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  • Originally published 08/12/2013

    Great Train Robbers dumped ‘foreign’ Scottish money

    THE Great Train Robbers ditched a huge haul of cash from their infamous raid because they were Scottish banknotes, it has been claimed.Gang members were said to be too wary of the “foreign” money snatched in the 1963 robbery, in which they stole £2.6 million (the equivalent of over £40m today) so they left it in their countryside hideout.But this proved to be one of the key pieces of evidence that led to most of the 15-man gang’s eventual capture.Author Nick Russell-Pavier, who carried out a series of interviews with mastermind Bruce Reynolds before he died, revealed the gang left behind a large sum in Scottish and Irish banknotes because they were wary of the currency....

  • Originally published 08/07/2013

    Hometown memorials for Victoria Cross heroes

    Hundreds new memorials honouring those awarded the Victoria Cross during the First World War are to be created to mark the conflict’s centenary.Commemorative paving stones will be laid in the home towns of the 480 British-born VC recipients, under plans announced by the Government on Sunday, 99 years to the day since the war broke out.The scheme to celebrate the winners of Britain’s highest award for battlefield valour will be a centrepiece of the events being planned from 2014 to 2018 to mark the conflict 100 years on.Ministers have also unveiled plans to provide extra help to people wanting to renovate previously neglected war memorials, in what is significant step forward for The Sunday Telegraph’s Lest We Forget campaign....

  • Originally published 08/03/2013

    Secret files: Margaret Thatcher planned to use troops to break miners' strike

    Margaret Thatcher secretly considered the use of troops to break a strike by coal miners, according to newly released government papers.Documents released by the National Archives at Kew, west London, show the extent of the planning by Mrs Thatcher's Conservative government for the decisive showdown with the miners which helped define her political legacy.The papers show that ministers and officials repeatedly warned that a confrontation with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and its leftwing leader, Arthur Scargill, was inevitable.Mrs Thatcher, who had been a minister in Edward Heath's government in the 1970s when it was brought to its knees by a miners' strike was only too well aware of the stakes involved....

  • Originally published 08/03/2013

    'Your Country Needs You' - The myth about the First World War poster that 'never existed'

    It is perhaps the best known and most enduring image of the First World War: the commanding, moustached face of Lord Kitchener, his accusing, pointing finger and the urgent slogan “Your country needs YOU”.The picture is credited with encouraging millions of men to sign up to fight in the trenches, many of them never to return.But new research has found that no such poster was actually produced during the war and that the image was never used for official recruitment purposes. In fact, it only became popular and widely-used after the conflict ended....

  • Originally published 07/23/2013

    Matthias Strohn: Remember World War I as a Global War

    Dr Matthias Strohn is a senior lecturer in the war studies department at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He has advised German and British government bodies on the centenary commemorationsThis time next year, nations across the globe will begin the centenary commemorations of the first world war – "the great seminal catastrophe" of the 20th century, as the American historian George F Kennan called it. It seems that Britain has chosen a sensible approach: a handful of national and international events, spread out over the four years from 2014 to 2018, supplemented by activities at a local level. By limiting the number of high-profile events, the UK will prevent a "commemoration fatigue" setting in among the population....

  • Originally published 07/19/2013

    British historian confident attitudes to sexual crimes can change

    Despite rape and other sexual assaults having low conviction rates, a London-based historian is optimistic this situation can be changed and offending reduced.Prof Joanna Bourke, author of a book titled Rape, A History from 1860 to the Present (2007), said in Dunedin this week that rape and other sexual assaults were issues for men and society, not just for women.Her optimism came partly from her perspective as an historian: ''I can see that things have changed and ... they can change again.'...

  • Originally published 07/11/2013

    Humayun Ansari: Islamophobia Rises in British Society

    Humayun Ansari is a Professor of History of Islam and Culture in the Department of History at Royal Holloway, University of London. On the 8th anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings, and in the aftermath of the killing of British army soldier Lee Rigby, it is timely to assess how Islamophobia within Britain’s political landscape has evolved since that tragic day in July 2005. Much evidence suggests that Islamophobia has moved beyond small fringe far-right groups to being far more widespread across broad sections of the population.

