Monday, November 18, 2013

Positive aspects of the First World War

Despite the undoubted tragedy of World War One, there were some more positive developments, such as leaving a legacy which sought to avoid future war. There were also glimpses that amidst the carnage and unnecessary slaughter, humanity can still retain a certain dignity and aspiration for higher ideals.

These are some of the positive aspects of the First World War

League of Nations

The First World War was a colossal failure of the pre-war 'balance of power' theory. Given the war, Woodrow Wilson envisaged that in the future conflicts could be settled through diplomacy and an international organisation devoted to global peace. The League of Nations came into being at the end of the war with the aim of preventing future war. Many consider it to be a failure because it didn't prevent the Second World War; it was also severely weakened by major countries, like the US, not joining. But, it was important from a symbolic point of view. It raised the ideal of international co-operation and was the forerunner of the United Nations.

Fourteen points of Woodrow Wilson

As well as the League of Nations, Woodrow Wilson sought to promote a just peace, through his idealistic 14 points. This included the right of nations to self-determination and an end to Empire building. Wilson's idealism was severely curtailed by other allies, who were less forgiving and unwilling to give up their Empires. But, the ideal of self-determination has increasingly become an important idea throughout the Twentieth Century.

Greater acceptance of women

Before the war, the suffragette movement had largely failed to convince society that women should play an active role in society. The war gave an opportunity for women to take on previously men-only jobs. The war proved a significant factor in giving women the vote in 1919 and helped change social attitudes towards women forever.

Greater respect for workers

In the First World War, the industrial battle was as important as the actual fighting. Countries gave greater importance to the welfare of munitions workers, trade unions gained in acceptance. In the First World War ironically led to several gains for the poorest in society. When landlords pushed up rents, there was a popular backlash against the war profiteers. Lloyd George personally intervened and promised rents would be regulated by the government. The first rent control act was implemented in the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (War Restrictions) Act of 1915. It was supposed to be temporary, but in 1920, the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act 1920 was passed.

Fraternising with the enemy

From a political perspective, countries became implacable enemies. But, to the soldiers in the trenches, they often saw the human kinship with their fellow soldiers. The Christmas truce of the First World War is tragically poignant in showing how the two sides could fraternise and seek a personal friendship, despite their military orders to kill others. The Christmas truce wasn't just an isolated incident. This respect for the individual soldier on the other side could sometimes be seen on many fronts. In Gallipoli, the allied troops came to respect the courage and honour of their Turkey counterpart.
"there was no bitterness at all. There's many a German who helped our wounded people down the communication trenches, even carried them down. There was no hatred between the forces. Although we were shooting at one another."
- Private Harold Startin, Forgotten Voices of the Somme' - Joshua Levine.
"You didn't hate them as individuals, no, no, you felt sorry for them."
- Corporal Wilfred Woods Forgotten voices of the Somme - Joshua Levine. Many soldiers on both sides developed an attitude of 'live and let live' - periods where they would try and avoid killing the soldiers a few hundred yards in other trenches. The Generals and politicians on both sides hated this 'live and let attitude' and the bitterness of future battles often ended these periods of calm. But, it was a reminder that even supposed enemies, can at times find a shared humanity.

Friendship of the war

Despite the unimaginable hardships and tragedies of the war, some soldiers say it gave them something they never had in peacetime. Soldiers say the horror of the war, created unique friendships between soldiers and officers thrown together. Soldiers say how in the front line, class divisions broke down; they were all in together. The bond between fellow man was a unique experience.

Unexpected Courage

Soldiers on both sides showed frequently showed the qualities of courage and steadfast loyalty to their cause. But, courage wasn't just in fighting, but also standing up for one's principles. For example, British nurse Edith Cavell, executed for 'spying' after helping Allied soldiers to escape Belgium.

Conscientious objection to war

Conscientious objectors on both sides were executed for refusing to fight. They were courageous in standing up for their principles. For example, Bertrand Russell was jailed for his opposition to the First World War.

A greater awareness of the horrors of war

At the outbreak of war, there was widespread enthusiasm on all sides. Men rushed to join the armies in an outbreak of patriotic fever. Both sides felt that 'God was on their side' and they would be victorious by Christmas. However, the stalemate and ongoing horrors of war led to many men to question why they were fighting. War poets, such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and Vera Brittain left a strong anti-war literature which has influenced later generations. The massed cemeteries of Flanders stand as stark reminders of the tragic consequences of war.

By the end of the war, many soldiers had been awakened to the futility and horrors of war. These days, people have perhaps become more critical of any rush to war. When the UK and US took part in the invasion of Iraq, during 2003, millions of people protested against their own countries involvement. It is much more difficult for politicians to play the patriotism card and expect everyone to join in the war.

