Bethnal Green Station; The Hidden Tragedy of WWII

In a war that claimed over 50 million lives, a single incident that lead to 173 deaths can seem like just a drop in the ocean, but the tragedy at Bethnal Green Tube Station still stands out as one of the most devastating incidents in wartime London. What isolates this incident is that, in reality, it was entirely preventable.

In 1936 it was decided that the Central Line would be extended to run beyond Liverpool Street to Stratford. As building the new line was halted during the war the tunnels and stations were left empty, and subsequently East Londons began using Bethnal Green as an air raid shelter, rather than the uncomfortable Anderson and Morisson Shelters provided by the Home Office.
The shelter at Bethnal Green was massive, fitted out with 5,000 bunks, with room for 2,000 more, and complete with library, musicians and entertainers. Londoners whiled away many hours here in the subterranean community while bombs rained down above.

2017-06-04-21.34.57.jpg.jpeg

Bethnal Green Station today

On 3rd March 1943 however disaster struck. Following heavy bombing of Berlin London was preparing for retaliation, so when the alarm sounded locals rushed for shelter as usual. The steps down to the shelter were dark, only 1 light illuminated them, there was no markings on the side, or central hand rail, and as was customary London was in Blackout conditions. As East-Enders began making their way down the stairs a lady carrying a baby and a roll of bedding tripped and fell on the stairs, an elderly gentleman tripped over her, and thus began a devastating cascade of human dominoes. In the darkness nobody knew of the danger ahead, and Londoners kept hurrying down the stairs. The arrivals of two buses full of people looking for refuge only accelerated the disaster. A few miles down the road, in Victoria Park new bombs were undergoing secret testing, giving the impression of a German air-raid and only increasing the crushing panic.

In a matter of minutes 173 people were dead, including 62 children. A further 90 were injured. The bodies pulled from the staircase were purple and bruised beyond recognition. One child was only identified by a cobbler, who remembered adding a nail to her shoe the day before!

On the 3rd March 1943 not one German bomb fell on London, in fact, not even one enemy aircraft was spotted, there was no danger to London, and yet there had been huge civilian casualties!  Upon hearing of the disaster Churchill ordered that it be covered up. Survivors and witnesses were told of the importance of their silence, and some never spoke of it in their life times. Churchill believed that news of the Bethnal Green disaster would lead to a huge drop in morale and public spirit, and thus a cover-up was initiated.

It wasn’t until 2 years later that the Home Office released their official reports, along with the autopsy reports from the Police Surgeon. Even to this day no memorial stands to the victims, save a small plaque, which frequently goes unnoticed. The Stairway to Heaven Memorial Trust has been fundraising to install a memorial by the tube station, of an inverted staircase. Designed by Harry Paticas, the memorial was entered in to the Royal Academy of Art’s prestigious Summer Exhibition in 2012. Whilst more funds are still needed to complete the memorial, the Trust are still highly active, and every year on 3rd March, a memorial service is held.

Over 70 years later, it is astounding that the deaths were covered up so easily, and that the tragedy is still so unknown! Family members of those killed were given only a pittance as compensation (around £950 for adults and £250 for children), and many took the psychological scars to their graves. A list of those who were injured, or died can be found on the Stairway to Heaven website.

 

People Power: Fighting for Peace @ The Imperial War Museum 

Fighting for Peace is somewhat of an oxymoron, and today it is seen all too often as the justification for Britain going to war. It is east to forget that the routes of the expression date back to WWI and the conscientious objectors.

People Power: Fighting for Peace is the first exhibition of its kind, you’re taken on a journey through the anti-war movements from WWI to present. Today we live in a world constantly on the brink of war, between North Korea, Trump and Russia the prospect of a hot nuclear war draws ever closer. In light of this the exhibition elicits a more emotive response response than I was expecting!

2017-06-08-17.09.54.jpg.jpegIn 1916, for the first time in the history of the British Army, conscription was introduced. It would last until 1920, and called all men aged 16-41 to join up and fight during the First World War.

