History, Military History, Uncategorized

On This Day in 1939

September 3rd 1939

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declares Britain is at war with Germany.

On the 1st September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, attacking all fronts. People throughout Britain heard the whispers of war grow and grow and by the morning of the 3rd September 1939, the tension hung in the air of many a household.

Chamberlain in WW2: mage courtesy of wikimedia commons

While Chamberlain tried to avoid war at all costs, it was not to be. At 11 am on the 3rd September, people tuned in to listen to the news on their radios, and to their prime minister Neville Chamberlain, who was to address the nation. His voice was grave as he announced:

“This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final Note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us.
I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and that consequently, this country is at war with Germany.”

Chamberlain: Image courtesy of wikimedia commons

As his speech ended, church bells rang out all around the country then the air raid sirens wailed, prompting people to dash into the shelters in panic. Fortunately it was a false alarm. It was Sunday morning, and children played out in the streets and their gardens. Adults exclaimed, “Oh, God help us,” – those who knew what to expect.

Afterwards, young men all eager to ‘do their bit’ and to have some excitement, rushed out to join up.
War had been expected for some time, although Chamberlain and his government had taken action to avoid it. In the meantime, Andersen shelters had been distributed to some 1.5 million homes to people living in areas which the government thought would be targeted by the Luftwaffe. The first shelter was erected in a garden in Islington, London on the 25th February 1939 and thereafter the shelters were rolled out up until the declaration of war.

Following the announcement, the blackout began and the lights all across Great Britain were snuffed out, one by one when darkness fell while gas masks were hastily distributed. The fleet was mobilised, placing the Royal Navy immediately in the action and Winston Churchill was given the post of First Lord of the Admiralty – the same post he’d held during the Great War.

History, Military History, The War in Europe,

On This Day in WW2

August 31st 1939

Britain Replies to Herr Hitler

Hitler sent a note to the British Government last night. The cabinet meet this morning to discuss and after around one and a half hours of deliberation, they send their reply to Berlin.

Britain is still standing firm in her undertaking to help Poland …”

As Britain stands firm, Germany are adamant re their claims on Danzig and the corridor, asserting they should be returned to the Reich.

Don’t buy any more groceries than you normally do…”

Quote from the Lord Privy Seal’s office

The British people were advised to stock up their cupboards a few months ago in readiness and now they are being asked to cease any additional buying in of goods. There is a concern that panic buying may begin and the government wish to reduce any additional demands on shops.

Rail passengers will now find notices of what to do in an air raid around the main line railway stations. Passengers are to asked not to leave the train if it stops outside a station during an air raid. Instead, they are to remain in their carriage, draw the blind to protect from shattered glass, and if possible, lie on the floor.

Image vis Wikimedia Commons

Meanwhile, hop pickers from London’s east end are busy at work out in the Kent fields, armed with their gas masks. The silver lining being the promise of a plentiful bounty of beer over the coming months.

France Evacuates her Children

Around 30,000 children have been evacuated from Paris by train. Gas masks were distributed to all those aged between two and ten. Evacuation of hospitals is underway. The street lights are turned off that evening in case of German air raids.

History, Military History, The War in Europe,, Uncategorized

On This Day in WW2

The beloved film, The Wizard of Oz opened today, August 25th 1939 in theatres throughout America. Starring Judy Garland as Dorothy. The film was based on the children’s novel, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum.

Also on this day in 1944, Paris is finally liberated following many days of fighting between the Resistance and German soldiers. The French 2nd Armoured Division under General Philippe Leclerc is the first Allied force to enter the city. Parisians,relieved, overjoyed, cheer. The German commander of the Paris region, General Dietrich von Choltitz, signed a surrender at Montparnasse station in the presence of General Leclerc and Colonel Rol,commander of the French Forces of the Interior (FFI).

Image courtesy of wikimedia commons

The new Free French wireless station reports that the German commander of the Paris region, General Dietrich von Choltitz signed a surrender at Montparnasse station in front of General Leclerc and Colonel Rol in Paris.

At 1900hrs, General Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the Free French broadcasts to the nation from the Hotel de Ville. He begins, “I wish simply from the bottom of my heart to say to you: Vive Paris!”

Image courtesy of wikimedia commons

Friends call me, saying they can see huge fireworks all over the Hôtel de Ville, with red and blue rockets answering them in the south and west. It was the signal. The first tanks of Leclerc’s army had just rolled up to Notre-Dame. And then all the bells of all the churches rang in the night, drowning out the rumbling of the big guns.”

