An English Patient

An English Patient

Based on a novel by Michael Ondaatje

Screenplay by Anthony Mingella

Directed by Anthony Mingella

The main thing I have to say about this film is you should watch it.  By far and away my favourite of the films I have had the pleasure of watching, it presents individual stories twisted together to express the tragic nature of war. No-one wins. At once real and surreal, the film mocks the apparent logic war predicates and exposes its scars.

‘An English Patient’ centres on a Hungarian hero, Laszlo, working, pre-war, as part of an international expedition to map Northern Africa. Falling in love with a colleague’s wife, they begin an affair in the desert, which ends when her husband discovers the betrayal and flies his plane, wife aboard, into his enemy. The enemy, our hero, survives, as does the woman in question, although her husband perishes in the crash. Her injuries force her love to walk three days to Cairo in search of aid. By now war has broken and his presence, as a foreign man, is suspect. As a consequence, he is held captive by the British, although manages to escape and trade his knowledge of the desert with the Germans for passage back to his love. She has died in his absence. He puts her in his plane to fly her body home and is shot down by the Germans. Here is where the film starts and tells its story intermittently flashing back to the love story of the past while telling the story of the present. His story.

The film in the present follows the life of a woman serving as a nurse for the British army who loses her boyfriend and her best friend within days of each other. Her pain and inability to cope is compounded through the film, and she demands of her superior to let her stay in an abandoned French castle with Laszlo, citing his health and inability to move due to his severe burns from the crash, as her reason.  This stay forms the basis of the film, as she deals with her emotions and hibernates from the grim nature of the world around her, and he deals with the lost love of his past and helplessness of his present. The two set up in a form of domestic bliss, but as the war around them deepens, their solitude is not kept for long. At first they are joined by a Canadian, who harbours a deep revenge against our hero, and second by the bomb disposal team, headed by a young Indian man called Kip, who offers Hana respite from her traumas.  As the war draws to an end, as does the life of our hero. But he leaves a legacy. The time hidden away with him working to relieve his wounds, helps Hana deal with her own and move on.

This film is peppered with references to the paranoia that war predicates. The assumption that everyone is part of the enemy, or trying to manipulate you, the awareness that people could be different to who they say they are. It makes the information you do hold, however small, so much more important. A Hungarian man at the outbreak of war is assumed to be part of the enemy by the British, purely because his story was unusual and his accent different. Paranoia is understandable. Basic civil liberties disappear during times of warfare. Freedom to come and go as you please being the most basic liberty which evaporates. Much like in ‘Sarah’s Key’, when the young boy is trapped in a cupboard, waiting for his sister who never returns, Katherine lies injured in a cave in the desert waiting for her love to return to save her. Neither can keep their promise because they are detained by the authorities.

‘Betrayals in war are childlike compared to betrayals in peace’. In his musings he scribes for Katherine, Laszlo makes this statement. In all logic, it should be the opposite. Surely there is so much more at stake at war when every small thing can have such an enormous impact? Is it because you expect it so much more in war, or because everything is in such a state in wartime that petty betrayals become just a part of the day rather than an enormous impact?

When two Canadians meet in the war in this film, they feel an instant bond, an irreconcilable connection which binds them closer than any others. This is the same in life. When you meet someone who is from where you’re from, or who knows someone you know, you feel an instant connection with them, In war this is magnified and intensified. Two Canadians meeting in the North African desert are immediately aligned. Regardless of the reality of who they are and what they are fighting for. How disorientating. To feel comfort in kinship but understand that the reality could be far from this truth. Could you trust anyone during this war?

‘There’s a war. Where you comes from becomes important.’

One answer could be because war is about power and ownership, to identify with the motivations of your government, you have to accept where you come from and where you belong is a fundamental priority of life and loyalty?

Hana is a fascinating figure. She is at once strong and weak, happy and sad, insightful and ignorant. She is the most real of women I have observed in any of the films I have watched so far. Introspective and emotional, unable to remove herself from what is happening around her, she retreats away from the world and creates a safe haven for herself after the death of those close to her.

‘Everyone I get close to dies.’

Wouldn’t you start to think you’re cursed? How were people expected to carry on amidst such grief? What were their coping mechanisms? We witness Hana’s strategy to retreat away into a dream-like world of castles and fairytales. Part Rapunzel, part Beauty and the beast, all self imposed, hiding herself in a beautiful far off land with an ugly man who can cause her no harm. She cuts her hair. She plays children’s games alone, she bathes in nature.

‘We have plums in the orchard. We have an orchard.’

How did other people cope with the unhappiness of war? Despite her relentless sense of fear for others, her fear for herself is not evident. Is this how it was in war? You resigned yourself to your own self destruction, it was the destruction of others that tore you apart?

This film re-raises the issue of foreigners fighting on behalf of the Brits. Kip is an Indian bomb specialist and represents the Indian community in the British army. How many foreign men fought for the Brits? From watching ‘Ice cold in Alex’, I know the Canadians fought for us. From my friend Terry’s input, I know the Jamaicans fought for us. Who else fought for us and our freedom? How did the hierarchy work? Were the alien soldiers incorporated into the British infrastructure or did they organise themselves? What happened to them afterwards? I resolve to find out how many people fought for the Brits in world war two, and what happened to them post D day celebrations. Kip, who bases himself at the castle while combing the area for left over mines, represents a further political discussion of the time; colonialism in the east. He quite clearly represents the separatists point of view in favour of independence, against the commonly held view the ‘natives’ were not capable of ruling themselves.

This is the second film I have watched set in the desert. I have never really imagined much of the Second World War taking place in the desert, so these two films have introduced me to how life would have been for those involved. These films both equally present the beauty, and the limitations of life in the desert. Many of the shots are perfect, correlating sky and sand, the beauty of the landscape dominating frame and painting a perfect picture of a land unknown to someone like me.

However, the desert is presented in a totally new light to that of ‘Ice cold in Alex’. Although it equally demonstrates the desert’s power over the human body with the onset of the sandstorm, it also beautifully captures the freedom of the space. Pre- war, when Laszlo, is there working, his team wear appropriate clothing, live in heat restraining tents and have as much water as they need. We can see the desert, with the appropriate tools, can be an extraordinary place to spend time. An evil and a wonder at the same time and only some basic elements alter your experience of it. The sandstorm that comes and engulfs the trucks is fantastically shot, and a great example of the unpredictability of the desert environment. I wonder how the British army faired against the sandstorms and if there are any tales of interest lying there. Suddenly the group are exposed, unprepared for existence against the desert in its new form. It is during this sandstorm Laszlo and Katherine are slung together in a jeep, defending themselves against the elements. The inside of the jeep is reminiscent of a bedroom and their conversation similar to that of pillow talk. Both conscious of their bodies and movement, every gesture and word emphasised and loaded. He talks of winds he knows, of little or no importance to second world war history, but hugely appealing to someone who likes to sail.

  • The Adjedge: a whirlwind from southern morocco which the Fellaheen tried to defend themselves against with knives
  • The Vigibli from Tunis which just rolls and rolls
  • The Hamatan, a red wind the mariners call the sea of darkness, which reaches as far as England, which can be mistaken for showers of blood.
  • The Samu, declared war on it and marched out against it in full battle dress

Are these real winds? I wonder.

Katherine is in many ways the strongest and the weakest of women I have observed in film. In her outward self she is capable, forthright, confident and perfectly willing to hold her own in the company of men. She quietly accepts the restrictions imposed on women and makes her own stand about things she finds important in her own way. She outshines many of the men that surround her, which evidently is a fact of some discomfort to the men themselves. ‘A woman should never learn to sew, and if she does, she shouldn’t admit it.’ A withdrawl from the classical female role is the only way women knew to distance themselves from the sexist system they habited. However, in her inner self, she is trapped in a marriage which is not loveless exactly, but passionless clearly. To leave a man who loves you so dearly is near on impossible today, let alone in the 40’s. The draw between Katherine and Laszlo is real and palpable, and is one of the most entrancing coupling in film I have witnessed. I believe the urgency they feel for each other, and feel relieved when they are together.

The love story in this film is just about the most perfect I have ever watched on screen. And its not because it is imposed against a background of war and desperation, because the war comes after. It is because it is raw love. Not chosen or real, but curious and infuriating, and played out so perfectly. The suspense of the story is intrinsic in the timings of the film. We know that Katherine dies when Michael gains his injuries. We know they love each other. But we don’t know why. But we agree, and know it is right. We have the privilege of watching it build. He is not a traditional hero. Awkward, arrogant, reluctant. Immensely high self expectation. A high self regard he battles constantly to maintain. Pompous yet seductive. In his late life, as a burn victim helpless and vulnerable he is self contained and sad, expressing a loneliness he readily concealed as a healthy man. His real sentiments of life are expressed once he has no skin to conceal himself with.

Christmas day in the desert consisted of the army sitting down, donned in Christmas hats and jovially drinking their drinks, eating the traditional dish and attempting to drown out their environment for a day. It seemed relatively calm and serene. The women fuss around the soldiers as they are served. I know that on one Christmas day in world war one, the Germans and the British set aside their differences and played football on no mans land. What happened during the Christmas celebrations of word war two? Was it like it was played out on this film? Did they always get to celebrate?

A strange addition to the film is of the character ‘Moose’, a Canadian wartime spy determined to avenge the loss of his digits by seeking all men involved in their demise and make them pay. Laszlo is one of those men, through his deal with the Germans to trade the maps they made. Moose behaves like a Nazi hunter committed to avenging himself rather than an entire race of people. I can’t help thinking he is unfair to blame others for what happened to him. He was a spy, he took risks, he should face the consequences. But then I never had all my fingers chopped off.  His character ends up inhabiting the castle with Hana and Laszlo, spending his time lurking and eking out his anger. He is like a witch in a Shakespeare play, outside, alienated and serving to demonstrate the demons of the key characters.

