German U-Boats in World War One

During the first world war maritime warfare underwent a technical change that led them to becoming a revolutionised weapon. Both the British and Germans used them to lead attacks on other submarines, merchant ships and battleships. World War One was the first time submarines are used for a significant amount of time in battle or skirmishes. The German submarines entertained a distinguished success in managing to halt and destroyed almost half of all food and supplies carried by the British Merchant Navy. Even though they had similar purposes they should not be confused with the Austro-Hungarian submarines.

Unterseeboot, or ‘U-Boat’/’Undersea Boat’, had several naval stations on German coast lines, and the Germans had a total of 29 boats at the beginning of the war. Most were manufactured in Brugge Harbour but requirements for more submarines meant that development grew to involve Zeebrugge and Oostende Harbours. Each piece of the submarines was designed and built inland in German factories and then transported to the harbour were they would be fitted together piecemeal. A large amount of naval manufacturing took place in these harbours since torpedoes and destroyer boats were also constructed large scale here. Even though they were crucial in damaging enemy naval war ships they were mostly designed for commercial warfare, as the main aim was to sink merchant ships from between Britain, America and Canada.

The U-boat Campaign during World War One took place during the entire four years. It mostly took place in the waters around Britain and in the Mediterranean since these were the busiest channels for sea port trade. Since both Germany and England relied on imports for food and fertilizer, the general idea was to blockade each other and sink the ships. Pre-War England had a vastly superior navy, something that had been built up to prestige over some five hundred years. This meant it was vital for Germany to catch up in naval aspects in order to successfully unhinge Britain’s trading standards. This they did with swift renovations to their underwater ships. In August 1914 the first ever submarine flotilla patrol took place by German U-boats with the aim to sink the British Grand Fleet’s premium ships. However U-15 subs failed in the one attack that took place with torpedoes missing their mark. The Germans knew that merchant ships in the Mediterranean had to make stops in places like Crete, Gibraltar, Malta and navigate the Suez canal. It was around these areas that were targeted in order to disallowed British and neutral ships to pass. U-33, U-39 and U-35 were responsible for taking control of the Mediterranean commercial fleets.

The second attack taking place mere days after the announcement of War between England and Germany was broadcast. On the 5th of September HMS Pathfinder was sunk by U-21, the first of which to be done by a self-propelled torpedo. The next biggest was during the 1915 Gallipoli campaign when the U-21 sank two pre-dreadnaught battleships, one the most lethal battleships in the English and American navy. Commercial warfare began in 1915 when the Kaiser declared the waters surrounding the British Isles to be a series of war zones. This meant merchant ships could be attacked without warning and without provocation even if they are ships declared neutral. However restrictions had to replaced onto submarine movements and attacks when a SM U-20 sank an American civilian ship the RMS Lusitania and SS Sussex. Part of the Sussex Pledge the Germans were forced to do was to limit submarine fleets. The Germans resorted to surfacing submarines while in battle which led to a small victory at the Battle of Jutland. Despite winning the battle the British Grand Fleet was still in control of British waters. Therefore the Germans went back to just targeting merchant ships. This succeeded with several million tonnes of shipping destroyed up until 1918. 1917 saw a reversion to unrestricted submarine warfare but by armistice the Germans had failed to deplete the British resources enough. This meant on the declaration of peace in 1918 all the German submarines had to surrender and sail to the British submarine port at Harwich. The decisive moment was when Japan joined the Allies in 1917 who were strongly anti-submarine. The Japanese fleets aided by the French and Italian was successful in patrolling the Mediterranean and blockading the Germans.

Most of the U-boats the Germans created were studied at great length ensuring some of the more technical aspects were taken into consideration when upgrading the British submarines. Much was scrapped in aid in use as building materials and the rest was sold to Allied navies. The last moment to take place by the German Submarines during World War One was to stage and supress a naval mutiny since the loss of so many ships destroyed naval morale.

Chemical Warfare In The First World War

Chemical weapons were probably the most feared of all weapons in World War One. While other new developments such as the machine gun killed far more soldiers overall during the war, soldiers could still find some shelter in shell craters from gunfire, and death would be quick. Death by poison gas however was frequently drawn out and a gas attack meant soldiers having to put on crude gas masks which if unsuccessful, an attack could leave a victim in agony for days and weeks before he finally succumbed to his injuries.

Although chemical warfare had already been outlawed as of the 1899 Hague Conference, France, Germany and Britain all continued to experiment with tear gases as they did not consider them to be in violation of the agreement. From September 1914, the desperate search for ways to break the endless stalemate of trench warfare caused them to turn to these chemical weapons.

In August 1914 the French first used tear gas cartridges developed before the war from weapons used by the Paris police. This was more an irritant rather than a gas that would kill. It was used to stop the seemingly unstoppable German army advancing throughout Belgium and north-eastern France. The Germans first used gas In October 1914 when they fired gas shells at the French that contained a chemical that caused violent sneezing fits. Again, the gas was not designed to kill rather than to incapacitate an enemy so that they were unable to defend their positions properly.

One particular early use of gas of this type showed the limitations of this early and unreliable form of chemical warfare. It was on the Eastern front, unlike the other examples, at the Battle of Bolimov. Here, eighteen thousand gas shells containing xylyl bromide were fired at Russian positions, but were a complete failure. The winter weather was too cold to permit an effective aerosol to disperse the gas, and the chemical was either blown back towards the German lines, fell harmlessly to the ground, or was not concentrated enough to cause any damage.Untitled

These first uses of gas took place when the war in the west that was still very mobile. Once trench warfare had time to settle in, all sides involved in the conflict looked for any way possible to bring movement back into their campaigns. One of the more obvious was to develop a weapon that would destroy not only an enemy frontline but also the will to maintain troops on that frontline. Poison gas might even provoke a mass mutiny along a frontline thus causing it to collapse. In other words, poison gas seemed to be the answer for the war’s lack of mobility.

