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Category archive: War

Friday March 09 2018

As a Blackadder fan, I have long known about the use of pigeons during World War 1, to send messages.  Pigeons like the one in this photo:


Twitter caption:

War Pigeons were very effectively deployed in the First World War. For instance, they carried messages, like the one being attached to a pigeon by Austro-Hungarian soldiers on the Isonzo Front, which can be seen in this picture.

Quite so.  But what made me decide to post the above photo here was this exchange, in the comments.


Were they normally encrypted?

Wayne Meyer:

They used WEP. Wartime Encryption for Pigeons. It was a very early wireless standard.

Blog and learn.  Not only did I just discover that pigeon messages were – of course, they’d have to have been – encrypted.  I also learned that you can link directly to individual Twitter comments.

And what better way could there to learn about the activities of birds than via Twitter?

Thursday February 22 2018

There were so many fun things in Churchill’s underground wartime lair.  Some of my favourites were not to be seen among the genuine antiquities.  Rather were they mere reproductions, on sale in the gift shop.  Of these, I think this one, a wartime poster, spoke to me most eloquently, from that far off time, just a handful of years before I was born:


I have always been very careful to refrain from dressing extravagantly.

Thursday February 15 2018



The best comment I can think of is another photo, one of the many that I took in the Churchill Dungeon, this one being an item for sale in the gift shop:


I love words.  I sometimes I fail to think of the right ones, but they never fail me.  It just that I am sometimes not worthy of them.

But I found some good ones this time, I think,

Monday February 05 2018

Today me and GD2’s Dad, who will return to Brittany tomorrow, visited the Churchill War Rooms and the attached Churchill Museum, underneath Whitehall.  Very good, and a lot bigger and more elaborate than we were expecting.  A lot of time, trouble and expense has been passed, taken and spent on this show, with its tiny and insignificant looking entrance in King Charles Street, just off the right hand side of St James’s Park.

I took a ton of photos, most of which came out pretty well.

I was also out this evening, so I’ve time to present only one photo now:


I was fascinated by the war, of course, but also by the numerous items of peaceful technology that were also also needed to fight that war, like telephones, fire extinguishers, standard lamps, electric fans, chairs, and the three pin power sockets they used then.  And the cooker, above.

A lot of these devices looked very familiar to me, me having been born in 1947, and the Cabinet War Rooms having the sort of kit that regular people often only got a bit later.

Tuesday November 21 2017

When it comes to showing off my photos, I am currently in full-on retro mode, and my latest little retrospective is of a few more photos I took when I was At the 2010 Farnborough Air Show, those being a rather greater number of photos which I posted from that show at the time, at Samizdata.

All four of these photos here feature the Avro Lancaster, and the final one also features a Lancaster and also the mighty Avro successor to the Lancaster, the Vulcan:


It was a great day.  And it got me thinking quite a bit more about the Avro Lancaster, and in particular about its highly distinctive and recognisable shape.

Saturday November 18 2017

I’ve started reading Adam Zamoyski’s Warsaw 1920: Lenin’s Failed Conquest of Europe, the importance of the events described in this book being neatly summarised in its subtitle.  Here is Zamoyski setting the stage for, and then introducing, the Polish leader Jozef Pilsudski.

This was not so much an issue of territory as of Russia’s need to break into Europe and Poland’s to exclude her from it; yet it had brought Russian armies into the heart of Poland, and a Polish occupation of Moscow as far back as 1612. The matter had been settled at the end of the eighteenth century by the partition of Poland between Russia, Prussia and Austria and its disappearance from the map. Despite a continuous struggle for freedom and repeated insurrections, Poland remained little more than a concept throughout the next hundred years, and its champions were increasingly seen as romantic dreamers.

But the partition that had removed Poland from the map had also brought her enemies into direct contact, and, in 1914, into deadly conflict. In February 1917, undermined by two and a half years of war, the Russian empire was overthrown by revolution. In October of that year Lenin’s Bolsheviks seized power, but their grip on the country was weak, and they were in no position to prosecute the war with Germany and Austria-Hungary. In the spring of 1918 they bought themselves a respite: by the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk they ceded to Germany Russia’s Baltic provinces, Lithuania, the parts of Poland under Russian occupation, Byelorussia and Ukraine. A few months later revolutions in Vienna and Berlin toppled the Austro-Hungarian and German empires, which left the whole area, still occupied by German and Austrian troops, effectively masterless. The Poles seized their chance.

Under pressure from President Wilson, the allies had already decided that the post-war settlement should include an independent Poland. They had even granted recognition to a Polish National Committee, based in Paris, which was preparing to form a provisional government. But they had no authority in German-occupied Poland, and no influence at all over the Bolshevik rulers of Russia, whose government they did not recognize. It was clear that the fate of Poland would be decided on the ground rather than in the conference room, and with Russia floundering in her own problems, the Poles, or rather one Pole, took the initiative.

imageHis name was Jozef Pilsudski. He was born in 1867 into the minor nobility and brought up in the cult of Polish patriotism. In his youth he embraced socialism, seeing in it the only force that could challenge the Tsarist regime and promote the cause of Polish independence. His early life reads like a novel, with time in Russian and German gaols punctuating his activities as polemicist, publisher of clandestine newspapers, political agitator, bank-robber, terrorist and urban guerrilla leader.

