All posts by David Corns

The French Resistance – Prof. Matthew Cobb – 7th December 2020

Recently we have been reminded of the anniversar­ies of key dates in World War II and this was a timely present­a­tion on the role of the “ French Resistance “ and its con­tri­bu­tion to the lib­er­a­tion of France. The phoney war ended with the Germany’s light­ning attack on France in June 1940 fol­lowed by 6 weeks of fight­ing. France was cap­tured and split into the Occupied and Non- Occupied Zones under the con­trol of Vichy France which was the col­lab­or­a­tion­ist ruling regime in Nazi-occupied France.  A nat­ural reac­tion for any cit­izen in the situ­ation would be to launch imme­di­ate res­ist­ance.  However, the fight­ing res­ul­ted in 300,000 dead or severely injured and 1.8 mil­lion pris­on­ers.  France was in no pos­i­tion to launch any mean­ing­ful res­ist­ance to the occu­pi­ers. Indeed, there was a com­plete col­lapse of any res­ist­ance under the prin­ciple “ Politics  of Collaboration “  dir­ec­ted by Marshal Petain.

General de Gaulle 1942

Charles de Gaulle was exiled in England but was a power­ful voice in urging French sol­diers to take up arms and form the “Free French Army “. He said “The flame of French res­ist­ance must not or shall not die “.

Early res­ist­ance activ­ity was prim­it­ive and lacked coordin­a­tion involved in pub­lish­ing news sheets, pro­pa­ganda , cut­ting tele­phone wires and gen­eral dis­rupt­ive beha­viour. Those who were caught were invari­ably shot as a strong deterrent to others. In November 1940 hun­dreds of Parisian school chil­dren bravely demon­strated against the regime but were bru­tally repressed. The com­mun­ist party had mem­bers and resources and would have been active but Stalin and Hitler had signed a pact that Germany would not invade Russia so they were caught in a con­flict of loy­al­ties. However this was resolved, when Hitler attacked USSR on 22nd June 1941 rip­ping up the Hitler/Stalin pact.  The com­mun­ist party youth took action and killed prom­in­ent Germans.  Retaliation was vicious and for every German killed 20/30/50 civil­ians were shot.

Resistance was still piece­meal and largely unco­ordin­ated. A Jean Moulin set out to visit res­ist­ance groups across France and coordin­ate inform­a­tion on the groups, a task need­ing the utmost tact and trust no doubt !    In December 1941, USA entered the war after Japan bombed Pearl Harbour.  At this news De Gaulle declared “ We’ve won” and he was right,  thank­fully.. The Allies con­trolled the pro­pa­ganda and the BBC ( Radio  London) com­mu­nic­ated with res­ist­ance through coded mes­sages to assist with the drop­ping of sup­plies and agents.  The Germans con­tin­ued to hound the Jews and over 13,000 were depor­ted and many exterm­in­ated on mass.

By 1943 the res­ist­ance had become more active.  The Vichy gov­ern­ment made a con­ces­sion to the Germans agree­ing that all able bodied Frenchmen should be forced to go and work in Germany. Many refused to go par­tic­u­larly in the south and hid in the hills, call­ing them­selves Maquis which trans­lates as “taking to the hills. “ The res­ist­ance lead­ers saw quickly that here was a body of young men not only numer­ous but des­per­ate, brave, train­able and useful.  Jean Moulin united the res­ist­ance under the lead­er­ship of Charles de Gaulle. The res­ist­ance was now derail­ing trains, des­troy­ing factor­ies, inform­ing the Allies of German troop move­ments, aiding downed airmen to escape German cap­ture and return to England. Captured res­ist­ance fight­ers were shot.

Members of the Maquis — includ­ing two SOE oper­at­ors

The end of German occu­pa­tion was in sight. The D-Day land­ings were on the 6th June and the Allies even­tu­ally break­out of the Normandy land­ings on 13th July.  The French res­ist­ance were able to give pre-invasion intel­li­gence about German troop move­ments and coastal defences as well as maps and photos to the Allies, all the time dis­rupt­ing  German activ­ity. Charles de Gaulle vis­ited the town of Bayeux in N.W. France on 14th  June 1944 and he was imme­di­ately acclaimed by the public as their figure head which was an embar­rass­ment to the Allies.  The Germans sur­rendered on 25th August 1944.  A major rally on 26th August 1944 atten­ded by 1 mil­lion people pro­pelled Charles de Gaulle to power.

