Friday 25 September 2020

September 1939: the Polish perspective

by Antonia Senior

In late August 1939, the Polish Ambassador in London visited Bognor with his wife and children for the weekend. Count Edward Raczynski writes in his 1962 memoir, In Allied London, that the weather was glorious. '..the sea [was] warm and everybody cheerful. The girls were bronzed and extremely fit, the sky cloudless, and the moon at night like a glorious lantern.'

Reading Raczynski's memoirs in this odd September eighty-one years later is salutary and a little chastening. I'm reading them as I try to keep my own children happy as the storm-clouds gather, conjuring for them a metaphorical cloudless sky.  

Raczynski returned to London on the Monday, and resumed his task of trying to flog his reluctant allies into action as Hitler's anti-Polish belligerence grew. The following Friday, on 1 September, the Ambassador rose early 'after a restless night'. At 10 AM, he was informed by Warsaw, via the Embassy in Paris, that the Germans had crossed the frontier into Poland. Raczynski was given formal instructions from Warsaw to declare to the British that 'The Polish Government is determined to defend its independence and honour to the last...'

Count Edward Raczynski

The story of the German invasion of Poland is brilliant told in First to Fight by Roger Moorhouse, newly out in paperback. Roger is a friend - and it was friendship that led me to the book. It was not friendship which kept me there - but the compelling sense of reading something entirely new about a period I thought I understood. I knew nothing. The extraordinary story he tells so eloquently led me to read some of the sources too, chiefly Raczynski's memoirs. 

Raczynski's memoirs are written as a diary, and this lends immediacy and urgency to his account. On 1 September, the afternoon of the invasion, he visits the House of Commons. "The building was blacked-out, and small ghostly electric lamps, covered with metal shades, cast a blueish light on the paved floor of the corridor."  To Raczynski's relief, the Prime Minister gave a bombastic speech about defying Hitler. 

 But the next day,  he watches a House of Commons 'full of irritation and disquiet' debate what to do, and 'sick at heart' hears Chamberlain attempt to explain away Hitler's refusal to respond to the British warning of the day before. Churchill rings him that afternoon, while the British and French were still prevaricating. "He said slowly and in a strangled voice: 'I hope - I hope that Britain will keep its...' - and could get not further. His voice stuck in his throat and I was startled to hear him sob. He sounded both anxious and deeply humiliated."

The declaration of war by Britain and France changes nothing for the Poles. In First to Fight, Roger describes how the expectation of Allied helped define Polish military tactics, and how valiantly the outnumbered Poles fought. Meanwhile, in London, Raczynski spends the next two weeks attempting to persuade the British to offer military help, not words, to their Polish allies. Nothing is forthcoming. He visits the US ambassador Joseph Kennedy "who startled me by his pessimism and lack of enthusiasm for the war. He wondered aloud: 'Where on earth can the allies fight the Germans and beat them?'"

On Sunday the 17 September, Raczynski visits the Polish church for Mass. That morning, he had received the news that the Soviets had invaded Poland from the East. "The news of this stab in the back was like the sensation one feels in the theatre when a crime which has long been impending is finally perpetrated."

At the Polish embassy, he organises a 24-hour radio listening service. The Press Attache, Bauer-Czarnomiski receives the news from Poland and pieces together events. The London Press gain a source beyond the relentless German propaganda, and Raczynski describes his PressAttache: "scribbling on his knee one message after another and shaken all the while with tears over our country's fate."

This is just a small taste of a remarkable book. It is odd to read history, while living so vividly through it. Here is Raczynski sounding oddly like a contemporary, if articulate, twitterati: "One must admit that at the present time a large part of Europe, not to speak of other parts of the world, is governed by people who are past praying for."

Roger warned me that Polish history, as fascinating and terrible as it is, does not let go easily once you are gripped. I was fascinated too by Carolyn Kirby's excellent new novel When We Fall, which tells the story of Poland later in the war - and the Katyn massacres of Polish officers by the Soviets. 

First to Fight is full of remarkable stories, many of them uncomfortable reading as a citizen of one of the allies who promised so much but did so little. When Warsaw, destroyed beyond recognition by the German attack, finally capitulated, its mayor, Stefan Starzynski continued to be defiant. He addressed the people of Warsaw: "For the last time, I call upon our allies. I no longer ask for help. It is too late. I demand vengeance. For the burnt churches, for the devastated antiquities, for the tears and blood of the murdered innocents, for the agony of those torn by bombs, burnt by the fire of incendiary shells, suffocated in the collapsed shelters and cellars. And you, bandits, barbarians, who have attacked our country - carrying death and destruction - know this, that there is justice, that there is a judgment, before which we shall all stand to answer and be held responsible for our actions." 

