Tag Archives: WWII

A Ray Of Light - cover

A Ray of Light is a finalist in the Arnold Bennett Book Prize

A Ray Of Light - coverI’m very proud to say that A Ray of Light is one of five finalists in the 2017 Arnold Bennett Book Prize.

The five finalists are Sitting Ducks by Lisa Blower; Potters: A Division of Labour by John Lancaster; A Ray of Light: Reinhard Heydrich, Lidice and the North Staffordshire Miners by Russell Phillips; Arnold Bennett’s Grand Babylon Hotel edited by Rando Saloman and What Must Happen by Jeffrey Wainwright.

Broadcaster and journalist Samira Ahmed will present the winner with a £500 cheque at a ceremony at Keele University on 1st September. Following the prize presentation, Samira will deliver a lecture entitled “What Arnold Bennett can tell us about Brexit Britain”, as part of a two-day celebration of the author.

Lidice Shall Live! poster

When fighting atrocity, how much is enough?

Lidice Shall Live! posterIn March, my wife and I spent a week in the Czech Republic on holiday. Whilst there, we visited Lidice, and I think I now understand Sir Barnett Stross a little more. It always puzzled me slightly that he kept close ties to Czechoslovakia, even after the communists took over. He had no sympathy for the communist regime, and used his position as chair of the British-Czechoslovakia Society to highlight their human rights abuses. Yet his connection to what could be considered an enemy country caused some controversy, and may have harmed his political career.

Visiting Lidice had a big impact on me, and I think I now understand, at least a little more. Seeing the area, and videos of some survivors, brought home the enormity of what had happened there. I suspect Stross never believed he had done enough, either for the dead or the survivors. In the face of such an outrageous atrocity, there are two basic reactions. Either you metaphorically throw your hands up in the air, despairing that nothing is enough to put things right. Or, you do as much as you can, and keep doing more. It will never be enough, but you can always do more.

I believe Stross had the second reaction. I doubt he ever felt that he’d done enough, and so he was always looking for ways to do more.


If you’d like to do a little to help revive the memory of Lidice, Stross, and the miners, please support my thunderclap. Click on “Support with Facebook”, “Support with Twitter”, or “Support with Tumblr” to support using your preferred social media account. It will cost nothing, but will help to spread awareness on the 75th anniversary of the Lidice massacre.

Lidice Shall Live! poster

Lidice Thunderclap and Giveaway

I’ve set up a Thunderclap to help raise awareness of the Lidice atrocity, and the work of the North Staffordshire miners to rebuild the village. To encourage people to support it, I’ve set up a Rafflecopter giveaway.

One winner will win a copy of A Ray of Light, in paperback, audiobook, and ebook formats.

Four runners-up will each win an ebook copy of A Ray of Light.

Use the form below to enter. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A Ray Of Light - cover

A Ray of Light short listed for the inaugural Arnold Bennett Literary Prize

A Ray Of Light - coverThe Arnold Bennett Literary Prize has announced the short list for its inaugural year, and I’m proud to say that A Ray of Light is one of the ten books on the list. The winner will be announced in September.

This new prize is administered by the Arnold Bennett Society in partnership with the Sentinel newspaper. This is its first year, and it will be awarded every year from now on.

A Ray of Light tells the story of Lidice, a Czech village that was completely destroyed in retaliation for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in 1942. North Staffordshire’s miners raised the equivalent of over £1million to rebuild the village.

Doug

Getting Kids Started in Wargaming

For some time, I’ve been planning to introduce my nine year old son, Doug, to wargaming. He likes playing board games, including some aimed at adults, and he’s interested in history. We’ve now played a few games, and so I thought I’d write about the lessons I learned, to help anyone else wanting to introduce youngsters to the hobby. I’ve seen many complaints that there aren’t enough young people getting into the hobby. If you want to encourage younger people into wargaming, these notes might help.

Doug
Doug in the stocks at a local museum

Models

One of the things that finally kicked me into trying a game with Doug was being able to get some very cheap die-cast WWII AFVs. I’m not normally a fan of soft plastic, but I use soft plastic figures and artillery pieces with Doug. I strongly recommend only using die-cast or soft plastic. Doug’s careful, but accidents are much more likely with youngsters, so fragile models really aren’t a good idea. In our case, Doug has a four year old sister, who can also cause accidents, even if she’s not playing.
If you use markers, aesthetically pleasing ones are better than plain ones. I use Litko acrylic markers that look like little explosions – little touches like that will go a long way to keeping children interested.

Rules

First, of course, you’ll need some rules. I’d planned to write some simple rules of my own, but then I happened to buy a copy of One Hour Wargames by Neil Thomas. They looked ideal, and so we tried a couple of games using the WWII rules. One thing that became quickly apparent is that the rules need to be extremely simple, much simpler than what I’d intended to write. Very few existing rule sets will be simple enough. Scenarios also need to be quite simple. If it’s too big, the child won’t be able to keep track, and will struggle to make decisions. Again, Neil Thomas’ book has a lot of useful, small scenarios included, which are ideal for this. Even then, children might need help working through potential tactics and options.

