A peek at the past: Extracts from a reader’s memoirs

Guest Post:

Extract One: WW2.?? The beginning.



My first memory of it was being fitted with gas masks and the posters which said,”Hitler will send no warning, so always carry your gas mask” Then there was the arrival of the Anderson Air Raid Shelter. For this, which consisted mainly of sections of curved corrugated iron, a hole had to be dug in the garden, I would say about 6 ft deep x 6ft x 7ft.

Father assembled the shelter in this, piling earth above it, and around it, which he made into a dwarf wall and a rockery. He built steps down into it at right angles and a protective wall alongside the steps. Duckboards were placed on bricks for a floor, and we had a couple of bunk beds in there and seats of some sort. Lighting came from a hurricane lamp. In wet weather, my Mother used to have to bale out the water using a child’s chamberpot, which was then emptied into buckets, and we children formed a chain to empty them down the drain at the corner of the house.

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?Queen Zenobia?s Last Look Upon Palmyra? by Herbert Gustave Schmalz.

The Desert Queen

?I have nothing to fear? I am the sun, the stars, the pearl, the lion, the light from heaven?

???Lady Hester

They do not come much madder than Lady Hester Lucy Stanhope. They don?t come much braver either.
In an age when most upper-crust women couldn’t fart without a chaperone, Lady Hester was charging around the Middle East on an Arab stallion, dressed as a bloke. She went where she wanted and did as she pleased. Her Ladyship was a law unto herself.

The choices she made and her sensibility didn’t fit the mould for a heroine for the Georgian, Victorian or Edwardian eras; she was a strong, independent woman who refused to accept the constraints placed on her by society.

Lady Hester left England in the early 1800’s after an abortive love affair scandalised London society. She set off in search of adventure, travelling across Europe and the Middle East; she was shipwrecked in Rhodes en route to Cairo.

She spent two years travelling in the Middle East, eventually settling in a monastery near Sidon, a town on the Mediterranean coast in what is now Lebanon.

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The remains of Hitler’s bunker. Photo Getty Images.

Adolf Hitler?s Last Days

At one time, Adolf Hitler was the most powerful individual in the world. Yet he ended his life cowering in a foetid bunker, surrounded by enemy troops and raging against those he believed had betrayed him. Hitler’s last days were a humiliating final chapter in the life of a man once revered by millions. But they were also the last days of a man who had been mentally and physically unravelling for months.

By April 1945, Hitler’s health was deteriorating fast. His left arm often shook, his skin was sallow and his face was puffy. An assassination attempt in 1944 had damaged his eardrums. Witnesses reported that his eyes were often filmed over. He suffered from intense stomach cramps at moments of crisis. He was taking Benzedrine and cocaine-laced eye drops to get him through the day and barbiturates to help him sleep at night. His diet cannot have helped his situation. A committed vegetarian and paranoid about being poisoned, he was only eating mashed potatoes and thin soup by the end.

In late April 1945, chaos reigned in Berlin. Years of war had turned former superpower Germany into a battleground, and its cities from strongholds into places under siege.?The Red Army had completely circled the city, which now called on elderly men, police, and even children to defend it. But though a battle raged on in the streets, the war was already lost. Adolf Hitler?s time was almost up.

Despite the hopeless situation, he was now in, visitors to the bunker were amazed that Hitler was still able to work himself up into a megalomaniacal frenzy in which Berlin would be saved and the Nazi dream fulfilled.

While in one of these moods, Hitler would pore over maps, moving buttons to represent military units. In truth, the divisions he imagined himself to be directing were broken remnants. What was left of Berlin was defended by old men and teenagers hurriedly conscripted from the Hitler Youth.

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Bill Poole portrait from a tobacco company boxer profile card, circa the late 1880s.

“I Know Nothing”

Bill the Butcher

William Poole, also known as Bill the Butcher, was a founder of the street gang the Bowery Boys and a leader of the Know Nothing political movement in mid-19th century New York City. He was one of the most prominent gangsters in 19th Century New York. A butcher by trade who was very skilled with knives, he was a large, imposing man, and was known as one of the toughest street fighters in New York. He led a large gang of hoodlums of American descent, at the behest of the Native American political party. Their chief rivals were Irish gangsters under John Morrissey.