In 1904 Pilsudski put aside political agitation in favour of para-military organization. He organized his followers into fighting cells that could take on small units of Russian troops or police. A couple of years later, in anticipation of the coming war, he set up a number of supposedly sporting associations in the Austrian partition of Poland which soon grew into an embryonic army. On the eve of the Great War Austro-Hungary recognized this as a Polish Legion, with the status of irregular auxiliaries fighting under their own flag, and in August 1914 Pilsudski was able to march into Russian-occupied territory and symbolically reclaim it in the name of Poland.

He fought alongside the Austrians against Russia for the next couple of years, taking care to underline that he was fighting for Poland, not for the Central Powers. In 1916 the Germans attempted to enlist the support of the Poles by creating a kingdom of Poland out of some of their Polish lands, promising to extend it and give it full independence after the war. They persuaded the Austrians to transfer the Legion’s effectives, which had grown to some 20,000 men, into a new Polish army under German command, the Polnische Wehrmacht. Pilsudski, who had been seeking an opportunity to disassociate himself from the Austro-German camp in order to have his hands free when the war ended, refused to swear the required oath of brotherhood with the German army, and was promptly interned in the fortress of Magdeburg. His Legion was disbanded, with a only handful joining the Polnische Wehrmacht and the rest going into hiding.

They did not have to hide for long. Pilsudski was set free at the outbreak of revolution in Germany and arrived in Warsaw on 11 November 1918, the day the armistice was signed in the west. While his former legionaries emerged from hiding and disarmed the bewildered German garrison, he proclaimed the resurrection of the Polish Republic, under his own leadership.

Pilsudski was fifty-one years old. Rough-hewn, solid and gritty, he invariably wore the simple grey tunic of a ranker of the Legion. His pale face, with its high, broad forehead, drooping moustache and intense eyes, was theatrical in the extreme. ‘None of the usual amenities of civilized intercourse, but all the apparatus of sombre genius,’ one British diplomat noted on first meeting him.

Pilsudski felt that thirty years spent in the service of his enslaved motherland gave him an indisputable right to leadership. His immense popularity in Poland seemed to endorse this. But that was not the view of the victorious Allies in the west, nor of the Polish National Committee, waiting in Paris to assume power in Poland. After some negotiation a deal was struck, whereby the lion-maned pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski, who had devoted himself to promoting the cause of Poland in Britain, France and particularly America, and was trusted by the leaders of those countries, came from Paris to take over as Prime Minister, with Pilsudski remaining titular head of state and commander-in-chief. While he allowed Paderewski to run the day-to-day business of the government and its relations with the Allies, Pilsudski continued to direct policy in all essentials. And he had firm ideas on how to ensure the survival of Poland.

Saturday November 11 2017

I took this photo out in the Epping region, while walking about there with a friend, in the autumn of 2015.  And I believe that even when I took it, it seemed like a modern take on Remembrance Sunday and all that.  Death in a major war, although itself no doubt often a very solitary experience, is experienced by the rest of us, especially as events like World War One recede into history, as a vast collective, shared, catastrophe.  It’s the scale of the death, the sheer numbers, that hits home.  And much poppy imagery reflects this, for instance in the form of all those poppies that were recently planted around the Tower of London.

So this poppy photo perhaps suggests the individuality and isolation of military death, when fighting on behalf of a country like ours, now.  Your son dies.  But nobody else for miles around is suffering in the same way.  You’re on your own.


The yellow of the surrounding flowers suggests cowardice, which I dare say is how some bereaved people feel about their loss: that everyone else is scared to get stuck in.  But there the metaphor probably breaks down.  I certainly think that the people of Britain would be more than ready in the future to fight another big war, if they thought it made sense.

But it was a striking sight, nevertheless.

Wednesday November 08 2017

In the summer of 2007 I was wandering along the south bank of the Thames with my Canon S2 IS, and came across this statue, outside a pub in Greenwich, called the Trafalgar Tavern:


I only got around to posting that photo at this blog in 2016, such time lags being frequent here.  It often takes me a while to appreciate how nice I think a certain photo is.

But 2016 proved soon enough for the lady who did this sculpture of Lord Nelson, for her new website was only then in the process of being put together.  An email arrived early this year asking me if I would mind any of my photos being used for this website, and if I was agreeable to this (which I was), could I supply original full-sized versions of all the decent photos I had taken of His Lordship?  Which I did.  I also asked, more in hope than expectation, to be informed if and when any use was made of any of my photos, and I then forgot the matter.

But then, a week ago, another email arrived saying that the photo above of Nelson was to be seen at the website, now up and running, of Lesley Pover, at the page where it says Nelson returns to Greenwich.  I even got a name check with a link back to here, at the bottom of that page.