I’ve also played Memoir ’44 with Doug. This is a board wargame that uses soft plastic models on a hex-based board. The rule book suggests some slight modifications to simplify the game further when playing with young children. We played this simplified version of the rules, and Doug had no trouble understanding them. Memoir ’44 works well, but it uses cardboard counters as terrain, and if the table gets knocked, they can get dislodged. Small blobs of blu-tack can help, but that makes it longer to set up and take down. Make sure you play the scenarios in order. They start very simple (the first one, “Pegasus Bridge”, only has infantry) and gradually increase in complexity, adding other unit types.

Memoir '44, a good wargame for kids (CC-BY-ND)
Memoir ’44, a good wargame for kids (CC-BY-ND spielbar.com)

When playing, I found it helped if I explained to Doug what I was doing and why. In Memoir ’44, for example, an infantry unit can move one hex and fire, or two hexes and not fire. So, I’d say something like “I’m just moving this unit one hex, so that it can fire”, or “I don’t want to fire with this unit, so I’ll move it two hexes.”

Conventions

I took Doug to Barrage 2016, our local wargame show. Despite not having any money to spend, he was interested in looking at the traders stands, and asked questions about the models on display. Possibly unsurprisingly, a Warhammer 40,000 game took his interest, and he spent some time talking to the players and asking questions.

He also talked to the players of a WWII game, and played the German attackers in James Morris’s Fort Vaux participation game. He lost, but enjoyed it all the same. At one point he split the dice he had into two groups, telling me that the ones showing sixes were his “lucky dice”.

Conclusion

Children can be much more unpredictable than adults, which can be frustrating sometimes, but can also be challenging and interesting. Games with kids can be fun, and if they enjoy it they may eventually grow up to be adult wargamers, and that has to be good for the hobby as a whole.

All in all, we’ve both enjoyed the games we’ve played. I’m hoping that Doug will continue to enjoy playing, and as he gets older I’ll introduce him to larger scenarios and more complex rules.

A Ray Of Light - cover

New Book: A Ray Of Light

A Ray Of Light - coverMy latest book is now available – A Ray of Light: Reinhard Heydrich, Lidice, and the North Staffordshire Miners

In March 2013, I was at the Potteries Museum in Stoke-on-Trent with my son. We were asked if we’d like to see a film about the Czech village of Lidice, destroyed by the Nazis during the Second World War.

Hitler had ordered that Lidice was to be utterly destroyed. He wanted the memory of the village to die along with its inhabitants. The miners of North Staffordshire in Great Britain, however, had other ideas. Led by a local doctor named Barnett Stross, they organised a fund-raising campaign to pay for a new village to be built once the war was won.

During the Cold War, relations with Czechoslovakia became strained, and the story was largely forgotten. The story that should be widely known, and I’m pleased to be able to do my part in spreading awareness.

It is available now in paperback and ebook (Kindle, iBooks, Kobo). It will be available from other ebook retailers shortly.

A Ray of Light: Reinhard Heydrich, Lidice, and the North Staffordshire Miners

Finalist in the 2017 Arnold Bennett Book Prize

“The miner’s lamp dispels the shadows on the coal face. It can also send a ray of light across the sea to those who struggle in darkness”
— Dr Barnett Stross

This is the inspiring true story of what happens when ordinary people unite to make a stand against evil.

Lidice was a peaceful and vibrant community in Czechoslovakia with a rich mining heritage. But an act of Nazi revenge saw this village wiped from existence in a horrifying chapter of European history.

Disaster struck for Lidice in 1942 when the prominent Nazi official Reinhard Heydrich was assassinated. Described by Hitler as “the man with an iron heart”, Heydrich was one of the key architects of the Holocaust.

His death, after an attack by members of the Czech resistance, left Hitler furious and desperate for vengeance. Looking for a scapegoat to blame for Heydrich’s death, he settled on the village of Lidice, which had been falsely linked to the assassination.

In a brutal act which shocked the world, Lidice was completely destroyed. The men were shot while the women and children were rounded up and sent to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps.

Hitler was determined that by the time he had finished, no one would even remember Lidice, let alone live there. What he hadn’t reckoned on was the efforts of a group of campaigners in Britain, who resolved to make sure Lidice would never be forgotten.

A Ray of Light tells the tale of Lidice’s downfall and what happened next. Would the village simply be allowed to become a footnote in history, or would it rise from the ashes and forge a new future?

This book is a compelling testament to the power of friendship and solidarity, and how empathy and compassion can help rebuild the world.

Buy Links

Guardsmen with a Vickers machine gun

Auxiliary Units: The Home Guard’s Special Forces

On the 5th July 1940, a message was sent to all LDV area commanders. This message informed the commanders that men were needed for a new type of unit. The men would need to have courage, initiative, and resource. This new unit would be organised under a headquarters named “H.Q., Auxiliary Units”. The name had been chosen to conceal its true purpose, which was to form stay-behind squads. Each squad would be independent, and would operate behind enemy lines in the event of an invasion, providing intelligence and disrupting supply lines.