The French res­ist­ance made a sig­ni­fic­ant con­tri­bu­tion to the defeat of the Germans and the lib­er­a­tion of their coun­try.    Matthew raised an inter­est­ing ques­tion     “What would we have done if Britain had been  invaded ? ”    Answers please !    An excel­lent talk, well pre­pared and pro­fes­sion­ally presen­ted on Zoom.

For those of you who wish to learn more, Matthew has writ­ten a book avail­able on Amazon  :-

The Resistance  — The French fight against the Nazis.  




Canon Shots Over Transport — Roger Hart — 20th January 2020

Webmaster Editorial note: Following the ori­ginal blog, the presenter, Roger Hart, has made some cor­rec­tions and addi­tions which appear at the end of the report.

Roger Hart shared with us his per­sonal nos­tal­gia of the world of trans­port through the lens of his trusty Canon camera, sup­ple­men­ted by photos from the archives.

© B Braun Medical Ltd

Roger’s interest in trans­port stems from his early days when his par­ents owned a road haulage com­pany and gar­ages which sold and repaired cars. They also sold par­affin, a best seller, and petrol at 70p a gallon — those were the days! His interest in cars and lor­ries developed and gradu­ated to all forms of trans­port, whether car­ry­ing goods or people. His photos included cars, trucks, air­craft, boats, trains, trams and buses.

© Bonhams

Happy hunt­ing grounds for him to pho­to­graph the unusual were clas­sic car shows, trans­port museums, county shows and his travels near and far. Roger’s jour­neys took him to New Zealand where he pho­to­graphed light air­craft flying over the vol­cano on White Island, which recently erup­ted caus­ing tragic loss of life.

He vis­ited the Vatican, where he pho­to­graphed the Popemobile which sadly is a rather poor spe­ci­men in com­par­ison to the Popemobile pro­duced for the Pope’s visit to Britain in the 1980s and which is now housed in the Commercial Motor Vehicle Museum in Leyland, Lancashire.

Nearer to home, he took some excel­lent pho­to­graphs of the horse drawn trams and the narrow gauge steam rail­way in the Isle of Man. Even nearer to home, he pho­to­graphed the helipad at the Northern General Hospital with the air ambu­lance land­ing.


He was there at the anniversary of the Dambusters’ raid and was able to cap­ture the flight of the Lancaster bomber over the Derwent valley and pho­to­graph the iconic Sheffield Simplex car at the Kelham Island Museum.

This was a chance for mem­bers to remin­isce.

Roger Hart, the presenter, wishes to point out the fol­low­ing  :-

  • He did not attend the Dambuster’s 75th anniversary. The photo was taken by Michael Hilton a day after the flypast was sched­uled but delayed.
  • The photo of the Sheffield Simplex car was taken at the Sheffield Moor Classic Car Show not the Kelham Island Museum.
  • He hadn’t been to New Zealand – it was Richard Crossley, a pilot with Easyjet, who took the photo over White Island.
  • His father only owned one garage.


China Old and New — Malcolm Walpole — 28th Oct 2019

Malcolm gave us an inter­est­ing present­a­tion cap­tur­ing the high­lights of his travels in China. It took the form of an hour-long digital audio/visual film with excel­lent pho­to­graphy and com­ment­ary. To sum up – China is on the move and is now a modern tech­no­lo­gical and indus­trial power­house. China is thought to be the oldest con­tinu­ous model of civil­isa­tion. The rest caught up and China became isol­ated and secret­ive. Times have changed, with many believ­ing the turn­ing point was around the time of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 when China wel­comed ath­letes and vis­it­ors from all over the world. China is now more open, allow­ing its sub­jects to travel and stu­dents to study abroad. Tourists and busi­ness­men are now encour­aged.

