The Unknown Warrior at Victoria railway station


RAILWAY STATIONS ARE ALWAYS BUSY with people rushing to get trains or rushing away from the station.


Image: The plaque near Platform 8 at Victoria Station, London. Image: © R Maddox, 2017.

Near Platform 8 at Victoria Station, London  is a plaque honouring the Unknown Soldier and each year at 8pm on 10 November, the Western Front Association holds a memorial ceremony.

Placed there by the WFA, the simple plaque framed in English oak was unveiled in November 1998 by Frank Sumpter, who served as a Private in 1/5th (City of London) London Regiment during World War 1 and was a pall bearer for the Unknown Warrior.

He died in July 1999 and spent the last few years of his life as a Chelsea Pensioner.

More information:


The first of the many – Jacques Bonsergent, Szmul Tyszelman, Colonel Fabien and Alfons Moser


THIS IS THE STORY of the first civilian to be executed in Paris (but not in France) during the German Occupation during the Second World War.

It is the start of a line that will number thousands of men and women from many walks of life, urban and rural, individuals, groups and whole communities, such as the 642 men, women and children killed in Oradour-sur-Glane near Limoges.

Like many things connected with the Occupation, things are not clear – even today, after 77 years.

The basic story appears to be that between 7pm and 9pm on the 10th November, 1940, the day before the anniversary of the 1918 Armistice – and the first under German control – a group of seven young men are returning from a wedding three days before. Although not particularly late, the streets are dark and lighting subdued.

Paris is under German military control.

Some say that the newly-weds Marcelle Dogimont and his wife are in the group.


Image: Jacques Bonsergent

The scene is easy to imagine. Jacques Bonsergent, a tall 28 year-old ex-soldier and engineer and his friends are talking and perhaps laughing. Maybe one or two of them are a little shaky on their feet.

Tired but happy, the group moves erratically, perhaps stopping as one member trips or stumbles…

Near Gare Saint-Lazare railway station they encounter some off-duty German soldiers walking in the opposite direction.  Some reports suggest that the Germans are drunk and that one makes an attempt to put his arm around the waist of the new bride.

What is known is that a scuffle breaks out and a soldier is punched, perhaps knocked to the ground. Bonsergent tells his friends to go home and calms the situation and walks on alone. He doesn’t get far.

He’s pursued and minutes later caught. He is wearing a coat similar to the person who is supposed to have struck the blow. Protesting his innocence he tries to walk away. He is angrily roughed up, taken to the nearby Hotel du Terminus and questioned.

Who are his friends? Where do they live? Is this the start of the anticipated anti-German campaign?

In the days leading up to the traditional 11 November commemorations, the German authorities have banned all commemorative events. Aware of the long tradition of protests, student in particular have been warned not to protest.

Bonsergent is uncooperative and the German quickly transfer him to the notorious Cherche-Midi prison in the south of Paris.

On the 11 November between 3,000 and 5,000 people defy the authorities and demonstrate at the Arc de Triomphe, the resting place of France’s Unknown Soldier.

Shaken by the protest the Germans unleash a vicious response. Many young people are arrested. Many more injured.

It is to become the first large-scale show of resistance.

Back at the prison, Jacques is told that the Germans know he did not assault anyone and ask him to save himself by just delivering up his friends.

He refuses to do so and is charged with ‘an act of violence against a member of the German army’ – although a civilian he is to be tried by a military tribunal.

When the trial comes it lasts a day and on 5th December the verdict is announced: Bonsergent is guilty and the sentence is death.

His appeal for clemency is rejected. He continues to refuse to name those with him.

News of his imprisonment spreads and the public opinion is outraged.

The new head of the Vichy government, Marshal Philippe Pétain refuses to go to Paris and receive the ‘gift’ of the remains of Napoleon II, which have been sent on Hitler’s orders from Vienna on a special armoured train with senior Wehrmacht officers acting as escorts.

Napoleon II’s return has been timed to coincide with the centenary of his father’s remains (Napoleon Bonaparte) arriving in Paris from St Helena.

Hitler is outraged by Pétain’s behaviour, calling it ‘unspeakable infamy’.

Under pressure from the Führer and in the wake of the violent 11th November demonstration, General Otto von Stülpnagel, the German Military Governor, is determined to make an example of Bonsergent.

Early morning on 23 December 1940 Bonsergent is executed near the French Army fort in the Bois de Vincennes in the east of Paris and his death promulgated in an official poster that morning.


Bonsergent’s death notice in German and French (from

Parisians will see many more before they are liberated in August 1944.

Eight months and 2.5 kilometres away Alfons Moser a German naval cadet is getting ready to travel to work from near Montmartre.

Stepping on to a metro train at around 8 am on 21 August 1941, he doesn’t notice the small pistol in a pocket of one of the four Résistance men in the crowd pushing towards the train.

