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Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell, Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia (Phoenix Giants)
Desert Queen: The Extraordinary Life of Gertrude Bell, Adventurer, Adviser to Kings, Ally of Lawrence of Arabia (Phoenix Giants)
by Janet Wallach
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Redcar Woman who could set off World War Three., 7 Mar 2014
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The Redcar Woman who could set off World War Three.

This headline might look over-dramatic, but I'm using it as a deliberate introduction to one of this area's most famous, and, I will argue, most over-indulged celebrities - Gertrude Bell from Redcar.

I write as a local Redcar district reader, and conscious that this lady is locally lionized,

Alas this book doesn;t help to give a balanced view of Miss Bell and the consequences of her life for today's Middle East.

Gertrude Bell is locally famed as a pioneer explorer of Arabia and a friend of T E Lawrence - Lawrence of Arabia. There is a statue of her riding on a camel on Redcar Sea Front, she is fetted as one of the North's star women, and most vitally for future headlines, she is to be played by Hollywood Star, Nicole Kidman as the lead role alongside Damien Lewis in a new film about Gertrude's lives and loves. The film,"Queen of the Desert', directed by Werner Herzog, is now being filmed in the Middle East and is due for release this year.

But I would argue that we need to take a hard look behind the adulation. I have, and I am not sure I liked what I saw.

This depiction of Gertrude cast her as the willful daughter of wealthy parents, a sort of 'Daisy Pulls It Off' character who forsook conventional life for exploring unknown lands and meeting hitherto unknown people, a writer and diplomat in the Middle East and a Redcar gal who helped shape the politics of the that region by drawing up the borders of modern Iraq.

But behind the facade lies, I feel, a person whose manners and motives were ones that are - using the law of unintended consequences - still highly dangerous to world peace today.

Gertrude was born on the late 1860's into a family of wealthy industrialists - the Bell family. Her father, Sir Hugh Bell, owned steelworks in Middlesbrough, collieries in County Durham and ironstone mines in East Cleveland, such as Brotton's Lumpsey and Huntcliff mines and Skelton's Park Pit. Gertrude, as most readers know, was raised in the family home of Red Barns, off Redcar's Coatham Road. She spent her childhood there, being privately educated before going up to the University of Oxford - and becoming the first women student to achieve a First Class Honours in History there.

After Oxford and her first holidays in the Middle East, Gertrude, thwarted in love, was clearly not happy at home, so her mother suggested that she take her diaries and letters and write a book about her time in Persia. Gertrude eventually agreed, and sat down and wrote Persian Pictures. Mum Florence found a publisher, and the book issued in 1894. Clearly Gertrude was a young lady of accomplishments. But rather than settle down to be a poet and author, Gertrude wanted to get back out of the house.

It was in 1900 that Gertrude began her hikes through the Middle East in earnest. She received an invitation for a long stay from an old friend, Nina Rosen, whose husband was the German consul in Jerusalem. At that time, the Middle East was ruled by the Turks and the whole Middle East from Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, and on down into today's Saudi Arabia was part of the Ottoman Empire. The Turks ruled the territory with an iron fist Any moves from the local Arabs for greater autonomy was met with brutal repression. The Turks saw themselves as enlightened leaders who were bringing their empire into the 20th century. They needed expertise and money and were obtaining European aid (mostly from Germany) to help build modern infrastructures. Their reliance on Germany, though, was to have disastrous consequences. When Gertrude began her Middle East travels, no one would have foreseen that in less than fifteen years a 600 year old Empire would be dead.

Gertrude had only started. She returned to the Middle East five times.She voyaged through Palestine, Syria, Mesopotamia, and Turkey, and in 1909 she made it as far as fabled Baghdad. Gertrude wrote up what she saw in books and lecture papers for learned societies. She was also a skilled photographer in a day where photography needed skill. She took photographs of ancient sites and ruins, photographs which to this day are the best record of the buildings, many of which have fallen further into disrepair or disappeared. Seven thousand of her photographs have survive, and can be seen at Newcastle University's archives.

On one visit to an ancient temple she met a young blond blue-eyed Oxford graduate who was working at the site as an archaeologist. That was T. E. Lawrence whom later Gertrude would join in the military. Although she constantly nagged him about his technique of digging and cataloging she impressed him at the time. In later years Lawrence of Arabia may have had mixed feelings about Gertrude, but at the time he wrote home that "Gerty" had been a hit with him and all the lads .

These trips cemented Gertrude's reputation as a leading Arabist. She now knew the region like the back of her hand, which people were friendly to the British and who weren't and who was in charge of what area. She was well aware that her knowledge would be of interest to Britain's leaders and was only too happy to tell what she had learned. But there was one giant flaw in her reports that laid the seeds of future failure. Gertrude abhorred all religions as superstition. This meant she saw Islam as backward, and akin to other primitive theologies. With a more open mind, she would have seen that the Arab peoples she met did not see themselves as 'Syrians' or "Iraqis" but only as people of an extended family or of a tribe. Where there was an overarching identity it was in Islam and in the Mosque. An injury to one Muslim was an injury to all of the faith. And we suffer from her blind spot to this day.

It was her links to official channels that has led some writers to call Gertrude a spy, If you consider Gertrude telling high ups in the Foreign Office what she saw is being a spy, well, then she was a spy. Since Gertrude did not engage in covert activities or disguise her identity, it's highly doubtful that her activities would meet any modern definition of espionage - but helping the imperial cause was important to her.

Local lore and legend in Redcar is that she traveled by herself. That was untrue. Instead, I learnt from her biography that Gertrude went about like a proper Englishwoman of her background should - with an entourage of servants, chefs, and armed guards. Even when roughing it she carried her own private canvas bath tub (with a tent to block the view), dined off fine china, and ate haute cuisine served with proper courses. whilst at the same time absorbing Arab culture and customs as her own.

Such people are with us still. One Redcar friend of mine commented that "she was intelligent but arrogant - reminding me of some people I met at Oxford from diplomatic / Eton backgrounds. All very comfortable and confident travelling and immersing themselves in other countries (in a way that working/middle classes would be totally self-conscious) on their parents wealth, but with the whiff of empire remaining on them. But still, I can't help feeling a bit of admiration for the way she swanned about in a mans world of politics and diplomacy. Can't have been easy."