All of which is most gratifying.  Ms Pover and her website maker have said their thanks to me.  I in my turn am grateful to be associated, if only in a very small way, with such an accomplished artist, and to have made a contribution to such a fine looking website.

A Nelson photo of mine finds a new home
An imperfect posting (with a photo)
Nadar takes photos from his giant balloon
Ross King describes how Louis Napoleon became the most important man in the world
Ross King introduces Meissonier
A disruptive book about nineteenth century French painting
Me and Patrick Crozier talking about WW1: If only?
War Memorial outside Westminster Abbey
August 2017 Old School Blogging (4): The exceptionalness of Don Bradman
The Roman Empire as a tube map
The same piece quotulated twice
City peddlers etc.
Me on war and sport - quotulated two years later
Lincoln Paine on how Rome mastered the sea by turning sea battles into land battles
London statues
Indian sign cautions against selfie sticks
Cruelty to a fake animal – kindness to a fake animal
World War One questions
The most newsworthy thing so far done by a drone
Mosaic diversion
Some more Christmas cheer
Remembering ten years ago
A blown up airplane and a dodgy internet connection
Rod Green on Boys and Men at the time of Magna Carta
A direct hit
A “What If?” concerning the Battle of the Atlantic
My next last Friday meeting: Patrick Crozier on the political consequences of WW1
Anti-drone drones
A Japanese torpedo bomber that could use some zoom
Ronald Harwood on Karajan
Steven Pinker on the (im)moral message of the Old Testament
Juliet Barker on Knights of Old: A lot of history in one paragraph
You can tell that drones have arrived because now they are being turned into a sport
Marc Morris on how the Bayeux Tapestry ought not to exist
The receiving station at Swains Lane (and the previous version of it)
Paul Kennedy on centimetric radar
The Bayeux Tapestry small enough to fit in this blog
Photo-drones fighting in the Ukraine and a photo-drone above the new Apple headquarters building
The Bayeux Tapestry – the ultimate horizontalised graphic
Sixty Charlie Hebdo demo signs that say something other than “Je Suis Charlie”
Quota photo from Paris (also a selfie)
The Poppies (2): The crowds
The Poppies (1): What they look like
The illustrations for Christian Michel’s talk this Friday (plus some thoughts from me)
Michael Jennings at the Rose and Crown
Is it practise or practice?  (And: would perfect communication actually be perfect?)
PID at the Times
Football comment
Russian tanks in London
The Not-V2 at London Bridge Station
South Bank signs
Feline ephemera
Omaha dead
How hydrogen bombs work
Jane Austen’s naval brothers
The Times of May 24th 1940
Antoine Clarke on life and libertarianism in Britain in 1913
Bookshops as Amazon showrooms
Crossrail grubbings
Me and the Six Nations under the weather
Classical CDs from Gramex
Bomber Command Memorial pictures
How gun control works and how it will defend Libertaria
Remembrance Sunday photos
76 operas and a monument in the wrong place for Hermann the German
That’s what I call a Health and Safety Notice
Absolutely not a private navy (except that it probably is)
Climate science as make-work for former Cold Warriors
Bouncing bombs and spinning cricket balls
Brianmicklethwait Dot Com headline of the day
Links to this and that
Super Galaxy
Anti-aircraft guns may not have killed many enemy airplanes but they did point them out
Peaceful time in war zone
303 Squadron in the movie and on the telly
Three Gorges Dam picture
Separating the men from the toys - the future of warfare and of sport?
The cats from out of town that cleared out the rats during the siege of Leningrad
Osprey pictures
Luxembourg church in hill and Luxembourg footbridge
Frank McLynn: “Counterfactual history is the essence of history …”
Death to all who try to tiptoe past our guards while wearing giant baby costumes!
Thoughts concerning FDR’s warmongering nature
Wingtipping a V1
They aren’t complete idiots all the time
“Who are you going to sell it to if we don’t buy it?”
Resizing Slim with Expression Engine
Switching from dumb bombing to smart bombing
If the Jews have been running the world they haven’t been doing it very successfully
Terence Kealey on the Wright brothers and their patent battles
Ed Smith on how baseball defeated cricket in America
A soundbite to describe Britain a hundred years ago
Probably not right - but definitely written
Remembrance photos
Short posting with short photograph
Did Hitler have a plan to conquer the USA?
A conversation - and another outage
American war memorial by the sea at St Nazaire
Cold War winner
Islam was peaceful and tolerant until the Christians attacked it
Mean bombers
Will twentieth century aerial warfare be repeated by toys?
What are the world’s biggest problems?
Another link to a friend and that’s your lot today
And further talk at Christian Michel’s about water and power
World War One talk at Christian Michel’s
Geoffrey Blainey on Ivan Bloch - the man who predicted World War One
Admiral Coward
“Liberty might be defended, after all” - Tom Holland’s account of the Battle of Marathon