Those excluded from conscription included those doing “vital work” on the home front, those with medical conditions or for the sake of their home life. A Military Service Tribunal would determine who got sent to war, and who was saved. There were 16,000 conscientious objectors during the first world war, generally hailing from Quaker families. The Quakers first set up the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) in 1914 at the out break of war. Referred to unkindly as “conchies” by other soldiers, they often performed vital work under the new Non-Combatant Corps. William Coltman, a conscientious objector who worked as a stretcher bearer during the war was awarded the Victoria Cross, as well as a Distinguished Conduct Medal and Bar, Military Medal and Bar, and Mentioned in Dispatches, all without firing a single shot.

2017-06-08-17.08.26.jpg.jpeg

CRW Nevinson The Doctor (1916)

The exhibition also looks at the art of war. One of my favourite artists, CRW Nevinson, features heavily throughout the exhibition, including some of his famous works such as Paths of Glory and The Doctor (pictured right). Works by Paul Nash, and handwritten poems by Siegfried Sassoon are also featured.

By the Second World War, pacifism was becoming a recognised movement. When in 1939 the National Services Act was passed around 60,000 conscientious objectors protested. I was surprised to discover Paul Eddington, best known for his roles in The Good Life and Yes Minister was among their number. He hailed from a Quaker family, and spent his war working for with Entertainment National Service Agency, starting his acting career. As with WWI the conscientious objectors were demonised by their fighting comrades. In one of the audio archives in the exhibition, a CO recalls a soldier yelling to others to “throw him into the river” as they were lead past under arrest.

One of the notable pacifists explored by the exhibition is John Bridey, who was a member of RNVR (Royal Navy Volunteer Reserves). A physics teacher by trade, he refused to fight, but spent his war using his knowledge of physics to diffuse bombs, constantly putting his life on the line to save others.

2017-06-08-17.07.12.jpg.jpeg

The longest, and most moving section of the exhibition focuses on the Cold War, and the Ban the Bomb protests. Seamlessly flowing from the attacks at Hiroshima and Nagasaki which occurred on the 6/9 August 1945 you’re taken into the 1960s. On the wall is states the death toll of the stated nuclear bombs. 215,000 died instantly, a further 155,000 were injured, not to mention those who died later from radiation poisoning. The number is staggeringly vast, the cruelty incomprehensible. It is so easy to forget the scale of this event, very few people alive remember the moment as it happened, and yet if this was to be repeated today the scale and destruction would be considerably worse. The size of nuclear weapons possessed by so many today could wipe out the whole earth 4 times over.

Fighting for Freedom includes many multimedia components, including a soundscape of audiobytes from protests, recorded accounts from various conscientious objectors from each conflict. My favourite multimedia section was the one within the Cold War area. Having visited the York Cold War Bunker (click here to read the blog) it was fascinating to see it from another point of view. The public service video sent out in 1965 to advise British citizens how to build a nuclear shelter/bunker in their home or garden, which is counterposed with the 1965 film The War Game by Ian Dury, which explores the world if the war had gone hot. It is a stark reminder of what could easily come to pass today!

The final room explores protest art, the posters, banners and photographic art produced including video of artist David Gentleman.

Overall the exhibition is incredibly well curated! It took me just over an hour to complete, only listening to half the audio recordings and only watching a section of the final documentary! I went early afternoon on a weekday, and the exhibition was very quiet, although I expect it’s busier on weekend! A very stimulating, emotive, very reasonably priced exhibition!

N.B. Once you’ve finished the exhibition check out the Syria and Afghanistan exhibition on the same floor! They go very well with Fighting for Peace, and only take an extra 40mins-1hr to do both!

Trent Park – The Listeners

Sunday mornings are usually times I reserve exclusively for sleeping, making up the inevitable deficit from the preceding week. Therefore it can be assumed that if any activity is partaken of before 11am, it is probably something pretty good. In this case, it certainly was!

By 10am, I had made my way from North East London to Cockfosters, right at the end of the Piccadilly line, and enjoyed an invigorating walk through the park to the cafe. The invigoration was necessary; having started watching 13 Reasons Why at 10pm the previous night I was running on around 90 minutes sleep (seriously, you can’t stop watching, its gripping!). At the cafe I was greeted by a surprisingly large group of people.

As seems to be my usual method of stumbling upon activities, an event recommended to me by Trent Park’s Facebook page popped up on my news feed, advertising a history walk. As someone who both loves walking, and history, this seemed like the perfect morning plan, and having met over 50 people who had also risen early on a Sunday morning, my sentiments are definitely shared!

