Labour MP Kerry McCarthy reveals the love notes she was sent



When we choose our members of parliament we have a number of expectations of them which must be fairly common to all MP’s of all parties. They include that they are fairly robust characters who can handle themselves in most social situations; that they have some experience of life and all that life can throw at you; that they know, from the history of the world, that politics is a dangerous profession, full of intrigue, conspiracy, malice, back biting and ruthless ambition; that they will be thanked for little and blamed for much. That they appreciate all of this, can deal with it and are not, to use a fairly new appellation, “snowflakes”

They will be aware, from common knowledge that a good looking young woman, or a good looking young man will, attract attention; attention that is often unwelcome. They will be chatted up, complimented, treated; there will be come on’s, chancers who fancy themselves as Lotharios, seducers and unpleasant men, or women, who under the influence of alcohol, or perhaps without the assistance of alcohol at all, who will cross the line, put a hand on the knee or a squeeze on the buttock. Or worse. Much worse.

We would reasonably expect the type of person elected to be an MP, man or woman, to be confident enough and wise enough and robust enough to take such matters in their stride. To say NO with sufficient assertiveness to bring such unwelcome attention to an end. To say, if necessary “piss off” “no chance” “get lost” to slap, to punch, even stub out a cigarette on the unwelcome straying hand,, to reject in no uncertain terms any such unwelcome approaches.

We must accept that there are, of course, men and women, many men and women, who would not be so confident or assertive, who might be in a position of being subject to the power of he or she who makes unwelcome approaches. They are unlikely to put themselves forward as members of parliament.

Mr. Hopkins MP is one who made, according to his colleague Ms McCarthy MP, such unwelcome approaches. We followed with suitable horror the unfolding allegations against him and waited with baited breath to be appalled by the gruesome details of his offences. Ms McCarthy, as one would expect of a public figure, a political figure, is skilled in the art of the press release and the embargo and she warned us to expect the disclosures as being bang to rights evidence of Mr. Hopkins sexual predatory instincts and behaviour. It was going to be bad, very bad, for their relationship, as fellow members of parliament, was not characterised by one being in a position of power over the other. They were equals and yet the predator had still struck.

And now it has come. She has, Ms. McCarty, the usual familiarity of members of parliament with the ways of the press. A full set of press emails addresses, personal contact with selected journalists; daily contact with armies of reporters seeking scandal and stories. And she put them all to use.
And the great disclosure was a set of letters and notes, ancient notes, from a time before emails and texts, from a besotted Mr. Hopkins, framed in flirtatious language, designed to be a chat up, an attempt to be more if she would be willing. Nothing more. Not even a hand upon the knee.

She had kept these notes and letters all these years without ever telling Mr. Hopkins to get lost. Denis Healy would have called Mr. Hopkins a silly billy. And he would have called Ms McCarthy a silly billy too.

The average young woman at Tesco’s would have told him to get lost. The woman on the Clapham Omnibus would told him to stick his letters up his nose and that he had no chance. Go away, they would say. Perhaps in a more vernacular style. They would take this nonsense in their stride and get on with their lives. Had it been something more serious, an unwelcome hand on the knee, a crotch rubbing then Mr. Hopkins would deserve to be in greater difficulties and advising him to get would not have been enough..

There is something else. Ms McCarthy claims she makes these traumatic disclosures because she was emboldened by the bravery of another woman who has made allegations against Mr. Hopkins.

There is widespread coverage of the other allegations. Most of us will have read of them and most of us will have seen the response of Mr. Hopkins. His defence may or may not be correct but in all justice and fairness it demands that the allegations against him be subjected to cross-examination in an effective investigation before they are accepted at face value. His response and the written evidence he proffers in support of the response suggests the allegations will not survive an effective cross examination. But of course in the new culture no one must throw doubt on sexual allegations. The victim must be believed.

It is only in the adversarial domain of the witness box that real questioning of both sides can take place. And that, in the new culture, is not necessary, not to be allowed.

Ms McCarthy, as a member of parliament should be, it is suggested, more alert to the needs of fairness and justice than the ordinary mortal. Yet she did not even tell Mr. Hopkins, at any time, of her alleged distress at the notes. More important still, she did not tell him of her carefully prepared and circulated press release of the letters and notes
Some great British sense of fairness is flooding out of us in this new culture and we are now urged, even commanded, to believe allegations of this nature without question, without investigation, without cross examination.
There used to be a similar culture in the United States of America. It was called McCarthyism.


A child of the Army of the Rhine

Viersen. It must have been a small agricultural village at one time. Set in vast acres of open fields of sugar beet and potatoes which ran all the way to the Dutch boarder. It became a satellite village, or a town, to Monchen Gladbach but I suspect it retained its primary agricultural nature until the coming of the railways. A major permanent way was built across the fields to the south east of the village, with sidings and sheds and workshops and a very handsome bahnhof. The rail line ran all the way into Belgium and Holland and North to the industrial Rhur. It was undoubtedly this that attracted the attention of the occupying British forces at the end of the second world war. It became, with its easy rail access to the ports at Antwerp and Ostend, the perfect place to locate a forward supply depot for the Army of the Rhine. Initially they took over the railway sheds and workshops but eventually built a vast depot that employed hundreds of local German civilians and lots and lots of soldiers.

For the soldiers families, they built a series of terraced married quarters, clustered fairly close to the bahnhof. They were not at all unpleasant, not the kind of terraced housing of coronation street or industrial England. They were of good quality with a mix of local German civilian housing, both social and private, with large gardens and well-kept parks and open areas. Being military, they were of course, all painted the same colour with the same coloured doors and the same coloured curtains and the same inventory of furniture inside each property. But we children wouldn’t have noticed such things. For us it was a wonderful place to live. There were five children in our family so we got an end terrace, right next to an open park, 32 Lessing Strasse.