German militarism was defeated

Given the widespread scale of death and destruction, it is possible to forget why the First World War was fought in the first place. Britain went to war, with some reluctance. Liberals in the cabinet, like Lloyd George initially opposed Britain joining a European war, but the invasion of Belgium changed his mind and he felt Britain needed to fight to protect Belgian independence. If Germany had defeated Belgium and France, modern Europe would have been dominated by a militaristic German who would have treated conquered nations as vassal states.


Book Cover

Forgotten Voices of the Somme at


Sunday, September 29, 2013

People who died for their faith

Many people have shown tremendous courage to stand up for their beliefs - even at the cost of their lives. These are some people who died for their faith or their belief.

Thomas A Beckett (1118-70) - Archbishop of Canterbury who infuriated King Henry II by placing the Church above the King. Beckett was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral on the indirect orders of the King.
Thomas More (1478 - 1535) Leading servant to King Henry VIII - Eventually beheaded for his refusal to accept Henry VIII's rejection of the Catholic Church and Henry's marriage to Anne Boleyn.

Joan of Arc -(1412 – 1431) Joan of Arc received Divine messages which helped the Dauphin of France to drive out the English from parts of France. She was arrested for her 'heterodox religious beliefs'. She was burnt at the stake for refusing to recant her experiences and communion with God.

The Oxford Martyrs - Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley, and the Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. They were burned at the Stake in Oxford 1555 for refusing to renounce their Protestant faith and accept the Roman Catholic faith of Queen Mary I.
Saint Peter (? - 65 AD), The leading apostle of Jesus Christ. Legend says he was crucified upside-down by the Romans. He asked to be crucified upside down so as not to copy the crucifixion of Jesus. Maximilian Kolbe (1894- 1941) A Polish Franciscan friar. He was arrested by the Nazi's for sheltering refugees, from the Nazi's. He was executed at Auschwitz concentration camp after volunteering to take the place of a man who feared death.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, (1906 - 1945) A German Lutheran Pastor who was a leading opponent of Hitler and the Nazis. He was eventually arrested and died in a concentration camp before the end of the war.
William Tyndale (1494–1536 ) was one of the first persons to print the Bible in English. Executed for blasphemy after years of avoiding capture.
Mansoor Al-Hallaj (858 – 922) A Sufi mystic who practised mysticism and preached a radical philosophy based on his spiritual experiences. Al-Hallaj claimed that in his mystical experiences he realised that 'I am the Truth'. He was sentenced to death for blasphemy, but during a prolonged execution, he retained his equanimity and faith.
Thich Quang Duc, (1897 - 1963) was a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. He burnt himself to death (self-immolation) at an intersection in Saigon on June 11, 1963. He was protesting about the treatment of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government.

Other selected Christian Martyr's
  • St. Stephen as recorded in the Acts 6:8–8:3, the first Christian Martyr.
  • James the Great (Son of Zebedee) was beheaded in 44 A.D.
  • Philip the Apostle was crucified in 54 A.D.
  • Matthew the Evangelist killed with a halberd in 60 A.D.
  • James the Just, beaten to death with a club after being crucified and stoned.
  • Matthias was stoned and beheaded.
  • Saint Andrew, St. Peter's brother, was crucified.
  • Saint Mark was dragged in the streets until his death
  • Edith Stein (Carmelite nun, died at Auschwitz), 1942

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Top 10 French Artists

Jaz de Bouffan - 1876

A list of the greatest French artists and painters:

artist Claude Monet (1840 – 1926)  - Impressionist painter. The term impressionism stemmed from Monet's influential work 'Impression, Sunrise' (Impression, Soleil Levant). Monet's paintings frequently depicted nature in impressionist style.
artist Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) - Post-impressionist painter. Began his career in the impressionist mould but developed new innovative styles, providing a bridge between Nineteenth Century art and the cubist / modern art of Twentieth Century.
artist Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) Post-impressionist painter, who contributed to the growth of avant-garde painting. Gauguin had a temperamental relationship with Van Gogh
artist August Renoir  (1841–1919) Impressionist painter. Renoir played a key role in the development of impressionist painter. He was attracted to depicting human beauty and scenes of human society.
artist Camille Pissarro (1830–1903) Impressionist and post-impressionist painter. A very influential figure for both impressionists and the new generation of post-impressionist painters.
artist Edgar Degas (1834–1917) Considered a forerunner of impressionism. He preferred the term 'realist' Degas was interested in depicting movement in art.
artist Édouard Manet (1832–1883) Manet contributed to the schools of 'Realism' and 'Impressionism' - playing a key role in the transformation of impressionism and modern art.
artist Charles-François Daubigny (1817–1878) Traditional landscape painter who was also seen as an important precursor to impressionism.
artist Eugène Delacroix (1798–1863) Romantic painter, inspired by the Venetian Renaissance painters and Rubens.
artist Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) Painter and sculptor associated with Dadaism.