Like all legends, such a picture of Gertrude is complicated. Gertrude was captivated by the Middle East. But she was also a child of the English Victorian upper class and shared their conviction that England was born to rule over 'lesser breeds outside the law". She never forgot to make sure that this was transmitted to the Arabs she met. Gertrude's own personal style also didn't help. Her voice was shrill, and she had a tendency to dominate conversations, a style which others mocked behind her back. In short she was both imperious and an imperialist. And English imperialism was meeting its supreme crisis.

By August 1914, the whole rickety pack of cards of alliances, treaties, and international rivalries had blown up into the First World War. Expected to be short - four months was the estimate - it ended up lasting four years and cost 16 million lives. Oh, yes, and the Turks - that is the Ottoman Empire - as expected sided with the Germans. So Turkey found itself at war with England, France and Russia.

As expected, Gertrude wasn't going to be content in nursing at the home front with the other ladies. Dick Hogarth, a friend, who was also a high ranking officer serving in Middle East Command in Cairo, wrote to Gertrude asking if she would write a report about what she had learned in her travels. In particular, he wanted to know, which groups would look favourably on the British in the war. Her report was not only cogent and to the point, it was also exactly what the brass hats wanted to hear. The Arabs, she said, would favour the British over the Germans and the French,. Soon she was asked to join Hogarth in Cairo at what was called the "Arab Bureau".. Although she started off as a civilian advisor, she soon attained the rank of Major.

Gertrude's advice became political imperative. A deal was offered to the Arabs by the British Cabinet. Join us, fight the Turks, and you'll get your independence. In the Arab view this would meant the areas of Syria and Mesopotamia would become a single Arab kingdom, and Arabia proper would remain as their religious homeland. All seemed so simple. But other calculations were being made by the British. Britain's trump card in WW1 were British ships, protected by grey ironclads, delivering British goods around the world and bringing home three-quarters of the food the nation needed. To maintain this, in 1911 the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, had ordered a major change, switching the nation's battleships from coal-burning engines to oil. Far superior to traditional ships, these new oil-burning vessels could travel faster, cover a greater range, and be refueled at sea But Britain had no oil of her own. In 1912, Churchill signed an agreement for a major share in the Anglo-Persian oil company, with its oil wells in southern Persia and refineries at Abadan, close to Basra. It was essential for Britain to control that vital area - and Iraq, the one area that Gertrude knew intimately - was central here..

Based on this, the French and British, unbeknownst to the Arabs, met and decided on the basis of Gertrude's advice that the Middle East would be better administered if the Middle East were divided between their respective countries. The French, not the Arabs, would be in charge of Syria. The British already had Egypt, and during the War had occupied Mesopotamia and Palestine and that was to stay..

At that later part of the war, Gertrude decided not to return to Redcar. Still with the Foreign Office, in 1916 she moved to Baghdad as an advisor to Sir Percy Cox, the British Government's chief political officer in the Middle East. Once it was clear the war would be won, Britain had decided that the regions of historical Mesopotamia should be bundled into a single country, to be called Iraq. Based on Gertrude's formula and maps it was made up of the central region of Baghdad, the southern region of Basra where the Euphrates runs into the Persian Gulf, and the northern oilfield area around Mosul.

Gertrude thought they needed to arrange the government to be run by members of the Sunni sect of Islam although the population had a Shia majority. The Shi'ites, she thought, were inward looking people who could not be trusted, while the Sunni's - more modern and friendly to "civilisation" - could give the country stability. Smaller groups - the Druze and the Kurds - were simply ignored by her So began the tradition - running up to the late unlamented Sadaam Hussein - that leaders in Iraq would be Sunni Muslims ruling a Shi'ite majority. Of course picking political leaders from a minority is always a bit risky for long term political stability. But it seemed like a good enough idea at the time.

In reality, it was an absolutely cack idea. It was as cack as assuming - in a different context - that the Rev Ian Paisley could, without difficulty, have been put in by the UK to rule over a few million Catholic, Republican, Irish. So when Sadaam Hussein met the hangman, the underlying faults broke out in the open, and the inherent racial and religious instability of Bell's artificial country finally boiled over - and with the loss of incalculable lives.

Those faults, like the other faults in tragic, false, countries like Syria and the Lebanon, mirror the fractures in the Balkans in 1914. Then, the big powers of the day France, Germany, Russia and Britain,were linked to their own preferred favorites. Today the same is true of today's Great Powers in the Middle East. Russia and China are linked to people like Syria's Assad and the Iranian regime, whilst the US favours Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

It is a mixture identical to, and as volatile as, the 1914 Balkans. And, unlike 1914, war in the 21st century isn't trenches and ironclads, but nuclear weapons, 'smart' missiles and drones. And if wider war breaks out in the Middle East it will ultimately be because of maps drawn by a strong willed lady from Redcar


Hartmann the Anarchist: The Doom of the Great City
Hartmann the Anarchist: The Doom of the Great City
by E. Douglas Fawcett
Edition: Paperback
Price: 4.51

5.0 out of 5 stars Amarchy, angst and airships, 9 Aug 2013
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Harmann the Anarchist

I'd love to go ballooning. If there was ever a pursuit that seemed to be for the nobs it is this.

The thought of quiet, relaxing ballooning gliding the breezes in silence, has always been one that I have would liked to be part of - but it seems it is expensive, for the uber-wealthy and a pursuit that reeks of Pimms and punnets of strawberries Indeed, one abiding memory I have is being, with hundreds of others, stuck on a sweltering and stalled 'cross-country' train, at that time owned by Virgin, and seeing soaring overhead, the corporate Virgin balloon. Whether Beardie was on board was not clear, but the comments of fellow passengers were.

A book I read recently however, shows a more darker side to ballooning. Hartmann the Anarchist is one of a series of books I have read which see ballooning and the conquest of the air as something that can bring death and destruction to the earth.

There is a clear link between Hartmann and a number of current and recently published books.

Can I start with a recently published volime ? 'Falling Upwards' by historian Richard Holmes shows that there was another side to balloons and their big brothers, the motorised dirigibles. To start with, they fascinated left leaning writers. Shelley dreamed of the cool liberation of high altitudes, whilst Jules Verne, the French proto-lefty and anti-capitalist author, wrote an 1896 work 'Robur the Conqueror' about an airship inventor and commander, "Robur", an idealist (and like Verne's other, more famous character, submariner Captain Nemo), an Eco-warrior, who plans to conquer the world in order to put an end to exploitation, tyranny and war.