Poison gas (in this case, chlorine) was used for the first time at the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915. On the 22nd April, French sentries in Ypres noticed greenish-yellow clouds moving towards them,  a gas delivered from pressurised cylinders dug into the German front line. The French took this for an enemy smokescreen used to disguise the movement of German troops. Believing this, all French troops in the area were ordered to the firing line of their trench – right in the path of the chlorine. As the gas clouds reached the French trenches and revealed their nature it would have been too late, as the impact was immediate and devastating. Chlorine gas kills by irritating the lungs to such an extent that they flood with fluid, and the victim effectively drowns as a result. The defenders that did not succumb to the gas fled, allowing the German infantry to advance and quickly overrun the frontline.

After this first used of deadly poison gas, other nations then rushed to develop their own chemical weapons and defences against them. This led to a rapid development in these two areas. The development in the use of gas led to both phosgene and mustard gas being used. Phosgene was a gas which was felt by the victim only 48 hours after it had been inhaled and by then it had already too late, as it had imbedded itself in the respiratory system and very little could be done to eradicate it. Also it was much less obvious to begin with thaUntitled2t someone had inhaled phosgene as it did not cause as much violent coughing as other gases. Mustard gas was first used by the Germans against the Russians at Riga in September 1917. This gas caused both internal and external blisters on the victim within hours of being exposed to it. The damage to the lungs and other internal organs were extremely painful and although not always fatal, many who did survive were blinded by the gas.

Alongside the development of new gases, armies quickly developed gas masks that gave protection as long as sufficient warning was given of a gas attack. Soldiers were also trained to use make-shift gas masks if they were caught in the open without a gas mask during a gas attack, such as cloth soaked in their own urine and placed over the mouth, said to give protection against a chlorine attack. By the end of the war, relatively sophisticated gas masks were available to soldiers in the trenches on the Western Front.

The Bulldagger of the Harlem Rennaissance, The Gay Emperor, The Bisexual Pirate and the Blonde Bombshell

This month in the UK is LGBT history month and in its honour I have decided to look at a figure from each group in the acronym.

Lesbian – Gladys Bentley

Born in 1907, Bentley left home at 16 for New York where she soon ended up in Harlem. Harlem had become known as the capital of ‘The New Negro’. Here she became a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance as a performer. Bentley was always open about her sexuality, including in her act where she would flirt with female audience members. She also had a series of girlfriends and also claimed to have married a white woman, something that would have outraged not only homophobes but also racists. It was also illegal in many areas of the US due to anti-miscegenation laws. Bentley was hugely successful on the gay circuit in Harlem but after the repeal of Prohibition, work opportunities began to dry up. She moved to South California, where she was increasingly harassed, especially for wearing men’s clothes. She managed to maintain her career somewhat and also recorded 5 discs there. However, during the McCarthy era, Bentley was forced to sanitise her act and act more outwardly ‘straight’ to avoid persecution. She also married two men, in succession as an attempt to cover up her lesbianism. She also wrote an article in Ebony magazine claiming to have been ‘cured’ in a further attempt to protect herself. Bentley went on to appear on Groucho Marx’s television show and continued to perform when she could. Near the end of her life, Bentley became devoted to The Temple of Love in Christ and even moved towards becoming ordained as a priest with the church. However she was struck by a flu epidemic in 1960 and she died of pneumonia at the age of 52.

Despite the denial of her sexuality in the later years of her life, Bentley has been a prominent figure in LGBT history, along with African American history. Her early success has been seen as positive and her later desperate attempts to survive in a deeply homophobic climate have been seen in LGBT history as indicative of the times.

Gay – Emperor Hadrian

Hadrian is mostly known in the UK for building Hadrian’s Wall but he ruled the Roman Empire for 21 years. He is also thought to be gay by some historians. Hadrian was married to a woman Sabina, however their marriage produced no children and was unhappy, perhaps further supporting that he was gay. His relationship with Antinous, a young Greek man, was well documented.

Born in 76 AD, he gained the throne of emperor via his father’s cousin, Trajan, the previous emperor in 117 AD. He travelled extensively, visiting nearly every province in his Empire which he considered a fundamental part of governing. Along with building Hadrian’s Wall, he rebuilt the Pantheon in Rome which had been destroyed twice since it had been initially built.

Hadrian is thought to have met Antinous in 123 AD and he became his favourite in 128 AD when he joined his retinue. Hadrian is known to have described Antinous as intelligent and the pair shared a love of hunting. From early sources there is evidence that their relationship was sexual as is the fact that Hadrian was attracted to men, which was accepted in Roman society. In comparison there is no evidence about Hadrian being attracted to women.

Their romance however was cut short in late 130 AD when Antinous drowned in Egypt. The exact circumstances of his death are unknown, with many conspiracies debated by contemporaries and historians. Hadrian was devastated at his death, publicly mourning him. He was deified and Hadrian ordered that a city called Antinopolis be built in his honour near where he died.

Hadrian died in 138 AD, probably from heart failure.

Bisexual – Anne Bonny

Born in Ireland around 1700, Bonny was the illegitimate daughter of a lawyer and his servant. The family moved to America shortly before Anne’s teens. Even as a teen she had a temper, allegedly stabbing a servant girl. She married James Bonny whose name she took even after she abandoned him in favour of Jack “Calico Jack” Rackham, whose activities she joined in with. It was through Rackham she met Mary Read, a fellow female pirate who also apparently became her lover. The threesome stole a ship, the Revenge. With this better ship they recruited a crew and began attacking a number of small vessels, amassing a large amount of bounty. The ship, however, was attacked by the authorities and the group were sentenced to death, despite fierce fighting from both women even when their male crew gave up easily. Both Anne and Mary had their sentences delayed due to both being pregnant.

