History needn’t be torture!

Just over a week ago I wrote here on my new book 101 Most Horrible Tortures In History which has had its most successful first week of sales of all my books save for one. Obviously there are quite a few sick and twisted people out there who like a light hearted look at history!

Today when I checked Amazon I saw that it was now the winner of its very first 5 star review which is quite a thrill….

Was a very good book to read, was very interesting and couldn’t put the book down will have to read again!

Today also sees my new pride and joy released on Apple iBooks.  All my fellow Apple devotees can get in on the action by clicking the link below.

As such I thought I would post one of the original tales I first heard about all the way back in 1997.

Death By Molten Silver.

Following the Persians capture of the Roman Emperor Valerian during battle around A.D. 260, Persia’s King Shapur I is said to have humiliated Valerian by using him as a footstool. But it only got worse for the fallen Roman Emperor.

Valerian himself offered a king’s ransom for his release but his offer was met by King Shapur forcing molten gold down his prisoner’s throat, stuffing him with straw, and then putting him on display, where he stayed for a few hundred years.

A millennia or so later those Khans of torture The Mongols revived memories of this when they came across a provincial governor. Inalchuq was governor of Otrar in the Khwarezmian Empire in the early 13th century and is best remembered for possibly inducing the most deadly and unwanted invasion of all time by helping to provoke the successful and catastrophic invasion of Khwarezmia by Genghis Khan.

In 1218, a Mongolian trade caravan of around 450 men arrived in Otrar, including an ambassador of Genghis Khan. Inalchuq feeling insulted by one of the members of the caravan and accusing them of being Mongolian spies which they possibly were (as well as possibly being tempted by the huge wealth of the caravan) had arrested them.

With the assent of his uncle, Sultan Muhammed, the Shah of the Khwarezmian Empire, he executed the entire caravan, and its goods were sold in Bukhara. 

A camel driver who escaped this massacre managed to report back to Genghis Khan, who responded by sending a delegation to Sultan Muhammad demanding that Inalchuq be punished. Muhammad responded by beheading the ambassador and shaving off the beards of his two companions which was about the biggest insult possible and thus provoked Genghis Khan’s invasion.

Genghis Khan besieged Otrar for five months in 1219, eventually breaching its walls. Inalchuq barricaded himself in its inner citadel,was was reduced to hiding on the roof of his palace with his wife and throwing roof tiles down at his pursuers.   As the Mongols wished to capture him alive in order to publicly execute him he was able to hold out another month before being captured.  He was executed by means of having molten silver poured into his eyes and ears and his skull was later reputed to be served as a drinking vessel by Genghis Khan.

101 Most Horrible Tortures in History

101 Most Horrible Tortures in History

101 Most Horrible Tortures is available from the UK in Kindle format from Amazon here and paperback format here.      American Amazon readers can squirm their way through the book in Kindle format here and in paperback format here.    If you enjoy my blog please do consider having a look.

As well as being available through Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Nook, you can also get in on the action on your favourite Apple product but purchasing the book on iBooks by clicking below!

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EVP and things that go bump in the night

I spent several days wondering whether to write this or not and when you read it, you’ll probably know why. It’s been over two years now since my mother died and I miss her just as much as I did then.  However unusually as it might sound to some people I get the feeling that my mother is still around, almost on a daily basis. It must be said that my mother and I both shared an interest in paranormal events to begin with as did her own mother and she was an avid reader of articles both good and more trashy that wrote about such possibilities.

This weekend saw the first hard scientific evidence by university hospitals in England that patients who were clinically dead but later made a recovery were able to accurately record the events that were going on around them.   By even remembering the beeps of different machines that only occur several minutes into various situations, scientists were able to see how some people seem to know exactly what was going on around them even when clinically dead.

This would not have been a surprise to my mother or indeed to myself having long since believed in it and to my own satisfaction had proof of such events even before the passing of my dear mother. I know that one or two members of the family have experienced strange things happening with electrical appliances and the like but none seem to have a steady run of these things happening on a weekly and almost daily basis. I’m not sure why I seem to be singled out but I am glad that I am.

Perhaps it is because I was the only close family member who didn’t get the chance to say good-bye properly. The first instance relating to my mother was actually 2 or 3 days before she died.  I was walking in the park as I did every time that morning having just lost my job some days before.  I had a strong sense that for some reason my mother was going to die.  She had been undergoing repeated treatments for cancer and was reported to be making a strong recovery and practically about to be given the all-clear.

I often get these feelings about various things and various people from light-hearted events to these more important feelings.  I tried to put it aside and ignore it as it seemed to go against the real-world events and besides if I contacted people every-time something was going to happen to someone, I’d never get anything done.  Anyway I besides that feeling, I also had a feeling that everything was going to be ok and it wasn’t a bad feeling as strange as that sounds. My mother used to frequently make me sandwiches to take to work for lunch, it was her way of treating her number one son and to be honest they were seriously delicious.