We see Moose’s interrogation room by the Germans. The obviousness of torture is evident. We see him loose his fingers. The younger German in the room are reluctant, implicit, but not wholly accepting of the situation they are in. It is interesting to see this portrayal of the younger generation uncertain of the senior’s actions. I often wonder about this generation of German soldiers. Following orders. Certain of their national pride. Uncertain of the way it is materialising. When I think of my own grandparents, I think of their role during the war with pride. Their contribution to our future. Their fearlessness at fighting for their own country, and their future generations. I wonder how my German peers feel about their grandparents. Weren’t they fighting for the same thing? Were they ware of what they were contributing to? Shouldn’t they feel proud their grandparents were so fearless in the face of what they thought was true? I read once that 99% of the Nazi army were not aware, or in accordance with the holocaust. They were not aware it was even happening, this was restricted to the 1% seniority of the Nazi party. So can the German youth feel proud of their grandparents? Or must they feel shame whenever they think of it? I wonder.

The climax of Hana and Kip’s relationship comes when he is called to a bomb in the town. Convoys celebrating the end of the war cause such a disturbance, the reverberations nearly set the bomb off. Again, a film using the end of the war, the masses celebrating peace to contrast an extreme situation for a character and exaggerate the difficulties faced by those who could not celebrate. In the end, he manages to stabilise the bomb, and thus can join in the celebrations. The end of the war brings an alterative celebration for our heroes. Hana, Moose and Kip take Laszlo out in the rain and dance till their heart’s content. Another small group bonded by their experience in the war, much like in ‘Ice cold in Alex’. Another group of 3 men, and one woman, maybe something similar to the ratio of sexes at war itself? Certainly a combination suitable for a random group bonded by mutual experience in wartime represented in film. In contrast, we see a party for the Brits that Kips’ colleagues partake in. Heavy drinking, singing, show off stunts and taking clothes off. A bit like how the Brits like a party now. The party ends sadly and suddenly though as Kip’s second in command finds an unexploded bomb as he climbs a statue in celebration. It happens again. Death in peacetime seems so much crueller than in wartime. To have taste freedom and have it taken seems far harder. I have a feeling this is a tool I will see frequently in these films.

One to watch. Time and time again.

Watch this space for ‘Where Eagle’s dare’ as recommended by my Dad.


More information on the subjects raised in Black Book

 Black Book raised multiple questions and issues in my mind about conduct and behavior during world war two. These subjects are so enormous, I can’t possibly start to understand them all with the minor research I have carried out so far, but nonetheless it’s a start and I am sure will be filled out over the coming films as I learn more angles of these enormous subjects. Some key points from this learning:

  • At liberation, in various European countries, those who were seen as ‘collaborators’ with the Germans for a multitude of reasons, were paraded publicly, had their heads shaved, and often stripped naked and covered in various insalubrious materials. This was a prelude to the Nazi hunting that continues to this day, to pursue those actively involved in the Nazi campaign who attempted to flee into obscurity. For more see below including links to a video celebrating VE day, the Clement Atlee announcement of the end of the war and a fascinating article written for the Guardian on the ‘dark side of the liberation parties.’
  • Rationing began in 1940 and started with basics such as butter and sugar, and wasting food became a criminal offence in 1940. It is generally accepted that food rationing improved the nation’s health, and was a direct result of one of Hitler’s tactics against Britain to use submarines to torpedo ships bringing supplies to Britain. See more below including links to rationing guidelines.
  • Torture seems to have been widely used during World War II by both the Axis powers, but also the Allies. The water boarding technique was certainly used and there is evidence that the very success of the D-Day landings themselves can largely be put down to the enhanced interrogation techniques that were visited upon several of the 19 Nazi agents. See more below for links to discussion on torture and how the use of these things bought about our feelings about torture today.
  • There is evidence of German soldiers being executed post liberation as happened to Muntze in Black Book. The Canadian military authorities required the Germans forces to essentially stay in formation post liberation to disband, and as a consequence, remained quiet on issues such as enforcing their own punishments. See more below on two soldiers who were executed 5 days after liberation.

Favourite facts

  • Because the Norway leader Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945) actively collaborated with Germany after its occupation, his name has entered the Norwegian language as word for “traitor.”
  • The Black Book was actually the list of people to be arrested by the Gestapo following a planned Nazi invasion of Britain in the Second World War

What’s below:

  • Nazi collaborators and traitors
  • Food and rationing during world war two
  • The use of torture in world war two
  • Execution of German soldiers post liberation
  • World war II in the Nethelrands
  • Tommies and Krauts
  • Signal Magazine


Nazi collaborators and traitors

Its true that throughout occupied Europe, many people actively collaborated with the Germans. As their countries were liberated, some locals took revenge against the collaborators by beating or shooting them or by shaving the female traitors’ heads.

VE Day VJ Day End of WWII Celebrations 1945 Newsreel and Stock Footage

British Prime Minister Clement Attlee announces Japan’s surrender

An interesting article by Antony Beevor describing a dark side to the liberation parties: the brutal head-shaving and beating of women accused of collaboration

Nobles and admirals on war ‘Suspect List’

A full list of suspected wartime traitors, including the Duke of Bedford, Sir Oswald Mosley and many other members of the British upper classes who would have been arrested in the event of a German invasion has been released for the first time at the National Archives.

Pursuit of Nazi collaborators

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The pursuit of Nazi collaborators refers to the post-World War II pursuit and apprehension of individuals who were not citizens of the Third Reich at the outbreak of World War II and collaborated with the Nazi regime during the war. Hence, this article does not cover former members of the NSDAP and their fate after the war.

There were a number of motives for the apprehension of suspected collaborators, the main motives were revenge for those murdered, especially those murdered on ethnic grounds in the Holocaust (principally amongst Jews and Russians). And a desire after the bitter war, to see those responsible face justice, and be categorized as criminals by a court of law. Ensuring that criminal acts done were brought to light and placed on the official record, with evidence, so that they could never be disproven (some of the acts being so unthinkable that denial was plausible). A widespread sense that genocide of whole communities and cultures on such a scale was intolerable and must not be left unprosecuted even despite the inadequacy of existing laws. Other motives included were the fear that a “Nazi underground” of some kind existed, such as the ODESSA which could allow the enemy to somehow regroup for their proclaimed Fourth Reich.

Means of pursuit

The pursuit took many forms, both individual and organised. Several organizations and individuals (famous Nazi hunters) pursue ex-Nazis or Nazi collaborators who allegedly engaged in war crimes or crimes against humanity. The pursuits took varied forms such as individuals who reported they saw someone who they recognised, who had now assumed a false identity intent on slipping back into civilian life undetected. Specific individuals were named and sought by groups or governments for their crimes during the war.

Others were subject to after-war spontaneous retaliation committed by populations within occupied countries, which in some areas led to “witch hunts” for those suspected of having been collaborators, where vigilantism and “summary justice”, were common. After a first period of spontaneous pursuit, provisional governments took the matter into their own hands and brought suspected criminals to court. The Nuremberg Trial in Germany judged only the highest German Nazi authorities and each country prosecuted and sentenced their own collaborationists. Pierre Laval in France was judged and sentenced to death, while Philippe Pétain was also sentenced to death, but Charles de Gaulle later commuted his sentence into a life condemnation). Government action to the form of investigation and interrogation for people suspected to be such. For example: U.S. DOJ Office of Special Investigations.

Infiltration of Nazi support and escape organisations (the most famous one being the ODESSA network and its various “ratlines“) and those believed to be aiding and abetting them. However, many suspected war criminals were also given amnesty, some of whom succeeding in reaching high positions in post-war administrations (e.g. Maurice Papon, who became Police Prefect of Paris in charge during the Algerian War (1954–62) and was blamed for the 1961 Paris massacre). Others were never even tried such as Robert de Foy who resumed being head of the Belgian State Security Service 1945-1958.

To read more pursuit in different countries go to the webpage or to learn about Nazi hunters go to

Hartres, France, August 18th, 1944: Just after the liberation of the town, this French woman who had had a baby with a German soldier has her head shaved as punishment.

Food and rationing during the war

  • The richer people in society were not able to indulge themselves to the same extent and rich and poor had a similar diet during the war
  • The minister for food, Lord Woolton,, made sure that every British child got daily milk, cod-liver oil and orange juice, to boost vitamin intake. Free school meals were also given to children of poorer familie
  • Some of the more unhealthy foods, such as white bread and sugar, were removed or much reduced in the diet, making everyone healthier
  • It is generally accepted that food rationing improved the nation’s health, resulting in a better diet with more essential vitamins. The Ministry of Food reported that people had lost weight but were generally healthier for it
  • From the beginning of the war, one of Hitler’s tactics against Britain was to use submarines to torpedo ships bringing supplies to Britain. This meant that imported goods were in short supply
  • By 1940 wasting food was a criminal offence.

Alternative ice creams for children during rationing- carrots on sticks!


Torture in world war two

Modern sensibilities have been shaped by a profound reaction to the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Axis Powers in the Second World War, which have led to a sweeping international rejection of most if not all aspects of the practice. It seems very clear though that the Axis powers were not the only ones to have engaged in torture techniques during the war.

The very success of the D-Day landings themselves can largely be put down to the enhanced interrogation techniques that were visited upon several of the 19 Nazi agents.

The interrogation method of water boarding as demonstrated in the film ‘Black Book’ was widely was used by the Japanese in World War II

Of course, all of this says nothing about the fact of Dr. Josef Mengele’s ruthless experiments (see previous post) and the use of gas chambers.

Executions of German soldiers post liberation

It seems there is no such thing as Article 153, as postulated in the film, but there is some evidence that such things took  place. On May 13,1945 2 German Soldiers named Bruno Dorfer & Rainer Beck were executed by the German Army after a court martial held by the German Armed Forces. They were transported to their execution in a Canadian truck driven by the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada and the rifles used were German weapons reissued to the executioners by a Seaforth officer. Note the date of the execution, 5 days after the war supposedly ended.

This tragic incident demonstrated a disturbing degree of cooperation between Canadian military units and the defeated German military. The Canadian military authorities permitted a continuation of the German military structure after the demise of the Third Reich. German assistance was indispensable in the disarmament, concentration, and evacuation of the German armed forces within Holland. Unfortunately, disinterested Canadian military authorities also left the German military in control of order and discipline.


World War II in Holland (The Netherlands)

This Western European nation was invaded by the Germans in May 1940. It surrendered after four days of resistance.

In the fall of 1944, the Allies attempted to get across the three major water obstacles in the Netherlands (the Maas, Waal, and Lower Rhine), to outflank the West Wall, and to put the British in position for a subsequent drive into Germany along the relatively open north German plain.