I’d first discovered Trent Park after listening to Radio 4 with my grandmother. Having just returned from a trip to Bletchley Park the news of a new museum opening, considered to be Bletchley’s human intelligence counterpart, peaked my interest. Trent Park was one of the secret locations run by British Military branch MI 19 during World War II, used for spying on senior German Officials, aimed at getting them to reveal important information, without duress. MI 19 capitalised on senior officer’s arrogance that, with their senior positions they were entitled to preferential treatment, being allowed to live out the rest of their war in relative comfort. British Spies were sent in, disguised as German officers, expected to build their trust and lead conversations on to matters of German intelligence, such as the plans of the U-boats, whilst intelligence officers recorded the conversations with microphones, and listened in from another region of the house. When Churchill discovered it’s existence, he instantly condemned it, but luckily his ordered were ignored, and the British continued to obtain valuable information about the German Military, saving countless British lives.

2017-05-26-11.09.05.jpg.jpeg

Camlet Moat

Trent Park House sits within the gorgeous Trent Country Park, a 320 hectare park. Our history walk too us around the grounds, leading us through the history of the land, from its use as Henry VIII’s hunting ground, to Cromwell selling off the land to pay for his army, to its most recent owner Philip Sassoon (cousin of Sigmund Sassoon, my favourite war poet). The Sassoon family, descended from Iraqi Jews, moved to London quickly rose to High Society.

Sassoon’s hospitality was known across the country, even little Queen Elizabeth, visited the house! He would go to great lengths to be the perfect guest to celebrities from across the globe, and he designed the estate to be the perfect location for entertaining. Visitors such as Charlie Chaplain, George Bernard Shaw, Thornton Wilder and Edward VIII (accompanied by Wallis Simpson) frequented the house, and Winston Churchill even painted the house and its interior on several occasions.

2017-05-26-11.08.28.jpg.jpeg

Sassoon’s Obelisk where his guests would gather for some shooting!

In 1924 Sassoon lavishly purchased large quantities of rose bricks from the recently demolished London palace, that once belonged to William Kent. It is from these bricks that the Georgian style house is built from today, designed by architect Philip Tilden. In the grounds, Sassoon designed a beautiful Wisteria Walk, as well as a Japanese Garden and swimming pool. An avid flyer he even build his own Aerodrome, where he housed his Percival Gull, Percival Petrel, de Hallivand DH90 Dragonfly and de Havilland Leopard Moth.

In 1939, just three months before the outbreak of World War II, Philip Sassoon died after developing influenza that spread to his throat, and subsequently to his lungs. After a small private funeral his ashes were scattered over Trent Park.

Trent Park today has subsequently been sold off to property developers Berkeley Homes. After a long campaign, the Save Trent Park campaign,  it was announced that Trent Park would house a new museum. The Trent Park Museum which will occupy part of the ground floor will open in 2019/2020.

For further information check out Trent Park Museum’s website here!

Post War Japanese Architecture ~ The Japanese House @ The Barbican Centre

20170514_145620.jpg

The Barbican Centre

It’s 1945, the war is over, Japan lies in ruin. Tokyo and many other cities have been badly destroyed, and a housing crisis is imminent. Architects search for a quick and convenient way to ensure Japan’s citizens are housed, and single family homes become the new favoured architectural style. The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945 takes you on a journey through Japanese architecture, from the post-war era to present day.

The exhibition is set over 2 floors, and there’s plenty to see and do here. It is incredibly tranquil and relaxing. The first room examines the role of Architects in 1950s Japan. In 1952 the Treaty of San Francisco was signed, and the Allies left Japan, after 7 years of occupation. Japanese national identity was thrown into crisis, so architects and artists looked at ways to amalgamate both traditional designs with the modern needs of the nation.

Two styles were chosen as a basis for modern design; Shinden-Zukuri, dating back to the Helan-period of 794-1185CE, designed around raised floors and open spaces (as shown below), and Minka which was generally used in rural houses and featured natural earthen floors, with large columns and roofs, dating back to the ancient Jomon period (10,500-300BC).

20170514_135848.jpg

Mountain retreat designed and inhabited by Architect Junzo Yoshimura

The mediums the architects had to work with were reduced by the post-war economy. Architects began looking at concrete in its raw, rather than industrial forms. As over 60% of Japan’s land area is filled with forests wood has always been a fairly limitless resource. In combination the two proved to be incredibly resistant to earthquakes, and in design the stark difference between the warm nature of wood and cold industrial nature of Concrete somehow work. An example of this is seen left, in Yoshimura’s own house, where the concrete floor joins seamlessly into the forest floor.