Lived in France

artist Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890) - Post-impressionist painter noted for boldness and vivid paintings.  Born in the Netherlands, he lived many years in France.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Explorers from the golden ages of exploration

The USS Vincennes, one of the ships of the Ex. Ex., visiting Antarctica in 1840. (credit: US Navy)

The Elizabethan age of exploration - 15th, 16th Century

This period from the 15th to 17th Century was perhaps the most important era of exploration. It laid the seeds of globalisation as Europe discovered the Americas, the Indian continent and made the first circumnavigation of the world. This age of discovery came about for a few reasons
  • The fall of Constantinople made trade with Asia across land very difficult. There was an incentive for Europeans to find direct sea routes to the India continent. This was first achieved by the Portuguese Vasco de Gama in 1498, when he arrived in Calicut, India.
  • A wealth of Europe. European countries, like Spain, Portugal, Holland and England became increasingly wealthy and good afford to fund exploration. In addition, these explorations became quite profitable due to trade and/or plundering of raw materials. The Spanish monarchy funded Christopher Colombus in 1492 to travel to America.
  • Christian missionary movement. Part of the motive for exploration was to share the principles of Christianity and convert 'heathen pagans'
  • Empire rivalry. One of the biggest motivations was to extend the political, military and political power of the European nations by claiming parts of the 'new world.' For example, one of England's most famous explorers Sir Walter Raleigh was executed after fighting the Spanish.
  • Improvements in technology which enabled longer sea journeys.

The dark side of the age of exploration.

The age of exploration could also be called the age of exploitation. European voyages paved the way for the conquest of American countries. The age of exploration was also tied up with the growth in the slave trade. Notable explorers like Sir Francis Drake were closely tied up with the slave trade. (Drake was also considered a pirate by the Spanish). Many native inhabitants suffered from the coming of Europeans, due to the transfer of infectious diseases, slavery or loss of freedom.

On the positive side, the age of exploration helped widen horizons (proving the world wasn't flat) and beginning the evolutionary movement towards a global world.

The Heroic Age of exploration - Polar regions

In the late Nineteenth Century / early Twentieth Century, there was the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. Many voyages were undertaken with only limited equipment, but this enabled a great improvement in knowledge about the Antarctic continent. The most famous explorations of this period were led by
  • Ernest Shackleton.British Antarctic Expedition 1907 (Nimrod Expedition)
  • Roald Amundsen reaching the South Pole in 1911.
  • Robert F Scott's - Antarctic expedition of 1910-11 - which led to death of all five members, close to the South Pole
  • Ernest Shackleton - Endurance 1914-17 - First transcontinental crossing attempt

Other great periods of exploration

  • Space Exploration 1950s and 1960s
  • Marco Polo's journeys to Asia in the 13th Century
  • African explorations of the Nineteenth Century. Led by David Livingstone's attempt to find the source of the Nile, the late Nineteenth Century saw a 'dash for Africa'

Is professional cycling clean or is doping still prevalent?

After the Festina scandal of 1998, the scope of drug taking within the sport of procycling was exposed. But, the opportunity to clean up the sport was not taken. The next year 1999, Festina rider Richard Virenque (who had finally admitted to taking a cocktail of drugs) was still able to make the startline. There was no lengthy ban. The incentive to cheat was still there. Like many other drug cheats he was welcomed back by supporters and riders alike

In 1999, the one rider who everybody admitted was clean in the Festina team was talented Christopher Bassons. However, when Bassons publically stated doping was still a problem in the sport. He got bullied by race leader Lance Armstrong - live during a stage. A tearful Basson was ignored by the peleton for breaking the Omerta. He later quit the Tour de France and retired.

In that Tour, Lance Armstrong failed a dope test for Cortiscoids. But, producing a back dated prescription (contrary to the rules) he was  allowed to win and claim victory. Despite a year after the Festina scandal no-one wanted to hear about drug stories. The Lance recovery from cancer to win the Tour was seen as a miraculously good sports story. Armstrong went onto win seven consecutive tour de France wuns. Despite growing evidence if doping, Armstrong was the boss and he was able to avoid any scrutiny as journalists needed access to the man who sold more papers than any doping story.

Fast forward to 2012, and the USADA report into Lance Armstrong produced 100+ pages detailing the extent and depth of doping within the US postal team. Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven titles and there was widespread anger about the extent and nature of cheating within the sport.
It wasn't just Lance Armstrong who was doping, numerous other winners and riders were implicated - either failing dope tests or admitting to having doped in their career.

In 2010, Team Sky was set up hoping to win the Tour de France with a clean rider.

In 2011, Bradley Wiggins won after dominating in the two time trials. In 2012, Chris Froome won the Tour de France. His dominating performances in the mountains were subject to intense scrutiny. With the press repeatedly questionning the validity of his performances.