It was a join airborne-ground operation, Operation Market-Garden. The airborne attack — which included the famed 101st Airborne “Band of Brothers” — was called Operation Market; the corollary ground attack, Operation Garden. Unexpectedly strong resistance limited the gains to a 50-mile salient into Holland — far short of the objective of securing a workable bridgehead across the Rhine.

After five years of occupation, the Allies captured Arnhem, Holland, in April 1945. The remaining German forces in the Netherlands surrendered on May 4, 1945.

A great, great many Dutch civilians died during the occupation — over 200,000 men and women.


Tommies and Krauts

Tommy Atkins (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

“Tommies” from the Royal Irish Rifles in the trenches during the First World War.

Tommy Atkins (often just Tommy) is a term for a common soldier in the British Army that was already well established in the 19th century, but is particularly associated with World War I. It can be used as a term of reference, or as a form of address. German soldiers would call out to “Tommy” across no man’s land if they wished to speak to a British soldier. French and Commonwealth troops would also call British soldiers “Tommies”. In more recent times, the term Tommy Atkins has been used less frequently, although the name “Tom” is occasionally still heard, especially with regard to paratroopers.


Tommy Atkins or Thomas Atkins has been used as a generic name for a common British soldier for many years. The origin of the term is a subject of debate, but it is known to have been used as early as 1743. A letter sent from Jamaica about a mutiny amongst the troops says “except for those from N. America ye Marines and Tommy Atkins behaved splendidly”. The surname Atkins means “little son of red earth”, a reference to the soldiers in their red tunics. Tommy, a diminutive of Thomas meaning twin, has been a very popular English male name since Saint Thomas Becket was martyred in the 12th century.

Following the British defeat by the Boers at the Battle of Magersfontein in December 1899, Private Smith of the Black Watch wrote the following poem:

Such was the day for our regiment,

Dread the revenge we will take.
Dearly we paid for the blunder
A drawing-room General’s mistake.
Why weren’t we told of the trenches?
Why weren’t we told of the wire?
Why were we marched up in column,
May Tommy Atkins enquire…

Robert Graves, in his autobiography Goodbye to All That (1929), states that: “The original ‘Thomas Atkins’ was a Royal Welch Fusilier in the American Revolutionary War“. Graves, an officer in the Royal Welch in 1915, mentions this among other regimental history but does not cite his reference.

According to Lieutenant General Sir William MacArthur in an article in the Army Medical Services Magazine (circa 1950), “Tommy Atkins” was chosen as a generic name by the War Office in 1815.

Richard Holmes, in the prologue to Tommy (2005), states that in:

“1815 a War Office publication showing how the Soldier’s Pocket Book should be filled out gave as its example one Private Thomas Atkins, No. 6 Troop, 6th Dragoons. Atkins became a sergeant in the 1837 version, and was now able to sign his name rather than merely make his mark. .”

The Oxford English Dictionary states its origin as “arising out of the casual use of this name in the specimen forms given in the official regulations from 1815 onward”; the citation references Collection of Orders, Regulations, etc., pp. 75–87, published by the War Office,31 August 1815. The name is used for an exemplary cavalry and infantry soldier; other names used included William Jones and John Thomas.

A common belief is that the name was chosen by the Duke of Wellington after having been inspired by the bravery of a soldier at the Battle of Boxtel in 1794 during the Flanders Campaign. After a fierce engagement, the Duke, in command of the 33rd Regiment of Foot, spotted the best man-at-arms in the regiment, Private Thomas Atkins, terribly wounded. The private said “It’s all right, sir. It’s all in a day’s work” and died shortly after.

A further suggestion was given in 1900 by an army chaplain named Reverend E. J. Hardy. He wrote of an incident during the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857. When most of the Europeans in Lucknow were fleeing to the British Residency for protection, a private of the 32nd Regiment of Foot remained on duty at an outpost. Despite the pleas of his comrades, he insisted that he must remain at his post. He was killed at his post, and the Reverend Hardy wrote that “His name happened to be Tommy Atkins and so, throughout the Mutiny Campaign, when a daring deed was done, the doer was said to be ‘a regular Tommy Atkins'”.

Rudyard Kipling published the poem Tommy (part of the Barrack-Room Ballads, which were dedicated “To T.A.”) in 1892, and in 1893 the music hall song Private Tommy Atkins was published with words by Henry Hamilton and music by S. Potter. In 1898 William McGonagall wrote Lines in Praise of Tommy Atkins, which was an attack on what McGonagall saw as the disparaging portrayal of Tommy in Kipling’s poem.[citation needed]

It is also said[by whom?] that the name “Tommy Atkins” was the example name on conscription sheets during the First World War, and that teenagers who were underage often signed up as “Tommy Atkins”.

The paybook issued to all British soldiers in the First World War used the name “Tommy Atkins” to illustrate how it should be filled in.[citation needed]

Today’s soldier is nicknamed (within the Army) “Tom”, and the British Army Magazine Soldier features a cartoon strip character called Tom.[citation needed]

Kraut (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

 Kraut is a German word recorded in English from 1918 onwards as a derogatory term for a German, particularly a German soldier during World War I and World War II.Its earlier meaning in English was as a synonym for sauerkraut, a traditional German and central European food.

Although recorded as a colloquial term for Germans by the mid-nineteenth century, it was during World War I that Kraut came to be used in English as a derogatory term for a German. In World War II it was used mainly by American soldiers and less so by British soldiers, who preferred the terms Jerry or Fritz. The stereotype of the sauerkraut-eating German dates back long before this time, and can be seen, for example, in Jules Verne‘s depiction of the evil German industrialist Schultz, an avid sauerkraut eater, in The Begum’s Fortune.


The magazine ‘Signal’

Signal was a unique product of Germany’s high-powered propaganda machinery: a nearly folio-sized magazine created in an effort to rally other European nations under the Teutonic banner, and to promote and justify German hegemony over Europe. It reached a maximum circulation of 2,500,000 copies per issue and was published fortnightly in a total of 25 different languages.

Based on the layout of LIFE, Signal utilized an exceptionally modern blend of articles and pictures. It was lavishly illustrated, including full-page color plates. Outfitted with an elite of staff authors and war correspondents, and partly independent from the rigid censorship of Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry, Signal quickly established itself as the number one propaganda publication in wartime Europe.

In its March 22, 1943 feature on Allied and Axis propaganda LIFE conceded: “The Chief U.S. foreign propaganda magazine Victory is but a pallid imitation of the German Signal. Victory has less than half the circulation of Signal, contains no terrific propaganda sock like its Nazi counterpart.”

In a War of Words, Signal was a most effective weapon which the German propaganda experts succeeded in putting to maximum use. The magazine had a significant impact on the European volunteer movement against Bolshevism. By downplaying social and political differences among the various European nations, and by attempting to line them up behind Germany in its “struggle for freedom”, Signal promoted a “New Order” of Europe, designed as a Pax Germanica. 

I think that’s enough for now! What this space for discussion on ‘The English Patient’, the next film on my list.

99 Fascinating Facts about World War II

After a somewhat blustery interlude, personally MIA through needing to pull ropes, fix steering arms and answer quick fire questions on the very nature of meteorology in the northern hemisphere, I am now back on this mission with a vengeance.

Stumbling my way through various internet pages to find out more about some of the things thrown up by Black Book, including the origin of the terms Tommy and Kraut as well as the methods employed during the pursuit of Nazi collaborators, I came acors this indeed fascinating and, brief facts page about World War Two. Read and weep with your mouth open. Particularly gobsmacking include number 21, 24, 25, 51, 56, 67 and 95.  My previous understanding of the capability of the Nazis felt abominable enough. My developing knowledge of their activities leaves me dumbfounded and ashamed. If you have the time, read all 99, quite amazing facts.

Oh one more good thing to come from the world war thats related to my actives for the last 8 weeks on the water. Check out number 14. So its his fault I had to learn all that true vector relative vector business.

Watch this space for more information on the Black Book revelations (sounds much grander than it will be).

