Tag Archives: Education

Gavrilo Princip

Gavrilo Princip and the Mythical Sandwich

Gavrilo PrincipIt is generally accepted that the First World War was triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by the Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip. In recent years, however, an extra twist has been added: that the only reason Princip was in a position to fire at the Archduke was because he happened to be eating lunch when the Archduke’s car drove past. Millions of lives were lost during the war that followed. The Russian Revolution, the rise of Hitler and Nazism, the Second World War, and even the atomic bomb can arguably be attributed to the First World War, and thus, to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. It’s sobering to think that all of those terrible things might never have happened if Princip hadn’t felt a little hungry and stopped off at Schiller’s delicatessen for a sandwich.

The sandwich theory, however, is deeply flawed. The Smithsonian blog published an excellent debunking of it back in 2011. It appears that the original source of the sandwich was a novel by a Brazilian TV host. The post is very interesting, and well worth a read.
Continue reading Gavrilo Princip and the Mythical Sandwich

Unearthed Project logo

Lidice Unearthed

The Unearthed project to commemmorate Lidice
Today is the 72nd anniversary of the destruction of Lidice. Last year, the Unearthed project created a sculpture to raise awareness of, and remember, both the atrocity and the incredible generosity of North Staffordshire’s miners.

The story of Lidice is one that should be shared far and wide. If you don’t know it, see this blog post. If you do know it, tell others. Don’t let the atrocity be forgotten – it’s when we forget that we allow such things to happen again. But also, don’t let the miners’ generosity be forgotten – it can, and should, inspire future generations to be the best they can be.

As well as a beautiful sculpture, the project created a series of videos, which illustrate the story of Lidice.
Continue reading Lidice Unearthed

Unearthed Unveiled

My tag on the sculpture
My tag on the sculpture
On Saturday, my family and I joined 150-200 others at the unveiling of the new Unearthed sculpture, outside the Victoria Hall in Stoke on Trent, where the Lidice Shall Live campaign began in 1942.

It was a great event, featuring an aerial dance by EveryBODY Dance, a performance by Stoke Men’s Choir, and a poem about the story of Lidice, performed by the 6th form student that wrote it.

I was pleased to note that the mayor of Lidice had sent a representative, especially when she added her own personal thoughts to the official message from the mayor.

The sculpture itself is very impressive. Not only is it physically large and imposing, but the use of tags (based on miners’ tags) is a wonderfully inspired idea. They illustrate the people standing together, just as they did in 1942.

The Unearthed project has built a remarkable and important sculpture. They have also put a great deal of time, energy, and effort into spreading the story of Lidice and Stoke-on-Trent. The sculpture has 2,000 tags, each one representing a person that has promised to tell the story to at least two others. That’s at least six thousand people that now know the story.

It’s an amazing story which should be shared far and wide. If you don’t know it, see my previous blog post. If you do know it, tell others. Don’t let the atrocity be forgotten – it’s when we forget that we allow such things to happen again. But also, don’t let the miners’ generosity be forgotten – it can, and should, inspire future generations to be the best they can be.

For more information about the Unearthed project, see the Facebook group or Twitter feed.

Lidice shall live poster

Lidice and the Unearthed Project

Unearthed Project logo

Earlier this month, I saw a film put on by the Unearthed Project at the Potteries Museum. The project aims to improve awareness of the Lidice massacre and the tremendous generosity of Stoke on Trent’s miners in helping to rebuild the village of Lidice. As part of the project, I promised to tell the story to at least two people. This blog post is part of my fulfilment of that promise.


On the 27th of May 1942, SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich was being driven to his office at Prague Castle. In Prague, his car was attacked by two men. Both men fired on the car, and when it stopped, one of them threw a modified anti-tank grenade into the car, which wounded both Heydrich and Kubiš, the thrower. Both Czechs managed to get away, leaving Heydrich and his driver, SS-Oberscharführer Klein, wounded. A state of emergency was declared in Prague and a massive search was undertaken for Heydrich’s attackers. Eight days later on the 4th of June, Heydrich died of septicaemia.

Destruction of Lidice

By the time of Heydrich’s funeral on the 9th of June, Heydrich’s killers had still not been found, but the village of Lidice was suspected of helping Czech resistance members. Hitler had decreed that the village should be literally wiped from the face of the Earth. Members of the Ordnungspolizei and SD (Sicherheitsdienst) surrounded the village and took the men out of the village to a local farm, where they were shot. A few of the children were chosen for “Germanisation”, and adopted by SS families, to be brought up as Germans. The others were initially sent to Łódź, then later to an extermination camp. The women were taken to concentration camps, where they were forced to work.

Lidice after the massacre
Lidice after the massacre

The village was burned down, then the remains of the buildings were blown up and bulldozed. The remains in the town cemetery were dug up and destroyed. The village was completely razed, and the rubble cleared away, leaving nothing to indicate that Lidice had existed. The destruction was filmed, and the events were announced to the rest of the world.

