The Green Hell of Hurtgen by Paul Hannah

If someone refers to a battleground as “A Green Hell” the normal assumption is that they would be talking about jungle warfare, perhaps Borneo, Kokoda or Vietnam. But on this occasion it refers to the battle of Hurtgen Forest. It is the most important battle few people have heard about.
Hurtgen Forest lies on the German side of the Belgian/German border. It covers about fifty square miles (130 sq Km). Its steep ravines and gullies are densely covered with mature pine trees, so much so that the ground is in permanent shade. It is a dark and foreboding place.

The Americans attacked on the 19th of September, 1944 just as one of the worst winters for many years was kicking off. The ground was so hard that the entrenching tools were unable to break the surface although some units were lucky enough to get dynamite to help dig their foxholes. Their commanders must have been puzzled at the fanatical defence the German General Model put up. After all, once the D-Day beaches were stormed, the only significant resistance the Allies encountered was around cities and towns. This was just a small unimportant forest. It seemed hardly worth the effort. Their initial objective was to tie down German resources that could be used to reinforce the current battle for the city of Aachen – a particularly tough nut to crack. Little did they know that the battle was going to cost 33,000 Americans killed and wounded and drag on to be the longest single battle in US history as well as the longest battle on German soil in WWII. One particular death became famous around the world – Private Eddie Slovik was shot for desertion and became the first US soldier to be executed for the crime since the US Civil War. None of the other 27,000 American convicted deserters in WWII faced the firing squad.

The reason the Germans fought so hard was that Hitler had one more surprise for the Allies. The Battle of the Bulge. For months Hitler ignored his Russian Front commander’s warnings about an upcoming winter offensive and quietly built up his forces for one last thrust into Europe in an attempt to recapture Antwerp an Atlantic Port, and hopefully force the Allies into making Germany too hard to capture.

In a big offensive like the Bulge, forces are placed in staging areas behind a line designated as the start point for everyone. This combined with coordinated time keeping, ensures that everyone attacks at once and along the same start line, maximising the effectiveness of each unit. Unbeknown to the Americans, if they had taken the forest as easily as they expected to, they would be in a position to swing around the start line, disrupting the staging areas and worst of all, attack the attacking Germans from their rear whist simultaneously cutting off their supply lines.

So the Germans fought, and fought hard. In one section 4500 Americans died in a single month, capturing only 3000 yards of this Green Hell. When the American 1st Army stepped out of the forest on the other side, Hitler had only four months to live. The Americans had lost men at a similar attrition rate as the prisoners on the Death Railway in Thailand – one for every yard.
Even though the American forces were on paper at least, stronger, the battlefield favoured defenders as their air superiority counted for nothing if pilots could not see through the trees and snow, nor could artillery be effective as the trees disrupted their normal arc of fire. Tanks and other vehicles could operate on the tracks, but these were easily and effectively mined.

At great cost in men and time, the Americans prevailed. General Model did not issue an order for surrender, his men were doing that in droves. It was the beginning of the great wave of surrendering Germans, one lone American private set off to find the MPs with 78 prisoners, by the time he found them his charges had grown in number to 1200!
Towards the end, General Bradley offered a Bronze Star for any soldier who brought in General Model – dead or alive. All they managed to find was his Mercedes. Model told a group of soldiers looking to him for orders “Go home boys. The war is over for us.” He then took an aide out into the forest, said “Bury me here” and blew his brains out.
The newspapers of the day were full of stories from the Battle of the Bulge so Hurtgen Forest and all those wasted men were quietly forgotten.

Lest we forget.
(c) Paul Hannah


Roman Triumph by Paul Hannah

This is a beautiful Triumph motorcycle. A symbol of fine British engineering. The Triumph must be one of the most important brand names in Britain, recognised around the world, it stands with Rolls Royce, Harrods and Stephen Fry as one of the great British icons.

It might be a surprise to discover that it was named after a parade.

A Roman Triumph was a city wide event granted to victorious generals on their return home. Modern parades are long if they go for an hour or so, but these went on for days. They were usually awarded to Generals who had killed at least five thousand of the Rome’s enemies.

The parade began with captured enemy leaders, their families and the leaders of their allies, all usually naked and in chains. Most of these would be executed when they arrived at Tullianum , Rome’s only prison, some were kept as hostages. If the defeated leader was dead there would be a life size model to be ritually slaughtered instead. It is thought that the reason Cleopatra killed herself was to avoid being paraded for the Roman crowds. Prisoners came next, also in chains and these were destined for the slave markets, further adding to the profitability of the campaign. Behind the prisoners came their arms – cart load after cart load of spears, shields and swords. Behind that was the loot. Gold, silver, precious gems, statues, paintings – basically everything that could be moved and stolen from the losing countries was piled into dozens of wagons and displayed. The valuables were distributed after the parade to every Roman – even slaves got some. After one triumph so much money flooded the Roman market that land prices shot up and interest rates plummeted. Exotic animals – elephants, giraffes even rhinos were there too and what could not be moved was displayed in paintings, floats and tableaux, all designed to impress the crowd.

All the city’s politicians came next all on foot, Senators Tribunes and Consuls all in their best whiter than white robes – the Latin word for ‘Bright’ is ‘Candida’ and that is where we get the word ‘Candidate’ from.

The general came next. He would have his face painted red (which apparently was to make him appear more god-like) and in the most prestigious of triumphs he would be riding through the city in a chariot pulled by four horses. A slave would stand immediately behind the general holding a wreath above his head and would occasionally whisper into his ear “Remember, you are but a man.” His soldiers marched behind – by far the biggest contingent of the parade. Roman law said that they could not bear arms in the city and on most occasions the law was obeyed. As the soldiers marched they sang dirty songs describing their general and his prowess.