However the week before she died I suddenly took a dislike to them, in fact I was unable to eat them no matter how I tried.  I wondered how I would break this to my mother, that I no longer liked her sandwiches after so many years.  It didn’t take me many days to work out that maybe this was someone’s way of maybe helping me not miss them as I surely would have done. When the call came in that my mother had died, for some reason I wasn’t that surprised.  I was sad that it had happened but I wasn’t surprised and as soon the phone rang I just knew what it was going to be about.

The day before my mother’s funeral, I went to the Chapel of Rest to see my mother just one last time.  I went in first and said my goodbyes and then my uncle came in for a few minutes after which I left him to spend a few minutes alone.  Whilst he was in with me, I gave my mother a letter that I had written her and I gently reached down and touched her hand one last time.  At that precise moment that our hands touched,  the four lights in the room flicked off for a second and then back on for a split second and then off for another second and as I let go the lights came back on.  I thought I may have imagined it but I hadn’t as thankfully my uncle witnessed the entire event just as I had.

Whilst my uncle was inside I chatted to the receptionist and asked the receptionist if there were often problems with the lights in that room.  She was quite surprised at what I told her and insisted there were no problems with the lights or electrics and that no-one had ever mentioned it to her before and she had worked there for years. Hmmm, it might have been a shock to some people but to me it was just one of those things and I knew that it was my mother telling me that she was still around which gave me a lot of comfort. For about 2 weeks after the funeral the beads that my wife hangs from a light would gently sway for a few minutes after we got into bed.

My wife isn’t one for paranormal events whatsoever and quite frankly it rather scared her so I told my mother that we were okay and there was no need to do that anymore as we knew it was her.  They had never moved before and have never moved again. The amount of strange electrical events that have happened in the last 2 years have been unreal.  Things switching on and off by themselves, everything from portable radios to televisions.  On the first birthday after my mother had died our central heating went into overdrive whilst we were still in bed and the same thing happened a few days later on the anniversary of her death.

We are also often find white feathers around our house even though all our doors and windows are closed and we aren’t the type of people to have lots of cushions laying about the place. Sometimes they appear within the space of a few seconds when one of us leaves the sofa to go to the kitchen and then come back, there is a big white feather sitting there. I told some of these events to a friend who is also on the ‘psychic’ side of life and she too didn’t seem very perturbed by it and instead strong emphasised what a strong and loving bond my mother and I still share.  She also said that my mother was a cross between a bodyguard and a fixer, quietly going around sorting things out for me and in a way being more helpful now than she could have been before.

So these strange and re-assuring events have been happening the last 2 years though not always as dramatic as the lights going off in the chapel and then on thursday even by my standards something incredible happened.  I was out on a walk with a friend, vaguely working on a novel I am writing whilst investigating some of the local history.  For several minutes my friend had said she could hear a woman’s voice giggling.  I could hear nothing at all which my friend thought funny as minutes earlier I had heard a horse approaching down a lane 2 or 3 minutes before it came into view.

I knew there could be no-one here as we were in the middle of nowhere, whats more in the sort of area not many people would visit even if they knew where it was. For a few minutes I left my friend alone and wondered off exploring a few hundred feet away.  As many young ladies do, she took a selfie video of herself twirling around in a circle amongst the greenery.  That was all there was to it as far as we knew.   A few minutes later, twice my iPad fell out of its protective case.  The first time it was ok but the next time it shattered.

Over lunch I contacted Apple and was told they couldn’t repair the iPad but could replace it at a much reduced price of £260. After lunch, my friend and I went our separate ways but I had barely got home before I got a series of excited and slightly panicky messages.  My friend had replayed her selfie video and incredibly in the middle of the quiet countryside and with her mouth not moving at all, there was a giggle on the soundtrack and then a voice saying “Steve”.  The image of my friend simultaneously turned grey as the word comes out and then a second or two later the voice disappears and the colours return to normal.

We knew it had to be my mother and the fact that my friend and I had been messing around on our walk must have been amusing to her as the giggle on the video was almost exactly as my friend had heard a few minutes earlier. I never video myself or anyone else so maybe my mother took this opportunity to say ‘Hi’. We showed the video to some family and friends and the reaction was broadly the same, no-one doubted what they had seen and heard, even those who didn’t believe in such things. It instantly made a believe of my wife who previously though knew my mother kept popping up, somehow didn’t generally believe herself. Only one person in the world called me “Steve” and that was my mother.  Everyone else calls me Stephen or more ruder words!

