World War 2

Battle of Britain

The Battle Of Britain (2 Disc Special Edition) [1969] Last night we sat down to watch 'The Battle of Britain' (which is, in my opinion, one of the last truly great British WW2 films). If buying this it is worth getting hold of the 2 disc special edition DVD as the second disc comes packed with documentaries about the difficulty of filming the thing (which were vast), as well as interviews with people who were in the battle. The film has a huge big name cast, it's on a par with 'The Longest Day' and 'A Bridge too Far' for the number of 'A list' people in there. From a different era, but the 'Ocean's 11' and Ocean's 12' films pails in comparison when it comes to the cast.

Ice Cold In Alex [1958]It has Harry Andrews (of Ice Cold in Alex, possibly my favourite film), Michael Caine, Trevor Howard (from among other things, Brief Encounter), Curd Jürgens (who would later be in 'The Spy who Loved Me'), Ian 'Lovejoy/Deadwood' McShane, Kenneth 'Bader' More and Laurence Olivier. It had Robert Shaw (Jaws), Christopher Plummer (recently in Syriana, as well as providing a voice for San Andreas), Susannah York and Edward Fox . All the actors appeared for a flat day rate, as they really wanted to do this film.

The difficulties in the film were legion, they had their own fleet of spitfires, hurricanes, messerschmidts and the like, and filming a squadron of spitfires isn't easy. They used models from time to time when a plane blew up, or when planes no llonger existed (e.g. the Stukas). The film was made at a time where film technology allowed some tricks (a shot of the germans preparing for operation Sea Lion in a north French port, this was a matte painting), but it didn't allow too many, so what we're looking at is the 'real thing', or as near as can be done. In addition, there were still places which had not been repaired since World War 2, so the shots of London after a bombing actually showed London (they got in just before the area was bulldozed).

It had finance from Hollywood. Amusingly, this was acquired before the Hollywood execs realised that the Battle of Britain took place before the Americans joined the war - and this caused some difficulties!

If this film were made now, it'd be with computer graphics instead of real planes, and it would lose something for it, even as good as the graphics are now, there would be an unreality about it - a temptation to do impossible shots (e.g. going from a wide panorama in a dogfight down to a tight zoom on the eye of an actor) - and it would be the worse for it.

Ice Cold in Alex

Ice Cold In Alex [1958]We've just rewatched this fantastic film on DVD, it's probably my favourite film of all time. It seems that every moment is iconic, from Anthony Quayle holding up Katy as the rocks slowly crush, to the ad-man's wet dream of the bar scene at the end. John Mills is fantastic in the film as Capt. Anson, and the film maintains it's focus throughout.

Lovely stuff.

Dam Busters

The Dambusters [1954]Peter Jackson is to produce The DamBusters. I'm very fond of the original, and so am not sure about this, but I'm reasonably confident that it'll be in safe hands - with almost anyone else I'd be very worried about the product. It looks like they'll be using some materials declassified since the original film. I hope that they find some way to give Richard Todd a cameo.

It will film in 2007, and will be the directing debut of Christian Rivers. It'll be shot in both the UK and New Zealand and will cost $30-$40 million, partially funded by Studio Canal.

The Holocaust was condemned in 1942

Today, in 1942, the House of Commons condemned the massacre of Jews by Germany. This is news to me, I wasn't aware that that the holocaust was public knowledge until the end of the war. I wonder how much of this percolated through to the 'man on the street'? Even hearing about it, I doubt if anyone at the time could truly imagine the scale of things.

The statement condemned "in the strongest possible terms this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination" and made a "solemn resolution to ensure that those responsible for these crimes shall not escape retribution".

Unless I'm missing the information, It is not clear from the linked story if the allies were aware of the treatment of the handicapped and the gypsies.


60 years ago today, the first atomic bomb to be used in anger upon living people was dropped. This was, of course, Hiroshima in Japan. The bomb was developed at Los Alamos laboratories in the US, and had the destructive power of 20000 tonnes of TNT - by today's standards this is a small bomb.

As the bomb was developed, its builders were aware that the Germans may be working in the same field. Combined with the V2 this would have been disasterous. Even after Germany was defeated, one can make the case that not dropping the bomb would ultimately have cost many more lives on both sides of the conflict.

The 'Little Boy' was dropped by the Enola Gay.

War: A quote from Goering

A quote from (of all people) Herman Goering: Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.

POW Notification

POW notifcation postcard

This is the POW notification that my great grandmother was sent upon my Grandad's capture.

There is much writing on the card. Starting with the front, at the top right it says Franc de Port, and underneath in pencil is written 'A B'.