?The Butcher? was a champion New York City pugilist in 1855?before the Marquess of Queensbury rules?when kicking, biting and eye-gouging were acceptable tactics and ?fight to the death? was more than a metaphor.??It was also a time when a challenge was likely to be issued out of pure hatred for your opponent. When John Morrissey, the Irish enforcer for Tammany Hall challenged Bill Poole of the anti-immigrant ?Know Nothing? Party it promised to be the ultimate grudge match. But when the fighters turned to knives and guns, all pretext of sport was gone. It would be Bill ?The Butcher? Poole?s last fight.

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Photos of the Day

Looking at buildings on the east side of Queen Street from Wyndham Street, showing the premises of W A Taaffe Ltd, H M Marler and Co Ltd, Stacey and Wass Ltd, Reyburn McArthur and Boyes, Harts Diamonds, Leon Beauty Salon, Lands Bag Shop, B A Gilroy Ltd, and W J Strevens Ltd in Ellison Chambers, McKenzies Ltd (left) and Keans Ltd (right). Also, people crossing the road at a pedestrian crossing.” Creator Unknown. Date: 12 October 1964. ‘Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries.

Farmer’s free tram. The Farmers? Trading Company in Auckland ran a free inner-city tram, and later free buses, to make it easy for customers to get to the store. In this 1947 photograph, the tram advertises Farmers? sale ? billed as Hector’s birthday sale. Hector was the store’s famous pet parrot.

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Alexander Gordon Laing, Scottish explorer, first European to visit Timbuktu.

Explorer from a Braver Age

??I shall show myself to be? a man of enterprise and genius?

? Alexander Gordon Laing

Major Alexander Gordon Laing (27 December 1794 ? 26 September 1826) was an explorer and the first European to reach Timbuktu via the north/south route. Laing was a Scottish military officer and explorer that managed to claim his place in history by becoming first European to reach the city of Timbuktu located in the West African nation of Mali on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert using the north/south route.

Think about this man next time you complain about your long flight. The explorers of old were not like most people?not just because of the distances they travelled but because of the courage, intelligence, and seamanship that allowed them to travel incredible distances, survive appalling conditions, and eat new and fascinating animals.

For late 18th? and early 19th?century Europeans, Timbuktu was the El Dorado of Africa. But there?s a reason the word ?Timbuktu? is still synonymous with remote isolation because even if Alexander Laing could have accessed Google Maps it wouldn?t have done him any good. With only a vague idea of where he was heading, the British army officer and his tiny retinue left Tripoli in July 1825. Laing?s local guide promised the plucky Scotsman the journey would take only a few weeks, but the caravan spent 13 months wandering the desert, avoiding warring nomads, and fighting its own war with thirst and hunger. The worst of Laing?s ordeal came 1,600 kilometres (1,000 mi) and nearly a year into his journey when his guide betrayed him to bandits. Laing survived and recounted the event like a minor inconvenience akin to burnt chips in a letter to his father-in-law. After detailing multiple cuts and fractures all over his face, head, and neck, he concludes:

?I am nevertheless, as already I have said, doing well.?

Laing stumbled into Timbuktu a couple months afterwards. He and his journal disappeared, but his subsequent murder was confirmed in 1828 by the second European explorer to reach the city.

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True Story Of 9/11 Imposter: Tania Head ? World Trade Center’s Fake 9/11 Survivor. ?

Untrue Story Of A Sept 11 Survivor

Incredible stories of heroism, heartache, survival and triumph have been shared by survivors, family members and service personnel who were personally affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, but one woman’s story had everyone fooled.

Tania Head surfaced two years after the 9/11 terror attacks with an astonishing tale of survival and loss and had one of the most tragic and inspiring stories to come out of the Sept. 11 attacks. She was in the south tower, on the same floor that the second plane hit. She saw horrific carnage and was handed a wedding ring by a dying man who requested that she give it to his wife. Then she was led to safety by Welles Crowther, the famous “man in the red bandanna,” who lost his own life rescuing others. And finally, she woke up in a hospital burn unit six days later, only to find out that her husband had been killed in the north tower.