  • Originally published 06/17/2013

    Britain's long history of spying on visiting dignitaries

    Spying on visiting foreign dignitaries is a longstanding habit not only of the British, but of many other countries as well. Most embassies in foreign capitals are designed with windowless safe rooms, on the assumption that their host country will be doing its best to monitor all their communications.In 1985, the British government obtained injunctions attempting to gag the Guardian and Observer after they published disclosures by the renegade MI5 officer Peter Wright of wholesale British bugging. He and his colleagues had "bugged and burgled their way across London", during the cold war, he said.He disclosed that MI5 bugged all diplomatic conferences at Lancaster House in London throughout the 1950s and 1960s, as well as the Zimbabwe independence negotiations in 1979....

  • Originally published 06/11/2013

    More UK history in new GCSEs

    GCSEs will feature more British history, a study of classic literature and an increased focus on spelling, punctuation and grammar as part of a major drive to raise standards in schools, it was announced today.Qualifications sat by 16-year-olds in England will be dramatically overhauled to make exams comparable with the toughest tests sat elsewhere in the world, ministers claimed.A series of course documents published by the Department for Education showed that GCSEs – taught for the first time from 2015 – would place a renewed focus on traditional subject knowledge.The new history course will feature a minimum of 40 per cent British history – up from 25 per cent at the moment – and require pupils to show a basic understanding of chronology....

  • Originally published 06/10/2013

    Timothy Stanley: The British Must Not Rewrite the History of the Mau Mau Revolt

    Timothy Stanley is a historian at Oxford University and blogs for Britain's The Daily Telegraph. He is the author of "The Crusader: The Life and Times of Pat Buchanan."The Government has announced that Kenyans abused by British colonial forces during the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s will receive compensation totalling £20 million, and that it regrets the “suffering and injustice”. Be of no doubt: these people went through terrible things. Wambuga Wa Nyingi, a former detainee at the bloody camp Hola, who says he was not a Mau Mau fighter, claims that he was “battered on the back of my head and around my neck repeatedly with a club”. His unconscious body was mistaken for a corpse and dumped in a room with 11 murdered men. Mr Nyingi slept among the dead for two days before he was discovered.But before we express regret or say sorry for anything, we have to make sure that we entirely understand what we’re talking about. In the case of the Mau Mau uprising, only one side of the story tends to be told – a story that serves a particular political purpose. It’s the tale of an evil imperial power that used internment and torture to keep hold of a beautiful African colony that only ever wanted to be free. It is a fantasy version of history.

  • Originally published 06/10/2013

    Caroline Elkins: Britain Has Said Sorry to the Mau Mau. The Rest of the Empire is Still Waiting.

    Caroline Elkins is professor of history and African and African American studies at Harvard University and author of Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag, for which she was awarded a Pulitzer prize in 2006On Thursday nearly 200 elderly Kikuyu people travelled from their rural homesteads and sat before the British high commissioner in Nairobi. Over half a century had passed since many were last in front of a British official. It was a different era then in Kenya. The Mau Mau war was raging, and Britain was implementing coercive policies that left indelible scars on the bodies and minds of countless men and women suspected of subversive activities.

  • Originally published 06/10/2013

    Maria Miller: we won't be judgemental about causes of WWI

    Official plans to commemorate 100 years since the First World War will let people make up their own minds about who was to blame for the conflict, Maria Miller has said.Maria Miller said the Government would not take a judgemental position on the cause of WWI, as this is the job of historians.Her comments come amid accusations from campaigners that the Government is being too anxious to avoid appearing patriotic and triumphalist for fear of upsetting the Germans.Historians have criticised the current plans for failing fully to recognise the achievement of British forces and skipping over their biggest victories in an effort to emphasise the futility and carnage of the war....