In response Froome calmly replied he was clean. Team Sky also offered to offer their power data to WADA - the world's anti doping agency.

David Walsh, the journalist who sought to expose Lance Armstrong's doping was allowed to follow Team Sky around for 2013. Despite being initially sceptical and criticial of Team Sky's decision to hire former Rabobank doctor (Gert Leinders), Walsh came to the conclusion that Froome's performances were credible and that there were big differences between Team Sky and US Postal

  • Test for EPO which has caught riders
  • Biological passport which looks for evidence of blood manipulation
  • Changed atmosphere in the peleton. The days of bullying riders who speak against doping is hard to imagine. Riders, such as Kittel, have been increasingly vocal in their opposition to doping.
  • No evidence from former employees of Team Sky (unlike US postal where there was a steady drop of former mechanics, riders coming out to say doping was endemic in the team)
  • Greater transparency in allowing access to team and data.
  • Froome was tested 19 times during the tour.
  • According to Ross Tucker of the sports science institute at the University of Cape Town,  the power-to-weight ratio of today's top riders is lower than in the EPO era.
    "In the late 1990s and early 2000s if you were going to be competitive and win the Tour de France you would have to be able to cycle between 6.4 and 6.7 watts per kilogram at the end of a day's stage.
    "What we are seeing now, in the last three or four years, is that the speed of the front of the peloton [of] men like Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Vincenzo Nibali, is about 10% down compared to that generation and now the power output at the front is about 6W/kg." (Are drug free cyclists slower?)
Some remain sceptical, frequently over the years and there has been good reason to be sceptical after a series of cyclists have later proved to have doped. However, there is good reason to feel the sport is cleaner than before.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Who Deserves to be in the Top 100 Greatest Britons?

The BBC did a great job in setting up a poll to discover the top 100 Greatest Britons. Apart from Oliver Cromwell, The top 10 are all worthy figures.

However, from a personal perspective, I felt there were some in the top 100 who were there because of fame, rather than any useful contribution. Therefore, I've decided to remove some modern figures, who I don't believe will stand the test of time, and replace them with people who are much more deserving of making a worthwhile contribution to the nation. (Wordsworth, Emily Bronte, John Keats and John Wycliffe)

If you'd like to nominate someone for inclusion or exclusion, leave a comment

Removed From BBC Top 100
  • John Peel
  • John Lydon
  • Robbie Williams
  • Boy George
Put in Top 100
  • William Wordsworth (poet)
  • John Wycliffe 
  • Emily Bronte (poet, author)
  • John Keats
1. Winston Churchill (28.1%)
2. Isambard Kingdom Brunel (24.6%)
3. Princess Diana (13.9%)
4. Charles Darwin (6.9%)
5. William Shakespeare (6.8%)
6. Sir Isaac Newton (5.2%)
7. Queen Elizabeth I (4.4%)
8. John Lennon (4.2%)
9. Horatio Nelson (3%)
10. Oliver Cromwell (2.8%)

Friday, January 25, 2013

30 Facts about J.R.R. Tolkien

Merton College. Tolkien was professor of English Language and Lit at Merton from 1945-59

  1. The Tolkien name was derived from German. Tolkien (who was fascinated with languages said the  surname came from the German word tollkühn, meaning "foolhardy"
  2. Tolkien was born in Orange Free State, South Africa, but moved to England aged three.
  3. When he was a baby, the young Tolkien was kidnapped for a day, by a house boy, who was captivated by the baby.
  4. Tolkien became a Catholic in 1900, this caused a family rift with his Baptist relatives.
  5. Tolkien remained a Catholic throughout his life. C.S.Lewis credits Tolkien with his decision to become a Christian in the 1930s.
  6. From his early teens, Tolkien invented several languages. Quenya became an important aspect of his middle earth Legendarium. In a letter published in Observer, 1981, Tolkien wrote: The stories were made rather to provide a world for the languages than the reverse. To me name comes first and the story follows.'
  7. Aged 16, he met his future wife Edith. But, his guardian Father Francis Morgan prohibited Tolkien seeing her until Tolkien came of age, aged 21. 
  8. As a young student at Exeter College, Oxford University, he spent his first few years often getting into debt trying to keep up with richer students, who had more disposable income. Tolkien admits he had a great love of beer and talking into the early hours of the morning.
  9. Initially, Tolkien studied the classics but switched to English Literature when he found he could study Middle English.
  10. Tolkien served as an officer in the Battle of the Somme.

