When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Tag archive: Germany

Target Practice

1916: When the British attack lost momentum on the first day of the battle of the Somme, Lieutenant R.A. Heptonstall found himself stranded in no man’s land. “From my shell hole I could see a dead man propped up against the German wire in a sitting position.” A German rifleman whiled away the time taking pot shots at the corpse “until his head was completely shot away”.

Source: Martin Middlebrook, The First Day on the Somme: 1 July 1916 (1988), p. 218

“Like A Lumberjack”

1955: Albert Einstein was a better physicist than violinist. One acquaintance remarked, rather harshly, that he played “like a lumberjack”. There’s a story, probably apocryphal, that, while rehearsing in a quartet, he repeatedly came in at the wrong time. The exasperated pianist, Artur Schnabel, eventually rounded on him: “For heaven’s sake, Albert, can’t you count?”

Source: Albert Einstein, The New Quotable Einstein, ed. Alice Calaprice (2005), p. 321

Direct Hit

1945: “Command post moved to Potsdamer Platz station,” a German officer noted on 27 April as Soviet troops fought their way into the centre of Berlin. “Direct hit through the roof. Heavy losses among wounded and civilians. . . . Terrible sight at the station entrance, one flight of stairs down where a heavy shell has penetrated and people, soldiers, women and children are literally stuck to the walls.”

Source: Tony Le Tissier, Berlin Then and Now (1992), p. 226

Tom, Dick And . . .

1944: On 24 March, in what was dubbed the “Great Escape”, 76 Allied prisoners of war scrambled to freedom through a tunnel under the perimeter wire of Stalag-Luft III. A year earlier, the prisoners had begun work on three tunnels: one had been discovered by the Germans, one had been abandoned, and one had been successful. Their code names were Tom, Dick and Harry.

Source: Anton Gill, The Great Escape: The Full Dramatic Story with Contributions from Survivors and Their Families (2002), p. 106

Unexpected Visitor

Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s deputy and self-appointed peace envoy

1941: In May, Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess, flew to Scotland on what appears to have been a misguided peace mission. Hess baled out of his aircraft and parachuted down near a cottage where David McLean, a ploughman, lived with his mother, Annie. The ploughman checked the airman for weapons, and then escorted him to the cottage. Mrs. McLean, meanwhile, had responded to the excitement by making a pot of tea. Hess politely refused the tea but asked for a glass of water.

Source: Roy Conyers Nesbit and Georges van Acker, The Flight of Rudolf Hess: Myths and Reality (1999), pp. 70–1

“A Perfect Day”

1939: “A perfect day,” wrote Harold Nicolson from his home in Kent, “and I bathe in the peace of the lake.” The date was 4 September; Britain had declared war on Germany the previous day. It was all very confusing: the tranquillity of the English countryside; the way things seemed to carry on as they had before. “Even as when someone dies, one is amazed that the poplars should still be standing quite unaware of one’s own disaster, so when I walked down to the lake to bathe, I could scarcely believe that the swans were being sincere in their indifference to the Second German War.”

Source: Harold Nicolson, Diaries and Letters 1939–1945, ed. Nigel Nicolson (1967), p. 30

Blind Devotion

1937: When the entomologist Oscar Scheibel acquired a specimen of a previously undocumented blind cave beetle, found in only a few caves in northern Yugoslavia, he demonstrated his admiration for Germany’s leader by naming it Anophthalmus hitleri.

Source: http://rosegeorge.com/site/
a-beetle-called-hitler

No Wobbly Knees

1935: In Germany, special schools were set up as the SS was expanded from a personal bodyguard into a fighting force. Training was rigorous. At the Bad Tölz school, an officer cadet might be ordered to pull the pin out of a grenade, balance it on his helmet and stand to attention while it exploded.

Source: Gerald Reitlinger, The SS: Alibi of a Nation 1922–1945 (1956), p. 78

Voter Intimidation?