What happened after this is not entirely clear: it seems likely that Anne was probably released thanks to her father’s efforts and forced to return home. She is thought to have married a local man and later died, not partaking in any further criminal activities.

Trans – Christine Jorgensen

Born George William Jorgensen, Jr., in the Bronx of New York in 1930 she never fitted the expectations of being male. Drafted as a soldier during World War two, Jorgensen also attended several colleges and briefly worked for Pathé before deciding to go to Sweden for gender reassignment. However on the way she visited relatives in Copenhagen where upon meeting Dr Christian Hamburger, she elected to stay in Denmark. Hamburger was an endocrinologist and specialist in rehabilitative hormonal therapy, and as well as supervising Jorgensen’s hormone therapy, he began to help her organise her first operations. In fourteen months she had surgery that removed both her testicles and penis, before returning to the US. However shortly before her return, the New York Daily News found out her story which led to mass public interest in Jorgensen; she could no longer keep her life private. Jorgensen returned looking and feeling remarkably different than she had when she had last been in the US; she had also changed her name to Christine in honour of Dr Hamburger. In an attempt to get her version out to the world rather than the lurid and fictitious claims of the press, Jorgensen sold her exclusive rights to American Weekly. Faced with limited opportunities due to the publicity, Jorgensen found herself working in the entertainment business as well as becoming an advocate and speaker supporting trans issues.

While by no means the first person to have a sex change (Jorgensen would have more operations such as vaginoplasty) Jorgensen was one of the first to survive her operations and be known to the public. In later life she continued to work with those in the medical profession who were exploring sex-reassignment change and trans issues, as well as helping trans people socially. In 1989, not long before her death that year of cancer, she said she believed that she had given the sexual revolution “a good swift kick in the pants”.

#MLKAlsoSaid: Re-remembering Martin Luther King Jr. in 2015

With the recent release of Selma, the historical film based on the 1965 Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights marches, there’s been a rise in voices and opinions on the way not just Black History is remembered, but also the way in which we remember key actors within the Civil Rights movement. Recent hashtags trending on twitter, such as #MLKAlsoSaid, noting some of Dr. Martin Luther King’s less remembered quotes, and #BlackHistoryYouDidntLearnInSchool, commenting on the American education system’s lack of substantial material on the Civil Rights movement, have sparked new discussions. This has caused a spread in the idea that there is more to learn and to be told about one of the men who led it.

Born January 15th 1929, as Michael King Jr., Dr. King was raised in a strongly Baptist household, with his father and grandfather both practising Baptist ministers. He attended a segregated school, graduating at fifteen,  and afterwards attended Morehouse College to earn a B.A. in sociology, later graduating with a doctorate in theology at Boston University. In 1955,  he led the Montgomery Bus Boycott, propelled by the arrest of Rosa Parks, who refused to leave her seat on the bus for a white passenger.  During the boycott, which lasted 385 days, Dr. King was arrested and his house was bombed. It was this Boycott and its eventual success in ending the segregation on buses that propelled King into the public eye as a key figure in  the Civil Rights movement. Now over fifty years ago, King led the boycott, aged at the time only twenty-six. His age is often a neglected part of his story. Dying at only 39, he was a young man during the movement, but is often misrepresented as someone older, neglecting the power youth, especially the role black youth culture had over the Civil Rights movement.

Coretta Scott King kisses Martin Luther King, after leaving Court in Montgomery, 1956 - Source

Coretta Scott King kisses Martin Luther King, after leaving Court in Montgomery, 1956 – Source

There have been criticisms that the version of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King taught in the mainstream education and spread through mainstream media is a sanitised or a  ‘whitewashed’ version of the man who movement in the 1950s and 1960s. Ava DuVerney, the director of Selma claimed that King has become only remembered for a four word catchphrase: a catchphrase that could easily fit into a clean version the ‘white moderates’ King dissented against himself could teach, or neglect to teach, kids in schools across America. Instead of remembering King as an anti-white supremacy advocate; as a man who believed that capitalism was an evil through not permitting an even flow of economic resources; as a man who objected the war in Vietnam and called out against mass poverty in the U.S., he and his beliefs have been simplified. The version taught is a version lacking what King was truly standing for, what he was fighting for and what he believed in.

Firstly, it’s his stance on violence that is often misinterpreted. During the riots caused by the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014, and the subsequent lack of conviction or even dismissal of the police officer who killed him, there were claims that Martin Luther King would not have resorted to this. That Martin Luther King would not stand for such violence or for riots. After all, King himself stated: ‘I’ve told the kids in the ghettos that violence won’t solve their problems.’ Martin Luther King did not like violence. He was even awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his non-violent approach to racial inequality. However, only taking this part of a longer quote paints only half the picture. Although he did not condone violence, he understood that when an oppressor is using violence against an oppressed group, such as the American government was doing so against black Americans, it could not go ignored. The whole quote is as follows:

“I’ve told the kids in the ghettos that violence won’t solve their problems, but then they ask me, and rightly so; “Why does the government use massive doses of violence to bring about the change it wants in the world?” After this I knew that I could no longer speak against the violence in the ghettos without also speaking against the violence of my government”.

This quote, as well as King’s insistences that rioting is the language of the unheard – the unheard being the black Americans opposing American government – shows a King who did not mark violence or rioting as incomprehensible. In fact, it is notable how the words ‘riot’ and ‘protest’ could be used to describe the same event but each create a different image and connotation. Rioting, King claimed, is a result of ‘the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society’, which caused those who protest ‘to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention.’