Friday 18 September 2020

A Latin Lexicon by Caroline K. Mackenzie

Caroline K. Mackenzie discusses the concepts behind her illustrated compendium of Latin words and English derivatives 

'vinum’ (wine) - vine, vinegar, vineyard, vintage 

I have always been fascinated by the Latin language. It helped that I had a kind and fun teacher at school whose lessons I loved. Mrs Ruscoe inspired us to master the grammar and vocabulary and we learned to read some wonderful literature together. 

Since trading a legal career for a teaching vocation, I have often reflected on those lessons and how they motivated me. This year, lockdown has changed the way I teach, which is currently via Zoom as I tutor children in Latin (and Greek) with one-to-one sessions external to their school timetables. My Classics Club (for adults) is presently also online, with the major change being that the coffee and cake (possibly the most essential ingredients for a good discussion) must now be ‘bring your own’. 

However, one thing that never changes in teaching Latin is the importance of the vocabulary. Words are quite simply the building blocks of a language. Unfortunately, vocabulary is often presented in a long list - usually in black and white, crammed onto the pages in small font and is, quite understandably, not particularly appetising. So, together with my pupils, I devised a game where we would think of an English derivative from a Latin word, which would then provide a clue to the meaning of the Latin; e.g. ‘rideo’ means ‘I laugh’ or ‘I smile’, and some English derivatives are ‘deride’ or ‘ridiculous’. We soon discovered that the Latin words were easy to recall, and learning became much more efficient as well as fun. 

Some derivatives may seem obvious, e.g. ‘resist’ from ‘resisto’ whereas others are more surprising, e.g. why does a ‘tandem’ bike derive from ‘tandem’ (at last)? If we translate ‘tandem’ as ‘at length’ this begins to make more sense when we think of a tandem bike (for two people) simply as a lengthened version of a one-person bike. ‘Tandem’ is often confused with ‘tamen’ (however) but by imagining a picture of a tandem bike and knowing the pun in the meaning, the distinction between the two words can easily be made. 

‘tandem’ (at last, finally) 

And so the book was born. The vibrant and witty illustrations, including the beautiful image of the Roman Forum on the cover, were created by Amanda Short, whose work I have long admired. 

Initially, I conceived the idea as a revision aid for GCSE students: therefore, it includes some grammatical information for each word, such as the declension and gender of a noun and the conjugation of a verb. However, the book has evolved into a secret weapon for anyone tackling crosswords or word games, where the associations between Latin vocabulary and the English derivatives will spark the imagination and encourage a deluge of possible answers. There is even a Latin derivative for someone who loves crosswords: a ‘cruciverbalist’. 

Choice of derivatives 

Many of the Latin words I chose have ubiquitous derivatives in English and one of the most difficult aspects of writing the book was having to limit the number of derivatives per entry. The book has been designed to include plenty of space on each page for readers to add some more derivatives if they wish to do so. 

The Lexicon includes a glossary of Latin words and phrases in common usage, e.g. ‘mea culpa’ and ‘prima facie’. One of the rarer ones that I could not resist including is ‘quidnunc’. Literally translated as ‘what now?’ it describes an inquisitive gossiping person. That is a derivative worth intermittently slipping into conversation, with a nonchalant air.

You may discover your name among the derivatives: Max, Miranda, Clare, Patricia, Benedict, etc. Whatever your hobbies, you are likely to find some Latin which relates to your favourite past-time: musicians will know ‘cadence’ from ‘cado’ (I fall) and anyone who uses a computer or laptop will be familiar with ‘cursor’ from ‘curro’ (I run) and ‘delete’ from ‘deleo’ (I destroy). Gardens are grown from Latin (‘gladiolus’) and nature abounds with it (‘brevipennate’); anatomy (‘vertebra’), vocations (‘horologist’), theatre (‘exeunt’) and sport (‘equestrian’) are further examples. I could go on ‘ad nauseam’… 

Even the word ‘derivative’ is itself a derivative, being literally something flowing downstream (the verb ‘derivare’ means to turn into another channel or to divert from). Likewise, ‘language’ stems from ‘lingua’ (tongue) and ‘dictionary’ from ‘dico’ (I say). 