During 1967-1969 the people of Japan rose up, and although this resistance was quickly dissipated it gave architects inspiration for a new styles. It also killed old styled. The Japanese style of Metabolism, an idealist style aiming for “Progress and Harmony for Humankind” did not sit with the younger generations.

20170514_135323.jpg

Photo of a minimalist, open house in Japan.

20170514_141633.jpg

Spot the dining room table.

After this, architects moved away from city life, and throughout the 1980s and 1990s larger, open spaces become more common. The 1950s/60s rush into enclosed urban housing moved away to the beautiful rural areas of Japan. Large open spaces and courtyards became more common, as can be seen in the model on the left.

 

 

20170514_142743.jpg

The ceiling light in the Tea House.

The exhibition continues downstairs, allowing you to explore 2 Japanese Houses. The first house is a 1:1 recreation of Ryue Nishizawa’s 2005 Moriyama House, built of 10 individual units, and filled with hundreds of objects, including books, house plants, a washing machine, records and other house decor. The replicated house originally belonged to Yasuo Moriyama, and demonstrates how Japanese architects moved away from the traditional idea of a house.

Outside the house you can watch Ila Beka and Louise Lemoine’s new film Moriyama-san which I didn’t get to watch fully, although it is very tempting to return, and watch the whole thing.

20170514_142729.jpg

Part of the interior of Fujimori’s Tea House

The second half of the downstairs area comprises of a second house and moss-themed garden. Terunobu Fujimori, a Japanese architect and historian commissioned this tea house and garden. The tea-house is simply built, formed of a single room with a timber exterior and white plaster interior, with walls covered in irregular rock pieces. If you remove your shoes, you can enter the house (4 people maximum at a time). It is wonderfully tranquil and ultimately minimalist.

 

20170514_135818.jpg

Scale model of one of the houses in the shinden-zukuri style.

The exhibition is beautifully laid out and fairly compartmentalised;  upstairs houses all the models, and plans for various Japanese housing designs, and contains most of the information, whilst the downstairs houses the two houses described above. Admittedly I went on a Sunday afternoon, so it was never going to be deserted, but the exhibition did seem a tad crowded at times, mainly upstairs where there were a couple of bottle necks, although the downstairs felt spacious, although you may have to queue to enter the house.

 

20170514_142908.jpg

Inside the House

The Japanese House: Architecture and Life after 1945 runs at the Barbican Art Gallery until 25 June, and tickets range from £5-£14.50.

N.B. If you’re under 25 listen up! This is the first time I’ve taken advantage of my Young Barbican membership, and I’m sad I haven’t used it more, especially given I lived there for my first year of uni! The exhibition was only £5, and you can see loads of cinema and theatre for between £5-£15, which for London is a bargain! Don’t miss out, sign up today! It’s free, and is one of the best Young Person’s schemes available!

Degas to Picasso at The Ashmolean Museum

The Ashmolean Museum has long since been one of my favourite Museums in Britain; Its grand exterior, huge collection and extensive range of content have always drawn me, from my first visit nearly 10 years ago on a school Latin trip.

2017-03-30-16.36.06.jpg.jpeg

The artists featured in the exhibition

Having learnt Ballet from the age of 11 I’ve always been enthralled by Degas’ beautiful oil paintings of dancers from unique, novel standpoints; the impressionist fluidity brings beauty to the eye of all beholders! I recently started learning more about Pablo Picasso, after visiting a wonderful exhibition at my favourite modern art museum (Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark) entitled ‘Picasso before Picasso’, housing many of his early sketches and pieces produced while he was still studying. Naturally, having seen a sign on the Underground “Degas to Picasso”, my interest was peaked, and a return megabus trip to Oxford was booked!

Housed across a single floor at the top of the museum, the exhibition isn’t the largest space you’ll see names such as Matisse, Chagall and Renoir displayed, but it’s certainly not cramped! Going on a quiet Thursday afternoon in term time, I was surprised at how busy the exhibition was, and I can’t imagine what it must be like on a Saturday afternoon, expect queueing to see your favourite artists works!