King, though non-violent, was no less passionate about the Civil Rights movement. As mentioned previously, he was angry towards ‘white moderates’ who took neither side concerning the movement. He was against white supremacist systems which actively acted against black Americans, stating that the  ‘great stumbling block in [our] stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice’. Therefore, those who would not take a stand, or would look the other way in terms of how black Americans were mistreated, were ‘as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.’ 

So, why is a trending twitter hashtag #MLKALsoSaid so important? The quotes that go ignored, or unspoken or hidden behind the more palatable I Have a Dream speech reflect a Martin Luther King who was not so complacent to U.S. government or politics. A man who championed that the riot is the language of the unheard, a man who fought and was killed for his attempts at ending white supremacy in America, a man who dismissed the ‘white moderate’ and criticised their indifference to the cause of black Americans, and who criticised the systems in America which kept 40 million in poverty, as they fought unneeded wars overseas in the name of democracy and freedom, while people in America were not free themselves. When you remember Martin Luther King, remember him for more than one speech in front of a statue of Abraham Lincoln. He was not complacent in the world of white politics, but fought against it. He did not condone violence, but he did not ignore the violence perpetuated against the black population. He knew what it was to be oppressed, to see oppression every day, and to want to get rid of it. He fought to change laws, and better the lives of black Americans through them. Although he acknowledged there was more to be done in society concerning equality than changing laws, he stated that laws ‘cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.’

The Zeppelin: A terror in the skies, a new kind of warfare

Welcome to another World War One blog post.  I do hope you have enjoyed reading each of our posts on the war as much as we have been writing them!  This time I bring to you a post on the mighty Zeppelin airship.  Now air combat really started during this war.  It was the war where so many new ways of killing people were invented.  The plane or airship was only a recently invented machine, yet it was turned within a few years to be a killing machine.  I bring you a quote “Thank God, men cannot as yet fly, and lay waste the sky as well as the earth.”  This is from Henry David Thoreau in 1861.  A few decades latter and man would be laying waste to the sky.

The Zeppelin was originally invented in the latter part of the 19th century, remember it is not a plane, but an airship, the plane was supposedly invented in 1903 by the Wright Brothers (although I contest this, I leave that argument for another post).  The Zeppelins purpose was to be a passenger airship, to transport people to far away places, but as usual, the military got hold of it, and therefore we have the first ever bomber raids.  Sir Arthur Harris noted that “War is a nasty, dirty, rotten business. It’s all right for the Navy to blockade a city, to starve the inhabitants to death. But there is something wrong, not nice, about bombing that city.”  Bombing has always been a controversial topic, and the Zeppelin is technically the first machine to start bombing raids.

Germany had two airship manufacturers, the Schutte-Lanz Company, and the Zeppelin Company.  The Zeppelin Company was funnily enough led by a man named Ferdinand von Zeppelin, the world’s foremost designer of airships.  It is not surprising that the Zeppelin Company was the larger out of the two and that we call these airships Zeppelins, his legacy lived on.

So how effective was the Zeppelin in bombing?  Well the raids on Great Britain killed around 500 people during the course of the war, strategically it didn’t do a lot, it didn’t destroy a lot of industry and the way of bombing, usually by dropping bombs over the side definitely did not ensure accuracy.  London was banned from being attacked by the Kaiser himself, and all historic buildings were not to be touched.  A weird request, considering that bombing was by no means accurate and that they were at war.  Therefore the raids didn’t achieve a lot militarily, but they did have a physiological impact, it terrified the populace, they were being attacked, the war now involved them.  It brought the war home to the populace who now could feel what it was like being attacked and bombed.  It wasn’t pleasant.

So the first raid on English soil happened on the night of 19 January 1915. Two Zeppelins, L 3 and L 4, were sent from Germany intending to attack Humberside, however like most things in British history, the weather got involved and they were diverted by strong winds, the Zeppelins then dropped their bombs on Great Yarmouth, Sheringham, King’s Lynn and the surrounding villages.  Four people died in this raid, it is hard to imagine that a few decades later thousands would be killed in bomber raids.

The airships were vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire; however, the first one to be shot down by a plane was in September 1916 by pilot Leefe Robinson, whom died in 1918 to the Spanish Flu.  A Zeppelin originally could fly at a higher altitude to that of an ordinary plane such as Robinson was flying, which was a B.E.2 bi-plane.  If you Google an image of a B.E.2 you may wonder how on earth he managed to shoot down a Zeppelin with it, I honestly haven’t a clue!

The raid of 1915 on British soil was not the only circumstance of being attacked.  Scarborough was shelled by the German navy.  It has been argued that this was total war, everyone was involved and it can certainly be argued that way.  If you got one side’s morale to break they would give up, and that was what the Zeppelin was used for, creating terror and as was used as a physiological tool.

At the end of the war, the Zeppelins were handed over to the allies, as reparations for the so called defeat of Germany.  As was the German fleet given to the British to be destroyed, the Zeppelins were soon to be handed over in 1921 and limitations were put on what the Germans could build, so that the Zeppelin industry was grounded to a halt.  The Zeppelins made a comeback towards the end of the 1920s, as passenger ships as they were originally attended for.

I did find an interesting statistic whilst looking up on these airships.  One author noted that of the 115 Zeppelins constructed by the German industry, 53 of them were destroyed and a further 24 were too damaged to be operational.  That is a huge loss, that is over half that were gone by the end of the war.  Another statistic found was that crews suffered a 40% loss rate; again this figure is very high and shows the risk that these men were put through.  Finally, the cost of constructing those 115 Zeppelins was approximately five times the cost of the damage they inflicted.  Were they even worth it, did they do sufficient damage?  The answer appears to be no.  These were never used like in the Second World War with a thousand bomber raids of cities such as Cologne.  Sir Arthur Harris said that “There are a lot of people who say that bombing cannot win the war. My reply to that is that it has never been tried. . . and we shall see. “Technically it was already tried, in WW1 with the Zeppelins, but never to the scale seen in the war to follow.  From the First World War, we see the physiological impact of bombing on a populace, and this is added to in WW2.  The Zeppelins were never going to win the war, but they started a tactic that would prove controversial in years to follow, but maybe one that actually works?  That’s an entire different question!

