Hougoumont 200 years on

Last year I was lucky enough to visit the battlefield of Waterloo, just ahead of the bicentenary commemorations.

One place I desperately wanted to visit was Chateau d’Hougoumont, the stronghold on Wellington’s right flank that proved so decisive in the outcome of the battle.

Until recently, the extensive buildings have been in private hands, but were extensively refurbished and redeveloped to open to visitors (you can read more about that here).

It was amazing walking around such an iconic site, so steeped in history!

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The famous North Gate. Breached during the battle, Wellington said ‘The success of the Battle of Waterloo turned on the closing of the gates’

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The walls of the grounds still have their loop holes. Recent excavations suggest the French may have gotten into the gardens – something not previously know

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The inside of the chateau

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The South Gate

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The view up to Wellington’s position from the chateau

 

 

 

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Africa and the First World War

In November I was lucky enough to be invited on to the Islam Channel to discuss the First World War in Africa.

As you can imagine, the African continent was shaped and influenced by the war in different ways, with campaigns being fought in the north, the south west, and in particular in the east in German East Africa.

It was great to be able to talk about the campaigns, the vital role that African soldiers played in the armies of the belligerents, as well as expand on some of the stories of other volunteers from the Commonwealth, such as those from the Caribbean.

Here’s the interview, hope you enjoy it!

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The BBC’s new War and Peace adaptation looks pretty good!

The BBC have just released the trailer for this winter’s adaptation of Tolstoy’s epic War and Peace. A six-part mini-series, it has been made by BBC Wales and directed by Tom Harper (of Peaky Blinders fame). With an all-star cast, including Paul Dano, Lily James, Jim Broadbent, and Gillian Anderson, it has all the ingredients to be a smash.

But can Tolstoy’s epic narrative sweep be translated to the small screen satisfactorily? The trailer suggests it can!

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UAVs on screen

I’ve just seen the trailer for the upcoming (in Britain at least) war film Good Kill, which focuses on the experience of an American UAV pilot in the US’ War on Terror.

While UAVs – or drones – have been seen in plenty of films before, this is amongst the first movies to put them centre stage and confront what they mean in modern military operations.

As you can see from the trailer below, it looks as if it will cover the psychological impact of these operations on those who conduct them (as could be expected from the producers of The Hurt Locker), as well as make comment on the ethical and moral dimension of fighting wars remotely.

One to be added to the list of upcoming films!

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New Military Museum!

I’ve just seen that a new military museum has opened in Mons in Belgium, which looks like a fantastic site!

A redevelopment of an older site, the Mons Memorial Museum has been (re)open since April 2015, and looks to cover the military history of the region from the Middle Ages to the end of the Second World War. I imagine their displays on the First World War, in particular, will be popular given the significance of the Mons region. It was the site of the BEFs first pitched battle in the First World War where on 23 August the first two VCs of the war were won by Sidney Godley and Maurice Dease of the Royal Fusiliers. It is also where the first and last British Commonwealth casualties of the First World War are buried (as I’ve previously blogged about) However, it is interesting to note that they also deal with the social history of Mons under occupation – an increasing trend amongst military museums that are looking to branch out from “traditional” military narratives and engage a wider audience.

Their philosophy is:

The history museum has therefore been transformed into a place where questions are asked and where new technologies (e.g. 3D projectors, “serious games”, interactive tables) are utilised to give form and depth to the historical content. The use of testimonies such as interviews and letters is also at the heart of the concept, which emphasises the notion of passing on the baton, of conveying history.

You can visit it’s website here. It certainly looks as if it will be an important place to visit on the heritage trail, and will no doubt become a mainstay in World War I battlefield tours. They have even put a special exhibition on about Napoleon, so clearly going for a broad remit. Certainly I’ll try and get a visit in soon!

A screen shot of the museum's website

A screen shot of the museum’s website

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A personal top 5 of historical fiction

I’m a big fan of historical fiction, and enjoy reading it whenever I can. There is some debate about exactly what historical fiction is (and I’ll write another post on that again soon!) but broadly, I treat it as fiction using real or imagine characters taking part in historical events. Pretty broad brush I know!

Anyway, I think these are my top 5:

1. Fatherland, Robert Harris. I may have broken my rule straight away as this takes places in an imagined time period, a counter-factual re-imagining of the past, but it is utterly compelling storytelling.

2. Biggles, W.E. Johns. This needs no introduction. The rip-roaring and utterly spiffing adventures of a First World War pilot, from cocky, brash youth, to weary veteran within a few short months. A terrific read (although sometimes rather overly elaborate and occasionally “of their time”!)

3. Sharpe, Bernard Cornwell. Cornwell is a master of narrative, combining rigorous research with a real flair for writing. Probably single-handedly made the 95th Rifles as well-known as they are today

4. The Shardlake Series, C.J. Sansom. Not normally my time period, but this is gripping stuff. Sansom brilliantly recreates Tudor England, as his eponymous hero battles mysteries, treason, and factional politics.

5. The Man from Berlin / The Pale House, Luke McCallin. A very recent entry, these mysteries set in the Balklans as the frontiers of the Reich are being slowly rolled back have engrossed me. It is a very rare thing indeed to make you care about a German officer, in World War 2, but McCallin’s hero, Gregor Reinhardt, is no ordinary Nazi. A policeman surrounded by a world and system he despises, these novels trace the difficult choices he has to make.

So those are my favourites, what are yours?

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Russell Crowe’s New Australian World War 1 Epic ‘The Water Diviner’

Whilst it has been released in different parts of the world already, next week sees the UK release of Russell Crowe’s latest film ‘The Water Diviner.’ Set in the aftermath of Gallipoli, it follows one Australian man’s quest to find out what happened to his sons who, like 416,809 other young Australians, enlisted and left home to fight for Britain and the Empire in the First World War.

You can watch the trailer below, and the film is in UK cinemas from next week.

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“No Doubt They’ll Soon Get Well”: Social Class and Shell Shock in the First World War

I recently gave a talk as part of the National Army Museum’s Lunchtime Lecture series on social class and shell shock in the First World War in the rather wonderful surroundings of the Army and Navy Club in Piccadilly, which you can watch below:

Hope you enjoy it!

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F-35C makes first aircraft carrier landing

The US Navy has released a couple of videos showing the F-35C stealth fighter jet making its first arrested landing on an aircraft carrier, which you can see in the below video. The arrested landing is part of initial at-sea Developmental Testing I (DT-I) for the F-35C, which commenced on 3rd November 2014.

As an indicator of just how difficult this process can be, watch this second video. You can only imagine what it would be like trying to land a jet on a moving deck! The video also shows several touch and goes, whereby the aircraft briefly touches down on the deck without landing, all whilst moving seriously fast!

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Ground Breaking for the Museum of the American Revolution

This month, the Museum of the American Revolution had its ground-breaking ceremony in Philadelphia. This video provides a little introduction to the project, the significance of the museum’s location, but also a digital tour (from about two minutes in) of the new museum, including some of what will become major highlights of any future visit.

Plans are for the museum to open in 2016, and will no doubt be another interesting stop on the heritage trail in Philadelphia.

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