Using a massive airship, 'Albatross,' Robur plans to use his undisputed airborne supremacy and the threat of bombing as a way of becoming acknowledged as the world's ruler. Bombarding your way to world peace seems somewhat rather counter-intuitive, but in the end, the only actual bombing is of an African coronation where a mass human sacrifice is about to take place, but which is thwarted by Robur and his airship crew.

Leaving Verne to one side, I return to Falling Upwards.

Other figures of the left (broadly defined) also appear in that book.

We meet Republican Benjamin Franklin, dreaming of cheap refrigerated food for the masses via larders lashed to tethered balloons floating in the ice cold upper atmosphere. and the defender of a Paris besieged by militaristic Prussian forces in the war of 1871, using balloons stabled in the safety of the Gare Du Nord train shed, which are used to ferry men (including the wounded) and messages into and out of the City above the spiked helmets of the besiegers.

A more peaceful view of the potential of the air was penned by Tennyson in his 1842 poem of a far off, future, world, 'Lockesley Hall' in which he saw a vision of the skies "For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see, saw the vision of the world and all the wonders that would be....... Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails, pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with costly bales."

But he also saw the obverse side of the air. "Heard the heavens fill with shouting and there rain'd a ghastly dew.... From the nations' airy navies grappling in the central blue."

H.G. Wells was also fascinated by ballooning, but saw that the conquest of the air also carried threats for mankind as well as benefit, and in his 'War in the Air' (1907) he visualised a world laid waste through massive aerial bombardment by fleets of dirigibles in the employ of the great nations of the time - Germany, France and Great Britain - fleets that then find themselves threatened by new armadas of airships and fast, heavier than air, machines developed by China and Japan. The end of the book, where the narrator, a very thick cockney shop worker, Bert Smallways, returns to a shattered South East London, reduced to primitive feudalism, has a classic, dystopian 'post apocalyptic' portrait of a world where civilisation has disintegrated, a narrative similar to later descriptions of a world laid waste by atomic war, as seen in books like Russell Hoban's 'Riddley Walker' and John Wyndham's ''The Chrysalids'.

Then we have 'the subject od this review, Hartmann the Anarchist'. This fascinating book, written by Victorian novelist, Edward Fawcett in 1892, is often credited with being the original 'steampunk' novella. After being out of print for over 100 years, Hartmann was republished in 2010 and, despite its Victorian 'ripping yarns' vernacular, verbiage and structure, it is still a good read.

Rudolph Hartmann is an anarchist initially presumed dead at sea after a botched attack on Westminster Bridge. In this book, the plot centres around a Mr Stanley, a London socialist politician who, through associations with many of the capital's most prominent socialists and anarchists (including Hartmann's aged mother), finds that Hartmann was in fact still alive and had taken to the air. Stanley ends up, after his abduction, riding with Hartmann and his cut throat crew on the impeccably collectively run dirigible "Alttila' as they plan to attack civilization, with Stanley's native London as the first target.

When Stanley first comes across Hartmann on the Attila, the anarchist is "Seated before a writing desk, studded with knobs, electric bells and heaped with maps and instruments'. Hartmann sees the Attila as "the craft that shall wreck civilization and hurl tyrannies into nothingness".

'Hartmann' was published in a turbulent decade when a minority of anarchists engaged in political assassination and bombings across Europe and Labour unions in the docks and sweated industries were flexing their muscles. The London he depicts is a bloated, unwieldy city, an abode of fog, smoke and dreariness startled from time to time by the angry roar of Labour. "Riots had been reported from many great towns, whilst handbills of the most violent sort were being thrust on the workers of London. Revolutionary counsels had long been scattered by thousands of demagogues, and it appeared that the ingathering of that harvest was nigh."

The storm centre was the urban colossus of London "the home to six million souls, where the endemic social problems of the time were intensifying. It was clear that bad times were coming was a settled conviction of the middle and working classes", a belief due to (joy of joys - DW) the misdeeds of a 'Coalition government' which held sway during the year in which the story opens. In many quarters a severe reaction had set in against Liberalism, and a stronger executive, and repressive laws were urgently clamored for by a resurgent, populist right, whilst at the opposite extreme in the slums and rookeries of the East End, "we see the raising of the red flag, and socialist revolution being eagerly mooted by the labouring classes". So put that in your clay pipe and smoke that one, Mr Clegg and Mr Cameron..........

Such books spawned a whole late 1890's sub genre of fictionalised terror from the skies via airships, often commanded by crazed visionary commanders. It even allowed a Phd student called Hayzer Makov to write what must be the most originally titled and most obscure thesis ever - "Class treachery amongst airship commanders in late Victorian Fiction."

These works helped to produce a early 1900's "airship scare" where strange flying machines were seemingly spotted soaring above the skies of peaceful English towns. These accounts, with their implicit fear of alien destruction from the skies, allied to more prosaic fear of a resurgent Germany as a rival to an imperial Britain, could be seen as an Edwardian precursor of the UFO furore of more recent cold war years.

This tradition endured and, finally, and more up to date (in the early 1970's), we had a trilogy of SF 'counterfactual alternative future' pot boilers by fantasy writer and Hawkwind collaborator, Michael Moorcock - the 'Owen Bastable' novels - set around an impeccably stiff upper lipped Victorian colonial Indian Army soldier who, after a series of unlikely adventures in the Himalayan foothills, find himself in an alternative future dominated by the airship, airships crewed by the alternative history personas of Stalin, Mick Jagger and T.E Lawrence.

So there is more to Ballooning than hot air and ballast There are social themes, social panic and the quintessential Nineteenth century fear and fascination with the shock of the new. To get a insight into that part of the Victorian mind start with Hartmann the Anarchist.

Walshy


Making Friends with Hitler: Lord Londonderry and Britain's Road to War
Making Friends with Hitler: Lord Londonderry and Britain's Road to War
by Ian Kershaw
Edition: Paperback
Price: 17.17

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A right little Charlie, 3 Oct 2012
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This is a rare review of a book which, although now rather long in the tooth (published in 2003) changed the long held - but perhaps less well-informed - views of this reviewer.

The 7th Lord Londonderry was a man widely disliked in our area of the UK (the North East of England) for his family's role as local coal owners, and with everything which went with this role, including the forcible eviction of striking pitmen's families from company houses the Londonderry Collieries rented out.