The official parade concluded at the top of the Capitoline Hill at the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. Here two perfectly white and unblemished bulls were sacrificed and various propitiations made. Everyone then dispersed to attend banquets, games, performances and entertainments – at huge expense – all paid for by the general and extending over days. The extreme extravagance was legendary – in some cases fountains flowed red with free wine, everybody ate, drank and celebrated. It was a party on a scale that few people have seen since. I imagine it was like a combination of Oscars night in LA, the last night of the modern Olympic Games and Woodstock all rolled into a few days of celebration.

And for the day after they had a number of hangover cures not seen today – deep fried canary anyone?

Paul Hannah


Rescued by Richard Carroll

John Oxley

1824 Moreton Bay, Qld

On a bright September day, the 148-ton Amity rounded the northern end of Moreton Island and entered the much calmer waters of the bay. The Amity, built in New Brunswick, Canada, was a two-masted square-rigged brig, seventy-five feet six inches long. She was a pretty boat with pleasant clean lines, and reputed to be a sturdy, reliable vessel. However, space was cramped with more than seventy passengers (soldiers, families, convicts), crew and supplies for the new settlement to be established at Red Cliff Point. They sailed close in to Bribie Island’s southern shore and dropped anchor near the Pumice-stone River mouth where a large number of Aborigines had gathered.

Government surveyor John Oxley, who was in charge of the expedition, had visited this area the year before in search of the river he suspected emptied into the bay. He had rescued Thomas Pamphlett and John Finnegan, two of a trio of ex-convicts shipwrecked on Moreton Island and cared for by the local Aborigines.

The four-man crew had sailed south from Port Jackson (Sydney) in a thirty-foot open boat bound for the Illawarra district to fetch cedar. When a storm drove them off course, one man had perished. Convinced they had been blown south, the remaining three men sailed north and three weeks later found themselves off the coast of Moreton Island. After they landed the pounding surf destroyed their boat and marooned them.

Once Pamphlett and Finnegan had recovered from the shock of discovering they were 600 miles north of where they thought they were they showed Oxley the hidden river mouth. He surveyed the waterway and reported his findings to Governor Brisbane (the river would later be named after him). The third castaway, Richard Parsons, had walked north with Aborigines. Oxley left him a note in a bottle explaining that his mates had been rescued, that they would visit again.

Now, while Oxley distributed gifts of cloth, hatchets and knives to the Joondaburri elders, who remembered him from his previous visit, prisoners filled barrels with fresh water. Botanist Allan Cunningham wandered off, scribbling familiar plant names in his note book. As the last filled barrel was loaded into the boat, a soldier fired his musket to recall the botanist. Stepping out of the forest, Cunningham gaped – near the boat, encircled by Aborigines, stood a naked sun-browned white man, Richard Parsons, whom Oxley introduced as the missing ship-wrecked man.

On parting, Parsons farewelled his Aboriginal friends, who were sad to see him go as they had grown fond of this cheerful white.

“I’ll be back,” the big, ruddy-faced man called out, smiling through gappy teeth and waving from the departing boat.

 Due to many months of disuse his English came out broken. He struggled to recount his adventure to Oxley and Cunningham. “I um . . . walked to the north. ‘Oped to reach Port Jackson, upon my word. Um . . . after many weeks travel I come to a large bay . . .”

Oxley interrupted. “Probably Hervey’s Bay by the sound of it. Sorry, please continue.”

“We come across a mob of natives; hostile they were. The blackfellas with me didn’t want to go on. It was gettin’ hotter every day and there was these tropical-looking plants – and I thought, somethin’s amiss here. What if I’m goin’ the wrong way, I asked myself. So I turned around and come back to where I had left me mates. The blacks showed me the note in the bottle but it was of no use as I can’t read.”

“So what made you stay here, rather than continuing south?” quizzed a curious Oxley. By now Parsons’ English had improved.

“I noticed that trees had been felled. The Aborigines said they had been carried away to the great white ship. I could see that the timber would be valuable for building and furniture making, so I figured that whoever had cut the trees would be returning for more. And there you have it. I’ve only been here this last month and already I am rescued!”








The Night We Nearly Killed Wernher by Paul Hannah

Peenemünde today

When Neil Armstrong took that “One small step” he had an appreciation for the thousands of scientists and engineers that put him safely there. However, he probably didn’t know that the principal scientist in the Apollo program, Dr Wernher Von Braun, was himself very lucky to be alive, because some twenty-six years earlier, on the 17th of August 1943, nearly 650 men from three Allied air forces, did their very best to kill him.

Bombing raids over German-held territory were almost always directed at structures. When Hamburg was destroyed in the first firestorm, it wasn’t to kill the inhabitants, although many were killed. It would have been better for the Allied cause if just the factories, docks and houses were destroyed, leaving the population untouched. It takes a great deal of resources to rehome a city full of refugees and almost nothing to care for a dead one. Consequently when the young men of Bomber Command were told in their various squadron mission briefings that one of their objectives was to kill or disable as many of the people near the target as they could, they sat up and took notice. The briefings were unusual in other ways too. The huts were surrounded by armed guards and ID checks were made on every person entering the building. Crews were only permitted to sit as a group, so that any out of place person would be noticed. The men were also told that unlike other missions, if they failed to destroy the target the first time, they would go back again and again until the job was done. Every airman in those huts knew that such a tactic would result in tremendous casualties. It was bad enough bombing Germany when and where it was a surprise, but if the Nazis knew they were coming, few would survive the welcoming party that would greet them. The next thing they were told was to focus their attention even more on the job at hand. Missions could be scrubbed for various reasons, mostly to do with weather, every man knew this was a possibility – but with every scrubbed mission came the risk that the target could be made known to the enemy. The briefing officers said firmly and with such conviction that every man knew they were quite serious, that if the mission was scrubbed and the target leaked out, the man responsible would be summarily executed with a minimum of formalities.