The Zeppelin met its end is the 1930s; I will let you the reader tell me which disaster led to its demise! I know it, my Grandfather saw it fly above him, but do you know which airship’s demise caused the end to the Zeppelin!?

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

Aerial view of the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard from the Spinnaker tower

The Historic Dockyard at Portsmouth was a place I have been meaning to visit since first year and I eventually got around to it on a beautiful yet chilly January weekend (as the above photo suggests)! The dockyard is home to one of the world’s oldest dry docks that was commissioned during the reign of Henry Vii in 1495. It houses the remains of the ill-fated Mary Rose and Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory. In the past Portsmouth has played a substantial role for defending the south coast of Britain throughout the years and still remains as an important base for the Royal Navy today. The following documents my key features of the day

Mary Rose-

The Mary Rose was a Tudor warship that was completed during the early years of Henry Viii’s reign. It was thought to have been named after Henry’s favourite sister Mary. In spite of the ship sinking off the coast of Portsmouth, it had survived other previous campaigns against the French since 1512. During one of the earlier campaigns the Mary Rose was considered to have been a fast and nimble ship of the English fleet. However it is still best remembered for sinking at the Battle of the Solent on 19th July 1545. So how did the Mary Rose meet her downfall?

During the third war with France the French fleet under the orders of Admiral Claude d’Annebault set sail for England in July 1545 with 128 ships. The English fleet swiftly sailed back to Portsmouth harbour after not being able to oppose the French without heavy galleys. However the waters of the Solent made the situation far worse. The English fleet had only thirteen small galley ships to confront the French and was commanded by two larger ships, one being the Mary Rose. Unfortunately the wind force was particularly strong that day and the very early on during the battle the ship leaned sideways into the Solent and water started to come in through the open gun ports. Many men perished as the Mary Rose sank and it was estimated that 90% of the men on board died. It has been argued that more men might have survived if the anti-boarding netting was not on the sides of the ship. As well as open gun ports other suggestions have been put forth to determine why the Mary Rose sank so quickly. Some contemporary accounts suggest the crew did not listen to orders to other suggestions that the French actually succeeded in bombing the ship and as a result the Mary Rose sank.


From the wreckage the Mary Rose is considered to be a snapshot in time. Many objects had been found from this period which include arrows, chests and even a variant of the game backgammon. For instance we can learn a lot about the men who were on the ship from the bones that have since been recovered. Common features that have been determined by the bones of Tudor seamen suggest many had rickets as the shape of the bones towards the lower leg bowed outwards, suggesting many men had a Vitamin D deficiency due to their diet and most likely from their life at sea. Other findings from the bones suggest scurvy, malnutrition and fractures too were common.

HMS Victory

HMS Victory was a ship that was launched in 1765. In spite of being launched in 1765 and experiencing battles at Ushant, Cape Spartel and Cape St Vincent. However she is best known as being the flagship of Vice Admiral Lord Nelson during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Wishing not be buried at sea Lord Nelson wished to be buried on land after his death at the Battle of Trafalgar. In order to preserve his body for burial he was placed in a cask that contained alcohol until HMS Victory made it back to England.

Punishment at sea on the HMS Victory-

Who would visit the HMS Victory without mentioning one the Royal Navy’s infamous disciplinary procedures, the Cat o’ nine tails. The Cat o’ nine tails was a multi-tailed rope that was used for physical punishment and weighed roughly 370 grams. They were administered on deck so that the crew would watch the punishment taking place it was thought this helped to deter other troublemakers of the crew witnessed the Cat. Boys at sea were however spared the Cat o’ nine tails but they were not spared an alternative form of physical punishment. They received a similar module to the Cat but it was made of softer rope and contained five tails not nine. Although a huge crowd did not gather for this punishment it was still however humiliating for the troublemaker as they were usually canned on their rear end. In order to stop the spread of infection salt was rubbed into the wounds of men. The whole point of this practice was to aid the perpetrator’s pain but salt added to the punishment as it made the wound sting further.

Alfonso Boix & El Cantar de Mio Cid: An Interview

Today I bring you an interview/self reflection that I acquire from Alfonso Boix, a Spanish scholar, writing from Valencia, about his true love and passion: the epic Iberian romance El Cantar de Mio Cid. I met Alfonso some years ago and had long deep discussions about medieval literature, but he always manages to bring it all back home. It’s all about El Cid: El Cid here, El Cid there, he just can’t help himself. And that passion is what has driven him to become and international, knowledgeable mind about this topic. With a PhD and several awards for his excellent work, here I present you a fantastic piece of research.

So, what is your research about?

I usually doubt if I deserve to be called a ‘medievalist’, as sometimes I believe ‘cidaist’ would be the proper adjective to describe myself as a researcher. I have been researching on the Cid’s life and legend for almost twenty years and, though I have also written articles and books on other literary fields –the Romantic period, or women in the Middle Ages–, these works have been nothing but daring intrusions which I enjoyed though I always knew they were just short ‘love affairs’. I have mainly dealt with the Cantar de Mio Cid, its structure and its inner symbolic code, and then spread my activity to other aspects such as the Cid’s real life or other texts –Historia Roderici¸ Crónica Particular del Cid…–. My most ambitious project is focused on a research to find a second manuscript of the Mio Cid –only one has been identified up to now, which is guarded at the Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid–.