This heredity dislike was intensified in the 1930's when Lord Londonderry (or Charlie to his friends in the drawing rooms of the stately homes of England) became a seeming fan of Hitler and of the Nazi regime, and this dislike lingered on long after Charlie's death in 1947..

And Ian Kershaw shows just how Charles Stewart Henry Vane-Tempest-Stewart, the 7th Marquess of Londonderry became besotted by the Nazis. Londonderry, as befitted a man of his aristocratic breeding and of his dodgy experience as a Durham mine owner, was deeply suspicious of all and any left-wing politics. He believed Britain should befriend Hitler's Germany to stop communism creeping out of Russia and infecting Europe. To this end, Londonderry visited Germany in December 1935 and February 1936. He went stag-hunting with Hermann Goering (Goering bagged a bison) and stayed for a week at Goering's luxurious mountain retreat before going on to the Winter Olympics. During his stay, he had a two-hour audience with Hitler, whom he found "forthcoming and agreeable". Indeed, in a speech in Durham in March 1936, Londonderry described the Fuhrer as "a kindly man with a receding chin and an impressive face".

In return for the hospitality, Londonderry invited Ribbentrop to a house party at his North East seat, Wynyard Hall near Stockton-on-Tees. "The high spot of the weekend," says Ian Kershaw in the book, "was the grand ceremony of the Mayoral Service at Durham Cathedral." Crowds thronged the streets hoping to catch a glimpse of Ribbentrop on their way to see Londonderry installed as Durham's new mayor. Our local newspaper, the Northern Echo then said what happened. The Cathedral Organist launched into the hymn "Praise the Lord: ye heavens, adore Him". Alas, this has roughly the same tune as the Deutschland Lied, and hearing this Ribbentrop jumped up and gave the Nazi salute, only for Lord Londonderry to pull his hand down in a scene that could come out of the closing part of Dr Strangelove.

Even this debacle was not to put Charlie off of touting German government aims as ones that the UK could accede to, almost up to the start of the war in 1939.

So he was a simple bigoted English toff who adored the Nazi regime ? Well, actually not quite. And this is where Kershaw, in a carefully annotated book studded with references gives service in an act of researched and impeccable revisionism.

For it seems the real reason for his stance was born of pique at the way successive British statesmen has refused to take him seriously as someone fit for high office. His high point as a Tory Peer was as Air Minister for four fleeting years in the early 1930's and then for a few months as Tory Leader of the Lords before being totally dumped by Stanley Baldwin in 1935. He felt with some feeling that he had been used as a convenient scapegoat for the National Government and put this down to class envy on the part of the new army of the new rich who had begun to populate the Cabinet Room.

His ostensible fall from grace was simply due to the fact that as Air Minister, he had actually argued for an early re-armament policy and defended the offensive use of the RAF as a bombing wing, at a time when much of the left, including the bulk of the Labour opposition were in full pacifist mode and at a time when (in an echo of today's world) governing politicians of the right were totally intent - not on long term policy development - but on a cuts programme pure and simple. Hence his fall between two stools and the wide public denunciation of what he was asking for.

In his aristocratic heart he felt the new generation of self-made men in the cabinet had both made an error in dismissing his talents, and were also on the verge of making another huge mistake in confronting Hitler's Germany whose new, post-Versailles aims, were, he felt, justified. In this, ancestral voices played a part, with Charlie echoing his distant forebear Viscount Castlereagh, who, at the Congress of Vienna, argued that he wished to bring back the world to "peaceful habits" after the Napoleonic Wars,

Charlie was an oaf and a snob, and probably didn't deserve better, but it was a supreme irony that it was in his three years at the Air Ministry that he sanctioned and signed off the development of the first all-metal monoplane fighter aircraft - the Hurricane and the Spitfire. Yet probably few were aware as they saw the con-trails weave over Kent and Sussex in the autumn of 1940 that the instruments of the RAF's victory were fashioned by someone who felt for Hitler's supposed kinder side.

Walshy


Scum of the Earth
Scum of the Earth
by Arthur Koestler
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.09

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A band on the run, 10 Feb 2012
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This review is from: Scum of the Earth (Paperback)
I'm aware that telling readers that before they dip into this book, they should read other works by the author, but to really understand Scum of the Earth properly, one has to read some more Koestler of this period. I apologise !

The background of Scum of the Earth is pure autobiography, with only some names changed for protection (including that of his then partner, the Englsh sculptress Daphne Hardy) To put it simply, Koestler was caught in France by the outbreak of war and, as a foreigner (a Hungarian national) and a known anti-Fascist, was promptly arrested and interned by the Daladier Government. He spent the first nine months of war mostly in a prison camp, then, during the collapse of France, escaped and travelled by devious routes to England. These included the remarkable device of enlisting in the French Foreign Legion on the very day of the French surrender, hoping to use his new status to piggy back to French North Africa.

But it is not just this simple. Koestler was known to the French (and to the government of many nations - including Nazi Germany) as a Communist, and a Communist who had taken part in both revolutionary activities and journalism - a dangerous combination.

Indeed, Koestler knew very well what his fate was to be if the German caught him, for some years before he had been imprisoned and sentenced to death as a spy by Franco's rebel Spanish administration, He had been caught 'bang to rights' as he had been using his cover as the British News Chronicle reporter in Nationalist Spain to spy on what was happening behind the lines - including gaining entree to Franco's own HQ - and then passing on the information gleaned directly to the Comintern in Moscow.

He was nearly shot out of hand, then spent some months imprisoned in a fortress, listening every night to the roar of rifle fire as batch after batch of Republicans was executed, and being most of the time in acute danger of execution himself. To this day he remains the only author of the recent past known to this writer who has been under sentence of death.

The book that Koestler wrote about this, Spanish Testament, has remarkable passages, In the prison scenes Koestler successfully establishes the nightmare atmosphere he and his fellow prisoners had to live through every day and the resignation that can make even the prospect of facing the firing squad a pleasant relief. On that basis, Koestler adapted well to his renewed French imprisonment as described in Scum of the Earth. To appreciate this, a reading of Spanish Testament is recommended.

The great irony in this is that Koestler was not a Communist who had left his brain and critical faculties in the tender care of the Commissars. From the mid 1930's on he had started to have severe doubts about the direction of Communism and the international Communist movement under Stalin's tutelage. The Moscow Trials had started these doubts, and it was the final signing of the Hitler - Stalin pact which precipitated the Second World War which was the breaking point.