Simultaneously around Bomber Command’s bases, the big curtains were drawn and the maps revealed the target – Peenemünde. A murmur went around and lots of quizzical looks exchanged as none had ever heard of it. The murmurs increased when they were told that they were attacking at a third of their usual height – only 8000 feet. The real worry the airmen had was that the moonlight and the low level of attack ensured that when the fighters arrived, few would survive the battle that would follow.  They were told that it was a research and manufacturing establishment for night fighters. This was a lie. What Peenemünde actually did was fire rockets. Big rockets carrying a ton of explosives, faster than the speed of sound and the first man-made objects to go into space. These were true ballistic missiles. Impossible to stop and capable of killing thousands of people, perhaps even threatening D-Day itself. This was Hitler’s secret weapon, the weapon he thought would win him the war.

The Allies found out about Peenemünde through several sources, one being maps of the facility smuggled out by Polish janitors.  Photo reconnaissance was inconclusive until one picture showed a missile being taken to its launch pad. The mission was given some added urgency from an unlikely source. The German High Command. When senior officers were captured by the Allies they were taken to one of a few specially constructed camps, often in English stately homes. There they received treatment which they no doubt thought they were due – they got the best food, alcohol and accommodation available. Some may have suspected that the British Intelligence Service was bugging their quarters, but none suspected that even the trees, park benches and other places in the grounds were also bugged. These generals could barely utter a word without it being recorded, translated and passed on to relevant authorities. In one recorded conversation, General Wilhelm Ritter von Thoma was chatting to General Ludwig Crüwell when he expressed surprise at not hearing any explosions coming from London. He then went on to describe to his fellow General some of the characteristics of the weapon that came to be known as the V2. Such was the importance of this interception that it landed on the desk of Churchill himself. From there a directive was sent to Sir Arthur, “Bomber” Harris, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of RAF Bomber Command to destroy Peenemünde and Operation HYDRA was set in motion.

A V2 launch

By 1943 most bombing missions were directed by an electronic navigational aid called OBOE – so called for the sound it makes when being operated in the aircraft. Unfortunately OBOE was limited by the curvature of the Earth and could not reach Peenemünde from England. Consequently two relatively new tactics were employed. The first was to use a Master Bomber who would circle the target and control by radio the individual targets of the various groups of bombers. This was tried with great success in the Famous Dambusters Raid and then again on the Italian city of Turin. The second tactic was to counter one of the defences of the Nazi establishments and the effects of bombing by earlier aircraft. Usually, the first wave of bombers would go in and drop on the target, using normal bomb sighting methods, but as the fires from these grew and as the Germans lit smoke generators it became harder and harder for subsequent aircraft to see what they should be aiming at. Consequently a method that was first used on that same raid on Turin, called T & D, time and distance was employed. An undefended but easily recognisable point near the target was determined and approached from a precise angle. Once it passed through the optics of the bomb sight, a stopwatch was started and at a point determined by the speed of the aircraft, the bombs were released.

The raid comprised of three parts, deception, interception and destruction.


In the nights prior to the raid, bombers heading for other targets were given dog leg routes that took them near Peenemünde. This set off the air raid alerts on the base but set in the minds of the defenders a series of false alarms causing them to both lose sleep and be less likely to recognise the real raid until it was too late. Secondly the bombers carried WINDOW, millions of small strips of aluminium foil designed to confuse the German FREYA radar system. The date of the raid, though not chosen to mislead the defenders would have had that effect anyway. On the 17th of August 1943 there was nearly a full moon. This was necessary for the first wave of visual bombers, but Bomber Command almost never scheduled missions at a period where defending night fighters could easily see their attackers so none would be expected. Finally a group of eight Mosquito fighter/bombers, took off for Berlin. They were loaded with colourful flares, called “Christmas trees” and a minimum bomb load both of which they dropped on the German capital. This was a typical prelude to a major attack. A special Pathfinder force of Mosquitos would drop marker flares over the target from a low level to give the higher flying heavy bombers an aiming point. The result of these deceptive tactics made sure that fighter bases all over that part of Germany were scrambled to defend the city, their pilots no doubt keen for lots of moonlit targets. This part of the deception was extremely successful, thousands of anti-aircraft shells exploded over the city and hundreds of Luftwaffe fighters were uselessly orbiting radio beacons in the hope of being vectored onto a bomber stream. Twice the flak batteries were ordered to lower their range to allow the German fighters a chance to go hunting over the city. Hunting for bombers that were not there. Even after the last of the Mosquitos had left for home, the flak bombardment continued and more fighters were being ordered to come to Berlin to protect the capital. When fighters radioed their controllers telling them of the fires in the north coming from Peenemünde, the German military became a victim of their own secrecy. The Allies clearly knew where Peenemünde was and how important it was to the Reich, this was not generally known by the Luftwaffe controllers and so the reports were not considered as important as defending Berlin. Consequently the fighters were kept circling the beacons well out of harm’s way.


Fighter command tasked 28 Mosquitos and 10 Beaufighters to attack five fighter bases as the defending fighters were taking off and landing for refuel. This was mostly ineffective in terms of shooting down their fighters, but along with other aircraft dispatched to resupply the Danish underground they contributed to the picture that the British wanted to place in the minds of the German defenders. A big bombing raid was coming, and it was headed for Berlin. The USAF had sent 376 B17 bombers on a bombing raid on the ball bearing factories at Schweinfurt and Regensburg during the day, which meant that those fighter pilots who would back up the night fighters opposing Operation HYDRA would be tired before any battle began.


The 17th of August 1943 was a Tuesday and although days of the week were not usually considered relevant when planning raids, on this occasion intelligence sources indicated that training sessions were to be held for the people who launched the rockets on Tuesdays and that they would be staying overnight. The opportunity to kill them as well as the engineers and scientists was too tempting to pass up. Three waves of bombers were sent in. The first guided by marker flares made a tragic error and instead of bombing the accommodation complex, they bombed the nearby concentration camp where at least 500 slave labourers were killed. No doubt the casualties were so high because, the target markers carried bombs specifically designed to kill people along with their “Christmas Trees” and the Nazis didn’t provide shelters for their slaves. The Master Bomber, Group Captain J. H. Searby saw the error after a third of the first wave’s bombs were dropped and redirected the remaining bombers onto the target. Anti-aircraft guns from both land and “Flak ships” opened up on the British bombers and two were shot down.

