The tale of the lonesome pine cone

I went for a walk this morning and found a pine cone. How exciting! How thrilling! What a way to start a story. But when I found the pine cone I was in the middle of one of two roads that had divided in the woods. The road I had travelled ran through fields with no trees in sight, not one, and certainly not a tree that has pine cones. So where had it come from?
Had it rolled there? Had it dropped from a fir tree and rolled all the way down the hill and somehow onto the road? Except, there was no hill.
Or was it dropped by a migrating African Swallow. Flying high up in the clear blue sky clutching its treasure before its grip failed and the pine cone fell to earth. Perhaps, but it was a very ordinary pine cone. There was nothing to attract a Swallow.
Perhaps it had been carried there. A child might have collected it when out walking and then dropped it by accident as they became tired on the walk home. Maybe their daddy picked them up to carry them home for Sunday lunch and the pine cone fell from their hand.

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Had it been a find by a squirrel that was then challenged as a thief? Running from its pursuers was the squirrel forced to relinquish its precious? No. Squirrels might take a pine cone but not out of the woods and onto an open road.
I looked at the pine cone and found myself transported back to a little café I like in Amsterdam that has a fir tree outside. A café where I have sat and watched the sun go down while eating Madeleines.
I shook myself. Perhaps it had been placed there by God. As a test. Arriving in a shaft of sunlight from the heavens it would puzzle and bemuse, but would it lead to faith?
Now the pine cone was starting to annoy me. I turned my back. I walked on. A little later I returned.

The pine cone was no longer there.

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I love stories

I love stories.
I have been entranced listening to a story teller who made me laugh and cry.
I have curled up with a book on a wet Sunday afternoon and lost track of time.
I have sat in the dark of a cinema mesmerised by the images on the screen.

 

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One of my earliest memories is sitting on my mother’s knee with the big story book in front of me. I remember the pride when, at the age of four, I was given my first library ticket. I can recall the excitement of diving under the Christmas tree for the book shaped present that I knew was mine. I’ll never forget squabbling with my sister over ‘Little Women’ because we both wanted to be Jo. I wrote my first story at the age of eight and was amazed at what I had created.

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Stories run through us like the blood in our veins and I am puzzled when I hear people argue over ‘real’ books or digital books or about books or films. Why does it matter? Stories matter. How you come to the story is purely choice. Rather than argue over ‘real’ books versus digital why not celebrate the wealth of stories that abound, the creativity of the story tellers and the ingenuity of their medium.

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And I was a much better Jo than my sister. I was born in November. My sister wasn’t.

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Mata Hari: the enduring fantasy

Mata Hari is a name that still resonates 100 years after her execution for espionage. But why do we find female spies in general and Mata Hari in particular so fascinating?
Why should we remember a woman who betrayed her adopted country, a self-proclaimed international woman and a serial fantasist? Was it the times in which she lived, the mysteries of spying? Or was it the woman with immense sex appeal and sheer bravado that broke all the rules that still fascinates today?

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No-one can think about Mata Hari without thinking about her sex appeal. A woman who boldly declared:

‘From the time that I was a child I loved men: a strongly built male brought me to a state of ecstasy’.

Even those who know nothing about her cannot help but be attracted by the images of her in her eastern costumes. The craze for exotica was all the rage in Paris in the early 1900s and Mata Hari exploited that for all it was worth. Using her black hair and dark liquid eyes she knew how to excite men. She never danced naked but gave sensual performances that captivating audiences. She was the embodiment of the sexy spy; unattainable and dangerous she was every man’s dream. Even the name Mata Hari, eye of the dawn, entices and tempts us. The real spies were, of course, mousey creatures that no-one gave a glance and their names, if we ever knew them, have long been forgotten. We do not want the reality, we crave the excitement of the fantasy. An intriguing name, declared love of sex, a carefully crafted exotic image and dancing in transparent chiffon, Mata Hari could not fail to entrance. The women of the time were still in corsets and floor length skirts while she moved sinuous hips and arms across candle lit stages. The can-can girls of the Moulin Rouge were fun, enthusiastic French girls, but here was a creature from the east that promised everything.