We would go down to the Bahnhof area to watch the trains and to play on the wooded banks of the railway lines. It was the age of steam and the German trains were handsome black beasts snorting and steaming and chuffing and clattering along the tracks, some at high speed others, towing long industrial wagons and cattle trucks of cargo, crawling along for what seemed like hours. On the wooded banks, we would play at soldiers. And why not? All our fathers were soldiers. In fact, most of the regular soldiers, Sgts and so on, had fought in the second world war and had chests full of medal ribbons. Some had been here as occupiers and were now, no longer occupiers but defenders of democracy and the western way of life. The Germans had so recently, within the past 10 to 15 years, been the greatest enemies known to civilisation. It was natural for us to play at soldiers killing imaginary Germans on the banks of the Deutsche bahn. We had picked up, mostly from a regular diet of Commando comics, the
necessary bits of German language with which to play war games. “Achtung!”; “Donner und Blitzen”; “Mien Gott”; Kamerad!” Yawholl mein Kapitan”: “for you Fritz, the war is over” “Britisher tommy, Kamerad Kamerad!”.
We would play for hours, with wooden stick tommy guns and bazookas, ambushing each other and killing Germans until tea time. The elderly Germans tending their allotment gardens at the base of the railway banks would pause and look at us at play and perhaps wonder how the hell it was that they lost the war.

There was a baker’s shop just around the corner from Lessing Strasser, on Schiller Strasse, and my Mum would send me there each morning to buy some freshly baked bread rolls. It was of course, an ideal opportunity for one to practice and display ones increasing command of the German language

“Achtung!, funfh brochen bitte mien Frau” The lady behind the counter would always smile and say “Ahh, Englisher kinder, you would like five bread rolls? “Yawholl mine frau” You see she understood me immediately and without the slightest difficulty.  Supplied with my fresh and warm bread rolls, or brochen, in a brown paper bag, I would then cross the road to the butcher’s shop on the other side, always busy with rather stout German ladies buying sausages’ Again I would display my command of German, “Achtung! Ein viertal shickenwrust bitte” The butcher would smile and say “Ahhh, Britisher kinder, you would some slices of ham sausage like” “Yawhol mien Herr” And he would go to his slicing machine and would often say, for he liked to practice his English “Zee weather is not so gut, ya?” “Yawhol mein Herr” “You zink it rain might?” “Yarwhol mien Herr, vielendank mien Herr”

I am a modest enough chap but I do think they appreciated and were impressed with my attempts to speak their language, certainly I was myself, although I admit to some surprise when, many years later, I failed my German ‘O’ level exams. Back home we would have a warm brochen with butter for breakfast, we were obviously quite sophisticated, we were having continental breakfast before continentals were even invented. And we would have another bread roll mit schinkenwurst, to take to school for lunch. School was in Rheindalen and there was a military school bus to take us there each morning, driven by German civilians, usually ex-Wehrmacht types who all wore old rather shabby field green Wehrmacht uniforms. Getting on the school bus was another opportunity to practice your German. “Achtung!, Gutten Morgen Fritz” “Miner name ist Hans” he would say, and touch the soft peak of his Wehrmacht forage cap and wonder how the hell they managed to lose the war.

There was a rather superior house, a private German residence, on the other side of the small park. There lived therein a fierce German lady who often complained about the noise of the British children playing war games in the park. She ran a business from the house selling overcoats. I know this because my mum bought a coat from her and I went to the house with Mum to choose her coat. The front room was full of rails of overcoats. They were all pretty much the same as far as I could see. Long heavy lengths of woolly material that hung straight down, like a tube, to just above the ankle. I don’t think fashion had been invented then. The German lady was a walking advertisement for her coats and would move around the area in a long tube of material looking terribly fierce. If we saw her coming we would ambush her with our wooden stick tommy guns. “Achtung, donner und blitzen, here Kompt der mantle frau” and we would riddle her with British bullets. I suspect her coats were probably bullet proof. I suppose it might be helpful if I was to put in a footnote or two translating these odd German phrases into English. Especially for those who never picked up the language. However I don’t want this piece to be too academic and if I may be so bold as to suggest that if you are having difficulty then you might just type them into Google translate.

For my thirteenth, or maybe my fourteenth birthday my Dad bought me a bicycle. It changed my young life. It was second hand. The army were closing an accommodation block in Viersen town, used since the war. It was a billet for the National Servicemen, it was on the hill as you pulled out of Viersen en-route for Rheindalen, Anyway the soldiers had the use of these bikes and now, National service was finishing and my Dad had bought one of them for me. It was a Raleigh racing bike, with drop handlebars and a long uncomfortable leather saddle. It had a crudely hand pained white WD  008 serial number on the black frame. I suppose it is possible it was previously owned by one of those 00 M.I.6 agents, but in truth that is hindsight for I do not recall that for the period I am writing about that James Bond had yet been invented. It was a little battered, but for me it was as if it was solid gold and encrusted with diamonds for there was never ever, since the beginning of time, or for all eternity a better present for a boy than a racing bike! The world became our oyster and we would ride through fields and orchards, woods and forests, lakes and rivers and to Monchen Gladbach, White City, Wildenrath, Krefeld and Wickrath and Rheindalen and all over the world. Of course, most German roads had dedicated cycle paths so it was quite safe, and predatory paedophiles had not yet been invented so we always felt secure and happy, our bikes, a brochen mit schinkenwurst and a few deutschmarks to buy a bottle of coke or an ice cream.

I had a lot of friends in Rheindalen and would often cycle up during the school holidays. It was about 10 miles away. We would meet friends in the woods and forests that edged the garrison married quarters. It was there, with, I think, Teasdale and Griffiths and a few others that we discovered bomb making. Tin cans filled with a mixture of sugar and weed killer and detonated with cheap bangers from Brooks fireworks boxes. We spent a glorious day or too blowing up every can we could find, until we ran out of bangers. Proper little jihadists. Of course today we would probably come under surveillance and our every movement tracked by computers and satellites, but then, well, boom boom.

And it was the bike that conveyed me to my first ever date with a girl – of the opposite sex, you know.

It was Janet, who was in my class at Queens. Her dad was in the RAF and she lived out in Bruggen but I met her for a date at the Astra cinema in Rheindalen
for a Saturday Matinee. We snogged in the back seat. My first ever snog. Janet’s too, I think. It had a strange physiological effect upon me, all that kissing. I got the most enormous protruding erection. Didn’t quite understand why. Nor did Janet. Sex education hadn’t been invented then, but we knew it had something to do with all that kissing. It was all a bit embarrassing really. When the lights came up for the intermission before the main feature came on I left Janet to go and buy a couple of tubs of ice creams from the cinema usherette. The physiological phenomime would not subside and I walked down the aisle with an awkward projection beneath my trousers. At least it was pointing in the right direction. Today, whenever I see those Hagen Das ice cream adverts I tend to have erotic thought about Janet. Not that we licked ice-cream off each other, although there was rather a lovely cold vanilla kiss, it just that, well, ice-cream, Janet and the Astra cinema, in some respects life doesn’t get much better than that.