The marker flares for the second wave attacking the construction and assembly buildings were blown off course by a sudden gust of wind and some of the bombs landed in the sea. Fortunately Group Captain Searby redirected the remaining bombers and a building used to store assembled rockets was hit and destroyed.

The third wave attacked the experimental works and the homes of the most senior scientists, including Dr Von Braun’s. By this time, Peenemünde’s defences were starting to have an effect. The anti-aircraft gunners were more effective and the night fighters who realised their mistake in defending Berlin against a non-existent force began to arrive and take their toll. One attacked eight bombers, destroying five and damaging the other three in only eighteen minutes. Neither the fighter nor its crew escaped unscathed, the radio operator caught a bullet in the shoulder and when an engine caught fire both had to bail out. ME110s were notoriously difficult to exit safely and the pilot was seriously injured when he jumped and hit the tail of his aircraft. Innovation was not confined to the British side, a new weapon was first used at Peenemünde that was not fully understood by the Allies for months so come. Called Schräge Musik (Strange music) it was a pair of upward firing cannon loaded with armour-piercing, explosive and incendiary ammunition. The fighter would position itself within a few metres of the bomber under one wing and in between two of the engines. A short burst, unmissable at that range, would quickly set fire to the wing fuel tank, the fire weakening the structural integrity of the wing and dooming the aircraft. No one on board the bomber would know anything until they felt the explosion. These and standard Luftwaffe fighter tactics ensured the destruction of 42* Allied bombers that night, with only 79 of their 294 crew surviving to become POWs. What Wellington called “The Butcher’s Bill” for Operation HYDRA, was high, but nowhere near what could have been expected had the deception campaign not been as successful.

At least 75% of the buildings at Peenemünde were destroyed, estimates vary on how long production was delayed – the maximum appears to be as much as six months. This may not seem a great delay but the V2 only had an operational life of seven months and in that time killed around 5000 people mostly in Britain and Belgium, so any delay at all saved many lives. What further hampered production was the loss of two of their most senior engineers, Dr Walter Thiel, and Dr Erich Walther plus 180 other technical and scientific staff. Another casualty fell as an indirect victim of Hitler’s legendary temper. When the scale of the deception became obvious and Hitler realised how close his much vaunted secret weapon came to complete destruction, he gave his Reichsmarschall, Hermann Göring a reprimand on a scale that only he knew how to give and in the time honoured tradition of military everywhere, Göring prepared to pass on his displeasure to his Chief of Staff, Generaloberst Hans Jeschonnek. However the day before Göring had already given Jeschonnek an abusive phone call over the Luftwaffe’s response to the Schweinfurt raid and he avoided another one by his suicide.

Wernher Von Braun, of course, survived to guide that one small step toward the moon. But his history was not entirely forgotten. Mathematician Tom Lehrer made sure his part in the deaths of those 5000 people, not forgetting the thousands of slaves who died putting his rockets together, was remembered for all time. He penned this song, which will be available to all for as long as the internet remains.

Some have harsh words for this man of renown,
But some think our attitude
Should be one of gratitude,
Like the widows and cripples in old London town,
Who owe their large pensions to Wernher von Braun.

After the raid

On the 25th of November 1944, a single V1 rocket carrying a ton of explosives, killed 168 people in a Woolworths shop in London. Some of the victims were in a neighbouring shop and some in nearby offices. Of the victims, 33 were children, including babies. Meanwhile, 123 passers-by were injured, many seriously. 

*Wiki gives 40, but my principal source, Bomber Boys by Kevin Wilson, Cassel London 2005, gives 42.

© Paul Hannah 2020

The Australian Billy-can Has an Interesting History by Richard Ross

THERE is an interesting history connected with the Australian billy-can. The story dates back to the early gold-mining days of Victoria, when food was fairly difficult to procure and still more difficult to take to the diggings. It was found necessary to import from abroad large supplies of preserved pro-visions—tinned meats, stews and soups, &c. Among such supplies were cases of canned meats from France. These tins, branded -“Bouilli,” contained meaty mixtures and thick, soup-like stews for which the diggers developed a ready taste. The miners were unable to pronounce the trade-name of the mixture, so it was soon dubbed “Billy,” and in this way was struck the name that was soon to be adopted to distinguish the “Bouilli” brand of provisions. (“Bouilli” means boiled meat It is in the English dictionary.) The tins that contained the mixtures were of a very handy size and, when empty, many found use as water-boiling vessels. That they made suitable kettles and teapots was thus an automatic discovery. And so the “billy”-can was gradually introduced into general use.

A quick-witted fellow, anticipating that it had arrived to stay, decided at once to arrange for the factory manufacture of cans of similar pattern, and before long there appeared on the market the billy-can, pint-pot and quart- pot with neatly made lids and wire handles. Today they are sold in all sizes throughout Australasia and beyond by the millions: still simple, they remain much the same in shape and size as they were decades ago. Like a smoking pipe, the billy is not at its best until it becomes stained and blackened with usage—or, as the sundowner says, with “experience.”

Billy-boilng contests used to be popular in the Australian bush. The older the billy the quicker it boils. Experts carry billies burned to tissue- paper thinness, keeping them in calico coverings. Such billies will boil in two minutes. The competitors in these bush contests are required to gather leaves and wood, light fires, race to the creek and fill their billies, put them on and stoke the fires until the cans have boiled. Surreptitiously dropping a stone into another man’s billy is an old camp-fire joke. When the other quart-pots are boiling the “doped”‘ billy has still a long way to go, and the owner usually cannot understand it.

The Australian stockman’s outfit should include four billies—of four quarts, three quarts, two quarts and one quart capacity; they fit inside each other, so that the set can be carried by one handle. The largest size is used to carry water from the creek to the camp fire, the next to boil the mutton, the two-quart to hold the vegetables, and the smallest for tea.  