As I showed the video to my wife at home and we talked about it, our modern  digital television starting flickering on and off for about 6 seconds in a way it has never done before in the last 5 years, it was rather like how the old black and white televisions would flicker when the portable antennae wasn’t working well.  I said to my wife to stop talking and to look at the television, we both did so and a few seconds after I got my wife to look at it, the TV returned to normal. Overnight I received a tour booking out of the blue with no preceding inquiry.  The value of it… £260 exactly the price of the iPad repairs.

Even just now when writing this post my new desktop lamp I received at Christmas made some noises which it hasn’t done before.  I guess it is my mother just reminding me she is here. I know lots of people will think this is possibly the most nonsensical post I have written but it is also the most truthful. I would put up the video on my blog but as it was filmed on my friends phone and features her prominently both in flesh and grey colour varieties I didn’t think it was fair.  However I’ve videoed my monitor screen cutting out my friend so you can hear the audio at least… or at least that’s the theory.  It isn’t quite as loud as the original and the giggle is a bit hard to here but I thought I’d give it a try.

Obviously some people might think it is a hoax and a few more might think I’m a bit crazy but I think it is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen and heard. If anyone reading this have had their own unusual encounters then it would be great to hear of them! PS Just before I posted this, I went to clean the inside of my car as I have a tour tomorrow and there underneath the heavy rubber mat on the floor of the drivers compartment was a big white feather.  I’m not sure how it got there but I know who put it there.

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VE Day Remembered in Photos – This Is Your Victory!

This gallery contains 15 photos.

The 8th May 1945 was V.E. Day or Victory in Europe Day.  As the U.K. is in the midst of remembering and celebrating perhaps the most momentous day in our history,  I thought it would be interesting to post some old … Continue reading

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UK General Election – Game of Thrones Style

Today is the day of the U.K. General Election.  Voting used to be easy and just a choice between the Conservatives and Labour but these days it has got more longwinded and complicated that a George R R Martin series but without the redeeming features of Khaleesi (we do have dragons on the flag though) and Nigel Farage is a bit like Tyrion Lannister.

Whilst I already wrote a piece on it a month ago.  Those folks at Mashable.com have come with a guide to the election that mixes real life politics with Game of Thrones.  It’s great fun so just click on the link below.

UK General Election Game of Thrones Style

UK Party Leaders

UK Party Leaders – graphic from Mashable

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones characters. Graphic from Mashable.com

For some real life Game of Thrones tortures, read about my new book 101 Most Horrible Tortures in History.

101 Most Horrible Tortures in History

101 Most Horrible Tortures in History

Can’t think of a reason to vote, here are 900,000 of them from WW1 alone.

Tower of London Poppies

Blood swept land and seas of red. 888,246 poppies to remember each of our WW1 dead. Photo courtesy of the Ministry of Defence.

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101 Most Horrible Tortures In History (my new book!)

Today is a big day for me, I’m launching my new book on Kindle and Paperback formats! 101 Most Horrible Tortures In History takes a wry look at history, torture and bizarre punishments of times past and just a bit of the present so that we can thank our lucky stars that none of this is ever likely happen to us.    Given that torture is not the usual thing I write about on my blog or in books I’m sure you’re wondering about the why’s and how’s!

I’ve always been interested in some of the scarier things in life.  I was just 6 years old when with my father working away from home, I sneaked down the stairs and was allowed by my probably slightly lonely mother to sit down with her at 10pm and watch the first Halloween movie.  Yes it was scary and I’m sure seeing people strangled, stabbed and impaled isn’t what all 6 year olds are into.   It may have instilled a slight unease in going down to the kitchen in the middle of the night for a midnight snack but that is probably better for my health too, besides which telephones no longer have cables and if a mass-murdered can find a pair of sharp scissors or knives in our house then he is doing better than I am.

Ever since then I have been into horror, I like the dramatic suspense of a good thriller but also the actual blood and gore too.   My friends and I as young teenagers would often swap videos and pop round to each others houses to see the latest Halloween/Nightmare on Elm Street/Friday 13th and many many others and to the best of my knowledge none of us have ever killed or even hit anyone.  Yes our cupboard door on our landing sometimes comes open on its own but usually it is from the ironing board rather the arm of that wretched body that won’t stay hidden!

Lots of people don’t like horror or even books or visual media that are even just mildly scary, but I think in it’s own way it is as good to be scared as to laugh especially when it is just a  film or just a book.  I think I have enjoyed horror from my early years because I’m always able to differentiate between what I see on-screen and what I’d like to happen in real life.

It seems that I’m not alone as even children have TV shows such as Horrible Histories which place great emphasis on the more disgusting parts of history as many children like many adults like to experience the shock and gore through television or books without in anyway wanting to experience it in real life.  The Darwin Awards are another popular quirky area that gets people excited about are often tragedies.

The Rack!

The Rack!