So by the time the French imprisoned this seemingly implacable Communist, he had already recognised the reality of the God that had failed him.

They would have known this if they were interested or intelligent to have read his latest work, Darkness at Noon. This book, the story of the life and the end of an old Bolshevik, Rubashov, who first denies and ultimately confesses to crimes which he is well aware he has not committed, reflects both the reality of the Moscow trials (Rubashov is a thinly disguised Karl Radek) and also Koestler's newly acquired knowledge of the psychology of the condemned cell.

He shows graphically how, in Orwell's words, 'actuated by despair, mental bankruptcy and the habit of loyalty to the Party', people like Rubashov, the bravest of the brave when engaged in the fight against a boss class, can capitulate totally.

Again, Darkness at Noon is required reading to see how Koestler was adapting to new realities, new politics and new accommodations (Koestler had by then determined to flee to Britain to carry on the fight against Nazism, despite the ingrained Communist view of Britain as one of the citadels of world capitalism.) Koestler, like others in his position, saw it as his job to bring the realities of Nazism to the western nations that were by and large still unaware of the sheer degree of horror - as in the famous lines between sam and Rick in 'Casablanca' Sam "It's December 1941 in Casablanca. What time is it in New York ?.........Rick 'I bet they're asleep in New York. I bet they're asleep all over America'.

This now brings us back to Scum of the Earth. The book is a valuable piece of reportage and one written by a trained journalist.

One valuable asset of the book is that is probably the best example of how a society (in this case, France) can simply collapse from within, and with rapid suddenness. His observations showed that intelligence reports relayed back to Churchill on the morale of French society and which concluded that up to forty per cent of the French population was either actively pro-German or completely apathetic were not that wide of the mark. It spread across the political system. The old clerical right simply hated the new assertiveness of the French working class and preferred German 'order' to a repeat of the popular front, whilst the French
Communists, who were effectively pro-Nazi and did their best to sabotage
the French war effort, were now as likely to abandon former comrades like Koestler to the tender mercies of the Gestapo as were the Vichyists.

Although the book ends with a hurried chapter which says that Koestler eventually did get to England (although details, as expected in a book written in 1942, are scant) he does describe what happened to him at that time and afterwards in a final book (and one that is hard to find now) Arrivals and Departures. This is Koestler thinly disguised as a young ex-Communist who has made his escape from Hungary finding himself in Portugal, where he hopes to enter the service of Britain, at that time the only power fighting against Germany. His enthusiasm is somewhat cooled by the fact that the British seem uninterested in him and almost ignores him for a period of several months, during which his money runs out and other astuter refugees escape to America. The core of the book is a series of discussions between the fictional Koestler and representative propagandists of both Facism and Soviet Communism - a device that allows Koestler to finally rationalise his new outlook and direction in a world that he would never had previously thought of inhabiting.

In practice he cannot abandon the struggle - but this will be a struggle that will be cleaner and more accommodating to Western democracy, a cleanness reflected in the cold night air he feels around him as - in the final pages - he is floating down in a parachute over the dark landscape of his native country, where he will be employed as a secret agent of the Western Allies.

Read Scum of the Earth - but also the others. Together, they sum up the great dilemmas of the left in the middle of the twentieth century.

Walshy


Murder at Deviation Junction (Jim Stringer Mystery)
Murder at Deviation Junction (Jim Stringer Mystery)
by Andrew Martin
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars East Cleveland is chuffed by this book, 8 Nov 2011
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Nothing better that a good whoodunit thriller for those seemingly long days and nights that between Christmas Day and New Years Eve, and what better than one that, amazingly, sets the bulk of its action right here in East Cleveland - the little bit of the UK that this writer comes from and where he lives, an area that Andrew martin christens the 'Ironlands'.

You should best read this book in the evenings, when the distant rumble and vibration of the trains bringing wagon loads of potash along the winding line from the Boulby Mine to Saltburn can be heard across the dark fields and back streets.

All of this is a hopelessly long-winded way of saying that I was well disposed to Andrew Martin's novel, Murder at Deviation Junction, featuring "Jim Stringer, Steam Detective", a mystery set largely both in the mining villages of East Cleveland and Middlesbrough in the gaslit week running up to Christmas 1909.

Jim Stringer, is a member of the North East Railway Police, based at York Station, and whose normal mundane day to day work is chasing fare dodgers and luggage thieves, is returning to York the long way round via Whitby from a fruitless trip to Middlesbrough where he had been pursuing an early version of the football hooligan, and finds himself stuck in snow at Deviation Junction (a thinly disguised Carlin How) where he is on hand to witness the finding of a corpse of a man in an unused lineside hut.

Being ambitious - and up for a promotion to Detective Sergeant, something which also carries the prospect of placating his rather pushy wife, he decides to investigate the case despite being off his patch geographically and finding himself in conflict with his bullying boss.

In this he colludes with the Edwardian proto-beer monster Stephen Bowman, an itinerant reporter for The Railway Rover Magazine, and their trail leads to the mystery of the collective demise of a group of Teesside industrialists and local gentry, men who previously travelled to their Middlesbrough offices in the exclusive confines of their own Club class carriage. The pen portraits of these men, mine owners, shipping agents, ironmasters and lawyers, is one I can recognise from the history of our past, and the description of the fine old Middlesbrough Royal Exchange - a fine old building now sadly lost to the A66 flyover, and the centre of these men's professional life - is gripping.

The investigation of the disappearance of these men, and the body at Carlin How, now roves further abroad with Jim Stringer going from an over the border pub in Middlesbrough to London's Fleet Street and thence on to the far North of Scotland before the eventual cliff hanging ending at - of all places - the railway viaduct above Kilton Beck and Skinningrove Village on a snowy Christmas eve.

In this adventure, no-one is what they seem - certainly amongst Jim Stringer's police colleagues - and cross and double cross is the order of the day. Indeed, Jim puts both his job and his marriage on the line to pursue the murderers, but at the end the case is simply and finally an open and shut one (and that's the only clue I will give).

This book should be on every Teessider's stocking list.


Lost Railways of Durham & Teesside
Lost Railways of Durham & Teesside
by Robin Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.39

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars it started in Shildon - and it still lives, 27 Aug 2011
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Lost Railways of Durham and Teesside - Robin Jones

I purchased this book as both a railway enthusiast and as a Teessider. Sadly, as Bogart said in Casablanca 'I was mislead'. This book should have more accurately titled 'Lost Railways of the Durham Coalfield'. If so it would have been more apposite to the subject (and, I hasten to add, I would still have bought it).