To boil a billy quickly, place length-wise on the ground a petrol tin and cut in it a round hole just smaller than the billy; then cut out from a side of the tin a square large enough to accommodate the sticks. Next punch small holes all around the tin so as to create a draught and when this has been done make a fire inside and place the billy over the hole. The billy is an essential part of every bushman’s equipment. The original round, squat type is still the most popular, but several ingenious “improvements,” including convertible and collapsible types, have been placed on the market. The drover’s battered tin quart-pot is part of him. Being wider at the bottom than at the top, it is steadier and exposes more surface to the flame. A folding handle at the side enables it to be pushed into the fire, a mug fits into the top. The three-pint size is in most demand. A two-pint size is often carried inside it.

The average bushman considers billy tea the drink of drinks. Even many wealthy squatters, while out on the run drafting and dipping, &c, prefer it to the kitchen-brewed tea—providing it is properly made. For there is an art in preparing good billy tea.

Effort was once made to affix the trade name of “camp-kettle” to the billy-can, but it failed. Australians prefer the old tag. Henry Lawson’s famous “While the Billy Boils” should always remind us of the tradition that clings to the simple invention —an Australian heritage!

Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1931 – 1954), Saturday 18 September 1937, page 13

Queen Eleanor of Castile by Paul Hannah

Now that a Duchess is once again set to provide the world’s magazines with something more to gush over, it might be appropriate to consider one of her ancestor’s attempts at doing the same thing. Queen Eleanor of Castile was married (at 13 or 14) to King Edward I. By all accounts it was a love match. Edward’s grief after her death was legendary. The year after she was married in 1255 she gave birth to her first child. And for the next 29 years, when she wasn’t following her husband on crusades and progresses around the kingdom, she was either pregnant, giving birth or grieving over lost children.

We know of 16 children that she gave birth to, and it is a testament to her perseverance if nothing else, that she survived as well she did.
The following is a list of her children that are known to history:
1. An anonymous girl, died at birth.
2. Catherine, died between the ages of 1 to 3 years
3. Daughter Joan, died at six months
4. Son John, died at five years
5. Son Henry, died at six years
6. Daughter Eleanor, died at 29
7. An anonymous child, died at five months
8. Daughter Joan, died at 35
9. Son Alphonso, died at 10
10. Daughter Mary, died at 58
11. Child Berengaria, died at two years
12. Anonymous daughter, died at birth
13. Daughter Mary, died at 53
14. Anonymous son, died at birth
15. Daughter Elizabeth, died at 34
16. A son, Edward who lived long enough to become Edward II, only to be murdered by his wife and her lover Roger some 20 years after his coronation. Eleanor did not live to see this as she died when he was six.

Eleanor died on 28 November 1290 aged 49 in the northern English city of Lincoln. King Edward accompanied her body from there to Westminster Abbey for most of the way. At every point along the way where the funeral procession stopped for the night, he erected a cross in her name. Of the 13 crosses only three survive and none of them are complete.

Edward remarried 10 years later and the first child of that union was named Eleanor in her honour.

When you read this litany of despair and grief and you consider that each of these children was cared for and pampered by nurses, doctors, cooks and servants. It’s hard to imagine what life for an ordinary woman of the time was like.

Fortunately, the Royal Duchesses and most other women in the Western world don’t have to face such awful torment and loss.

(c) 2019 Paul Hannah


Waltzing Matilda: Australian Song with a Great History by Tony Cole

Waltzing Matilda – the song everyone thinks of as soon as the word “Australia” is mentioned. OK, what does it mean?  Where does it come from? And why is it so important in the Australian psyche?

I am not sure I can answer the last point, but I can have a go at answering the first two and probably a couple more in passing.

But before I start to discuss its history and significance, here is a very standard performance of it by Slim Dusty to give you a taste of what I shall be explaining and playing to you in this post.

This is the version that everyone knows – there are a few other versions as I shall show you in the course of this essay.

But where did this song come from, and why is it so popular? Both good questions, the first I can answer, the second? No idea why it has become such a popular song, representing Australia both for us here in Australia and for people all over the world when they hear it.

OK, it was written in 1895 by a sort of hedgerow wandering poet and singer Banjo Paterson in the Queensland town of Winton where he was gently flirting with the daughter of one of the local land-owners, Christina Macpherson.  He wrote the words, and she wrote the music – well actually that isn’t really true, she used an already existing folk tune, the Scottish Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielea”, dating from 1806, which was well known and much loved in Australia at the time. Here it is for your pleasure…


It was also derivative of another, even older Scottish folk song apparently, with the wonderful name of…  “When sick is it tea you want?” which dates from about 1798. To be honest I can’t hear Waltzing Matilda in this one, but they are supposedly related somehow.

This version is by the Boys of the Lough.


Not surprisingly there are many differing versions of Australia’s national song, which curiously enough has never actually been the official national anthem, which one would imagine it richly deserves to be. It has been played by all manner of groups and sung at every conceivable occasion from boozy nights in pubs to highly important national events. It has also (of course) been satirised in a number of ways, been used by rock singers and so on, the list of uses is almost endless, and while looking into this post, I was amazed by the weird and wonderful range of versions I came across… some of which I shall shortly post in this article for your entertainment.

The meaning of all those Aussie terms.

First though I thought that perhaps a short glossary might be in order, as not everyone knows the meaning of a lot of the very Australian words in this song, so here goes, a list of what those words mean.


derived from the German term auf der Walz, which means to travel while working as a craftsman and learn new techniques from other masters.


a romantic term for a swagman’s bundle. See below, “Waltzing Matilda”.

Waltzing Matilda

from the above terms, “to waltz Matilda” is to travel with a swag, that is, with all one’s belongings on one’s back wrapped in a blanket or cloth. The exact origins of the term “Matilda” are disputed; one fanciful derivation states that when swagmen met each other at their gatherings, there were rarely women to dance with. Nonetheless, they enjoyed a dance and so danced with their swags, which was given a woman’s name. However, this appears to be influenced by the word “waltz”, hence the introduction of dancing. It seems more likely that, as a swagman’s only companion, the swag came to be personified as a woman.