2017-03-30-16.45.59.jpg.jpeg

The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford

The exhibition takes you chronologically from the start of the artistic revolution. Historically starting post French Revolution and beginning with the works of Jaques Louis David, often perceived to be the founder of the Neoclassical movement in the art world. His painting The Oath of Horatii was wildly popular within the 1785 Paris Salon. Along side this you will discover a wide range of works, including Géricault’s often brutal and realist paintings of war, balanced against some lighter political satire from the 1860s by Daumier; think classical Banksy.

From the revolutionaries the exhibition takes you forward to a new era in art history. In 1874 a small group of artists split from the Paris Salon to pave the way for an astounding new artistic movement; Impressionism. Monet, Degas, Renoir, Pissaro and Cezanne set a blazing trail in to the unknown genre, free from any prerequisite rules of the classical art world.

Gris Painting

Still Life with Guitar – Juan Gris

The final section of the exhibition focussed on Picasso, and other innovators of cubism, modernism and surrealism. The Ursula and R. Stanley Johnson Family Collection provide a selection of both his work, and the work of artists such as Braque. My favourite pieces in this section, were those by Juan Gris, demonstrating the beauty of cubism, as seen on the left (image borrowed from Google).

Overall, the exhibition is a fantastic introduction to this era of art. It may not be the longest exhibition, but it is well worth the trip to the museum! It’s not often you find yourself with the opportunity to be in the same room as so many great pieces of art work; 5*s!

“Monarchy” by David Starkey ~ A Review

I think I have spent more time in charity shops over the past month than the rest of my life combined. Directing a play requiring a lot of furniture on a budget (which I may have gone over, shhh) meant Charity shops became my dramatic lifeline. They’ve subsequently become somewhat of a hobby to search through avidly; conveniently they also match quite nicely with my addiction to the BBC’s Antiques Roadtrip. Charity shops have also become the only way I can feasibly afford to buy books. If you have a voracious appetite for books, soaring prices can quickly amount to hundreds and hundreds of pounds.

It was in a little Oxfam bookshop that I stumbled across David Starkey’s Monarchy. I was familiar with his work by reputation, but I hadn’t ever seen any of his TV shows, or indeed read any of his other books. Shamefully, the history of the British Monarchy has been something that always eluded me. Having dropped history at school before GCSE in favour of the easy A* Geography provided (I was a very lazy teenager), my knowledge essentially consisted of the Tudors,  and what I had picked up watching The Crown. Needless to say I was expecting to have the book more as a reference text to dip into when a pub quiz question left us baffled.

I was wrong.  Starkey has such a light, engaging tone of writing that you’re hooked from the moment you start reading! Beginning at the War of the Roses, Starkey takes you on a journey of intrigue; brotherly envy leading to execution by cask of wine, babies concealed in warming pans, treasonous plots, and deadly battle between Parliament and Head of State.

Starkey’s writing is definitely acessible to those for whom  Monarchy is their first dabble into the history of the Royal Family, but equally I’m sure an avid history fan who’s watched every episode of The Tudors, and has every history documentary on Netflix preemptively added to their To Watch List for rainy days, would also find it very engaging.

What I loved about the book was, although I was constantly learning, Starkey never came across as preachy. At no point did I feel patronised, the style was more conversational, albeit one of the most eloquent exchanges you’ll ever have, than teacher and student. Factoids were gently worked in, which unfortunately is not a given in the world of history. I attended a lecture on Jewish history at Senate House a couple of weeks ago, during which dates were simply barked at us whenever a new historical figure was mentioned. On average 3 times a sentence, killing the pace and giving the impression we were simply listening to an essay with superlative parentheses being needlessly read out. Not on Starkey’s watch!
So, in essence, charity shops are fantastic, the history of the British Monarchy is fascinating, and everyone could enjoy Starkey’s delightful book! Easily 5🌟s!

Eltham Palace ~ An Art Deco Day 

Just south of London lies a modest country house, once the childhood home of King Henry VIII.

2017-03-15-12.49.31.jpg.jpeg

Virginia Courtauld’s Bathroom

Eltham Palace has recently become renowned for its beautiful Art Deco interiors, it’s halls still ringing with ghosts of extravagant dinner parties hosted throughout the 1930s. It’s history however, has not always been so glamorous.