1933: When the Nazi Party organised a plebiscite in November to demonstrate nationwide support for Germany’s withdrawal from the League of Nations, 99.5 per cent of the inmates of Dachau concentration camp voted in favour.

Source: Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1889–1936: Hubris (1998), pp. 495, 740

Dodgy Excuse

1923: On 11 January, French and Belgian troops occupied the Ruhr region on the pretext that Germany had defaulted on the payment of reparations: specifically that it had failed to deliver a shipment of telegraph poles and cut timber on time.

Source: Conan Fischer, The Ruhr Crisis, 1923–1924 (2003), p. 28

Verboten!

1913: Kaiser Wilhelm bristled at the popularity of the tango. He dismissed it as the “child of the gutter” (“das Rinnsteinkind”) and from 20 November German officers in uniform were forbidden to dance it.

Source: www.spiegel.de/einestages/
kalenderblatt-20-11-1913-a-948860.html

Dangerous Driver

Air Marshal Arthur “Bomber” Harris photographed at his desk

1943: The area bombing of German cities and the people in them was inextricably linked to Arthur Harris, the head of RAF Bomber Command. Harris was very energetic, very forceful, very blunt. When stopped late one night for driving his Bentley at high speed, the policeman rebuked him: “You might have killed somebody, sir.” To which Harris replied: “Young man, I kill thousands of people every night!”

Source: Max Hastings, Bomber Command (1979), p. 135

Mouldy Clothing

1940: If the Wehrmacht crossed the English Channel and German jackboots got as far as Oxford, the Australian Howard Florey and his team of researchers at the university planned to destroy their work on penicillin to prevent it benefitting the enemy.

Hoping to salvage something from their efforts, they intended to rub Penicillium notatum into the fabric of their coats, knowing that the spores of mould could survive for years. Then at some time, somewhere, they might be able to resume their work.

Source: Eric Lax, The Mould in Dr Florey’s Coat: The Remarkable True Story of the Penicillin Miracle (2004), pp. 4, 158–9

Hitler’s Cosmetics

1938: In his diary entry for 8 May, Italy’s foreign minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, noted: “Mussolini believes that Hitler puts rouge on his cheeks in order to hide his pallor.”

Source: Galeazzo Ciano, Ciano’s Diary 1937–1938 (1952), p. 113

British Innovation

1937: When Britain’s ambassador in Berlin, Sir Nevile Henderson, reproached Hermann Göring for the brutality of Germany’s concentration camps, Göring took down a volume of a German encyclopaedia from his bookcase, opened it at Konzentrationslager, and triumphantly read out, “First used by the British, in the South African War.”

Source: Sir Nevile Henderson, Failure of a Mission: Berlin 1937–1939 (1940), p. 29

Innocents Abroad

1927: Brian Howard, a leading light among the Bright Young People, was appalled but fascinated to see a man snorting cocaine in a Berlin café. Howard had never seen a drug addict before, and thought at first that the man was performing “deep breathing exercises”.

Source: Brian Howard, Brian Howard: Portrait of a Failure, ed. Marie-Jaqueline Lancaster (1968), pp. 237–8

“Out Of The Vents Rushed Steam And Oil And Air”

Tug alongside a scuttled German destroyer at Scapa Flow

1919: For the children of Stromness, in the Orkneys, conditions on 21 June were ideal for their school outing – a warm, windless day, a clear sky, a gentle swell on the sea. Once the children had embarked on the Flying Kestrel, the Admiralty tender cast off and steamed out into Scapa Flow, past the long lines of German warships interned there since the armistice.

“We came face to face with the German Fleet, some of them huge battleships that made our own vessel look ridiculous,” recalled James Taylor, one of the schoolchildren. He was 15 years old; 20 years later he wrote a vivid account of what happened next.