Of course she wasn’t from the east at all, being from a small Dutch town in Friesland but she was a fantasist that loved life. In a world of work and responsibilities, the rest of us are often bemused by those who live their fantasies and she did just that. She blurred the lines between reality and fantasy years before ‘fake news’ was ever coined as a phrase and did it with such style and élan that even when her lies were exposed she was always forgiven. Mata Hari claimed she never spied for Germany but took their money as ‘payment’ for her furs that they had impounded at the start of the war. We may believe her or not but to take the money and not do any spying? Now that takes nerve. And to do so with a smile and a kiss on the lips? That took Mata Hari! Those work-a-day successful spies whose names we have long since forgotten give us stories of worthy heroism but she gives us fantasy. And for all she was amazing and wonderful she was also human with a million human flaws, just like us. She was stupid but sharp-witted, she was promiscuous but loving, enchanting but ruthless, self-willed and self-obsessed, simple but scheming, mercenary but spendthrift, infuriating but alluring. Mata Hari was just like us and yet was not. She defies categorisation but remains fascinating. A girl from a small town that became an international woman.

An international woman who danced easily into the hidden world of spying and intrigue. A world that is utterly fascinating, probably because it is so hidden. The enduring success of the James Bond franchise is proof of that. The fantasy of James Bond allows us to ride fast cars, visit exotic locations, outwit other countries’ secret agents, all from the safety of a cinema seat. With Mata Hari we can equally live the life of the international spy but with the added edge of excitement that come from the fact that hers is a true story. How could this social butterfly with no apparent head for politics worm secrets out of her many lovers? Well we can all imagine how. The reality of espionage work; copying files, passing information in brown envelopes may be vital but ultimately dreary work. Making love in the afternoon on the chaise lounge of a general’s office with the excitement of potential discovery at any moment? That is the stuff of fantasy, that was Mata Hari’s life.

But this was a life being lived against the backdrop of the Great War. The tragedy of the war to end all wars that resulted in the deaths of so many millions. The world can be a scary and unpredictable world. Society creates rules that give order and comfort, especially in times of stress. If the rules are broken, then what? In peace time those who break the rules are daring, exciting and even to be admired, even while their antics are still somewhat constrained. You can go so far, but no further. But Mata Hari? She went further, she always went further than anyone else. Which was fine until war broke out. In war time, we all buckle down, even most rule breakers, and ‘do our bit’. Mata Hari did not buckle down. She did not change her clothes for the sombre greys and browns of the Paris matrons. She did not stop drinking champagne and flirting with officers. She had been the colourful butterfly that we all, secretly, wanted to be. But then it was time for all to pull together. The joke of taking the Germans’ money but doing no spying was no longer funny. And then when it all went wrong and she ended up in front of a firing squad, we could all heave a sigh of relief; the rule breaker had been punished, the social order restored, everything was going to be all right. And yet…the memory of that colourful butterfly remained.

Like the ‘safe’ scare of a fairground ride, the story of Mata Hari allows us to dip into her world of fantasy, albeit at a safe distance. We can look at her photographed in all her ‘eastern’ glory and imagine how ‘we’ would have done things differently; we would not have got caught. A fantasist with sex appeal who dabbled in the world of espionage and broke all the moral codes of the day, she was the ultimate female spy and remains, unlike many of her more successful colleagues, unforgettable.

This blog was originally published on The history Press website
https://www.thehistorypress.co.uk/articles/mata-hari-the-enduring-fantasy/

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Books I have loved

I have loved books all my life. They have made me laugh and cry. They have had me screaming in anger and frustration and one – I may name it later- got chucked out the window. A friend recently challenged me to name my favourite three books. I failed the challenge, miserably, as I could only cut the list down to ten after several days of deliberation, aided by a couple of glasses of wine. So for those that are interested, here are the final ten, in no particular order.

 

 

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1 The thirty years war: C.V. Wedgewood

The most brilliant narrative story telling of the history of the thirty years war. Every detail is there, every motive examined. History as it should be written.

2 Hotel Savoy: Joseph Roth

A searing view of Europe in 1932. The Hotel Savoy is full of drifters, penniless aristocrats and intriguing revolutionaries all waiting for something to happen.

3 The Tortoises: Veza Canetti

The Nazis have marched into Austria and into the life and home, literally, of  writer Andreas Kain. He has to flee but how and where?

4 The Discovery of Heaven: Harry Mulisch

Religion, friendship, the meaning of life, this books contains it all. And it starts with a conversation between two angels!

5 The Transylvanian Trilogy: Miklós Bánffy

The fall of the idyllic pre-industrial world of Hungarian Transylvania into the Nazis and then the Communists. The crumbling of certainty into self destruction.