  • Originally published 06/06/2013

    Britain "sincerely regrets" Mau Mau-era abuses

    Britain announced compensation for thousands of Mau Mau veterans, saying that it “sincerely regretted” years of “suffering and injustice” carried out under its imperial rule of Kenya, but stopped short of a full apology.The brutal suppression of an independence rebellion led to torture, internment without trial and excessive numbers of executions, William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said in a statement to Parliament.He confirmed that more than 5,200 claimants would share compensation from the Government of £13.9 million, but said that the out-of-court settlement did not mean Britain was legally liable for the abuses, although he said the settlement was about a “process of reconciliation.”“I would like to make clear now and for the first time … that we understand the pain and grievance felt by those who were involved,” Mr Hague said....

  • Originally published 05/31/2013

    WWI Christmas truce less peaceful than thought

    It was a fleeting moment of friendship across the battlelines which now stands as testament to the unwavering spirit of human kinship that not even savage warfare could extinguish.But newly discovered letters sent from the trenches of the Western Front have cast new light on the famous Christmas Day truce of 1914, when the guns of First World War fell silent and sworn enemies put hostilities aside to play a game of football.The previously unpublished letters sent by Major John Hawksley, of the Royal Field Artillery, to his sister Muriel at her home in Coatham Mundeville, near Darlington, show that not everyone on the frontline agreed with the unofficial ceasefire....

  • Originally published 05/23/2013

    New book shows Tommies ate well in WWI trenches

    In the BBC series Blackadder Goes Forth, Baldrick memorably described the finest culinary delight available in the trenches of the First World War as “rat-au-van” – rat that had been run over by a van. In fact, new research suggests the standard of fare on offer to the men on the Western Front was, if perhaps repetitive, at least nutritious, plentiful and, on occasions, flavoursome.Andrew Robertshaw, curator at the Royal Logistic Corps Museum, has produced a guide to the food eaten by British soldiers of the First World War, complete with recipes for some of the meals.Although there was no rat-au-van, there were some now largely forgotten dishes, such as beef tea, mutton broth, brawn, potato pie and duff pudding.But Mr Robertshaw also shows how some modern favourites, such as egg and chips, and curry were popularised by the conflict.The research, contained in a new book Feeding Tommy, involved an investigation of the archives of the RLC – the successor to the Army Service Corps, whose job it was to feed the men – as well as study of memoirs from serving soldiers....

  • Originally published 05/23/2013

    Cross dressing spy who caused a headache for British masters

    As one of Britain’s top spies in the Second World War, being arrested in Spain dressed as a woman caused a major headache for his political masters.Lieutenant Colonel Dudley Clarke, a key figure in British intelligence in the Middle East, was detained in Madrid after being seen “in a main street dressed, down to a brassiere, as a woman”.The spy was on his way to Egypt to pass on key information and the incident sparked a mad scramble in London to ensure he was released and sent on his way as quickly as possible.Files released by the National Archives show that Lt Col Clarke – who was supposed to maintain a low profile, travelling under cover as a war correspondent for The Times – had stopped off in the Spanish capital on his way to north Africa in October 1941....

  • Originally published 05/23/2013

    UK bribed Spain to stay out of WWII

    Britain paid millions of pounds to military and political leaders in Spain to ensure they remained neutral during the Second World War, secret files reveal.Some $10 million was paid to one double agent alone to distribute to key individuals, including General Franco’s brother Nicholas, in the hope they would not enter the conflict.But despite the money, intelligence officers later suspected General Franco of ordering his officials to pass on secrets to the Germans.The effective bribes also sparked a row with the US after the Americans froze the money planned for Britain’s “friends in Spain”.The $10 million were to be paid to Juan March, a contact who had served as a double agent for Britain during the First World War, according to the intelligence papers released by the National Archives....

  • Originally published 05/19/2013

    Ron Briley: Review of David Simonelli's "Working Class Heroes: Rock Music and British Society in the 1960s and 1970s" (Lexington Books, 2013)

    Ron Briley reviews books for the History News Network and is a history teacher and an assistant headmaster at Sandia Preparatory School, Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is the author of "The Politics of Baseball: Essays on the Pastime and Power at Home and Abroad."For anyone coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s, Working Class Heroes will evoke the rock soundtrack of youthful rebellion. But unlike the many memoirs by musicians which tend to dominate rock music literature, awash with accounts of sex and drugs, David Simonelli, associate professor of history at Youngstown State University, employs the British rock scene from the Beatles to the Sex Pistols to make important observations on the politics, economics, and social class attitudes of Britain during the 1960s and 1970s.