Her disturbing account inspired everyone who heard it. Head worked tirelessly to give a voice to 9/11 survivors, and she won the admiration of everyone she met. She cultivated friendships with fellow survivors and ultimately rose to become president of the influential World Trade Center Survivors? Network.

Tania Head?s astonishing account of her experience on September 11, 2001, was a tale of loss and recovery, of courage and sorrow, of horror and inspiration. It transformed her into one of the great victims and heroes of that tragic day. But there was something very wrong with Tania?s story?a terrible secret that would break the hearts and challenge the faith of all those she claimed to champion.

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Herodes o Grande.

Herod the Great

The notable phrase ?Til death us do part? has dripped from impassioned lips?during?marriage vows since 1549, having been altered slightly from the earlier ?Till death us depart.? The meaning is self-explanatory: ?I will love you until we are parted by death.? However, this natural end to any marriage has recently been called into question by the alleged Egyptian law which would allow?men to legally?have sex with their deceased wives up to six hours after their death. This ?farewell intercourse? law proposal?wasn?t actually true?but the premise is nothing new.

Anecdotes of spousal necrophilia have existed for thousands of years: The tyrant Periander of Corinth is said to have murdered his pregnant wife Melissa and had sex with her corpse in the 6th Century BC. The tale was told by Herodotus (who also told us of the wandering hands of the Egyptian embalmers) and gave rise to the necro-euphemistic phrase ?Placing your loaves into a cold oven.? Herod the Great, we are told, preserved the body of his deceased wife, the beautiful Mariamne, in honey for seven years in order to have intercourse with her after he?d had her killed.

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It was a Nuthouse

In 1974 the New York City music scene was shocked into consciousness by a band of misfits from Queens called the Ramones. Playing in seedy Bowery bar to a small group of fellow struggling musicians, the band struck a chord of disharmony that rocked the foundation of the ’70s music scene.

They were the four weirdest kids in Forest Hills, New York. An army brat who claimed to sell Nazi paraphernalia for morphine. A delinquent who dropped TV sets off roofs. A gangling freak with OCD. And even a quietly organised music obsessive?? the four weirdest kids in Forest Hills, mixed leather, pop art and the Three Stooges and accidentally revolutionised rock?n?roll.

Everybody knows the shaggy-haired, leather jacket-sporting punk rock band from NYC known as the Ramones. With hits such as ?Blitzkrieg Bop? and ?Sheena is a Punk Rocker,? the Ramones were one of the first bands to hone and define the garage-rock-based punk sound of the ’70s, taking influence from classic rock bands like The Who; greaser, doo-wop, and ’50s rocker culture; and the balls-to-the-wall energy and stripped-down songwriting of the likes of The Stooges and MC5, turning it into a formula that created a revolution. Whether or not you like the Ramones, it’s impossible to overstate their influence.

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While working at Cambridge Hospital as a nurse trainee, Jane Toppan impressed her co-workers with her friendly demeanour and cheerful disposition. This caused them to nickname her “Jolly Jane.” However, behind the scenes, Toppan enjoyed torturing her patients by switching their medications to opioids and experimented on them with morphine and atropine.

The Angel of Death

Some Nurses Shouldn’t be Trusted…?The Stout Brunnet was no Florence Nightingale.

Female serial killers are relatively rare, but often more fascinating than male killers. Jane Toppan, known as an Angel of Death, is one of those killers.The conviction and confession of ?trained nurse, Jane Toppan, in Massachusetts, adds another to the notable cases of human crime. In fact, it stands alone in some respects; there is no closely parallel case. This woman, who seems to have had the confidence of both physicians and patients during her career, enumerates thirty-one individuals whom she has poisoned while under her professional care, and mentions still others in whom her attempt was unsuccessful. That this woman should have passed for a model nurse, showing most, if not all, the good qualities of such a functionary, apparently loyal and reliable, and kind and attentive to those whose murder she was plotting, seems incomprehensible, but it is psychologically possible, as everyone with extended experience with morbid mentality can testify. Homicidal impulses can exist with the most perfect apparent amiability, though this case is unique in some of its features.

Jolly Jane Toppan was never going to have a perfect life. Surrendered to a Boston orphanage and hired out to a foster family by the age of six, she was doomed to, at best, a life of servitude. But no one could have anticipated the dark places her life would lead.

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