China’s Grand Canal. ©

Malcolm was par­tic­u­larly taken with Chinese clas­sical gar­dens with its topi­ary, bonsai cre­ations. The stone­work is white with no shape repeated, all to com­ple­ment the green­ery. No flowers are present to dis­tract the flow. Water fea­tures and areas of tran­quil­lity were common and viewed through tan­tal­isers to give focus and frame the mag­ni­fi­cent views. China’s Grand Canal was another fea­ture on the tour, being the longest (1,100 miles) as well as the oldest canal or arti­fi­cial river in the world. The canal links north and south China, run­ning from Beijing to Hangzhow and link­ing five rivers includ­ing the Yangtze and Yellow. The Grand Canal shows in abund­ance the old and the new, with cement and brick­works lining the banks to supply the ever expand­ing and needy con­struc­tion and house­build­ing indus­tries. Locals go about their busi­ness as they have for cen­tur­ies, fish­ing, boat build­ing and moving goods in their flat bottom boats. Today, tugs tow as many as 20 barges along the canal to make life easier and more prof­it­able. The silt­ing of the canal is a common prob­lem and dredgers are in con­stant use to keep the chan­nels open.

A high­light of the visit was the city of Shanghai, a global fin­an­cial hub of 24 mil­lion people (2018), being the biggest and richest city in China. The city rivals New York and Paris in terms of mod­ern­ity and is a major tour­ist des­tin­a­tion with its many land­marks. The streets and mar­kets are teem­ing with people, both locals and vis­it­ors. Shanghai retains its past with many Buddha temples includ­ing the Jade Buddha Temple.

Jade Buddha Temple. ©

Religion was not banned by the com­mun­ists but not encour­aged. Today Buddhism is gain­ing pop­ular­ity and the temples are again busy as centres of the com­munity and wor­ship. Shanghai has the largest sus­pen­sion bridge in the world and, to demon­strate that the city is ever expand­ing, land which was marsh­land 10 years ago is now wall to wall build­ings. All this comes at a price – pol­lu­tion!

As a com­plete con­trast to fren­etic Shanghai, the last lap of the tour was to the Chinese Southern Region with its moun­tains and lush steep-sided val­leys, and, by com­par­ison, sparsely pop­u­lated. Simply, it is a ‘must’ for tour­ists who wish to see China at its most beau­ti­ful and con­trast­ing.

In Pursuit of a Peak District Pensioner Criminal — Tim Knebel — 2nd Sept 2019

Tim is a pro­ject co-ordinator with the “Peak into the Past“ local his­tory organ­isa­tion and gave an inter­est­ing talk on a rather unusual topic. Normally, you would expect a talk on the his­tory of the Peak District to be con­cerned with mining, canals, mills and archae­ology, but this was about the life and crimes of an eld­erly woman who was an habitual crim­inal within the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire area.

The woman was Annie Burke, also known as Annie Monks, but she had many other ali­ases and was described vari­ously as a hawker, beggar, itin­er­ant and vag­rant. Details of her life are shrouded in mys­tery because she had numer­ous ali­ases. She led a nomadic life and was an accom­plished liar able to spin the most heart-breaking yarns for sym­pathy. She was born in Oldham in 1843. Or was it Hunslet, Leeds, in 1851? Or 1853? Prison records were hazy to say the least. What made her stand out in the crim­inal fra­tern­ity of the time was that she was female and eld­erly, which was not the norm.

She was mar­ried in 1879 to a George Monks and they had eight chil­dren, four of whom died prob­ably when young. They lived in slum dwell­ings in the Narrow Marsh area of Nottingham, which was dan­ger­ous and rife with dis­ease. The mar­riage was not happy with both hus­band and wife appear­ing in court on vari­ous assault charges against each other. The chil­dren were taken into care. Perhaps, this is when Annie became a vag­rant, living by her wits in a chaotic life­style.

Her pat­tern of crim­inal activ­ity was mainly to call on large coun­try houses and vicar­ages and spin the story of her piti­ful plight which invari­ably involved the fate of her hus­band, chil­dren or any other rel­at­ive which could pull the heart strings. Good natured house­hold­ers or ser­vants would give her clothes, food and money but she would take the oppor­tun­ity to scan the house and grounds and steal any­thing of worth. In modern crim­inal par­lance she often dis­trac­ted the vic­tims to select the loot. Also, she would ask for the loan of cloth­ing for a spe­cial occa­sion like a funeral or christen­ing, but the clothes were never returned. Invariably, she would sell the stolen goods in public houses for money which was spent on food or drink .