Diary entry from Jean Guéhenno, a resident of Paris.

“I have never seen in any face such joy as radiated from the faces of the people of Paris this morning.”

Charles Christian Wertenbaker, Time Magazine’s war correspondent. 

American writer Ernest Hemingway, tied with the 4th Infantry, made his way to the Ritz Hotel, where he “liberated” its famous bar, helping himself to numerous dry martinis.

History, Military History, The Battle of Britain, The War in Europe,

On This Day in 1940

The Battle of Britain intensifies. Some cloud remained at dawn but it was expected to be a clear day, warmer in the south. For northern England, cloud persists and rain showers expected.

Since August 18th, a lull had began, allowing both sides to regroup, rest, and prepare. The Luftwaffe have still not achieved what they set out to do – destroy the RAF. Goring’s original plan was for the destruction of the RAF within two weeks. The battle has now been raging for two months.

August 24th was the first day of a campaign of sustained bombing. The Luftwaffe flew over the Channel in vast numbers, more than the RAF could cope with. At 0830hrs, an enemy formation is spotted off the coast of Calais. The Observer Corps are ordered to keep a look out while Fighter Command HQ is alerted. The formation comprised of more than forty Dornier’s and Ju88s, with a fighter escort of over sixty Bf109s.

Image courtesy of wikimedia commons

610 Squadron Biggin Hill intercepted. Their Spitfires dived into the middle of the formation, scattering the bombers. There is no account of any damage at this time and it’s presumed the enemy turned back.

Enemy bombers were detected that afternoon heading to London, but then changed course, heading towards the Sector Stations of North Weald and Hornchurch. By the time the RAF reached the area, the German bombers were already heading home, a trail of fire and destruction blazing in and around the Thames Estuary.

Combat action persisted over the Thames Estuary and around the coastal towns of Kent. Manston was heavily bombed. Fortunately, despite heavy bombing at Hornchurch and North Weald, operations were not affected. The RAF lose twenty aircraft, eighteen of which are repairable. Thirty-nine enemy aircraft destroyed.

Enemy bombers hit Portsmouth that afternoon, dropping over 200 bombs. This caused the largest number of casualties in a single raid so far in the battle. More than 100 civilians died, and 300 were injured. Homes, shops, factories and the Navy barracks all seriously damaged.

The seaside town of Ramsgate also suffered, with 1200 homes destroyed, and 24 people killed.

On this night, more than 200 heavy bombers raided the Dunlop Fort rubber works in Birmingham, severely hampering the production of tyres.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

It was an understanding within the Luftwaffe, that London was not to be bombed unless by direct order of Goring. Up until now, people living in and around London had heard gunfire, gazed in awe at the dogfights in the skies above, and read about the war in the news. Tonight, all that was to change. Up until now, aside from a slight mishap when enemy aircraft mistook Croydon for Kenley and unleashed a couple of bombs, London remained untouched. Another time was a daytime raid when bombs were dropped on the docks and the outskirts of London. This time, it was a night raid, the first ever, and terrifying.

2300hrs: So far for the period of the war, Londoners although often hearing local gunfire, seeing vapour trails of dogfights in the sky and hearing about the war in newspapers and on the radio, and the only experience of bombing was when Croydon was mistakenly identified as Kenley and just a couple of bombs dropped on nearby Croydon and Purley, the target hear was naturally the aerodrome at Croydon. The other instance was earlier in the morning when bombs were dropped on the docks and outskirts of East London. But that was in daylight. This was to be a new experience, a frightful experience, for this was the first time that London would be bombed at night. Bombs dropped over Aldgate, Bloomsbury, Hackney, Finsbury, Stepney, Shoreditch, West Ham and Bethnal Green. The entire East End blazed, infusing the night sky red as shards of flame billowed from factory windows. Buildings crumbled.

Eight RAF pilots listed as missing. Two killed (1 died of wounds).

History, Military History, The Battle of Britain, The War in Europe,

The Guinea Pig Club – An RAF Club Like No Other

On this day in 1941, a group of RAF men, all patients at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, founded The Guinea Pig Club. Bored, frustrated by their hospitalisation and numerous surgeries, the club was initially to be a drinking club, a way of passing time. The men named the ward at the hospital, “The Beauty Shop.”

Initially it was named something else, but then one of the men remarked how they were all simply “bloody guinea pigs” to the Maestro. The “Maestro” of course was Archie McIndoe. And, whenever a serious case arrived on the ward, or if Archie was doing the rounds of other hospitals in neighbouring regions, scouting for patients who might require his expertise, his famous words would ignite a spark of hope when he said, “Don’t worry. We’ll fix you up.” And that he did.