The first recorded sign of Eltham Palace is found in the Doomsday Book of 1086, listing it as Eltham Manor, belonging to William the Conquerors half brother, Odo. The house changed hands many times over the next few centuries, with owners gradually adding to the architecture of the estate. By the 14th Century, Eltham Palace was one of King Edward III’s royal palaces. The palace was surrounded by a moat, complete with drawbridge and high walls.

2017-03-15-12.46.31.jpg.jpeg

Stained Glass Windows in the Great Hall; a Throwback to Tudor times.

The children of Henry VII were brought up at Eltham, which served as a Royal Nursery for future monarchs and royals, including Henry VIII. Henry VIII however preferred  Hampton Court, and started building and decorating there instead of Eltham, whilst Greenwich Palace served as his London Palace, being closer to Westminster and more easily accessible.

Throughout the Civil War (1648) Eltham was used as a base for Cromwell’s troops, and subsequently fell into disrepair. By the turn of the 19th century the once regal palace was reduced to a farmstead, the Great Hall now a barn, the palace in ruins.

Stephen and Virginia Courtauld discovered the dilapidated Eltham Palace in 1933, and set about restoring it to glory. Having hired architects Seely and Paget to rebuild the estate they looked to Christopher Wren’s work for inspiration and decided on a brick and Clipsham stone exterior. The development was haulted by a battle with the Society of Antiquaries who were concerned with the loss of areas of historical interest. Once this had been pacified, and reassurances had been sought that several features, including the 15th century timber gables in the great Hall would be preserved, building work began.

2017-03-15-12.52.35.jpg.jpeg

The exterior of the Palace

Eltham Palace was a haven of modern technology; electricity powered many internal systems including the clocks, servants bells, lighting, they even had their own internal telephone exchange. Eltham also boasted a centralised vacuum cleaning system, only seen to this day in larger houses. It’s mechanism can be seen in the basement.

During the Second World War Eltham suffered badly; in 1940, during the Battle of Britain 4 bombs landed on the great Hall causing extensive damage, a further 100 bombs fell within the grounds. A year later a parachute mine damaged the great Hall again, and in 1944 a flying bomb severely damaged the greenhouses. Stephen  Courtauld, an avid orchid collector, had thankfully evacuated his previous plants in 1939. Throughout the war the basement was turned into a dormitory, and the family welcomed anyone who needed shelter, having invited her relatives initially Ginie opened her house to those in need.

The war however left the Courtaulds scarred, and they eventually decided to move to their Scotland estate on Loch Etive in Argyll.

2017-03-15-12.44.11.jpg.jpeg

The Art Deco Drawing Room where Ginie hosted Lavish Dinner Parties

In its time, before the devastating effects of the War, Eltham was seen as the Gatsby mansion of London. Ginie enjoyed throwing lavish parties, as well as small dinner parties for  selected few. Stephen designed cocktails for every occasion and they flourished as the elegant, affluent hosts. The great Hall frequently housed chamber orchestras, bands and singers whilst guests danced the night away in perfect luxury.

Upon arriving at Eltham you’re provided with an audio guide that takes you on a guided tour of the house and gardens, complete with interactive multimedia it gives you a sense of what the house would have been like in the 1930s. You can meet the family, and the beautiful lemur, experience the parties, even listen to some of the guests accounts!

2017-03-15-12.43.27.jpg.jpeg

Park of the Beautiful grounds of the Palace

There are special tours for children to enjoy,  as well as activity packs for them to work through and a play area too. On site there’s a lovely cafe and beautiful gardens for everyone to enjoy, and just a short bus ride from Greenwich it’s easy to get to from central London too! Bristling with Tudor history and Art Deco architecture it’s the perfect day out for everyone!

 

Communist Sofia ~ A Concrete Jungle 

20161204_124647.jpgArriving in Sofia, it is immediately recognisable as a city with a communist past. Concrete flat blocks rise up before you, and every street boasts Stalinist architecture all along its length. Walking through Sofia however, there are no statues of Lenin, or red stars visible, having been ripped down in 1990 when the Communist state fell.

Having decided to take a 4 hour walking tour exploring the Communist history of the city it was clear that even today opinions vary hugely across the population.