The idea behind writing a new book on torture methods goes back to my days at university when taking degrees in history is always liable for some reason to be peppered with horrible, freakish tales that just happened to be true.  When you’re studying the European Middle-Ages, Mongols, Afghans and many other notorious groups you come across more than most.  I remember noting down dozens and dozens of such stories as my lecturers reeled off their favourites as a way to keep hold of our attention and though my notes are stored away, I always thought I wanted to make use of these bizarre and slightly freakish stories I had learned.

Recently whilst working on a novel I had to look up some information and as usual I got waylaid and ended up reading about tortures.  I thought to myself that I needed a break from writing fiction and that I could rustle up a good little history book in a comparatively short time but the main problem I faced was whether there were enough torture methods.   I might be a “fan” of them but not really a walking encyclopaedia of them, well not ones I can put into print anyway.

I wrote the first 25 or so off the top of my head and a further 15 after a cup of tea.  For a few days I played with the idea of stopping at 50 tortures but then inspiration hit me and I began to move towards 60 and by that stage I knew I could make it to 100.  In fact I got on a roll and ended up with quite a lot more than 100 and probably could have come up with more if I had needed.

Of course it would be very easy to just have a book with very similar tortures and punishments but I really didn’t want this to be all about dungeons or the Middle-Ages, I wanted a wide variety of times and techniques to make it interesting so I have everything from the Ancient Greeks and Persians through The Mongols, British Middle-Ages, Spanish Inquisition and right up to the CIA, North Korea and ISIS.  Of course most tortures are from times past as I wanted to take an almost light-hearted look at torture and it didn’t feel appropriate doing that with most modern day events.

And so 101 Most Horrible Tortures in History came into being.  It isn’t a long, dry, drawn-out history book but instead focuses on the best bits and the highlights.  If you’re the type of person who used to feel disgusted at school when learning about the horrible demises that certain people would meet but then somehow feel a twisted interest in remembering it and telling your friends then this book is for you.

101 Most Horrible Tortures in History

101 Most Horrible Tortures in History

As well as having a broad dash of humour, I wanted to produce some actual examples so that maybe people might just learn a little bit about certain events and individuals in history but also make it clear just how many people today are still liable to suffer from torture. However it is definitely more a book for entertainment and easy to read history than anything else.   History needn’t be torture!

I’d like to thank Jo Robinson for her fabulous book cover as shown above.   I’m sure you’ll agree that she did an excellent job and her depiction of an Iron Maiden accurately gets over the tone of the book.  Thanks Jo!

101 Most Horrible Tortures In History is out now and available on Kindle formats (and Apple Kindle App) from Amazon sites worldwide.  The book is also available as a Paperback from Amazon and all good book stores and will in the coming weeks also be out on iBooks.   I will publish some extracts and write a post on modern torture in the coming days but for now you can check out more of 101 Most Horrible Tortures In History on its page in the ‘My Books’ section.

101 Most Horrible Tortures is available from the UK in Kindle format from Amazon here and paperback format here.      American Amazon readers can squirm their way through the book in Kindle format here and in paperback format here.   I will post links to the Ibooks store and Kobo, Barnes and Noble and other outlets soon.

Please note that for the next 2 weeks, my Kindle books The Promise and The Messenger (the first two books in my Timeless Trilogy) are on sale at a reduced price of $2.99 in the USA and £1.99 in the UK.  Be sure to check them out :-)

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A Trip To Norfolk, A Pilgrimage To Walsingham

Not many people have heard of Walsingham in the U.K. and even less people know of it overseas and yet around 900 years ago it would have been one of the most famous pilgrimage points in the known world.    Situated only 130 miles from London but even today much more isolated and harder to get to than places much further way, one can only imagine what pilgrims felt as they traversed the isolated and often dangerous roads to get to this tiny Norfolk village.

The picturesque main street of Walsingham

The picturesque main street of Walsingham

It all goes back to even before the Normans when in  1061, according to the Walsingham legend, a Saxon noblewoman by the name of  Richeldis de Faverches, had a vision of the Virgin Mary in which she was instructed to build a replica of the house of the Holy Family in Nazareth in honour of the Annunciation.

When it was built, the Holy House in Walsingham was panelled with wood and contained a wooden statue of an enthroned Virgin Mary with the child Jesus seated on her lap. Among its relics was a phial of the Virgin’s milk. It didn’t take long until Walsingham became one of northern Europe’s great places of pilgrimage and remained so through most of the Middle Ages.

The ruined Archway of old Walsingham Abbey by David P Orman

The ruined Archway of old Walsingham Abbey by David P Orman

A priory of Canons Regular was established on the site in 1153, a few miles from the sea in the northern part of Norfolk and it grew in importance over the following centuries. Founded in the time of Edward the Confessor, the Chapel of Our Lady of Walsingham was confirmed to the Augustinian Canons a century later and enclosed within the priory. From the first, the shrine was a famous place of pilgrimage and the faithful came from all parts of England and the Continent until the destruction of the priory under King Henry VIII in 1538. To this day the main road of the pilgrims through Newmarket, Brandon and Fakenham is still called the Palmers’ (Pilgrims’) Way.

