Winston Churchil

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Gertrude Bell, third from left, was flanked by Winston Churchill and T.E. Lawrence on a visit to the Pyramids in 1921. Credit The Gertrude Bell Archive, Newcastle University.

‘Queen of the Desert’

Gertrude Bell Scaled the Alps, Mapped Arabia, and Midwifed the Modern Middle East

In a picture taken to mark the Cairo Conference of 1921,?Gertrude Bell?- characteristically elegant in a fur stole and floppy hat, despite being on camel back – sits right at the heart of the action. To one side is Winston Churchill, on her other TE Lawrence.

Bell was his equal in every sense: the first woman to achieve a first (in modern history) from Oxford, an archaeologist, linguist, Arabist, adventurer and, possibly, spy. In her day, she was arguably the most powerful woman in the British Empire?- central to the decisions that created the modern Middle East and reverberate still on the nightly news.

Yet while Lawrence is still celebrated, she has largely been forgotten.

Newspaper articles of the time show she was known all over the world. The minutes of the Cairo Conference record her presence at every key discussion but not one of the men mentions her in their memoirs. It?s as if she never existed

How to chart the life of an Englishwoman ? an explorer, spy, Mountaineer, translator, and archaeologist ? who?s been all but written out of colonial Middle Eastern history? Luckily Gertrude Bell was a prolific letter writer? and ?early photography enthusiast and? she left behind some 1,600 letters and over 7,000 photographs.?It was an interest in archaeology that helped propel Bell?s many trips into the desert, beginning in 1900 to Palmyra. She nurtured the ambition of being the first to discover and document a site. Early in her travels, she recognised the importance of photographic documentation, along with notes, drawings, rubbings and casts. Bell was a complex, fascinating woman who was pivotal in the tangled history of the modern state of Iraq.

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Death of a Danish hero ? Anders Lassen VC.

Death of a Danish Hero ? Anders Lassen VC.

Kill Without Mercy

Party Like There?s No Tomorrow

As the British Expeditionary Force retreated from the French beaches in 1939, Winston Churchill issued an extraordinary order to his chiefs of staff: ?Prepare hunter troops for a butcher-and-bolt reign of terror.?

Under Churchill?s orders the British military was tasked with recruiting forces to strike the enemy in hit-and-run attacks, using all possible measures and with no holds barred. Churchill knew that Britain had to strike back hard. So Britain’s wartime leader called for the lightning development of a completely new kind of warfare.

He tasked his Special Operations Executive (SOE) to recruit a band of eccentrics: free-thinkers, misfits, cutthroats, gaol-breakers and buccaneers ? those who had the special character to operate on their own initiative deep behind enemy lines, with no holds barred, and offering these volunteers nothing but the potential for glory and all-but-certain death. Incredibly, there was no shortage of volunteers flocking to his call.

The most famous of Churchill?s commandos ? who would go on to form part of the SAS ? was arguably the Anders Lassen. Lassen epitomized the spirit of these warriors, whose actions were defined by extraordinary ? some might argue, suicidal ? bravery, and a blatant disregard for the traditional military hierarchy.

Men and officers alike had to earn respect ? merit was prized above and regardless of rank ? and the only way to do so was in battle. Lassen became the only member of the British SAS ever to win the Victoria Cross (among numerous other decorations).

His VC was granted posthumously, as a result of a raid on Italy in the closing stages of the war that also claimed the lives of many of his men. Prior to that, he and his small force had liberated the entirety of Greece pretty much single-handedly.

These men were the SOE?s first ?deniable? operatives. Falling under the SOE?s command as opposed to that of the military, they were empowered to use all necessary measures to achieve Churchill?s aims, and they were to be disowned by the British Government if captured.

Each SOE warrior-agent was issued with a ?0? codename, meaning that he was a ?zero?-rated agent ? one trained and licensed to use all means to liquidate the enemy, especially the arts of silent killing. Indeed, these SOE 0-rated operatives are believed to be the inspiration behind Ian Fleming?s ?00? agents in his James Bond novels.

The Special Operations Executive also came to be known as the Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare. And perhaps the least gentlemanly of the SSRF butcher-and-bolt specialists was Dane, Anders ? known as Andy ? Lassen, who was not averse to bellowing orders in German to confuse the enemy. His father, visiting London before the war, liked to summon his chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce with a blast of his hunting horn from the steps of the Hyde Park Hotel.

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