The National Library of Australia states:

Matilda is an old Teutonic female name meaning “mighty battle maid”. This may have informed the use of “Matilda” as a slang term to mean a de facto wife who accompanied a wanderer. In the Australian bush a man’s swag was regarded as a sleeping partner, hence his “Matilda”. (Letter to Rt. Hon. Sir Winston Churchill, KG from Harry Hastings Pearce, 19 February 1958. Harry Pearce Papers, NLA Manuscript Collection, MS2765)[23]


a man who travelled the country looking for work. The swagman’s “swag” was a bed roll that bundled his belongings.


an oxbow lake (a cut-off river bend) found alongside a meandering river.

Coolibah tree

a kind of eucalyptus tree which grows near billabongs.


a sheep


a can for boiling water in, usually 2–3 pints (1–1.5 l)

Tucker bag

a bag for carrying food (“tucker”).




Australian squatters started as early farmers who raised livestock on land which they did not legally have the right to use; in many cases they later gained legal use of the land even though they did not have full possession, and became wealthy thanks to these large land holdings. The squatter’s claim to the land may be as uncertain as the swagman’s claim to the jumbuck.

Funny Versions.

Obviously a song as popular and well known as this one has to have been the victim of a number of satires, so for your pleasure here are a couple to give you a taste of what can happen to such a song.  One an Aussie satire, the other a very, very British one…

Here is the “Politically Correct” version of Waltzing Matilda, sung by John Shortis and Moya Simpson…  Great fun and a splendid attack on the more idiotic aspects of being politically correct…

Good eh?

And now I am going to offer you that (in)famous folk singer and wandering balladier, Rambling Syd Rumpo (Better known as Kenneth Williams), who had a superbly funny and of course, somehow filthy version of this song as well…  Stand back for innuendo by the ton!

See what I mean?   Sad that he is no longer with us isn’t it?

There are other curious uses of this song, for example, did you know that it was the official march of the 1st US Marine Division? Well yup, it is that, apparently owing to the fact that they (the Marines) were based in Australia during the Second World War. So here is their version of it to prove it.

They play it at the start of the video, so it is only the first couple of minutes that are relevant to us here. After that it turns into one of those curious military theatre shows the American Military seem to go in for…  Interesting too in a strange sort of way.

Another version is the song “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” by Eric Bogle.  Here is a song about the soldiers who fought in Gallipoli in the First World War, a battle that is hugely significant in the Australian psyche. Whilst the tune is obviously different, the well-known tune of Waltzing Matilda is used in part of it. So here is a song that is important to most Australians…

Powerful stuff isn’t it?   One hell of a stirring anti-war song I found. Makes you think.

Worth giving yourself a short pause to digest that one, before listening to the next sort of version I have for you, which is the famous one in the Tom Waits’ song “Tom Traubert’s Blues “Waltzing Matilda”, which incorporates the words and tune of Waltzing Matilda in it.

Of course it would be totally wrong to write about this song without including at least one version as sung by an Aboriginal Australian, so here is a splendidly lively version by Ali “Arjibuk” Mills.   She is an Aboriginal Singer who has been singing since the age of eight. This is a “Kriole” version of “Waltzing Matilda” The Kriole language uses some English words. Enjoy it!

And finally, here is a version by that inimitable bunch, the Les Swingle Singers…. Nothing much to say about this except that it is pleasantly enjoyable if silly…  Not sure about their attempts to imitate a didgeridoo though…

So there you have it, a brief, but I hope interesting look at this great song…  If you have any thoughts or have found any even better versions, do drop a line here, I would love to hear from you guys.

Wartime Madness by Paul Hannah

I maintain that the Second World War brought up lots of crazy people of every nationality. I offer these in evidence for my position.

Bill Millin

When Lord Lovat waded ashore on D-Day, he brought along his personal piper, Bill Millin, and instructed him to play. Virtually unarmed, and in the front of his entire group he played his pipes. Intelligence interviews with captured German soldiers after the battle revealed that they didn’t shoot him because they thought the poor fellow was insane. He survived the War and donated the pipes to a war museum in Scotland.

Major-General Orde Charles Wingate was a pioneer in Jungle warfare, He dropped into the Jungles of Burma with his men on the first deep penetration raids against the Japanese who were then trying to force a passage to India. The Japanese had the idea that India was just waiting for liberation from the British. 
He regularly greeted visitors to his tent completely naked, wore garlic and onions around his neck (often snacking on them) and instead of a watch wore an alarm clock on a string.
He was about to board a plane on a jungle airstrip, when two journalists asked for a ride. Overruling the pilot, who thought the plane would be too heavy he invited them on board. 
The plane was too heavy and crashed on take-off, killing everyone.

General de Gaulle was the leader of the Free French basically because Churchill supported him, to a point. His position was made more tenuous as the French were in danger of regarding him as a puppet of the Allies. He thought the best way to counter this (according to Churchill) was to be rude and stubborn to his hosts. Churchill said he managed this extremely well. There was a point before D-Day where Churchill needed him to come to London (from North Africa) yet he refused. Churchill threatened to have him brought there in chains. He came. When he got there he spent most of his time arguing with his Allies about whose head should appear on the “invasion money” issued to the troops. 
As a courtesy from his Allies he received a lot of classified and decoded messages. In contravention of all security protocol he then re encoded them verbatim in the French code. The Allied code was quite good, but the French one could be cracked by a schoolchild. The danger here was until this was discovered the Germans could have both the plain text and the allied coded message side by side, the Nazis could then decode all of the allied traffic and this resulted in the death of many, many people, French included.

General Mark Clark gets a mention because he was obsessed with his public image and desperately wanted to be the hero liberating Rome. His drive on Rome was not single handed as the British, New Zealanders, Poles and even Indian troops were fighting in Italy at the time. When he thought that his big moment would be spoiled by non Americans getting to Rome first, he threatened to OPEN FIRE on his allies.
He got his moment of glory, riding in his jeep through the crowds in Rome, but in a piece of exquisite just desserts, the D-Day invasion went ahead the next day and pushed him off the front page of every paper in the Allied world.