Archibald McIndoe at the piano. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Maverick Kiwi Surgeon, McIndoe was a pioneer, taught by his cousin, Sir Harold Delf Gillies who himself pioneered techniques in plastic surgery during and after WW1. Mcindoe treated and cared for burned airmen during WW2. He and his incredible team rebuilt bodies and souls, making the effort to also address the psychological effects of war and injury. Mcindoe gave the men hope, often when they felt all was lost. He invited the entire town of East Grinstead to play their part too, and to invite the men into their homes for tea, to dances, to welcome them into society. The town later became known as “The town that didn’t stare”.

This year, 2021, the club celebrates its 80th anniversary. The club has provided support to its members over the years since its inception. Many of the members from the war years are now deceased and the club no longer holds annual meetings, known to the members as the “lost weekend.” A weekend of much fun and socialising.

This evening, will you raise your glass and remember those brave boys who fought so valiantly for our freedom today? They shall not be forgotten.

Sir Archibald McIndoe image courtesy of wikimedia commons

Below, a selection of images, from real life to reenactors, all reminiscent of the distant past of WW2, 1939-1945. We will remember them, their sacrifice, their courage, their heroism, all for our freedom.

Barry Henderson Photography
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Barry Henderson Photography
Images from the Battle of Britain. Lower right: Richard Hillary, a fighter pilot and one of Archie McIndoe’s “Guinea Pigs.”
Geoffrey Wellum DFC top left, and top right, second on right. On his left, Flight Commander Brian Kingcombe.

Geoffrey Wellum DFC, known as “Boy” when he joined 92 Squadron in the autumn of 1939.One of the youngest to fly during the summer of 1940, he had an extraordinary career with the RAF and was one of the nation’s beloved veterans for years afterwards.

Squadron Leader Wellum, speaking in 2013, said: “Somebody said, “Here’s a Spitfire. Fly it, and if you break it there will be bloody hell to pay.”

“Looking at my life now, I had peaked at about 21 or 22. It was just lovely blokes, all together in Fighter Squadron.”

Born 4 August 1921, died 18 July 2018. I’m sorry I never got to meet him. A remarkable man. Many may have seen the film, “First Light,’ based on the book with the same title which was written by Geoff. It’s a beautiful book about his account of his war and I can highly recommend it. I treasure my copy.

History, Military History, The War in Europe,

VE Day 2021

This year’s celebration marks 76 years since the end of the war in Europe, a war that had prevailed for almost six years and taken the lives of millions.

On the 7th May 1945, many people heard whisperings that the Germans had surrendered and the war in Europe was finally over. On that same day, General Eisenhower accepted the unconditional surrender of all German forces at his HQ in Reims, France.

Later that day, the BBC interrupted its scheduled programme with a news flash announcing the news that Victory in Europe Day was to be a national holiday. Newspapers ran the story and the news spread like wildfire.

On the 8th May 1945, Winston Churchill broadcast to the nation stating that at 02:41 am the previous day, General Jodl had signed an unconditional surrender of the German Forces which would be effective as of 11:01 pm that day, May 8th. He added cautiously, ‘We may allow ourselves a brief period of rejoicing; but let us not forget for a moment the toil and efforts that lie ahead.’ Across the waves the war still raged against the Japanese in the Pacific and would continue until August.

Bells that had stood silent now peeled out all around the country and boats honked their horns while fighter aircraft performed victory rolls overhead.

On the other side of the Atlantic, President Harry Truman gallantly dedicated the victory to his predecessor, President Roosevelt, who had died a few weeks earlier on the 12th April.

People immediately rejoiced and celebrations began which were to last for two whole days all across the country, across the Channel and throughout Europe, Canada and America. In Britain, people celebrated with their neighbours in the streets, hung bunting and waved flags. Years of rationing, of making do and mend, of the mandatory and meagre five inches of bathwater, all faded into the background as people seized this moment; their moment, their freedom now secured.

In London, large crowds massed in Trafalgar Square and in the Mall as people made their way to Buckingham Palace where thousands staggered shoulder to shoulder and chanted, “We want the King!” At 3pm, Churchill made a radio broadcast which could be heard over the loudspeakers, and a hush descended over the large crowd of people as they listened to the Prime Minister.

Over the course of two days, the 8th & 9th May, people celebrated and embraced loved ones and strangers in the street, carried away on a euphoric tide. Who can forget this picture, one of many which captured the mood so evocatively on that day, May 8th?