Why this obsession with El Cid?


I began researching the Mio Cid when I was 21, after reading a text from an Arthurian book which reminded me of some lines of the Cantar I had read when I was 8 or 9 years old. I want to believe it was not just something ‘at random’ and that my destiny was written since I was a child. This research led to others and, after finding Alolala –a castle which had remained lost for almost a thousand years–, I decided to develop more ambitious researches, combined with some ‘minor’ ones which would help me to reach the main targets.

This is the reason why, when I began my PhD studies, I decided to work on the Cantar de Mio Cid again: I had already been working on it for almost a decade and I knew the essential bibliography quite well. On the other hand, I did not want to get my PhD thanks to a different literary work of art: I began my career with the Cantar so, for me, my thesis was not just a research but also a homage to the epic Castilian poem.

After the compulsory courses to obtain my DEA –‘Diploma de Estudios Avanzados’, the Spanish equivalent to the MA in those years–, I developed my thesis dealing with the structure and literary gender of the Mio Cid, which I finished almost four years ago. It allowed me to reach some of those ‘main targets’ I had decided to undertake, as it proved that some ‘traditional’ concepts related to the Mio Cid which had been considered ‘unique’ were not so. Thus, the structural scheme of the poem, which resembles a ‘W’ (fall of the hero – rise – new fall – new rise) is indeed the famous Doppelwegstruktur identified in many chivalric works such as Chrétien’s Perceval; the poem itself had been compared to those of the French ‘rebellious vassals’ but, as Menéndez Pidal observed, the Cid is not a rebel against his lord, so the famous researcher believed the Cid was a unique character which showed features belonging to the Spanish ideal of a male hero. However, this ‘non-rebellious hero’ also exists in a minor group of French poems, a fact which allowed me to classify the Mio Cid as a chanson d’aventures, breaking some topics traditionally accepted by researchers and opening new perspectives on the epic poem.

Why do you think literature studies is so popular amongst medievalists, and other historians?


We should bear in mind something as simple –and sad– as the fact that no one who lived in the Middle Ages has survived to explain us how life was in that period. I have always believed that texts –not just Medieval ones, but from every age– are the messages people wrote and put in bottles (i.e. books) that crossed oceans of time till we found them to know they existed, what they did, their legends and everyday life. Archaeology is another crucial science to know how the past times were, but the importance of written texts is obvious: they’re not just the remains of civilizations, but the people who lived in past times explaining those remains. And it is our duty as philologists to read and understand those texts, helping historians who, on the other hand, also allow us to understand the texts better thanks to their researches and findings. So, this circle of mutual influence allows us to understand a period which, on the other hand, seems fascinating thanks to Romanticism, a movement which offered an idealized view of the Middle Ages, and which evidently makes us feel especially attracted by the so-called ‘Dark Ages’.

Now, tell us, what is your favourite part of El Cid?


It would be very easy for me to say I enjoy reading the whole Cantar de Mio Cid: it is true indeed! But I have a favourite episode, of course: the moment in which the Cid meets this young girl in Burgos who tells him the king has forbidden the citizens to help him. She is the first spark of hope in the poem, the first light in the Cid’s way to exile, and the contrast between the warrior and the child is extremely powerful. Battles, love and comradeship scenes are usual in the poem, but this episode is absolutely unique. I love it.

What advise would you give students getting into this sort of specialisation?

If I had to give some advice to new medievalists, I would tell them the only one that can make you ‘survive’ when you become a researcher: love what you do. It does not matter if it is the Cantar de Mio Cid, the Nibelungenlied or Beowulf; you can choose the 5th, the 10th or the 14th century… the only important thing is to choose it because you love it. Becoming a medievalist –or a researcher in any scientific field– is something similar to a marriage: you are going to spend long hours with your love, so you better feel real passion! And, if you ever decide to get divorced, your books are not going to ask you for some compensation while you leave them for another intellectual love. So, indeed… it’s better than a marriage!

After you decide to ‘get married’, you should attend conferences and meet people with common interests, especially those researchers who are well-known by their influential careers and that will give you advice for your specific interests. Don’t be shy to ask them, the wisest are always humble and open to give any suggestion if you are ready to listen to them.

And, finally, and most important of all: stay hungry! Never lose your passion to learn, discover new things, feel thrilled to know you are the first in centuries to read / know / understand whatever you discover. And let this passion become a drug that makes you crave for more. And, if you ever lose that passion… look for a new one. But never stop learning and feeling surprised by the path you follow: it’s got lots of treasures for those who accept them.

We hope you enjoyed Alfonso’s story and we would like to thank him for taking the time to share his passion with us!

The Archer- His Progression into the Modern Day.

As part of WUHstry’s out of the comfort zone month, I bring to you a post which is, as it says on my tin, out of my comfort zone. Recently I have noticed that the archer as a character has seemed to come back into fashion, becoming more and more popular. In so many films and TV series now, there are famous archers. Oliver Queen in Arrow, Katniss Everdeen in the big film and book franchise The Hunger Games, Hawkeye in the Avengers and the film Thor, Legolas in Lord of the Rings. Even the modern-day adaptations of Robin Hood with Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner highlight that the archer is no longer out of fashion. It is intriguing how a role which many had forgotten and deemed pointless with the introduction of guns has now come into fashion. The roles of the Green Arrow and Hawkeye highlight that even in a world of modern weaponry, the Archer is still a skilful and effective role.

Image of a bow and arrow from the film: The Hunger Games

In the past, the bow and arrow was one of the most useful weapons to have. It served many uses, for hunting, for killing, for archery and to teach patience and skill. It was an extremely important weapon and had been replaced with the introduction of guns and other more effective weapons which can damage more people. But how has a weapon from the Upper Paleolithic (late stone ages to you and me) been able to catch the attention of people worldwide in the modern-day and age, and the characters brought to us through fiction and film. This post will explore some of my favourite characters in modern works which have contributed to keeping the magic alive.