Lidice Lives

Lidice shall live poster
Towns in various countries were named after Lidice to commemorate it, and to ensure the name lived on, in defiance of Hitler’s intention to remove all memory of Lidice. In the UK, Dr Barnett Stross, the MP for Stoke on Trent, and Arthur Baddely, President of the North Staffs Miners union, founded the “Lidice Shall Live” campaign. This campaign aimed to raise funds to pay for Lidice to be rebuilt, and was launched in September 1942. The miners of Stoke on Trent pledged to give a day’s pay every week, and by the end of 1945, they had raised over £32,000 (the equivalent of £1,000,000 in 2013).

The rebuilding of Lidice started in 1947. As a mark of gratitude to the people of Stoke on Trent, a road in the new village was named after Dr Barnett Stross.

Remembering the Story

The story of Lidice and the miners’ fund raising seems to be largely forgotten, and so the Unearthed project aims to improve awareness of the story and the link between Stoke on Trent and Lidice. A memorial sculpture is to be included in the new bus station currently being constructed at Hanley, in Stoke on Trent. This sculpture will have miner’s tags, each one stamped with a code that identifies a member of the public that has promised to share the story with at least two other people. If you’re willing to share this story with two other people, please make your promise at the project’s website and claim your tag.

Six Book Challenge

The Reading Agency: logoI recently discovered the Reading Agency’s Six Book Challenge. According to the website, one in six adults struggles to read, and the challenge is intended to encourage them to read more and improve their reading. Participants choose six things to read and record what they’ve read. They get a certificate for completing the challenge, and can enter a draw to win prizes. The six reads don’t have to be books – they can be blogs, magazines or whatever the reader is interested in reading.

The 2013 challenge is to be led by Andy McNab. I think he’s a great choice – when he joined the army at 17, he had a reading age of 11. Now he’s a successful author. That’s one hell of a turn-around, and if anyone can serve as inspiration, he can. Plus, he doesn’t have a nerdy image – he was in the army, and served in the SAS. That’s about as far away from nerdy as it’s possible to get.

I think the challenge is a great idea. Getting more people to read is a good thing, and I like that people can read whatever they like to earn the certificate. Having more people able to read confidently is a good thing, and I’ve written before that I don’t care what people read. I’d like to think that some of the people who take part in this challenge will go on to find a love of reading books, but if they don’t, that’s fine. If doing the challenge means that they’ll be more confident reading and generally be more able to find out what they need, that’s a good thing.

Ada Lovelace Day: Jen Phillips

For more information about Ada Lovelace Day, see findingada.com. For a brief (but not entirely accurate) comic biography of Ada Lovelace, see Ada Lovelace: The Origin.

JenI asked my wife, Jen Phillips, if she’d be willing to be my subject for Ada Lovelace Day this year. Jen got a degree in Ecology from Durham University in 2000, and currently works as a technical author. She tweets as JetlagJAP and has a blog called Void and Actuality.

Russell Phillips: Let’s start at the beginning. What sort of STEM things did you do at GCSE and A-level?
Jen Phillips: At GCSE, I didn’t really have any choice. Everything was required, so I did the standard dual-award science and standard maths. Options were limited. Everyone did the same. At A-level, I did Biology, Chemistry and Maths. I did an AS in Further Maths as well.

RP: So, then you went to university. I know you have a degree in Ecology, but I’m hazy on exactly what that means.
JP: It’s the study of organisms and how they interact with their environment. Environment being defined as the physical and biological parts of everything it interacts with. So, everything from the kind of ground it walks on, to the prey it eats, to the cycle of seasons.
Continue reading Ada Lovelace Day: Jen Phillips

Read Whatever You Like. Just Read

This blog post was featured in Carnival of the Indies, issue 17.

Fahrenheit 451 e-book on the Kindle
Fahrenheit 451 e-book on the Kindle by unten44, on Flickr

E-books have come in for some criticism lately. Jonathan Franzen, apparently one of America’s greatest novelists, thinks they have no permanence, and worries that they are “not compatible with a system of justice or responsible self-government“. Antonia Senior, writing in the Guardian, sneers at “genre fiction” such as horror, romance and science fiction.

I don’t understand the snobbery around books. I’ve read before that e-books give people more freedom to read what they want to read, and that freedom has led to more sales of genres like erotica, because when you read on an electronic device, no-one can tell what you’re reading. My wife tells me that she once saw the Children’s Laureate giving advice to a parent who was worried that their child didn’t read. He told her to let the child read anything they wanted. Comics, magazines, books, whatever. The thinking was that it was far better for the child to read a comic and enjoy it than struggle through The Lord of the Flies and hate it.