  11. Tolkien said his character of Sam Gamgee was based on the ordinary soldiers who he commanded and who faced so much hardship without rancour. 
  12. The first work that Tolkien wrote was The Silmarillion; this wasn't published until after his death and was revised at different periods throughout his life.
  13. In 1918, he got a job working on the Oxford English Dictionary, which had begun in 1879. 
  14. Tolkien was saved from further fighting through developing trench fever. Though he later recalled that most of his friends died in the First World War.
  15. Tolkien was a great lecturer. When giving lectures on Beowulf, he would often startle students by exclaiming in Anglo-Saxon and speaking in the manner of an old bar.
  16. W.H.Auden later said, he thought the voice of Tolkien giving lectures, was the voice of Gandalf!
  17. The Hobbit was written initially for his own children.
  18. The first famous lines to the hobbit were written down on a blank, empty exam paper he was once marking. 'In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit"
  19. When agents from Nazi Germany wished to translate the Hobbit into German, they sent a letter asking to prove he was 'Aryan'. Tolkien gave a scathing reply, saying amongst other things that he wished he had Jewish ancestors.   
  20. Tolkien had a dislike for cars and spent most of his adult life relying on bicycles and trains. He had a particular love of the Oxfordshire countryside and was dismayed when it was covered with new roads.
  21. When an American company published an authorised copy of 'Lord of the Rings' It became a best-seller. But, because Tolkien maintained a long correspondence with many fans, he helped to encourage people to boycott the pirated copy. This boycott proved successful and eventually, the company made a donation to Tolkien and dropped the edition. 
  22. Tolkien left a significant body of work unpublished, which his son Christopher Tolkien later published. This included The Silmarillion, The History of Middle Earth and Unfinished Tales.
  23. Initially, Tolkien only wanted The Lord of the Rings to be published alongside the Silmarillion, almost going to another publisher.
  24. When Tolkien's son joined the army, he listed his father's occupation as 'Wizard!'
  25. In one sense Tolkien was a typical conservative. He was highly critical of the Stalinist and Hitler regime's. But, he also had a strong libertarian streak and once said: 'My political opinions lean more and more to anarchy.'
  26. Tolkien credited the works of William Morris as being a great inspiration. 
  27. In 1999 customers voted Lord of the Rings as the most popular book of the Millenium
  28. Tolkien was voted 94th on the list of Greatest Britons
  29. One of his favourite sayings was: Never laugh at live dragons, Bilbo you fool!
  30. He was buried at Wolvercote cemetery with his wife Edith. The description reads:
 Edith Mary Tolkien, Lúthien, 1889-1971 
John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, Beren, 1892-1973

Read More: J.R.R.Tolkien Biography

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hate is Never Conquered by Hate

For hate is never conquered by hate.
Hate is conquered by love.
This is an eternal law.
- Lord Buddha

Buddha Biography 


Photo: Tejvan Pettinger

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Gretel Mahoney - Mrs Mahoney's Secret War

There are not too many books about life in Nazi Germany written from the perspective of an ordinary German.

Recent books such as 'Hitler's Willing Executioners' expressed the extent of collaboration between ordinary German citizens and the Nazi agenda.

Mrs Mahoney's Secret War is a fascinating glimpse into life in Nazi Germany -  from the perspective of a German who dislike the Nazi regime.

Gretel Mahoney's story is very readable and fascinating. You get a real feel for her character - not a saint or resistance hero - but someone who saw through the Fascist propaganda and was able to resist in small ways.

She tells of how she came to hate the Nazi Regime. Firstly her socialist grandfather was a principled and staunch critic of the Nazi's - even when the stormtroopers would come to terrorize the neighbourhood. Gretel then tells of how she saw the increased victimisation and persecution of her Jewish friends. For Gretel, Kristallnacht in 1938, was a painful realisation of the extent to which the Nazi's went to persecute the Jewish population of Germany. The loss of her Jewish friend Lydia was a key factor in cementing her hatred of the Nazi's.

Gretel comes across as both carefree and willful. She found it difficult to keep her mouth closed and often walked on a thin border of risking arrest.

A particularly interesting chapter was the occasion when the Bomb plot to Hitler played out. At first, there was real uncertainty about what had happened. To see everything from her perspective was quite interesting.

In the end, Gretel was arrested and placed in a camp, where she survived the war. After the war, she met a British officer, who was posted to Hamburg. They eventually got married and Gretel moved to England.

The book is an interesting insight into life in Nazi Germany - it shows the daily dilemma's faced by those living in Nazi Germany but opposed to the Nazi ideology. It is also an interesting insight into the personality of Gretel Mahoney - an unlikely hero, but someone who could see through the Nazi propaganda.

Book Cover Mrs Mahoney's Secret War at Mrs Mahoney's Secret War at

Friday, February 10, 2012

Suggest Someone Who Has Made A Difference

Suggest someone who has made a positive contribution to the world.