Instead this book - apart from the chapter on the Clarence Railway - ignores Teesside altogether. To see this, look at the entry for Middlesbrough in the index. This town, the heart of Teesside, gets only one mention, and that is in the context of the limits of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. It ignores utterly the dense and tangled network of (mainly) lost lines linking Middlesbrough with the East Cleveland ironstone working area and the neighbouring towns along and across the Tees. There is still room for a book on Teesside's railways. This book does not fill that gap.

Having go that off my chest, I return to the book. It is a handy volume supplementing past books by such as Ken Hoole, and also acts as a good introduction to the more magisterial Regional Railway History of Great Britain volume for the North East (now alas hardly available, although most NE libraries have a copy on their shelves).

It covers, in a narrative fashion, the main branch lines in Durham, and ranges from the NW lines that traversed the hilly moors to Consett, through to the lines serving the pits of East Durham and their extensive internal rail systems via the rails laid through the seemingly ever lowering wooded landscape of SW Durham and the earlier coalfield villages that were and are scattered along the valley floors. Many of the pictures are also new to me at least.

If you are from outwith the area, this book would be an invaluable starter before visiting the new Shildon branch of the National Railway Museum. And - when you get to that Museum - spare a few minutes to look at the nearby muddy fields which will soon be the home of an entirely new plant, a plant which will be dedicated to building a whole new generation of British DEMU rolling stock.

186 years after Shildon saw the firebox of Locomotion being lit to inaugurate the start of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825, the railway is still central to the North East

David Walsh.


The Spy Who Came In From the Co-op: Melita Norwood and the Ending of Cold War Espionage (History of British Intelligence)
The Spy Who Came In From the Co-op: Melita Norwood and the Ending of Cold War Espionage (History of British Intelligence)
by David Burke
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 18.04

38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the old lady at the back of the room, 20 July 2011
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The spy at the back of the room David Burke on Melita Norwood

I hesitated a bit (actually a year or so) before doing this review but now, I feel, is the time.

This book deals with an elderly, and seemingly a rather harmless lady, who was actually a very successful spy and one who could have helped change world history - and a lady I knew, albeit distantly.

I go back to the early 1960's - 1964 to be precise, when as a very young leftist, I became a bit disenchanted with Harold Wilson and George Brown's brand of socialism and - in line with familial tradition - 'took the Moscow road'. Granted, the terraced streets of South East London ((where I was living then) were not exactly Petrograd, but it did have its moments.

Amongst these moments was the seemingly monthly meetings of the local Communist Party and the Young Communist League (YCL). The District Leadership of the YCL put a lot of store on making sure that young comrades who had the latent ability to go off the rails were given instruction and lore from their elders who had been there, seen things and got their T shirt (so to speak), so at an early age I listened to such people as a local power station electrician who had fought in Spain with the ILP battalion, had met Orwell (and crucially for The Party) thoroughly disliked him, and a Science Teacher from a local Grammar School, a guy who had been born in what was then Tsarist Russia, and who had travelled in, and was familar with, both the USSR and the 'Peoples Democracies' of Eastern Europe. When he came to our branch night to tell us of the struggles and joys of our comrades in the East, he was always accompanied by his wife, there to make sure we were well fuelled up on cheese and pickle sandwiches and weak tea. The speaker was a man called Hilary Norwood, and his wife (with an exotic Christian name in a grey world of Hildas and Doreens) Melita.

Now, I can't remember her saying much, if anything at those meetings. What I didn't know then however, was that her mind was almost certainly on other matters than the yearly ritual of card exchange and the next Morning Star and Challenge bazaar, and that these other matters (matters of which her husband, as her original recruiter, knew of) were connected with how she could get the latest set of plans of Britain's most hush hush armaments off safely to her KGB handlers.

This was a long term job. The book reveals that she started out on her single minded alternative career as far back as 1932 when she luckily found a secretarial job at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association, a scientific trade body which played a key role in Britain's weapons research and development.

Now here comes the crucial, mind-wrenching, dilemma we have to consider. In the 1930's, when it was obvious that the world was careering towards war with Nazism, Facism and institutionalised genocide and racism, how could anyone on the left not try to see that the world did not succumb, and plunge into the black night of Nazi domination ? Given that the mind set of many of the leaders of the Western democracies (from Chamberlain to Daladier via the Duke of Windsor) was one that saw co-existence with Hitler as possible, little wonder that many saw the survival of the Soviet Union to be that one essential task, a task that transcended everything else.

And this was intensified 100 fold after June 1941. Many felt, and with good reason, that the leaders of the west were cynically reckoning on leaving the bulk of the resistance (and the dying and suffering) against Hitler's armed hordes to the Red Army, and that our direct help to them was half-hearted at the very least. I suspect that this was Melita's touchstone too. And the institution she worked for was one that was conducting research on advanced metals and their engineering vital to the development of the tanks, radar and aircraft that could beat Hitlerism.

One issue is whether she engaged in a risky one women crusade. For what it is worth, I think she had help. In the office she never hid her politics. Indeed, she told her workmates to donate the office collection after she gave birth to her daughter to the Aid For Russia campaign. Her boss at the British Non Ferrous Metals Association was happy for her to have the run of the office and to stay overnight at his house when he had meetings with fellow scientists and engineers so as to prepare confidential papers and minutes. This was a security nightmare, and for what it is worth, my guess is that some of her superiors had a pretty good idea of what she was up to and, sharing her views, were happy to look the other way.

Whether Melita's smuggled papers helped to win the Battle of Stalingrad, the Battle of Kursk or spes up the advance on Berlin, we will probably never know. But in my heart, I hope they did.

In order to better examine those days and to ponder this dilemma you should buy this book David Burke is both wholly aware of these dilemmas and is also prepared to accept that her role was crucially important to the Soviet war economy, both during and after World War 2. Indeed, it is postulated that her work may have been more important than that of the Cambridge brigade, some of whom seemed to be better at passing on high society and chattering class tittle tattle than state secrets. Burke also shows convincingly that the attempts by the security services to paint her a mere eccentric old lady who did a spot of amateur spying on the side was well wide of the actualitie.