War songs played out, including many of Dame Vera Lynn’s as the crowds sang along. In the evening, fireworks streaked through the sky, replacing searchlights and bombers. In France, similar mass celebrations played out.

Sadly, it wasn’t all rejoicing. For scores of people who had lost loved ones it was a bitter-sweet time. Today, we remember all those who lived through such incredible, dark times and survived, and all those who did not. Lest we forget.

Nancy & Henri Fiocca
Nancy Wake (Fiocca) SOE Agent
Major Glenn Miller (U.S. Air Force photo)
Bert Stiles US Fighter Pilot
My Grandmother, Joan Hobson (nee Charlton)(WAAF) 1921-1980

fiction, historical fiction

Latest Release: SPITFIRE by Suzy Henderson

My latest release, SPITFIRE, is a short story set during WW2, and features a male protagonist, Sam, a fighter pilot flying sorties over Dunkirk during Operation Dynamo. I have no idea where he came from except to say that one morning he simply materialised, and in good time too. As the 80th anniversary of the evacuation of the Allied forces at Dunkirk approached, I wrote this short story. I was in the planning stage for the next WW2 novel, so maybe that was the nucleus, either way young Sam stomped into my world and he’s here to stay, at least for a while. You see, he’s to be the protagonist in my next book, so that’s a good thing as I’ve come to know him quite well as I attempt to plot and build scenes around him. It truly is a strange writers world, unique, serendipitous, and exciting.

Description:

A gripping tale of the courage and heroism of Churchill’s “Few” based on true events. Perfect for fans of Robert Radcliffe and Laura Hillenbrand.

May 1940. The French and British armies are in retreat as Hitler’s blitzkrieg storms through France. Finally, they are beaten back to the coast at Dunkirk, with nowhere left to flee.
Churchill is determined to rescue as many men as possible, for without her army, Britain is sunk. A plan is hatched to evacuate the men from the beaches by sea, but it will take the combined strength of all the forces to ensure its success.

Sam, a young RAF pilot flies sorties daily over France, engaging the enemy in the skies over Dunkirk. He is determined to protect the men trapped on the beaches below, and give them a fighting chance of returning to home shores.
Day after day he returns to base when others do not. He witnesses friends shot down by the Luftwaffe, sometimes lost at sea. And each time he wonders when his luck will run out, yet still, he returns to the hell in the skies.

Survival is Victory.

2020 is the 75th anniversary of VE Day. While the war still raged on in the Pacific, it was finally over for all in Europe and great celebrations rolled out around the world. Why not celebrate by reading a new book about those remarkable times, and in doing so, remember the “Few” who gave their all for us today. Lest We Forget.

Available to buy at Amazon and here.

Review:

“Great, fast moving short story. I loved the immediacy of it. Lots of wonderful Spitfire detail.” (Amazon reviewer)

fiction, historical fiction, Novel, Uncategorized

New Year New Books Fete & Prize & Giveaway

N.N. Light’s Book Heaven New Year New Books Fete running throughout January.

Open internationally.

Runs January 1 – 31 2020.

Draw to be held on February 1, 2020.

Calling all readers! It’s a brand new year and I’m ringing in 2020 with N. N Light’s Book Heaven New Year New Books Fete. 39 books from multiple genres featured plus a chance to win one of the following:

Enter to win a $50 Amazon (US) or Barnes and Noble Gift Card

Enter to win a $25 Amazon (US) or Barnes and Noble Gift Card

Enter to win a $10 Amazon (US) or Barnes and Noble Gift Card

I’m thrilled to be a part of this event. My book, Madame Fiocca, will be featured on 2 January 2020. I even talk about my resolutions/goals for the new year. You won’t want to miss it.

Bookmark this bookish get-together and tell your friends:

https://www.nnlightsbookheaven.com/bookpromos/categories/new-year-new-books-fete

Direct link to giveaway:

https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/92db775044

Good luck and happy reading!

fiction, historical fiction, Novel, Uncategorized

The Moments that Define Us

People often ask me when I began to write and why. Well, the answer is, it crept up on me. My first desire to write cropped up during my English lit degree with the Open University. For those of you familiar with the OU, one chooses which module they wish to study from a selection of courses relevant to the degree. I was in my third year, and at a crossroads. None of the options appealed to me, so I chose creative writing. Well, I thought I love to read, so why not? And that was that. With my love of history and a particular interest in WW2, I was hooked.