It can be in any field

  • Arts
  • Politics
  • Music
  • Literature
  • Sport
  • Humanitarian

They can be a nomination for:

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

George Bernard Shaw Facts

"My speciality is being right when other people are wrong."
George Bernard Shaw - You Never Can Tell, Act IV

George Bernard Shaw was known for his wit, it even led to creation of a Shawism - witty phrase:
"My way of joking is to tell the truth. It's the funniest joke in the world."
- George Bernard Shaw
  • George Bernard Shaw was an iconoclastic playwright, journalist, polemicist, scintillating public speaker, arts reviewer and campaigning socialist,
  • Shaw actually hated the George in his name, and used just Bernard Shaw
  • With Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and Graham Wallas, George Bernard Shaw was a co-founder of the London School of Economics.
  • George Bernard Shaw was a leading member of the Fabian society (a, along with luminaries such as Annie Besant and the Webbs
George Bernard Shaw was
  • A committed vegetarian
  • A socialist
  • Opponent of First World War
  • Supported belief in Eugenics.

  • Despite nearly dieing from smallpox, Shaw joined a public campaign in opposition to vaccination against smallpox.
  • Shaw helped T.E. Lawrence, with his book the Seven Pillars of Wisdom
  • Shaw was a keen amateur photographer.
  • He is the only person to have been awarded both a Nobel Prize for Literature (1925) and an Oscar (1938) for work on transcribing Pygmalion (adaption of his play of the same name).
  • He married but it was never consummated and he had no children
  • When George Orwell asked George Bernard Shaw for permission to quote from one of his works in a BBC interview for the 'Voice', magazine programme, to be broadcast by the Indian Service Shaw responded with the terse refusal "I veto it ruthlessly".
  • In George Orwell's Animal Farm, Mr. Whymper a man hired by Napoleon to represent Animal Farm in human society, is loosely based on George Bernard Shaw who visited the U.S.S.R. in 1931 and praised Stalin and what he found.
  • George Bernard Shaw rejected many honours during his lifetime. He only accepted the Nobel Prize at the behest of his wife who thought it would bring honour to Ireland.
  • Shaw was a strident critic of contemporary education. in his Treatise on Parents and Children he considered the curriculum useless.
  • George Bernard Shaw had no particular religion, but was receptive to a range of religious views: "(my) religious convictions and scientific views cannot at present be more specifically defined than as those of a believer in creative revolution."
He spoke warmly of religions such as Hinduism.
"The apparent multiplicity of Gods is bewildering at the first glance; but you presently discover that they are all the same one God in different aspects and functions and even sexes. There is always one uttermost God who defies personification."
George Bernard Shaw and Churchill

George Bernard Shaw telegrammed Winston Churchill just prior to the opening of Major Barbara: "Have reserved two tickets for first night. Come and bring a friend if you have one."

Churchill wired back, "Impossible to come to first night. Will come to second night, if you have one."

Monday, January 24, 2011

Facts about Wilfred Owen

  • Wilfred Owen (18 March 1893 – 4 November 1918) is best known as one of the most powerful war poets, who depicted the reality and horrors of the First World War.
  • He was born in Oswestry, Shropshire, England - where there is now a memorial to him.
  • Owen was influenced by the great romantic poets of Keats, Byron, Shelly, Coleridge and Wordsworth.
  • When war broke out, Owen was teaching in France. He even considered joining the French army but joined the British army in 1915.
  • Owen's first experience of the war was in hospitals treating the wounded soldiers - often without anaesthetic.
  • Wilfred Owen was invalided out of the army in 1916 suffering from shell shock.
  • Recuperating in an Edinburgh hospital, Wilfred Owen became close friends with poet Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon played a key role in encouraging the young war poet.
  • When Owen returned to the front in 1918, he hid the fact from his friend Siegfried Sassoon, who didn't want him to return.
  • His poem 'Anthem for Doomed Youth' is one of the best-known war poems of all time.
  • What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
    Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
    Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
    Can patter out their hasty orisons.
  • In his preface to his collection of war poetry, Owen writes this fitting analogy:
'My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity.'
  • His famous poem "Dulce et Decorum est" takes its first line from a poem of Horace.
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori  translates at: "It is sweet and right to die for your country."