By the way I recall her garnished pickle sandwiches were excellent, even though the weak, milky tea (naturally infused from 99 brand loose tea leaves from the nearby Long Lane branch of the Royal Arsenal Co-op Society) was execrable............

Walshy
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 29, 2013 2:25 PM GMT


To End All Wars: How the First World War Divided Britain
To End All Wars: How the First World War Divided Britain
by Adam Hochschild
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars more thoughts on ;to end all wars', 11 July 2011
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I will not repeat the overall comments on this book made by other reviewers as they describe the overall structure and lay out of Hochschild's arguments well and in a detailed fashion.

One great strength of the book is to show how statesmen, civil administrators and a general staff raised in a Victorian society reacted to the experience of trying to win a war based on industrial models of waging battle, aided by science and emerging technologies. Leaders of an army raised on the bayonet and the lance would find it hard to grasp that these weapons did not cut barbed wire, let alone deal with enemy forces aided by spotting aircraft and wireless. Raised in a time when colonial wars only needed troops foraging from the ground they were on, it was a struggle to set up the sheer depth and intensity of the logistics needed to support and provide for an army in the field for year after year, and which at its peak (I am informed by Correlli Barnett) numbered nearly two-thirds of the population of the London of that day.

It is easy to deride Haig, but he, despite all his defects of character, was probably the best person from the existing general staff on the spot at that time. Arguably, it was his more junior officers who, learning from experience on the line' pioneered newer methods of fighting based on greater autonomy being given to commanders at divisional and regimental level, but Haig did not always countermand them. That must be to his credit.

As for the leading statesmen of the belligerent states, enough has been said. The sheer bull headedness of the German cabinet was only matched by Lloyd George's calculation that, despite the doubts of many of his pre-war Liberal colleagues, most of the population were for the conflict and for victory. We have to accept this, when we come to examining the other pole of this book - the story of the opponents of the war in Great Britain. Much of this follows a well trodden path.

If there is one criticism I would make, it is that Hochschild spends much time following the arguments and actions of the influential middle class war resisters - Hobhouse, E D Morel, Bertrand Russell and Charlotte Despard - people who wrote and left extant records of their feelings and views. But I would say that in the eyes of the government they were marginal. They were far more worried about the power locked up in the form of the British working class, and specifically in the potential of the rank and file Shop Stewards organisation that linked up workshop representatives in the huge new munition complexes that had sprang up in the industrial centres of the North and Scotland. The motivation of these skilled engineering workers were often conservative with a small 'c', fearing the dilution of their hard earned trade status and the influx of new production techniques and machine tools that rendered these skills increasingly redundant.

It was their influence and latent power that was feared, and it was the work of the domestic intelligence services in penetrating their ranks and the work of the Government Information Service in trying to counter the arguments of their leaders (who often possessed the dangerous combination of having the confidence of their rank and file members and the holding of anti-war ideas, ideas that came from their socialist convictions.) I would recommend anyone interested in the Shop Stewards movement to see if they can get hold of second hand copies of either 'Preparing for Power' or 'New Horizons' - books written in the 1920's by Jack Murphy, a Sheffield engineer and one of the leaders of the National Shop Stewards movement.

It was also interesting to read this book against the new facility of reading the on line Hansard archives which bring to light the debates in the Commons on the issues that Hochschild narrates. And here is one minor mystery. The episode relating to 2nd Lt Seigfried Sassoon's famous renunciation of the war and his open letter which was published by Sylvia Pankhurst's 'Workers Dreadnought' a letter written by Sasson with the help of Betrand Russell, tells us that the letter was 'read out in the House of Commons' - but no reading of Hansard bears that assertion out. Perhaps someone knows why, or can better explain ?

However, I will conclude on one even bigger mystery and one still capable of making the headlines now, if someone can make the issue stand up. In one section, Hochschild refers to a British shortage of high class optical glass needed for accurate gun sights and the like, and argues that to overcome this, the UK turned to German suppliers, who - I imagine only after permission from the German government - responded positively. If true, this is explosive (sorry for the pun) even now, nearly a century on. Hochschild says that Cabinet Papers he had seen (at, I presume, the National Archives at Kew) bear this out, but that 'they have now been withdrawn'. I would hope that even now, any MP who reads this, could table a Parliamentary Question or a FOI request to clear this one matter up, and to mark closure.

David Walsh


Bright Particular Stars: A Gallery of Glorious British Eccentrics
Bright Particular Stars: A Gallery of Glorious British Eccentrics
by David McKie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 20.76

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars McKie's latest Gazateer, 3 July 2011
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Bright Particular Stars - David McKie

David McKie is one of those English institutions that, if they did not exist, would have to be invented. A former deputy editor of the Guardian, and the man who perhaps more than anyone else can be said to be the owner of the mantle of C P Scott or Malcolm Muggeridge, he is probably best known through a set of pseudonyms used for past weekly columns there - 'Smallweed' and 'Elsewhere'.

He is also an author, and his genre is exploring the national character of these isles. These are from the bottom up with a vengeance. One book is on the country and the towns that can be seen and savoured from the nation's humble bus services. Another, 'McKies Gazetteer' takes us to otherwise humdrum towns, but which conceal strange and often bizarre histories. This new volume is in the same genre, but here he focuses on the human element - those eccentric or enigmatic characters who, for various reasons, batten on to a particular settlement and who, for better or for worse, leave their mark there.

I have to make a confession here. Like the previous reviewer, I have links to David McKie. These are far more tenuous however. I did correspond with him over some of his columns, and after reading McKie's Gazetteer, I did recommend one village near to where I live, as being worthy of inclusion in any successor volume. He responded, met with me on site so to speak, and now the small Cleveland village of Boosbeck appears in this volume alongside ther muscular proto-green Rolf Gardiner and leftist composer Michael Tippett.

Unlike the earlier book, this is more structured, and is set in strict in chronological order. Thus, the first entry centres on Chepstow and the Reverend William Gilpin, who, in the 1770's wrote a guide to the towns that like Chepstow, lie on the, then industrial River Wye. Arguably this is is the first ever tour guide, and so the very first progenitor of the book that is being reviewed here. The book ends on the strange incidents at Rendelsham, Suffolk, where, in 1980, otherwise hard headed US Air Force personnel at the air base there met what they claimed were alien life forms who had landed in a UFO, and where after reading of both the findings of a Ufologist, a Brenda Butler, and the history of the Rendelsham area, McKie suggests that they had, in fact 'come to meet the leader' in this case, the 7th century Saxon chieftain Raedwald, the probable identity of the man of importance who was buried in the nearby Luton Hoo burial ship.