Bulgaria’s military history during the Second World War is a fascinating one, with their allegiance changing multiple times over the course of the war, including a period when they were technically at war with every other fighting country in Europe. By the end of the war they had sided with the Red Army. Thus began their communist era.

Championed by Georgi Dimitrov, The Bulgarian Communist Party took power in 1946. Bulgaria then became known as People’s Republic of Bulgaria, a title which would remain until 1990. Before the war Bulgaria, had been known as the Kingdom of Bulgaria. Their rise to power was preceded by a bloody assault on the monarchy. On 1st February 1945 the Regent Prince Kiril, along with hundred of officials who had been prominent in pre-communist Bulgaria, including an ex Prime Minister were accused of war crimes, and around a quarter were subsequently executed 4 months later.

 

20161203_134407.jpg

Busts of the Communist leaders of Bulgaria and Karl Marx

During its early years The Bulgarian Communist Party began to outlaw religions. Whilst not explicitly legislating against citizens rights to practice religions they used scare tactics. Churches, Mosques, Synagogues and Temples were hidden away by new buildings, purposefully built around them to mask the existence of sacred buildings. Members of the police, or uniformed members of the party would hover outside said buildings at the times of services, observing those attending religious ceremonies, never acting with hostile intentions, but instead scaring members of the congregation until few people attended organised religious services. The paranoia still exists today; when we visited The Church of St George (a beautiful redbrick rotunda) I took a photo of the exterior and a lady going to a service asked to check my photo to ensure her face wasn’t in the picture.

20161203_133647.jpg

Painting of Lenin (Nikola Mirchev)

When Dimitrov passed away in 1949 Vulko Chervenkov suceeded him as leader of the Bulgarian Communist Party, whilst not popular within Bulgaria, his main supporter, Stalin had enough influence to allow him to maintain his position for 6 years. After Stalin’s death in 1953 Chervenkov only survived a year before he was replaced by Todor Zhivkov. He stayed on as Prime Minister for another 2 years before Anton Yugov took that position from him too.

Todor Zhivkov had a notably long stay as head of the Bulgarian Communist Party, leading it for 33 years, and in 1962 he also took up the position of Prime Minister, he monopolised control of Bulgaria. One of the biggest controversies of his rule came in the form of the infamous murder of Georgi Markov, a previous friend of Zhivkov, who had been exiled to London following publication of anti-communist works. Markov was murdered in London after a member of the KGB used an umbrella to stab him with a ricin infused pellet on Zhivkov’s birthday in September 1978.

img_20161204_111607.jpgThe Communist government of the Bulgarian people was based near Serdika (now a fantastic site to find Roman ruins) and the party headquarters were adorned with the large red star seen below. This was rumoured to have been made of rubies, however when it was torn down at the end of the Communist era it was found to only be coloured glass. Originally the 12ft statue of Lenin was erected far across the Piazza surveying his Communist Head Quarters, now however this has been replaced by a statue of Saint Sofia. Both the star and the statue can be found at the Museum of Socialist Art which is a little way out of the city center but definitely worth a visit!

By January 15th 1990 the Communist Party was officially no more. It was the end of an era of governing that had cost between 50,000-100,000 lives. Zhivkov’s daughter, Lyudmila Zhivkova, had been responsible for the start of social liberalization in the country and was a force for cultural freedom until her suspicious death in 1981. By Mikhail Gorbachev’s election as President of the Supreme Soviet Union in 1985, the USSR and the Communist movement were losing momentum. In June 1990 Bulgaria held its first multi-party elections in 51 years, The Republic of Bulgaria was born, and the Bulgarian flag no longer included the Communist emblem. The Communist reign in Bulgaria was over.

Pretending to be Lenin

This Day in History ~ Birthday Special 

The 21st of February, as most days are, has proven to be an instrumental historical date across many eras of History; Alan Rickman was born, Silent Witness aired, Rosalind Franklin and some men (who took all the credit) discovered the double helical structure of DNA, and the Battle of Verdun, which claimed a million lives, started.

Whilst searching for historical events that occurred on 21st Feb, I discovered that one of my favourite political texts was published on this day. The Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx and Friederich Engels, was published 21st Feb 1848. Originally published in German, The Communist Manifesto was commissioned by The Communist League and has been declared the most influencial text of the 19th century; Move over Jane Austen.

