Archive for the ‘WW2’ Tag

Dispatch from The Box

The daily thing is not quite working for me, so for this dispatch from The Box I’ve selected the next two documents (a telegram and a hand-written letter) and the next two photographs to make up a bit for the inactivity of the last three days.

49277840557_c24ae9f5d8_o me and dad

This one is 1963 or 1964. That’s me on the right, my dad on the left. It was taken at 2A Selvage Lane, Mill Hill, London NW7 (that was the full extent of the postcode back then), my childhood home. I remember those curtains from later but not the drawers. My dad’s haircut and glasses look pretty 60s to me, the vestiges of 50s quiff styles with regard to the hair, a predictive touch of the Ipcress File in those specs.

49277640021_21bf9e4273_o school assembly

The second photo looks like a school assembly. The Post Card / Correspondence / Address print on the back doesn’t give too many clues as to the vintage. My grandfather Ian would have been this age in the early 20s but this has more the 40s feel about it so it’s possible it is my mum’s school (except she was at an all-girls school for most of her school career) or my uncle John’s. The Chinese lanterns are an odd touch – was the hall decorated specially or was this not a school hall? It looks like they may be watching a performance, with which several are clearly engaging emotionally and almost all are giving their attention. Standing adults punctuate the scene, they have the teacher vibe. The crowd is mixed boys and girls, though with big blocks of boys together. Many seem in school uniform of some kind; lots of hats are being worn indoors, especially by the girls. I can only see one child in glasses (John Lennon-style – extreme right, half-way up). There are no non-white kids in sight.

49277840682_8b762e16be_k telegram ma

This is a telegram from my grandfather Ian (when he was still called Isadore in 1940 – he changed his name by deed poll on 14th October 1949 at a cost of ten shillings. His hit-rate on job applications immediately went up.) The off-the-shelf design of the celebratory telegram form is a bit more holiday than Watford. So this was sent from Watford where my mum was born (not sure why, I think they were still living in Dagenham – maybe the war-time demands on hospitals meant you had to travel further to give birth).

In March 1940 Hitler was planning the invasion of Norway and Denmark. Meat rationing had just started in Britain. A German air raid on Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands resulted in the first British civilian casualties of the war. Within two months Dunkirk will be under way and by September the Blitz will be unleashed.

On 26th March 1940, the day after my mother’s birth, this telegram is sent home to my great-grandmother in Dagenham, 30 miles away to the east. Is 6.54 the time? morning? how did he pull that off?

The concision is almost poetic: GIRL BOTH FINE

Now 79 years on there’s some irony and poignancy in the message. The younger is far from fine. She’s only a couple of days out of another hospital – UCH in London which two of said great-grandmother’s forebears were involved in founding in 1834, one of whom served as its treasurer for 18 years. Both my sons were born at University College Hospital.

49277166588_dca995a50e_k letter rita

This address in Paddington where my grandmother Rita lived was above A & J Falk, a tobacconist owned by her father (Jacob Falk).  This letter is written a month before her marriage – see wedding menu at Murray’s in first Box post. So by 1938 postcodes in London had evolved from London W to the likes to London W.2 but not yet added the next 3 characters of the modern postcode.

Although it is addressed to My Dear Ma I think this is to her prospective mother-in-law, the same as the telegram above. Her mother-in-law-to-be was profoundly deaf and that I believe made her life really difficult, and her children’s – Isadore and Henry referred to in this letter. Rita was born in June 1916 so had just turned 22 when she wrote this.

The fact that she is fantasising about having her own dressing table aligns well with the Rita I knew – she always had pretty objects on her dressing table, plenty of silver on the art deco wooden (walnut?) piece of mirrored furniture. She always used the acronym P.G. Cheerio I don’t recall her saying.

It was thoughtful of her to remember Henry, Ian’s younger brother. He was a lovely bloke and had one of the most splendid deaths I know. He goes to White Hart Lane with his son to watch a Spurs match and they win. He goes home and tinkers a bit in his garden – his profession was as a gardener. He goes in to have a rest in the armchair in front of the fireplace. He falls asleep. Forever. Way to go…

 

 

The Box

Last week I was given this box

box of telephone equipment

It seems to be from some kind of telephonic equipment, some sort of exchange

box of telephone equipment detail

Inside was a load of family photographs and a couple of old documents

pile of family photos photographs

My plan is to upload and explore two or three a day starting today. Here’s the first – a document from my grandparents:

wedding party menu murrays soho london

It’s the menu from their wedding party in 1938

wedding party menu murrays soho london 1938

Why it caught my eye was because of the venue, Murray’s in Beak Street, Soho – that’s where Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies, made notorious through the Profumo Affair in 1963, worked as dancers/good-time girls. Here’s Keeler in 1960

christine keeler 1960 murrays club

Murray’s had opened just five years before the wedding (under that particular name – the venue originates from 1913 and finally closed in 1975). The sign is still there, or at least it was a couple of years ago when I noticed it walking by.