Walsingham High Street

Walsingham High Street

Many were the gifts of lands, rents and churches to the canons of Walsingham and many were the miracles sought and claimed at the shrine. Several English kings visited the shrine, including Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, Henry VI, Henry VII  and finally even Henry VIII who like many today walked the final miles from a nearby church but would later be responsible for its destruction when the shrine and abbey perished in the Dissolution of the Monasteries.    At least two of Henry VIII’s wives — Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn made pilgrimages too and it was a place where miracles would occur much like Lourdes in France today.

In 1537 while the last Prior, Richard Vowell, was paying obsequious respect to Thomas Cromwell, the Sub-Prior, Nicholas Milcham, was charged with conspiring to rebel against the suppression of the lesser monasteries and, on flimsy evidence, was convicted of high treason and hanged outside the Priory walls. Eleven people in all, including two lay choristers who had been instrumental in organising the revolt were hanged, drawn and quartered. What they feared would happen came the following year. In the July Prior Vowell assented to the destruction of Walsingham Priory and assisted the king’s commissioners in the removal of the figure of Our Lady and many of the gold and silver ornaments and in the general spoliation of the shrine.


There are Catholic, Anglican and Orthodox churches in Walsingham and small chapels for many more faiths.

As a thanks from King Henry VIII for his eagerness to comply, the Prior received a pension of 100 pounds a year which would be an extremely large sum for the time. Fifteen other canons received pensions varying from four to six pounds. With the shrine dismantled and the priory destroyed, the site was sold by order of Henry VIII to Thomas Sidney for 90 pounds and a private mansion was subsequently erected on the spot. Gold and silver from the shrine was taken to London along with the statue of Mary and Jesus which was later burnt.

The fall of the monastery gave rise to the anonymous Elizabethan ballad, The Walsingham Lament, on what the Norfolk people felt at the loss of their Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. The ballad includes the lines:

Weep Weep O Walsingam,

Whose dayes are nights,

Blessings turned to blasphemies,

Holy deeds to despites

Sinne is where our Ladye sate,

Heaven turned is to helle;

Satan sitthe where our Lord did swaye,

Walsingham O farewell!

It’s interesting today when visiting Norfolk as I often do how so many of the churches in isolated areas still seem strikingly more Catholic in their decoration than more accessible areas, perhaps because the soldiers from London couldn’t easily impose the new laws or maybe it is just that the villagers and clergy didn’t care much for what the King said and would hide objects when they knew the soldiers were on the way only to replace everything and keep their more traditional .


A place of prayer and pilgrimage at Walsingham

For several centuries Walsingham reverted back to being the sleepy village that it so naturally is.  Those who came on a pilgrimage to Walsingham would have to do so in secrecy and things pretty much stayed the same way until the 19th century when rules against Catholicism were largely removed.  Then in 1896 Charlotte Pearson Boyd purchased the fourteenth-century Slipper Chapel, which had seen centuries of secular use, and set about its restoration.  Originally the Slipper Chapel was built in 1340, a mile outside Walsingham and was the final chapel enrolee to Walsingham.  From here many pilgrims would remove their shoes to walk the final mile.

In 1897 Pope Leo XIII re-established the restored 14th century Slipper Chapel as a Roman Catholic shrine, now the centre of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham and it didn’t take long for the Church of England to come round to the idea with Father Alfred Hope Patten SSC, appointed as Vicar of Walsingham in 1921 who wanted to bring back interest in the pre-Reformation pilgrimage. It was his idea to create a new statue of Our Lady of Walsingham based on the image depicted on the seal of the medieval priory. In 1922 the statue was set up in the Parish Church of St Mary and regular pilgrimage devotion followed. From the first night that the statue was placed there, people gathered around it to pray, asking Mary to join her prayers with theirs.

Throughout the 1920s the trickle of pilgrims became a flood of large numbers for whom, eventually, the Pilgrim Hospice was opened (a hospice is the name of a place of hospitality for pilgrims) and, in 1931, a new Holy House encased in a small pilgrimage church was dedicated and the statue translated there with great solemnity. In 1938 that church was enlarged to form the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.

The Holy House

The Holy House

There are a number of chapels open for the use of Christians from other denominations around the Holy House though the Orthodox Church also has its own dedicated church at St Seraphim complete with a trademark Russian style Onion dome roof.  The building itself used to be the old train station.

Over 100,000 pilgrims now visit Walsingham each year and its number is growing as are the modern facilities to cope with them.  The village itself though retains is slow paced outlook on life with a few traditional food markets, pubs and restaurants as well as some shops selling everything a pilgrim or indeed antique collector could need.

