Whatever happened to… The Archduke’s Children?

This week saw the 100 year anniversary of the death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the assassination that sparked the First World War.

Killed alongside his wife, the global consequences of his death are well known. However, I was thinking recently – what happened to his children, orphaned after those events Sarajevo? Well, with a little bit of research I found out!

Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie Duchess of Hohenberg, had three children, Princess Sophie of Hohenberg, Maximilian, Duke of Hohenberg, and Prince Ernst of Hohenberg.

After their parents’ death, the children were taken in by the family friend Prince Jaroslav von Thun und Hohenstein. They lived first in Konopiště, a chateau near Prague in the Czech Republic. However, following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of the First World War, their inherited lands were confiscated, and the children moved to to Vienna and the Schloß Artstetten.

The children, whilst undoubtedly wealthy, went on to lead far more “normal” lives. Maximilian, for example, received a law degree from the University of Graz in 1926, and became a lawyer, managing the family properties.

Following the Anschluss with Germany in March 1938, both Maximilian and Ernst were departed by to Dachau concentration camp for speaking out against the union, and were supposedly employed in cleaning the latrines. Maximilian was released after six months but Ernst was transferred to other concentration camps and only released only in 1943.

Following this, the Reich authorities also expropriated the family’s properties in Austria in 1939 – but they were returned following the end of the war in 1945. By that point the family had moved to Artstetten Castle, where their parents were buried. When the Allies occupied Austria at the end of the war, Maximilian was elected mayor of Artsteten, and he served two five-year terms.

Ernst died in 1954, Maximilian in 1962. Sophie lived to be 89 years old, dying in October 1990, and outliving both of her younger siblings. All had children, and so this famous line continued, and still endures today despite the torrid age they lived through.

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The trailer for Brad Pitt’s latest war movie is here…

The trailer for Brad Pitt’s new war movie, Fury, has gone live on the internet.

Set in Europe in the closing months of the Second World War, Fury depicts a 5-man Sherman tank crew battling to both win the war, and stay alive.

Co-starring Shia LaBeouf, Logan Lerman, Jon Bernthal and Michael Peña, from the trailer it seems Fury promises the full mix of stunning visuals, terrific special effects and maddening cliches that always seem to occur when Hollywood goes to war against the Nazis.

That said, I’ll be sure to go see it when this hits cinemas in November 2014!

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June 25, 2014 · 12:13 pm

From the People Who Brought You ‘Restrepo’…

This month sees the release of the follow up to the 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo, a film about the war in Afghanistan. Made by the same team that produced Restrepo (though the British photojournalist Tim Hetherington was killed whilst covering to conflict in Libya in 2011), Korengal features footage cut from the original, whilst also conducting follow up interviews with some of those soldiers featured as they look back on the conflict. The impact of the war on these men is clear, both the negative and the positive, in particular the loss of comradeship and the impossibility of living such an adrenaline-fuelled life ever again; at one point, one soldier says: “I’d go back there if I could.”

The veteran journalist Sebastian Junger, whose book War was a triumph in story-telling, has once again translated combat experience to film, helping the civilian world understand what it is those men in uniform do, how they endure, and how it continues to shape them even if they’re thousands of miles away from a particular place. Physical distance doesn’t always equate to mental perspective

Restrepo was genuinely one of the greatest films on men in war that I’ve seen. If you haven’t seen it already, watch it, and then go watch Korengal. I can’t wait to see it.

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War Movies and the Suspension of Disbelief


Great blog from Jonathan Boff at the University of Birmingham

Originally posted on Jonathan Boff:

(If you want to cut straight to my 3 favourite war films of all time, scroll straight to the bottom).

Where Eagles Dare versus War Horse: why does historical inaccuracy in movies/TV sometimes not faze me at all, and sometimes drives me crazy? How is that I can sit, equably sipping my tea, while Clint Eastwood mows down unfeasibly large numbers of Germans using a Schmeisser with a seemingly bottomless (well, almost) magazine and a barrel which never melts? Yet the mere thought of a horse running up a trench fills me with dread or rage?
I’m an academic historian of the two world wars, which means I get paid (not very much, mind) for raising pedantry to levels of hair-splitting unseen since the heyday of medieval monasteries. For example, I must be one of the last essay markers in the world to pull students up for using a split…

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The Pity of War: A Review

Friday night saw the broadcast of Niall Ferguson’s The Pity of War, an interesting Question Time-style debate in which the historical nature of the war was discussed, often vigorously, both in the studio but also online via Twitter. This was an opportunity to present a counter to Sir Max Hasting’s arguments earlier in the week that the Great War was a necessary conflict that Britain was compelled to fight. 

Following on from last month’s battle over interpretations of the war, this debate saw Ferguson put his 15 year-old thesis on the war to a panel of experts, as well as attempting to orchestrate and manage a studio audience. There were some big names included, such as Gary Sheffield, Sir Hew Strachan, David Reynolds, David Stevenson and Heather Jones - though the panel could certainly have been more diverse.