As 1943 drew to a close, the Germans were on the defensive almost everywhere and the German spy service, the Abwehr, was reorganising its priorities. One of the Abwehr’s leading lights was SS Oberleutnant Walter Praetorious, a committed Anglophile and a rabid Nazi as well. Walter was not a happy man. He saw others covered in glory and craved the medals for himself. 
Before the war he lived in England and became particularly enamoured with English folk dancing. He somehow determined that this dancing was the progenitor of all dancing and he needed to bring it to Germany. He lobbied hard for a transfer that would best make use of his perceived talents and eventually got his wish. So, with the Nazi dream crumbling, allied bombers overhead every night, Nazi troops retreating or stalled he was appointed the official dancing instructor for the German army.

(c) 2019 Paul Hannah

Singapore – Colonial Memories

I had the curious experience of living in Singapore while it was still a British Colony… Here are some of my memories of that time which might amuse you…….

Back in the late 40’s and early 50’s of the last century, our family lived in Singapore, which in those far off days , was of course, still a British Colony, which in the case of the Malayan peninsular (what is now called Malaysia) meant it was ruled to Britain’s advantage by lower middle class Brits, and in the case of Singapore (which was still part of Malaya), we Brits pretended to rule it, but it was in fact ruled, as now, by the Chinese.

It was a strange place to live in back then, an atmosphere of suffocating Petit Bourgeois attitudes, tremendous racialism – the poor old Indians being at the bottom of that particular heap, a very unpleasant guerilla war (more about that below), and annual racist riots in which the whites were the target of mass hatred and killed, if possible, by hordes of infuriated Muslim Malayans.

A scary Anniversary:

This last was the result of a sad story.   When the Japs invaded Singapore, the whites all left as hurriedly as possible, all was chaos obviously, and in this chaos, a small Dutch baby girl got left behind, but was found by a Malay family, who took her in and cared for her.   Obviously, being Malay they were Muslims, so naturally, the little girl was brought up as a Muslim.

All was well until the Japs were chased out of Singapore, and the little girl was discovered by the European authorities, and it was decided that she should be sent to Holland to be brought up as a Dutch girl (even though I believe her parents were never found).

So over the protestations of the Malay family who had looked after her during the war, this little girl was sent off to Holland, and put into a Catholic convent orphanage, and brought up further as a good little Catholic.

This infuriated the Malay community in Singapore and the rest of Malaya, so every year on the anniversary of the removal of this little girl, there were terrible riots in which gangs of angry Malayans rampaged around, smashing any European objects they came across, and killing any Europeans they could catch.  Scary times.  Not least since the cops were almost all Malay, and thus sympathised with the rioters, and looked the other way.

A Guerilla War:

As I mentioned above,there was also a pretty serious guerilla war going on in the jungle of the Malay Peninsular at this time as well.

This was being reported as a “Communist Terrorist War”  (those were the bogey men of that period, same as the ISIS now).   In fact the origins of this particular war had nothing to do with Communism, but was caused by the duplicity of the then British government – sound familiar?

What had happened was that when the Japs were on the point of kicking the Brits out of Malaya, the Brits recruited a number of Chinese and armed them and asked them to stay behind in the jungle and make life difficult for the Jap occupiers, in return for which, the Brits promised that on their return to Malaya (how about that for arrogance?), they would pay the Chinese soldiers much fine money, give them land to farm and generally look after them.

So these faithful Chinese stayed in the jungle, and with great suffering did exactly as requested.

The Brits duly came back, and the Chinese came out of the jungle and asked to have their promised payment.  Reasonably one might think.  Sadly,the Brits kept putting them off.

So after a couple of years of prevarication on the part of the Brits, the annoyed Chinese said damn you, turned around, grabbed their guns and went back into the jungle and started shooting Europeans.

This is when the Chinese Communists stepped in and made the battle their own.  So the origins had nothing to do with communism, but with broken promises.  Also familiar?

An Unnerving Experience:

One small result of this war for me was finding myself in hospital in the bed next to a guerilla fighter who had been condemned to death by the Brits.

I was in hospital for a minor complaint, but it kept me in hospital for a couple of weeks in a public ward which gave me time to get to know this guy a bit (for complex reasons I could speak a fair amount of Cantonese so he and I could talk).   He had been captured by the British army, and then tried and condemned to be hanged, but owing to his years in the jungle, he was in very bad health, so the Brits felt he was too unhealthy to be hanged!!!  I know, sounds insane, but I promise you it is true.

So he was bunged into hospital to be fed and made healthy again – and once he was in good shape, they were planning to take him out and hang him.

So there he lay in his bed next to mine, with a heavily armed Sikh soldier guarding him 24 hours a day, being fed on vitamins, good meals and all manner of antibiotics to get him healthy enough to be hanged.

We became quite good friends before he was taken away to be killed finally.

Made one hell of an impression on me I can tell you – I was about 9 years old at the time.

Copyright: Tony Cole

A Hold-Up. By Mary Mageau.

“Bailed-Up”, by Tom Roberts

A Hold-Up

A beautiful autumn morning greeted four passengers as they waited near their Cobb & Co coach. It was a new model, pulled by a team of four powerful horses.
    ‘Good morning folks,’ the driver summoned the waiting group toward him. ‘Bring your baggage forward for Jess to stow on the roof rack. I have five names on the passenger list but only four of you are here. Has anyone seen our other passenger?’
    ‘Here she comes around the corner of the station house.’ All heads turned to look at a slender, young woman dressed entirely in black. Smiling she acknowledged the driver with a nod. Then she approached Jess and offered him her small, shabby valise.
    ‘You are Mrs Fiona McCall?’ She nodded. ‘You two ladies will board first then the gentlemen will follow. We must be away now, so we can reach Stanum well before sundown.’ With a flourish he signed his travel book and noted the date: 5th May, 1874. Taking the reins he commanded the horses to move forward. The coach was on its way.