Continue reading

“Good English Tea”

1918: As the First World War drew to a close, the German kaiser, Wilhelm II, abdicated and fled the country. On 11 November he arrived at Amerongen, in the Netherlands. For someone who had just lost a world war and an empire, and faced a long exile, he was in buoyant mood. He rubbed his hands together and said, “Now give me a cup of real, good English tea.”

Source: Norah Bentinck, The Ex-Kaiser in Exile (1921), p. 23

Royal Chuckle

1917: George V’s decision to change the royal family’s name from the distinctly un-British Saxe-Coburg Gotha to Windsor raised a chuckle in Germany, where Kaiser Wilhelm II announced he was going to the theatre to watch The Merry Wives of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Source: Elizabeth Longford, The Royal House of Windsor (1984), pp. 20–3

Dead Giveaway

1914: Lieutenant Erwin Rommel, in action for the first time, noticed the August sun glinting on the metal cooking pots on top of the tall packs of the French infantry as they tramped through fields of not-yet-harvested grain to where he waited in ambush.

Source: Erwin Rommel, Infantry Attacks (2006), p. 11

“The Smallest Children Lay Like Fried Eels”

1943: Operation Gomorrah was the code name for British and American air raids that inflicted biblical destruction (“brimstone and fire from . . . out of heaven”) on Hamburg.

For 10 days the bombers returned again and again. In the early hours of 28 July, incendiary bombs unleashed a firestorm in the densely populated city. Many thousands of people perished in many hideous ways: sucked into blazing buildings by hurricane-force winds; torched by blizzards of sparks; trapped and suffocated in basement shelters; stuck fast in melted asphalt on the roads.

Their bodies, charred and shrivelled by the intense heat, piled up in the cellars and littered the streets. “How terribly must these people have died,” lamented one woman. “The smallest children lay like fried eels on the pavement.”

Source: Martin Middlebrook, The Battle of Hamburg: Allied Bomber Forces against a German City in 1943 (1980), chap. 15

Devastated residential and commercial buildings in the Eilbek district of Hamburg.

Devastated residential and commercial buildings in the Eilbek district of Hamburg, viewed by a Royal Air Force photographer

Mice Disable Panzers

1942: As the battle for Stalingrad reached its climax, both sides hurled men and machines into the fray. West of the city, though, the German 22nd Panzer Division didn’t budge; its tank engines wouldn’t start. Not because of harsh weather, or Soviet sabotage, but because field mice had sneaked into the tanks and nibbled through the electrical insulation.

Source: Henry Metelmann, Through Hell for Hitler (2003), p. 114

Caught On The Hop

1940: The speed with which the Wehrmacht lunged across northern France caught P.G. Wodehouse on the hop; he was trapped in his villa at Le Touquet.

Two months later, the Germans decided to intern all enemy males under the age of 60. Wodehouse was given ten minutes to pack. Ethel, his wife, went “nearly insane” and couldn’t find the keys for the room with the suitcase. Plum went into captivity equipped with “a copy of Shakespeare, a pair of pajamas, and a mutton chop”.

Source: P.G. Wodehouse, P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters, ed. Sophie Ratcliffe (2011), p. 295

Turbulence Over Europe

1938: I felt “some slight sinking when I found myself flying over London”, turbulence “rocked and bumped” the aeroplane “like a ship in a sea”, and there were “more nervous moments when we circled down over the aerodrome” at the end of the flight. The apprehensive air passenger was Neville Chamberlain, heading to Munich in September for crisis talks with Adolf Hitler.

Source: Ian Kershaw, Hitler 1936–1945: Nemesis (2000), pp. 110, 876

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain back in Britain after his shuttle diplomacy secured

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain addressing a crowd at Heston Aerodrome on 30 September 1938, after his shuttle diplomacy secured “peace for our time”

Who? Me? Bossy?

1933: What words can properly describe Hitler? I remember watching a television documentary with footage of him speaking to a crowd. He raged and bellowed and waved his hands about. Sonya – she was eight – said, “I don’t like Hitler. He’s bossy.”

Source: Personal recollection