For the programme itself, there was a curious set-up. Ferguson seemed to stand alone, putting his arguments to an audience and the substantial panel, many of whom had already refuted these in their own scholarship. Whilst the point of the programme was to bring these debates to a wider audience, at times it meant that the discussion seemed to lack spontaneity and appeared a little rehearsed – an unavoidable consequence when re-treading old and familiar ground.

Ferguson is undoubtedly a skilled orator to go with his fine scholarship that has allowed him to achieve his level of recognition, both in and outside of academia. However, at many times during the programme it appeared that he was standing alone, unable to elicit much support either from a panel that has previously rebuffed him in print and an audience (whose role was never fully clear) who were well-read and held opinions that did not match his own. By the end of the programme, he certainly seemed to have lost the bought on points – not surprising given the odds he faced!

In terms of a concept of television, however, The Pity of War was certainly an exciting step forward. Historical debate on primetime television is a cause for celebration, let alone the enthusiastic discussions taking place on Twitter alongside it. I would have preferred to see a proper debate though, rather than Ferguson holding chair. To my mind it could easily have been a historical Question Time, even with Dimbleby chairing, allowing big debates about the war to be discussed in greater detail than was otherwise possible.

I would still hope the format is replicated throughout the Centenary period. It would be great, for example, to see a debate about the Battle of the Somme in 2016, with issues such as leadership, tactics and success or failure (in particular thinking of William Philpott) being discussed. Rather than having one historian make his case, it would be ideal to have questions coming directly from the audience, making it a form of televised seminar.

The Centenary programming has already delivered some thought-provoking material and high-quality output, and we haven’t even reached July yet!  The bar has been set high so far, so let us hope that later efforts continue to live up to the standards set! 

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Introducing ‘Shell Shocked Britain': how war trauma casts a shadow across a century


Really interesting blog on mental health and long-term psychological trauma following war.

Originally posted on No more wriggling out of writing ......:

Shell Shocked jacket high res jpeg I know that some readers of my blog (and thanks for that!) already know that throughout 2013 I was writing a book called Shell Shocked Britain commissioned by Pen & Sword History . We are now in the final edit stage, with proof-reading to come before it is finally published in October of this year, marking both the Centenary of the start of the First World War but also the month in which World Mental Health Day falls.

The publisher has given a sub-title to the book –  ‘The First World War’s Legacy for Britain’s Mental Health‘. I cannot argue, as it is exactly what the book is about.

I was thrilled when I was commissioned to write Shell Shocked; not simply because I got my first ever advance and felt truly ‘professional’ as a writer, but because I would have the opportunity to take the Great…

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The BBC’s World War One Centenary Programming: Five Highlights

Now that the BBC’s Centenary programming has kicked off with Paxman’s much-discussed Britain’s Great War, I thought I would cast my eye over what else is planned for the next four years, and what I am looking forward to. More detailed programme information can be found here on the BBC’s website, but these are the five TV and radio programmes I’m most looking forward to:


I Was There: The Great War Interviews (BBC Two)

As a big supporter of oral history, and of learning directly about an event from the perspective of those who lived through it, this programme looks particualrly interesting. These interviews were originally filmed for the BBC’s The Great War, broadcast over 50 years ago, but the programme is slated to include many exerpts of the 250 recordings that were not broadcast in the original series.


Voices of the Great War (Radio 4)

In much the same vein as above, this Radio 4 programme will broadcast extracts from the vast resources of the retrospective interviews held in the Imperial War Museum’s Sound Archive. Whilst I doubt there will be much analysis, it is always interesting to hear the accounts.


The World’s War (BBC Two)

We know the First World War was a global war, but beyond the Western Front what do we really know about the Empire’s involvement in the conflict? The historian David Olusoga explores this by telling the story of the war from the perspective of hundreds of thousands of Indian, African and Asian troops and ancillaries who fought and died alongside Europeans, both in Europe and in lesser known theatres such as Mesopotamia.


Hidden Histories: WW1’s Forgotten Photographs (BBC Four)

This documentary explores the pictures taken by British and German soldiers at the front, very personal snapshots showing a microcosm of the conflict. These aren’t the official War Office pictures that we’re familiar with, but private photo albums, taken with personal cameras that were actually banned at various stages throughout the war. I also declare a slight conflict of interest here as I worked on the programme and I’m eager to see how it has turned out and how it is received!


Our World War (BBC Three)

Based on the very successful Our War, and utilising the same format of POV helmet camera footage, surveillance images and night vision, Our World War is a factual drama series that attempts to show what the war would have been like for those who endured it. Over three episodes, different events from across the war will be shown to audiences, from 1914, through to the Somme, and the Hundred Days. I’m wary of how it will all pan out, and whether dramatic license or modern perceptions of “what it must have been like” over-ride historical evidence, but at the same time if it comes off it could be great.


So that’s what I’m looking forward to. Let me know if anything else in the schedule has caught your eye!

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The Blog in 2013: Top posts and numbers

Hello, and happy new year to you all!

While the blog hasn’t been running for a whole calendar year, I thought now was the perfect time to review some of the numbers on the blog.

