Last Hope Island by Lynne Olson review – a challenge to second world war myths | Books | The Guardian

I apologise for the link in this morning’s post about the Japanese in Britain not working. It appears the original at the History Girls has been deleted. So here instead is what sounds like a fascinating book about the myths of the Second World War.

Winston Churchill, left, and Charles de Gaulle at the Armistice Day celebrations in Paris, 1944. Photograph: Popperfoto

As Britain starts to extricate itself from Europe’s embrace, it is timely to examine the intricacies of this love-hate relationship at another point of crisis. Last Hope Island describes the many continental Europeans who, escaping Nazi occupation, found refuge in Britain during the second world war. Their stories are exciting, moving and horrifying, with…

Source: Last Hope Island by Lynne Olson review – a challenge to second world war myths | Books | The Guardian

Balfour Declaration 1. Beware Mythistory | First World War Hidden History

Possibly the most contentious centenary within the First World War was the Balfour Declaration of November 1917. It left in its wake so many controversies and is held to be the root of so much anta…

Source: Balfour Declaration 1. Beware Mythistory | First World War Hidden History

Revisited Myth #114: You had to have two opposing teeth to join the army in early America so you could tear off the end of the cartridge. | History Myths Debunked

John Hill, Supervisor of Military Programs for Colonial Williamsburg, lays this one to rest. “I have heard many reenactors note the need for two opposing teeth as part of their musket-firing …

Source: Revisited Myth #114: You had to have two opposing teeth to join the army in early America so you could tear off the end of the cartridge. | History Myths Debunked

Was Mary Boleyn Really The Mistress Of King Francis I of France? | History And Other Thoughts

Eric Ives once famously commented that everything we know about Mary Boleyn “could be written on the back of a postcard with room to spare”. So, basically, we know nothing. Only a few random facts historians have been painstakingly trying, for centuries, to stitch together. One of these facts is Mary’s relationship with King Francis I of Francis. She was his mistress. Not his official mistress, but one of his many lovers.

Or so all the history books say. But was that really true? Mmmm… When we start examining the evidence, we appallingly realise…

Source: Was Mary Boleyn Really The Mistress Of King Francis I Of France? | History And Other Thoughts.

Not Just For Kissing: Medicinal Uses of Mistletoe (Past & Present) « The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice

Ah, December. That time of year when mistletoe springs up magically in entrance halls and doorways, driving unsuspecting individuals into an awkward embrace before they make a mad dash for the booze.

Today, we associate mistletoe with smooching; however, this wasn’t always the case. In fact, the poisonous, parastic plant has a long association with medicine, and in the past would have been recognized by doctors as a vital ingredient in the treatment of various disorders.

One of the first records of mistletoe being used medicinally comes from Hippocrates (460 – 377 BC) who used the plant to treat diseases of the spleen and complaints associated with menstruation. Celsus (25 BC – 50 AD) also describes using mistletoe in the fifth book of De Medicina. He mixed it with various organic or inorganic substances to create plasters and emollients, which he then used to treat…

Source: Not Just For Kissing: Medicinal Uses of Mistletoe (Past & Present) « The Chirurgeon’s Apprentice

The Origins of the Unicorn

Mimi Matthews

The Maiden and the Unicorn by Domenichino, 1602.The Maiden and the Unicorn by Domenichino, 1602.

According to historians, the legend of the unicorn first emerged in 398 BC courtesy of the Greek physician Ctesias.  Ctesias wrote an account of India, titled Indica.  He attests that all recorded within his account are things that he has witnessed himself or that he has had related to him by credible witnesses.  This account of India, though largely lost, has been preserved in a fragmentary abstract made in the 9th century by Photios I of Constantinople.  In the twenty-fifth fragment, Ctesias writes of the unicorn, stating:

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The Churchill Coventry Myth – Beachcombing’s Bizarre History Blog

Originally posted on Beachcombing’s Bizarre History Blog.

bombed-out-cathedralMoonlight Sonata was the German code name for the bombing raid on Coventry 14 Nov 1940, the first major German bombing raid on a British civilian target. Over five hundred German bombers shimmied over the city in thirteen waves. Most estimates put the number of deaths at just over five hundred hundred and the damage to the town was devastating: Coventry’s centre is entirely modern for the very simple reason that it had to be rebuilt from scratch. The memory of Coventry died hard. When British troops prepared to run onto Normandy beaches in June 1944 the loudspeakers on some ships instructed them to ‘Remember Coventry, Remember Dunkirk’, the great civilian and the great military disasters of the British war in the west. So much for the facts. Behind the disaster there is a longstanding conspiracy theory: namely that Churchill sacrificed Coventry to make sure that the Germans did not know that enigma had been broken. The conspiracy theory is expressed nicely in a novel by Robert Harris, Enigma (1995).

‘I think, it’s possible to know too much. When Coventry was bombed, remember? Our beloved Prime Minister discovered from Enigma what was going to happen about four hours in advance. Know what he did?’ Again Jericho shook his head. ‘Told his staff that London was…

Source: The Churchill Coventry Myth – Beachcombing’s Bizarre History Blog

Was The Dark Countess Really Marie Therese Of France? | History And Other Thoughts

Originally posted on History And Other Thoughts.

In 1807, a mysterious couple arrived in Hildburghausen, Germany. The young, blonde-haired woman always wore a veil to cover her face. Her companion, an older man, had an aristocratic air, and acted as her protector. His name, the one scribbled on the letters he received, was Count Vavel de Versay. He was later identified as Dutch diplomat Leonardus Cornelius van der Valck. The woman had no name. Only after her death, the Count referred to her as “Sophie Batta”, a “poor orphan”. But her true identity still remains a mystery.