I said goodbye to Janet with another snog round the side of the Astra, by the bike shed where I had parked WD 008. Again, that strange reaction. Janet was rather small and I may have given her stomach or possibly her chest a rather difficult to understand sensation. The reaction would not subside, even when I got on my bike to ride home it persisted. The first two kilometers or so were rather uncomfortable on that hard leather seat. But at least I was pointing in the right direction. I never saw Janet again. Her father was posted out to Singapore and suddenly, she was gone. That tended to happen quite a lot with service family friendships. Made you a bit wary in the end Another advantage of the bike was that it enabled me to take up a paper round. Each Sunday the guardroom at the big supply depot would send a car to Rheindalen to collect the English newspapers. We would cycle to the guardroom and select the newspapers as ordered by each married quarter. All the other rank houses took the News of the World. The officer’s houses also took the News of the World but they liked it inserted inside the Sunday Telegraph or the Sunday Express. Off we would go to deliver the Sunday papers. The tips we received were extremely generous for the soldiers and their families loved getting the English papers, it was really important, there was no telly and news from England was so welcome and they were just delighted to see British schoolboys doing such an English thing as a paper round.

Once a week the estate, if I may call it that, was visited by a mobile NAAFI van. An occasion of great excitement for the families. It was if a relief column had reached an isolated group of survivors under siege in a foreign country. The mobile shop brought us a bit of England, real English products, boxes of Kellogg’s cornflakes, Scots porridge oats, jars of marmalade with golliwogs on them, Marmite and mars bars and packets of spangles. And of course tea. Teabags hadn’t been invented then and tea came loose, if I recall correctly, in small oblong red boxes. It was the highlight of the week for quite a few rather lonely service housewives.

And once a month a mobile library came. It was run, I think, by the WRVS it was there I discovered the famous five novels. I’ve still got one that I perhaps ought to return.

My neighbour, a few doors down, Orwell, had a fantastic collection of dinky toys. All military dinkys. Great rows of tanks, armoured cars, jeeps, trucks, artillery pieces, tank transporters, bren-gun carriers. He would line them all up in the front room. His father was a Sgt in a big vehicle depot in Monchen Gladbach which had acres of real military vehicles drawn up in endless lines, tanks, armoured cars, jeeps, trucks, artillery pieces, tank transporters bren-gun carriers, motorcycles. He was obviously trying to recreate the vehicle depot at home. Practicing I suspect. Orwell may have become someone important in car-parking when he grew up. He used to come to my house with some of his dinkys. I had the most amazing model trainset. A German make, Marklin, yards and yards of track with electric points and signals, model train stations, tunnels and bridges, carriages and wagons. He would blow up my trains with his tanks or we would put the Dinkys on flatbed wagons and watch them go around and around, under the settee and the dining table, into the kitchen and through the tunnels. I think service children did very well for toys. We usually inherited them, really cheaply from soldier’s families who were being posted elsewhere. That’s where I got my train set from. When we left it was all sold to some other family much to my despair. I have this fantasy that when I retire I will buy another railway set, just for me. Of course now that Brexit is here it will have to be a Hornby set rather than a Marklin. But if that is the price of sovereignty, then I shall face it bravely. Another neighbour was Billy Carter with whom I had a fight about Manchester Unitised. I knew nothing about man united or about English football. But
Billy was a fanatic. I must of said something derogatory about them and he cracked me across the head with his arm that happened to be cased in plaster of Paris. I’ve been planning my revenge ever since.

And there was the Hartly girls. The freckle faced Hartly girls. I really fancied the eldest one, Anne I think she was, we got quite close to a snog on the school bus. But after the experience with Janet in the Astra I was a bit worried and it all came to nothing. Its one thing to have a physiological reaction in the dimmed lighting of the Astra cinema, it would be quite another in the broad daylight of the school bus, with Fritz keeping his eye on us all.

I eventually signed on for the Army at the great supply depot where my father worked. I was fifteen and a half!. There was very little else for a service family to consider in the way of work. I did have a spell at the NAAFI shop in Rheindalen before I finally left for my Junior Leaders regiment. Quite enjoyed that. They put me in this small section which sold duty free booze and duty free cigarettes to service families. Very busy as service men seemed to drink and awful lot of booze and smoke an enormous amount of cigarettes.

I could have been Mr. Universe.

I was a skinny kid. You wouldn’t believe it if you saw me today. But I was  real skinny, a proper seven stone weakling. I was forever getting sand kicked in my face. Even in kindergarten, in the sand pit, the other kids would kick sand in my face. And when we lived in Blackpool, well you can guess what happened on the beach. It was the same at Southend on Sea, and Skegness. We lived in Libya for a bit, it was painful in Libya.

Got to the stage I avoided sand, avoided going to the beach. It was too traumatic. Reckon I was suffering from Post Traumatic Sand in the Face Disorder.

When I was about 13 or 14, I saw this advertisement, probably on the back page of one of my comics, or maybe in the Reader’s Digest, but wherever, it seemed to me to be the answer to all my traumas. I clipped the coupon and sent off for the Charles Atlas bodybuilding course. Many a youth did the same, thousands in fact. . Me and Arnold Schwarzenegger for example, who was about the same age as me, and probably clipped the same coupon in the same comic, although, to be fair, he probably took it a bit more seriously than did I.

But the course cost something like Twelve guineas and I didn’t have 12 guineas. I was as weak in the pocket as I was in the body. Of course, these advertisements played upon and exploited all the inadequacies and lack of confidence so common amongst teenage boys, and they knew that somehow such teenagers would find the money, without telling their parents, and take up the offer. So it was that after some diligent saving which included searching for and gathering empty bottles and collecting the 3d refunds thereon, I raised the money. Only by that time it had gone up to 15 guineas.

Charles Atlas claimed that he himself had been a “scrawny weakling” before he discovered the secret of “dynamic tension” and “isotonic exercise”. I never fully understood dynamic tension. Or isotonic exercise. It involved putting your muscles under some stress, pretending to push a wall down, for example, or lifting a stick with pretend weights on it. In fact, I was pretty good at lifting a stick with pretend weights on it. Was a bit disappointed I did not quite develop a Mr. Universe physique by lifting such a stick. I ought to have checked with Arnold Schwarzenegger to see what kind so sticks he was using.