As for Latin abbreviations that we use daily, you have already been translating these as you read this blog, possibly without even realising it, ‘e.g.’ or ‘exempli gratia’ (for the sake of example), ‘etc.’ or ‘et cetera’ (and the others). 

October evenings 

‘dormio’ (I sleep) - dormant, dormitory, dormouse 

As we begin to contemplate curling up with a hot chocolate (or perhaps imbibing a glass of wine) on these cosy autumn evenings, I hope the book may become a welcome companion (a ‘vade-mecum’) providing both entertainment and intellectual challenges. 

The Latin Lexicon contains just over 365 entries. Fortuitously, that provides one for each day of the year, and a couple of bonus ones for your birthday and other special occasions. Here, as my final offering, I have selected ten of my favourites to whet your appetite: like a verbal pre-prandial treat. 

My Top Ten Latin Lexicon entries 

(I) ambulo - I walk. 
amble, ambulance (do you know why? clue: history), ambulatory, noctambulation (sleepwalking). 

(II) bibo - I drink. 
bib (babies dribble their drinks), bibation, bibber, imbibe. 

(III) castra - camp. 
‘castle’, ‘caster’, ‘cester’ and ‘chester’ in names of places in Britain, e.g. Chester, Chichester, Cirencester, Grantchester, Lancaster, Leicester, Winchester. (Perhaps your home town, too?) 

(IV) gravis - heavy, serious. 
grave, gravitas, gravitate, gravity. 

(V) hortus - garden. 
horticultural, horticulture. 

(VI) laudo - I praise. 
applaud, applause, laud, laudable, laudatory. 

(VII) liber - book. 
librarian, library. 

(VIII) magnus - big, large, great. 
magnificent, magnify, magniloquent (I call this a ‘double derivative’), magnitude. 

(IX) nomen - name. 
denomination, nomenclature, nominal, nominative (useful when learning Latin!), nominee, noun. 

(X) quaero - search for, ask. 
enquiry, inquiry, query, quest, question, questionnaire. 

As you may have anticipated, I have incorporated numerous Latin derivatives in this blog. I contemplated highlighting them in some manner, but that would spoil the fun for those of you who like a challenge - how many can you find? (Answers on a postcard, please.) 

With thanks to: all the History Girls, especially Ruth Downie, Janie Hampton, Mary Hoffman, Michelle Lovric and Celia Rees; Caroline Lawrence; Dr David Davison, Patrick Harris and Ben Heaney at Archaeopress; Amanda Short; Dr John Taylor; Professor Paul Cartledge; and Dr Daisy Dunn. 

Special offer available on pre-orders of A Latin Lexicon available here:

P.S. (post scriptum.) Do tell me your favourite Latin word/derivative and any memories of learning Latin at school: I’d love to know! 

Twitter @carolinetutor 

All images © Amanda Short Design. 