Oliver Queen Arrow/The Hood/The Vigilante/The Green Arrow:

Image of Stephen Amell as DC’s Green Arrow in the 2012-present series of Arrow

My name is Oliver Queen. For five years I was stranded on an island with only one goal – survive. Now I will fulfill my father’s dying wish – to use the list of names he left me and bring down those who are poisoning my city. To do this, I must become someone else. I must become something else.

A haunting statement which has greeted us since 2012, the CW/Warner Bros series Arrow based upon the DC comics character the Green Arrow is one of the most popular archers in the modern-day media. It excellently portrays the role of the Archer as one who whilst being shipwrecked on an island has to learn the skill of archery in order to survive. It is the first time that the Green Arrow character has been the centre stage, and it puts emphasis on the importance of the archer in the modern-day. In Arrow, the bow and arrow is an awful lot more effective than the gun, and the role of the Arrow puts further emphasis on this: fighting crime in his home, Starling City against criminals and warlords that have failed his city and put a threat to humanity. By having an ordinary bow and then an array of arrows which can provide different uses, some which act as microphones to capture criminals confessions, some which provide explosions which can clear debris, and of course the usual arrow heads which put fear into the enemy. The Arrow does not falter in a world where he is outnumbered, and his archery skill highlight jut how far the archer has come through time. His different techniques poured fear into the enemy, and the character itself will surely have made archery more cool and make people sign up to do it.

Katniss Everdeen:

Image of Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games portraying Katniss Everdeen

Katniss in the big film franchise The Hunger Games, is a film about how each district from the 12 in the world provide 2 tributes, a boy and a girl, to take part in The Hunger Games tournament. Lawrence’s character is the main one in the trilogy, and experienced in foraging, hunting, wildlife and survival techniques. The weapon of choice for this character is the bow and arrow against the other tributes, showing that the role of the archer is one of skill and knowledge, something highlighted through her ability to win the games. Although this franchise is set in a different type of world, it has made the archer an exciting role, one which many will want to follow. The fact that the archery techniques helped Katniss to win the games highlights just how useful a bow and arrow still is.

Hawkeye- Clint Barton

Image of Hawkeye from the film the Avengers

Hawkeye provides further evidence of how the archer can be interpreted and still be effective in the Modern Day. Although in the Marvel Cinematic universe Hawkeye is overshadowed by some much better heroes :Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Black Widow. Yet he still manages to make archery a very useful exciting skill and doesn’t allow himself to be shooed away from a fight. Though he may not be the centre of attention, his quiver holds an exciting array of technology and arrows. He highlights how the archer can be brought into the modern-day, making use of technology to make the shot of an arrow a lot more effective.

Legolas- The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit books and Films

Image of Orlando Bloom playing Legolas

Different to the other free, the character of Legolas in the J RR Tolkien Trilogy: The Lord of the Rings, is one of the original cool archers. Though he may not be in a modern setting, rather in Middle Earth helping to aid Frodo to the darkness of Mordor and Mount Doom to destroy the all-powerful ring. What puts Legolas apart from the ones already mentioned is he uses only the bow and arrow, although occasionally donning a white knife. There is no technology needed, and he relies on merely his skill and accuracy to allow him to be such an integral part of The Fellowship. No matter how many Orcs or trolls he came across, he would be able to put them all down through his amazing archery. As a child the character of Legolas really made archery something that you wanted to do, and was an archer you felt you could really look up to.

And the best till last, perhaps one of the most famous legendary Archers that we all know and love:

Robin Hood, in Disney Form and Human, played by Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe

Disney’s Take on Robin Hood

Kevin Costner in the 1991 film version

Russell Crowe in the lead in the 2010 version

And finally, the one archer who is possibly the most famous in the world – Robin Hood. The man who famously stole from the rich to give to the poor, Robin Hood portrayed in Disney form and through Kevin Costner and Russell Crowe made old school archery look a walk in the park, something fun that everybody can enjoy. His well-known green hood and his band of merry men, Robin Hood is archery really. Everybody knows the story of how he fights for Maid Marion against the evil sheriff Of Nottingham and Prince John, and has been played by so many different actors over the years. But Robert whether he be myth or a fake, has for years proven to the world why the bow and arrow will never die. He managed to save his love, and had fun at the same time, in some cases stopping the French from invading, in others stopping the sheriff from using alien robots to use up all the gold and wealth to make a spaceship. In the story of Robin Hood there is an icon that will live on forever and give the bow and arrow meaning.

Thank you for reading my post, I hope you have enjoyed learning on how influential the bow and arrow has become in modern media, and if you have I hope you enjoy furthering your knowledge.