The course was supposed to last about 30 days and there was a money back guarantee. I suspect the guarantee was a bit of a scam. The course did not work for me. I was still getting and kicked in my face after 28 days and I reckon that if I had asked for my money back I would have been told to “Piss off!  year weakling punk, ask for yer money again and I’ll come round and kick sand in your face” Consumer protection laws were not very strong in those days. Yeah, it was probably a scam.

There were other entrepreneurs exploiting teenage boys feelings of angst and dread, their unfocused fears of their inadequacies and the state of the world in general. I clipped a coupon, in the superman comic I think, to stop my hair receding prematurely. And there was a book coupon I clipped for a book on “How to Develop a Super Power Memory” Only thing I can remember about it is that I left it on a train. Can’t even remember where the train was going too. And when I was in the army, training as a recruit, I sent away for a book on “How to win Friends and Influence people”. Someone in my barrack room stole it from me. I know who it was. It was easy to tell. He became the most popular bloke in the regiment.

They all had money back guarantees. All a scam.

I kept up the dynamic tension isotonic exercises for most of my life. The sticks with pretend weights might have become shopping bags that I pretend are quite heavy, but I still try, now and then. And it still hasn’t worked. True I am no longer a seven-stone weakling. More like a 15-stone lazy old git. Had sand kicked in my face in Torremolinos last year. I wonder if that guarantee is still valid?   “Dear Mr Atlas, kindly return my postal order as I am still getting sand kicked in my face”

The Pleasures of Facebook – A photograph from WWII

I belong to this group on Facebook, Gibraltar Old photos 2 it’s called. It a nostalgia group whose members, mostly from Gibraltar,  post old photographs of life on and around and about the Rock. I lived there once and have many happy and treasured memories upon which I once contributed a piece to the site, some years ago, about being a boy in 1950’s Gibraltar. You can read it here. I still contribute to the site now and then, and to that purpose I was searching google for a film poster of a movie, made in Gibraltar in the early ‘60’s, staring Terry Thomas and called “Operation Snatch”. You need to be a bit careful what you type into google at times!

In my search I stumbled across this lovely old photograph the caption of which read “Gibraltar families returning to Gibraltar in 1945 after five years of evacuation during WWII”

I thought it quite an exciting find and duly posted it on the site. I was a little skeptical but the image came from an article by Neville Chipulina, a rather noted Gibraltar historian.

One of the endearing features of the Gibraltar old photos 2 site is that if you post any image of any person in any circumstances at any time over the past one hundred years or so then someone on the sit will know who they are, who their uncles and aunties are and the names of their children and what schools they went to and perhaps even the name of their godmother. It’s a small community on Gib!   So I was anticipating that the families in the photograph would quickly be identified.
Up popped Maurice Valentino who questioned the whole thing saying they don’t look like Gibraltarians at all!  Far too fair in completion. Someone else, Maruchi Golt, suggested they were obviously English families. And no one, no one at all, could identify anyone in the photograph, anyone at all.
Then come Earnest Falquero, one of the stalwarts of the site who referred us all to a post by one Alex Parnay who in turn, confirmed doubts that they were families from Gibraltar and confirmed too that the caption accompanying the photograph was completely wrong. And he disclosed to us the quite astonishing story behind the photograph. They were English families, survivors from a passenger ship torpedoed by German U-Boats!
laconiaresized1RMS Laconica was originally commissioned as an ocean-going luxury passenger ship for the Cunard line. With the outbreak of WWII she was requisitioned by the Admiralty and fitted with eight six inch guns and two three inch guns. She was put to duties as an armed merchant escort ship. Later still she became a troopship and was well known as such in both commercial and military shipping circles. She was deployed ferrying troops to the middle east and carrying prisoners of war back to Blighty. It is quite important to note that. Her military role, unlike that of the Lusitania, made her a completely legitimate target for the U-boats now awaiting her in the Atlantic ocean.
She left the port of Suez loaded with Italian prisoners of war, their Polish guards and many British service families. She steamed down the East coast of Africa, stopping at Durban where more British service families were taken on board, these being families who had escaped from Singapore as the Japanese defeated, overwhelmed and expelled the British from all their colonial possessions in the Far East. She then steamed out into the Atlantic and hundreds of miles to the west she turned North towards the equator and set course for England. She was doing 20 knots and taking a zig zag path to minimise the risk from German submarines.
She was now carrying 463 officers and crew, 80 civilians, 286 British soldiers, 1,793 Italian prisoners and 103 Polish soldiers acting as guards of the prisoners.

It was her smoke that first attracted the attention of U-boat 156.

It was to be a surface attack. In the darkness of the tropical night, at about 10 pm Captain Hartenstein, commander of the U-boat made his calculations as to distance and the time it would take for a torpedo to reach the ship which was now steaming fast and zig zagging at random. He unleashed a torpedo sometime after 10 pm and it struck the Laconia at 10.22. He immediately dived to avoid any possible counter attack. He would have watched from his periscope the explosion as the torpedo found its target below the ship’s waterline. There was no counter attack and he surfaced again and unleashed a second torpedo, this time hitting the forward starboard of the badly listing ship.. It was a successful attack on a known legitimate target and the Captain and his crew celebrated and watched the ship burn and sink. Then they heard the screams of the survivors and became alarmed for they were the screams of women and children.
He dived again and it is clear that for several hours there was a continuous and urgent exchange of signal traffic with Germany, probably on the enigma machines that each U-boat carried. Berlin advised that the Laconia was carrying Italian prisoners of war and ordered that they should attempt to rescue their allies. Hartenstein went well beyond his Berlin Orders. Or the laws of war at sea.

When he again surfaced, his crew began to rescue the civilians as well as the Italians. He took over a hundred survivors into the already crowded submarine, and another hundred or so on the top of the submarine. He collected together some four lifeboats and began to tow them in his wake, passing food and water to the survivors therein. He told Berlin what he was doing and his actions were not only approved by Admiral Donitz, he went further and ordered other submarines to assist Hartenstein in the rescue. And Vichy French forces in North Africa dispatched surface ships to meet the submarines at sea and transfer the survivors.