Shot in the doorway of the train from behind Moser dies from two bullets to the lung, the Résistance men escape.

The gunman is 22 year old Pierre Georges who will adopt the nom de guerre of ‘Colonel Fabien’. He will die three years later.

But as usual things are not that simple.

Moser isn’t killed in revenge for Bonsergent’s execution but for the execution of Szmul Tyszelman, a Pole and (like Georges) a member of the Jeunesse Communistes (Young Communists) and a member of the same Résistance cell.

Tyszelman had been arrested after a protest on 14 August 1941.

Hearing of Moser’s murder Adolph Hitler ordered that 100 French hostages be executed immediately. Von Stülpnagel ordered that 10 hostages be rounded up and held to ensure the future safety of German personnel.

On 27 August 1941 three Communists were executed by guillotine with three more the next day.

Over the next few months more than 500 French people would be executed in reprisals against attacks on the German military.


Place Jacques Bonsergent Image: (C) R Maddox 2017

So if you find yourself at the Place Jacques Bonsergent, the Metro station named after him, or outside 3, Boulevard Magenta, where he lived, spare a thought for a man who was, literally, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Internet Sources:

Printed Sources:

Occupation – The Ordeal of France 1940-1944  by Ian Ousby, 1999

When Paris went Dark – The City of Light under German Occupation 1940 – 1944 by Ronald Rosbottom, 2015

They also serve who only stand and wait



Image: An Avro Lancaster B Mark III, ED724 ‘PM-M’, of No. 103 Squadron RAF pauses on the flarepath at Elsham Wolds, Lincolnshire, before taking off for a raid on Duisburg, Germany, during the Battle of the Ruhr. (Image created by Pilot Officer Miller – RAF official photographer) © IWM (CH 9029)

MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN about the RAF bombing campaign over Europe, the individual missions, the pilots and aircrew on both sides… less so about the cooks,  fitters, admin staff, riggers, NAAFI staff, armourers, telephonists, parachute packers, MT drivers and the many others who helped the get the aircraft airborne.

And seventy-two years ago today more than seven hundred RAF heavy bombers and more than five hundred bombers from the USAAF were attacking Dresden in four seperate attacks over two days.

So I’ll just post this…

At the end of the runway
The WAAF corporal lingers.
Nervously threading
A scarf through her fingers

Husband? Or lover?
Or friend for the night?
Her face doesn’t tell
In the dim evening light.

The Squadron’s airborne
But still the WAAF lingers.
Nervously threading
A scarf through her fingers

‘Dusk Take-Off, 1940’ Ronald A M Ransom, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.

Anna Ivanovna Shchetinina – The World’s First Female Captain of an Ocean-Going Vessel

by Marianne Powers


Captain Anna Shchetinina. Image: © Sputnik/ A. Shagin from

Anna Ivanovna Shchetinina (Russian: Anna Ivanovna SCHetinina; February 26, 1908 – September 25, 1999) was a Soviet merchant marine sailor, said to be the world’s first woman to serve as a captain of an ocean-going vessel.

Shchetinina was born at the Okeanskaya Station near Vladivostok in a family of a railway switchman. In 1925 she entered the navigation department of the Vladivostok Marine School (Vladivostokskii morskoi tehnikum). After graduation she worked with a shipping company in Kamchatka Peninsula, where she started as an Ordinary Seaman (or, rather, “Seawoman”), and rose to a captain.

At the age of 24 she received her navigator’s license (qualifying her for a position equivalent to a Second Mate in the Western merchant marines), and at 27 became the world’s first female captain of an ocean-going ship. She attracted international attention on her first voyage as a captain (in 1935), as a young woman in charge of MV Chavycha on its journey from Hamburg (where it had just been purchased) to the Russian Far East around Europe, Africa, and Asia.

On March 20, 1938, Shchetinina became the first chief manager of the Vladivostok fishing port. Later the same year, however, she went back to school, now at Leningrad Ship Transport Institute (Leningradskii institut vodnogo transporta).

She participated in World War II in the Baltic, where her ship was evacuating people from Tallinn and transporting war cargoes under enemy bombardment. Later during the war she was the master of a Liberty ship moving Lend-lease supplies across the Pacific from the USA to Soviet Far Eastern ports.

After the War Ms. Shchetinina served as the captain of MV Askold, Baskunchak, Beloostrov, Dniester, Pskov, and Mendeleev of the Soviet Baltic Shipping Company. Since in 1949 she taught in the Leningrad Marine Engineering College (Leningradskoe visshee inzhenerno-morskoe uchilische); in 1951 she became a senior instructor there, and later, the Dean of the Institute’s Navigation Department. In 1956 she was granted the title of “docent” (associate professor).

In 1960 she accepted the position of a docent at the Department of Sea Craft (Morskoe delo) at Vladivostok Marine Engineering and Navigation College (Vladivostokskoe visshee inzhenernoe morehodnoe uchilische).