(And yes I know I’ve sneaked three books in under the guise of one – I did say I’d failed the challenge.)

6 The Diary of a young girl: Anne Frank

The young woman who inspires me to write every day.

7 Dreamers: Elaine Feinstein

Imperial decline and societal change in 1848 Vienna. Dreamers follows the lives of women and Jews as they negotiate a changing world.

8 The Wide Sargasso Sea: Jean Rhys

The lush heavy atmosphere of Jamaica explores the early life of Antoinette Cosway before she ever saw the England of Jane Eyre.

9 Summer before the Dark: Volker Weidermann

Set in Ostend in 1936 a mix of artists and intellectuals spend the summer dreaming and discussing themselves, their beliefs and the looming spectre of fascism.

10 Peacemakers: Margaret MacMillian

An unflinching look at the Paris Peace conference of 1919. If you want to understand European and Middle Eastern politics today this is the book for you.

 

And the one that got chucked out the window? The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. I gave up half way through the first chapter and tried to throw it onto my desk but it slid off out the open window and landed in the garden.

 

——-oOo——–

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How Belgium ‘lost’ the Great War.

In August 1914 German troops crossed the Belgian border and the Great War started. In 1919 Peace Conference in Paris decided on the German reparations, the borders between Romania and Hungary. The worked on the issues of Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Austria, Poland and Italy. In April 1919, the Belgian delegates arrived and asked why they had been forgotten.

Almost all of Belgium had been occupied in the war. They had suffered all the usual depredations of war but in addition the German war machine had stripped the country of anything useful including; machinery, factories, transport and livestock. By the winter of 1918/1919 the country was starving and had to rely on food aid from the Allies. By April 1919 demonstrators were on the streets of Brussels with placards that read ‘Has England forgotten August 1914?’

The Council of Four: President Woodrow Wilson; Prime Minister Lloyd George; Prime Minister, Georges Clemenceau and Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando had indeed forgotten Belgium. When reminded, their response was less than gracious. Wilson ignored them and concentrated on ‘bigger issues’. This had been his response to many of the smaller countries in Europe and underlined his lack of understanding of European history, politics and geography. Lloyd George thought the Belgians were being greedy in their requests for extending their territory on the German border and was reported to have said ‘Belgium lost comparatively few man in the war… they had not made a greater sacrifice than Great Britain.’ It was a crass remark and did little to enhance his reputation in Europe. Clemenceau supported Lloyd George’s position and suspected that the Belgians were using the peace negotiations to annexe Luxembourg. In one bitter exchange between Clemenceau and Paul Hymans the Belgian foreign minister, Clemenceau told Hymans ‘the best thing you can do for Belgium is die or resign’.

The main demand from the Belgians was to receive war reparations, including a priority payment to get the country on its feet. In Belgium’s case the costs of war included all the borrowing their government had been forced to take on as well as the destroyed industry, agriculture and infrastructure. While Wilson was sympathetic and put forward a figure of $500 million. Lloyd George and Clemenceau disagreed and spent the following years whittling the figure down as much as they could. Germany delayed payment as long as possible and Lloyd George and Clemenceau both refused to put pressure on the Germans to pay. Belgium did not receive its priority payment until 1925 and never received its full payment from Germany.

 

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The cloth hall in Ypres.

It has never been satisfactorily explained why Belgium was treated so shabbily at the Peace Conference. The Council of Four were tired; they were dealing with several contentious issues; Wilson and Lloyd George had domestic politics that were demanding their attention. This was all true but had been true throughout the conference and Belgium was an ally that had been lauded as ‘plucky little Belgium’ in 1914. The diaries of Wilson, Lloyd George, Clemenceau and Orlando remain frustratingly blank on this issue.

  

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European women’s suffrage

Rumours abound in Britain that a general election is just round the corner. The reaction of many people is: ‘not another election!’ While our politicians may irritate and annoy we should remember just how recent the right to vote is, especially for women. Here is a list of when women were granted the vote in the various European countries.

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1689

 Friesland: Female landowners are allowed to vote in elections to the States of Friesland in rural districts.

1718

 Sweden: Female taxpaying members of city guilds are allowed to vote in local city elections (rescinded in 1758) and national elections (rescinded in 1772):

1734

 Sweden: Female taxpaying property owners of legal majority are allowed to vote in local countryside elections (never rescinded).

