Tag Archives: history

Latimer House: Listening to the Enemy

Latimer House is in a beautiful setting, clearly visible on the top of a hill from the Chesham to Rickmansworth road. It was the ancestral home of Lord Chesham. However, the Government requisitioned it shortly before the war and converted it into an emergency hospital specifically for the Metropolitan Police.

It was envisaged that the expected air raids would cause large scale casualties, not only to civilians, but also on-duty police. Despite the horrors of the ‘Blitz’, it was very much underutilised. However, as the War Department began to realise that its location and layout would be ideal for other uses, they increased their take-over from part of the house to all of it and the extensive estate.

Lord Chesham had no choice other than to move out and he purchased the village rectory. Little did he know that neither he nor his family would live in Latimer House again.

Read more of this article in The Secret County: Buckinghamshire Reflects on WW2

The Last of the Many

Buckinghamshire can be proud of its contribution to the WWII effort in so many ways: food and military equipment production, the secret war waged at some of Buckinghamshire’s stately homes, military bases including Bomber Command and military units such as the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry.

Most significantly, as far as this article is concerned, Buckinghamshire produced the iconic Hawker Hurricane at Langley near Slough (now part of Berkshire).

Read more of this article in The Secret County: Buckinghamshire Reflects on WW2

Defending Bletchley

Buried deep in the secret archives of the Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ), was a map that shows a different perspective of the Bletchley Park story to those reported and dramatised in books, films and documentaries.

The map shows cycle and foot routes, that members of the workforce at Bletchley Park would have patrolled when on duty with Bletchley Park’s dedicated Home Guard unit. Alan Turing himself trained to be a member of the Home Guard so he could learn to fire a rifle, but then was not required to conduct any duties as, according to some sources, he intentionally filled in the paper work incorrectly.

Read more of this article in The Secret County: Buckinghamshire Reflects on WW2

Buckinghamshire’s Dambuster

When we think of war graves, images come to mind of headstones arrayed in the foreign fields of Flanders, spread throughout Europe or the desert sands of North Africa to the hillsides of Burma’s ‘Green Hill’. The oceans have their own poignancy, enfolding thousands of sailors, asleep in the deep.

The well-ordered cemeteries evoke the essence of sacrifice and provide a focal point for pilgrimage to honor the fallen. And yet, in the quiet villages and bustling towns and cities of Britain, can be found occasional white headstones, singly or in small groups, marking the passing of a serviceman or woman, often from the local community.

One such headstone can be found in St. Michael & All Angels Church, Halton Village, near Wendover. It bears the name of Group Captain Ivan Whittaker OBE DFC and Bar.

Read more of this article in The Secret County: Buckinghamshire Reflects on WW2

The Origins of Christmas Pudding

Here in Britain, no Christmas is complete without a helping of Christmas pudding (or ‘figgy pudding’ as it is called in the popular carol, We Wish You a Merry Christmas). A blend of dried fruit, spices, suet and other ingredients, it is often made to traditional family recipes and sometimes left to age a whole year before being served.

Its appearance at the dinner table is one of the highlights of the festive season, as described in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843): ‘Mrs. Cratchit entered – flushed but smiling proudly – with the pudding, like a speckled cannon-ball, so hard and firm, blazing in half of half-a-quartern of ignited brandy, and bedight with Christmas holly stuck into the top.’

But where did the custom of Christmas Pudding originate?

According to popular belief, Christmas pudding dates back to medieval times, when it was prepared with 13 ingredients to represent Christ and the apostles, and stirred from east to west in honour of the journey made by the magi. However, no definite recipes for ‘plum pudding’ appear until the 1600s. Back then, it was associated more with the Harvest Festival than with Christmas.

Another myth claims that King George I began the Christmas pudding tradition in 1714, when he asked for ‘plum pudding’ to be served during his first royal Christmas feast. He has been nicknamed ‘The Pudding King’ as a result,  but sadly there is no contemporary evidence for this story.

The tale of the 18th century Pudding King probably originated as late as 1911, when the Strand Magazine described how the royal children of King George V’s household enjoyed  a Christmas Dinner of ‘traditional roast turkey, sausages and plum pudding. The latter, by the way, is made from a recipe that has been in possession of the Royal Family since the days of George I.’

Whether or not George I had plum pudding at his feast, it was an important feature of Christmas dinner by Victorian times (like so many of our Christmas traditions, it was made fashionable by the queen’s husband, Prince Albert). In 1845, the cook Eliza Acton finally gave it the name ‘Christmas Pudding’ .

Today most of us buy our Christmas puddings ready-made, but they are still based on recipes passed down from olden times – and, when the brandy is set alight, we still feel that same sense of wonder and delight!

Louisa Watson

102 Years since the Christmas Truce

After the declaration of war against Germany in 1914, it only took a few weeks to realise that the battle would be long, hard and savage. The Great War is known today as one of the bloodiest in history.

Badly equipped men, both young and old, had been conscripted into the army and thrown into hastily-dug trenches in France. These trenches became freezing, mud-filled death traps, continuously raked with machine gun fire.

Human slaughter had reached new heights. Bloodshed, suffering and death were an everyday occurrence.

Out of this unimaginable carnage, on Christmas Day 1914, came an event so extraordinary that it defied the whole concept of war.

Soldiers in the trenches of Ypres and Salient who had spent days trying to kill each other downed weapons and put aside any hatred to join together in ‘No Man’s Land’ for a game of football.