Anna Ivanovna Shchetinina was awarded the medal of the Hero of Socialist Labour, which was one of the two highest awards of the USSR. She was also honoured as a Distinguished Worker of the Merchant Marine (Pochetnii rabotnik Morskogo flota) an honourary citizen of Vladivostok, an honourary member of the Far-Eastern Association of Shipmasters and The International Federation of Shipmasters’ Associations (IFSMA), and received a number of other national and international awards.

She published a book entitled On the Seas and Beyond the Seas («Na moryah i za moryami»), and was admitted as a member into the Union of Russian Writers.

A monument in honour of A.I. Shchetinina has been erected in the old Maritime Cemetery in Vladivostok. On October 20, 2006 Cape Shchetinina on the shore of the Amur Bay of the Sea of Japan was named in her honour.


Charting a mission


THE STRATEGIC BOMBING OF GERMANY, 1942-1945 (C 4919) Still from camera gun footage shot from a North American Mustang Mark III flown by Flying Officer J. Butler of No. 65 Squadron RAF, as he shot down a Focke Wulf Fw 190D of II/JG26 which was attempting to attack an Avro Lancaster (banking, left), during a daylight raid by Bomber Command on the Gremberg railway yards at Cologne, Germany, 23 December 1944. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Image: Camera gun footage shot from a North American Mustang Mark III flown by Flying Officer J. Butler of No. 65 Squadron RAF, as he fires at a Focke Wulf Fw 190D of II/JG26 which in turn was attacking an Avro Lancaster (banking, left), over Cologne, Germany, 23 December 1944. Copyright: © IWM (C 4919) Original Source:

THERE’S A WELL – WRITTEN and well researched blog and podcasts called ‘One Night in December – the story of Lancaster LM582 and its crew on the night of the 17/18th of December 1944’.

It is a story of discovery – of a wartime air navigation chart in an auction catalogue, of finding what that chart related to, of the story of the crew that flew a Lancaster bomber on a mission to southern Germany in December 1944 and of the aircraft that took them there.

It is not a dry academic text nor someone a pasting huge chunks from Wikipedia to claim a lump of cyberspace.

It is Adrian Woolrich-Burt and Pete Chicken – two ex-RAF aircrew – using their knowledge and experience and finding (as many ex-naval visitors to HMS Belfast do) that many things have changed since December 1944 but a lot hasn’t.

In doing so they help us (and themselves) understand what their  predecessors did and felt, often night after night, week after week in a way that Hollywood films can never do. And in a way that many of those who were there never voiced.

This blog will make you appreciate the time when thick sheepskin and leather jackets were not fashion accessories for the twenty-year olds who wore them and that the frustration you feel been stuck behind a slow airline food trolley moving up the aisle as the stewardess searches for the vegetarian option is nothing to that felt when clambering with your parachute over the main spar of an aircraft violently corkscrewing away from a German night fighter.

Yes there’s techy stuff (and you are advised by the writers to sit down with a cup of coffee to read it) but the authors’ admiration for the crew and their skills shines through – witness the description of the navigator plotting the wind which is blowing the aircraft off course.

But it isn’t just Adrian and Pete telling us the story. Conscious that they don’t know everything they want contributions from others to add to, clarify or correct what they find.

As Adrian puts it, it’s not about who is right but what is right.

I know that more posts and a visit to the target area around 17 December are planned. They also want to show German reactions to the raid – like in Len Deighton’s superbly researched and written novel ‘Bomber’ which tells the story of an RAF bomber crew and their part in a mission to Germany from both the attacker’s and defender’s viewpoints.

‘Bomber’ has been called a twentieth century classic and praised by Antony Burgess, Kingsley Amis and others.

But as Deighton himself points out in the opening pages of the book, ‘Bomber’ is fiction.

One Night in December’ is fact.

The Window Woman



Image: A woman factory worker making aluminium strips – known as ‘Window’ – which were dropped by Allied bombers during air raids to conceal aircraft from German radar. © IWM (COL 46)

MANY PEOPLE KNOW OF THE EXISTENCE OF ‘WINDOW’ – strips of aluminium foil used by Allied bombers to confuse enemy radar during the latter part of the Second World War and protect the aircraft.

What may not be so widely known is that the idea was made practical by Joan Curran, an exceptional scientist who also was part of a small British team that worked on the Manhattan Project – the first atomic bomb.

The concept (as opposed to a practical solution) had been suggested by Reginal Victor Jones – a brilliant scientist at the Royal Aeronautical Establishment at Farnborough in 1937 as a possible weakness when deploying radar. Jones would become Assistant Director of Scientific and Technical Intelligence at the Air Ministry in 1941 at the age of thirty.

But Joan, the daughter of an optician developed Jones’ idea into a practical solution.