1862

 Sweden: limited to local elections with votes graded after taxation; universal franchise achieved in 1919, which went into effect at the 1921 elections.

1863

 The Grand Duchy of Finland ( Russian Empire): limited to taxpaying women in the countryside for municipal elections; and in 1872, extended to the cities.

1864

 Kingdom of Bohemia (Austrian Empire): limited to taxpaying women and women in “learned professions” who were allowed to vote by proxy and made eligible for election to the legislative body in 1864.

1869

 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland: limited to single women ratepayers for local elections under the Municipal Franchise Act. (Partial female suffrage in national elections in 1918; universal franchise in 1928.)

1894

 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland: Local Government Act confirms single women’s right to vote in local elections and extends this franchise to some married women.

1898

 Denmark: Danske Kvindeforeningers Valgretsforbund (Danish Women’s Society’s Suffrage Union) founded in Copenhagen

 Latvia (Russian Empire)

1906

 Grand Duchy of Finland (Russian Empire) (first in Europe to give women the right to vote and stand for parliament as the result of 1905 Russian Revolution).

1908

 Denmark (limited to local elections)

1911

 Portugal: the law was shortly thereafter altered to specify only literate male citizens over the age of 21 had the right to vote.

1913

 Norway

1915

 Denmark (including Iceland) (full voting rights)

1917

 Belarusian People’s Republic

 Estonia

 Latvia 

 Lithuania

1918

 Austria

 Germany

 Hungary Limited to women over the age of 24 who were literate. (full suffrage granted in 1945)

 Poland

 United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (limited to women over 30, compared to 21 for men and 19 for those who had fought in World War One; various property qualifications remained/

1919

 Belgium (limited to voting at municipal level)

 Hungarian Soviet Republic universal suffrage to trade union members only

 Isle of Man – all adults could vote or be elected – Widows and single women who owned property could vote from 1881.

 Luxembourg

 Netherlands (right to stand in election protected in 1917)

 Sweden (legalised, first election 1921)

1920

 Albania

 Czechoslovakia

1922

 Irish Free State (equal parliamentary suffrage upon independence from UK. Partial suffrage granted as part of UK in 1918.)

1924

 Spain (limited to single women and widows in local elections.)

1925

 Italy (limited to local elections)

1928

 United Kingdom (franchise made equal to that for men by the Representation of the People Act 1928)

1929

 Romania (limited to local elections only, with restrictions)

1931

 Portugal (with restrictions following level of education)

 Spain (universal suffrage)

1934

 Portugal (suffrage is expanded)

1935

 Irish Free State (equal suffrage at local elections, partial suffrage as part of the UK from 1869, extended in 1918)

1937

 Bulgaria (limited to mothers with legitimate children voting in local elections)

1939

 Romania (women are granted suffrage on equal terms with men with restrictions on both men and women; in practice the restrictions affected women more than men)

1944

 Bulgaria (full rights)

1945

 France

 Italy

 Yugoslavia

1946

 Portugal (expands suffrage)

 Romania (extended to full rights)

1947

 Malta

1948

 United Nations adopted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 21

 Belgium

1952

 Greece

1959

 Vaud (Swiss canton)

1960s

 Geneva (Swiss canton)

1966

 Basel-Stadt (Swiss canton)

1968

 Basel-Landschaft (Swiss canton)

 Portugal (a select few electoral rights were reserved for men)

1970s

 Andorra

1971

  Switzerland (federal level)

1976

 Portugal (full suffrage)

1984

 Liechtenstein

1991

 Appenzell Innerrhoden (Swiss canton) was forced to accept women’s suffrage by the Federal Supreme Court of Switzerland

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The Great Polar Explorers

Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen, the great Polar explorers, have left stories of adventure and heroism that have, arguably, never been surpassed. But what drove these three men and why did Amundsen succeed while Scott failed and why did Shackleton survive while Scott did not?

Robert Falcon Scott was an Establishment man through and through. This gave him all the advantages of the British class system at the turn of the century but also laid a heavy burden on him. A Royal Navy officer tasked with maintaining the Empire’s prestige in exploration, Scott seldom spoke of why he wanted to go to Antarctica. Like many men of his class Scott had a peculiar attitude towards some animals. Those that are considered companions animals such as dogs were pets, not beasts of burden. Horses were close to every Englishman’s heart: they could be trained for any task. So Scott decided to use sturdy little Siberian ponies for his polar trip. For some reason he decided there was no need to send Captain Laurence Oates, the horse expert, to buy them. As a result when the ponies arrived Oates said they were as good as useless. What was also an obvious fact, but one that Scott dismissed, was that ponies are herbivores. Vast quantities of hay would have to be transported to the Antarctic to feed them.