The young woman was soon nicknamed the Dark Countess by the townsfolk. Rumours started spreading that the poor orphan was none other than Marie Therese of France, daughter of the unfortunate Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, and the only member of her immediate family to have survived the revolution. According to this theory, the young princess had been raped and impregnated while in prison, and so was sent to the small German town, while her place next to her uncle, Louis XVIII was taken by her “half-sister” Ernestine, the illegitimate daughter of Louis XVI.

What made people think that the Dark Countess and Marie Therese were the same person? For starters, the couple were heard talking in French. Servants at the castle they resided at claimed her laundry was embroidered with…

via Was The Dark Countess Really Marie Therese Of France? | History And Other Thoughts.

10 surprising facts about WW2 | History Extra

Originally posted on History Extra.

1) France had more tanks, guns and men than Germany in 1940

It is always assumed that during the Second World War the Germans bludgeoned their way to victory with a highly modern and mechanised army and Air Force that was superior to anything the Allies could muster in May 1940. The reality was very different.

On 10 May 1940, when the Germans attacked, only 16 of their 135 divisions were mechanised – that is, equipped with motorised transport. The rest depended on horses and cart or feet. France alone had 117 divisions.

France also had more guns: Germany had 7,378 artillery pieces and France 10,700. It didn’t stop there: the Germans could muster 2,439 tanks while the French had 3,254, most of which were bigger, better armed and armoured than the German panzers.

2) The priority for manpower in the UK is surprising

Britain had decided before the war began that it would make air and naval power the focus of its fighting capability, and it was only after the fall of France that British powers realised that the Army would have to grow substantially too.

However, right up until the spring of 1944, the priority for manpower in the UK was not the navy, RAF, army, or even the merchant navy, but the Ministry of Aircraft Production. In the war, Britain alone built 132,500 aircraft, a staggering achievement – especially when considering that Fighter Command in the battle of Britain never had more than…

via 10 surprising facts about WW2 | History Extra.

Napoleon Bonaparte Was Not Short

Hidden Behind Shadow Games

What if i was to tell you one of the things you have heard about Napoleon Bonaparte isn’t true. I am talking about the myth that he was short.

The myth  itself seems to stem mainly from the fact that he is listed at 5ft 2 inches at the time of his death. This however is swayed by the fact that these were French units. In modern international units he was just shy of 5ft 6 inches.

Now i pretty much know most of you are going to say “well to be honest that still makes him pretty short”. This is true by modern day standards in certain places in the world. However at the time in France the average height for a man was actually 5ft 5 inches in modern day international units, so actually his legendary small stature made him somewhat a giant in his native France.


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Revisited Myth # 42: Wigs were baked in loaves of bread to set the hair.

History Myths Debunked

Photo courtesy of the COlonial Williamsburg Foundation Photo courtesy of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Someone forwarded me this myth in one of those infernal lists of “Now You Know the Truth” collections that are mostly rubbish. It said:

Wealthy men could afford good wigs made from wool. They couldn’t wash the wigs, so to clean them they would carve out a loaf of bread, put the wig in the shell, and bake it for 30 minutes. The heat would make the wig big and fluffy, hence the term ‘big wig…’

This sounded so absurd that I was positive it was a myth. And it is, technically speaking. But when I dug into the subject, I found an element of truth that demonstrates precisely how this myth got started.

Turning real hair into a wig required many steps: take fresh hanks of hair, roll them onto porcelain curlers, and tie up with string. After making eight or nine of…

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Sainsbury’s Christmas truce advert ‘confuses understanding’ of the First World War | History Extra

This would have been posted before Christmas if my computer hadn’t died on me!

It has fiercely divided public opinion, being branded ‘dangerous and disrespectful’ by the Guardian, and hailed by others as a beautiful tribute to soldiers. But for First World War expert Professor Mark Connelly, the biggest problem with the latest Sainsbury’s advert, which depicts the 1914 Christmas truce, is that it perpetuates myths about the conflict

Connelly, a professor of modern British military history at the University of Kent, told History Extra the advert “confuses people about why the war carried on”, and spreads the overly-simplistic idea that young men were forced to fight.

Discussing the television advert, which has been viewed more than 12 million times on YouTube and has split public opinion, Connelly said: “The advert does not help people to understand what really happened – it confuses people about why the war carried on.

“Too much emphasis has been placed on the Christmas truce. If there was so much love in 1914, then why did the war drag on for four more years? We have overladen the truce with sentimentality, but in reality it was just a day off [for troops].

“In the days after the truce you saw troops furiously working on their defences. They took advantage of the few rain-free days over Christmas to move equipment, and unload rail wagons. You wouldn’t have known there was a truce.

“So the advert is accurate, but for very few soldiers. It is a snapshot presented as a panorama. In reality, the truce can be localised to just one or two battalions.

“There is still an incredibly moving story there – people did truce and fraternize. But this advert perpetuates the idea that that was the whole story, and any professional historian would tell you…

via Sainsbury’s Christmas truce advert ‘confuses understanding’ of the First World War | History Extra

Revisited Myth # 31: Spices were used to mask the flavor and odors of rotting food.

History Myths Debunked

Francis C. writes: Please do post something about food myths – the one regarding medieval people heavily spicing their food to hide the fact that it was rotten is still around!


My pleasure, Francis. This is a myth that targets people of many era from medieval Europe to early America. But never mind my words–here is author Bill Bryson, trying to debunk this myth in his book, At Home: “The only people who could afford most spices were the ones least likely to have bad meat, and anyway spices were too valuable to be used as a mask. . . people used them carefully and sparingly, and not as a sort of flavorsome cover-up.”

Because they came from so far away–the aptly named Spice Islands, aka the East Indies–spices were very expensive and, for many centuries, only for the richest Westerners. Not the sort of people who ate rotten…

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