I first went to North Norfolk only 4 years ago and Walsingham only around 2 years ago but it instantly became one of my favourite places and I have re-visted several times since enjoying the beautiful countryside, tiny pretty villages, impressive and dilapidated churches, lack of people and the long sandy beaches ever since.

Last week I was fortunate to return as my private tours company Ye Olde England Tours had a booking two take a couple there from Tennessee.  It is about a 2 hour 30 minute drive by car from central London allowing for a break in Thetford Forest along the way.  We arrived before 10am and so stopped off at churches in two neighbouring villages on the way.  The peacefulness and serenity was enticing to us all as the spring flowers blossomed and only the noise of birdsong and wind in the trees could be heard.

My two guests were members of the Anglican church and so we immediately headed there and explored the complex before sitting in on a service given by the wonderful Bishop there.  We stayed there for around an hour before crossing the road to enjoy an incredibly tasty pub cooked dinner and then after a brief shop drove the mile or so to the Roman Catholic Slipper Chapel, most pilgrims do tend to visit the churches and chapels of all the denominations they can and it’s hard to imagine anyone coming to Walsingham getting headstrong about which church they visit especially as they all seem to work together here.

Photo of inside the Slipper Chapel Walsingham by Thorvaldsson

Photo of inside the Slipper Chapel Walsingham by Thorvaldsson

My guests had been waiting to visit Walsingham their own lives and I wasn’t quite prepared at hoe emotional it would be for them.  Once we’d visited the growing Catholic visitors centre, they took the decision to walk back bare-footed something that was particularly brave as the farmers were trimming all the hedges and the road way was covered in branches and thorns. I guess for parts they walked along the grass banks as I know that they enjoyed seeing the sheep and lambs in the field.

Whist they were walking back, I took the opportunity to visit a wonderful farmers market shop in Walsingham and managed to bring back a variety of local cheeses, meats, pies and drinks back home.   My guests missed the second church service they had hoped to attend, perhaps their large roast dinner slowed them down a little or maybe it was all the things they bought in the shops including some antiques and incredible wooden statues.

They told me that even though they had visited the U.K. 4 or 5 times before, this was not only the best day of all those holidays but one of the most amazing of their lives. With our cars laden, our purses emptied and our souls cleansed we reluctantly made our way back to London with the first hour or so of the journey being through some beautifully scenic countryside.

I can’t wait to return there and lucky for me, I have two visitors booked from Australia for a trip there at the end of June.  Perhaps you’d like to visit too one day, it would be a shame for me to go on my own!!

Time out at Walsingham enjoying a cold drink at The Bull Inn

Time out at Walsingham enjoying a cold drink at The Bull Inn

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Gallipoli and ANZAC Day – One of the biggest disasters in history

The Gallipoli campaign in the Dardanelles region of modern day Turkey was a landmark battle of World War One.  It is counted as perhaps the greatest Ottoman Turkish victory in the war and set about creating a Turkish nationalism that went on to create a modern country out of the ashes of defeat at the end of the Great War.  Gallipoli is also pivotal in the creation of a modern national consciousness for Australia and New Zealand, separate to that with its historic links with the United Kingdom but for altogether more tragic reasons.

Dardanelles Map

Map of the Dardanelles by Thomas Steiner. The Gallipoli Peninsula is northwest of Canakkalle

Gallipoli sits on the Dardanelles Straits which linked the Mediterranean to the Black Sea and which could have linked the Royal Navy with the Russian Navy if only the Dardanelles were not just controlled by the Ottomans but only a short distance from their capital, Istanbul. By the end of 1914, the Western Front was already at stalemate and there was no overland trade route between western Europe and Russia and so a plan was drawn up to capture the Dardanelle Straits which would not just open up the seaways for the Allies but possibly lead to a quick capture Istanbul, putting the Ottoman Empire out of the war before it had almost began.

Your country needs you

Possibly the most famous poster of all time. Lord Kitchener reminding us that our country needs us.