Clearly, Annie liked her drink which would result in many con­vic­tions for brawl­ing and assault. Her defence in court was often “I was very drunk and don’t remem­ber any­thing.” Her steal­ing and lies invari­ably res­ul­ted in con­vic­tions with hard labour in prison. It was notice­able that many of the con­vic­tions were for the theft of small items like a carpet, a basket of clothes, a bottle of beer and table clothes. Compare that with sen­ten­cing today! At one court appear­ance she explained to the judge that she had 65 con­vic­tions and was going for the cen­tury. She led a chaotic life and one won­ders if her reg­u­lar spells in prison gave her some form of struc­ture with shel­ter, food and dis­cip­line des­pite the pro­spect of hard labour.

Tim was asked why he chose to study the life and crimes of Annie Burke (Monks) and replied that when research­ing prison records he was amazed at the shear number of con­vic­tions she had amassed and was intrigued to know more about her. He came to have a sneak­ing regard for her and, although she was a crim­inal with many vic­tims, she was feisty, hardy and resource­ful. She was a sur­vivor, although there seems to be no record of her where­abouts after 1915, or of her death. Certainly, Annie Burke led a sad, chaotic life and she would never have ima­gined that her life would have been researched and presen­ted to the gentle folk of Stumperlowe Probus Club in 2019.

Apartheid and Racial Segregation.     Alan Zinober 22nd July 2019

Alan Zinober gave us a most inter­est­ing talk mainly on apartheid in South Africa but touched on examples of racial segreg­a­tion through­out the world. Alan was born in South Africa but emig­rated to England in the early 70’s so exper­i­enced the apartheid regime first hand and was well qual­i­fied to give us his thoughts.

Apartheid was a polit­ical and social system in South Africa during the era of white minor­ity rule under pinned by legis­la­tion intro­duced by the National Party in 1948. It enforced dis­crim­in­a­tion against non-whites mainly focus­sing on colour and facial fea­tures. The word apartheid means ‘sep­ar­ate­ness’ in the Afrikaans lan­guage.  South Africa was not alone in having segreg­a­tion. The USA has a long his­tory of segreg­a­tion with the Ku Klux Klan ( KKK) inflict­ing many thou­sands of lynch­ings and beat­ings on black cit­izens.  The Civil Rights Act – 1964 was passed to see the end of racial segreg­a­tion, although sadly it is still common in the USA.  Today segreg­a­tion is still common through­out the world in one form or another whether it be through slavery, the caste system, reli­gion, racial pre­ju­dice or simply the master/servant rela­tion­ship.#

The National Party took over in 1948 and imme­di­ately passed a whole host of ‘ Apartheid Segregation Acts’ which were aimed at for­cing dif­fer­ent races to live sep­ar­ately from each other. The system was used to deny many basic rights to non-white people., mainly black in South Africa.   People were defined by colour – white, black, col­oured and Indian , being Chinese caused con­fu­sion it appears !   Your colour defined where you lived , where you worked, whether you needed a pass to access cer­tain areas, whether you could vote, where you sat on the bus, which beaches you could visit, whether you could vote.  etc, etc.

Interracial mar­riage was banned.  Often it was dif­fi­cult to decide who was black, white, col­oured and all shades in between which res­ul­ted in at least one hardly sci­entific test being used called the ‘pencil test ‘ where a pencil is run through Afro tex­tured hair to decide on the eth­ni­city . The Acts and their enforce­ment were extremely com­plic­ated and often ludicrous caus­ing misery and hard­ship. People rebelled with protests in Sharpeville (1960) and Soweto ( 1976)  but were aggress­ively put down.  There was grow­ing inter­na­tional cri­ti­cism of the regime and coun­tries boy­cot­ted South Africa in terms of trade, sport­ing and music events in order to isol­ate South Africa and bring apartheid to an end.

In 1989, Klerk became President of South Africa and set out to reform the system.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was released from prison and the ban on the African National Congress (ANC) was lifted. The first mul­tiracial elec­tion was held on 27th April 1994 when all races could vote.  ANC was vic­tori­ous and Nelson Mandela was elec­ted President of South Africa. This date is con­sidered the end of apartheid.   Today, black cit­izens are in pos­i­tions of power, in the pro­fes­sions and have wealth but there is still a large major­ity of them who live in poverty. Apartheid lasted for over 40 years and it will take fur­ther dec­ades for the soci­ety to change and have a better dis­tri­bu­tion of wealth.