Red Cross flags were draped on the submarine decks and open signal traffic exchanged with the other boats making clear this was a rescue operation. Open Signals were sent to the British to the same effect, but were ignored, quite deliberately ignored by British forces available in the area and from British bases on the West coast of Africa. Hartenstein rendezvoused with another German Submarine and an Italian submarine and some of his survivors were transferred.laconia-2
He then continued to slowly steam towards another rendezvous with the Vichy French surface ships, his crew’s quarters packed with the civilian survivors, his deck full of even more and still towing four life-boats.

Then came the Americans. They had a secret airbase established on Ascension Ireland and a B-24 bomber was sent out to search for the now missing and lost RMS Laconica. They saw Hartenstein’s submarine, with its red cross flag and its life-boats in tow. And they attacked. Five passes, five bombs.bombing-of-the-laconia They killed over a 100 of the survivors in the lifeboats and Hartenstein was forced to clear the submarine of all remaining survivors and put them in the remaining lifeboats. He cut the tow lines and dived for safety. He kept on board some of the rescued military officers as prisoners of war.
The survivors were now, again, adrift in the Atlantic. But the Vichy French ships were coming and were searching for them and they were rescued again. This time they were taken to Casablanca and interned by the Vichy French who intended to hand them over to the Germans and have them transferred to Germany.
And now history threw its dice again. The survivors had been in internment by the Vichy French for some two months when, in November 1942 the Allies launched Operation Torch. The operation was commanded by General Eisenhower who set up his headquarters in Fortress Gibraltar. Sixty-five thousand Allied troops invaded French north Africa. They were to crush the Vichy French and to expel German influence from the Mediterranean area and advance toward Tunisia.
And the survivors were liberated!
The sources say they were taken by ship to America, for the Americans had provided the main invasion force of North Africa and some of her ships, now empty, had brought the invading troops directly from the American East Coast.
But this group, which Maruchi Golt on the Gibraltar Old Photos 2 site, described as looking “so happy” clearly came to Gibraltar from Casablanca.
They are pictured outside St. Bernard’s Hospital and it is reasonable to assume they had been for a check-up before being transported onwards to England. And of course, as Maruchi Glolt notes, they look so happy! They had survived the Japanese, survived being torpedoed, survived the sea, survived the Americans, survived the sea again and then, capture and internment. They had been rescued twice, once by the very U-boat that had sank their ship. And now they were safe. And on British soil! On Gibraltar. On the Rock. And sure, we can share in their joy and their happiness. Especially can Gibraltarians.
Of course, Facebook did not discover this story. There is nothing original here. The rescue is one of the most famous stories of World War II. There are several books on the incident and documentaries too. And the BBC ran a two-part television film dramatizing the story, written by the legendary Alan Bleasdale. So no one is claiming any Facebook credit for this story. No. What Facebook does, can do, is to bring such stories alive again; to refresh them, recall them, tell them to a new generation. Spark new interest, spread the word. It is one of the great pleasures of Facebook.

Some of those in the photograph are probably still alive. The infant in arms will be in his or her 80’s now. And perhaps some of the younger children still breath. It is certain that the children and the child survivors will be alive. They may even be on Facebook…….

Note: 1113 survivors were rescued. 1619 perished in the torpedo attack, most of them Italian prisoners of war, still locked in the hold as the ship was struck.

Note:  Capt Hartenstein’s submarine U-156,  some six months later was attacked by American aircraft and sank.  there were no survivors.

Pinterest could be for you…


It’s about images. But it’s much more than just images. For example, if you “pin” and image to the site it is displayed on a sort of board with several option buttons. Like this:. typical-pinX You have probably “saved” the image to the board from some website or other you have visited and found interesting. Once saved, you fill in the caption space on the board. The option buttons include a “visit” button, and perhaps a “read” button. If one of your followers, or someone browsing Pinterest boards clicks on the “read” or “visit#” button they will be taken to the original article or website from which you saved the image. Here’s  a link to another  example of what a typical saved image looks like.   Try pressing the visit button and it should take you to a full article on the subject of the pin.. So you can see that this has great potential for saving and displaying not just images, but whole stories, articles, websites and background information related to your saved image. And it is soooo neat!

And it’s the principal reason that Pinterest has seen such saw incredible growth since its launch in 2013, now surpassing email as a sharing medium, and beginning to outpace Facebook.
Once you set up an account, which is free (and without any hidden or subsequent charges whatsoever) then you are prompted to create a pin board of images. First thing to do is browse or cruise existing boards, there are simply millions of them. Every conceivable subject under the sun will have a board dedicated to its author’s favorite subject. You like cats? Books? Philosophy? Survival techniques? Fly fishing? Knitting? Recipes? Stories and images from the holocaust? World War 1 and 2 ? photography?

I defy you to think of a subject not covered by someone’s pin board be it designing a bathroom, decorating a shed, understanding cameras or being in love with Van Gogh. It is endless,
My own interests centre on, but are not confined to, photography. Two sites I “follow” and steal images from are on “Combat Photographers” and “Military Photographers”     The difference between the two seems to be that the Military board deals only with photographers in uniform, those who serve with cameras whereas the Combat board includes embedded civilian photographers and those who work for newspapers and magazines and freelance their way with soldiers in action.
I recently opened a new “board” to display the odd bits of writing from my blog. In fact, I have always been a bit disappointed the way blog sites display your work, the contents pages are difficult and far too boring to navigate. On Pinterest, each piece of my writing gets a separate “pin” and the “visit” or “read” button takes you to the blog article itself. It’s a much more interesting way to display the contents of your blog and you also get a lot more hits! See for yourself:
Another option button that appears with each image, usually at the top of the pinned image, is the heart symbol which you press if you like the image or pin. This will automatically save the image to an automatically created “likes” board on your own pin board, so you can enjoy it at your leisure.

It should come with a strong caveat and warning. For Pinterest, as well as having such an abundance of diverse topics to explore also has a fair share of porn pins. They are separate from the subjects you might enjoy and explore with your family, but they are there.