There is a large blue censors stamp, this shows the crown, and carries the words 'Passed by censor T.53'

There is a stamp for the red cross, Comite International de la Croix Rouge - Genève. This is a faded double stamp, and so difficult to read.

There is a handwritten address: 'Mrs Swan' (my great grandmother), '41 Arngash Road, Catford, London, S. E. 6 England'

On the left is some information in French and English

Comité International de la Croix-Rought : International Red Cross Committee

Comité International de la Croix-Rought : International Red Cross Committee

Agence Centrale des Prisonniers de Guerre : Prisoners of War Central Information Agency

Genève (Suisse) : Geneva (Switzerland)

On the reverse of the card we find some detail.

At the top left, Ref. No RBO 4413, and the top right, 242 b-bis

The card continues:

Geneva, 19-6-40

Dear Madam, (Sir)

We beg to inform you that we have received a card dated 10-6-40 from the STALAG XX A GERMANY advising us that SWAN Sidney-Robert fusilier 6914956 Born 16-2-19 is interned in that camp.

From now on you can send letters to the above mentioned prisoner of war to the address given, adding the following "Kriegsgefangenenpost" (prisoners of war post) and "Gebührenfrei" (free of postal charges).

Yours Faithfully.

In addition to this message there is a handwritten remark, "he is well" as well as a stamp, in red, Comité International de la Croix Rouge. Agence centrale des prisonniers de guerre. GENÈVE

I still find it incredible that in the horrors of WW2, the Red Cross could function as well as it did. A wonderful organisation.

POW Camp Money

Money which was used in the POW camps

This is an example of some 'camp money' which was used in the POW camps. Special money was printed as there was a need for an 'in camp' economy, but they did not wish to help ensure they escaped.

Camp money was the answer to this dilemma. On the face of things, the camp money was worth a couple of Reichsmarks, in practice, it was worth very little.

The text on the money reads as follows:


Gutschein über 2 Reichsmark

Dieser Gutschein gilt nur als Zahlungsmittel für Kriegsgefangene und darf von ihnen nur innerhalb der Kriegsgefangenenlager oder bei Arbeitskommandos in den ausdrücklich hierfür bezeichneten Verkaufsstellen verausgabt und entgegengenommen werden. Der Umtausch dieses Gutscheines in gesetzliche Zahlungsmittel darf nur bei der zuständigen Rasse der Lagerverwaltung erfolgen. Zuwiderbehandlungen, Nachahmungen und Fälschungen werden bestraft.

Der Chef des Oberkommandos der Wehrmacht

Im Auftrage: <signature>

This translates roughly as:

POW Camp Money

Coupon for 2 Reichsmarks

This coupon is valid only for payment for POWS and may only be used by them inside the POW camps or on work details, spent and taken in the expressly designated points of sale. The exchange of this coupon into legal tender can only take place at a designated camp office. Contraventions, imitations and forgeries will be punished

Chief of the High Command of the Wehrmacht.

By order: <signature>

Prisoner of War Map

Map kept by the POWs

I've spent part of today going through some of my Grandad's papers. There is a lot of memorabilia in there, and I thought I'd periodically post some of it online, along with any stories which are associated with them. I'll also put on other items which come to me from other relatives - of course, this assumes that there is some interest.

This map was kept by my Grandad in a German POW camp in World War 2. He, along with his platoon, were captured somewhere in the region of Arras. They were on their way to the evacuation at Dunkirk (Dunkerque) but they never made it. Up until his death he still remembered being straffed by the Luftwaffe. A few days before he died he was convinced at one point that he was back on that French road.

Once captured, he along with the other POWs were marched across Europe. They would literally support their colleagues as they went for if one could not march, one was shot.

He spent the rest of the war in a German POW camp, having walked from the North of France. I think he was taken south as he described mountain ranges.

This map survives. It is a flimsy document, held together with a wing and a prayer, and a few pieces of tape. The map was kept in the camp, and the prisoners used it to follow troop movements which they heard from local Germans at their work placements, one of which was working in a plant which helped to make V2 rockets - an activity they were forced to do. One of the secretaries used to pass news on to the prisoners. When she was discovered she and her family were executed. In addition if the map was discovered then there was a high chance of being shot.

The map was hidden by being wrapped in oil skins, and it was kept in the pot of constantly boiling water which they used in the hut for various purposes.

The map is quite large, A3 size with a bit sticking out (so it once was A2). This image has been stitched together from three scans - I've shown a close up of the region around Brussels where one can just make out some of the pencil marks which were made.

A larger version of the map can be obtained by clicking on the image - the highest res version is too large to put online!

Additional: This entry has been linked to from 'The Map Room'