Murrays Cabaret Club 16-18 Beak St soho london profumo affair

16-18 Beak Street, Soho

menu murrays club soho 1938

So this was the era of French menus (to posh things up) and 3-letter telephone exchanges (STE for Stepney). Consomme Palestine is an interesting item. All in all not a bad meal.

My last Profumo adventure is here

The second document to catch my eye was this one from 1943:

national registration identity card britain

It belonged to my great-grandfather, Samuel, who was known as Choc. This was because he was rewarded with chocolate for good performances on the football field as a boy – and it stuck.

national registration identity card britain 1943

I’ll have to take a trip to Lichfield Road, Dagenham sometime soon. I did a talk out that way for Robert Peston’s Speakers for Schools this time last year  and knew I was in my grandfather’s manor for the first time.

identity card 1943 britain

“You must produce it on demand by a Police Officer in uniform” – how very unBritish. I blame the Nazis.

I’m currently working on a feature documentary about the Nazis with journalist Martin Bright and director André Singer. The Nazis, they do quickly get you down – the dregs of humanity.

Tinkety tonk old fruit, and down with the Nazis

Sign-off used by the Queen Mother in a letter two years before this Identity Card (in February 1941) and later adopted by Kermode & Mayo on their movies podcast.

Quote: Where Trump meets Hitler

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e. the reality of experience) and the distinction between true and false (i.e. the standards of thought) no longer exist.”

― Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Hannah Arendt by Fred Stein, 1944 (Photograph courtesy of the Fred Stein Archive)

Hannah Arendt by Fred Stein (1944) [photo courtesy of Fred Stein Archive]

Quoted at the front of A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell

virginia hall spy a woman of no importance

Virginia Hall (A Woman of No Importance)

Art Vandals 4: A kiss is not just a kiss

Weapon: Spray paint, red

Reason: Political, gender politics

George Mendonsa iconic photo by Alfred Eisenstadt sailor kissing WW2

V-J Day in Times Square by Alfred Eisenstadt (14th August 1945)

This iconic image marking the end of the Second World War for the USA looks different in the cool light of 2019. From a celebratory V-J Day image adorning a full page of Life magazine it takes on a more problematic dimension in that it is unclear what the kissee feels about the moment.

The sailor caught in the kissing a stranger act in Times Square, New York died on Sunday, aged 95, in Rhode Island. George Mendonsa was 21 when he grabbed the kiss. He was home on leave from the Pacific theatre.

George Mendonsa

George Mendonsa

He was kissing 21-year-old Austrian-born American dental assistant Greta Zimmer Friedman. She died on 8th September 2016 at the age of 92. The photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt withheld the names of the kissers. Greta Friedman said (unlikely though it seems) she had not been aware of the photo until the 1960s.

Greta Zimmer Friedman - Austrian-born American grabbed kissed

Greta Zimmer Friedman

Interviewed for the Veterans History Project in 2005, Greta Friedman confirmed it wasn’t her choice to be kissed and that the sailor “grabbed” her, but also that the kiss was a “jubilant act” and “just an event of ‘Thank God the war is over’. ”

Eisenstadt said he watched the sailor running along the street, grabbing any girl in sight.

“I was running ahead of him with my Leica looking back over my shoulder but none of the pictures that were possible pleased me. Then suddenly, in a flash, I saw something white being grabbed. I turned around and clicked the moment the sailor kissed the nurse. If she had been dressed in a dark dress I would never have taken the picture.”

Eisenstaedt on Eisenstaedt

A sculpture based on the photo is to be seen in Sarasota, Florida, entitled Unconditional Surrender. The original version was made by J. Seward Johnson II in 2005 – he went on to create a series of them in different locations across the USA and beyond. In 2019 that punning title doesn’t play so well.

Sarasota, Florida Unconditional Surrender by J. Seward Johnson II 2005

Unconditional Surrender by J. Seward Johnson II

On Monday, the day after George Mendonsa’s death, the statue was vandalised with the hashtag #MeToo painted in red on the dental assistant’s bright white leg.

unconditional surrender sculpture statue vandalism metoo

By Tuesday the civic authorities had it back looking ship-shape and Bristol fashion. The cost of the damage was estimated at $1,000 (£765).

unconditional surrender sculpture statue tweet vandalism

Good as new (how good it was new is debatable)

It’s not the first time Unconditional Surrender has succumbed to unwanted assault. It was accidentally hit by a car on 27th April 2012 and removed for repairs.