Child Migration

Once again I am foraying into the world of modern history for ‘out-of-comfort-zone’ month, and I have chosen to look into the actions and movements of child migration in the middle of the twentieth century. I originally had a different idea for this post but watching series four of Call the Midwife last night, the aspect on the ‘Child Migrant Programme’ sparked curiosity. The idea of sending supposed vagrant children to English colonies began in 1618 to populate the Virginia Colony as cheap labour, but for this post I shall be focusing particularly on the children in the post-war era of Britain. This behaviour of removing children from their families and homes, often without consultation, is nothing new and occurs across the world, usually in times when a country is in crisis or dealing with an aftermath of a crisis.
By the 1950’s, Britain had a long history of shipping children as young as three away from their homelands through to around 1975. Most popular destinations were America, Australia and New Zealand and most were placed in institutions or sold to farmers to work in the fields. Most of these children had been subject to neglect in their homelands, were orphans or were placed in the adoption system. Yet these early hardships could be nothing compared to what they would experience in these apparently new ‘hopeful lands’ which Britain wanted to populate with ‘good white England stock’. The average age of being sent away was between seven and fourteen, the age which a child could seem capable of leaving the homestead and beginning menial land work. However if a child was found in neglectful circumstances in their homeland, they could be removed from the ages of three to four. Any younger the child would be attempted to be adopted in their home country as more families are willing to take in babies rather than older children, a sad fact still true of today. There are numerous accounts documenting that fact that the majority of children travelling were often not healthy enough to survive, a quote from the Fairbridge Society on Child Migrants in 1950 states:
“This party is the worst which we have ever received. From whichever aspect they are considered, there is nothing to recommend them… We have in the past featured that it is an advantage to Australia to have immigrants of good sound British stock. If they are neither good nor sound we must modify our statements and lose one of our most profitable items of propaganda.”
Once they arrive in their destination after what usually would be a lengthy and tedious boat ride halfway across the world, they would be segregated into institutions, sold off to farmers or placed in an equivalent of the British workhouse in the early twentieth century. Many of the children were those from over-crowded orphanages, placed in short-term foster situations and homeless children. On the other hand there are actual cases of children from loving family homes being removed without parental consent and placed onto the next ship that leaves the docklands. This action was particularly prevalent in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Southampton due to high populations of children in destitute areas and nearest to boat yards. This does not mean it did not occur further inland, but the majority of children came from high density cities and towns and well connected rural villages.
Removing children from England was popular to ensure an increase of a ‘white population’ in newly developing westernised societies. Places like America, New Zealand and Australia had a history of rehabilitating English criminals, yet it was thought had children would have better time adapting to new surroundings. The government thought this would ensure a population increase during a time when segregation between white and black people was still in extremis. Although child migration had been occurring for centuries, this particular bout started during World War Two as a way of removing children from the dangers of being bombed in a city. But the key idea was to populate countries like Australia which had a high native population with British children to balance against the vast quantity of people in Asia between England and Australia. Indeed a quote from the Archbishop of Perth in 1938 confirms this:
“At a time when empty cradles are contributing woefully to empty spaces, it is necessary to look for external sources of supply. And if we do not supply from our own stock we are leaving ourselves all the more exposed to the menace of the teeming millions of our neighbouring Asiatic races.”
Although several countries such as Germany, Finland and Russia have used Child Migration as a last resort, Britain has the longest sustaining use of this abhorrent act. Child Migration to Virginia, North America began in 1618 and the last group of children arrived in 1970, totalling a couple of million children over the three hundred and fifty two years. There was a strong prejudice against children who were chosen to go as countries are known to have refused physically disabled children or black children. The case in Virginia meant that once the children arrived in America they would be separated from siblings and sent to different institutions across the country. Most were sent without proper documentation such as birth certificates, passports or medical histories. The work would range from farming to factory work, considering that the children their own age in England would be at school, not working.
Many of the children never made it back to their country of birth, several settled to a life of hardship some equivalent to slavery. All had a consistent disregard for their homeland that had ‘abandoned’ them. Several charities have been set up to attempt to get the now adult children back in touch with their family in the UK, yet many would never succeed or would not bother.
All information gather from the Child Migrants Trust, for more information please visit:

Linear A and Linear B

This post is all about one of the oldest written languages to date. Linear A + B are two separate but related languages, found in Greece. The two languages have always been a fascination for me, even though they aren’t in my preferred area of history, which is the medieval period. It initially seemed odd to me that Linear B had been translated but Linear A hadn’t, I had thought that the amount of evidence for both was equal, until I read that evidence of Linear B was found in abundance, whereas Linear A was only in fragments, not near enough to translate. So this became my goal, when I was 16, to translate Linear A. of course this would mean teaming up with archaeologists, to find more tablets, and a lot of study into ancient linguistics on my part. But now my interest is torn, between reaching this 6-year old goal of mine, and the pursuit of chivalry in the medieval period, quite different I know. I would like to share the research I have done into the two languages in this post.

First, the basics, where they were found and when they date to. The initial discovery was made in 1939 by Carl Blegan, who found c.1100 tablets in the palace at Pylos (south western Peloponnese). Since then many more tablets have been found; 4000 from Knossos, 430 from Thebes, 73 from the town of Mycenae, and 24 from Tiryns. My source states that these numbers are correct as of 2004, and it is quite possible a fair few more have been found since. These tablets are from a range of dates, with the Linear B tablets dating from c.1250 BC and the Linear A tablets going as far back to c.1850 BC. These photos below show the Palace at Pylos, example of Linear A and an example of Linear B in order.Palace at Pylos

Linear A

Linear B

Linear A is attested in Crete and on several Aegean islands from c.1850-1400 BC. It is possibly related to hieroglyphic Minoan and is the pre-historic language of Minoan Crete. It is a syllabic script which reads from left to right, and despite it not being translated it is possibly Linear B’s ancestor.

Linear B is in a Mycenaean Greek dialect, borrowed from the Minoans. It is found on clay tablets which date to 1400-1200 BC and is used for admin purposes. The tablets mainly contain economic lists and trade values. It is formed of c.200 symbols, 87 of which are thought to represent phonetic syllables, and the remainder are thought to be logograms, with semantic value. The logograms generally represent items for trade. Used primarily to record transactions. 5 symbols existed for recording a decimal number system; 1, 10, 100, 1000, 10000. This language is the oldest Greek dialect and parts of it survived to Homer’s Greece. Linear B was translated in 1953 by John Chadwick and Michael Ventris, after many years of work.

As mentioned above, more tablets are being found regularly, so I might just get the chance to be the one to translate Linear A.


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