Friday 11 September 2020

Procrastination Jelly by Janie Hampton

Procrastination helped me create a way to look at my goldfish above water.
In theory the lock-down of 2020 has been good for thinking and writing. But many of us have found concentrating on anything very difficult. My mind often wanders and I look out of my study window.What do I see? A reason to leave my desk - my garden calls out to be tended. The vegetables want to be harvested; and the fruit picked. This presents an ideal opportunity for procrastination. Without my immediate intervention the pears will disappear. I can see six rooks perched on branches pecking away at the tops of the pears. One by one they crash to the ground. Squirrels do the same annoying trick, only eating a small part. When they bounce on to the lawn, they split, and the wasps attack them. If the potatoes are not dug up this very minute, worms will eat them.
So out into the garden I go with my basket. Jumping up for the pears, I realised that the cabbages need hoeing. After I picked up the hoe, I noticed it needed sharpening. I looked for the sharpening stone, and wondered what the proper name for a sharpening stone is. As I spotted it on the shed shelf, I remembered it is a whetstone, spelled with an ‘h’. Is that to do with water or something quite different? Made mental note to look it up. Sharpened hoe. On the way down the garden path I spotted that the courgettes needed watering. So the hose had to be untangled. And on it went- one procrastination opportunity surpassing the last. Soon I had found the whetstone, sharpened the hoe, sliced through several rows of weeds, watered the courgettes, picked some runner beans, and for good measure even put the garden tools in a neat row. I’d also learned that whet is from the Anglo-Saxon whaet, meaning keen or bold which led to sharpen or stimulate (as in ‘appetite’.) But I was still no further on with my blog.
My vegetable patch gives me plenty of procrastination opportunities.
During this pandemic lockdown, we have all had plenty more time for the art of procrastination. It is defined as ‘to put off, to delay, to defer, to postpone, especially something that requires immediate attention.’ Crastimus is the Latin for ‘pertaining to tomorrow’ – and we all know that tomorrow never comes. It’s the Roman equivalent of ‘manana’. Synonyms include ‘dithering, stalling, delaying tactics and vacillations’, to which I would add ’seeking out distractions, around any corner.’ I suspect that most History Girls and our readers indulge in various levels of procrastination, and can spot a handy distraction a mile off. 
A skip outside a party shop provided me with some
dummy fireworks to hold up my tomatoes.
That consumed a happy afternoon.
The most rewarding kinds of procrastination for writers are those that somehow connect to the writing one is supposed to be doing. While researching my book ‘How the Girl Guides Won the War’, I found a Second World War recipe that took procrastination to new levels. In one fell swoop, I could procrastinate and be ‘researching’ my book at the same time: the recipe demonstrated the historical economics of food rationing, the philosophy of Make Do and Mend and offered an opportunity to practice Real History. And unlike most procrastinations and distractions, there is something delicious to eat at the end. 
Hedgerow Jelly - free from a hedge near you
Find some hedges in late August or September, preferably containing many varieties of fruit-bearing bush. Harvest the fruit on your own and the time spent is both ‘exercise’ (walking along a hedgerow) and ‘work’ (you are silent, so obviously thinking about your next book). If this stretches your conscience too far, then go with some friends as ‘recreation’ - an essential time of ‘re-making your creativity’. Wander down lanes in the countryside, or seek out rogue wild bushes in parks and along footpaths in cities. In your own garden you may find autumn raspberries, elderberries, apples, pears or random gooseberries. Carry a woven basket for authenticity, or a cotton bag for Green credentials, or a plastic ‘Bag for Life’ for practicality. Pick as many berries as you can find, or can be bothered to pick, or can carry. Mix together hawthorn, rose hips, elderberries, both black and red blackberries (red contain more pectin which helps jelly to set), crab apples, wild gooseberries and raspberries. Do not include holly, ivy, privet, yew nor deadly nightshade – they are all poisonous.
Hedgerow jelly comes in many colours.

After washing them in a colander, boil up the berries together in a little water until soft, and then mash them up a bit. Then put into some clean, old tights, and hang from the back of a chair over a large bowl to drip overnight. To remain historically accurate, use cotton muslin or an old, clean tea towel. In the morning, or after a few hours, squeeze the tights (or muslin) to get out all the juice. Put the seedy pulp into the compost, or feed to wild birds or your chickens. 

For every pint of thick red juice, add one pound of white sugar. In a big jam-pan, boil up until the jelly reaches a lovely rolling setting point - drop a blob on a bottle from the fridge. If it sets like jelly, stop cooking. Don’t let it burn. With practice, you can tell when it’s ready: the boiling jelly rolls at a certain speed and plays a certain note. 

Pour into very clean glass jars, or tea cups if you don’t have enough jars. Put circles of grease-proof paper on the surface of the jelly, and screw on a metal lid while still hot. For presents, add circles of dress fabric or old shirts, tied with brown string. 

Good pans make good jam. 

 Make labels that say ‘Best War-time Hedgerow Jelly, 2020’. Or 'Procrastination Jelly, 2020'  Then get back to work. During breaks, eat this delicious, clear, red jelly with bread, or meat, or cheese. Or put some in hot water on cold winter days to remind you of sunnier times.  If you don’t manage to make this fruit jelly this year, then don’t worry, next year will do instead. It’s a deadline that you are allowed to miss. 

This year, when friends are not around, 
chatting to a bantam is a useful waste of time.

Friday 4 September 2020

'Tearing down the Past' by Karen Maitland

Bishop Absolon topples the statue of the god Svantevit in 1169
Painter: Laurits Tuxen 1853-1927, 
Ferederiksborg Hillerod Museum, Denmark
Ever since kingdoms first began waging war on others, conquerors have begun their reign by pulling down the statues and emblems of the old regime. Likewise, rebels and reformers in every age have defaced, drowned, smashed or burned the statues of those who represent their present or historical enemies. The physical symbols of religion or power have always been the focus of attack in times of change and none more so than Cheapside Cross in London, which repeatedly became the unlikely target of hatred throughout the Reformation.