There have been issues around the possible copyright infringement by the sculpture of the photo. But Seward Johnson claims his source was another simultaneous photograph by a different photographer:

Kissing_the_War_Goodbye photograph by Victor Jorgensen

Kissing the War Goodbye by Victor Jorgensen – same moment as in Eisenstaedt’s V-J Day in Times Square

Greta Zimmer Friedman and George Mendonsa in photo taken by a Life Magazine photographer, at Times Square, New York

Greta & George back at Times Square years later

Times Square Unconditional Surrender sculpture at the site of the historic LIFE Magazine cover photograph by photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt August 14, 2010 in New York. The sculpture is commemorating the 65th anniversary of V-J Day, DON EMMERT

Unconditional Surrender at the site of Eisenstaedt’s photo in Times Square – 14th August 2010 [Photo: Don Emmert]

The Neo-Romantics

This is following up a pub conversation from last Friday evening. The British painters & artists referred to as Neo-Romantic include:

Paul Nash (1889-1946)

Totes Meer (Dead Sea) 1940-1 - Paul Nash

Totes Meer [Dead Sea] (1940-1) – Paul Nash


Graham Sutherland (1903-1980)

Pastoral (1930) - Graham Sutherland

Pastoral (1930) – Graham Sutherland

John Craxton (1922-2009)

Dreamer in Landscape (1942) - John Craxton

Dreamer in Landscape (1942) – John Craxton

John Minton (1917-1957)

Summer Landscape (1950) - John Minton

Summer Landscape (1950) – John Minton

John Piper (1903-1992)

Somerset Place, Bath (1942) - John Piper

Somerset Place, Bath (1942) – John Piper

Ivon Hitchens (1893-1979)

Damp Autumn (1941) - Ivon Hitchens

Damp Autumn (1941) – Ivon Hitchens

Keith Vaughan (1912-1977)

September (1956) - Keith Vaughan

September (1956) – Keith Vaughan

Michael Ayrton (1921-1975)

Skara Brae, Orkney (1959) - Michael Ayrton

Skara Brae, Orkney (1959) – Michael Ayrton

Henry Moore (1898-1986)

Tube Shelter Perspective (1941) - Henry Moore

Tube Shelter Perspective (1941) – Henry Moore

The movement centred on the run-up to the Second World War and the wartime, and was based in landscape painting.

In 1940 the British government commissioned artists including Paul Nash,  John Craxton, John Minton, Leslie Hurry, David Jones, and Ceri Richards, to document lives in villages and towns across the nation under the umbrella title ‘Recording Britain.’ The initiative was intended to boost national morale during the War by celebrating the country’s landscape and architecture.

Age in 1940

  • Paul Nash 51
  • Graham Sutherland 37
  • John Craxton 18
  • John Minton 23
  • John Piper 37
  • Ivon Hitchens 47
  • Keith Vaughan 28
  • Michael Ayrton 19
  • Henry Moore 42
Paul Nash c.1940

Paul Nash c.1940

Graham Sutherland with his portrait of Churchill

Graham Sutherland with his portrait of Churchill

John Craxton

John Craxton

John Minton

John Minton

John Piper at Fawley Bottom farmhouse c.1935

John Piper at Fawley Bottom farmhouse c.1935

Ivon Hitchens

Ivon Hitchens

Keith Vaughan

Keith Vaughan

Michael Ayrton, by Lola Walker (Lola Marsden), 1950

Michael Ayrton by Lola Walker [Lola Marsden] (1950)

Henry Moore by Lee Miller

Henry Moore by Lee Miller

Henry Moore & director Jill Craigie during the filming of 'Out of Chaos' (1943) in Holborn tube station

Henry Moore & director Jill Craigie during the filming of ‘Out of Chaos’ (1943) in Holborn tube station

Finn Fordham and members of the Finnegan’s Wake Research Seminar at Senate House, University of London got on to this subject via Powell & Pressburger:

Black Narcissus (1947)

Black Narcissus (1947)

The Red Shoes (1948)

The Red Shoes (1948)

A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

A Matter of Life and Death (1946)

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943)

I Know Where I'm Going! (1945)

I Know Where I’m Going! (1945)

A bastardized haiku for men of imperial Japan

Face Slap ape

Right hand to left cheek

Left hand to right cheek

Binta hints of

Nothing

auschwitz_birkenau

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