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped  Five-Nines  that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,

To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
  • Owen's poetry was influenced by his friend Siegfried Sasson, in particular, the use of satire and sarcasm in his poetry. For example, "The ecstasy of fumbling' for gas masks is turning the use of the word ecstasy on its head.
  • Wilfred Owen was killed in battle during the last month of the war - November 1918. He died exactly one week (almost to the hour) before the signing of the Armistice which ended the war.
  • His parents received a telegram on Armistice day 1918, as the bells were ringing in celebration at the end of the war.
  • After his death, he was awarded the Military Cross. Owen wanted this medal to make his anti-war poetry appear even stronger.
  • Wilfred Owen is buried between two privates in the corner of a village cemetery at Ors. His grave is marked with a simple cross and gravestone. 
  • His life and relationship with Siegfried Sassoon is the subject of Pat Barker's 1991 historical novel Regeneration
  • More on Wilfred Owen at Biography of Wilfred Owen
photo: by huwowenthomas - Flickr cc

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Heroes of First World War

Amidst the slaughter of the First World War, countless people displayed acts of great courage and bravery. Many of these actions were lost in the turmoil of the trenches. These people stand as a representation of the human spirit in the most testing of circumstances

Nurse Edith Cavell. Edith Cavell was working as a nurse in Brussels, Belgium, when the Germans invaded and occupied in 1914. With the help of others, she aided many British servicemen to safety. For helping British servicemen to escape she was executed by the German occupying army. Before her execution, amongst her last recorded words were. 'Patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness to anyone." - Nurse Edith Cavell

Wilfred Owen. Wilfred Owen was decorated with the military cross for bravery in action. However, he is best remembered as one of the greatest war poets. His poems poignantly reflected the paradox between hope and reality of the war.
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
- From Dulce et Decorum Est, Wilfred Owen

Wilfred Owen was killed by a bullet to the head, shortly before the armistice in November 1918.

Baron Manfred Von Richthofen. Widely known as the 'Red Baron' he was the top flying ace of the war, with over 80 credited kills. He became a great hero in his native Germany and was well known on the Allied side. Amongst airmen, there was a mutual respect and a certain code of honour was kept to. He died in April 1918, towards the end of the war.

T.E. Lawrence. 'Lawrence of Arabia' T.E.Lawrence was a British officer posted to the Middle East. Against great odds, he raised an Arab revolt against the Turkish army. With a small cache of arms, they harried the Turks; and in one of the most daring attacks of the war, took a small Arab army through the desert to surprise the Turks at Aqaba. Lawrence displayed great love for both Britain and his Arab allies who looked to him as a natural leader.

Woodrow Wilson. Perhaps the most idealistic person of the war. Wilson strived to keep America neutral, as he had a deep dislike for war. When Germany began unrestricted submarine warfare, and rumours of a German alliance with Mexico began, Wilson reluctantly took his country into war. Perhaps his biggest contribution was in trying to shape the peace. His 14 points sought to create a peace based on common principles of justice. He was also a proponent of a new association - The League of Nations, which he hoped would prevent future wars.

Siegfried Sassoon. A great war poet and fearless soldier. He was known for his reckless courage in the face of action. But, grew increasingly disenchanted with the horrors of trench warfare. He wrote a letter to the Times, criticising the conduct of the war. Coming from a celebrated poet and military hero, this was quite a shock.

David Lloyd George. In 1916, David Lloyd George took over from Asquith as Prime Minister of Great Britain. There were concerns that Asquith was not up to the task of being a war leader. With great enthusiasm and energy, Lloyd George reorganised British industry and put the country on a path to total war. He also played a pivotal role in persuading the Navy to adopt the convoy system. This convoy system was crucial in protecting Allied shipping against the devastating losses of the German U-Boat campaigns.

Marshall Petain. Petain was the hero of Verdun. In the bitter fighting of 1916, there was a real danger the Germans would break through at the fortress of Verdun. However, Petain rallied the embittered French army in a last-ditch defence, which ultimately held out. In 1917, the exhausted French army mutinied, fed up with a series of defeats and difficult conditions. Petain was made commander of the army and succeeded in restoring the morale and overcoming the mutiny.

Ataturk. The Turkish general who held off the allied attack at Gallipoli. If the Allies had broken through, Istanbul could easily have fallen. Turks fought with great spirit, and there existed a mutual respect amongst the competing armies - despite the dreadful scale of the slaughter.

John J. Pershing. Commander in Chief of the American army in France. Though criticised for being slow to release American troops to the war, he later achieved success in the final Allied advance of the war. Like Woodrow Wilson, he was highly critical of the Treaty of Versailles.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Britain's Finest Hour

Britain's finest hour came in the Second World War. In the summer and winter of 1940 Britain, alone, stood against Nazi Germany. In the preceding 15 months, the Nazi war machine had steam-rolled through Western Europe. First carving up Poland with the Soviet Union, and then capturing the low countries and spectacularly defeating France. In the summer of 1940, there were people in the British cabinet who thought Britain could not hold out alone, and the best thing was to sue for peace with Hitler, perhaps similar to Vichy France. However, Churchill stood firm against the likes of Lord Halifax saying there could be no compromise with Hitler. The outlook was certainly bleak, but, the inspirational speeches of Churchill helped firm up British resolve to keep fighting against the tyranny of Hitler's Germany.