She was born on 26 February 1916 in Swansea and went to Cambridge University where she gained an honours degree in physics. But it would never be awarded as Cambridge did not grant awards to women at that time.

Working in the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge (where she would meet her husband Sam) she would be part of a team developing a radar proximity fuse for shells.

Britain was unable to put the fuse into mass production, so the Americans were given the technology in late 1940. Eventually these American-made fuses would play a vital part in the destruction of V-1 flying bombs over Britain in 1944.

Marrying in late 1940, the Currans moved to the Telecommunications Research Establishment – the RAF’s radar and radio navigation laboratories.

The Currans worked in two separate teams, Sam on developing radar and Joan on ways of countering radar. There she took Jones’ idea and developed it into ‘Window’.

By improving on a suggestion made by Jones of suspending rods on balloons, she came up with aluminium strips that could be dropped in bundles by attacking bombers and show up on radar in the same way as individual aircraft – the idea being that the defenders would be so confused by thousands of ‘targets’ suddenly appearing that they would be unable to pick out real aircraft to attack, thus rendering the defences useless.

Various sizes of strip were tried and, aware that the aluminium would not be destroyed in the atmosphere, there was even a suggestion that propaganda could be printed on one side of the sheet.

Although the trials proved it would be a successful weapon, it wasn’t deployed until June 1943. Reasons for this are many but centre on the fact that the aluminium strips (cut to exact lengths to confuse the wave lengths that German ‘Freya’ and ‘Wurtzburg’ radars operated on) might confuse civilians, German scientists would know exactly what they were and would copy the weapon and use it in turn to overwhelm British defences.

Now in 1943 with the Allies gains the upper hand over the Luftwaffe it was time.

Bundles of ‘Window’ weighing about a pound (around 0.5 kilo) were thrown from that attacking bombers at the rate of one every minute, each cloud remaining effective for up to 15 minutes. At the first radar station encountered, operators reported 11,000 bombers approaching – very different from the 791 aircraft actually there.

Losses of around six percent – 47 aircraft – would be the norm on a raid like this. On this occasion only 12 failed to return.

Around ninety-two million strips had been dropped represented 40 tons of aluminium – about the same as used in four Lancaster bombers.

Later it was discovered that the Germans had indeed developed their version of ‘Window’ and not used it for the same reasons as the British. Once the secret was out they did use it during ‘Unternehmen STEINBOCK‘, (Operation IBEX) – the ‘Mini Blitz’ against southern England during January to May 1944.

In 1970 Sam was knighted and Joan became Lady Curran.

Joan and Sam would be married for fifty-eight years and have four children, a daughter and three sons.

They would devote much of their time to the Scottish Society for the Parents of Mentally Handicapped Children – now called Enable – which she and Sam founded with four other sets of parents in Glasgow in 1954 after her daughter Sheena was found to have severe disabilities.

And although she never was awarded her Cambridge degree, the University of Strathclyde awarded her a degree of Doctors of Laws which touched her deeply.

More information:

How could a single breath of wind reveal a war?



This week we look at the remarkable story of one of the greatest reporters of the century and the unlikely unveiler of World War Two.

On the 28th August 1939 Claire Hollingworth was driving along the road from Gleiwitz in Germany to Katowice in Poland. The boarder was closed to all non diplomatic vehicles, but borrowing the car of a British consulate she snuck through to German occupied territory (she was originally there to help with the refugee crisis and during these years saved thousands of lives) This road is less than 20 miles long and it seemed strange that all along the German boundary hessian screens had been erected….  In a brief moment, a rush of wind was to unveil the German army concealed in a valley behind, armed and ready to deploy.

She immediately called her director at the Daily Telegraph with the news and the next day she was on the front page as the British correspondent breaking the news of the next World War.

This young 27 year old barely a week into her first role at the esteemed newspaper was to scoop the story of century. A few days later on September 1st she was to become the first eye witness account of World War 2, awoken by the bombings at dawn which signified Hitler had invaded Poland. Phoning the British embassy in Warsaw she exclaimed ‘war has begun’, and when they didn’t believe her she held the telephone out of the window to capture the explosions.

The job of a war correspondent was (and still is) a difficult one, even more so if you were a woman who couldn’t receive official recognition. At the time it was scandalous for a female to be in this role but she was to become a pioneer and one of the most respected and prominent in this field. After World War Two her career was to span decades in a colourful and exciting life. She was arrested, accused of being a spy, regularly came under fire and was to sleep rough in trenches and trucks (it has even been said she slept on the floor of her apartments when at home so as not to turn soft)

“she was never happier than when wondered the world with just her toothbrush, typewriter and revolver….”

Claire Hollingworth sadly passed away at the age of 105 last month but the story she leaves behind is one of adventure, preservation and strength. She is an inspiration to all those who risk their lives to bring us stories from foreign lands.