99 Fascinating Facts About . . .World War II

  1. World War II was the most destructive conflict in history. It cost more money, damaged more property killed more people, and caused more far-reaching changes than any other war in history.a
  2. The country with the largest number of WWII causalities was Russia, with over 21 million.i
  3. For every five German soldiers who died in WWII, four of them died on the Eastern Front.c
  4. It is estimated that 1.5 million children died during the Holocaust. Approximately 1.2 million of them were Jewish and tens of thousands were Gypsies.i
  5. Eighty percent of Soviet males born in 1923 didn’t survive WWII.c
  6. Between 1939 and 1945, the Allies dropped 3.4 million tons of bombs, which averaged to 27,700 tons per month.c
  7. Russia and the Red Army were accused of several war crimes, including systematic mass rape (over 2 million German women aged 13-70 were allegedly raped by the Red Army) and genocide.h
  8. Many historians believe that the Battle at Stalingrad (1942-1943) is not only arguably the bloodiest battle in history (800,000-1,600,000 casualties), but also the turning point of WW II in Europe.f
  9. Even after the Allies arrived, many concentration camp prisoners were beyond help. In Bergen-Belsen, for example, 13,000 prisoners died after liberation. Nearly 2,500 of the 33,000 survivors of Dachau died within six weeks of liberation.i
  10. Max Heiliger was the fictitious name the SS used to establish a bank account in which they deposited money, gold, and jewels taken from European Jews.c
  11. The longest battle of WWII was the Battle of the Atlantic, which lasted from 1939-1945.c
  12. The original abbreviation of the National Socialist Party was Nasos. The word “Nazi” derives from a Bavarian word that means “simple minded” and was first used as a term of derision by journalist Konrad Heiden (1901-1966).c
  13. The swastika is an ancient religious symbol. It derives from the Sanskrit name for a hooked cross, which was used by ancient civilizations as a symbol of fertility and good fortune. It has been found in the ruins of Greece, Egypt, China, India, and Hindu temples.c
  14. In 1935, British engineer Robert Watson-Watt was working on a “death ray” that would destroy enemy aircraft using radio waves. His “death ray” instead evolved into radar—or “radio detection and ranging.”c
  15. Out of the 40,000 men who served on U-boats during WWII, only 10,000 returned.c
  16. Survivors of both atomic bombings in Japan are called niju hibakusha, which literally means “explosion-affected people.”c
  17. Approximately 600,000 Jews served in the United States armed forces during WWII. More than 35,000 were killed, wounded, captured, or missing. Approximately 8,000 died in combat. However, only two Jewish soldiers were awarded the Medal of Honor in WWII.i
  18. The Battle of the Bulge is the largest and most deadly battle for U.S. troops up to date, with more than 80,000 American deaths.a
  19. The Enola Gay became well known for dropping the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, but few people know the name of the B-29 that bombed Nagasaki. It was Bock’s Car, named after the plane’s usual commander, Frederick Bock.c
  20. More Russians (military and civilians) lost their lives during the Siege of Leningrad than did American and British soldiers combined in all of WWII.c
  21. The Nazis murdered approximately 12 million people, nearly 6 million of those being Jews killed in the Holocaust (“whole burnt”).i
  22. During WWII, the Japanese launched 9,000 “wind ship weapons” of paper and rubberized-silk balloons that carried incendiary and anti-personnel bombs to the U.S. More than 1,000 balloons hit their targets and they reached as far east as Michigan. The only deaths resulting from a balloon bomb were six Americans (including five children and a pregnant woman) on a picnic in Oregon.c,d
  23. The Japanese Kamikaze (“divine wind”) tactic was suggested on October 19, 1944, by Vice-Admiral Onishi in an attempt to balance the technological advantage of invading American forces. Though the numbers are disputed, approximately 2,800 kamikaze pilots died. They sunk 34 U.S. ships, damaged 368, killed 4,900 sailors, and wounded 4,800.c
  24. Many Jews were subject to gruesome medical experiments. For example, doctors would bombard the testicles of men and the ovaries of women with X-rays to see the impact of different doses on sterility. Nazi doctors would break bones repeatedly to see how many times it could be done before a bone could not heal. They hit people’s heads with hammers to see what their skulls could withstand. Experiments were conducted to determine the effects of atmospheric pressure on the body. Prisoners were injected with different drugs and diseases, and limbs were amputated and muscles cut for transplantation experiments. Today reference to or use of the Nazi research is considered unethical.i
  25. Dr. Josef Mengele (the “Angel of Death”) used about 3,000 twins, mostly Romany and Jewish children, for his painful genetic experiments. Only about 200 survived. His experiments included taking one twin’s eyeball and attaching it on the back of the other twin’s head or changing the eye color of children by injecting dye. In one instance, two Romany twins were sewn together in an attempt to create conjoined twins.i
  26. In addition to Jews and gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses were also persecuted and murdered in German concentration camps.i
  27. The decision to implement the “Final Solution” or Die Endlosung was made at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin on January 20, 1942. Heinrich Himmler was its chief architect. The earliest use of the phrase “Final Solution to the Jewish Problem” was actually used in a 1899 memo to Russian Tzar Nicholas about Zionism.i
  28. WWII ended on September 2, 1945, when Japan signed a surrender agreement on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.f
  29. Anne Frank and her sister died at Bergen-Belsen in March 1945, one month before the camp was liberated in April 1945. During its existence, nearly 50,000 people died. After evacuating the camp, British soldiers burned it to the ground to prevent the spread of typhus.i
  30. In his book The Abandonment of the Jews, David Wyman (1929- ) argued that the failure to bomb concentration camps was a result of the Allies’ indifference to the fate of the Jews rather than the practical impossibility of the operation.i
  31. Despite the risks, thousands of people helped save the Jews. For example, the country of Denmark saved its entire community. And individuals such as Raoul Wallenberg (1912-1947), Oscar Schindler (1908-1974), and Chiune Sugihara (1900-1986) saved thousands of lives.i
  32. From 1940-1945, the U.S. defense budget increased form $1.9 billion to $59.8 billion.c
  33. At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, there were 96 ships anchored. During the attack, 18 were sunk or seriously damaged, including eight battleships. There were 2,402 American men killed and 1,280 injured. Three hundred and fifty aircraft were destroyed or damaged.c,g
  34. The Air Force was part of the Army in WWII and didn’t become a separate branch of the military until after the war.c
  35. In 1941, a private earned $21 a month. In 1942, a private earned $50 a month.c
  36. German U-boats sunk 2,000 Allied ships at a cost of 781 U-boats destroyed.c
  37. More than 650,000 Jeeps were built during WWII. American factories also produced 300,000 military aircraft; 89,000 tanks; 3 million machine guns; and 7 million rifles.c
  38. The Germans used the first jet fighters in World War II, among them the Messerschmitt ME-262. However, they were developed too late to change the course of the war.c
  39. The most powerful artillery gun created by any nation and used in WWII was named Karl by its designer General Karl Becker. Used mostly against the Russians, the huge gun could shoot a 2.5 ton shell over three miles. The shells were 24 inches wide and could go through eight to nine feet of concrete.c
  40. During WWII, the acronym BAM stood for “Broad-Assed Marines,” or women soldiers in the U.S. Marine Corp. The women, however, called the men HAMs, for “Hairy-Assed Marines.”c
  41. The SS ran a brothel named “The Kitty Salon” for foreign diplomats and other VIPs in Berlin. It was wiretapped, and 20 prostitutes underwent several weeks of intense indoctrination and training. They were specifically trained to glean information from clients through seemingly innocuous conversations.c
  42. WWII resulted in the downfall of Europe as a center of world power and led to the rise of the U.S. and Russia as super powers. This set up conditions for both the US-USSR cold war and the nuclear age.a
  43. Most historians agree that WWII began when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Others say it started when Japan invaded Manchuria on September 18, 1931. And some scholars suggest WWII is actually a continuation of WWI, with a break in between.f
  44. During WWII, hamburgers in the U.S. were dubbed “Liberty Steaks” to avoid the German-sounding name.c
  45. The Nazis pirated the Harvard “fight song” to compose their Sieg Heil march.c
  46. Joseph Kramer (1906-1945), a commander of Bergen-Belsen, was known as the “Beast of Belsen.” When asked if he “felt anything” as he watched and participated in the deaths of thousands of men, women, and children, Kramer said he didn’t feel anything because he was following orders. He was later executed for crimes against humanity.i
  47. The ace of all fighter aces of all nations is German fighter pilot Erich Hartmann (“the Blond Knight”) with 352 “kills.”c
  48. Members of Adolf Hitler’s inner circle allegedly called Rudolf Hess “Fraulein Anna” because he was reportedly a homosexual. He was also known as the “Brown Mouse.”c
  49. William Hitler, a nephew of Adolf Hitler, was in the U.S. Navy during WWII. He changed his name after the war.c
  50. Italian fascists took as their symbol the “fasces,” a bundle of bound rods that symbolized the power of ancient Rome.c
  51. The Nazis killed millions of Poles. But they thought that some Polish babies and children looked German and kidnapped about 50,000 of them to be adopted by German parents to become “Germanized.”i
  52. Special units run by the SS called Einsatzgruppen (“task forces”) followed the German army’s invasion of countries. They would force Jews to dig a pit and then shoot them so they would fall into an open grave. It is estimated that the Einsatzgruppen killed 1.4 million Jews.i
  53. Prisoners called Sonderkommando were forced to bury corpses or burn them in ovens. Fewer than 20 of the thousands of Sonderkommando survived, though buried and hidden accounts of some were found later at camps.i
  54. Several famous actors were decorated during WWII. For example, Henry Fonda won a Bronze Star in the Pacific, Walter Matthau was awarded six battle stars while serving on a B-17, and David Niven was awarded the U.S. Legion of Merit. Christopher Lee was a pilot in the Royal Air Force and also won a number of awards.c
  55. John Wayne (Marion Robert Morrison) starred in 14 WWII movies; however, due to a football injury, he never actually served in the war.c
  56. Hitler kept a framed photo of Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, on his desk. Henry Ford also kept a framed photo of the Nazi leader on his desk in Dearborn, Michigan. In Mein Kampf, Hitler included some anti-Semitic views attributed to Ford.c
  57. On January 31, 1945, Private Eddie Slovik was shot for desertion, the first American executed for the crime since the Civil War and the only one to suffer this punishment during WWII.c
  58. Although Japan fought on the side of Britain, France, and the U.S. during WWI, it felt cheated by its failure to gain much territory when the peace treaty was composed. Additionally, in the 1920s, its government came under control of fanatical nationalists and allied with the army, which eventually prompted Japan to side with Germany.a
  59. After its defeat in WWI, Germany was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. Germany lost all its overseas empires as well as land to its neighbors, and it was prevented from maintaining a large army. Most Germans opposed the treaty, and their resentment would eventually undo the settlement, leading to WWII.f
  60. The Great Depression had a ripple effect throughout the world. It prevented Germany from paying WWI reparations, which forced Great Britain and France to default on their debts to the U.S. which, in turn, sowed discontent throughout the globe.f
  61. The most decorated unit ever in U.S. history is the 442nd regimental Combat Team, whose motto was “Go for Broke.” It consisted of Japanese-American volunteers. Together they won 4,667 major medals, awards, and citations, including 560 Silver Stars (28 of which had oak-leaf clusters), 4,000 Bronze Stars, 52 Distinguished Service Crosses, and one Medal of Honor, plus 54 other decorations. It also held the distinction of never having a case of desertion.c
  62. Norvell Gillespie, the garden editor of Better Homes and Garden, designed the camouflage print for U.S. service uniforms in WWII.c
  63. The greatest tank battle in history occurred between the Germans and Russians at the Kursk salient in Russia from July 4-22, 1943. More than 3,600 tanks were involved.c
  64. The largest Japanese spy ring during WWII was not in the U.S. but in Mexico, where it spied on the U.S. Atlantic Fleet.c
  65. Prisoners of war in Russian camps experienced an 85% mortality rate.c
  66. Germany had a total of 3,363 generals during the war while the U.S. had just over 1,500.c
  67. The vast majority of German war criminals passed themselves off as refugees at displaced persons camps when the war ended, thereby gaining freedom.i
  68. Before Nazi Germany decided to eliminate the Jews by gassing them, it had considered sending them to the island of Madagascar.i
  69. If it became necessary to drop a third atom bomb on Japan, the city that would have been the target was Tokyo.a
  70. The greatest loss of life ever sustained by the U.S. Navy occurred on July 30, 1945. The USS Indianapolis was shot by Japanese submarine I-58. Captain Charles McVay, commanding officer of the cruiser, was the only U.S. Navy officer ever to be court-martialed for losing a ship in war.c
  71. Calvin Graham was only 12 years old when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He won a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart before the Navy found out how old he was.c
  72. Rudolf Hess, Adolf Hitler’s deputy in the Nazi party, was the last person to have been incarcerated in the Tower of London.c
  73. While in prison, Hitler envisioned the development of a “people’s car” or a Volkswagen, from the word volk, meaning “people” or “nation.”c
  74. On December 8, 1941, Britain and the U.S. declared war on Japan. On December 11, Germany declared war on the U.S. The U.S. is the only nation Germany formally declared war on.a
  75. The Nazis called their rule the Third Reich (1933-1945). The First Reich was the Holy Roman Empire (962-1806). The Second Reich was the German Empire of 1871-1918. The Weimar Republic was from 1919-1933.f
  76. At the behest of the Nazi regime, book-burning campaigns took placed in Berlin and other German cities between March and June 1933, with senior academics and university students incinerating books deemed to contain “un-German” ideas. Authors targeted by the book-burning campaign included Jack London, H.G. Wells, Thomas Mann, Sigmund Freud, and Albert Einstein. A century before Hitler, the German poet Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) predicted: “Where one burns books, one will, in the end, burn people.”a
  77. In the 1930s, the U.S. Army had only about 130,000 soldiers, making it the sixteenth largest force in the world, smaller than Czechoslovakia, Poland, Turkey, Spain, and Romania.a
  78. In a bizarre move, Hitler’s deputy and confidant Rudolf Hess parachuted into Scotland on May 10, 1941, to negotiate a peace agreement. The British concluded he was mentally unstable. He was kept as a POW and given a life sentence at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial.c
  79. On July 14, 1941, the Soviets introduced a new weapon, the Katyusha, which could fire 320 rockets in 25 seconds. More than 50 years later, the Katyusha remains an effective weapon.c
  80. After the sneak attack at Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt searched for a bulletproof car. However, because government regulation prohibited spending more than $750 to buy a car, the only one they could find was Al Capone’s limo, which had been seized by the Treasury Department after he was arrested for tax evasion. FDR said, “I hope Mr. Capone won’t mind.”c
  81. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement toward Hitler is generally thought to have been a mistake, but his defenders claimed that it bought Britain time to prepare for war.a
  82. In the 1928 elections, less than 3% of Germans voted for the Nazi party. In 1938, Hitler was Time magazine’s man of the year.f
  83. That Nazi salute was modeled on the salute of Italian Fascists, the ancient Romans, as well an ancient Germans. The raised arm resembles a raised spear.c
  84. Hitler designed the Nazi flag. Red stood for the social idea of Nazism, white for nationalism, and the black swastika for the struggle of the Aryan man.a
  85. Large, inflatable barrage balloons were used to protect major towns and cities in Britain from air raids. The balloons were launched before a raid and trailed a network of steel cables beneath them. Bombers had to fly high to avoid becoming tangled in the cables, thus reducing their accuracy.c
  86. The main success of the Blitzkreig or “lightening war” was due to tank units supported from the air by dive-bombers, such as the Junkers Ju87 (Stuka). The Stukas were fitted with sirens, which sounded like screaming to terrify the population.c
  87. Because the Norway leader Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945) actively collaborated with Germany after its occupation, his name has entered the Norwegian language as word for “traitor.”c
  88. Throughout occupied Europe, many people actively collaborated with the Germans. As their countries were liberated, some locals took revenge against the collaborators by beating or shooting them or by shaving the female traitors’ heads.c
  89. In 1974, a Japanese soldier named Hiroo Onoda (1922- ) came of the of the jungle of the Pacific island of Lubang. He had been hiding there for 29 years, unaware that his country had surrendered.c
  90. Japan and Russia never formally ended hostilities after WWII. Plans for them to sign an official peace treaty in 2000 failed because Japan wanted Russia to return four offshore islands it had taken after the war.a
  91. Author Ian Fleming based his character “007” on the Yugoslavian-born spy Dusko Popov (1912-1980). Popov spoke at least five languages and came up with his own formula for invisible ink. He was the first spy to use microdots, or photos shrunk down to the size of dots. He obtained information that the Japanese were planning an air strike on Pearl Harbor, but the FBI did not act on his warning. Popov later lived in the U.S. in a penthouse and created a reputation as a playboy. He wrote an account of his wartime activities in his novel Spy, Counterspy (1974).c
  92. From 1942, U.S. Marines in the Pacific used the Navajo language as their secret code. The language didn’t have the vocabulary for existing WWII technology, so existing words had to be given new meanings. For example, the word for “hummingbird” (da-he-ti-hi) became code for fighter plane. Around 400 Navajo Indians (Code Talkers) were trained to use the code, and the Japanese never cracked it.c
  93. The Russians were the first to have paratroopers, which they exhibited in 1935. The Allies did not catch up until 1940, when the Central Landing School opened near Manchester.c
  94. The most important medical advance that saved soldiers’ lives during WWII was the blood transfusion.c
  95. In 1939, the Nazis began a “euthanasia” program in which 80,000 to 100,000 Germans who were disabled, mentally retarded, or insane were murdered. The program was based in Berlin at No. 4 Tiergartenstrasse and became known as the T-4 program.i
  96. The Auschwitz Concentration Camp Complex was the only place where prisoners were given identification number tattoos. The practice began in 1941 when Russian POWs were stamped on the upper-left breast. Jews started receiving tattoos (on their forearms) in 1942.i
  97. Poison gas was first used in WWI to break the trench warfare stalemate. Though all powers had chemical weapons, only Japan (in China) and Italy (in Ethiopia) used them during WWII.c
  98. Formed as a personal protection service for Hitler, “SS” is an abbreviation of Schuftzstaffel (“Protective Echelon”). Virtually a state within a state, the SS was headed by Heinrich Luitopold Himmler (1900-1945) and carried out massive executions of political opponents and ethnic minorities. It was divided into two groups, the Allgemeine-SS (General SS) and the Waffen-SS (Armed SS).a
  99. WWII casualties totaled between 50 and 70 million people. More than 80% of this total came from four countries: Russia, China, Germany, and Poland. More than half of these casualties were civilians, most of whom were women and children.c