Unexpectedly, 1941 and 1942, saw the tide of war change as Germany invaded Russia, and Japan bombed Pearl Harbour. This effectively brought Britain two much more powerful allies and after years of hard fighting, Germany was eventually, comprehensively and decisively beaten. The Thousand Year Reich was destroyed and the top leaders were mostly either killed, arrested or committed suicide at their own hands. It was only at the defeat of Nazi Germany that the true scale and horror of the Nazi state were fully revealed. Though, allied intelligence knew about the persecution of Jews, it was only pictures of concentration camps and the mass extermination of people that brought home the evils of a regime that had sought to conquer the whole of Europe, if not the world.

One irony of the Second World War is that though it was Britain's final hour, it came at a high cost. The war bankrupted Britain creating a national debt of nearly 200% of GDP (by end of 1940s).

The war was also a turning point, no longer would Britain have an Empire, soon countries which had been part of Britain's Empire were given their freedom, such as India in 1947.

From one perspective, Britain gained nothing and lost materially. But, in fighting the Nazi Empire, it was as if Britain learnt that ruling countries against their will was wrong. After fighting fascism in Europe, Britain could no longer morally hold out against other countries claim for self-determination.

By fighting Hitler's Germany, fascist tendencies in Britain were reduced. Before the war, Oswald Mosley's black shirts were a potential political force. The war changed all that. Before the war, Churchill despised the idea of giving India independence. After 1947, even Churchill gave up the pretence of trying to maintain an Empire.

The Second World War also had a profound impact on Britain's society. The war gave the ordinary working people greater expectations, they no longer wanted a return to the staid class ridden society complete with mass unemployment of the 1930s. In 1945, the British even voted against the Conservative war hero - Winston Churchill. Instead there was a Labour landslide and a manifesto for a National Health Service, a Welfare State and a socialist government.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Random Interesting Facts

French subway stations aren't usually used as parking places
  • Coca Cola was invented by John Pemerton in 1886. It used to be made from coca leaves and could contain traces of cocaine (from 0.1% to 0.9% depending on where grown) Though it is no longer made with cocaine.
  • The Guinness World Record for holding the most Guinness Records is set by Ashrita Furman. Ashrita has set - 303 - official Guinness Records since 1979 and currently holds - 121 (sept 2010)
  • A googol is a large number. the digit 1 followed by one hundred zeros: 10,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000,­000.
  • TYPEWRITER is the longest word that can be made using the letters only on one row of the keyboard.
  • The most common name in the world is Mohammed.
  • 111,111,111 x 111,111,111 = 12,345,678,987,654,321
  • The 57 on Heinz ketchup bottles represents the number of varieties of pickles the company once had.
  • There are more than 1,700 references to gems and precious stones in the King James translation of the Bible.
  • The bagpipe was originally made from the whole skin of a dead sheep.
  • No piece of normal-size paper can be folded in half more than 7 times.
  • 2,520 can be divided by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 without having a fractional leftover
  • It is unknown if odd perfect numbers exist
  • A perfect number is a number whose divisors add up to itself such as 28: 1+2+4+7+14=28
  • 5% of the world population lives in the US but 22% of the world's prisons population are held in the US.
  • If you walk outside George Orwell's old house in London you are now captured on surveillance cameras 33 times.
  • Approximately 105 million bicycles are made every year. This is double the number of motor cars made every year.
  • In Chinese the words for 'crisis' and 'opportunity' are the same.
  • The Netherlands has the highest rate of cycling with an average of 2.5 Km per day per person. In the US, this rate is 0.1 Km per person. In the UK 0.2Km (cycling facts)
  • The Rhubarb Triangle is a small area in West Yorkshire between Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell. At one time, the 'Rhubarb triangle' produced 90% of the world's forced winter rhubarb. (Yorkshire Facts)
  • Everything weighs one per cent less at the equator.
  • The mosquito has killed more human beings than any other animal.
  • Birmingham(UK) has 22 more miles of canals than Venice.
  • 9 out of every 10 living thing lives in the ocean.
  • Honey is the only food that does not spoil. Honey found in the tombs of Egyptian Pharoahs has been tasted by archaeologists and found edible.
  • HThere have been over 2,00 known nuclear bomb explosions since World War Two.
  • A snail's reproductive organs are in it's head.
  • An adult giraffe´s kick is so powerful it can decapitate a lion.
  • The largest toy distributor in the world is Mcdonalds.
  • The shortest war in history was between Zanzibar and Britain in 1896.Zanzibar surrendered after 38 minutes.
  • Each king in a pack of playing cards represents a great king from history: Spades-King David , Clubs-Alexander the Great ,Hearts-Charlemagne and Diamonds-Julius Caesar.

A random photo I took in Oxfordshire.

More bizarre facts try: Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Extraordinary Book of Facts: And Bizarre Information (Bathroom Readers)