They cater for any type of fetish and taste in porn you could possibly think of, and for every degree of sexual orientation. There are pages of pretty girls, fashion pages, lingerie pages, racy pages, raunchy pages and hard core porn images and giffs. If you happen to click “like” then the whole world, or at least everyone who follows you, will instantly know that you prefer Wagnerian breasted Bavarian bar maids with steins of frothy Bavarian beer and dressed in jackboots, leather knickers and perhaps a Sam Browne belt. I hasten to add that I don’t know if such an image is on Pinterest and this is merely an illustrative warning and has no connection with my own interests or preferences. Although I would admit to being partial to Bavarian beer and I am rather fond of Wagner. So be careful what you “like”
Another feature of your pin board is the ability to create “secret” pins saved to a secret board. When created, no one else can see the board’s contents except you. Its use is obvious. If, for example, you are a very macho aggressive heterosexual with boards full of survival kit and equipment, perhaps boards of guns and knives and boards of  unarmed combat techniques, but you don’t want people to know that you secretly collect knitting patterns, then the secret option is for you. I have a secret board myself. I use it to keep my pictures of Bavarian beer.
You can follow other people’s boards that you might find interesting. And of course, they can follow your boards. I follow the boards of several photographers who use Pinterest to display their work, wedding photographers, aerial photographers, portrait photographers. And I recently “saved” a pin from a survival site, on how to make a smoke bomb from a ping pong ball, some silver foil and a biro. Don’t ask me why. It may be that sometime in the future I just might need to make a smoke bomb, who knows? It seemed a good idea at the time. And I can always delete it later
I prefer to view Pinterest on a tablet. I have a Surface tablet and find that I can enlarge the images on the tablet with my finger and thumb but cannot enlarge the images on my phone laptop or PC. That, so far, is my only disappointment with the site.

The Alzheimer’s Carer

This is Stephen Gerard Scullion.  He is  a friend of mine.  A Facebook friend.   I have never met him, never had a coffee with him, never spoken to him.  All I know of him has been gathered from the posts he makes on his timeline.  He posted this image, only a few days ago,  on that very timeline.

Alzheimers  2

The Alzheimer’s Carer

Just look at  him in this daft silly image.   On the surface it is just that, daft and silly and those who know him made comments and observations about “Dads Army”, “It ain’t half hot Mum” and Benny Hill.

But I think it is a most beautiful and poignant image and I shall tell you why.

He is ex Royal Navy and retains a firm affection for the service.  He has an ex-serviceman’s sense of humour and indeed I started to follow him because someone shared with me one of his very funny posts.   They can be fairly politically incorrect at times and are all the more glorious for being so.   He also, occasionally posts images of beautiful women in bikini’s,  for no other reason than that they are beautiful, and that the women know they are beautiful and wish to share their beauty.  I rather like those occasional postings.

He lives in Felling which is in Gateshead, Newcastle, County Durham and he has a fine sense of the importance of local history and is for ever banging on about the history of the old Felling mining community to which his parents and grandparents belonged.   It gives to him, I think, his political values.  Another feature which becomes obvious if you make him a Facebook friend is his absolute abhorrence of any form of cruelty to animals and he has a fairly typical Facebook addiction of posting cute pictures of animals and funny pictures of animals but also, quite often, pictures of animals in distress as a result of cruelty and abuse.

But this image has little or nothing to do with such matters.   He belongs, and only mentioned it almost by accident, to a group of volunteers in Felling who visit care homes for those suffering from Alzheimer’s.  They dress up and perform and do silly things for the Alzheimer residents.   This is him, in his daft army uniform, ready to perform for the residents of the Marigold Court care home, you know, the one,  up by the ASDA store, near the Felling byepass.

Why?   The residents, who live in a condition of scattered confusion, are lonely, isolated, alienated and desperate, they won’t know who the volunteers  are, probably won’t know what they are doing and almost certainly will be unsure what is going on.    The best they can hope for, these volunteers, is perhaps a flicker of a smile, a spark of something remembered, a raised hand, a pointed finger, maybe nothing..   Perhaps some of the residents were soldiers once, or were married to soldiers or had sons and daughters who were soldiers, or just remember “Dads Army” on the tele.

It is hard work. Beautiful work, completely unselfish work, and without reward, or recognition.

And it makes this image a poignant and beautiful portrait.  It reminds us all, for all out  failures, doubts, insecurity’s and problems, with debt or relationships or  work, how good it is possible to be.  Of course it’s not technically, a great photograph. Probably taken on a phone and if that fierce man on Master Photographers, him with the blue glasses saw it, he would certainly be angry at the photographer.  But  it touches my heart.

In Westminster, some very rich very selfish person, who might have given money to the Tory party, will be honoured by the Queen.  Perhaps even ennobled so that they can have a say on the legislation which will govern the resources provided for the Alzheimer’s patients in Felling, County Durham.

I know who I would prefer to honour.

Stephen’s Facebookpage does not carry his own photograph.  Instead there is a photograph of his mother.   She suffers now form Alzheimer’s.

Coffee Morning talk on the Roger Casement Painting.


The Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, holds a series of coffee morning talks on the paintings on exhibition in the gallery.  Such talks are for about 40 minutes, followed by questions and then to coffee for a continuing discussion.   This was my talk, on the 22nd June 2016,  given before the great canvas (10′ x 8′) that is Sir John Lavery’s “High Court – The Appeal of Sir Roger Casement”  The painting was on exhibition as part of the 1916 centenary celebrations,  surrounded by important paintings of many of the  characters who appear in the painting itself.High Treason by Lavery

May I welcome you to the Royal Courts of Justice, and in particular, here, to the Court of Criminal Appeal.   It is, as you can see from the clock upon the oak paneled wall, it is , almost High noon. The date is 19th of July 1916.

The case has been called on, and the prisoner is in the dock, guarded.  There is standing room only and almost every barrister in the Royal Courts building is here, for this is the most important state trial of the 20th century. And all of London wants to see it.

The King against Casement.

Mr. Justice Darling is presiding.  Look at him, he’s such a handsome fellow is he not?,  in his scarlet robes, see how he commands his courtroom, stern, straight backed, he has been caught in  noble profile and all eyes in the court are upon him.

You see there are two perspectives in this painting, the internal perspective, where everyone’s attention is upon Judge Darling, with most eyes in the court are drawn towards him, and then there is an external perspective, our view, where the central focus is upon, right in the middle of this huge canvas, Mr. Casement, seated in the barred dock.   Very clever chap that Lavery.   His client, the man who invited him to do the painting, Darling, has of course, to be portrayed rather prominently, but Lavery also, I think it is obvious, has an empathy with the prisoner, so he gives us them both.  The English judge and the Irish  felon.