a Ambrose, Stephen E. 2001. The Good Fight: How World War II Was Won. New York, NY: Athenium Books.

b “Appendices.” The Holocaust Chronicles. 2002. Accessed: March 9, 2011.

c Benford, Timothy B. 1999. The World War II Quiz and Fact Book. New York, NY: Random House.

d “Bombs Fall on Oregon: Japanese Attacks on the State.” Life on the Homefront: Oregon Responds to World War II. 2008. Accessed: March 16, 2011.

e “Frequently Asked Questions.” Radiation Effects Research Foundation. 2007. Accessed: March 17, 2011.

f Murray, Williamson and Allan Millet. 2001. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

g “Ships and Aircraft.” Pearl 2011. Accessed: March 17, 2011.

h Roberts, Andrew. “Stalin’s Army of Rapists: The Brutal War That Russia and Germany Tried to Ignore.” Mail Online. October 24, 2008. Accessed: January 12, 2011.

i Wood, Angela Gluck. 2007. Holocaust: The Events and Their Impact on Real People. New York, NY: Dorling Kindersley Limited.

j “World War 2 Death Count.” Hitler Historical Museum. 1999. Accessed: March 17, 2011.

World War Two film number 3: Black Book

Black Book

IMBD Summary

In the Nazi-occupied Netherlands during World War II, a Jewish singer infiltrates the regional Gestapo headquarters for the Dutch resistance.

Theatrical trailer

A dense and intense film which offers a unique perspective of the war through the eyes of a Jewish woman whose family are slaughtered before her eyes and who decides to avenge her kin by joining ‘la resistance’. So much happens in this film and so many issues are raised that even as I write the first few lines, I am sure this will be the longest post by far as yet. Don’t be deterred by length, some of the points this film raises are the most interesting to be discussed so far and I would welcome and further discussion on any of them.

The film opens in a Kibbutz in Israel in 1956, the setting for a reconciliation of two young women who knew each other in Holland during the war. One asks the other in disbelief, ‘You are Jewish?’ How can she not know if they knew each other during the war? I wonder. And so the story begins.

It takes us back to September 1944 and into Holland and a young Jewish girl, a former singer, is hiding out with a family who treat her much like a servant. I wonder how such a thing was arranged and how many people lived like that. It’s the tail end of the war and to start with there is a sense of calm and order, playing out time until the ‘Tommy’s will be here and Holland will be liberated.’  I confess I don’t know much about the role of Holland in the war, and what happened there, so I watch with anticipation. The style of the film makes it somewhat inaccessible at times, certainly at the start feeling like a some sort of high drama television series, but I try and look beyond and absorb the events it is trying to portray. After her hideout is accidentally bombed by American aircraft, the dramatic entrance of her ‘saviour’ instils both wonder and terror as the figure of the night knows all of her details, her name, her family, her immediate danger of imminent transportation to Poland, and offers assistance. Who is he? Us. Who is us? Us is us. She asks, ‘by us you mean the resistance?’ Her saviour offers an alternative view of the end of the war ‘your Tommy’s have been cut to pieces at Artnhem.’ I wonder where the nickname Tommy came from? And for that matters, the other oft used term in this film ‘Kraut’. First thing to learn about.

Rachel and her family join a large group of huddled Jews carrying their belongings ushered along by the ‘saviour’ Van Gein. As Rachel revels in being reunited with her family and they declare never to separate again, the whole boat is machine gunned. It was a trap. The Germans take aim and fire, and her family fall about around her, as she manages to escape into the water only to watch the scenes before her worsen as the Germans pillage the bodies. She stares at the face of the officer as her face hardens with the call of revenge. I can’t help thinking about all the people grabbing their opportunity to make their own little bit in life, grabbing from other people, manipulating situations to their own gain. It seems to have happened even more so during the war than in normal life, but the characteristics remain present today. I look at the men shooting and pillaging the bodies, under order of their officer. Why not say no? Don’t they know this is wrong? But they have no choice. Is there a choice when you serve in the armed forces? Your only choice is follow your senior officer or pay the penalty. And the penalty is serious.