  • Originally published 05/13/2013

    Mapping the legacy of the Great War on home soil

    In the popular imagination, it is a conflict associated with foreign battlefields and, above all, the muddy trenches of the Western Front.But a major new project aims to identify and record thousands of remaining traces of the First World War on the landscape of the British Isles.The research is expected to run for the four years of the centenary of the conflict, 2014-2018, and will cover sites such as factories, camps, fortifications, airstrips and dockyards, as well as locations that were bombarded by German ships and aircraft....

  • Originally published 05/06/2013

    Historians complain Government's WW1 commemoration 'focuses on British defeats'

    Historians and campaigners have also criticised the tone of the plans unveiled so far; they believe politicians and officials are focusing too much on British defeats and the carnage and futility of the war, because they are too anxious to avoid upsetting Germans and want to make sure the events are not considered triumphalist.However, the critics argue that by doing so, the Government is presenting only the modern, orthodox view of the conflict: that it was avoidable and unnecessary. It thus ignores arguments that, like the Second World War, it was a fight for survival.They say that under the current plans, the Government has missed an opportunity to explain why the war was fought and failed fully to recognise the achievement of British forces.The historians also compare the proposals unfavourably with more ambitious events being organised by Australia, Canada and New Zealand, whose men fought alongside the British....

  • Originally published 04/09/2013

    The Secret to Margaret Thatcher's Success

    Image via Wiki Commons.The death of Margaret Thatcher, the former leader of British Conservative Party and Britain’s only female prime minister, will intensify the continuous debate over her legacy. No other modern British political leader has proved so controversial. She divided -- and continues to divide -- academic and public opinion more than any of her recent predecessors.

  • Originally published 03/28/2013

    WWI poem wins UK poetry award

    A poem inspired by her late mother's stories of the first world war, which has drawn comparisons with Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, has won the poetry journal Agenda's editor Patricia McCarthy the National Poetry Competition.McCarthy, who has published several poetry collections of her own, beat 13,040 other entries to win the anonymously-judged prize. Her winning poem, "Clothes that escaped the Great War", tells of the plodding carthorse who would take boys away to war, and then return, later, with just their clothes. "These were the most scary, my mother recalled: clothes / piled high on the wobbly cart, their wearers gone," writes McCarthy.

  • Originally published 02/27/2013

    Database lets Britons find slave-owning ancestors

    A new database launched Wednesday lets Britons curious about their family history uncover some potentially uncomfortable information - whether their ancestors owned slaves.Researchers at University College London spent three years compiling a searchable listing of thousands of people who received compensation for loss of their "possessions" when slave ownership was outlawed by Britain in 1833.About 46,000 people were paid a total of 20 million pounds - the equivalent of 40 percent of all annual government spending at the time - after the freeing of slaves in British colonies in the Caribbean, Mauritius and southern Africa."This is a huge bailout," said Keith McClelland, a research associate on the project. "Relatively speaking, it is bigger than the bailout of the bankers in recent years."Compensation for slave-owners was opposed by some abolitionists, who argued it was immoral, but it was approved as the political price of getting the 1833 abolition bill passed.

  • Originally published 02/07/2013

    Archaeology volunteers can help uncover history in UK

    Researchers’ recent confirmation that a body long hidden under a municipal parking lot is King Richard III will no doubt stir interest in British archaeology — as it should. While X never marks the spot and you’re unlikely to unearth an undiscovered king, Britain’s long history means that almost anywhere you plant a shovel, there’s history to be found.From Iron Age forts to Victorian gardens, hundreds of archaeological digs are happening in Britain at any given time – and many of them welcome volunteer diggers to help uncover the past. Instead of just visiting Britain’s ancient churches, villages and stone circles, you could be part of the teams that are discovering new sites and artifacts every day. Just get ready for a little hard work....