I should tell you that Darling was rather a vain man.  He had his portrait painted several times, look at the one behind you, painted by Charles Wellington Furse, a very expensive portrait artist indeed, painted when Darling was but a simple junior counsel.darling by birch Not many barristers commission their portraits as junior counsel. Few would wish to announce such ambition, and fewer still would be able to afford the likes of Charles William Furse.  There is another one of him, painted when he was first appointed to the bench, by Henry, the outstanding Scottish portrait artist, one of the Glasgow boys, which is really rather wonderful.  I will give you the web reference at the end and you will see for yourself.*   Oh he was handsome fellow was Darling. And he knew it!  There are several other portraits of him by Grenville Eves, even by Winston Churchill, as well as several caricatures completed for Vanity magazine.

Lavery had painted him once before.  A few years earlier, wearing a black cap and pronouncing a sentence of death.  Not deemed by many of his colleagues in the law to be in very good taste.blackcap   He’s a wit, can be very funny at times, and he’s a poet, written a rather good volume of poetry.   He was considered once, oh a few years after this trial, for the post of Lord Chief Justice of England.   Didn’t get the job.   This chap sitting next to him got it instead.  Judge A. T. Lawrence.   Lawrence was 78 years old by then.  Darling was 73.  He would always say, he would always tell you, that he didn’t get the job because he was too young.

He was a Unionist, no doubt about that at all.    As a member of parliament he always voted against Home Rule.  He is a great friend of Carson.  Thinks Carson is most unlike most Irishmen, says that unlike the rest of you Irish, Carson is incapable of speaking balderdash.   He invited Carson you know, to join his chambers when Carson left the Irish Bar to transfer to the English Bar.   They were in chambers together as K.C.’s when Carson took the brief for the Marquis of Queensbury.

He sits with his four colleagues, first one here is Judge Scrutton, He has three sons fighting in the Great War, two are on the Somme and one in the Balkans, up near Thessalonica. So   you can well imagine that he may have some reservations about a prisoner who was suborning captured crown’s soldiers in Germany.  One of his sons will be killed within a month of the trial.   Then there’s Judge Bray, Darling of course , Lawrence we have already mentioned, and on the end Judge Atkin.

Oh Judge Atkin!

He is probably the most famous judge in the whole of the common law world, You won’t find a student of law, a solicitor or barrister or judge or judicial assistant who doesn’t know of Atkin and who will, at some stage of their careers, have quoted the judge.   He almost invented the law of negligence and I could not possibly exaggerate his importance to the law.  He is to the law as Arthur is to Guinness.   What a pity Lavery has not captured more of him, but of course at the time of the trial he was not quite so famous as he would subsequently become.

Look here’s another famous fellow.  The paintings full of them.  F.E. Smith.  Carson’s galloper, Attorney General, chief prosecuting counsel and a deep deep unionist; from an Orange constituency in Liverpool, Birkenhead.  Even his birthday falls on the 12th July.  A bit of a gun-runner himself and certainly young Winston Churchill, an up and coming star of the political stage, has described some of his speeches in favour of unionism as being fairly close to promoting naked revolution.  Good judge of character that Churchill.  Keep an eye on him.

Showing him the law-book is one of the prosecution junior counsel, Mr. Bodkin.  Another famous character, banned Ulysses when he became Director of Public Prosecutions, couldn’t bear Molly’s soliquity.

He’s caught the Irish fairly, has Lavery.  Here’s Gavan Duffy.  Oh what a hero he is!   He was a solicitor in London, prosperous, going places, when he was asked to take on Casement.  His partners were not at all  happy about it.

You want to represent a traitor?  In the middle of this awful bloody war?   Make your mind up Mr. Gavan Duffy, stay with the practice or represent your Irish traitor, but you can’t do both.

To his eternal glory, as both an Irishman and as a lawyer, he chose his client.   Makes him a bit of a legal hero to us lawyers.   His dad was a bit of a character too.  Ran the Nation newspaper here in Dublin, a fine constitutional nationalist he was, tried with Daniel O’Connell once, major figure in the Tenant League, was in the Ballingary Rising of  1848       Gone to Australia now.  Become Sir Charles Gavan Duffy over there, very noble, bit less of a nationalist over there?  He is now Governor General of Victoria; his other son will become Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia.  This Gavan Duffy, our Gavan Duffy, will become, in the new Irish state, President of the High Court of Ireland.   This is just stuffed full of important historical figures in the life of Ireland and England.

There are three women on the solicitor’s bench.  Quite unusual for 1916.  One is Gavan Duffy’s wife, taking notes, and the other Casement’s cousin Gertrude Bannister. She is devoted to her Roger, look at her glancing up at Roger in the dock.  Are they exchanging a glance?   I think they are.  Lavery knew they were devoted to one another and he has put it into the painting.  The other woman is Alice Stopford Green, eminent nationalist historian, helped Casement organise the Howth gun-running.   Did you notice, all the ladies are wearing hats.   Quite proper for 1916 I think.

You know there is a full transcript of this trial.  Great read.  That chap standing at the end of the bench there, he’s the court reporter, taking it all down in shorthand.  It’s his transcript.

On his feet is the Dublin barrister Sgt Sullivan.   Now he happens to be married to Gavan Duffy’s sister and you may think that Irish lawyers tend to keep business in the family, I can’t possibly comment on that, but there you are.   In fact, Sullivan was one of the leading lights of the Irish Bar.   A Sgt was a special breed of Senior Counsel, Kings Counsel as they were known then.   He was destined for the bench in Ireland and would have made it if the Rising and the War of Independence hadn’t got in the way.   Their only distinguishing mark, in court regalia, was a small patch of black silk set into the top of the wig.   In England he was not a Kings Counsel.  He was only a Junior counsel and therefore he is standing in the second row because the first row is reserved for Kings Counsel, Senior Counsel we now call them.  Still is to this day.

At the trial proper, this is the appeal remember.  Casement has already been found guilty of high treason and has already been sentenced to death, he was so sentenced by the Lord Chief Justice of England Ruffas Issaccs, or Lord Reading as he was known.   At the trial, Sullivan had been summing up to the jury.   The artist has painted this scene from the Jury Box, so he would have been addressing us, we would be the jury.  He made, what in my view is a really excellent summing up speech making the best of the limited material he had.   In fact, a bit too much.  He sought to persuade the jury that the Irish were arming themselves for fear that the already heavily armed unionists would seek to undermine any parliamentary decision to grant home rule.  He was interrupted!  There was a protest, quite sharp, from both F.E. Smith and the Lord Chief Justice, who said he could not run that argument, because no evidence to that effect had been heard.   You can only address the jury on evidence actually given in the trial.