The next time we see her, Rachel has a new identity. A blond  and fesity young woman on a mission, with nothing to lose. Smuggled back in a coffin, she joins the resistance and becomes Ellis de Vries. She is a bold character, with more tenacity and strength than the other women I have seen shown in these films yet. She has no fear and she is not intimidated. She comes up with more creative solutions than her male counterparts and her character shows real resourcefulness. Later in the film, she is travelling with one of her counterparts, Hans, on a train when it is stopped and all are asked for their papers and to open their suitcases. Instead of obeying Han’s order to pull the brake while he shoots, she slaps him round the face and mocks an argument between lovers, flouting off with both their cases, full of equipment and information, under her arms arousing no suspicion.

The films I have watched so far reveal certain interesting tactics made by people who are trying to divert others. Ice Cold in Alex showed a group of men posing as Arabs in the desert sugaring petrol on a German line to stifle their engines. This film shows a large light being covered and uncovered with a book as a signal to a plane above for a drop. I am thoroughly enjoying this insight into the minds of people who are having to turn away from common ways of life and find ways to communicate or disrupt- true genius comes from the need to be inventive. As well as the need for resourcefulness, Wartime bought restrictions and limitations including rationing. What did people crave? What did they miss? When chocolate is dropped to Rachel’s resistance group, they say they haven’t had it for two years. What else was so restricted? The realities of the scarcity are evident in the scene when we see young children scavenging in disposed pots, fighting over scraps. A friend of mine, Bran Carter, wrote to me recently with some tales of his childhood in the war:

‘As a country boy there were also compensations. Meat was very scarce and I was able to sell the rabbits I snared for six shillings- a princely sum then.  And we got nine pence a pound for rose hips to turn into syrup for the babies. War babies, with their free orange juice etc were the healthiest generation ever seen in this country.’

I didn’t know about this austerity-driven health kick the country got. I resolve to learn more (learning resolution two).

I was quite struck by setting and costume in this film, sumptuous sets, dark wood panelling, stylish dresses, beautiful hats, wonderful cars. The ‘baddie’ look of the German’s is at once intimidating and extremely evil looking. I am sure the costume department did their fair share of research and so feel assured the German dress is an authentic representation. So it was the Germans who chose such a ‘look’. I recall reading somewhere the German’s employed Hugo Boss to design their uniforms. They don’t put that in their advertising. I wonder if it included the long black leather coat. I think guiltily of my own long black leather jacket, but I am sure I only bought it and love it only because it is more the Matrix than SS.

The role of the resistance is an interesting one. Are they terrorists or freedom fighters? People doing the right thing or the wrong? They can be construed in totally different lights by different people. Their own internal struggle, doing bad things to do the right things, killing people to save other people represents an ambiguous world which is an interesting one to explore through any form. This film finds it difficult to quite find its place on this issue. It jumps very quickly, rushes through important scenes and glosses over some of the more interesting conundrums offered to these people. On the other hand, it does offer some glimpses of the compromises made by the group who were willing to give their lives for the fight. Two of the key characters of the resistance group, Hans and Theo, offer alternatives in approach. Hans, hardened, militant, focused. Perhaps to the point of derision. Theo, timid, thoughtful, pensive and crippled by any action considered ‘wrong’ in the real world. Theo, ” Omigod. We took 5 lives. What have we done?” Hans, “It was them or us. Take off their uniforms. We can use everything.” Do our moral gates shift in times of warfare?

Smaal, Rachel’s father’s friend, plays an important role in the film as he appears at key changes in Rachel’s life so we can see the stages of her transformation. He is also a lawyer for those involved in the resistance. He readily admits people of the resistance have no rights, but commits as a lawyer to try and help them defend themselves. Was the war before it was commonly agreed that all human beings were entitled to a fair trial. I remember the human rights charter we are all familiar with was developed after the world wars in response to some of the things that took place. If people are held without trial now, we are outraged. Then I think of Guantanamo, and think, maybe things are still the same after all.

When Ellis takes her creative leave of her colleague aboard the train, she swoops into a German’s officers cabin further down to take advantage of the protection he could afford her, to try and woo him in the few minutes it would take the checking officers to make their way down the train. She succeeds. As his taking to her is evident, her group decide to make use of this new found flirtation and she is asked to get close to Officer Muntze, high up in the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), their security service equivalent, to gain information regarding some newly captured colleagues.

She eventually becomes employed by the Nazi office and involved herself in society there, becoming closer and closer with Muntze as time goes on. She learns that he too lost his family during the war despite the fact that Goering had ‘sworn that no English bombs would fall on Germany’. He shows a humility which is oft neglected in German characters. He is definitely a ‘goodie.’ In every world war two film I have watched so far, there is a multitude of viscous Germans depicted, merciless, angry and heartless in their duty. Then in each film, there is also an antidote to that stereotype, someone more affected by humanity than nationality and who finds himself compromised morally. Muntze is that character in this film. He demonstrates that war affects every man and woman, regardless of race or nationality. Everyone killed is someone’s loved one.

Torturing techniques are explicit in this film with those captured members of the resistance suffering villainous demands for information. Was torturing a known and accepted form of information gathering? Were these awful things carried out by all armies during the second world war? In the end, Tim, one of the group, revealed the details of his resistance group, and named his father as the leader. Can I honestly say I would have done differently if I had been held under water to the point of drowning for an hour? Were the Kuipens a real family involved in the resistance, I wonder.

Rachel becomes adept in her covert role, and discovers the secret of another German officer, Guntze, the very man she saw in charge of the slaughter of her family. He has a deal with Van Gein. Wealthy Jews, told they would be smuggled to safety and to bring their treasured possessions by Van Gein, are then targeted in the dead of night by Guntze, and profits are split. This continues the theme from ‘Sarah’s Key’ of the Nazis not only massacring the Jews, but people around them finding their way of benefiting from the massacre. Not only slaughtering them for no reason, but stealing from them. Even Guntze’s commanding officer states, ‘Robbery of rich Jews. There is nothing wrong with that.’

The darker side of Theo comes out when a fumbled attempt to capture Van Gein turns into a brawl, and he turns into an angry, demonic crazed individual shooting Van Gein multiple times with hatred. As soon as he stops, he relents and returns into the former timid Theo. ‘ I shot a man. I am just as bad as the Nazi’s.’ Interesting how a man so timid, can turn and become so extreme. His anger is palpable. I wonder, if one tries so hard to repress anger, will it always come out so much stronger than those that allow themselves to express it freely. Do we all have a demonic side, that, pushed to our own certain limit, we would reveal in exactly the same way? His immediate retreat back to his former self suggests that is his natural state, but shows how such a circumstance as the war can put pressure on people and change them from their natural state. Ellis tries to reassure him ‘that was justice’ but you can see how difficult it must have been to justify such an act to yourself.

I come across my first Hitler impression in this film. Hans, the hardened revolutionary, dons a fake moustache and raises the spirits of his comrades when they return from shooting Van Gein. He mimics the gestures, mocks the accent and  pontificates on how Fuhrer would react when he learns about the death of the source of one of his income streams. Most entertaining for both myself and his colleagues.

Guntze’s anger at van Gein’s death reaps an immediate retaliation. He orders ’40 pieces. Delivery today’, 40 hostages to be shot in revenge.  There is no humanity in this man. There is no compassion. Soldiers of the war are mere pawns and at his disposal to use as he wishes to try and get what he wants. He is almost stooped in his tracks. The previous evening, Muntze had discovered Rachel’s true Jewish roots and forced her to reveal her triue identity. She tells him what she has leaned of Guntze and the next day he is confronted. Unfortunately Guntze had been prewarned and had hidden all evidence of his involvement, and instead turns the tables on Muntze for his negotiations with the resistance. Negotiations with the resistance were strictly forbidden by order of the Fuhrer. Muntze begs ‘The Russians are in Berlin!’ attempting to persuade his colleagues no more blood need be shed, but is simply told his attitude is defeatism. The rules are still the same now. We cannot negotiate with terrorists, but this film clearly leads us to believe it would be the right thing for the two to talk. No-one else getting shot, Tick. No more retaliations. Tick. I suppose it depends on whether you agree with the terrorists/freedom fighters or not.

The war ends amid much jubilation, and our doomed couple manage to escape their pursuers. They both proclaim they fear the end of the war more than the war itself. Rachel has been set up so her resistance group believe she betrayed them, and Muntze, as a prominent figure of the German army is a wanted figure, as well as being wanted for the death penalty by his own people. The end of the war brings no peace for them as they are on the run from their respective groups. I wonder who else felt the same. No relief when the end of the war came. No celebration. The celebrations itself are wonderfully portrayed, happiness etched on every face, absolute ecstasy. I cannot imagine how glorious this must have felt for most. After 4 years of oppression, of everything being dictated by the war, it simply dissolves, and one is free to choose once more what to do with one’s life. What an extraordinary feeling that must have been. And in amongst the jubilance, traitors are pillaged and stripped and made to hold signs saying ‘whore’ and ‘thief’.  They are mocked and laughed at in public. It’s strange how a moral boundary can shift so quickly. Was this a reality? Were people, as Rachel was when she eventually was captured, told to strip for the amusement of the drunk revellers? Were they covered in shit as a form of entertainment, as she was? I find it hard to believe people could find such joy in other people’s distress, but maybe these crimes were adequate for such a punishment. How were the ‘traitors’ decided? Did they receive a fair trial?

Unfortunately during the celebrations Muntze is recaptured. Despite the fact the war is over, despite the fact the Germany was defeated, the decision of the German military tribunal to issue a death warrant for Muntze because of his negotiations with the Resistance is upheld. The German Commanding officer, Kautner, states ‘British military law does recognise the jurisdiction of German military tribunals in the field even after the capitulation. Article 153. General Folks is allowing ‘us German’s to discipline or own men.’ I am gobsmacked by this. Of all of the things I have learnt from this film, of the ever growing list of things to learn about and understand better, this is the one that ahs taken my breath away the most. How many German’s were killed after the war under this article? I wonder how many were through grudges sustained from failure such as this one appeared to be. How could a German officer still be able to make such a decision when they had been defeated and exposed in such a manner?