The plan for the attack was largely at the behest of Winston Churchill who at the time was the heading up the Admiralty in the Royal Navy.  Though today we know it ended in disaster, its original goals were laudable and if they had worked might have saved millions of lives.  The fact that the Turkish capital at Istanbul was so close to the sea made it theoretically possible to knock out one of the Axis powers very quickly and the Ottomans were the weak link.  However the Ottomans well knew that this was their achilles heel and so made the already difficult terrain and cliffs of the Dardanelles possibly the most fortified coastal region in the world. The 17th February 1915 saw a British seaplane from HMS Ark Royal followed by a huge bombardment two days later by a powerful joint British-French force headed up by the Battleship HMS Queen Elizabeth which began bombarding and ultimately destroying many of the outlying forts and a detachment of Royal Marines even landed to blow up Ottoman artillery.  However bad weather and a mobile Ottoman military, frustrated the Allies from being able to complete their task. The 18th March saw a large attack composed of no less than 18 Battleships and aided by a number of destroyers and cruisers bombarded the coasts as mine-sweepers attempted to clear the straits but a number of important ships were damaged by a new and unknown minefield which had only been laid a few days earlier.   Despite many British officers believing they were close to victory on account that the few remaining Ottoman artillery posts were low on ammunition, the order was given to withdraw and instead attempts to secure the straits fell to the land forces. At this point 78,000 Australian and New Zealand soldiers were undergoing training in Egypt in preparation for deployment to the Western Front but with the focus on Gallipoli, these men were put in the newly created Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC).   The men had not trained for making a landing under fire and it was not thought that the Ottoman defenders would put up much of a fight but both turned out to be terrible mistakes. The Ottomans under Kemal Attaturk and with the assistance of German officers had prepared a robust defence especially as the Allies invasion of the 23rd April was pushed back two days due to bad conditions.  Six beaches were chosen for the landings composed of British, French and Anzac groups followed shortly afterwards by Indian troops.    Only 10% of the British soldiers at ‘V’ beach made it ashore due to heavy machine-gun fire and similar events took place at what would be known as Anzac Cove where Ottoman defenders stopped any potential invasion either on or just above the beach and who held fortified positions with good vantage points on the Allied soldiers below.

On W Beach the Lancashires lost 600 of their 1,000 men but still managed to take the Ottoman positions whilst of over 1,000 Irish troops only 11 were to get through the campaign unscathed. The Allied attack stalled because of the slaughter on the beaches and the fact that those positions that managed to get off the beach didn’t push onwards and maximise their advantages which allowed ample time for the Ottomans to rush in re-enforcements although an Australian submarine did manage to get through the minefield and cause panic amongst Ottoman shipping. April 27th saw 12 Ottoman battalion reinforcements arrive but still the Allies pushed forward, assisted greatly by the naval bombardment but eventually the advance was halted and like elsewhere the landings turned into a long drawn out war of attrition.  Allied ships were successful at the nearby Sea of Marmara and several Ottoman ships were lost including the Gul Djemal which was carrying 6,000 men and a field battery in reinforcements. The 5th May saw the Allies launch a major attack and they made a few hundred metres before heavy fire from the Ottomans eventually caused the whole plan to be abandoned on the 7th May and both sides consolidated their positions with the Ottomans using their superior position to pick off men and officers with sniper fire.

John Kirkpatrick Simpson

John Kirkpatrick Simpson who gave his life so that others might live.

On May 19th the Ottomans launched a 42,000 strong counter-attack with the aim of driving the Anzacs into the sea, their surprise attack ruined when they were spotted by British reconnaissance aircraft resulting in them suffering 3,000 men killed and more than 4 times that injured.   Only 160 Anzacs were killed but one of them was British born stretcher bearer named John Simpson Kirkpatrick who barely known in his birth country  came to prominence in his adopted country of Australia for his repeated evacuation of wounded men on the back of a donkey. His story quickly became the stuff of legends amongst the Australian forces and in Australia generally.   Such were the heavy Ottoman losses that the Anzacs agreed to a truce to allow the Ottomans to recover their dead which allowed men from both sides to mingle in a similar manner to the famous Christmas truce on the Western Front. Though the British ship HMS Goliath was torpedoed which greatly affected their ability to launch effective onshore bombardments, HMS E11 managed to pass through the Dardanelles and disabled or sank 11 enemy vessels and even reached Constantinople harbour itself where it damaged a gunboat and the harbour side which saw its Captain Martin Nasmith awarded a Victoria Cross, just one of many in the Gallipoli campaign. Due to the lack of heavy artillery and an unwillingness to repeat the slaughter of their last major attack against the Anzacs, the Ottomans became unwilling to mount further frontal assaults and instead saw increased use of tunnelling. June and July saw more of the same with the both sides seeing casualty rates of around 25%.  The Allies seemed unable to make inroads whilst the Ottomans couldn’t push them back into the sea with the Divisional strength of both sides increasing from 5 and 6 to 15 and 16 respectively.  The stalemate forced the Allies to come up with a new plan to capture the high ground with 2 new divisions landing 5 miles north of Anzac Cove at Suvla Bay on August 6th whilst a renewed attempt on the high ground at Sari Blair would be made by existing troops.  The landing was successful but the Ottomans on high ground stopped the Allied force really getting off the beach despite successful Australian diversion attacks nearby.

The Sphinx in Gallipoli

The Sphinx in Gallipoli – The rugged and rocky terrain made it a natural fortress for the Ottoman Turks and a nightmare for invading Allied forces.