When Scott started his polar expeditions neither he nor any of the men on his team knew how to ski. A Royal Navy officer he had few qualifications for polar exploration. With the breezy attitude of his class he felt that they could easily learn to ski when they arrived in Antarctica. Which they did. In contrast Amundsen’s team were all able to ski before they left Norway: they had all been skiing since childhood. In addition, Amundsen’s team had, due to the weather in Scandinavia, vastly more experience in severe cold and blizzard conditions. Once again, Scott felt that his team would acclimatise quickly once they arrived in the Antarctic.

When Scott’s team were approaching the south pole in 1911, they could see something dark up ahead. Were their eyes paying tricks on them? Was it some bare rock? As they got closer they could see it was the remains of a tent with a tattered Norwegian flag. They had reached the south pole, the pinnacle of polar expeditions, only to find out they had been beaten by Amundsen by about 32 days. The photograph taken at the pole shows the emotion on the men’s faces. They were in desperate straits. Five men with no ponies, they had all died, barely enough food to last them to the next food cache and only a four man tent. Emotionally and physically they were exhausted and Captain Oates was already injured. The trek back would see all five of the team die in the icy wastes.

 

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Ernest Shackleton wrote of the Antartica as the enemy, the great white beast. He said he was drawn to explore the area after a vivid dream. He was not part of the British Establishment having been born and raised in Ireland before the family moved to England. With a background in the merchant navy, he remained something of an outsider. Being outside the British class system gave him a freedom that was not open to Scott. This freedom would play a crucial role in Shackleton’s attitude in his later polar expeditions.

Shackleton’s first expedition had been as an officer on Scott’s trip of 1901-4 from which he was sent home early on health grounds. In 1907-9 during the Nimrod expedition, Shackleton and his team established a new record Farthest South latitude at 88°S, only 180 kilometres from the South Pole. After the race to the South Pole ended in December 1911, with Roald Amundsen’s conquest, Shackleton attempted to cross the Antarctica from sea to sea, via the pole in 1914. The expedition’s ship, the Endurance, became trapped and crushed in the pack ice. The crew escaped by camping on the sea ice and then launched the lifeboats to reach South Georgia Island, an ocean voyage of 1,330 km. Led by Shackleton everyone survived. In contrast to Scott, Shackleton readily adopted many of the methods being developed by the Norwegian team, especially the use of dogs, in his later exploration work.

 

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Shackleton was determined to defeat the Antarctic but when he and his team ran into difficulties he turned back. He wasn’t an Establishment man and thus free from the weight of expectation, he had the freedom to turn back. He was not willing to sacrifice his men to the white beast.

What is most notable about the work of the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen is the preparation, which took over two years. Every part of their kit was tested and re-tested before they set off. Their clothing was made from sealskin designed to mmimic the clothing of Greenland Inuits. Their sledges and skies were made from Norwegian ash and American hickory. The combination of these two woods giving the greatest amount of movement without slippage. They developed tents with built-in floors that required only a single pole, vastly superior to the tents used by Scott. And for cooking on the move, they used the Swedish Primus stove which took up less pace on the sleds. Most notably Amundsen used dogs instead of ponies. As carnivores the dogs and could be fed on seals, fish and penguins. Once in the interior of Antarctica, when the dogs were worn out and no longer able to pull their sleds they were slaughtered and feed to the other dogs. A rationale solution to feeding them. For the trip to the south pole Amundsen’s team used one hundred North Greenland trained sled dogs.

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Roald Amundsen was a skilled explorer, a good leader and had spent years preparing for the south pole expedition. His success in reaching the pole was one that unfortunately was eclipsed at the time by the tragic death of Scott. It has now, quite rightly,   been recognised for the remarkable achievement it was.

Should Scott be blamed for the actions that cost him and his team their lives? Or was he a victim of his time and class that coloured his decisions regarding sled animals, early preparation and stopped him from learning from the previous Norwegian expeditions? Did Scott care more concerned for success than the lives of his men? In contrast, was Shackleton too concerned with safety rather than pushing on his exploration? Amundsen achieved what neither Scott nor Shackleton could. Was that down to leadership, luck or superior equipment? The final word rests with Shackleton who called Amundsen ‘perhaps the greatest polar explorer of today’.