He realised they were right and had to apologise –  in so doing he lost the thread of his argument.   It was a rather deferential apology, perhaps he thought it might affect his future plans to transfer to the English Bar.  Any way he stumbled, and could not regain his composure.  He collapsed into his seat saying “My Lord I cannot go on”.    Of course the trial was adjourned immediately.  Next day he was still not recovered and the closing speech had to be concluded by his Junior Counsel, here, Artemous Jones.

I don’t think the prisoner was very impressed.

One of the reasons Sullivan was employed for the trial, so it is said, is because no English barrister, Kings Counsel, would take it on.   It was the middle of a very gruesome war, Verdun, the Somme, casualties were appalling and Casement was charged with High Treason, in time of war.  But in fact there was no difficulty getting English junior counsel and I don’t quite understand, or accept that no English KC would take the case.   In fact, there are two English junior counsel on the defence.  One, Morgan BL, is in fact a brigadier in the Kings Army, and a professor of law.  He wasn’t afraid to take on the case, even though a serving soldier.   The other, here is Artemous Jones, nor was he afraid and nor did any of their careers suffer for representing a traitor.   Morgan ended up a Brigadier General and an advisor to Churchill in WW2, and he was at Nuremberg.   Jones became a judge.    He is rather more famous as a litigant than as a counsel.   It’s his name you know.   A newspaper reporter had filed a story from the south of France, he was reporting on the English taking holidays in France, and as reporters sometimes do he wrote something like “And there is Artemous Jones with a lady who is not his wife” Of course he thought, quite reasonably, that it was quite impossible that anyone could possibly be called Artemous Jones.  But he was wrong and Jones sued.   It’s still a leading case in libel law and often cited in court, both in Ireland and in England.

And so finally in this all too brief review, we come to Roger Casement.  The much smaller version of this painting, over there, is the one that W.B. Yeats saw when he visited this gallery in 1937.  He wrote a poem about it “The Municipal gallery re-visited” and wrote of “Casement upon trial, half hidden by the bars” But he is not really hidden.  For us, outside the larger painting, he is in fact the primary focus.

Four days the trial had lasted, and now he sits in the dock for the three days of the appeal.  Was there a comma in that ancient 1351 Statute, in that handwritten Norman French parchment?  Did it mean, that comma, that treason was confined to acts within the realm, and therefore acts abroad, in Germany, did not count.    Not so held the court.  As they had held before, just a few brief years ago, for another Irishman tried for treason, Colonel Lynch, who had commanded an Irish Brigade against the British, abroad, in the Boer war.

Three scarlet robed judges at trial had dismissed the argument. Now five scarlet robed judges at the appeal would again dismiss the argument.   Why didn’t they go to the House of Lords for a father appeal?   Well they wanted to, but to do so required the consent of the A.G.   F.E. Smith.   He was of the view that between the trial and the appeal eight of the most senior judges in the land had unanimously rejected the argument and that was enough.

So Casement will leave the dock, this court, for the gallows at Pentonville.  Only appeals for clemency might now save him.   And why not, for he was an international figure, he had friends in High places, in governments, writers, politicians, diplomats, ambassadors, he was active in anti-slavery movements across the globe he had a vast international network of friends and supporters.   I cannot stress to you how well known he was in humanitarian circles.  Everyone would have, should have, signed petitions.  Even Bono would have signed.

But now the Government, the cabinet, the secret service, will launch their miserable, malicious, nasty, unprincipled black campaign to defeat the pleas for clemency and to dissuade his friends from signing or joining such appeals.   It was the diaries, the so called black diaries, they circulated the most salacious pages.  To Bishops, ambassadors, governments, in the clubs of London. “Look at this, he’s a homosexual, he’s a disgusting pervert, tell your friends.  Don’t sign any petitions.”   They undoubtedly added a fatal weight to the gallows drop at Pentonville prison.

And it meant, that this painting, conceived as a tribute to the English Law, and to Darling, lost its integrity, as did the trial itself.   What had been done meant no one wanted this picture.  It was left on Lavery’s hands; he couldn’t sell it even though he tried. He ended up leaving it in his will.  Interestingly he did not leave it to Ireland.   His first choice was the National Gallery in London.   They didn’t want it; they had already declined to buy it a few years earlier.   His next choice was the Royal Courts of Justice, and only if they refused it did he then think that it should go to Ireland.   An indication I suggest, that he always saw this painting as being a celebration of the English law and not a celebration of Casement, or as an Irish subject.

The Royal Courts of Justice took it, didn’t know what to do with it, wouldn’t hang it in a public place. Put it in a basement office where no one saw it and no one cared about it and its importance quickly faded and was forgotten.

Sullivan it was who rescued it from obscurity.  He retired here to Dublin, lived in Orwell Road, became a bencher of the Kings Inns and wrote to the Lord Chief Justice of England to try and buy it.   They wouldn’t sell, even though they didn’t like and didn’t particularly want it, but the correspondence is interesting.  The Lord Chief Justice writes to the Lord Chancellor.  “We could let the King’s Inns have it on loan, and forget to ask for it back…”

And so here it is. Now a tribute to Casement and not to the English Law.   Still owned by the British, part of their government art collection, but here on loan, permanent loan.   And so far, I am pleased to tell you, they have not asked for it back.

  I might before be finishing urge you, should you have found this of any interest, to go to buy the exhibition catalogue and take it with you to the Royal Courts of Justice and visit the courtroom, this courtroom, wherein Casement was sentenced to death.   It is courtroom 36 in the West Green wing of the Royal Courts of Justice, take with you if you do, the catalogue, which has a copy of this great painting, and you will observe and compare, with the hairs rising on the back of your neck, how little the courtroom has changed this hundred years or so;  the oak panelling still encloses the space, the bookcase is still there, probably with the same books within it as were there in 1916, the clock still ticks on the wall;   you will be aware you are in a place of death, a battleground of Irish history,and perhaps, a place of pilgrimage

Shall we go to coffee?



Mr. Justice Darling in 1916, by Reginald Grenville Eves

Mr. Justice Darling in 1916, by Reginald Grenville Eves

Mr. Justice Darling by Henry

Mr. Justice Darling by Henry

darling by churchill

Darling by Winston Churchill