I agree with the above advice. Recently, I’ve read non-fiction titles about Operation Grief (a German WWII false-flag operation) and Lady Thatcher’s thoughts on the Falklands Conflict. I’ve also read fictional accounts of a third world war in Europe and the recovery of treasure from a sunk German WWII submarine.

Ms Senior says that “It’s not future classics that push digital sales, but more downmarket fare“, and I’ll freely admit that the two fiction titles mentioned above are very unlikely to be future classics, but so what? They were entertaining, and the more you read, whatever your choice of subject matter, the more you learn. When I was 10 years old, my class took a reading age test. One of the questions was about merchant ships. My friend didn’t know what a merchant ship was, but I did. I’d learned the term from reading Commando, Victor and Warlord comics. Reading those comics helped me achieve a reading age of 16 when I was 10 years old.

I’m pleased that people now feel that they can read what they like, without fear of strangers on the bus or train judging them. Far better that people read “downmarket genre fiction” than nothing, and let’s be clear – if people aren’t allowed to read what they enjoy, they won’t read. They’ll find some other form of entertainment. I’ve learned all sorts of odd things from reading fiction, but most of all, I’ve improved my ability to read and write.

Why People Want to Believe in Gavrilo Princip’s Sandwich

Gavrilo PrincipRecently, I posted a link on Google Plus, about a widely-held belief that Gavrilo Princip was eating a sandwich when he killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand. This, of course, was the trigger that set off the First World War, and all the suffering that brought about. The blog post that I linked to debunked the myth, and the author has attempted to find the original source, which appears to be a novel by a Brazilian TV host. The post is very interesting, and well worth a read.

I wasn’t at all sure how I felt about this. It seemed to trivialise a truly earth-shattering event, and I couldn’t understand why people felt the need to focus on the coincidence of the Archduke’s car happening to stop where Princip was having his lunch.

Last night, I mentioned this to my wife, and she came up with what seems like a very plausible theory. People have difficulty relating to the event, because they have nothing in common with Princip. People find it hard to empathise with a murderer, and the fact that the act had such incredible consequences makes it even harder to relate. Everyone, however, can relate to eating a sandwich. It’s something we all do, so it gives people something in common with Princip, some tiny little thing that they can relate to, and that makes the whole story easier to take in.

The sandwich is a minor detail, and perhaps it doesn’t matter if such minor wrong details are taught. If the sandwich was just an interesting aside, maybe it wouldn’t matter. The problem is that it takes on a great deal of importance when the story is told in such a way that suggests that Princip’s mythical sandwich led to him being in the right place at the right time to fire the fateful shot. If the wider context which meant that a war was likely sooner or later is ignored, and the assassination is held to be the sole event that led to the First World War, then the problem is confounded. Suddenly a major war (and all the events that can be said to have happened as a result of that war) happens just because one man ate a sandwich. If that were true, all well and good, but it isn’t, and so many people get a completely wrong understanding of the events that led to a major war where millions died.

Tempus Fugitive XVI

This week, I’m working on the Tempus Fugitive historical education project, now in it’s 16th year. Schools send parties of children to Southsea Castle, where they are met by “time guides” (time travellers from the future), who take them to the year 1545, three days before the Battle of the Solent where the Mary Rose sank (King Henry VIII watched the battle from Southsea Castle’s ramparts). The children meet a variety of Tudor people, and are presented with several challenges. For instance, when they first enter the castle, three armed soldiers demand to know why they are there, and they have to explain their presence.

My role this year is the armourer. As such, I have the job of teaching the kids about armour and weapons. The kids get to hand around a full mail vest, and one gets dressed in plate armour before being beaten with a cudgel, to demonstrate the effectiveness of the armour. I also demonstrate a buckler, sword, rapier and bill hook, showing the weak points in a suit of plate armour.

The cook talks to them about Tudor music and food, and gets a child to help him/her read the instructions that they’ve been sent. A girl is always chosen for this, since the cook never believes that the girls can read.

A noble, either Sir George, who is in charge of the castle, or Lady Mary, his wife, teaches the children how to bow and curtsey in the Tudor manner, and discusses religion with them. King Henry VIII has split from the Roman church, but the future king is being raised a protestant, while some people think the country should return to Roman Catholicism. Should Sir George and Lady Mary stay Church of England, or should they become protestants, as the next king will be protestant?

Another soldier talks to them about bows and cannons, showing them how to load and fire a cannon, and telling them about the various types of arrows that the archers use. The boys almost always admit to playing football, which was illegal in 1545, and to not practising their archery on Sundays (every male over the age of six was supposed to practice every Sunday).

It’s a very worthwhile project, and good fun for all involved, but I was both surprised and annoyed that one of the teachers complained that this year there was “too much education and not enough fun”. We try to make it fun and interesting for the kids, but the ultimate aim of the project is education. Dan, the project’s director, puts a lot of effort into ensuring that everything is as historically accurate as possible, and all the Tudors endeavour not to use modern modes of speech.