A spectre is haunting Europe – The spectre of Communism 

As many of you know, or will know when next week’s blog on Communist Sofia comes out, communist and socialist history is an area of great interest for me! It fascinates me that since the publication of The Communist Manifesto, despite so many countries and leaders trying to implement communism the world has, as yet, failed to successfully produce a communist state. In every attempt there are enough greedy, as Marx and Engels would call them, Bourgeouis refusing to relinquish their wealth and preventing the system taking full effect.

The manifesto was published far ahead of its time. If we think back to the great Socialist states of Europe and the world we probably think of Mao, Stalin and Lenin first. Their ascent to leadership wouldn’t come about until around 100 years later, although the Manifesto certainly paved the way.

After an enjoyable few months of blogging, I’m looking forward to what this next year will bring! My S/O has planned a birthday trip to Dover Castle for us both, English Heritage opening hours are getting longer,  and later this week I’m off to explore historic Oxford, notably the Degas to Picasso exhibition! So watch this space, there’s a blog in the pipeline for all the awesome historical birthday presents I got this year!

That History Girl ❤

 

That History Girl Travels ~ Oslo Day 5

Our final day in Oslo had finally arrived. With a flight in the evening we decided to save the Armed Forces Museum till last as it was one we were both interested in, we wanted lost of time there, and it’s free!

2017-01-28-21.13.51.jpg.jpegHoused within the grounds of Akershus Fortress, the museum is huge! Outside cannons, tanks and ambulances greet you as you arrive. The ambulance, it turns out came from the UK, and was on loan for their temporary exhibition on the medical corps.

2017-01-28-21.16.38.jpg.jpegThe museum takes you through military history in Norway, from the Vikings through to modern day conflicts and WWII. The first room focuses on modern conflicts, and Norway’s involvement in Afghanistan, and work with the UN.

Upstairs the rooms are filled with cannons, and models of castles from around Denmark-Norway, as the pairing was then called. Christiania (now Oslo) was the Norwegian capital, whilst Copenhagen was the capitol of the whole country. The models also include castles such as Kastellet, found in Copenhagen on a star shaped island.2017-01-28-21.19.22.jpg.jpeg Medieval weapons, defenses and uniforms are displayed, however some rooms do not have English translations, but have QRS codes which unfortunately don’t work. This room was full of military uniforms, with rank slides and honours which are still a total mystery to us, which was  a shame as it was something we were both interested in!
Returning downstairs there is a very detailed exhibition on how WWII started, and how Norway became 2017-02-15-09.31.20.jpg.jpeginvolved  with the fight. The Resistance Museum had more information on Norwegian citizens  and their actions throughout the war. Having been a neutral state from 1814 to 1940 they only had a 20,000 strong army to defend against the German Army. The Norwegians had been keen to stay out of the fighting across Europe they were not prepared for the advancing German Forces. Had they started recruiting forces earlier they could have increased their forces to 120,000 people. 50,000 Norwegian Men were said to be fighting for Norway during 1940, compared to Germany’s 4.5 million. The final permanent room looked into modern conflicts with the UN, the Cold War, including a mini bunker, the Navy, and ground forces in Afghanistan.

2017-01-28-21.20.24.jpg.jpegThe final room of the museum was an exhibition on Military Medicine. The exhibition housed various pieces of quintessential pieces of medical equipment such as first aid kits, stretchers and technology developed for the military.  Horse drawn ambulances from the first world war, along with modern ambulances used in combat were displayed here.

Tearing ourselves away from the museum, we headed to Hard Rock Cafe for our final time (they have an awesome lunch deal). Our planned afternoon of souvenir shopping was rather disrupted by Spencers/Portico deciding whilst we were thousands of miles away was time to try and sort our broken heating (After we’d waited 6 months for them to get their act together). A delicious lunch later, we headed to the airport.

2017-01-28-21.22.15.jpg.jpegIn 2014 a redevelopment of Oslo Airport was announced. Designed by Gudmund Stokke, under architectural firm Aviaplan. The new departure hall is beautiful! The building is light, airy, with golden fairy lights draped around every pillar. The whole building is clean and very Scandanavian, even the security staff are lovely, when you forget to take your 1l water bottle out of your hand luggage!

After a lovely but exhausting week, it was time to head back to London. Even staying for 5 days I felt there were things I could go back to do/see. I’ll definitely be back! Probably in summer…and when I actually have money!