The film then starts to take a frustrating number of turns as it climbs to crescendo in the final 40 minutes or so. Too many people are involved, accusations fired, friends killed. If you wish to know the outcome of the life’s and loves of these characters, I suggest you watch the film as writing out the plot would take me all week. The story eventually returns to Rachel who used the money stolen from the rich Jews during the war, to set up the Kibbutz we started the film with. I feel relieved, exhausted, shocked, somewhat intrigued and sure I will never ever watch that film again. But I am so glad I watched it and I can’t wait to learn more about what it’s shown me.

One more interesting little fact to keep me going…. The German’s made 15 copies of everything…. Wow.

New words learnt: capitulation: the act of surrendering or yielding.

Watch this space for a bit of research on the issues this film has raised. Next film The English Patient, about a young nurse at the end of the war caring for a severely burned soldier.

A bit more information on the 8th army in Northern Africa

For those who would like a bit more information about the 8th army ‘desert rats’…

Key points 

  • The Eighth Army was formed from the Western Desert Force in September 1941 and put under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Alan Cunningham. It got its number from the fact that the French had fielded seven armies previously in the same war
  • It was a British formation, always commanded by British officers, however its personnel came from throughout the British Empire and Commonwealth; complemented by units composed of exiles from Nazi-occupied Europe. Subordinate units came from Australia, British India, Canada, Free French Forces, Greece, New Zealand, Poland, Rhodesia, South Africa and the United Kingdom
  • By the time the army was fighting the Second Battle of El Alamein it had reached a size of over 220,000 men in 10 divisions and several independent brigades
  • The eight army was weakened when war broke with Japan on 8th December 1941 and some of their troops were sent to the far east
  • After much advancing, retreating and almost continuous battle, on August 30th Rommel attacked the 8th army, and at the ensuing battle of Alam Halfa the enemy attackwas completely broken and they had retreated by September 7. The successful outcome of this battle is regarded in many quarters as being the turning point of the war.

Other interesting facts

  • There are few photographs of active duty because troops on active service were not permitted cameras for personal use.
  • Early in the war, German tanks were far superior to British tanks

Infantry advance during the Battle of El Alamein


Eighth Army first went into action as an Army as part of Operation Crusader, the Allied operation to relieve the besieged city of Tobruk, on 17 November 1941, when it crossed the Egyptian frontier into Libya to attack Erwin Rommel‘s Panzer Army Africa.

On 26 November the Commander-in-Chief Middle East Command, General Sir Claude Auchinleck, replaced Cunningham with Major-General Neil Ritchie, following disagreements between Auchinleck and Cunningham. Despite achieving a number of tactical successes, Rommel was forced to concede Tobruk and was pushed back to El Agheila by the end of 1941. In February 1942 Rommel had regrouped his forces sufficiently to push the over-extended Eighth Army back to the Gazala line, just west of Tobruk. Both sides commenced a period of building their strength to launch new offensives but it was Rommel who took the initiative first, forcing Eighth Army from the Gazala position.

Ritchie proved unable to halt Rommel and was replaced when Auchinleck himself took direct command of the army. The Panzer Army Afrika were eventually stopped by Auchinleck at the First battle of El Alamein. Auchinleck, wishing to pause and regroup Eighth Army which had expended a lot of its strength in halting Rommel, came under intense political pressure from Winston Churchill to strike back immediately. However, he proved unable to build on his success at Alamein and was replaced as Commander-in-Chief Middle-East in August 1942 by General Alexander and as Eighth Army commander by Lieutenant-General William Gott. Gott was killed in an air crash on his way to take up his command and so Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery was appointed in his place. Alexander and Montgomery were able to resist the pressure from Churchill, building the army’s strength and adding a pursuit formation, X Corps, to the Army’s XIII Corps and XXX Corps.

At the beginning of November 1942 the Eighth Army defeated Rommel in the decisive Second Battle of El Alamein, pursuing the defeated Axis army across Libya and reaching the Mareth defensive line on the Tunisian border in February 1943 where it came under the control of 18th Army Group. Eighth Army outflanked the Mareth defenses in March 1943 and after further fighting alongside British First Army, the other 18th Army Group component which had been campaigning in Tunisia since November 1942, the Axis forces in North Africa surrendered in May 1943.

8th Army: Key dates and deeds in North Africa

  • The Eighth Army was formed in September, 1941, and placed under the command of Lt-Gen Sir Allan Cunningham.
  • It first went into action as an Army on November 17, 1941, when it crossed the frontier of Cyrenaica to meet the thrust of Rommel’s Africa Korps.
  • The resultant battle of Sidi Rezegh was the key battle of this campaign, and was a pitched battle between armour.
  • British tanks at this time were greatly inferior to the German tanks, but although our losses were heavy, the German armour was almost wiped out. The battle lasted from November 19 to December 1.
  • The garrison in Tobruk was broke out on November 21 and met the Army’s drive up the desert.
  • The relief of Tobruk was completed by December 10, after an eight months’ siege. On November 26, 1941, Lieut.-Gen. N. M. Ritchie took over command of the Eighth Army from General Cunningham.
  • The enemy retired and made a stand at Gazala. The Eighth Army attacked on December 13,and had broken through by the night of December 16-17. Benghazi fell. The enemy made a stand at Agheila.
  • War with Japan had broken out on December 8, and the Eighth Army began to send troops to the Far East.
  • The Bengali attacked our weakened forces on January 21, 1942, drove us out of Bengazi and back to Gazala.
  • He attacked again on May 27, and by June 2 it looked as if we would win. There had been a steady drain of our armour, however and the tide turned. The Eighth Army withdrew from its forward positions on June 14.
  • On June 20 Tobruk was captured by the enemy.
  • On June 25 General Sir Claude Auchinleck, then C-in-C Middle East took over Command of the Eight Army at Bagush, and controlled the retreat to El Alamein. The Eighth Army took up positions on July 1.
  • On July 4 the Eighth Army attacked, and by July 11 and captured the Tel El Eisa salient, essential springboard for the subsequent attack by General Montgomery.
  • On August 15, 1942, General Alexander took over the Middle East Command and Lt-Gen. B. L. Montgomery became the Eighth Army Commander.
  • On August 30 Rommel attacked, and at the ensuing battle of Alam Halfa the enemy attack was completely broken. The enemy had retreated by September 7.
  • The successful outcome of this battle is regarded in many quarters as being the turning point of the war.
  • Our own carefully prepared offensive was launched on October 23, 1942. After continuous desperate fighting Rommel’s troops fled on November 4. The Eighth Army’s pursuit was hampered by heavy rain.
  • On November 8, British and American troops landed in North Africa.
  • By November 25, Eighth Army troops were at Agheila, from which the enemy began to withdraw on December12, employing delaying tactics.
  • Tripoli was captured on January 23, 1943 and the Eighth Army moved up to the Mareth Line.
  • On February 20 the Eight Army came under the command of the 18th Army Group, commanded by General Alexander, who had relinquished C-in-C Middle East.
  • On March 6, the enemy attacked from his Mareth positions, but this was broken by artillery.
  • The frontal attack on the Mareth Line by the Eighth Army on March 20 was held up at Wadi Zigzaou, but the left hook to El Hamma forced the enemy out of the Mareth positions, and we entered Gabeson March 29.
  • The enemy’s next stand was a Wadi Akarit, which we attacked on April 6. The Atari was leaving by April 7, and the Eighth Army got into the Kairouan plain of Tunisia.
  • The Enfidaville Line commanded by the Takrouna mountain feature was the enemy’s next stand, and this was attacked by the Eight Army on April 19. At this time the Eighth was keeping the Akron busily engaged while the First Army prepared to break through to Tunis.
  • On May 12 the enemy began to surrender to the First and Eighth Armies in large numbers. The German 90th Light Division – old enemies of the Eighth – surrendered in its entirety.
  • The Army was now strung across North Africa, from Cairo to Algiers, but with the North African campaign at an end, the Eight Army began immediately to plan its part in the invasion of Sicily.
  • The operation was mounted from all parts of North African coast.
  • On July 10, 1943 – now under command of 15th Army Group commanded by Gen’l. Alexander – the Eighth Army landed troops on Sicily, and immediately captured Syracuse.

The 8th Army veterans

  • A cross section of all the individual forces who served in the Middle East, i.e. First Army, Eighth Army, Desert Air Force, Mediterranean Fleet and British Divisions which were with the American 5th Army in Italy.
  • The Eighth Army was a British & Commonwealth Force, formed in North Africa during 1942, where it fought and defeated the Afrika Korps.  After the campaign in North Africa, the Eighth Army became heavily committed in the invasions of Sicily and Italy.  Units were also withdrawn to take part in the D-Day invasion and campaigns throughout Northern Europe.
  • After the war, veterans from the Eighth Army organized Annual Reunions at the Royal Albert Hall.  Then, in the late 1970s, the Eighth Army Veterans Association was formed.  At the height of its membership, there were over 35 branches, with a particular strength in the North West.  Reunions were held at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool.
  • Eventually, in 2002 the National Association disbanded.  However, the Manchester Branch decided to continue, under the title of Eighth Army Veterans, City of Manchester.  It has an active membership, who hold regular meetings and events.  Its newsletter, “The Manchester Veteran”, is still distributed to 300 ex-servicemen and women, or their dependents, and is a lively forum for the community it represents.
  • Some biographical accounts of members of the Eight Army veterans

The Libyan Desert: By Fred Heald

Its very difficult to explain unless you have been there. I was a gunfitter, responsible for four 3.7 Anti-Aircraft guns. I remember on one occasion one of our fitters changed a gun barrel in the daytime, unfortunately leaving the new one along side. It expanded in the sun and it was hours later before it cooled off sufficiently to allow it to be fitted.

The winds were a problem, blowing red hot sand just like rough sandpaper, tearing at any exposed skin on our bodies, sometimes coming at you in a spiral thirty feet high, taking everything before it. Metal parts could burn our hands, the skin behind our knees would crack and sand would get in causing nasty desert sores.

