m so sorry about taking a month off from my blog but I hope you’ll all forgive me when I reveal that the reason for my absence was a brand new book about Marie Antoinette, based on decades of pretty obsessive research (both primary and secondary) and thoughts and questions from all of you.

A couple of years ago I threatened my poor, unfortunate blog readers with a light-hearted ‘pulp’ biography of Marie Antoinette, which at the time I intended to call ‘Teen Queen to Madame Guillotine’. However, other projects intervened and my plan was temporarily shelved as I worked on my historical fiction instead. I couldn’t stay away forever though as although my blog covers all sorts of different periods and people, Marie Antoinette is a subject that I often return to and one that I have always really enjoyed writing about as evidenced by the fact that my university dissertation was on the topic of different representations of her both before and after the revolution.

This book was originally intended as an extremely short biography (longer than a pamphlet but shorter than a novella) giving a basic précis of the doomed Queen’s life for readers who perhaps don’t know all that much about her (the better known biographies can be a bit impenetrable to beginners) and maybe answering some of the most commonly asked questions about her along the way. I envisioned it as a sort of ‘beach read biography’ – in other words, an entertaining and not at all weighty read that could be dipped in and out of at leisure and didn’t require a massive background knowledge of the period to be enjoyed. I wanted to convey something of Marie Antoinette’s life and times without getting too bogged down in the politics of the era, although naturally they can’t help but intrude, especially from 1789 onwards.

However, as the project developed…

via Marie Antoinette: An Intimate History | Madame Guillotine