—oOo—

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The Putten Raid

On the night of 30 September 1944, the Dutch resistance ambushed a car carrying two officers and two corporals of the German Wehrmacht near the Oldenallerbrug bridge between the village of Putten and Nijkerk. One of the officers, Leutenant Otto Sommer was injured in the ambush but escaped and made his way to a nearby farmhouse where he raised the alarm. Although not thought to be seriously injured he died on the 1st October. The second German officer. Oberleutenant Eggart was taken prisoner by the resistance fighters. He had also been injured. On the 1st of October he was left at the roadside relatively near to a checkpoint. He was subsequently found by the Germans and recovered from his injuries. The two corporals fled during the ambush. One of the resistance fighters, Frans Slotboom, was wounded during the attack and later died.

On the afternoon of the 1st October a German reprisal raid was conducted.  General Friedrich Christiansen ordered his troops to surround the Putten. All of the inhabitants of the village were rounded up and marched into the village square. Six men and a woman were shot dead during the raid. Over one hundred houses in the village were set alight. The women and men were then separated. The women were held at the church until 9pm, while the men and boys were detained separately nearby at the village school. The following day, 661 men between the ages of 18 and 50 were taken to Polizeiliches Durchgangslager Amersfoort camp. On the 4th October  59 of the older unfit men were released. The remaining 602 men left Amersfoort on the 11 October and were taken by train to Neuengamme concentration camp as forced labour. During the transportation, 13 men escaped by jumping off the train. From Neuengamme, some were moved to other camps or sub-camps, including LadelundBergen-BelsenMeppenVersenBeendorfWöbbelin and Malchow. Although none of the men were known to be in the resistance the Germans treated them as if they were and the men were subsequently used for slave labour as well as being deliberately tortured.  Several of the men were kept in small cages at the camps which prevented them from standing and kept them in stress position for prolonged periods in some cases months.  A total of 552 men and 1 woman died, mostly victims of torture, malnutrition, slave labour and infectious diseases. Only 48 men  returned after the end of the war, but another 5 died due to their mistreatment after they arrived home. Of those who had been kept in the cages, all were crippled for the rest of their lives.

A monument commemorating the victims of the raid was unveiled by Queen Juliana on 1 October 1949. The monument includes a memorial park designed by Jan Bijhouwer. The garden includes 660 symbolic graves and a sandstone statue the ‘treurende weduwe’ (mourning widow) by Mari Andriessen, better known as ‘het Vrouwtje van Putten’ (The little Lady of Putten). The statue looks toward the Oude Kerk (Old Church) in Putten, from where the men were deported.

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—oOo—

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Rewriting

Well I’ve finally finished the rewriting of my witchcraft book, which is now sitting on my publishers desk,  so no longer have an excuse for not blogging. The rewriting had been a very interesting process looking at my previous work and seeing how it could be changed and improved in light of new information that I have discovered and also new perspectives I have gained since I originally wrote the book some ten years ago.

Writing is a real craft and I strive to work on and improve with each new piece of work I  produce. I have been very lucky. I have friends  who have given me honest advice and feedback on what I have written. I also read and absorb  the comments I receive from strangers even if I don’t always agree.

So I will be back blogging soon on various topics and look forward to getting back to reading some of the amazing content on the blogs I follow.

 

 

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Writing pressures

Well I haven’t posted for quite some time. Does this mean I’m a very busy writer or just a disorganised one?

While I’ve been away I’ve completed two articles for the Saunière Society’s Journal . One about the mystery teenager Kaspat Hauser from 19th century Nuremberg and the other about Ecsedi Báthory Erzsébet from Transylvania.

I’ve also been writing about the history of weaving in Scotland for an exhibition on woollen mills.

I’m in the midst of rewriting my book on the Scottish witchcraft trials of the 17th century, The Borders Burnings.

I’m planning out a future book inspired by a friend who has been researching his family tree.

And finally I’ve just received confirmation of my book commission on the history of Stow of Wedale; a rural parish in the lovely Scottish Borders.

So maybe I can safely claim to be a busy writer after all, even if I am also a disorganised one!

UnderwoodKeyboard

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