In between we meet people like High Miller, a Cromarty stonemason and geologist who rose to become the editor of the biggest circulation Edinburgh newspaper, and who could have said to have died after the sheer weight of contradiction between his Calvinism and his literal interpretation of the bible and the equally sheer weight of fossil and geological evidence pointed to an immeasurably older Earth than the Bible could suggest overtook his mind, Ralph Ward - Jackson, a hard headed and autocratic Victorian businessman who built the new town of West Hartlepool up in a venture to turn it into an East Coast Liverpool, but who fell so foul of the vicar that he installed in his newly built Parish Church, that he attempted to brick up both the minister and his congregation in their very church, Sidney Yates, a Blackburn ironfounder who bankrolled Blackburn Olympic FC, a works team that took and beat the massed expertise and self-confidence of the Old Etonian X1 in the 1883 FA Cup, and this breaking forever the previous football hegemony of the Public Schools and the smart regiment. Finally we meet Lady Lucy Houston, a barking mad Camberwell's box-makers daughter who married into late Victorian high society and gold dug her entrée into the new century by bankrolling a magazine, the 'Saturday Review' so it could be an outlet for her far right political views and for her apalling poetry. An admirer of Hitler and Mussolini, she inadvertently become part of their nemesis by underwriting, when the government backed out, the design and construction of R J Mitchell's Supermarine S.6B seaplane, which both secured the Schneider Trophy for the nation, and acted as the effective prototype of the wartime Spitfire.

Not all the chapters are as interesting as these. Some are in fact rather boring, unless you have a real empathy for the characters who inhabit those particular pages.

At the very end is a rather odd coda, written around a small museum of the commonplace of the recent household past (old TV's, radios, kitchen furniture and the like) and which in it's elegy for the days now gone, makes me feel that David McKie has penned his literary final encore. Can I say that I hope that this is not the case.

David Walsh


Restless Revolutionaries: A History of Britain's Fight for a Republic
Restless Revolutionaries: A History of Britain's Fight for a Republic
by Clive Bloom
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.18

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Restless revolutionaries and our 'united' kingdom, 13 May 2011
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Restless Revolutionaries: A History of Britain's Fight for a Republic - Clive Bloom

This is an odd, enigmatic and rather interesting book. Bloom, a writer I have never come across before, uses the book to explore the history of republicanism and radicalism in Britain from an interesting and unusual perspective.

Central to the book is that the concept of `republicanism' - the explicit disavowal of the monarchic state - is not one that is sited within the sole domain of the `left' of UK politics (although the left is a large component). He includes other currants - Scots and Welsh republicanism, millennialism, religious dissent and also home grown fascisms as all fitting into this cachet.

He also makes the point that Britain was also very much a fountainhead of republicanism in the wider world. After all, the beheading of Charles the First, the Cromwellian Commonwealth and 1688 were, up the day the Bastille was stormed, the only real example of `how it could be done' although the founding of the USA also featured.

After the 14th July, France became the exemplar, and as North Easterner, I was fascinated to read that Marat had served his political apprenticeship in Newcastle, and in the atmosphere of the radical clubs and currents of that Northumbrian City. From Gallowgate to the guillotine, perhaps ?

Bloom then leads us down the more well-trodden paths of Northern dissent, Chartism and the later republicanism associated with people like Harney, Morris, Marx and Engels. Here we are on territory already well explored by both Edward and Dorothy Thompson and, more latterly, by David Howell and Tristram Hunt.

He also picks up strongly on the Irish situation, the 1798 rising and the constant low level insurgency that followed for the rest of the century.

For Irish republicanism, the fight for a free Ireland would be waged wherever Irishmen and women were, and this meant Fenian insurrection on a global scale, involving a farcical attempt to invade Canada from upstate New York, with the aim of planting a new free Ireland on Canadian soil, the setting up of Irish based Trade Unions in the coalfields of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, collaboration with the French to mount Irish invasions and leading a gold miners revolt in New South Wales.

English radicals, Bloom shows, were supportive of the Fenians. Even Engels, he alleges, went well beyond his normal landscape of writing and radical journalism to instead physically assist Fenians to escape police capture following an armed shoot out in Manchester.

Most English Radicals too, accepted the freedom and autonomy of Scotland - and as a bit of afterthought - Wales too. Bloom tells us that throughout this period, what can only be called a federalist republican tricolour was often seen on marches and rallies. It was rather like an inverted Italian national flag with three equal, horizontal, bands of Red, White and Green. Indeed, he mentions that its last attested appearance was as a spoiler at the coronation of the late King George the Sixth hung out from the window of a London family with, no doubt, a pretty long memory ! Come the next coronation, one hopes this flag will be reinstated to its rightful place in the iconography of dissent.

In passing he also gives an unanswered and tantalising history of the `other flag - the Red Flag - accepted throughout as the socialist standards by the late Victorian period. Its first appearance, he says, was at the masthead of those ships of the line captured by their crews at the mutinies of the Nore and Spithead in 1798. But what was its significance there ? No-one seems to know.

From the turn of the century, the book takes on a more ragged appearance and seems to show that the writer was conscious of an approaching deadline.

The great upheavals of 1911 are covered but briefly, if at all.
Dublin in 1916 gets but a couple of pages, and the temper of 1919 - the one year when some form of revolutionary uprising could have really been on the cards is also glossed over, although Bloom does give us some of the fears and forebodings of Lloyd George and King George the Fifth.

The book then hurtles into a rapid schematic of the rise of present day Scots and Welsh nationalism, a short chapter on what a Fascist UK may have been like, had some of Mosley's political soldiers been given their heads, a mention of Tom Wintringham, the man who saw himself, via the founding of the WW2 Home Guard as the new New Model Army's leader and putters out in a discussion on what were probably beer or chemical fuelled fantasies of some youths on the Isle of Man who had plans to create a Soviet in the land of hoteliers, offshore tax evaders, hedge fund merchants and Jeremy Clarkson's family.

Missing is any final chapter, where all these webs needed to be pulled together, but that aside, it was a book that kept me engrossed in the minutiae of dissent for two whole days and which I recommend as a rattling good yarn across half a millennia.

David Walsh


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