For me, it was a defining moment and I have not stopped writing since my degree years. It is fascinating how even the smallest of events define us, often altering our life’s path, encompassing great change. Perhaps we are drawn to the historical past because many events, situations remain current, and so people can identify with the past, and feel a certain connection.

Paris at night

My interests in military history range far and wide, but having come across an old biography written in the 1950s, about Nancy Wake, I was mesmerised. Later, I bought the memoir she wrote herself, published in the 1980s. While it was a captivating read, it mainly detailed her life in France on the eve of war and during. I learned about her time as a journalist in the 1930s, her first encounter with her future husband, Henri Fiocca, a wealthy industrialist, her courageous work as a courier with the Resistance, and finally, her life as an SOE agent.

All accounts talk of her war work, and I often read about this fierce Guerrilla fighter, a leader of seven thousand maquisards, who could drink any man under the table and still be sober enough to recall every detail. But instinctively I knew there was more to this fearless lady. Yes, she was strong-willed, she was angry, so ferociously angry with the Germans, and for a good reason. Mad enough to have the will to do something about their cruel ways.

Nancy was a lady who enjoyed the finer things in life, beautiful clothes, and dining. She was as far removed from the fighter she became when she first stepped onto French soil in 1933. Once I’d read all about her, a picture formed in my mind, but it was one mined with gaping holes, where secrets lay, buried, forgotten, and I had to uncover them to get to the heart of this amazing woman.

Nancy Wake was a frivolous, decent, young woman when she decided to study journalism in the early 1930s. She’d left her home in Sydney, unhappy with family life, embarked on a cruise, docked in England at the finale, and had to make a living. So, having completed a six-month course, armed with the basics in reporting and typing, she was fortunate enough to be offered a post in Paris, working with the Hearst News Group. In the beginning, life was idyllic.

She had suitors, dined out, and enjoyed the jet-setting lifestyle of a reporter, travelling the breadth of France, venturing across borders into Europe. It was her travels where she began to hear and see for herself, the ugliness metered out by the Nazi Party. Like so many at that time, she was intrigued by Adolf Hitler, but when she finally witnessed the brutal treatment of Jewish people by the SA in Vienna, she’d seen enough. It was a turning point in her young, gentile life. A defining moment. Hatred of the Nazis began to burn in her soul, one that would burn until her dying breath. What she witnessed in Vienna defined her in a heartbeat, and she would seize her chance when it sailed along, making a decision that would change her life forever.

The Nancy I went searching for, was a young girl in Sydney, having moved there with her family at the age of two. Originally born in New Zealand, her mother was descended from the French Huguenots and Maoris, her father from the British. Nancy had a tough upbringing, and her parents divorced when she was six years old. Sadly, her father sold the family home, effectively leaving his wife and children homeless. A new home elsewhere beckoned. Nancy was the youngest of all of her siblings, and so childhood was lonely at home. But when she went to school, she found friends and was a bit of a tomboy by all accounts.

It was this innocent child that drew me in because I began to picture a girl who had been shaped by hard family life, disappointment, rejection, an apparent lack of parental affection, and scarred by the absence of her father. As she once said, ‘I adored my dad, but he was a bastard.’ Nancy never saw her father again.

As people, we are so complex, and Nancy was no different. It seemed essential that I discovered every detail possible, to truly know the subject of my novel. Not all detail needed to be included in the book, it’s more about finding the person. After much digging and trawling genealogy sites, I’d gathered as much information as I was likely to find. Finally, I’d found Nancy. And she was quite different to the figure in those biographies.

Once we find what we are looking for, we must make sense of it, and things aren’t always as they seem. Nancy was often quoted as saying that she was never afraid. She was too busy to be scared, or her hatred of the Nazis flowed so deep that eclipsed all else. Well, you see, I believe Nancy was afraid, and, quite rightly so. I think what she genuinely realised was that fear would not be a barrier. She really was far too busy to dwell on it, and, like most people, simply got on with things. As a writer, we have an option to exercise some creative licence when writing about real people, while taking care to be as factually correct as reasonably possible.

As any writer of historical fiction knows, the research phase of writing can be exhausting, producing mountains of notes, many of which are never utilised – at least not in the written sense. But much of what is uncovered is used in other ways because the writer is now informed, and such insight informs their writing, characterisation, voice etc. It is the light bulb moment – a defining event. And it’s exciting, and satisfying when that finally happens.

Madame Fiocca is available to buy now from Amazon as an e-book. It is also available to read for FREE via KindleUnlimited – mybook.to/MadameFiocca