Thanks to you all for reading and commenting. When I started the blog I had no idea how many people would stop by, and I’ve been amazed by the response!

So, without much further ado, the top posts on my blog this year have been:


3. Thatcher and the British Military: A Champion of the Armed Forces?

When Margaret Thatcher died earlier this year, there was an enormous amount written on her legacy. I was particularly struck by the strong association between Thatcher, the Falklands, and the military that featured in her funeral, and so produced this post.


2. The Royal Navy and the Battle of San Carlos

It was refreshing to see a post on naval history, and from the recent past, gain such attention! The topic of the performance of the Royal Navy in the Battle of San Carlos during the Falklands War is of great interest to me, and will hopefully be the basis of a future article.


And finally:

1. In the Footsteps of Easy Company in the Battle of the Bulge

Showing just how dominant big budget TV productions can be in sparking interest in history, this post (despite being one of the most recent) about following Easy Company in the area around Bastogne that they inhabited in late 1944 and early 1945, along with images from the battlefield and memorials in the town.


In total, my blog has had 2,994 visits since I started it in late March. Thank you all for reading, and here’s to 2014! 

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Post-Military Careers: Some Historical Examples

Conducting research recently, I came across this item, which is held by the British Museum. It’s a job application from Henry Hook VC for the position of a Labourer at the British Museum, made on 30 September 1881, a truly fascinating find.

Henry Hook won his Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry within the British Armed Forces, for his role during the defence of the mission at Rorke’s Drift in January 1879 in South Africa during the Zulu Wars. He featured heavily in the film adaptation Zulu (1964) starring Michael Caine, though his representation on screen was quite different from the historical record surrounding his character. 

Hook left the Army shortly after returning from South Africa, and by 1881 he was working as a casual labourer at The British Museum. He wanted to be taken onto the permanent staff, but could not fill in an application form because he could not read or write. Despite recommendations by his former commanding officer and by the Prince of Wales, he could not be accepted immediately due to his illiteracy.

Hook, however, taught himself to read and write, and in December 1881 he joined the staff of the Museum as one of the Library Dusters. Later he became one of the Museum’s cloakroom attendants, and retired in 1904.

Alternatively, there is the case of Jack Cohen. While the name may be unfamiliar to most, his business legacy will not; in 1919, the 21-year-old Cohen was demobilised from the Royal Flying Corps after the First World War and used his demob money to buy surplus food from the Army and sell it from a barrow in Hackney, firstly fish paste and golden syrup. By 1924 he had started selling his first own-brand tea. Looking for a brand name he took the first three letters of his supplier, TE Stockwell, and combined them with the first two letters of his own surname. This gave rise to Tesco, and the first shop was opened in 1929 in north London. Since then, Tesco has evolved from London’s East End into a global brand used every day by millions in the UK alone: 2013 ONS retail sales figures and Tesco UK sales of £43.6bn suggest that one in eight of every pound spent in the UK in 2013 is at Tesco.

In the modern era, there are already plenty of former members of the Armed Forces making names for themselves in business and elsewhere. It’s interesting to think how they and their achievements may be viewed in the decades to come.


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The Space Race in Soviet Propaganda

In the absence of direct conflict, the Cold War saw the United States and the Soviet Union compete across all fronts, including social, economic, artistic, and technological. Each triumph in these fields was celebrated as a triumph for the entire ideological system of the Soviet Union, a vindication of their success over capitalism.

Between 1958 and 1963, the Soviet Union was well ahead of the United States in the race to conquer space, as commemorated in some of the following posters, which first appeared as a list on Buzzfeed. The race to the stars, to master that environment and “claim” it, represented the cutting edge in technology, and real life developments directly influenced cultural expressions and public perceptions of what it was to explore space.

“We were born to make the fairy tale come true!”

"We were born to make the fairy tale come true!"

Many of these posters linked foreign exploration to the further expanse of Communism, part of the ideological principle laid out in Marxist dogma about spreading the revolution, breaking down national boundaries and uniting the global proletariat. The historical inevitability enshrined in Marxist ideology meant that logically this would be extended to the Communist exploration of space.

“We will open the distant worlds!”

"We will open the distant worlds!"

All of this endeavor, like all other aspects of Soviet public life, were used to glorify the state.

“Fatherland! You lighted the star of progress and peace. Glory to the science, glory to the labor! Glory to the Soviet regime!”

"Fatherland! You lighted the star of progress and peace. Glory to the science, glory to the labor! Glory to the Soviet regime!"

“Through the worlds and ages.”

"Through the worlds and ages."

As always, it was socialism that was the inspiration for these incredible feats

“Socialism is our launching pad”

"Socialism is our launching pad"

Even the legacy of Lenin, culturally so important, was used in these futuristic representations of the Soviet state, linking the past, present and future

“Glory to the workers of Soviet science and technology!”

"Glory to the workers of Soviet science and technology!"

“With Lenin’s name!”

"With Lenin’s name!"

Soviet propaganda was expressly linked to current events, pervasive, and dominant, used to glorify Communism and the ideals of the Soviet Union

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