New Zealand forces managed to get within 500 metres of their objective without actually making it and nearby Australian and Indian groups actually got lost in the dark and were easily seen off by the Ottoman defenders. Back in Europe Lord Kitchener decided it was time to make a big push in France which meant there were only limited men left to reinforce the troops at Gallipoli and with Bulgaria now entering the war it meant the Ottomans could more easily get substantial German reinforcements.    On 25th September Kitchener ordered that 3 Divisions leave the Dardanelles for Salonika in Greece. The summer heat affected both sides with many succumbing to outbreaks of disease and both sides suffering from supply problems leading to ordinary men to strike up conversation and bartering with their opponents.  In the autumn it was a different story with the Allied troops in their poor positions being deluged by 3 days of rain and then snow and so it was decided that the Allies withdraw from Gallipoli, leaving their flooded trenches and unburied dead where they were.  Most troops were recovered in an orderly fashion throughout December with the last men leaving on 8th January 1916.  Allied vehicles were sabotaged and over 500 mules were killed to prevent them falling into Ottoman hands. The Gallipoli campaign is often looked at as an unmitigated disaster and while the Allies didn’t come close to meeting their objectives they did succeed in using up vast amount of Ottoman resources.  The Allies suffered from bad planning, poor logistics, inaccurate maps and intelligence and undefined goals whilst the Turks held onto all the high and most defensive positions.  Additionally, Allied submarines had all but stopped the Ottoman navy from venturing out to sea with all the supply problems this created. Some of the Anzac officers were promoted after the campaign whilst Gallipoli was at last the undoing of Lord Kitchener with the new coalition government quickly losing faith in him.  Meanwhile the Ottoman successes inspired their men in future actions against the British in the Middle-East, notably in Iraq. However there can be no doubt that the Gallipoli campaign was a disaster for Allied morale and the mistakes made went on to influence much more successful amphibious landings at D-Day, the American Pacific WW2 campaign and more recently the incredible British landings at the Falklands in 1982. It seemed that those in charge of the Gallipoli campaign forgot one of the basic tenants of both the military and human nature in that soldiers are likely going to resist all the harder when their homeland is under attack regardless of what side of the war they are on. Turkey went on to lose the war and her empire and one day after the Armistice, French, British and Italian forces occupied Istanbul, the first time western forces had occupied the great city since the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453.


Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, war-time soldier and Father of modern Turkey

The successful defence of  Gallipoli went on to shape the future of modern Turkey which rallied around the man who had led the Turkish defences, Ataturk who ordered and urged his men not just to fight but to die.  Following the end of the war, Ataturk successfully repelled a Greek invasion of western Anatolia and when the Ottoman Empire ended, he because the first President of the modern, western orientated, secular state a tradition that has been strongly followed until the last few years.  President Kemal himself once said

“You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries wipe away your tears; your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

For Winston Churchill, the disaster weighed on him severely although in fairness what scuppered the invasion was largely due to the military forces in the area often planning badly and acting indecisively.

He was still be taunted by Gallipoli right up until WW2 and perhaps his experience allowed him to become the strong and inspirational leader when his own nation was threatened with invasion.

Anzac Day is now remembered in Australia and New Zealand annually on the 25th April to commemorate the over 11,000 dead out of their force of 35,000. It was a pivotal moment in the history of both countries and their first major actions as independent nations and they desperately wanted to stand by their mother country.  Almost their entire armed forces at the time were involved in the campaign and it was the focus of everyone back home so when it went badly it became a rallying point due to the devastating effect it had on the male population in the fledgling nations.

However it wasn’t just the Anzacs that suffered as the Ottomans lost over 56,000, the British 34,000 and France nearly 10,000.  British Indian and Newfoundland forces also suffered high casualty rates.   Gallipoli is not widely remembered in the U.K. most likely as even the great number of deaths here are overshadowed by the even bigger battles that were to come.  Only in the county of Lancashire and city of Manchester does it hold a status similar to in Australia and New Zealand where men from Lancashire alone suffered more deaths than their Kiwi comrades.  However generally Gallipoli is always primarily remembered by the ANZAC nations.

The Gallipoli campaign is being remembered in Istanbul with representatives from Turkey, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and France on April 24th, one day before the 100th anniversary, possibly due to Turkish plans to divert attention from the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide which occurs on this day.

Other big commemorative events are taking place in Gallipoli itself as well as in London, Sydney and New Zealand.

Gallipoli Grave

A British Tommy pauses at the grave of his friend, one of thousands who lost their lives before the evacuation was ordered

If you’d like to read more about WW1 and other often forgotten but important subjects that occurred 100 years ago then check out my concise history book Lest We Forget published by Endeavour Press of London and available in Kindle and Paperback formats. Lest We Forget

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