The passengers settled comfortably as two of the men opened books and began to read. Fiona admired the scenery as the coach lurched along through a mixed forest of shrubs, grey and spotted gums and the occasional towering tallowwood tree. The other woman passenger smiled at Fiona as she spoke quietly. ‘I am Mrs Mabel Prentice, on my way to visit my sister and her husband. She has taken a bad turn and could use some help with the housework and the bookkeeping she does for their apple orchard. Where will you be leaving the coach?’

‘I am Fiona McCall, staying in Stanum with my Aunt Elizabeth. She has a shop there and could use my help.’

‘You are dressed in widow’s mourning clothes, Mrs McCall. Have you lost a family member?’

‘My husband, Iain, and I were married two years ago. He died from a riding accident only a few months into our marriage. I still cannot forget it.’

‘I’m so sorry to hear this. Please accept my condolences. I buried my husband several years ago, and much time is needed to recover from the loss of a loved one.’

‘Your words encourage me, Mrs Prentice. Stanum will be a good place to begin again. A new school has been built in the little town and I may find a way to help the teachers or work with the children. Since the tin mine was opened, my aunt’s shop is becoming very busy, and she needs a helper. I hope your stay with your sister will be a happy one.’

After lunch the coach grew quiet as the party moved on. The countryside formerly filled with trees and native shrubs began to change. Fewer trees were sighted as huge rocks and boulders now filled the land. On a distant horizon, a massive pile of giant stones and tors appeared. One of the men aboard pointed to this monolith and enlightened the travelers as to its name.

‘This amazing rock formation is Donnelly’s Castle, named after old Ned Donnelly, the first early settler of the area. It makes a perfect hideout for the infamous “Captain Thunderbolt,” the bushranger leader of an outlaw gang. Thunderbolt knows every inch of this country and has never been apprehended by the law. Let’s hope we don’t meet him today.’

Both women lapsed into silence and their journey continued peacefully until a small group of mounted men appeared from nowhere to encircle the coach. ‘This is a hold-up,’ was loudly shouted and the coach slowed to a stop. Everyone grew uneasy, when one of the passengers spoke out, ‘These riders are bushrangers, thieves and robbers. Give them what they want and they will leave.’ The coach door was pulled open and a wild looking man holding a pistol thrust an old cap toward the men.

‘Fill the cap with your money and valuables and be quick about it.’ The three men emptied their money and watches into the cap. Mrs Prentice took off her gold earrings, her locket, and two rings. She filled the cap, and passed it to Fiona who added her loose coins, and her gold stud earrings. She passed the cap back to the man.

‘I see your wedding ring. Put it in here now.’ 

‘You will not have my ring.’ She spoke with quiet determination then folded her hands in her lap.

The man pointed his pistol directly at her forehead and the coach travelers heard a click as he prepared to fire it. ‘The ring, right now!’ he snarled.

 ‘No,’ she answered, lifting her  right arm to touch her forehead, her heart, her left and right shoulders, tracing the sign of the cross while looking straight into the barrel of his gun.

A shout came from outside. ‘Everyone, out. Mount up. Troopers are following us!’ The man snatched the cap and backed away from the door. As the travelers watched from the coach windows, the group of outlaws rode away at breakneck speed toward Donnelly’s Castle.

The coach driver appeared at the door. ‘Is everyone aboard safe? We should all step outside for a moment and steady ourselves before we move on. By heaven, I never thought I’d come face to face with Captain Thunderbolt himself! His men only got away with your belongings and a strong box filled with cash for the bank. I am sorry for your losses but at least no one was shot or injured.’

When the passengers climbed aboard one of the men took Mrs McCall’s arm. ‘You are a brave little woman, and you are fortunate that you weren’t shot.’ As the coach pulled away for the final leg of its journey, Fiona ran her fingers over the smooth gold band of her precious wedding ring. Oh Iain, whenever I feel your ring on my hand I am comforted. I know you are with me and will care for me all the days of my life. Nothing will ever take your ring away from me.



Captain Starlight

The word, bushranger, was first used in Australia in 1805 to describe the criminals who attacked travelers and stagecoaches along the roads. Bushranger gangs grew from the rise of escaped convicts, to the colonial-born sons of the poor who wanted an easier life than mining or farming offered. Bushrangers often adopted flamboyant names: Captain Thunderbolt, Captain Starlight, and Captain Moonlight. By 1830, Jack Donahue was deemed to be the most dangerous in the country and was known by all as, the Wild Colonial Boy.

Bushranging happened all over Australia while Van Diemen’s Land (later known as Tasmania) produced the most violent ones. Hundreds of criminals roamed at large in the bush, farms were given up, and the army was finally brought in to round up and capture these men. As the years passed, an increasing push of settlement, a greater police presence, better rail transport, and the telegraph, made it difficult for bushrangers to evade capture. Among the last of the bushrangers was the Kelly Gang, led by Ned Kelly and captured in Glenrowan, Victoria in 1880. By early 1900 the scourge of the bushrangers had all but died out. They live on today in Australian folklore, immortalized as  part of a long history of men that rose to fame such as Robin Hood and Dick Turpin in England, and Jessie James and Billy the Kid in the United States.

  We have our own family bushranger story that has come down through Constable Charles King. As a member of the Queensland Mounted Police, King captured Captain Starlight who was armed and well mounted, after his escape from a prison in Rockhampton. Constable King and a black tracker followed Starlight on horseback for hundreds of miles, moving through harsh country, flats and scrub-lands. Though the journey was a difficult one, King always got his man. He described Captain Starlight as ‘A vain fellow of graceful manner.’ As the lock-up for prisoners was in a secure back room behind the police station house, it was expected that the constable’s wife would cook for any prisoners as well as her own family. King’s wife, Holly, was pleased when Captain Starlight complimented her on her fine cooking and particularly enjoyed her scones. Such was the life of a colonial policeman. 

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