Despite being on different sides, these men had a lot in common. No one really wanted to be there and a lot of the soldiers had no idea why they were trying to kill each other in the first place. What they did know was that they shared a cold, wet, terrifying existence and many of them would not survive the winter.

In some places, the trenches were less than 60 yards apart, and the soldiers could see that their enemies experienced the same appalling conditions as themselves. In the midst of the carnage, a sort of understanding had developed.

Every morning a board was put up above the trench line that indicated the hour for breakfast. All hostilities were halted for that hour so that men could get water to wash in, prepare breakfast and eat their meal without having to worry about being shot.

It was the Germans who made the first move towards a truce on Christmas Eve 1914. First the cold air was split with the sound of Christmas carols, followed by light-hearted jibes. Slowly, Christmas trees appeared above the German trenches and before long the British followed suit. The two sides started to talk to each other and a cautious level of trust was established.

The British and German soldiers returned to the trenches at the end of Christmas Eve after shaking hands and sharing tobacco. Informal ceasefires were arranged between the units. On Christmas Day itself, both sides put away their differences and celebrated in full. Food, gifts and tobacco were exchanged and several football matches were arranged.

Although these ‘matches’ were more or less a mass kick-about with over a hundred men on either side, there were no ill feelings among the players. The whole day passed in good spirit and gave both sides a glimpse of what it was like to be normal again – but only for a few hours. Boxing Day saw the hostilities recommence in earnest.

Unsurprisingly, the British and German commanders roundly condemned the truce, issuing orders for it not to be repeated: “Fraternization with the enemy has no place in the trenches.”

Of course, they were not with their men on the front line when they gave these orders; the generals issued their commands from the warmth, comfort and safety of the rear.

Stuart Moore

The City of a Hundred Spires

What do you know about Prague? If you’ve never been there, take a short trip with us to discover why this city makes such an intriguing holiday destination.

Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic. While its history stretches back into ancient times, it truly began to thrive in the 14th century, when it was transformed into an imperial capital by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV.

According to myth, one of the rabbis of Prague created a clay creature named a ‘Golem’ which was supposed to protect the Jewish community from anti-Semitic attacks. The clay was taken from the banks of the Vltava river, and was brought to life by Hebrew incantations. There are lots of stories surrounding the Golem of Prague, but nobody knows what truth there is in the legends.

charles_bridge

Prague’s rich past and architectural gems are bound to keep you fascinated throughout your stay. Here are just a few examples of what the city has to offer:

Prague Castle

Prague Castle is the largest medieval castle in Europe (over 70,000 m2). It is the most important cultural and historical monument in Prague, even housing Bohemia’s Crown Jewels.

An old legend says that if a usurper places the crown on his head, he will be doomed to die within a year. The last time this supposedly came true was in World War II, when high-ranking Nazi official
Reinhard Heydrich is said to have secretly worn the regalia. In less than a year he was assassinated by British-trained Czech soldiers.

When visiting Prague Castle, it is worth taking a stroll through the beautiful gardens and trying to find Golden Lane. This street, inside the castle walls, consists of a few tiny, colorful houses – most notably No. 22, where Franz Kafka wrote his masterpieces.

According to the stories, the lane was once home to alchemists who sought to turn ‘base metal’ into gold, which is how it gained its name.

The Astronomical Clock

ASTRONOMICAL-CLOCK-DETAIL-PRAGUE_CZECH_REPUBLIC_1_1024x1024While visiting Prague, you must not miss the world-famous Astronomical Clock. The third oldest of its kind in the world, this treasure was installed in 1410 and still works today. People are amazed watching its procession of Apostles, parading figures and unique demonstrations of time.

The clock shows the sunrise and sunset, the zodiac calender, phases of the moon and, of course, the actual hour. It is best to watch it at noon, when the clock really comes to life.

The Franz Kafka Museum

One of the greatest Czech writers was born near the Old Town Square in 1883. You may recognize his name; it is, of course, Franz Kafka. In the Franz Kafka Museum you can see some of his first edition books along with his correspondences, photos and animations, which have never been shown before.

The Petrin Observation Tower

A mini-version of the Eiffel Tower, the Petrin Observation Tower was erected in 1891 for the Jubilee Exhibition advancing Czech technological achievements. The metal structure is 60m high, and you can climb the 299 steps to reach the top. You can capture wonderful views of the city if you chose to walk there uphill through the park, or you can always reach it by the funicular railway.

The Charles Bridge

From the Petrin Hill you are able to look down across the city to the stunning, pedestrianized Charles Bridge, the construction of which was begun in 1357 under the auspices of the Czech Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. As the only way across the  Vltava river until 1841, the Charles Bridge was the most important connection
between Prague Castle and the Old Town.Prague_charles_bridge_kampa (1)

The most famous of the 30 statues on the bridge is that of Bohemian Saint Jan Nepomucky, which people believe brings you good fortune when touched; so, when you walk past it, don’t be shy!

Places to eat

After your sightseeing you will be starving, so why not go to one of the many traditional restaurants, cafes and bars in Prague?

A great example is Pod Slavinem in Old Town Square, which has a friendly atmosphere, and extensive menu and reasonable prices, making it an excellent venue to experience the delights of Czech cuisine and to sample the internationally-renowned Czech beers.

Denisa Frauenbergova