Guardsmen with a Vickers machine gun
Guardsmen with a Vickers machine gun

For the first two months, the emphasis was on creating units that could be pressed into service immediately. By the 15th August, this first phase was complete. An initial organisation was in place, men were being trained, and stores had been delivered. A total of 2,300 men had been recruited and organised into 350 patrols of around 6-8 men each. There was little confidence in their effectiveness at this stage. A progress report stated “Nevertheless, whereas all the men recruited were determined to do their utmost to harass the enemy’s rear and lines of communication, it was, in fact, doubtful whether many of them would have been able to survive the first few days of invasion”.

Most of the Home Guard was often armed with improvised or non-standard weapons. By contrast, auxiliary units were well armed and equipped. Each patrol had a Browning Automatic Rifle, as well as grenades, incendiary grenades, explosives, detonators, etc.

Once the first phase was complete, the emphasis changed to turning the units into an effective force. Bases and secret stores were built, and the men started to receive specialised training. A nucleus of troops from the regular army, including some sappers, was added. This helped to further increase the auxiliary units’ effectiveness.

Training was coordinated at the demonstration school near Faringdon. Patrol leaders attended weekend courses at the school. Training covered the weapons and equipment that the patrols were expected to use. Subjects such as giving effective orders, reading maps, etc were also covered. In addition, leaders were taught about German AFVs and airborne troops. Once the leaders returned to their patrols, they trained the members of their patrol.

By the start of September, the units were considered much more effective. In the event of an invasion, most patrols would have a concealed base to operate from. They had received training, and carried out a good number of exercises at night. 2,300 Home Guard were enrolled, comprising 350 patrols with an average of 7 men per patrol. Supplies of weapons, ammunition, and explosives had been delivered and more was on the way. Roughly one-third of the men had uniforms, and supplying the others with uniforms was made a priority. Some units had been able to exercise with regular army units. Most of the divisional headquarters in XII Corps had been “raided” by auxiliary unit patrols.

By now, it was considered that “a high proportion may confidently be expected to remain in security behind the enemy lines for a considerable period. Their night training coupled with their local knowledge, should give them an undisputed advantage over any enemy troops in their area”.

Guardsman aiming a Thompson submachine gun
Guardsman aiming a Thompson submachine gun

Auxiliary units would conduct scout patrols at night or in fog, based on observations made during the day. Scout patrols would normally consist of a leader and no more than four men. Patrols were only to be conducted if the result was worth risking the lives of the men in the patrol. Combat was to be avoided unless the odds were considerably in the patrol’s favour. Rather, the patrols were to be used to attack undefended supply lorries if at all possible. They could potentially attack convoys, as long as there were no infantry. In this case, a roadblock was to be employed, which would be put in place after the escort had passed.

In the end, of course, there was no invasion of Britain. The Auxiliary Units were disbanded in January 1945. Members of the Home Guard that served for at least three years were eligible to receive the Defence Medal. Despite the dangerous work they were to undertake in the event of an invasion, the Honours Committee decided that members of the Auxiliary Units were not eligible for the medal.

Controversy

Although the whole Auxiliary Units concept was highly secret, word leaked out, and objections were raised in some quarters. A platoon commander of the Wool & Bere Regis Company of the LDV wrote to Winston Churchill in July 1940. He questioned the legality of the plans under international law, and voiced concerns that such units would provoke “brutal retaliatory measures”. He felt he had to bring the matter to the Prime Minister’s attention, since “I cannot think that the ill-considered proposal has been made with your knowledge or approval”. In this, he was completely wrong. Winston Churchill took a close interest in the Auxiliary Units, and was provided with regular progress reports.

A retired Brigadier General in the Portsmouth area caused other problems for the local Auxiliary Units. Far from objecting to the concept, he had plans for his own units to conduct guerilla warfare. He therefore wanted the local Auxiliary Units to come under his own command. The directive from GHQ directive was clear, however. Auxiliary Units were to be kept apart from the standard Home Guard organisation.

The secrecy around the units caused another difficulty. Under the Defence (Home Guard) Regulations, men could be called up for compulsory enrolment into the Home Guard. Occasionally, a member of an Auxiliary Unit would be called upon under the regulations, and although already enrolled, would not be able to give details of his unit. In such cases, the men were instructed to refer their questioners to the Intelligence Officer, and not to complete any forms that may have been given to them.

Further Information

The WW2 Podcast has a very interesting episode about Auxiliary Units. The episode is an interview with Tom Sykes of the Coleshill Auxiliary Research Team, which has conducted a great deal of research into Auxiliary Units.

Valentine IX at Bovington Tank Museum

AFV Alphabet: V is for Valentine

Valentine IX at Bovington Tank Museum

The Valentine tank (officially the Tank, Infantry, Mk III, Valentine) was a British World War II infantry tank. It entered service in 1940, and proved to be a very reliable design. It saw combat in North Africa, the Pacific and in Russia (over three thousand were supplied to the Soviet Union under a lend-lease arrangement).

Originally armed with a 2-pounder gun, later versions had a 6-pounder or 75mm main gun. The Valentine was used as a basis for several variants, some of which were only used experimentally. These included a DD (Duplex Drive) version, primarily used for training, a CDL (Canal Defence Light) version, an observation post, mine clearers, bridging tanks, and flame throwers.