A shortage of water left lips and throat dry and coated with fine sand. There was no water to spare to wash our clothes, instead we used petrol, (more plentiful than water) which cleaned them and they dried quickly, but you had to be careful with matches.

We had a shower unit call one day. They pitched a tent and inside were pipes with about six or eight shower heads. Water was heated by a generator. A few  drops of water came out of the shower heads which was welcome. However, the tent, with flaps at each end, had been pitched the wrong way round. One flap let the wind in, then out by the end flap. Consequently we ended up with wet sand and goose pimples on our naked bodies. Still it was worth it and welcome – the water not the sand.

I was in Haifa during a heat wave when some of the natives died of sunstroke as the temperature climbed to 120 degrees Fahrenheit and we were working at the docks waterproofing our guns for the invasion of Kos. We slept in the open at Nathan Camp and had to drink a pint of salt water every morning. An officer watched us drink it down yet only a few minutes later I sweated it out. Water ran off my face like a tap which had been left on. I was lucky for I only suffered a bout of sandfly fever and a touch of foot rot causing lots of blisters.

The shortage of water was the most serious and a drop of tea left in a mug was used for shaving. Many of the wells had been salted and destroyed by the Germans. We were issued with one bottle of beer a week – if we were lucky.

Flies, flies and more flies, scorpions, mosquitoes, sand crabs were everywhere. Flies on our food, in our eyes, sand on our food, red hot days and bitter cold nights. The only thing to look forward to was leave in Alex or Cairo with hot baths, clean sheets, ice-cold beer, open-air cinemas, hangovers and naughty ladies, the Top Hat in Bier Street, even Sister Street.

A few days of heaven, then back to Hell.

Ice Cold in Alex

Based on the novel by Christopher Landon

UK theatrical trailer:

IMDB Summary

A group of army personnel and nurses attempt a dangerous and arduous trek across the deserts of North Africa during the second world war. The leader of the team dreams of his ice cold beer when he reaches Alexandria, but the problems just won’t go away. Written by Rob Hartill


Ice Cold in Alex is a typical roadtrip film with a serious setting. The film is set in the Northern Africa with the ‘8th army’, aka ‘Pummel’s Africa corps’ and starts by charting a map and showing the various towns ‘turned to dust’ by warfare including Matruh, Berza, Saloum, Barram and Tobruk. It states that 2 million men were there. 2 million men, it points out, means 2 million stories, This is one. And it happens to be true. What a great start to a film. It slowly reveals the strength of joint experience, the bonding of a common enemy and the ability to feel kinship and understanding with those who you should hate.

This is definitely a film to recommend..

This is a vastly different film to Sarah’s Key. It’s set in the desert, not in the city, it involves combatants and people actively engaged in the conflict, rather than civilians entirely controlled by it, and it presents an entirely different viewpoint of the same conflict and for that I am grateful and wonder how many different perspectives I will see.

We follow the fate of Captain John Mills and his second in command, Tom, of the 8th army corps, ordered to pull out from Tobruk to go east to Salom and re-stock. During their retreat, they are joined by two nurses who failed to join the evacuation and the group become separated from the whole.  Main routes bombed and key bridges blown, their journey in an Austin K2 ambulance takes them across bogs, minefieds, into German hands and out of them again as they try to drive back across the desert. Their final arrival for an ice cold (beer) in Alex brings their journey to and end with knowledge that life will never be the same for any of them again.

There is a definite comment during this film on what it means to be ‘British’ and certainly what it means to be British in battle. Pride, loyalty and fairness seem to be qualities perpetrated as inherent in the Brits. This accolade continues to this day perhaps because of the exemplary behaviour of the soldiers during the war. The upper class accents of all of the officers in this film are prominent and noticeable reminding me that predominantly only educated men were allowed to be officers. To work your way up the ranks was most unusual. However, while looking at these ‘English qualities’, the trusty sidekick Tom displays these characteristics much more often and more naturally than the Captain himself.

One element of life in the desert that is evident and well portrayed in the film is the overbearing heat and constant sweating. Water drips down the faces of the characters relentlessly. Water is in short supply and it is a struggle.

The men who had to stay behind to try and hold the line were clearly in the worst of the two positions, isolated and exposed the enemy. It was decided the unmarried men would be the ones to stay, presumably to minimise grief back at home when the inevitable happened. I can’t help thinking about our understanding of the institution of marriage now, and the strength of so many more relationships than just husband and wife, it seems such an unfair way of choosing who lives and who dies. But if you have to make a decision based on something, then what else? I can’t help wondering if men got married just to be one of the ‘chosen ones’ should this situation arise.

Women in this film are certainly presented as the weaker sex the majority of the time. Although doing their bit for the war effort, the two nurses are initially presented as rather foolish and nervous. Throughout the film, one of the nurses, Denise, is used as a tool to demonstrate what can happen if you allow yourself to be consumed by your fear or infatuated with your surroundings. She panics, she cannot separate herself from her reality and in the end she gets takes a fatal bullet as a clear demonstration of the end of the road for those who succumb to their base intuition of fear. The other characters manage to maintain a sturdy separateness from their world, a determination to keep to the task at hand and not relate their situation to the bigger picture. The other nurse, Diane Murdoch, grows in strength and capability throughout the film, and takes on more and more ‘manly’ roles as their journey progresses together, such as taking her turn on the night watch. All of this growth seems to disappear as they again use the woman to ‘fail’ at the end of the film. After hours of leveraging the broken truck up one of the final dunes in the desert, she is told to hold the truck. She is not paying enough attention and the truck slips all the way back down the hill. Mills comments early on, ‘dames and mines. A lovely party’. Women were definitely not seen as equals, and are clearly portrayed as an additional irritant to be handled.

I was relatively surprised when a relationship started to develop between Mills and Murdoch. The film seemed to show a greater tendency between her and Tom and Tom certainly seems like the character presented in a more appealing light. Her immediate subservience to Mills, and devotion, when his treatment of her is relatively dismissive, riled me. It was clear he was a troubled character and that he was a good man, but his behaviour did not warrant her affection.

Watching an older film than I am used to was a stimulating experience. It is easier to watch in a sense as the story feels simpler, and more coherent. It unashamedly makes good use of the theatrical concepts of dramatic pauses and the props and flaunts it’s ‘flawed hero’. Minimal special effects, great dialogue, and visually absolutely stunning to behold.

The film takes an interesting turn when the group come across a South African Sergeant Major who escaped from the enemy and is looking to join them to get back to the city. Aside from the fact that he is wearing the most extraordinarily short shorts, he is a relatively entertaining character who offers an alternative approach to the ‘British soldier’. He is much more relaxed, an arrogant so and so and somewhat bemused by The British way. It is an interesting insight into the difficulties each side must have faced, working together against a common enemy, each with their own priorities and approaches., as Segeant Pugh outlines, ‘I want to do what any bloody Englishmen can’. There is one great scene when he has thinks he has stepped on a mine. The dramatic pause comes in a classic, as he sweats and stands and waits while Mills dusts around his toes to try and decipher what it is.

Mills is certainly initially reluctant to encourage an extra member to join them. Only one thing made him relent. The offer of gin. His dependency on alcohol is focused on much through the film- his decisions been often swayed in an alcohol haze, his inability to cope with his situation without some kind of escapism and relaxant. I can only imagine how easy it would be to become dependant in that environment.

As the journey progresses, Pugh’s character becomes more and more suspicious as he seems able to talk his way though German blockades, acts overly protective of his suspiciously heavy knapsack and takes trip into the desert with a spade at the same time every day. The group are pretty sure he’s not doing what he should be doing in the desert with a spade. A defining moment for the group comes as I mentioned earlier, with the accidental slip of the ambulance down the dune. The group, although initially crushed, turn to each other, pull each other up and dust each other off, and start again. At this point they become their own unit. It is clear it has superseded any other obligation or denomination. This group is their primary. Men are just men. And men can get along and help each other, wherever they are from.

The climax is beautifully played out, as the four remaining in the group make their way for an ‘ice cold in Alex’, their reward they have focused on for much of the film. It is the pinnacle of their achievements as a group, celebrating their success together. It is at this point, a young British officer fresh from the boat and full of pomposity that comes with youth, reveals an uglier side to the British forces. Mills dismisses the man temporarily, and takes the opportunity to plead with Pugh to reveal his real identity. He knows Pugh is a German spy. Initially attempting to escape, Pugh relents and accepts a cover story to protect him from the firing squad, and to become a prisoner of war. The team were too strong to break. They relied on each other, and came through for each other. The heartfelt final scenes of the film as Otto, aka Pugh, drives away from his friends, colleagues, teammates, lifesavers, and now once again enemies, are gut wrenching. There is dignity in war, and friendship can prevail over obligation. And a greater enemy ‘the desert’ can unify even the most distant of soldiers.

Watch this space for further research on the 8th army corps of North Africa and my upcoming review of the next film on the list ‘Black Book’ a 2006 Dutch film set in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands during World War II, where a Jewish singer infiltrates the regional Gestapo headquarters for the Dutch resistance.

Good things to have come from World War Two?

A few things happened last week that have brought some light to the quest for more knowledge on World War two. I have learnt two extraordinary things about the war outside of films this week. Both of which are GOOD things to have come out of the conflict. I had never really considered that good things could have come out of the war. But I guess change must mean progress in some scenarios.

The first was at the Science Museum where I learned that the Nazi’s developed the technology that the Americans then used to build the first rockets that went to space. This advanced technology rigorously pursued by the Nazi’s as a weapon of war, was key in the development of our knowledge of the nature of the universe. Extraordinary.

The second was during a walking tour of the city of London. The blitz bombings that took place in the city revealed thousands of year’s worth of history to us under the surface of the ground. Because London was originally built on mud, it has quite weak foundations. So, when a new building is built, the old buildings are knocked down and we build on the rubble, giving slightly more solid foundation than the layer before. This then means we are sitting roughly 18 feet or 6 metres higher than Roman London (who knew?). The blitz bombings exposed parts of Roman city wall we never knew were there before, by destroying the layers of rubble to expose the structure beneath. Again, extraordinary.

Also, did anyone know that Hitler was a vegetarian? Fact from Dave Gorman. Cheers Dave.