This seemingly innocent cross was one of the 12 Eleanor Crosses, erected in memory of Edward I’s wife, Eleanor of Castile, between 1291-1295. It stood at the commercial heart of London, then called Westcheap, and presided over many transactions made in the market there. It was one of the places where notorious wrong-doers were punished; important civic speeches made and new kings proclaimed. Heretical literature and seditious writings were publicly burned there.  

Statue of Jesus toppled by
Spanish Republican Forces
in anticlerical action, 1936
Photo: Sharon Mollerus

Cheapside Cross was remoulded several times over the centuries and in Tudor times it stood 36ft high, with three tiers whose niches housed statues of religious figures, such as Edward the Confessor, the Virgin Mary and infant Christ. The edifice was crowned by a great gilded cross and a dove. 

By the time of the Reformation, it had become both a Catholic and royal symbol. Even in 1553, the authorities feared it might become a target for vandalism by those opposed to the visit of Catholic King Phillip of Spain during Mary’s reign and a high ‘pale’ was erected to protected it, which was later removed by Elizabeth. But on Midsummer’s night 1581, a group of young men defaced the statue of the Virgin and child, and dragged down some of the other statues with ropes. Despite a handsome reward of 40 crowns being offered, no one was arrested. It was possibly just an act of drunken vandalism fuelled by Midsummer celebrations, but the figures which were mutilated suggest it might have been carried out by fervent Protestants against perceived symbols of Catholicism and the Pope. 

There had been several previous defacings of the Virgin on the Cheapside Cross. So, after this last one, Elizabeth had the statue of the Virgin Mary replaced with the goddess Diana which, in complete contrast, spouted Thames water through the nipples of her bare breasts – Diana representing the virgin Queen Elizabeth herself.  In 1601, the cross was again renovated and the bare breasted goddess was replaced by the Virgin Mary once more. Railings were erected to protect the cross. But within two weeks, the statue of Virgin Mary had been vandalised again, her chest stabbed and her crown ripped off. 

'Coronation Procession of Edward VI passing Cheapside Cross 1547'
Published in Vol1 'Old & New London'  by Walter Thornbury, pub. 1873 
based on a mural (now lost) at Cowdray House, Sussex
Book held in British Library

There were many vociferous Protestant campaigns to have the Cheapside Cross removed as idolatrous, some Puritans even saw it as symbol of Dagon, ancient god of the Philistines. But although most other Catholic symbols were removed, Cheapside Cross continued to be preserved by the London authorities, and ever greater defences were erected to protected it from repeated attacks. But in January 1642, the statues on the cross were severely damaged by attackers overnight. One man was mortally wounded when he fell on the spikes of the railings whilst trying to pull down the figures. Such was the heated emotion on both sides that people passing the cross over the next few days found themselves confronted by gangs demanding to know if they were for or against it. 

'Ancient View of Cheapside' 
in 'Old & New London', Vol 1 pub.1873

The cross had become a focus for the hatred of Charles I who had left London and the city authorities were forced to deploy soldiers to protect it at night. Puritan demands for its removal grew with countless pamphlets and petitions. Finally, in April 1643, Parliament appointed a Commons Committee chaired by Sir Robert Hale who had long campaigned against Cheapside Cross. The committee was set up to oversee the destruction of offensive religious images and three days later the London Court of Aldermen ordered the removal of Cheapside Cross because of the ‘idolatrous and superstitious’ figures. The soldiers who had been protecting it were now forced to guard the demolition crew from those who were determined to prevent it coming down, even at the cost of their lives.

'Demolition of Cheapside Cross', in 'Old & New London' pub 1873
Book in British Library

The funeral of the cross was marked with ringing of bells and bonfires, and in a final sting in this sad tale – the ‘Book of Sports’, considered ‘profane and pernicious’ because promoted such ‘abominations’ as maypole dancing, was ritually burned by a hangman on the spot where Cheapside Cross had stood.

Remnants of Cheapside Cross in
Museum of London
Photo: MattFromLondon

Most of the other Eleanor Crosses were also torn down during the Civil War, but three survived and still stand at Geddington, Hardingstone and Waltham Cross.