  • Originally published 09/18/2013

    Revolutions, Liberation Movements and Peoples in Europe and Africa

    What is most striking about the analyses to current times are that the parallels with the French revolutionary experience can so easily be made. Editor's Note:  This is a guest post from the blog The French Revolution Network. David Andress is the blog's editor.I recently returned from a workshop at the University of Pretoria, organised as part of the project The Comparative History of Political Engagement in Western and African Societies led by a team at the University of Sheffield. As well as enjoying a very hospitable welcome, I also had a very stimulating series of discussions, which have given me much food for thought about further extension of the debate on ‘revolution’ in the modern world. While recent events have made us focus attention on ‘bottom-up’ revolutionary upheavals, the role of spontaneous interactions and technology in popular mobilizations, and the general question of ‘crowds’ and their agency, a closer look at African examples reminds us that ‘top-down’ modes of revolutionary activism also continue to have a strong role to play. Henning Melber offered us an excellent overview of the extent to which African liberation movements into the present continue to use the rhetoric of liberation as closure, of the achievement of a sort of ‘end of history’ through the movement’s leadership, and necessarily alongside that, the closing-off of possibilities for dissent. Such movements demonstrate simultaneous abilities to use, for example, laws established in the colonial period to repress opposition, and rhetoric that brands such opposition as neo-imperialist conspiracy. Lloyd Sachikonye observed how electoral processes in ‘liberated’ African nations were routinely undermined by violence, over 80% of which came from ruling parties and their affiliated organisations, and Brian Raftopoulos offered a vivid case-study of the steady destruction of an autonomous labour movement in Zimbabwe through its subordination to the demands of a ‘National Democratic Revolution’, that was in practice technocratic and authoritarian – and prejudiced against urban workers in general through its political powerbase in land-hungry war-veterans. David Anderson presented chilling evidence of the example that systematic persecution of Mau Mau soldiers by the British authorities in the 1950s gave to the essentially anti-Mau Mau governments of independent Kenya. Torture and shameless violence continued to mark politics throughout the late twentieth century. This included the astonishing story of Nyayo House, an office-block in Nairobi, completed in 1984, and later exposed as having purpose-built torture-chambers in a sixth-level sub-basement. Like many African conflicts, that in Kenya tangled the concept of ‘national’ identity within colonial boundaries with that of ethnicity, and lived senses of community. Baz Lecocq showed us how in Mali the ‘black’ Mande ethnic leadership took the post-independence lead in defining the supposedly egalitarian features of their agricultural traditions as Malian national identity, while treating the ‘white’ Tuareg of the north of the country as a deviant, lazy, backward-looking feudal remnant. Policies of forced settlement alongside continual cultural humiliations were a systematic effort at cultural delegitimisation, and at the heart of a movement towards open revolt from the Tuareg as socio-economic conditions worsened towards the end of the century. Finally on Africa, Emma Hunter offered a stimulating series of questions about how, outside mechanisms of overt violence, different mechanisms of public engagement could work with and across post-colonial governments. The tensions that result are illustrated in the history of Tanzania’s Ujamaa under Julius Nyerere – despite governmental claims, Swahili did not provide the common language to overcome tribal divisions, and movements to ‘villagization’ cut coercively across claims about cooperation and consultation. Nonetheless, organs including the press remained open as routes of dissent, even if having to tread a careful line of framing loyalty. What, for me, was most striking about all of these analyses was the extent to which parallels with the French revolutionary experience could so easily be made. It would be trite to rehearse these here, ‘as if’ the earlier merely fed unmediated into the later, but the discussions in and around these papers clearly showed that there is a wider comparison, and structural analysis, to be made. The various models of ‘bottom-up’ and ‘top-down’ revolutionary mobilization have clearly had a recurrent influence across the centuries of modernity – and indeed are a substantial constituent of ‘modernity’ as a concept itself. A global perspective shows us that we never did reach the ‘end of history’ so vaunted a generation ago, and for historians, there is much more reflection to be done on the cycles of hope and dread packaged as ‘revolutionary’ progress.

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